The Nexis of Celebrity Spotting in NYC

If celebrity spotting were considered an art, I’d be a modern-day Picasso. Well, at least a young Picasso before his Blue Period. There’s no way for this to not sound like bragging, but I’m good at. Really, really good. It’s one of my few natural talents. While out and about in New York City, I’ve spotted everyone from the can’t-miss (Lindsay Lohan on Central Park South) to the pretty famous (Josh Brolin in line to get into Book of Mormon) to the you-know-you-know-him-from-something (Victor Garber in front of The London hotel). And then there are the spots of people who just happened to have been on TV: Justin Deabler from The Real World: Hawaii at our local gym and a girl from an episode of Say Yes to the Dress at a dance performance.

After nearly a decade of spotting, I think I’ve come across a locale that, if frequented often enough, is likely to result in a sighting (warning: sightings not guaranteed).

Behold, the bar stools facing the window at Taboonette, a tasty Mediterranean sandwich shop.

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My husband and I were here for a late lunch on a Saturday afternoon. About 10 minutes into our pitas, I spot Dylan McDermott walking past. At this point I utter the words: “I bet this is a great celeb watching spot.” My rationale for this was: Though celebrities tend to live in West Village, Tribeca, Nolita, Chelsea and even Uptown, many are concentrated in Greenwich Village, along those gorgeous blocks off Fifth Avenue below 14th Street. Taboonette is on 13th Street between University Place and Fifth, a prime artery of this neighborhood, especially if one wants to avoid Union Square.

Back to the story. About 60 seconds after I’d uttered those words, Julianne frickin’ Moore walks past. And suddenly, every celeb I’d ever spotted in the vicinity came rushing back to me, a la the “aha” montage in Memento. Mark Ruffalo one block west. Olivia Wilde two blocks south. Chris Noth one block east…

A few pointers:

Know when to go. You can’t just go any ol’ time. Celebrities are migratory creatures. They tend to avoid the city during deep summer, deep winter, long weekends, award show weekends (those taking place in LA), etc.

Be observant. I’m an observer by nature. I’d never walk down the street listening to music because I’d be too nervous I’d miss a bit of excitement. I use the city streets to tune in, not zone out. It’s hard to recognize anyone when your mind is elsewhere.

Leave them be. A familiar refrain about New Yorkers is that they’re famously unfazed. Here, unlike elsewhere, people tend not to make a big deal about anything or anyone, whether that anyone is a person dressed in a suit of garbage bags or a celebrity. When they see a celeb, most will turn their heads in recognition, make a “is that who I think it is?”-face at whomever they’re with, let the celeb pass without incident, and then compare notes with their companion.

(And then write a blog post about it, obviously.)

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The Kinship of Cities

There are a handful of attributes that are true of many Western world capitals:

  • The public transit system is labyrinth-like, but efficient.
  • The streets are crowded and buzzy.
  • The neighborhoods are distinct and their residents proud.
  • The people may appear gruff, but are generally polite and even helpful.

If you’re going to Paris or London or Buenos Aires, you know you can expect the above. I love these attributes. Cities are where I am most comfortable. Coming from New York, the controlled chaos feels familiar and manageable. In fact, I’m always amazed at how quickly a brand new city can feel like home.  It’s quite heartening. My husband and I like to jump right into the deep end by taking public transit from the airport upon arrival, if we’re not too tired. I love the challenge of quickly deciphering a complex metro system. (No, really, I do.) We also prefer to rent an apartment in a residential neighborhood as opposed to staying in a hotel. If you don’t care about having a dozen towels at your disposal or troubleshooting an issue if something goes wrong, it’s an ideal way to feel like a real resident (well, as close as you can get on a week-long vacation).

This past September, we traveled to Spain and rented apartments in Madrid and Barcelona. I loved both. And both felt like home instantaneously.

Madrid is the true heart of Spain, with busy boulevards and a familiar big-city feel. From the similarities between Central Park and Retiro Park, Times Square and Sol (complete with sketchy people in character costumes), the Upper East Side and Salamanca, the Met and the Prado, the city felt almost earily similar to NYC. We found Madrileños to be fun-loving, friendly and cultured. I’d read about Madrid’s brusqueness, but found none in practice. People were very polite and helped us with everything from directions to picking out menu items. (A Spanish phrasebook did come in handy for when the answer to “Habla usted Inglés?” was a distinct “no”.)

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From top: first taste of jamón at Mercado de San Miguel; wine and stuffed olives; seafood at Mercado de San Miguel; the lake at Retiro Park; looking west from Retiro Park; the bar inside Viva Madrid; tortilla española breakfast; El Rastro flea market; jamón sandwich window display; Real Madrid stadium after a game; tapas at Txakolina; churros and chocolate at Chocolateria San Ginés; breakfast at La Mallorquina; Expressionism at Reina Sofia; Museo del Prado; rooftop bar at Mercado de San Antón

Barcelona has the unmatched beauty of a city that’s warmly embraced both its historic past and and its modernist future. It’s distinctly Catalan with a casual Bohemian vibe. It’s also filled with tourists. We heard more English spoken in our first few hours than we heard during our entire stay in Madrid. There is also a distinctness to Barcelona–the feel of being in a locale that’s wholly unique. Between the ancient winding streets of El Born and Barri Gòtic, the wide boulevards of L’Eixample and the uniquely Mediterranean beach and coast, you feel as though you’re in a place that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. The city has a lively, kinetic energy and a laid-back, friendly local population. I’m actually surprised it’s not even more packed with tourists.

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From top: the view from our Barcelona apartment in L’Eixample; the winding streets of La Ribera/El Born; watching the parade on the last day of Festival La Mercè; cava and blistered shiseido peppers at Bar de Pla; Casa Batlló, a Gaudí building; organ inside La Sagrada Familia; view from Parc Güell; Gaudí aqueducts; exterior of Palau de la Música Catalana; arròs negre at Kaiku restaurant on the beach; view of Catalan coast; fountain inside Parc de la Cuitadella; mosaic roof; squid and chickpeas at Cal Pep; interior of Santa Maria del Mar; elderly shoppers at Mercat Santa Caterina

Scenes from the Lowcountry

Here are a few favorites from a recent trip to South Carolina.

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Pictured, from top: Cheerwine-and-bourbon drinks on our deck in Kiawah Island; view from our deck; view from Bowens Island Restaurant; buffet lunch at JB’s Smokeshack; sunset on the dock in Kiawah; homemade breakfast of grits, egg, tomatoes and bacon; The Gin Joint in downtown Charelston; an alley in Charleston

Fall To-Do List 2013

Fall is when New York City really shines. The tourists have gone home; a comfortable crispness has returned to the mornings; plays, dance performances, author readings and other cultural events abound. It’s also a great time to explore the charm of nearby small towns and destinations outside the city limits and to actually catch a glimpse of those changing trees. Below a short, easy-to-manage list of things that make the season.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

There’s a very expensive, destination-worthy restaurant at this sustainable farm in Pocantico Hills, about 30 minutes north of the Bronx. It’s ideal for weddings, special occasion dinners and the like. If you’re not in the mood to drop half-a-month’s rent on dinner, there’s also a café stocked with fresh salads and delectable pastries. The best parts of Stone Barns, though, are the farm and beautiful grounds. Walk amongst the grazing sheep and trotting chickens. Admire the galloping turkeys as they run toward you in packs. Further back, toward the woods, are the oversized, nearly half-ton Berkshire pigs. They’re really quite adorable…in an ugly sort of way. If you’re a vegetarian or would rather not see your food happily alive (no matter how well treated), stick to the vegetable garden, the greenhouse and the hiking paths snaking around the back of the grounds. They’re covered by canopies of trees in a kaleidoscope of colors. You can’t get more “fall” than that.

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Roosters at Stone Barns

A Day in North Fork, Long Island

New Yorkers tend to travel to this low-key Long Island wine growing region in summer, as a way to escape the chaos of the Hamptons. It’s even calmer in the fall, when roadside stands turn into pumpkin patches and visitors can enjoy cool evenings with a wine tasting flight, overlooking local vineyards. Last year, my friends and I piled into a car and made a day of it. We stopped into the recently relocated North Fork Oyster Company (now dubbed The Square) for a lunch of oysters and seafood and then grabbed a beer tasting (you get to take home the pint glass) at Greenport Harbor Brewing. Alternatively, you can check out the much-loved North Fork Inn lunch truck, behind the North Fork Inn & Table, for salads and sandwiches to-go. We walked around picturesque downtown Greenport and over to the waterfront. From there we made our way to Orient Beach State Park for a breathtaking view of the sound. Then it was on to a sparkling wine tasting on the deck of Sparkling Pointe, surrounding by pretty magic hour light. (A list of Long Island wineries can be found here.) We finished the day in perfect fashion, with apple cider donuts from a local stand.

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Sparkling Pointe at dusk

Pumpkin-Flavored Everything

I get a bit obsessed with pumpkin-flavored things in fall. A little too obsessed, sometimes. I once spent the entire month of October seeking out pumpkin-flavored treats in the city, determined to try every one. I don’t suggest you do the same as it’s much too time consuming, but here’s a sampling of treats you may want to, you know, casually come across: pumpkin gelato at Il Laboratrio del Gelato, pumpkin trifle pudding at Sugar Sweet Sunshine, a pumpkin whoopie pie at One Girl Cookies, pumpkin pie custard at Shake Shack, a pumpkin donut (both cake and yeast varieties) at Doughnut Plant.

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Pumpkin doughnut at the venerable Doughnut Plant; image courtesy of Doughnut Plant

Cheer on Runners at the NYC Marathon

I love the New York City Marathon and not because I’m an avid or even recreational runner. It’s that I love seeing runners from all over the world come to our fair city to complete a life goal. Yes, the elite athletes are impressive, but it’s the stragglers I admire, the ones determined enough to finish a 26.2 mile race against the odds, to prove something about their bodies and themselves. Most marathoners have their countries as well as their names written on their jerseys so you can call out: “You’re looking great, Doug!” and “Nice job, Marianna!” Many smile when they hear their name called. It’s heartwarming and uplifting and just plain fun.

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Running through the Bronx during the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

(Image via Edwin Martinez1, Flickr.com; made available under Creative Commons license)

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