Best Places to Holiday Shop in the East Village

The holiday shopping season is upon us, and there are some great spots to find unique gifts in my neighborhood. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Exit 9 Gift Emporium – 51 AVENUE A

This is the place for the person on your list who has everything. From unique gag gifts to handmade cards, you’ll find something off-the-beaten-path for friends and family of all ages. They have a great variety of NY-centric gifts for the NYers in your life.

Some favorites:

Funky Manhattan Map $30.00

Funky Manhattan MapRyan Gosling Coloring Book $13.00

Ryan Gosling Coloring BookBrooklyn Cutting Board $50.00

brooklyn cutting board
2. Strand Book Store – 828 Broadway

This NYC staple is a year-round gem, but it’s also the perfect place to find gifts for the book nerds in your life (and for yourself!) this holiday season. Find new & used books at discount prices, along with a selection of gag gifts, cards and tote bags.

Some favorites:

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger $6.29
Catcher in the Rye

Hooty the Owl Tote Bag $14.95
Tote bag

Keep Calm and Write On Notebook $19.95

3. Pink Olive – 439 E 9th St

What may first be considered a “shee-shee-foo-foo” type gift shop is actually a brilliant boutique with cute gifts for mom, baby, and hostess.  They have an outstanding selection of cards for every occasion, too.

Some favorites:

The Stache Baby Bodysuit $32.00

“Je T’aime Paris” Paper Set $38.00
%22je t'aime paris%22 paper set

Sunday Brunch Recipe Book $19.95
sunday brunch

Seasons Greetings & Happy Shopping!

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History at home: The NYC Tenement Museum

tenement-museum-97-orchard-street-new-york-bfwAs a local in NYC, it’s hard to find things to do with out-of-towners that I haven’t already done 100 times. That’s why I was excited to visit the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side with family visitors last weekend.

The Lower East Side was a mecca for immigrants from all over the world, starting in the 1800s and even through today. At one time there were so many German immigrants living in the Lower East side that it was called Little Germany (Keindeutschland). The Lower East Side has also been a fist home to Irish, Italians, Polish, Ukranian and many other immigrant groups.

Visiting the Tenement Museum is not a typical museum experience, because you’ll tour through a restored apartment building, built in 1863. Several units are restored to different time periods, and your guide tells you the true stories of the people who lived there. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the immigrant history that so many Americans share.

I highly recommend the “Hard Times” tour ($22.00) which will guide you through the restored building and share the stories of several families who lived there. Unfortunately there is no self-guided option, and be sure to book your tickets in advance on as they go fast!

Enjoy :)

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Social Tug-of-War

imagesIn New York we are constantly on the go: juggling long hours at work, the demanding schedules of friends and families, and the temptation from so much to do and see around us. Sometimes it can be hard to just say “no” to that fifth happy hour of the week, when you really want to go – but you know you shouldn’t.

This social tug-of-war has been a constant in my life for some time, but recently came to a head when I realized I hadn’t sat home and relaxed in weeks. So how do we deal with it all, while still being a good friend, employee, sister, daughter, etc? It’s not easy, that’s for sure.

The pressure to do it all, and have it all, is especially potent in New York, where the rat race and “keeping up with the Joneses” factor is increased 8 million-fold. And, if you add on top of that a personality that likes to please others, things can get dicey.

To help manage my time, mental/physical health and social life a little better, I’ve realized I need to tone down those FOMO (fear of missing out) feelings and focus on myself. While I’d probably have a great time at happy hour, if my body is exhausted and I’ve got 3 episodes of “Orange is the New Black” waiting on Netflix, it’s okay to just go home.

On the flip side, don’t be that guy that always cancels. Especially last minute. Know when it’s important to keep a date (friends’/family birthdays, catch ups with someone you haven’t  seen in a long time, BFF emergencies, etc.) and when you can skip out. It’s a delicate balance that can’t be taken for granted. But I’ve realized that I’m not helping anyone, especially myself, by running myself completely into the ground. All the stress and craziness can be subsided with a few nights of quiet at home with a Skinny Cow chocolate  bar.  And this week, that is my jam.

Posted in Reflecting | 1 Comment

The Best Ice Cream in the East Village

The Best Ice Cream in the East Village

salty-pimpWe’re in the midst of an NYC heat wave. This, for most of us without central AC, is pure torture. That’s why every neighborhood needs its local ice cream shop for heat-crazed New Yorkers to get some relief. Lucky for me, we have several great spots in the East Village. Here are two of my favorites:

Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
125 East 7th Street
(between 1st Avenue & Avenue A)
New York NY 10009
Open till 12am 7 days a week.

Thankfully the line moves fast at this ever-popular East Village staple. Everything from the staff, bright store and fun ice cream names make this place a whole lot of fun. I rarely stray from my all-time favorite ice cream cone, the Salty Pimp. It’s a glorious combination of vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, and sea salt enclosed in a light coating of chocolate dip. Need I say more?

There isn’t any room to sit in the shop, but you can score the bench outside or head down the block to Tompkin’s Square Park for a stroll while you enjoy your cone. The staff is notoriously friendly and will run down the full menu for you while you wait in line. How sweet!

Van Leeuwen
48 1/2 East 7th St,
New York, NY, 10003
(at 2nd Avenue)
Open till 12am Mon-Thurs & Sunday
Open till 1am Friday and Saturday

If you’re looking for a gourmet ice cream experience, this is the place for you. Many New Yorker’s are familiar with the pastel-green/yellow Van Leeuwen Ice Cream trucks that hit locations across the city. But thanks to the convenient East Village location, which is dangerously close to my apartment, ice cream connoisseurs can enjoy Van Leeuwen in the same spot whenever they’d like.

Van Leeuwen’s ice cream is homemade in Brooklyn with all organic ingredients.  Seasonal flavors are regularly updated and made in small batches – so get there early if you want to try a special flavor like Passion Fruit, Sweet Stick Black Rice, or Salted Caramel with Bourbon.

My personal favorite is the mint chocolate chip milkshake, which is made with REAL MINT and tastes like pure heaven on a hot day.

Now get out there and cool down with a delicious treat… you deserve it!

Posted in Food | 2 Comments

Perfect Day at Smorgasburg, Williamsburg

08-smorgasburg_AT_460x285Though I’m just one subway stop from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I hardly ever go there. This past weekend I learned that’s a huge mistake, because there’s so much fun stuff happening in the hipster neighborhood, from eclectic shops to cozy restaurants to the famous Smorgasburg summer food festival.

Williamsburg is much closer than you’d expect for many Manhattanites – it’s just one stop headed east on the L train from Union Square. We stopped by Smorgasburg and, let me just say, this is a MUST DO. It’s by far the best food festival I’ve ever been to NYC. Over 100 New York-based food vendors serve everything from buttermilk fried chicken to duck confit. Plus, the festival takes place in a park overlooking the East River & Manhattan skyline, so it’s the perfect spot for a picnic and a beautiful view.

Come hungry and try a little of everything, or at least as much as you can before you burst. After you’ve had your fill, take a walk down the charming streets of Williamsburg and check out “Artists and Fleas”, a weekly indoor market featuring local artists and designers.

Some highlights of Smorgasburg:

  • Schnitz: The sandwiches from Schnitz are huge and made on fresh pretzel rolls, with schnitzel (lightly-fried chicken, pork or veal cutlets) and other goodies, depending on which sandwich you choose. Share with a friend so you don’t get full from one spot; there’s still so much to try!
  • Lumpia Shack: Stop here for delicious Filipino spring rolls – perfect bite-sized finger foods for sharing, made fresh on the premises.
  • Dough (donuts): While we didn’t have a chance to try a donut from Dough, they looked outstanding and there was a line to prove it. If you’re a donut connoisseur, this is a must!
  • S’more Bakery: This bakery puts a delicious twist on the traditional campfire S’more, with grown-up additions like dark chocolate, caramel sauce and sea salt to a variety of flavors.

I could go on and on, but I’ll let you find your favorites and report back. Happy Smorgasburg-ing!

Posted in Adventures, Food | 1 Comment

Why Young People (and New Yorkers) Don’t Vote Republican

democrat-republicanWhile perusing the New York Times today, I came across an interesting article called “Why Young People Don’t Vote Republican.” The article points out that young people increasingly view the Republican party as “rich” and “religious” and even “racist.”

According to recent analysis on how Republicans can win back young voters, President Barack Obama won 5 million more votes than Gov. Mitt Romney among voters under the age of 30 in the 2012 election. (Is it any surprise when young voters identified personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh as Republican head figures?)

I’ve found that living in the Northeast and especially in NYC, Democratic ideals are so prevalent in my social circles that “Republican” is practically a bad word. It’s not so in other parts of the country. So what makes New Yorkers so anti-Republican?

I think it’s because our city is such a mixing-bowl of cultures, people and beliefs. It’s really no wonder that New Yorkers don’t want to associate ourselves with people society has deemed as close-minded and intolerant when everyone around us is so different, special and fascinating. And while I’m increasingly taking up the position that all politicians are at least partially evil, the endless parade of idiotic (and notably Republican) rants from white, chubby red-faced male politicians has put a bad taste in our mouths.

I have some friends who consider themselves fiscal Republicans but social Democrats, and I’m wondering if there’s something to this. Is it possible to vote Republican but to be pro-gay and pro-abortion, for example? How do you rectify conflicting political and social beliefs?

If a tight-pursed Republican economy can put food on the table and increase jobs, is it worth sacrificing gay marriage and minorities’ rights?

I wish there was a way to separate “fiscal” and “social” politics, but that’s just not how it works. So until then, most of you know where my vote lies, while I’m under 30 and beyond.

Posted in Reflecting | 1 Comment

Best Sidewalk Restaurants

Blockhead's patio

Blockhead’s patio

With so many interesting people to see in NYC, it’s no wonder that people-watching is one of my favorite pastimes. And where better to do it than on a restaurant sidewalk or patio, while munching on delicious food and enjoying the weather? In honor of the warm summer nights coming our way, here are a few of my favorite sidewalk restaurants:

Blockhead’s, Midtown West
The giant patio at Blockhead’s midtown west location is like a non-stop party for young professionals. After work, 20 and 30-somethings flock here to enjoy San Francisco-style Mexican food at reasonable prices (not to mention the amazing drink specials).

This patio is particularly comfortable because it’s not facing the street, but rather a courtyard of surrounding eateries in a city park setting. There’s no traffic but still a lot to see, thanks to the tequila-guzzling patrons.

The downside is that you should be prepared to wait, especially during evening hours. While you’re waiting, head across to the burger joint for a drink. If you’re extra nice, the Blockhead’s staff will call the bartender when your table’s ready.

Naples 45, Midtown East
Located near Grand Central, connected to the MetLife building, Naples 45 is the perfect spot for an after-work drink with the midtown east crowd. The large patio boasts its own bar with happy hour specials and plenty of seating for groups. There’s also apparently free pizza at happy hour before 7, though unfortunately I haven’t made it there in time to try it out.

While the Neapolitan pizza is a bit pricey ($35 for a Margherita pie) the atmosphere is fun and casual, so it’s a great spot to scope out the Grand Central scene and catch up with friends.

The Mermaid Inn, East Village
Since moving to the East Village, I’ve been anxiously waiting for The Mermaid Inn’s back patio to open. This cozy seafood spot is situated in between 5th and 6th streets on 2nd Ave. The intimate patio is a great spot to enjoy some apps, white wine and the trendy East Village vibe. The sidewalk tables in front our ideal for people watching along 2nd avenue.

From 5pm to 7pm, Happy Hour includes cheap oysters and discounted drinks. Happy Hour lasts all night on Mondays, but get there early as seating tends to fill up.


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