Thursday, August 25, 2016

We All Scream for Drag Queens

New York is wonderful because on a random Tuesday in August you can get free ice cream from a drag queen.

B sent me a text yesterday morning, a screenshot of a news story saying that queens from RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars would be giving out ice cream on the corner of University Place and 14th Street by Union Square to promote the show's second season premier on Thursday night (okay, so it wasn't exactly "random"). I didn't really want the ice cream, but I'm always game for a fantastic queen.

I'm happy to say this was what I found there, snapping away with my camera at Alyssa Edwards, Katya, and Ginger Minj while they were standing inside an ice cream truck printed with the RuPaul's Drag Race logo, handing out ice cream from New York cult favorite Big Gay Ice Cream. Alaska 5000 and Roxxxy Andrews were also in sight, doing interviews with local New York news stations. I couldn't tell who was there to just get free ice cream, to see the queens, or both, but the corner was exploding with people, even a few in drag themselves, and the line snaked all the way down 14th Street. People held up their phones to take pictures with queens as they doled out the frozen treats, some lining up to take photos with Katya while she stepped aside to have a cigarette. I watched Roxxxy Andrews shamelessly flirt with one of the staffers, saying something like, "Give me your number, I want to run my fingers through your curls later," gesturing to the top of his head with a flick of her long peach fingernails. Alaska purred into a microphone offered to her by one of the news crews while Ginger Minj bubbled and batted her eyelashes inside of the truck.

It was hot as I ran around the tiny area bursting with bodies to get pictures, but it was a perfect way to spend an hour on a Tuesday. Take a look at some of the images below!
















Friday, August 19, 2016

Whiskey-upon-Hudson

At 9:30 am this past Saturday, a white Mini Cooper rolled up to my apartment building. In the driver's seat was SE, Ray-Bans perched on his face, one hand perched confidently on the wheel. In the mere moments I was outside the steaming humidity swallowed me whole and I was relieved to plop myself in the rush of air conditioning inside the car. We plugged in our tunes--which would evolve throughout the day from The Black Keys Pandora radio station to a medley of Ben Folds and No Doubt anthems to yelping pop punk songs from our pseudo-emo youth--and made our way to upstate New York for the day.

Though we had to pass through the corporate suburban wasteland of New Jersey first, where Targets and Kohl's and Houlihan's and, yes, even TGI Friday's peppered the landscape instead of...anything else, we eventually arrived back in New York. Outside of the city by probably a little under an hour, New York is a curling highway running through mountains and rock and forest. It is green and spread through with country roads, the occasional log cabin, and the occasional Donald Trump sign. At one point, though, as if we turned some magical corner, the Trump signs evolved into gay pride flags and  I felt like we were back in Manhattan, but with far more trees and Grateful Dead paraphernalia.

We had gone upstate, to the New Paltz area, to visit the Hudson Whiskey Distillery at Tuthilltown Spirits. We were to arrive and take a tour of the facility, have a whiskey tasting, then lunch at the former Tuthilltown Grist Mill turned restaurant next door. But we arrived to the area a bit early and instead poked around an antiques store. Musty toys (like Barbie Paper Dolls from the 1960s and even an NSYNC marionette) and glassware and jewelry ran through the store, chaotically shelved together to fit as much as possible in the tiny space. I ended up with a copy of James Thurber's The Thurber Carnival from the 1940s and a Lake Placid Olympics pin with a tiny athletic raccoon printed on it, courtesy of SE, who also did not leave empty-handed, by way of a petite American flag pin.

Outside of the antiques store were signs for something called the Sunflower Arts Festival, which happened once a year. We resolved to check it out after our tour, but upon pulling up to the distillery we realized it was in the field mere steps away from the distillery's front door. We were still early when we arrived, though, so we decided to poke around. Tall, circular metal structures at the distillery were painted over in a splash of bold, colorful designs, and around the corner at the fair there was a music tent, an array of standalone "ghost" doors painted in an explosion of bright colors as if they were canvases. 

Next to those, artists spraypainted murals onto canvas (one of them later turned out to be the famed (Meres One, founder of the dearly departed 5 Pointz aerosol art project in Long Island City, Queens). In some tents nearby, local artists and children painted still lives of sunflowers, people sold handcrafted jewelry, baked goods, home-bottled hot sauces, dried lavender, and a host of other goodies. People sat on a sloping hill dotted with planted sunflowers and listened to the band, some young women hula-hooped to the strum of their guitars, running for shelter when a rather heavy sunshower reared its head. There were more piercings and tattoos and tie dye than I expected for upstate New York (I was more prepared for the Trump signs, quite frankly), but SE told me the area is known for its crunchy, granola spirit. Who knew?


Shortly after we went into the distillery for our tour, led by a man named Lion with a skull tattoo and several ear piercings. He walked us through the whiskey's development, from its history as a distillery to its beginnings as grain to a fermenting mash, to a boiling liquid to a cooled liquid to a barreled liquid to a labeled and sent off liquid. I marveled at the structures and containers used for everything and I felt like I was in a sort of steampunk factory fairyland, everything a hooting and churning or pumping brown or silver metal. My favorite part was seeing all the barrels used for the stuff, how each one is filled up with a gas station-like pump labeled with a date and was from a different cooperage in the country.



Post-tour, it was time for our tasting, where we were able to sample all the beverages produced at the distillery, whiskeys and ryes as well as a delectable cacao liqueur, blackberry cassis, and bourbon maple syrup. I slurped the latter out of a tiny plastic cup as if I were coaxing cough syrup onto my aching throat. I can still taste it.

Post-distillery, we made our way to the adjacent Tuthill House restaurant. As I mentioned, it's a former grist mill, so it was perched on top of a gorgeous waterfall flowing over shiny rocks. Inside I had one of the best cocktails I have ever had, called the "Beet Poet." It featured, I quote, "Walnut & Pistachio Infused Indigenous Empire Wheat Vodka, Beet, Black Peppercorn, Fresh Lemon, Ginger." Praise be to our lordess and savoir RuPaul, did that make the simmering heat outside feel like it had disappeared (the buzz it brought on was not unwelcome, either). We dove into burgers afterward and had another gander at the Sunflower Festival before driving home.

Well, not entirely "home" home, though we did head back to the five boroughs. We realized that since we had purchased the car for the entire day, we should really make use of it and go to a place for dinner we wouldn't normally be able to get to as easily without a car. We chose Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for Italian food, specifically the restaurant Mario's. My father had grown up going to eat Italian food with his family there and parts of The Godfather were filmed there. We dove into an herbed carrot salad and seeded bread and olive oil and caprese salad and chicken scarpariello and tiramisu and all of it was simply heavenly. Dessert still on our lips, we walked back to the car, lolling and sated, a day of whiskey and sun behind us.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hank & Cupcakes

I messed up. I thought the band we were hoping to see, The VeeVees, fronted by the incredible and astounding Sophia Urista, were opening for Hank and Cupcakes but it turns out it was another band. We were disappointed, and I felt like an idiot, but we had already bought our tickets so we decided to go anyway. As AR says, if it's great, then excellent, you just saw an unexpectedly awesome show. If it sucks, you get to make fun of it. So either way it would work out.

We stepped inside Le Poisson Rouge, which was wonderfully chilly with air conditioning and a welcome reprieve from the oppressive August humidity currently plaguing the city. In the basement of the venue, we found ourselves a spot and assumed our "New York music snob stance," arms folded in front of us, daring performers to just try impressing us.

I had never heard of Hank and Cupcakes, but apparently this was the New York record release show of their new album, Cheap Thrill, which debuted July 1. After the (rather forgettable) opening band departed the stage, setup for H&C began, which included a standing drum kit, a bass guitar, and network of interconnected stretched fabric painted over with hearts and eyes suns and moons in bold colors. I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.

Shortly, the band came out. It was just two people: a slim, mohawked, shirtless man with a ruff of black chest hair who wore skinny jeans and black Chuck Taylors and a teeny little woman who had shaved sides of her head, her dark hair twisted up into a bun. She was shoeless, wearing only leggings and a minuscule crop top that read "Bitch Relax." Oh, and she was pregnant (about seven months in, she'd say later). Her naked-and no-fucks-given belly hung like some kind mystical orb above her hips as she took her place behind the drums.

And then they started playing. It was truly something electric to watch them, to watch Hank annihilate the strings of his bass and Cupcakes thrash her drum kit while her Beth Ditto-like voice gorgeously shrieks out of her mouth. I have never seen a pregnant woman rock so hard, and the experience of seeing her has reversed (well, let's be real, diminished is more like it) my fear of having children. With each song, the hard rocking escalates and I am moved to shake with abandon, untwirling my hair from its bun and banging my head to the beat, stamping my feet and swiveling my hips in time with the beat of her drum, the thrum of his bass. I love a good concert, but it takes a lot for me to be physically moved by it. But at a certain point I can't control it and my body is just moving independently of me. "TAKE ME TO CHURCH!" I shout through a smile as my arms fly upward. I am a congregant at the temple of rock and roll, possessed by the spirit of an unrelenting drumbeat. I am saved.

Cupcakes radiates energy and though Hank is playing that bass for his life I cannot stop looking at her. YOU ARE EVERYTHING! I think to myself. Has there ever been anything more punk rock than this petite Cupcakes pounding her drum kit while a life two months from beginning grows inside of her? What a way to start off in the world. I am almost jealous of this unborn baby: its home is a rock and roll machine, its blood pulsing to the time of a snare.

video


At one point Cupcakes climbs on top of the drum kit and sings an acoustic song about the importance of religious freedom and the crowd goes quiet, singing along and using only hands patting against chests as their instruments. I don't like to sing, but my hand beats against my own sternum in solidarity. The crowd is small but enthusiastic, their eyes not turned toward phones but to Hank & Cupcakes, the way concerts were when I was a teenager. The way I wished they still were.

Cupcakes speaks in an accent I can't quite identify, but I've learned now that it's not an Australian one as I had thought, but Israeli. The band formed in Tel Aviv in 2008 and are now currently based in Atlanta. They named themselves after Charles Bukowski's alter ego, Hank Chinaski, and the nickname of a lady friend, Pamela "Cupcakes" Wood. By day they are Sagit Shir (Cupcakes) and Ariel Scherbacovsky (Hank), and they met while serving in the Israeli Army. Cheap Thrill is their third album.

After the show, AR and I make a point of going to their merch table and making a purchase. For me, it's a t-shirt, and for him, it's their new album. "If you put on a show like that, I'm going to buy an album as a thank you," he says as we leave. I can't help but agree.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

It's Raining Burlesque

I got caught in the torrential downpour that happened around 5:30 on Monday evening. There was a flash flood warning around 5pm, and everyone's phones went off in the cafe where I was working but, for whatever reason, it didn't really register. Cut to me jumping across what was practically a river on 6th Avenue and West 8th Street as I scurried into the Waverly Diner for some solace from the rain and free wi-fi. The diner's faux-wood paneled walls, vinyl-cushioned seats, lunch counter, and metallic poles for coat-hanging were leftovers from the 1970s as, interestingly, were its menu designs. I shuffled myself in, perhaps embodying the Yiddish phrase my mother loves but which I cannot spell so I will just estimate: "oyskevepte katz," meaning not just "wet cat" but "You look like you really took a bath, cat." I make my way to a booth and I recognize the woman sitting in the one in front of me almost instantly. She has bright, vermillion hair spun into a bun on top of her head and she's decked out in a tan tiger-print caftan. Her attire is exactly what I would expect for who she is: one of the most famous burlesque performers in the world. And she is just sitting in front of me, reading and clicking through her phone with her long, manicured nails. Long gold earrings dangle from her ears, and her face is free of makeup.

I've written about my love of burlesque perhaps several times here, but arguably the reason I know about it at all, the reason it experienced a resurgence in the modern era, is because of this woman. She literally wrote the book on burlesque, runs a school for it here in the city, is on the educational forefront of the performance art at several highly respected burlesque venues across the country, and is one of the first names in the field today. In my mind, she's also a great role model for positive sexuality, ownership of femininity, and a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. And I was sitting behind her, in my full oyskevepte katz regalia.

Of all the dumb luck, I thought to myself. Goddamn New York, if you didn't come through today on this one. I may have gotten stuck in your monsoon, yes, but this is a wonderful gift in exchange. It was enough of a gift just being in her presence, but then I realized I wanted to say hello. How could I not? I'd be a chicken if I didn't, and I am many things, but I am not a chicken! But what would I say? And when would I say it? She had just ordered her macaroni and cheese in a very soft New York accent--which I have to say was a sort of delightful surprise because when she's onstage she doesn't always talk--so I'd have to wait. I didn't want to seem like a creep, but maybe it was already creepy that I was sitting behind her this whole time just waiting to talk to her? SE said anything I said that supported her work would be welcome, so I would use that as a jumping off point. I tried to sip the tea I ordered and finish the email I had been in the midst of sending, but my brain was too occupied.

I wonder, do people recognize her often? Are any of them young twenty-something gals like myself or are they all creepy old men, because lawd knows you get a whole lot of those at burlesque shows, too.

While I wait for her to finish eating, I actually do get some work done. But then her check comes and I sort of sit there rocking, trying to get myself to stand up and go say hello, like some socially inept freak of nature. But eventually I am standing, and eventually I am in front of her saying "Hello, [Her Name]?" And she says yes? And that soft New York accent comes out again. I say 'Hi, I'm Elyssa' in the tiny little voice that comes out when I'm nervous, 'I love your work. I've seen you perform so many times and I love your book, too.' And she says thank you so much, I really appreciate it, Elyssa. And maybe some other things somehow coherently fumble out of my mouth, too, but I don't remember exactly what they are now. The entire counter lasts probably less than three minutes. I'm just so happy she remembers my name when we're finished talking.

Looking back now, I'm amused at how starstruck I was, and it just goes to show that everyone has their own celebrities. I think about how many times I've said in a full whisper to friends that I've just spotted X photographer or X choreographer or X magazine editor, and they have no idea what I'm talking about. What's great, though, is that it's really quite possible to come to New York and be around your idols, to just walk past them in the street or sit behind them in a diner. It makes water-logged days like this one above-and-beyond worth it.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cocktailing

In the depths of the especially hot and sticky summer we've been having for the last few weeks, one of my favorite respites is found in a glass. Don't worry, Maw Manhattan: I'm not an alcoholic. I just think a cocktail is a wonderful way to cool down every once in a while, and I have been learning to enjoy the artistry that can go into making a drink. This is in part due to SE, who is an amateur mixologist in his spare time, his home bar stacked with all manner of quality bitters, liqueurs, bottles printed with the phrase "Creme de" [insert flower, fruit, or herb here].

Every once in a while, SE will leave his home in pursuit of a truly wonderful cocktail. I have had the pleasure of being in his company for such endeavors, and one recent excursion took us to the Upper East Side for a visit to the very luxurious Mark Hotel. Consistently rated as a five-star home-away-from-home for people who exemplify "the other half" in the phrase "how the other half lives," The Mark is home to its own personal Frederic Fekkai salon, a trolley service that takes its clientele to and from Bergdorf Goodman (and offers them 24/7 access to the department store), and room service by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, among many other amenities. It is also known for its hotel bar, The Mark Bar.

After a not-especially-special trip to another bar that evening, one whose quality of cocktail did not match the requested expense, I wanted to get SE a truly special cocktail at a place where I knew, I knew we would be able to get them. I had read in New York Magazine's very cool "Absolute Best" series, in which they list their favorite bars and restaurants that achieve a variety of accolades ("Best Birthday Cake" and "Best Lobster Roll" are two that come to mind), that one on their list of "The Absolute Best Uptown-Hotel Bars in New York" was The Mark. So in a bout of adventurousness and spontaneity (which, we would learn later, would be a theme for the evening), I made the suggestion and we spirited ourselves uptown.

Walking to The Mark from the subway, we passed both the ornate cement and modern brick facades of elegant townhomes dotting the walk between Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue on 77th Street, as well as stores empty of people yet still beckoning their wares with brightly lit windows. A doorman welcomed us into the hotel, its artistically modern furniture and bright white walls covered in contemporary canvases. The air was cool but not chilly, and everything was the polar opposite of the subway ride we had just taken to get there.

We made a sharp left and entered the bar, its couches printed in a brown and white cow pattern, walls decorated in shimmering copper tiles, each centered with a circular, dotted light fixture. The space was covered in a hot pink light of sorts, and we made our way to the silver bar with its matching stools to have a look at their cocktail menu. I chose a fruity champagne cocktail, and SE selected The Mark Bar's take on the classic Aviation--typically gin, creme de violette, lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur, the bar tops it off with a generous splash of Prosecco. As I expected, the drinks were heavenly. Bubbly and sweet, but not too sweet, they were what the drinks we had earlier in the evening should have been.

As we sat and sipped and discussed, the bar became more empty, and soon a gentleman was sitting next to us. A sort of Brazilian Richard Branson in appearance, his pregnant wife (his third) and his child were sleeping, he explained, and he was going to treat himself to a dirty martini. He was in real estate in Miami, it would turn out, and a car enthusiast, much to SE's delight. The two of them slowly but surely eased into a jocular chat that left them both laughing and smiling. I left to use the restroom at one point and when I returned I discovered we were all about to do tequila shots, courtesy of our new friend. Shoot the tequila I did--rather, to the best of my ability, since it was a rather generous shot, though of the deliciously smooth Don Julio. More time passed, more laughs, more discussion, and it was just we three in the bar, closing it down. The gentleman had so enjoyed our company, he said, and then in an act of kindness and generosity we very much appreciated, treated us to our cocktails. He and SE traded business cards, and we shook hands, gave hugs and said thank you, separating into our respective evenings. If you had told me our evening would have gone this way when we started, I would have been delighted but I wouldn't have believed you. But, as ever, evenings like this are why I moved to New York.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Word.


"I don't know where I'm going!"

A girl is standing on Bedford Avenue next to a gentleman of some nature, her phone in front of her face. Her finger swipes down repeatedly on the screen as if trying to find herself on a map.

It was an interesting phrase to hear as I walked past them toward the L station from Greenpoint, as it perfectly summed up my day.

A big, if not arguably the biggest, part of my job is to pitch articles and photographs to various publications. Once they're accepted, I then get to write or photograph (or both) whatever topic I've submitted. The weeks where I have to do this, though, are often quite taxing. Not because coming up with ideas and sending emails is difficult, of course, but  because it can feel as if my ability to pay my rent and all of my bills rests within a single email to an editor or even a subject at a given time. It's stressful, spending sometimes literally hours on a website to understand their content only to have the ideas you've spent all this time on, sometimes days at a time, get unanimously rejected or not even acknowledged. This is the nature of the beast, of course, a thing that every writer deals with all the time. It's a life I chose and ultimately I'm happy to be living it and making a living doing it. But that doesn't mean that some days I don't want to kneel in front of my computer and pray to Moses or Jesus or RuPaul or whoever runs the universe for this pitch or that pitch to be accepted. Because often, if not most of the time, that is what I want to do and the sole fact that I am in a coffee shop surrounded by people with interesting tattoos and sneakers is often the primary reason I do not end up doing so. Please just let this go through, I think to myself instead. Please.

Today was one such day, in one such week. I spent hours agonizing over a food website to make sure my pitches were tuned in to what they might want, and ultimately I think I made some good decisions. I submitted them around 5pm, so I imagine/hope I'll see sometime later this week. I left the coffee shop once I finished this task to head to Word Bookstore in Greenpoint. The event tonight was "Ask Polly Live" where "Ask Polly" advice columnist Heather Havrilesky of New York Magazine's The Cut would be discussing her new book, a collection of her column entitled "How to Be a Person." Heather's column has developed a cult following, and soon the bookstore will be flooded with 20-something women all seeking their own interaction with Polly. Joining her would be two more very well-respected writers, Meghan Daum and Kate Bolick. I had even studied Meghan Daum's work in college, when a professor assigned her delightful essay "Music is My Bag" for a class. I was excited to be in a room with so many inspirational writers at once.

As is my MO, I arrived early, mostly to peek around at the bookstore--I lust after books in a way that most certainly lacks sanity; the Louisa May Alcott quote "She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain" always blares in the back of my mind whenever I enter a bookstore of any kind, and I am often left wondering to myself how to pick just one to take home. Shortly after perusing the stacks, I felt the back of my throat close up the way it does when it is trying to suppress water from spilling out of my eyes, my tongue springing to the roof of my mouth to hold my jaw closed. I was surrounded by ravishing cultural critiques, essays, and histories by celebrated authors, memoirs in hardcover by people perhaps a decade younger than me, anthologies I would have longed to contribute to bearing the names of writers I know on their covers. It was no different than any other trip to a bookstore, really, but today I internally prayed for an article about breakfast food to be accepted to a magazine. How was I supposed to go downstairs now and listen to these giants talk about writing? I felt an inch tall. I wanted to run out of the store, find a stoop to sit on, unhinge my tongue from the roof of my mouth and release saltwater down my face in fits and starts until I couldn't breathe. Breakfast food.

"I don't know where I'm going!" indeed.

But I knew I was just feeling sorry for myself, and I certainly wasn't going to turn around and go home after I had gone all the way to Greenpoint. "Suck it up," I thought to myself. "You will learn something and it is important for you to be here to listen to strong, smart women who once were where you are talk about writing."

And listen I did. To Heather Havrilesky's deliciously sharp, confident tongue that mirrors her worldly, tell-it-like-it-is "Ask Polly" column; to Meghan Daum's advice to celebrate one's comfort zone--but to go deep into it and not stay on the surface--because "the things that work are the things that feel authentic to you" and the trouble starts when you force it; to Kate Bolick's celebratory "courage of her eccentricities" and "This is the cake I bake!" a personal manifesto for self-acceptance encouraging those who don't like your cake to visit another bakery. They made me think about the writing I want to do and why I don't do more of it, about emotional truth in writing, about the steps I need to take to get where I want to go. They can seem like daunting steps, of course, but they are required if this is what I want.

I got the most hope, though, from a story Kate Bolick told about Heather Havrilesky, when she discussed one of the first columns Heather did something like 20 years ago. One of the first. 20 years ago. "Oh!" I thought to myself. "I have time!" It seems like a 'duh' point to say so, but of course nobody who has been at anything for 6 years has mastered it. In another 14 years if I don't have my shit together then we can worry. Maybe in 14 years, if I just keep doing what I'm doing but also make the changes I need to make, breakfast food and all, I will have a career like one of these women. The event ends and they are milling about, but I don't have the guts to say hello and I love your work and you inspire me like I normally would. I am unfortunately still hearing breakfast food in the back of my head, simultaneously feeling dwarfed by their accomplishments and knowing how far I still have to go, while trying to think, based on their advice, how to grow next.

I go to leave the bookstore and by the door is Heather, who is signing books for a long line of young women. They say things to her like "You changed my life," and "You saved me," and she smiles a true, genuine smile to each of them and says thank you. I press the door open and her eyes meet mine. I have noticeably not been in the line of the tiny bookstore to come face to face with her before now. "Thank you for coming!" she says. I can only manage a nod and a half-smile before exiting, but I think, thank you.

I walk past McCarren Park, chasing twilight as the sky quickly turns from lavender to heliotrope to navy back to the train, when I walk past the girl whose face is in her phone. "I don't know where I'm going!"

Me either, I think. But I think that's okay.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Celeste

When Maw and Paw Manhattan tell me they are coming to visit, two things usually happen: 1) I am delighted, which is then followed quickly by 2) a stab of fear in my heart. I don't worry for their safety, I don't worry for their ability to get around, I worry what restaurant I am going to take them to.

This sounds incredibly insane, and it definitely is, but at least let me explain. I love my parents so much, as we all do, and I want nothing more than when they visit to give them a positive experience. There are so many restaurants in New York, and so many quality ones to choose from. They deserve the best in my opinion, so if a restaurant doesn't meet their standards--which, admittedly, are not very high: does a place have good food and a comfortable atmosphere? That's it, that's all they care about-- it almost feels like I haven't done right by them. Like after all these years, after all they've given me, I still couldn't get my shit together and find something worthwhile. Insane, right? And much too deep, they tell me every time the come visit. "Uh, can't we just go get a burger, Lyss?"

When my parents go out to eat in Florida, where they live, they have a circulating stable of places they pick from, and every so often they'll branch out. They like good Italian food, good French food, good Chinese food, sandwiches, occasionally Greek, occasionally Mexican, and they've recently gotten into Korean and Thai food. They're not especially adventurous eaters, but they also know tasty, thoughtfully-prepared food when they have it. They don't have to be impressed with kale or unpronounceable vegetables or farm-raised this or organic that or locally sourced whatever. If it's delish and it's not too complicated, they can get on board. And when they come to New York, they're on vacation, so they don't need to get fancy every night (one night, sure; every night, no). 

All that being said, the one thing my father asks for whenever he comes to New York is a choice Italian place. (That, and a trip to Nancy's Pig Heaven for some incredible spare ribs). I have not yet, though, been able to deliver on this request. I don't regularly eat Italian food, so finding a spot that's worthy when I haven't been there is a challenge. I have tried bring M & P to some spots but none ever cut the mustard, as it were. Paw likes a down-home kind of restaurant, where the tablecloths aren't white linen, where there are paper napkins, where you don't have to make a reservation and if you tried to they'd look at you funny. He also likes bolognese. I've seen him order it with every kind of pasta from gnocchi to spaghetti and in true connoisseur fashion, tries it whenever it's available in whatever restaurant we go to.

Recently, though, I was able to find one restaurant I think will be a good fit. Though he had had a long day at work and neither of us said we were going to be eating too many carbs any longer, SE let me drag him to Celeste on the Upper West Side. We were easily able to grab a table when we rolled into the unmarked, brick-walled restaurant at around 9pm, flanked on either side by a couple finishing up their tiramisu (which looked incredible) and a woman enjoying a nice dinner to herself (what turned out to be spaghetti alla vongole, or spaghetti with clams). We ordered one of their signature wood-fired pizzas, (Margherita) made in a brick oven, and a dish of their homemade pasta (Paccheri Vesuviana, medium-length tubes of pasta topped with ricotta and tomato sauce). And everything was unbelievable. The mozzarella cheese seeped into the tomato sauce which seeped into the bread and all melted into my mouth at once. I had one of those moments when you finish a slice of pizza and suddenly you're so happy there's one more there waiting for you. The pasta was perfectly al dente, the ricotta and tomato sauce spilling from the tubes and happily onto my fork when I cut into them. When we ate all the pasta, we dipped the bread into the sauce to sop more of it up, unwilling to let it go. We didn't get to try the bolognese, but there's always next time. The waitstaff was kind, the manager was friendly, and we didn't feel rushed during our meal. It was one of these moments of simple pleasures, delicious food in a quiet little brick restaurant, no need for splash or glitter, something perfect after a long week. The next time M & P come to visit, I hope they will feel the same. 

Celeste
502 Amsterdam Avenue at W. 84th St.
212-874-4559