Articles by

<Kristin Iversen>

07/16/15 10:45am

The Mark Bar
1025 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint

Tommy’s Tavern
1041 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint

Achilles Heel
180 West Street, Greenpoint


All week—all week!—I’d been on time for everything. This might sound unremarkable to most people, but it was something that I—and everyone I was meeting—couldn’t help but remark upon: “You’re on time!”

“I’m on time!”

This was not a usual thing. I felt reborn; I felt good. I should have known it couldn’t last. Well, I did know it wouldn’t last, but I didn’t think much about how it would end.

All day long people had been asking me, “What’s the last bar review going to be again?”

“The Mark Bar,” I said. “It opened in 2003, just like The L. Do you know how hard it is to find a bar that opened in 2003? Hard.” (more…)

07/01/15 8:47am

160 N. 12th Street, Williamsburg


“It was pretty average,” I said to my companions as we exited Oleanders, the newest inhabitant of the subterranean level of the McCarren Hotel. “At least, the food was. But I generally don’t like to be too harsh in these reviews, because I don’t want anyone to feel too bad. But, yeah. It was mediocre. Like, aggressively mediocre.”

“Aggressively mediocre is just a nice way of saying shitty,” came one reply. “It was dark and oppressive. Everything about the decor was terrible; from those giant plastic Tiffany lamps that were not really Tiffany lamps to the fake digital fireplace to the ridiculous framed photographs of animals in hunting suits to figuring out how to get to the bathroom, which was practically a mile away from the actual bar and felt like it was at the end of a literal maze—it was all awful. And even my lemonade! Even my lemonade was way too sweet—but fake-sweet, like Crystal Light.” (more…)

05/06/15 9:35am
Photo by Jane Bruce

Livingston Manor
42 Hoyt Street, Downtown Brooklyn


When our office first relocated to Downtown Brooklyn from DUMBO last spring, one of the main concerns was this: Where would we go to drink? In DUMBO, there weren’t exactly an abundance of options, but what choices we had were pretty solid. There was Superfine, spacious—cavernous, even—with its small but solid list of draft beers, and excellent french fries to soak up all that alcohol. And there was 68 Jay, with $5 well drinks at happy hour, and free bowls of Goldfish crackers to snack on. Between those two spots (with occasional detours to Pedro’s and the now-defunct reBar), we spent many a booze-soaked evening. But suddenly, newly housed in DoBro, we found ourselves in that most dreaded of places: a bar desert. (more…)

01/05/15 10:30am


While we don’t ordinarily ascribe to the whole “New Year? New You!” philosophy, we must admit that we’d make just about any changes in our lives right now in order to establish as much of a distinction as possible between 2014 and 2015. Perhaps it was different for you, but we feel a bit worse for the wear right now, as if 2014 was one long loop of getting punched in the gut. And though we can’t change the things that happen externally, we can change—or try to change—certain things internally, thus making us better prepared to steel ourselves for whatever the world throws at us. All of which is to say, we want to get healthy this year. But not in a “let’s lose five pounds” kind of a way; rather, we want to enter this year using a holistic approach to our health, one which, dare we say, will help us feel good from the inside out. (more…)

12/17/14 1:27pm


New York 1, Tel Aviv 0
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Shelly Oria

Writing, perhaps more than any other art form, ought to be immune to the kind of binary thinking that labels the thoughts and actions of people as solely good or bad, black or white. And yet, far too often, characters are judged—by readers and critics—with a simplistic, rigid morality, something which seems better suited to the type of narrative more associated with the sloganeering in political campaigns than with a finely wrought work of literature. The whole idea that people and their actions even can be reduced to being right or wrong is a fantastically limiting way to view the world at large, of course, because by doing that we negate the complexities and nuance inherent to being human. And yet we do this all the time; we look for the good guy and the bad guy because it’s easy, and because there’s less of a challenge involved when we don’t have to think too hard about who we should root. Because reading—all art, really—is an escape; there’s a limit to how far most of us are willing to question ourselves and our popularly held opinions while on what amounts to a mental vacation.


12/03/14 7:00am
Photo by Jane Bruce


Brooklyn Eats on Myrtle
474 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill


“But I’m not at all athletic!” my friend protested when I told her that we were going to play some ping-pong.

“I love sports, but I can’t play them,” she said as I dragged her to the brightly lit back room at Myrtle Avenue’s new bar/ping-pong spot, Brooklyn Eats on Myrtle.

It was around 6 on a weirdly warm November Tuesday when we visited, and the place was pretty quiet, with just a few people sitting at the slate-topped bar in the long, narrow front room. Considering there are an abundance of nearby bars and restaurants dotting this stretch of Myrtle Avenue, it takes something special to stand out as a newcomer, and for Brooklyn Eats that something special is the presence of a single ping-pong table, which is free to use for anyone drinking or eating in house. There is a sign asking that patrons only play games up to 11 points, but the rule wasn’t enforced the evening I was there—nobody else seemed to want to play.

And that was too bad, really, because the ping-pong table was pretty much the best part of the bar. Sure, it’s nice to go to a place that has solidly cheap happy hour drinks (generous pours of well drinks for $5, and $3 beers in the bottle), but it’s not like that nice, it’s not that exciting. The same goes for the food we tried. The fried chickpeas were a savory, salty snack—kind of the platonic ideal of bar food. But they were also $5 for a treat that is oftentimes complimentary.  The other food we tried—a shrimp quesadilla with not enough cheese and sausage sliders which were almost all bun with little meat—was almost aggressively mediocre, like it was daring us to say something other than “meh.” Reader, we couldn’t. “Meh” was all we could muster.

And yet, despite all that, we had fun. Probably it was because we had the ping-pong table all to ourselves and so could play right up to 21 points. And there is a jukebox in the ping-pong room (as well as some jarringly silly quotes painted on the wall like “Why Fit In When You Were Born to Stand Out” and “University of Brooklyn School of Reality;” huh?), so there’s that. Plus, as my friend and I quickly learned, athleticism is not a requirement to having fun while playing ping-pong—only alcohol is. And since alcohol is abundant and cheap, it’s pretty easy to have an ok time at Brooklyn Eats on Myrtle. But, you know, only ok. 

11/05/14 4:00am

It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that prior to 2013 most New Yorkers didn’t know how to pronounce the word “comptroller,” and even fewer were aware of what the job actually entailed. All that changed pretty dramatically when former governor Eliot Spitzer entered a city comptroller race which had previously seemed like a sure win for former state assemblyman and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Suddenly, though, all bets were off, because Spitzer brought much more than infamy to the comptroller race; he also brought far more money than his opponent, and far more than had ever been spent in a city comptroller race to date. What had seemed like an easy coast to victory quickly became a hard-fought battle that brought more attention to the role of the city’s auditor-in-chief than ever before. But, well, we all know how this story ends: Scott Stringer was victorious in the Democratic primary and went on to win the general election. So, story over, right? Never going to hear much about the comptroller again? Wrong.

In the year since Stringer’s been the city comptroller (and, FYI, it’s pronounced “controller”), it’s been evident that the job has the potential to be one with a great deal of impact on the issues that most affect the day-to-day lives of many New Yorkers. Things like housing costs, public school programs, the public pension plan, flexible work hours… all of these are issues with which the comptroller is involved, either directly or indirectly. Of course, any job is what you make of it, and Stringer could have chosen to remain firmly in the background of city government, as have many comptrollers before him. But instead, Stringer has come out as a vocal advocate for many progressive programs, and has been critical of the city government when it has failed to enact effective change in places where it’s most needed. Stringer has used the job of comptroller to become something of a conscience for the city on issues like flex-time, which would offer a less rigid employment environment for low-wage workers, and has fought for better oversight over new programs, like the city’s newly established universal pre-K system.

We sat down recently with Stringer to talk about what his first year on the job has been like, and what he thinks are the biggest challenges the city and its residents will face going forward. As a life-long New Yorker, the 53-year-old Stringer has witnessed a lot of changes since he was a boy growing up in Washington Heights, and he has the same concerns for the city that even the newest arrivals (barring Taylor Swift, that is) have: that the city will become unaffordable for the type of people it should most want to attract. So over a couple of sodas at Calexico in Greenpoint, we spoke about Stringer’s assessment of the city’s present troubles and triumphs, and how he believes he can help take New York to a brighter future.

10/22/14 4:00am

Two weeks ago, we published a literary map of Brooklyn for our sister publication Brooklyn Magazine, highlighting the books we felt best represented the neighborhoods in which they were set. Compiling the list of books for that map had us thinking about what it means for a story to not just be from a place, but also of it, and why it is that some places have an abundance of literary riches (we’re looking at you, American South), while others, well, don’t. And we had seen other maps pairing books with states, but those maps tend to signify the fame level of the books rather than their literary merit; they also tend to be dominated by white men. And Margaret Mitchell.

We wanted to do better. We wanted to come up with a list that was more than just a general reflection of a place, but rather paid attention to the specifics, even at the risk of the exclusion of the whole. No one book, after all, can completely capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state. Few — if any — books can even completely capture the spirit of an individual. And yet there are those stories that so beautifully evoke a time and a place and a way of life that it becomes close to impossible to separate the literary perception of a place from its reality—one winds up informing the other.

So while some of these stories do indeed paint in rather broad strokes, others speak to singular experiences that still manage to be expansive in their reach. This is the writing we want to celebrate. Several of these books number among the usual suspects of lists of this kind, but many remain anything but widely known. Almost all are fiction and most are novels; some were written for children, but just about every genre is represented. All are literary in voice and spirit; every last one will let you understand a time and place in a more profound way than you maybe thought possible. And none of them are Gone with the Wind.

ALABAMA: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: 

“This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”

ALASKA: Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer: 

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

ARIZONA: Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy: 

“The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way.”

ARKANSAS: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou: 

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.” 

CALIFORNIA (southern): The White Boy Shuffle, Paul Beatty: 

“I was the funny, cool black guy. In Santa Monica, like most predominantly white sanctuaries from urban blight, ‘cool black guy’ is a versatile identifier used to distinguish the harmless black male from the Caucasian juvenile while maintaining politically correct semiotics.”

CALIFORNIA (northern): Suicide Blonde, Darcey Steinke: 

“I wondered if it mattered whether you loved one person or another. Weren’t lovers interchangeable when you thought back about them? Maybe that was true in the future too.” 

COLORADO: Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner:

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” 

CONNECTICUT: Nine Stories, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” J.D. Salinger: 

“‘That dopey maid,’ Eloise said without moving from the couch. ‘I dropped two brand-new cartons in front of her nose about an hour ago. She’ll be in, any minute, to ask me what to do with them. Where the hell was I?’”

DELAWARE: The Good Lord Bird, James McBride: 

“Some things in this world just ain’t meant to be, not in the times we want ‘em to, and the heart has to hold it in this world as a remembrance, a promise for the world that’s to come. There’s a prize at the end of all of it, but still, that’s a heavy load to bear.”

FLORIDA: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston: 

“She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.” 

GEORGIA: Cane, Jean Toomer: 

“Night winds in Georgia are vagrant poets, whispering.” 

HAWAII: The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings: 

“I bet in big cities you can walk down the street scrowling and no one will ask you what’s wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we’re lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. I think paradise can go fuck itself.”

IDAHO: Train Dreams, Denis Johnson: 

“He liked the grand size of things in the woods, the feeling of being lost and far away, and the sense he had that with so many trees as wardens, no danger could find him.” 

ILLINOIS: Native Son, Richard Wright: 

“Goddamnit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like livin’ in jail.”

INDIANA: The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields:

“It makes her shiver to think of it, how not one pair of eyes can see through the roof and walls of her house and regard her as she moves through her dreamlike days, bargaining from minute to minute with indolence, that tempter.”

IOWA: Gilead, Marilynne Robinson: 

“There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us.” 

KANSAS: In Cold Blood, Truman Capote:

“Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”

KENTUCKY: Beloved, Toni Morrison: 

“It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves.” 

LOUISIANA: All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren: 

“The air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.”

MAINE: Carrie, Stephen King: 

“They had become a fixed star in the shifting firmament of the high school’s relationships, the acknowledged Romeo and Juliet. And she knew with sudden hatefulness that there was one couple like them in every white suburban high school in America.” 

MARYLAND: Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Patterson: 

“All my dreams of leaving, but beneath them I was afraid to go. I had clung to them, to Rass, yes, even to my grandmother, afraid that if I loosened my fingers an iota, I would find myself once more cold and clean in a forgotten basket.”

MASSACHUSETTS: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath: 

“I wanted to be where nobody I knew could ever come.” 

MICHIGAN: Split Images, Elmore Leonard: 

“Coming out of the City-County Building, walking east on Jefferson, they started over and spoke about the weather, looking off at the Ford Auditorium over on the riverfront, the fountain misting in Hart Plaza, Bryan saying it was a little too nice, it wasn’t like April, April in Detroit was miserable, wet and cold with dirty snow left over from the winter; Angela saying she lived in Arizona, Tuscon, and didn’t know much about weather, outside of weather in New York when you wanted a taxi; Bryan said he thought that should about do it for weather, though he could tell her how muggy it got in the summer if she wanted.” 

MINNESOTA: Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace: 

“Betsy was so full of joy that she had to be alone. She went upstairs to her bedroom and sat down on Uncle Keith’s trunk. Behind Tacy’s house the sun had set. A wind had sprung up and the trees, their color dimmed, moved under a brooding sky. All the stories she had told Tacy and Tib seemed to be dancing in those trees, along with all the stories she planned to write some day and all the stories she would read at the library. Good stories. Great stories. The classics. Not Rena’s novels.” 

MISSISSIPPI: Long Division, Kiese Laymon: 

“People always say change takes time. It’s true, but really it’s people who change people, and then those people have to decide if they really want to stay the new people that they’re changed into.”

MISSOURI: Stoner, John Williams: 

“There was a softness around him, and a languor crept upon his limbs. A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been.”

MONTANA: Legends of the Fall, Jim Harrison: 

“Nothing was like anything else, including himself, and everything was changing all of the time. He knew he couldn’t perceive the change because he was changing too, along with everything else.”

NEBRASKA: Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell: 

“Ever since the first day they’d met, Eleanor was always seeing him in unexpected places. It was like their lives were overlapping lines, like they had their own gravity. Usually, that serendipity felt like the nicest thing the universe had ever done for her.”

NEVADA: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson: 

“Hallucinations are bad enough…Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing. But nobody can handle that other trip-the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into the Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE: A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving: 

“If you care about something you have to protect it; If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”

NEW JERSEY: American Pastoral, Philip Roth: 

“Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always, in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper. There is nothing we can do to dispose of that. No, loneliness shouldn’t surprise us, as astonishing to experience as it may be. You can try yourself inside out, but all you are then is inside out and lonely instead of inside in and lonely.” 

NEW MEXICO: Leave Her to Heaven, Ben Ames Williams: 

“To be lonely is one thing; to be alone is another. There is no loneliness so acute as that of a man upon a pillory, facing ten thousand eyes; but to be alone is to be free, free from eyes and tongues that watch and question and condemn.”

NEW YORK STATE: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Joyce Carol Oates:

“Legs squinted up at the sky, the moon so bright you’d never think it could be merely rock like the earth’s common rock and lifeless, merely reflected light from an invisible sun and not a powerful living light of its own.” 

NEW YORK CITY: Daddy Was a Number Runner, Louise Meriwether: 

“Lord, but that hallway was funky, all of those Harlem smells bumping together… The air outside wasn’t much better. It was a hot, stifling day, June 2, 1934. The curbs were lined with garbage cans overflowing into the gutters, and a droopy horse pulling a vegetable cart down the avenue had just deposited a steaming pile of manure in the middle of the street. The sudden heat had emptied the tenements. Kids too young for school played on the sidewalks while their mamas leaned out of their windows searching for a cool breeze or sat for a moment on the fire escape.”

NORTH CAROLINA: Look Homeward Angel, Thomas Wolfe: 

“The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle…They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.”

NORTH DAKOTA: The Round House, Louise Erdrich: 

“I stood there in the shadowed doorway thinking with my tears. Yes, tears can be thoughts, why not?” 

OHIO: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison: 

“Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.”

OKLAHOMA: The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton: 

“The dawn was coming then. All the lower valley was covered with mist, and sometimes little pieces of it broke off and floated away in small clouds. The sky was lighter in the east, and the horizon was a thin golden line. The clouds changed from gray to pink, and the mist was touched with gold. There was a silent moment when everything held its breath, and then the sun rose. It was beautiful.” 

OREGON: No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July:

“Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.”

PENNSYLVANIA: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon: 

“I smoked and looked down at the bottom of Pittsburgh for a little while, watching the kids playing tiny baseball, the distant figures of dogs snatching at a little passing car, a miniature housewife on her back porch shaking out a snippet of red rug, and I made a sudden, frightened vow never to become that small, and to devote myself to getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

RHODE ISLAND: The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike: 

“Some people find fall depressing, others hate spring. I’ve always been a spring person myself. All that growth, you can feel Nature groaning, the old bitch; she doesn’t want to do it, not again, no, anything but that, but she has to. It’s a fucking torture rack, all that budding and pushing, the sap up the tree trunks, the weeds and the insects getting set to fight it out once again, the seeds trying to remember how the hell the DNA is supposed to go, all that competition for a little bit of nitrogen; Christ, it’s cruel.”

SOUTH CAROLINA: Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison: 

“Anney makes the best gravy in the county, the sweetest biscuits, and puts just enough vinegar in those greens. Glenn nodded, though the truth was he’d never had much of a taste for greens, and his well-educated mama had always told him that gravy was bad for the heart. So he was not ready for the moment when Mama pushed her short blond hair back and set that big plate of hot food down in front of his open hands. Glenn took a bite of gristly meat and gravy, and it melted between his teeth. The greens were salt sweet and fat rich. His tongue sang to his throat; his neck went loose, and his hair fell across his face. It was like sex, that food, too good to waste on the middle of the day and a roomful of men too tired to taste.” 

SOUTH DAKOTA: Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder: 

“There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.” 

TEXAS: Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry:

“The eastern sky was red as coals in a forge, lighting up the flats along the river. Dew had wet the million needles of the chaparral, and when the rim of the sun edged over the horizon the chaparral seemed to be spotted with diamonds. A bush in the backyard was filled with little rainbows as the sun touched the dew… The sun spread reddish-gold light through the shining bushes, among which a few goats wandered, bleating. Even when the sun rose above the low bluffs to the south, a layer of light lingered for a bit at the level of the chaparral, as if independent of its source. The the sun lifted clear, like an immense coin. The dew quickly died, and the light that filled the bushes like red dirt dispersed, leaving clear, slightly bluish air.”

TENNESSEE: Child of God, Cormac McCarthy: 

“Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them.”

UTAH: The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer: 

“The spark of humanity can maximize its essence by choosing an alternative that preserves the greatest dignity and some tranquility of mind.”

VIRGINIA: The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron:

“Surely mankind has yet to be born. Surely this is true! For only something blind and uncomprehending could exist in such a mean conjunction with its own flesh, its own kind. How else account for such faltering, clumsy, hateful cruelty?… Yes, it could be that mankind has yet to be born.”

VERMONT: The Secret History, Donna Tartt: 

“White Sky. Trees fading at the skyline, the mountains gone… I never got used to the way the horizon there could just erase itself and leave you marooned, adrift, in an incomplete dreamscape that was like a sketch for the world you knew—the outline of a single tree standing in for a grove, lamp-posts and chimneys floating up out of context before the surrounding canvas was filled in-an amnesia-land, a kind of skewed Heaven where the old landmarks were recognizable but spaced too far apart, and disarranged, and made terrible by the emptiness around them.”

WYOMING: Close Range: Wyoming Stories “Brokeback Mountain,” E. Annie Proulx: 

“He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.”

WISCONSIN: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach: 

“Each of us, deep down, believes that the whole world issues from his own precious body, like images projected from a tiny slide onto an earth-sized screen. And then, deeper down, each of us knows he’s wrong.”

WASHINGTON: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie: 

“Seems like the cold would never go away and winter would be like the bottom of my feet but then it is gone in one night and in its place comes the sun so large and laughable.”

WASHINGTON DC: You Are One of Them, Elliot Holt: 

”It does no good to see everything as a struggle between opposing factions. Few things are that simple.”

WEST VIRGINIA: The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls: 

“Those shining stars, he liked to point out, were one of the special treats for people like us who lived out in the wilderness. Rich city folks, he’d say, lived in fancy apartments, but their air was so polluted they couldn’t even see the stars. We’d have to be out of our minds to want to trade places with any of them.”

10/08/14 4:05am

Not That Kind of Girl
Lena Dunham
Random House

Within one hour of receiving Lena Dunham’s debut book, Not That Kind of Girl, I’d had no fewer than five people come up to me as they saw me reading it on the subway platform, then on the subway, then standing in line waiting for coffee. Never has a book I’ve read received so much attention and garnered so many immediate, passionate responses:

“Is it amazing?”

“I hate that cover.”
“I love that cover.”
“Is it terrible?”
“I love her so much!”
“I can’t even explain why, but I just can’t stand looking at her.”
“Where did you get that? I NEED to get that!”

It’s been exhausting. Who else but Dunham can elicit such a wide range of emotions and so much controversy in Brooklyn today? Bring her name up to a group of 20-somethings and prepare to be swept up in a conversation debating the relative merits of her talent, the advantages her privileged upbringing afforded, if she deserved a $3.7 million book advance, and whether or not she’s that big word-of-the-moment: “relatable.” And while there is little doubt that the intensity of the debate surrounding Dunham is due in no small part to the fact that she’s a woman (see the debate surrounding comedian Aziz Ansari’s recent $3.5 million book advance—or don’t, because there wasn’t one), it’s also very specific to Dunham’s artistic voice, which is smart, funny, frank, eminently engaging, and broad enough that it could, in fact, be the voice of its generation. Or, you know, a voice of a generation.

But, you know, just like you’re all probably already tired of hearing that “voice of a generation” joke, the controversy surrounding Dunham creates another kind of fatigue, the kind where you’re just not sure you want to read another word about her—even if it’s by her. Or at least that’s how I felt when I first got this book. But I dove in like it was my job (it is my job) and then kept diving and diving. The things that you’d expect in a Dunham memoir are all there: laugh out loud punchlines (“Not to sound like a total hippie, but I cured my HPV with acupuncture”), extreme honestly about her body, cringe-worthy anecdotes from past relationships, and lessons she’s learned from being under the public’s watchful eye. But there’s also more—much more. Several of the essays—most notably one about her mother’s artwork and another about Dunham’s rape at the hands of mustachioed college Republican “Barry”—are beautifully written and demonstrate Dunham’s adeptness with handling profoundly emotional, frequently troubling subjects with virtuosic skill and candor. These essays resonate far more than the definitely funny, but ultimately feather-weight lists that are scattered throughout, and I finished the book wanting more—much more—of her longer essays.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some problems with the book. There are things I wished Dunham had explored more, namely, the unique position of privilege from which she comes. (This doesn’t, by the way, just mean money; it also means family stability and love, an artistic background, and being in possession of a fierce, uncompromising intelligence.) She touches on this in a few parts of the book, but backs away quickly, perhaps out of the fear of being unrelatable? Who knows. That, I think, is a shame, because I am not looking to relate to Dunham; I don’t want her voice to justify my world, thereby circumscribing it. Rather I think she has a unique ability to broaden the world with her voice, she just needs to go a little further to do it. If Dunham does this, then I think her writing could make even her harshest critic admit that she is definitely a—if not the—voice of her generation.

09/24/14 4:00am

638 Bergen Street, Prospect Heights

Call us killjoys, but we were not among those who reacted to news of the opening of a “dessert speakeasy” with excitement. There are a few reasons for this, but most prominent among them is the simple fact that we don’t need any kind of gimmick to attract us to a bar. We like to drink alcohol. We like to drink alcohol in places other than our home. And so we are not really such a hard sell when it comes to attracting us into a new watering hole. The only thing we ask, really, is not to be pandered to. We don’t like it when the owners of an establishment feel they need to coerce us to visit, like they don’t trust the inherent appeal of what they have to offer and instead care more about the publicity flurry that comes with announcing that a bar is, for example, boob-themed (or, say, a dessert speakeasy), rather than just a place to go get a solid drink and maybe a bite to eat.

All of which is to say, we were skeptical when we met a friend at Spirited for pre-dinner drinks the other night. Not just skeptical, actually, more like almost immediately regretful about the choice. The bar itself is beautiful, yes—full of dark wood, it has the building’s century-old original tin ceilings and Art Deco flourishes intact—but at 6:30pm on a Wednesday (and for the next hour or so) it was close to empty. And we think we know why: how can a bar function as an after-work or pre-dinner spot when 99 percent of the food on the menu is dessert? The central conceit, we realized, is absurd, and not just in the way that a boob-themed bar is absurd, but in a more disappointing way, because even when everything about a dessert speakeasy is done well (delicious confections and innovative cocktails) it still won’t wind up as a place you’ll want to go to very often, if at all.

But, you know, we were already at Spirited, so we figured we might as well get a drink. We wound up being really glad we did. We felt a little overwhelmed by some of the more elaborate concoctions and decided to stick with classics: a Rob Roy for myself, and a Vieux Carre for my companion. They were easily two of the most beautifully made drinks we’ve ever had; perfectly balanced with subtle and unexpected flourishes, these drinks made us immediate admirers of our exceptional bartender, Bhagaban Sahoo (he told us to call him Bhagi), who is not only a bartender at Spirited, but also the beverage consultant. Sahoo’s deft touch is unmatched as far as any other cocktail bar we’ve been to in Brooklyn (and we’ve been to many), and the excellence of his drinks made the cocktails we had later, at dinner, seem like dirty dishwater. So despite not really understanding the appeal of the whole dessert-only thing (or even the speakeasy thing… that seems like a trend that died half a decade ago), we would happily go back to Spirited for one of Sahoo’s cocktails. We just lament the fact that anyone would feel the need to sell the place on the virtue of a gimmick, when, in Sahoo, they have the real deal.