The Blues Triangle: Part I

THE BLUES TRIANGLE : Part I

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Finally, something to share! I’ve purposely been hoarding my pics and stories for here. While I’m hoping whoever reads this is inspired to travel and step out of their comfort zone, it’s really a journal of my travels, highlighting the blues, along with a bit of history of the places I went. And selfishly I’m jotting this down so that I don’t forget it all! My way of travel isn’t for everyone, but it sure as hell worked for me and I loved every bit of it.

The first stop on my trip had to be Muscle Shoals, AL. So much music came out of that place it was a no-brainer to start there.

Side note: I was informed (very much schooled rather) by Lloyd “Teddy” Johnson Jr., owner of Teddy’s Juke Joint, that not only was I traveling down the Mississippi Blues Trail, I was actually traveling across the Blues Triangle. Here are some highlights of the first leg of my trip. A more detailed account of Teddy later…

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Special thanks to Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art in Clarksdale, MS for this map!

April 24th, 2016

 The Shoals: Muscle Shoals & Florence, AL

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What’s in a name? There are a few theories about where the name ‘Muscle Shoals’ came from. Some say the name Muscle Shoals came from all the stacks of mussels found along the shoals in the TN River. Another theory is that the shape of the river looks like the muscle of a man’s arm. The last theory claims that “Muscle Shoals, the Niagara of the South, derives its name from the Indians, who, attempting to navigate upstream, found the task almost impossible because of the strong current.”  Thus came the word muscle, symbolic of the strength required to “paddle a canoe up the rapids.” (City of Muscle Shoals)

Stay: At Caleb’s Carriage House in Florence. Super cute place with great amenities, centrally located, just across the Tennessee River is Muscle Shoals. Close to shops, restaurants, and the UNA campus.

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See: W.C. Handy’s birthplace, and Wilson Dam.

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The Father of the Blues: Born in Florence in 1873, he’s one of America’s most influential songwriters and is credited for giving blues music its contemporary form. His musical style was influenced by church music and from sounds in nature. His family was not supportive of his love of music and considered musical instruments to be the tools of the devil. In 1902, William traveled through rural Mississippi to study the blues and documented and transcribed the music he heard when he returned home. A few of his most famous tunes were: Saint Louis Blues, Memphis Blues (some consider this to be the first blues tune), and Beale Street Blues.

Visit the W.C. Handy Home & Museum: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm. Take a virtual tour here.

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“Life is something like a trumpet. If you don’t put anything in, you won’t get anything out.”

— W.C. Handy

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Wilson Dam: took a nice bike ride along the TVA Trail and happened upon this big ‘ole dam. Completed in the early 20s, this dam was once used as a power supply center for munitions plants in World War I. It allowed a once un-navigable stretch of the Tennessee River “Muscle Shoals”, to become a major transportation resource for the Shoals area. (www.florenceal.org)

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Move: Bike along the TVA Trail, follow signs to the yellow bike trail and go over the Tennessee River. I rode over this bridge, to think the river could rise that high, scary! Before ya hit the trail get tuned up and buy any necessary bike accessories at Spinning Spoke Cycle Hub. I got a bike pump for the road, some lube, and another reflector. The guys working there told me to do this trail and I loved it!

Do: You must tour FAME Recording Studios, after all, it’s really why you visit this town anyways! I got a fantastic tour from a young engineer who works there. Got to go in both recording studios, which are oozing with musical history. Lots of incredible memorabilia lining those walls. Some of the original B-3’s and other instruments used in the 60s are still being played on recordings today. Many people have questioned, is there something in the water there? And for good reason, the amount of incredible music that came out of that place (and still does) is unreal.

Hours: M-F 9am, & 4-6pm tours, Sat: 10-4pm. Admission: $10 And if you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch the documentary Muscle Shoals.

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History of FAME: Founded in 1959 by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill, and Tom Stafford, this studio has recorded the best of the best (well, for those that know what’s good). Their first hit was recorded in 1963 by Jimmy Hughes, ‘Steal Away.’ Etta James recorded ‘Tell Mama’ there in 1967. Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Otis Redding, and Candi Staton have all recorded in this studio. The list goes on…

Duane Allman frequented the Shoals often and loved it so much he pitched a tent in the parking lot to be closer to the studio (2006 Skydog: The Duane Allman Story). It’s in this very studio that he taught Wilson Pickett ‘Hey Jude’ which was recorded in 1968. Soon after, he got his very first recording contract here.

Hear: music at Swamper’s

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If all else fails, go to Swamper’s Bar (named after the famous backing band at FAME who later opened their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound) inside the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa. Not only do they always have live music they have some pretty spectacular memorabilia. Be sure to tune in to 92.3 while you’re in the area, they play the good tunes for when you’re driving around.

April 25th, 2016 

Tupelo, MS:

Drive/hike on the Natchez Trace Parkway

Route: the drive from Muscle Shoals to Tupelo was along the Natchez Trace and was simply beautiful! Definitely take this route and make a stop in Tupelo.

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I had a quick stopover here, I honestly had no intention of going out of my way to visit Elvis’ birthplace (I mean, I’ve been to Graceland of course) but after hearing about this awesome blues venue/restaurant from Richard Upchurch I had to check it out.

See/Hear/Taste: The Blue Canoe: a live music venue with amazing eats (I had the dirty grains with greens, things, and shrimp) corn hole/baggo, and a great outdoor patio. I’ll definitely be going back to this place!

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April 25th, 2016

24 Hours in Memphis

 

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Don’t Stay: At the Exchange Place. Nope, don’t do it. The price is right but it’s oh so wrong. The Exchange Building used to be the tallest building in Memphis for over 20 years, apparently the apartments they can’t rent out they make into “efficiencies”. When the first thing I looked for were bed bugs, it ain’t good. Shit, they needed a double bolt on that door too. (The picture above is not of the Exchange Place).

Hear: I hit up all three of these spots in one night. Go see live music at the Lafayette Room (mid-town),  Hi-tone Café (between Crosstown & Evergreen), and Rum Boogie downtown (supposedly the last real juke joint on Beale Street).

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Move: do the walk ‘n see, there is so much to see in walking distance of each other downtown

Taste: Arcade Diner ‘Memphis’ Oldest Restaurant’ serving it up since 1919. 3rd generation owners still run this South Main Historic District restaurant, serving all-day breakfast. Steps from Beale Street, the Lorraine Motel, and the Blues Museum.

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See/Do:

See (and stay if you can afford it), the infamous Peabody Hotel which opened back in 1925. It’s said that the Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of this famed hotel. Elvis Presley signed his first major RCA recording contract in the lobby of the hotel, it was typed up on the official hotel stationary.

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The March of the Peabody Ducks is celebrating its 90th year tradition!!! The duck march happens on a daily basis at 11am & 5pm in the grandiose lobby of the Peabody Hotel (yes, really). The place is packed, everyone gathers around the stanchions along the red carpet to try and catch a glimpse of them as they make their grand exit from the elevator. 5 locally farm-raised North American Mallard ducks are escorted in by the comedic Peabody Duckmaster, eventually making it into the fountain where they stay for the reminder of the day. The ducks have a permanent residence (rotating every 3 months) on the hotel’s rooftop, a $200K structure made of marble & glass. Good God, ducks living as royalty…only in America.

Rub W.C. Handy’s statue in Handy Park for good luck! It’s a thing, do it.

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In 1960, a still segregated Memphis, erected this statue in honor of its favorite African-American son. The statue became a template for the Blues Foundations’ early W.C. Handy Blues Award. In 1969, the US Post Office issued a W.C. Handy stamp. (www.memphismusicahalloffame.com)

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Blues Hall of Fame | The Blues Foundation: first things first, become a member. If you’re a blues fan please support this amazing foundation that’s keeping the blues alive.

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Founded in 1980 its mission is to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and to ensure the future of this uniquely American art form.

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‘Hey Hey Pretty Mama’ by Willie Dixon

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James Cotton

 

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 1pm-5pm,

Admission: Free for members, $10 Adults

 

Stax Records: Museum of American Soul Music

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One of the most popular soul music record labels of all time, Satellite Records was re-named Stax Records in 1961. Named after the first two letter’s of brother and sister owners, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton‘s last names. After Estelle re-financed her home for the second time they purchased an old movie theatre and turned it into a recording studio. The floors slant helped deaden the sound, a way of trying to control the acoustics on the cheap, that ultimately set Stax sound apart from other studios.

The theatre’s concession shop became Satellite Record Shop and turned into the neighborhood hangout. Residents and musicians would come to the shop to listen to records in hopes of getting to record. In 1960 the studio recorded its first hit record and single, “Cause I Love You” a duet by Rufus & Carla Thomas. That same year Jerry Wexler from Atlantic Records offered them a deal to take over distribution, making it easier to get their records on the shelves.

Otis Redding was one of the biggest stars of the label arriving at Stax in 1962, not as a singer, but as a chauffeur for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. When his session went sour Otis took over and the rest was history.

Stax Records Hitmakers: Booker T & The MGs, William Bell, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King

(www.staxmuseum.com)

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The Gospel Church in the lives of African Americans: of all the musical styles on which soul music is built, the two most prominent are gospel and blues. Both expressions from the human heart of love, pain, and longing. Gospel is church-based and sung to God, while the blues is secular and often sung to another person-often a spouse or lover, present or former. Both musical forms release the participants from their immediate confines, offering refuge for the spirit.

I loved this museum so much! After a introductory video in the screening room you begin the tour in this real circa – 1906 Mississippi Delta church that was carefully reassembled inside the building. You pretty much dance your way through the museum, damn near impossible with all the greatest soul tunes playing. You’ll step into Studio A – an exact replica of the legendary converted movie theatre where Stax artists cut records, even down to the famous slant that contributed to the Stax’s legendary sound.

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Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 1-5pm, closed Mondays.

Admission: FREE for members, Adults: $13

 

 

 

 

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel:

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As I walked down and saw the Lorraine Motel for the first time I was overwhelmed with emotion. Upon entering the parking lot you hear his undeniable, powerful voice overhead preaching his famous words of hope and truth. Standing in the exact location where Martin Luther King, Jr. got assassinated on April 4th, 1968, you feel as though you’ve stepped back into the 60s. Nothing has changed from the facade of the motel, cars from the 60s remain in the parking lot, and a wreath still hangs on the door of Room 306 where he was staying the night of his tragic death. This is a place everyone should take the time to visit.

Hours: Monday, Wednesday-Sunday 9am-5pm, closed Tuesdays

Admission: Free to visit the outside of the motel (including interactive kiosks), Adults $15, Members: Free

In times of uncertainty, don’t forget…

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Thank you for reading, stay tuned for The Blues Triangle: Part II 

Best,

Nicole

 

 

 

 

 

A Southerner’s Farewell Guide to NYC: My Favorite Things

Below you will find a comprehensive guide to all ‘My Favorite Things’ in NYC:

MUSIC VENUES

Brooklyn Bowl (Williamsburg, Brooklyn):

Bowling and live music at the same time? Yes, please. This old barn (built in 1882) turned LEED certified green music venue was created by concert promoter/ entrepreneur Peter Shapiro. He also helped save, restore, and re-open the historic Capitol Theatre and has opened two more Brooklyn Bowls, one in Vegas and London.

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Tip: Sign up for bowling right away if ya wanna play. Their flatbread pizza and fried chicken are killer. Also, don’t let the ‘sold out’ scare you away, they release more at 6pm night of show, only catch, there is no re-entry and it’s cash only. Pre-show at Turkey’s Nest for the cheapest, strongest, dranks in W’burg.

 

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If ya want an underground jazz spot, this is it. Created in 1994 by jazz violinist Mitchell Borden he’s maintained this legendary spot that many musicians call home. I was lucky enough to participate in Marion Cowings Jazz Vocal Workshop when I first moved to the city, a must-do for all singers. Check out SmallsLive to stream their shows!

 

 

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Jazz Standard (Flat Iron):

This jazz venue is below a fabulous BBQ spot Blue Smoke . A great place to see live jazz, not a place for talkers, ya go here to listen. Go see the Mingus Big Band, they play here pretty regularly.

Tip: For sold out shows, go when doors open and you’re likely to get in. Also, it’s not necessary to buy tix in advance, you can just call in advance to make a reservation and they add the music charge to your tab.

 

Rockwood Music Hall (LES): fxcam_1456527471287.jpg

This is a Lower East Side staple. This spot has grown from only having 1 stage to having 3, they have tons of free shows too (on Stage 1). Betta tip dem musicians so they get paid! Go eat at Macondo for some latin fusion, right across the street from Rockwood.

 

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City Winery (West of SoHo): I used to work at this rockin’ music venue and winery owned by Michael Dorf who opened famed Knitting Factory in 1986. Shlomo Lipetz is the National Program Director, he knows his music boy and books the best there is. There are now locations in Chicago, Nashville, and soon-to-be ATL.

 

Beacon Theatre (Upper West Side): Beacon-1-757x1024

This historic theatre is the older sister to Radio City Music Hall which opened in 1929. The Allman Brothers Band annual Beacon Run has taken place here since ’89. This place is truly spectacular! Go eat at Barcibo Enoteca before the show, yummy tapas and wine in walking distance to the theatre.

 

 

 

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Joe’s Pub (NoHo):

This intimate music venue is a great place to check out live music. It had a $2.35 million dollar face lift re-opening back in 2012. Amy Winehouse and Adele made their U.S. headlining debut here. Go visit the bar upstairs afterwards, The Library at The Public

 


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This is my fav Cuban spot with live music 7 days a week, they even roll cigars for free on the weekends (tips appreciated). Famed percussionist/singer Pedro Martinez got his start here playing weekly residences before moving  it recently to Brooklyn Bowl. Their cuban sandwiches and mojitos with fresh sugar cane are to die for. Yes, they have Happy Hour at the bar weekly, go on Tuesday for Two for Tuesday’s.

 

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Apollo (Harlem):

We all know the name, this legendary NYC historic landmark is a must-see. Hit up Amateur Night, it took me 9 years to finally go, wish I would have gone sooner. Pre-show around the corner at Corner Social, good eats and cocktails.

 

DANCE SPOTS

The Shrine (Harlem): homepage

This Burkina Faso family-owned and run world music venue is by far my fav spot for music and dancing. The best mix of people and tunes!

 

Bembe (Williamsburg):
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A tiny dance spot, go for roots reggae night if you can swing a night out during the week, check their calendar for up-to-date events.

 

 

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Home Sweet Home (LES):

An underground dance spot to getcho dance on, go on Friday’s when Jonathan Toubin is spinning soul records.

FOOD

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Mexican: Javelina (Flat Iron):

It’s all about the queso. This Tex-Mex joint is the only place in the city that does it right. Their frozen basil margarita is delish!

 

 

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Thai: Laut (Union Square):

This is by far my favorite Thai spot. Get the Malaysian Curry and Roti Canai.

 

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Chinese (Shanghai-style): Joe’s Shanghai (Chinatown):

The best soup dumplings, definitely worth the wait!

 

 

 

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Greek: Agnanti (Astoria):

The best Greek food you’ll ever have, get the whole grilled fish, pastisio, greek salad, and saganaki (fried cheese). They’re right across from Astoria Park too, you’ll need a good long walk after eating here.

 

 

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Bagels (Astoria): New York City Bagel Coffee House aka Sexy Bagel

The bagels are as big as your head, get the mini for normal size. Their coffee is amazing too, get the mochaccino!

 

 

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Brunch: The Bonnie (Astoria):

Seriously the best burger I’ve ever had! Their cocktails are seriously yummy too. They have live music some evenings, check their website.

 

 

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Gotham West Market (Hells Kitchen):

This fancy food court is a great place to go if you can’t decide what you want to eat, they have everything. They’re way west, go when it’s warmer out and you can head to the water afterwards.

 

 

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Sandwich King of Astoria (Astoria):

Get the bomb, it really is da bomb yo!

 

WORKOUTS

New York Health & Racquet: I floated around at a bunch of gyms before finding this one and I love it. I never enjoyed working out until I started classes, now I’m hooked. Luckily these fabulous teachers are all over the city teachin’:

Body Burn/Relentless with Caroline Strong; this workout is by far the hardest I’ve ever done and my favorite. Fast paced, 20 minute push-up plank segment make this a full body workout you can barely finish but when ya do, you feel strong and fit!

Spin with Tracie Hendricks aka the best DJ; I want to go to the dance club with her (I tried inviting myself). I never thought I could enjoy spin until I found this hyper, hilarious, awesome teacher. Before you know it it’s all over and you’ve cycled up “mountains” and back.

Cardio Sculpt with Craig Smith; I had the pleasure of taking class with him before he went and got himself the gig as Madonna’s new personal trainer. If you can catch him when he’s in town, do it…he’ll kick your ass.

Military Muscle with Conyn Blade; the name pretty much sums it up…bootcamp with tunes like AC-DC Thunderstruck to keep ya movin’.

SHOPPING

Lucky Brand (Flatiron): I love their clothes but they’re a bit pricey, luckily 😉 they have 40% off sales often & online too.

Buffalo Exchange: A great thrift at the right price. You can sell clothes to them too but dayum, they’re picky.

Brooklyn Industries: Their bags are the shit, lifetime guarantee too.

Nomad: This lil hippie truck wanders around the city, great boutiquey clothes and accessories.

TJ Maxx (Chelsea) Yea, yea, these are all over the country but this one has got the goods. Go to the Chelsea location at 620 Avenue Of The Americas. Check out their Rent the Runway selections. Pretty sure the shipment comes in on Thursday, yep I asked. So go on Friday’s for freshly stocked goods.

Macy’s (Herald Square): This is their flagship location and it’s massive. Go during their holiday sales to afford overpriced, but awesome, brands like: Free People.

Tip: Follow the wooden escalator or you’ll get lost…no really, there are 2 wings on every floor and they even have 1/2 floors.

SKILLED TRADESMAN

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Tailor (The Orchard Tailor Services-LES):

I never thought I could afford a tailor until I was told about this spot in the LES. This Dominican family-owned tailor is the real deal, reasonably priced, and they do great work.

 

 

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Cobbler (Firm Shoe Repair):

With all the walking in NYC you’ll need to get your soles fixed up or you’ll be running through dem shoes. This place is quick and inexpensive.

 

 

Jeweler (Kathe’s Jeweler-Stuyvesant Town): 1511932-kathysstorefront-store

I have gone here for repairs and re-sizing of jewelry. They’ve been in the neighborhood for over 25 years run by family daughter team Jonas and Kathy Rueda. They’re super friendly, quick, and trustworthy!  

 

 

 

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Bike Repair Shop (Tony’s Bicycle-Astoria): 

I was lucky enough to have this place around the corner. The staff is great, they’re speedy on repairs, sometimes fixing ya up right there on the spot.

 

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FREE THANGS

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  • Roosevelt Island: Take the tram over from 59th & 2nd Avenue and ride your bike all around the island, awesome view of the city and it’s very peaceful!
  • LIC Food & Flea: A great selection of antiques and lots of yummy food vendors on the waterfront in LIC.
  • Walk the High Line, don’t expect to walk brisk. Hit up the Chelsea Market while you’re there.
  • Central Park (South): walk down 5th Avenue and gaze at the over the top window displays, see the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral while you’re in the area. Rockefeller Center is right there too.
  • Free boat ride on the North River Lobster Company floating restaurant, runs every 2-3 hours for a half hour ride up the Hudson.

ACTIVITIES

  • Bike Ride to Anable Basin (LIC): A hidden gem on the water overlooking the city, they serve booze and food too.
  • Rocks Off Music/Booze Cruise: Go see some music while cruising around the East River. Great for a warm summers night.
  • Miniature golf on Pier 25: Affordable mini golf on the pier, so fun!
  • A drink on top of the Standard Hotel, yup one cocktail is as much as a whole meal but the view and free weekend live entertainment is worth it. You might want to dress up a bit here, it’s fancy pants.
  • LCT3 Shows at the Claire Tow Theatre: The best, most inexpensive theatre in NYC. Always stellar performances, great set designs, and sound. The theatre is in the Lincoln Center complex which ain’t too shabby to spend an evening either. Take advantage of their rooftop and grab a drink before the show.
  • Fuerza Bruta (Union Square): I love this live interactive show, great music and performers.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • Things to do in Times Square if you must go: See live music at URBO upstairs (yummy farm-to-table food too), Iridium, Birdland, and Lucille’s at B.B. Kings, and the cheapest drinks at this boxer-owned bar Jimmy’s Corner.
  • Download this app for the subway, much more inconspicuous than carrying around a big ‘ole map that screams out tourist.
  • Streets run East to West (numerically North to South), Avenues run North to South. So if ya know you want to go West, look at the street signs, if they’re going up in numbers take a left, got it?
  • Play-by-Play: This seat filling company was such a great find, if you want to go see more in the city (basketball games, plays, music, etc.) but can’t always afford it, this is for you. Give my name if you sign up 🙂
  • Finding a place to use the restroom in NYC can be challenging at times. Any Whole Foods is usually a good bet, Starbucks, not so much. Here’s an actual website for where to go when you’re in a pickle:  wherehttp://m3.mappler.net/nyrestroom/.
  • 34th Street: it’s by far the hottest station, avoid at all cost in warmer months.

Wow, you made is this far…I got nothing else, for now! Get on out there and explore the city!