Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...at Low Life 8

Somehow, in my 30 years of loving, devouring, and being nostalgic for (despite having never actually lived in) East Village history, I had never been to the Pyramid Club. The Pyramid, the renowned incubator for great drag performers and artists for nearly 40 years, had eluded me for the last eight or so years, and perhaps not by chance. If I’m honest, I was worried I’d arrive at the legendary venue at some point and for whatever reason not fall in love with it as I was supposed to. But then Low Life came along, and I knew I had to go.

Low Life is a variety showcase inspired by the book Low Life: The Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante. Assembled by Chi Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell, nightlife legends and creators of the iconic Jackie 60 party, the show was first held in 2007 at Tompkins Square Park to close out the annual Howl! Festival saluting East Village culture. But the show was on hiatus for several years, returning last week for its eighth edition, celebrating legendary East Village dives from The Slide to the Pyramid itself. Hosts Chi Chi Valenti and Paul Alexander (a former Jackie 60 MC) introduced acts inspired by both 1880s-1920s Bowery life and the 1980s Pyramid life, performed by a bevy of New York nightlife stars. Drag queen Sherry Vine, in a wig of blonde curls and a cascading robe of black feathers, sang the 1920s classic “After You’re Gone in a deep purr. Burlesque performer Dirty Martini sauntered onto the stage, cigarette dangling from a long holder, drenched in a velvet robe and glittery eyeshadow. John Kelly transitioned in song from suit and dress shoes to scarf and corset and heels. Heather Litteer performed a monologue after arriving onstage in a trash bag. Poison Eve performed as Tanya Ransom performing Nina Hagen, a teased purple wig on her head, a dress covered in buttons over her torso.

In between acts, Johnny Dynell, in a Klaus Nomi t-shirt and suspenders, spun ABBA and Grace Jones and people danced, toes tap-tap-tapping on the linoleum floor. Later, I shed my coat and scarf and even participated myself. I walked under the crepe paper decorations and Christmas lights and lanterns. I watched as drag queens in towering wigs and heels tiptoed to the bar.

It’s funny, making my way to Low Life that night I was tired almost to the point of tears. Why am I doing this? Shouldn’t I be home sleeping? What is it all FOR? What does it all MEAN? And all this typical tired nonsense I usually dream up for myself when my brain cells are just about to keel over. And yet, arriving at the Pyramid, seeing the show, I forgot all that. I wondered if maybe that’s how everyone felt when they walked in the door, if that’s what kept people coming back all these years. And I wondered why I had stayed away so long.

Follow on Instagram: The Pyramid Club, Johnny Dynell, The Jackie Factory, Sherry Vine, Dirty Martini, Heather Litteer, John Kelly, Poison Eve

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Alex Kapelman

When I meet Alex Kapelman at B&H Dairy on 2nd Avenue, he kindly offers me a potato latke. Today is his day off. Mostly. As much as any freelancer has a day off, we joke later.

Alex is the co-host and co-producer of Pitch, a podcast featuring audio documentaries casting light on underexplored parts of the music world. Forthcoming, for example, are stories about Senator Orrin Hatch’s musical compositions for Hanukkah and the 1973 song “Santa Claus is a Black Man” by producer Teddy Vann. Pitch has received praise from the likes of NPR, New York Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Atlantic, and countless others. It’s also led Alex to NYU, where he now teaches the Audio Reportage class in the master’s program at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute; and to founding Podcast Love, a consultancy that specializes in audio storytelling, audio training, podcast launching, and more.

You would think such a career would entail a great deal of coffee, but Alex isn’t actually a coffee drinker. In fact, after we leave B&H, we head to Tea Drunk on E. 7th Street--the goal is to get a very, very lightly caffeinated green tea (he tried black tea recently and bounced off the walls) for the days when he needs an extra boost.

When we enter the serene, white space accented with wood and white ceramics, it’s so quiet I’m especially conscious of my camera clicking. Opening the menu to Green Tea, Alex reads through their flavor profiles--the “Sharp and toasty with a fuzzy mouth feel” of a Bi Luo Chun, the “Raw nuts, flowery, sharp tannins” of a Mao Jian, the “Elegant, floral, vegetal with a tender mouth feel” of a Hou Kui--and ultimately settles on the latter. Behind the counter, a very knowledgeable gal named Alyssa walks us through the infusing process, pouring hot water into tiny pitchers, later adding the long leafy bits that make up the Hou Kui. We sip the clear, faintly green liquid from tiny, white, bowl-shaped cups.

A gentleman at the end of the bar asks Alex what he’s drinking and soon they embark on a wildly interesting discussion about the nature of drinking tea, how you know a tea menu is legit (the best tea shops will know and share when and where their tea was made, he says), and how to expand your knowledge. He turns out to be actor Eric Berryman, and we discover we all have mutual friends. I’ve often thought that if you sit anywhere for a long enough time, you’ll meet someone interesting, but apparently--according to both Eric and Alyssa--Tea Drunk draws folks that are even more varied and unusual than the average bear.

We sit there sipping and talking for what ends up being a couple of hours. Soon, Alex has to take a phone call. We wrap ourselves up and step back into the cold. He places a giant pair of headphones around his ears and gets to work, disappearing down 7th Street.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Jocelyn Seidle

Even though Jocelyn Seidle has agreed to be my Miss Manhattan Hangs Out subject, I have a feeling I know what she’s going to say when I aim my lens at her while she’s walking on the street.

“Elyssa, you know I don’t do candid snaps!” In fact, I do know this, but Jocelyn, my friend of 18 years, knows how the project works as well, and she mercifully relents just this one time.

Arriving at her apartment in Miami, we sip coffee with sugar and almond milk and laugh while spilling the tea. Silver spoons clink against mugs large and small and laughter echoes throughout her apartment. Nearby, her dog Baxter, the derpiest pup who ever pupped, sits and stares at us, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth.

The Jocelyn I know is a stylish, hilarious lady who shows up for her friends, gives excellent advice, sends me memes via Instagram that make me laugh so hard I spit out my coffee, and, as we once decided, is “half frat boy, half Chanel handbag.” She is also a Vice President at an automotive company, the fourth of four sisters, and an aunt to her sisters’ children (“the nuggets,” as she calls them).

After coffee, we walk to Perricone’s, a nearby Italian restaurant, for brunch. “You don’t have to eat healthy this time, do you?” Jocelyn asks me. “Because the brie is amazing.” No, I’m on vacation, I say, and we order it.

Before it arrives, we nibble crusty bread with juicy bruschetta and Jocelyn sips rose. If I have an empty stomach, I have recently, embarrassingly, been getting drunk off a few sips of a glass of wine, so I decline. Jocelyn purses her lips and shakes her head as if to say, “typical Elyssa.” But she is right, so I can’t protest.

The brie arrives and in its puff pastry and warm apricot glaze, surrounded by fresh fruit, it is a vision. Jocelyn slices it open and it jiggles but doesn’t ooze. Sweet and flaky and fruity, it’s everything she said it would be and we eat half of it. We follow it up with salads.

We talk about boys, which is a weird thing to say now that we are both 30. But saying we talk about men seems like we take ourselves too seriously, which we definitely don’t and never have. She makes me laugh so hard I worry about annoying the tables next to us. But she has always done that, and I have probably always annoyed them.

Finishing up brunch, we trot back to her apartment. She brings her dark sunglasses onto her face and they catch the traffic moving behind me. Her hair flicks in the breeze on this slightly overcast day. She opens her door and is greeted by Baxter, his claws skittering and clicking across the floor.

“Hello, Mamaaa!” she imagines the dog saying in a very goofy, slightly British accent. “Oh yes, I missed you so much!”

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...On Thanksgiving (Almost)

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and at my house that means there are piles of ingredients waiting to be morphed into delicious treats on every surface of the kitchen. My mother has already had her annual phone call to yell at Publix and tell them yes, they do have her stuffing base and don’t tell her the company stopped manufacturing it five years ago because she’s been cooking with it for 30 years. As ever, she is right, and as I sit at the dining room table writing this bags of it are resting inside the giant turkey roasting pan on the chair next to me. Tonight we will snap the pointed ends off green beans and slice mushrooms and grate carrots and chop celery for tomorrow. We will spend the majority of the day cooking after watching The National Dog Show on television and eating muffins and coffee for breakfast. Sometimes I remember to play The 5th Dimension’s 1971 live double album on vinyl as we cook--the “Laura Nyro Medley” is my favorite because I love the way they sing “Wedding Bell Blues.” My dad will exit to the other end of the house so he doesn’t have to hear my mother and I shout benignly at each other about the best way to measure sugar or oats or to mash the butter for the apple crisp.

The day before Thanksgiving I think for everyone is one where a last gasp of work energy disappears into the long weekend, myself included. So for this week’s Miss Manhattan Hang Out, I offer just this shortened slice of life with a simple photo below. I wish you a day off or a day on or a day filled with family or friends or both or whatever you need to feel good, from my refrigerator to yours.

All my love,
Miss Manhattan


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Arun Marsten

Huckleberry Bar, on Grand Street in Williamsburg, is Arun Marsten’s local. He’s lived in the vicinity of the bar--one that is somehow at once dark and elegant and welcoming--since he moved to the city a little less than two years ago. The chill outside reminds me that somehow we missed the 50-degree weather and skipped right to the 40s from the 70s. A call for an Old-Fashioned comes from deep within my bones. Soon Arun arrives, and I order just that. He wears head to toe black--or what at least looks like it in the dark of the bar--like a real New Yorker, despite being a native Atlantan.

Arun pronounces his name “arrin” and definitely not “uh-rune” and definitely don’t tell him how he should pronounce his name if you’re not also Indian. We met because we attended the same university, but not at the same time. Rather, a professor we both had, the inimitable Scott Sandage, said we should be friends when Arun moved to the city--I started the campus music magazine Arun edited long after I graduated, and we both took Scott’s rock and roll history course. Arun graduated with a BHA, a bachelor’s of humanities and arts, in information systems and music. He now works in software development by day, and as a musician at night--he’s working on an EP as we speak.

Cocktails are among Arun’s great loves, alongside coffee, biking, and music. My bourbon Old-Fashioned order passes muster, but later he’ll have me try some of the bar’s house cocktails. Arun selects the “Sweater Weather,” made of “Magnus Scotch, Avua Cachaca Amburana, Bebo Coffee Liqueur, Banana Liqueur, and Orange Bitters.” I smell it. “It tastes like alcoholic banana bread,” he tells me, and he’s right. But it’s a little strong for my taste and I wrinkle my nose quite unsubtly. “Yeah,” he laughs. “It’s very alcohol-forward.” The other drink he orders is the “Pachamama,” made with “Caravedo Pisco, Absolut Elyx, Garam Masala Carrot Syrup, Sfumato, Lemon Juice, and Fresh Ginger.” His friend is the beverage director at the bar and she makes the Garam Masala Carrot Syrup herself. It’s delicious. Later, I also get a brief lesson in bitters--Fernet-Vallet is Mexican Fernet, and you can sip it or add it to a cocktail. We sip the dark, herbaceous liquid from tiny shot glasses. We punctuate cocktails with trips to the garden, where Arun will roll and smoke a cigarette.

We talk about our youth as pretentious music snobs, our adulthood now slightly reformed. We talk about cultural appropriation, how you earn ownership of a city, DIY music scenes, being marketed to for your millennial-ness, old-school New York, weird internet culture, where the soul of the city lives, finding community in new places, generative music, “punk shows,” lies people tell about themselves, Bruno Mars. Soon we’ve been at the bar nearly three and a half hours. Arun orders one last drink: a rye, Fernet-Branca, Angostura bitters, and simple syrup cocktail called a Toronto. It’s his favorite.

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