In Other Words

Letters and pictures along my way.

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Whiskey, Cigars and Jazz: A Promotional Stunt

This is a general “culture” piece.  A bit of a diversion, but worth reporting and reading.

Liquor’s winter appeal is quantifiable: It quickens and spreads blood into your arms and legs, creating full-body heat on a cold night.  The Carnegie Club knows this all too well, and picked November 8th to showcase Bushmills whiskey with their signature cigars and a Roaring Twenties backdrop.

For manager Scott Asbury’s two years at the club, he and the managers of Davidoff of Geneva have planned free seasonal events that promote their respective organizations.  The space is a bar after all, so the most successful stunts have been liquor tastings; there is also a consistent historical side, notably in “Sounds of Sinatra” Saturdays— but 8 PM last Thursday marked a rare, Gatsby-esque soiree: Drew Nugent & The Midnight Society filled the club with old American jazz as ankle-dressed, pearl-necked ladies carried whiskey platters and cigar boxes.  Some attendees wore fedoras and bowties while chomping their Davidoffs, and the only modern giveaway was a football show being televised behind the bar.  “We have four of these events each year,” said Asbury, in a suit of his own with a lighter in hand.  “We’re one of the few cigar bars left in NYC who still does them.”

This tasting and concert may have been free of charge, but it may bring the club and Bushmills more business in days to come: Every table was reserved, most of the seats and couches were taken and every inch was packed with the whiskey and cigar enthusiasts.  A few minutes of silence came around 10 PM, as three raffle contestants were awarded cigars and ashtrays.  Everyone who entered the context signed up with an email address, and now receive messages from Bushmills and Davidoffs.

The event was a promotional success for everyone involved, including Drew Nugent himself: The dark-haired Philadelphian has been playing this style of jazz for ten years, and considered the Fall Smoker “a welcome home.”  It can be argued, however, that the Bushmills samples were the stars of the night.

“We’re one of the oldest distilleries in Ireland,” explained Bushmills representative Julie Dancona over the chatter.  “One thing that makes us special is that we make all of our whiskey under one roof.”  The companies’ labors paid off at the Smoker, with very few attendees without glasses in their hands.  The club and Bushmills arranged to specifically showcase Original, 60% single malt and known for a chocolaty flavor; Black Bush with a dizzying 80 % and hints of sherry; Bushmills 10-year-old single malt, as first distilled in 1608 and recent first-place New York Times winner in a blind whiskeys tasting; and the 16-year-old single malt, with a sweet taste for soft palates.  Sample glasses were only a quarter full, allowing an introduction and leaving tasters wanting more.

“We wanted to get people excited about what they were tasting,” says Asbury, “so we chose to feature some of the rarer and more expensive liquors.“   Despite that rarity, the tasting was far from elitist: The Carnegie club’s motivation for free events like these is to be as inclusive as possible.  Thursday had no demographic other than those looking for a smoke or drink, and attendees ranged from early twenties to mid-sixties.  The final product was a large audience, much to the hosts’ pleasure.

The event was ideal timing for Bushmills, with its drinks appearing on more and more restaurant menus.  There are many blends to pick from, but The Carnegie Club’s Fall Smoker picked just the right ones for their event: Spike Mcclure, Master of Whiskey and Bushmills aficionado, recommends Bushmills Original in Irish Coffee for the coming winter months.


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Community Initiative after Sandy

* All photos were provided by Amanda Abel.

America’s “Superstorm” may have passed two weeks ago, but its wreckage path remains.  New York is no exception: Countless have been displaced from the hard-hit Rockaways, Manhattan subways lines are still on hold and thousands of Staten Islanders still don’t have power.  Bayside, Queens saw more wind than rain, and many areas still had electricity— but the environment got the storm’s brunt.

The Cross Island Greenway littered with uprooted trees.

The Cross Island Greenway littered with uprooted trees.

“We didn’t get hit terribly hard, which we’re happy about,” says Bayside Marina employee Eric, “but the trees along the Cross Island Path definitely got it the worst.”  Indeed— Many of the popular Parkway’s elms and hickories were uprooted and knocked into the path, much to the community’s dismay.  The waterfront grass is also full of litter— some of which traveled for miles.  Fall may be a time of transition, but scattered leaves are not usually accompanied by the rest of the tree, or mass litter.  Baysider Amanda Abel knows this all too well, and was one of the first ones to help restore the area.

Abel drove down the Parkway the Friday after the storm, and lost her breath at the sight of the wreckage.  The true extent of the damage hit her during a routine run through the park the following Saturday.  “It was so shocking to see the volume of trash, sewage and seaweed covering the grass and pavement,” she says.  “I could just see joggers like me climbing over trees and mountains of debris.”  She has an active relationship with the area: During the summer, she either runs or bikes across the parkway before work.

Abel was also struck, however, by the people near Little Bay Park—some organized, some there of their own accord— picking up trash.  She went home and returned with a box of garbage bags and a willing friend.  Feeling she “owed this to the park,” she spent the next three hours shoveling and bagging garbage along the greenway.  Branches were only the tip of the iceberg: there were (and are) thousands of bottlecaps, lots of plastic bottles in all sizes, a few syringes and “more Styrofoam than Abel has ever seen in her life.”  Abel’s twenty bags just managed to cover thirty feet of litter on the Crocheron Overpass.

At first very few people stopped to thank the women, but a handful eventually joined her efforts.  Most notably, one bicyclist donated his riding gloves to use as work gloves.

Current gas shortages have kept Abel’s efforts in the area, but they are determined and ongoing.  “The group is really focused on cleaning the area,” says Eric.  “I’ve seen them out there every day for a while.”

Amanda Abel (far left) stands with two members of her clean-up team.

Amanda Abel (far left) stands with two members of her clean-up team.

The Cross Island Parkway is Fort Totten’s domain, and it marks one of over 26,000 reports of tree damage in Queens, which, according to a New York City Parks spokesperson, “Was hit the hardest of all the boroughs.”  The parks services are hard at work evaluating and repairing damage; but down-to-earth clean-up efforts like Amanda Abel’s are a strong place for the job to start, and may ripple into more community involvement.

There is still plenty of work to be done, and local volunteers clean the area almost every day.  This attests to Bayside residents’ concern for their environment, and a willingness to own its damage.  Abel is currently back at work, but plans continue restoring the greenway each weekend.  “The asphalt and I are good friends,” she says.  “I hate to see it in this kind of distress.”

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Inside The Nuyorican

By 10 PM on Friday, a crowd reached from the end of East 3rd Street towards what Allen Ginsberg deemed “the most integrated place on the planet.”  The doors to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe were about to open for the end-of-the-week poetry slam; the line was boisterous with newcomers wondering what to expect, and writers rehearsing their performances.  Everyone filtered into a brick-walled room with a high ceiling for echoes, and was treated to three hours of insight in verse.  “This place is incredible,” says Manhattan poet Akua.  “Everyone who reads is so different, and adds something new to the show.”  This range of voices has made the cafe stand out from the start.

Even before it was a grit-and-glitz art scene, the Lower East Side was a popular immigrant spot.  During the 1970s, however, the academic publishing community was not friendly towards Latino writers.  As a result, many of them felt no more at home in New York than they did in Puerto Rico, and were pushed to form their own creative circle.  The Nuyorican started in 1973 as a routine gathering in writer Miguel Algarin’s apartment, where many unveiled poetry, theatre and music reflecting the immigrant experience.  It was, in the words of current executive director Daniel Gallant, “a café more in an intellectual than a formal sense.”

The Nuyorican found its current home in 1981, when La Mama, another arts organization, sold a near-century-old tenement.  This era’s Lower East Side had more abandoned lots than artistic venues— but that did not stop the café’s development.  After some volunteer work and government funding, The Nuyorican became and remains a chance for everyone to have a say.  The original variety of mediums currently exists in modern art decorations (including a larger-than-life mural by the entrance), experimental stage productions (famously “Short Eyes” pre-Broadway, and routinely monologues) and frequent musical gatherings (ranging Latin jazz to Afro-Cuban nights).  Events often blend different forms of entertainment, pushing spectators out of their comfort zones.  This past Friday’s slam, for instance, took 5-minute breaks for some hip-hop swagger; at one point, Moderator Mahogany Browne welcomed bold audience members to dance on stage.  Nevertheless, poetry is this café and nonprofit’s foundation.  It was actually the first Manhattan venue to claim a slam.

When café former board member Bob Holman stopped through Chicago in 1989, he was blown away by a spoken-word show at Green Mill.  “It was a very early form of slam poetry,” says Gallant, “but it had same basic elements that a slam has today.”  In its current incarnation, attendees sit and gather around the Nuyorican’s one-step stage for a three-part performance.  At Green Mill, judges were chosen before the event began, but the Nuyorican randomly selects them from the audience.  Their gavels take the form of hand-scrawled rating cards, and each event is a step towards an annual final.  If anything, this structure is a nod to spoken-word’s signature spontaneity.  That immediacy is one thing helping the café stay afloat.

“The entertainment industry has been changing since the dawn of time,” says Gallant, “but poetry prospers.  The beauty of spoken word is that it moves poetry out of the classroom, and makes it this raw, impulsive art form that reflects day-to-day experiences.”  The Nuyorican sees modern social media, with its own day-to-day updates, as a golden promotion opportunity: It is an active Tweeter, and has a Facebook page almost as crowded as a good slam.  Friday performer Marcel Davis may have rhymed on digital alienation, but he strongly approves of using the internet for large-scale communication.  In this case, it helps the Nuyorican stay engaged with a younger, net-savvy, demographic— as does educational and community outreach.

This thriving venue kicks off every weekend with an explosion of verse: After a visiting “sacrificial poet” opens, selected slammers step up to the microphone and speak their minds to a room of rhyme-hungry listeners.  Afterwards is an open mic for all, and it is hard to leave without some education of perspective: October’s last Friday saw a multitude of subjects, ranging from foreign affairs to gender roles.  Each performer brought something new to the mix, but some topics were age-old: “If you date a poet,” laughed MC Browne, “break up amicably: We can and will write about your ass.”