The “I’d Actually Want This” NYC-Themed Gift Guide

I’m by no means a minimalist, but unnecessary tchotchkes do tend to make me anxious. I’d never buy an item without first imagining where in my home I’d place it. All of the below are gifts I either already own–and think you should own, too–or things I’d happily own. Each represents the city in a specific, unique way.

1. TWA vintage NYC poster: I’ve had a mild obsession with vintage airline posters recently, and this David Klein creation (from $26 for 16 x 20) is one of my favorites. The vibrant colors, the cubist reimagining of Times Square–the design is a work of art. Which is exactly why it’s part of MoMA’s collection, with prints sold at the MoMA Design Store.

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David Klein: New York Fly TWA print; courtesy of MoMA Design Store

2. Good Morning Asshole mug: Okay, this mug ($14.95) from cheeky New York-based tableware purveyor Fishs Eddy isn’t explicitly NYC-themed, but it reads like something one New Yorker might say to another. We don’t mince words around here, and insults can actually be used affectionately. This mug is wishing you a good–versus bad–morning, right?  Give to friends or family members who need to be reminded they are, in fact, assholes before their first sip of caffeine. I’ll even forgive the missing comma.

fishseddymug

courtesy of Fishs Eddy

3. Serenity Now clock: Seinfeld is the archetypal New York show. More so than its story arcs, the sitcom had an overarching NYC ethos–biting, nihilistic, sarcastic–that’s difficult to properly articulate. Channel your inner Frank Costanza (possibly the show’s funniest character) with this modern, attractive “serenity now” wall clock ($30), and hope to avoid Lloyd Braun’s “insanity later” fate.

serenity-now-seinfeld-wall-clocks

courtesy of Society6

4. Juilliard T-shirt: When I was younger, a local college t-shirt or sweatshirt was one of my favorite souvenirs when I visited a new city. I used to focus on Ivys or the bigger state schools–Dartmouth, Berkeley–but apparel from small, niche institutions seems a bit more memorable. I adore this vintage-inspired T-shirt ($30) from NYC’s own Juilliard, the nation’s best performing arts conservatory.

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courtesy of The Juilliard Store

5. Katz’s Delicatessen chocolate egg cream candle: Have you ever had a chocolate egg cream? If not, you’ll be shocked to learn there is, in fact, no egg and no cream. It’s actually a fizzy concoction of chocolate syrup and seltzer. Sounds strange, but I highly recommend it! The drink was, for a long time, a staple of NYC delis and soda shops. Get it in candle form ($28) from NYC pastrami kings Katz’s Delicatessen.

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courtesy of UncommonGoods

6. Levain Bakery cookies: I have a dear friend who lives on the Upper West Side. Whenever she arrives for a party in Brooklyn, she brings cookies from Levain, a bakery in her neighborhood. Why? Because she’s smart. She knows the cookies are an NYC mainstay and that people are obsessed with them. Levain’s cookies are huge, gooey, under-baked and somehow stay fresh for days. People swoon over the chocolate chip, but I’m gaga over the chocolate with peanut butter chips. The 8-pack assortment ($49) is ideal for an NYC expat.

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courtesy of Levain Bakery

7. The Light of New York book: There is a beautiful, moody quality to the ghostly black-and-white images of New York City in The Light of New York ($75, Assouline). Jean-Michel Berts captures a city at dawn, empty of its citizens and sparking with a just-under-the surface energy. My husband and I used it as a sign-in book at our wedding.

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courtesy of Assouline

8. Hamilton cast recording: It may well be one of the greatest artistic achievements of our time, and you still don’t own it? I can speak for hours about my love of Hamilton, but you won’t understand until you listen (from $18.99). Set in New York City (“history is happenin’ in Manhattan, and we just happen to be, in the greatest city in the world, in the GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD…”) this multi-genre-infused musical follows the dramatic rise and sudden fall of one of our more-overlooked founding fathers.

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courtesy of Atlantic Records

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Summer Date Ideas by Neighborhood: Brighton Beach and Coney Island

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No, summer’s not winding down, and I have proof! This past Tuesday, September 2nd, was the hottest day of the entire season. This means summer plans on sticking around for a while longer. Venturing out to Brooklyn’s iconic Brighton Beach and Coney Island neighborhoods is one of my favorite ways to capture the spirit of a summer in NYC. The two neighborhoods offer food, people watching and entertainment–the trifecta of a fun night out. Brighton Beach and Coney Island are about a 10-15 minute walk from one another along a nice, wide boardwalk.

1. Eat: There’s pizza! There are hot dogs! There is mediocre Russian food (I’ll explain below)! Let’s start with the pizza. One of the best pizza parlors in the city, Totonno’s, is in Coney Island, not too far from the boardwalk. This is a classic New York pie. If you’re going to sully it with toppings I suggest crowd pleasing fresh garlic and pepperoni. Consistency varies, but on a good day, the pizza here is nearly unbeatable. Last seating is at 7:30 p.m., practically an early-bird dining hour in NYC.

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

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

Then, of course, there’s Nathan’s Famous, home to one of the best hot dogs in the world and the yearly Hot Dog Eating Contest. I’m a sucker for the chili dog, but the original, topped with sauerkraut and onions is great, too. The dog itself is meaty with a satisfying snap. A bit of advice: go to the sprawling original location instead of the smaller oceanside outposts. Though the service there is painfully slow, the original has the freshest inventory.

Courtesy of Andrea Hubbell Photography

Courtesy of Andrea Hubbell Photography

And then there’s the riskier Russian food option. If you decide to go this route, make sure to follow my rules exactly. First, it’s better to go at night when the restaurants aren’t clogged with beach goers. Second, get a small bottle of chilled vodka at a liquor store on Brighton Beach Avenue, below the elevated subway track. Most Russian restaurants in Brighton are BYO, and we were actually once admonished by a waitress for paying for a few shots instead of bringing our own (it was late! the stores had all closed!), and thus, according to her, wasting our money. Next, grab an outdoor table at one of the Russian boardwalk cafes. If you’re primarily after great food, go to inland cafes Oceanview or Skovorodka. Since it’s summer, ambiance is probably more of a priority. There are only three boardwalk options (Volna, Tatiana and Tatiana Cafe) and the quality is fairly comparable between them, so no need to fret about this decision. Now we’ve come to the most important guideline. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, order from the “American” section of the menu. Just don’t do it. “But I’m really craving a burger,” you say, “and “it’s hard to mess up, so I just thought I’d…” NO. Please, for the sake of all that is holy, do not do this. I can’t even guarantee it will be edible. Get traditional Russian (or Russia-appropriated) things like blini with caviar, fried potatoes with mushrooms, shashliks, etc. Those dishes will be good, if not life changing. Next, sit back and enjoy some of the best people watching in New York City. Russian families celebrating, elderly men and women walking arm-in-arm, surly Russians being surly. It’s a fascinating slice of Brooklyn that feels almost entirely removed from the rest of the city. It’s like a wormhole to seaside Odessa circa 1975. Another point: expect your service to be slow and probably somewhat rude. It’s okay, you’re using them for their location. You’ve got a 375ml bottle of chilled vodka, the sweet company of the person you’ve brought with you and the salty breeze blowing off of the Atlantic. You’re good.

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A recent meal on the boardwalk

2. Play: Aside from the preternaturally entertaining boardwalk and beach, you can indulge in a bit of minor league baseball or in a few amusement park rides.

The Brooklyn Cyclones play in MCU Park, which abuts the boardwalk and overlooks the old parachute tower. Personally, I love everything about baseball except the actual game. I love the spectatorship of it, the beer drinking, the Dipping Dots eating. Did the Cyclones strike out again? Ho-hum. The Brooklyn Cyclones are also an organization that knows how to have fun with theme nights. This past July they hosted a Seinfeld-themed night, marking the show’s 25th anniversary. There were creative costumes, inventive signs and even a marble rye fishing competition. After every Friday and Saturday evening game the stadium puts on a fireworks display that rivals the pageantry of any small town July 4th show. Sounds fun, right? Well, unfortunately, the Cyclones’ season is over so save this idea for next summer!

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Luna Park, Coney Island’s amusement park, is still open on weekends through October. Come and ride the famed 87- year old Cyclone (not recommended for those with frail bones or the easily bruised) or the makeout mecca Wonder Wheel, a Ferris wheel with fully enclosed passenger cars for privacy. More than just a collection of historic rides, Luna Park also features brand-new coasters and rides that spin a full 360 degrees. Me? I’m more of a ride observer. My own coaster riding days are behind me, but it’s fun to watch the youngins’ have a grand time. I prefer the arcade sports–basketball and skeeball. Just leave me a bunch of tickets and check on me every few hours. Oh, and don’t forget to buy me a funnel cake.

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25 Years of Seinfeld’s New York

Seinfeld, probably the greatest sitcom of our time, premiered on NBC 25 years ago, on July 5th. Though ostensibly a show about nothing, Seinfeld proved to be about nearly everything. It had a unique way of honing in on every kind of social triviality, lending the most mundane interactions a comic ridiculousness and relatability. At its heart, it was a show about who we think we are versus who we really are. Jerry, George and Elaine all longed to be viewed as decent people and to pat themselves on the back for their good deeds all while doing some pretty reprehensible things. As an example: George buys a chair for a security guard so the guard doesn’t have to stand all day, and, in a separate episode, pushes children and the elderly aside so he can be the first to escape a fire. Kramer, on the other hand, was the foil, content to be just who he was.

Elaine Benes is one of my favorite female TV characters ever, despite being a not-so-great person. She could hang with the boys without having to emulate them. She was sexual without being sexualized. And she was funny. Like, really funny. And not funny by doing gender-specific schtick. Just, well, funny. I’d say, punch for punch, she landed some of the best zingers on the show. The character is a testament to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s range as an actor.

It was also a show about New York City. Yes, the situations were relatable no matter your zip code, but NYC dwellers had a unique window into the world of Seinfeld. A few storylines that would garner knowing nods from New Yorkers:

  • Elaine giving a false address in order to have really good Chinese food delivered to her apartment. (“If we deliver to you, then what, 85th Street, Wall Street, Mexico, 84th Street…?”)
  • George, Elaine and Jerry’s ultimately fruitless hunt for the perfect apartment
  • Elaine’s screaming inner monologue when the subway breaks down
  • Elaine leading a group that includes a pregnant woman and a priest under a set of bleachers in order to find an escape route out of the Puerto Rican Day parade
  • Elaine and Jerry’s determination to bring a chocolate babka to a party (“You can’t beat a babka.”), then settling for cinnamon.
  • Kramer telling Jerry that if he doesn’t want to be a part of society, he should move to the East Side.
  • Kramer, lost and scared, calling Jerry and telling him he’s in the “Nexus of the Universe”: the intersection of 1st Street and 1st Avenue. (“How can the same street intersect with itself?”)

 

babka

“Cinnamon takes a backseat to no babka”

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