Articles by

<Kristin Iversen>

08/13/14 5:00am

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel
by Anya Ulinich
Penguin Books

Even for the most resolutely child-free among us, it’s easy enough to conjure up some version of the Brooklyn Parent. Partly due to real life interactions on the streets of, say, Park Slope, in which the Brooklyn Parent hovers over his or her special snowflake of a child, and partly due to fictional representations in novels such as Julia Fierro’s Cutting Teeth, in which obnoxious stereotypes abound and are tacitly (and predictably) promoted, the Brooklyn Parent has become a two-dimensional punchline, something no self-respecting person would ever want to be.

Except, you know, self-respecting people are parents in Brooklyn, and have complicated, multi-faceted lives apart from their role as parents. But those types of people have been conspicuously absent from contemporary literature, which is why I have spent no small amount of time wondering who would save the Brooklyn Parent from its superficial prison. And now it seems like the answer has finally arrived in the form of Anya Ulinich. With her beautifully rendered, impossibly funny, and at times heart-breaking graphic novel Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, Ulinich does something I had started to think was impossible: she shatters the trope and reinvents the notion of what it means to be a Brooklyn Parent.

In many ways, Lena Finkle is an eminently recognizable modern protagonist; she’s looking for love, disillusioned by financial struggles, has a troubled though ultimately loving relationship with her Russian immigrant parents, and has lots of really bad—and sometimes really good—sex. She is also a divorced mother of two girls who are bright and funny and happy but who are—and this is important—not the center of their mother’s universe. Instead, it is Lena Finkle who is the center of her own universe. And it’s not because she’s a narcissist or because she neglects her children, rather it’s because she’s an adult woman who can do and be more than one thing at a time. Lena Finkle can be a good mom and be someone who has sex with a slightly creepy guy she meets on OKCupid. Lena Finkle can be a good mom and have Skype-sex with her married, still-in-Russia high school boyfriend. Lena Finkle can be a good mom and make tons of mistakes and tons of good decisions because that is what all women can do, even if it doesn’t get written about that often, if at all.

Ulinich’s Lena Finkle isn’t just a repudiation of what we’ve been told is necessary to be a successful parent, she is also a repudiation of what we’re told we ought to be as successful women. Lena has messy, heartbreaking relationships. She has one-night stands with sketchy men with bad teeth and too many cats. She has vengeful thoughts about her ex-husband. But that’s ok. That’s real. Lena’s life is difficult—often ugly, but frequently beautiful. And in creating Lena, Ulinich has given us a respite from the facile representations of both Brooklyn parents and Brooklyn women, instead granting us access to a life that is beautiful not in spite of, but because of its complexity and its pain. Finally.

08/13/14 4:00am

Brooklyn Proper
471 16th Street, Windsor Terrace

This summer has been a strange one. For one thing, it never quite got hot; nothing ever fully boiled over. Instead, it’s felt like we’ve all just been simmering, drifting through the days unscathed, even as news of bed bugs and the drought in California and failing schools relentlessly piles up around us. All of that stuff is easy enough to ignore, though, happening as it does at a distance. But it’s still real. Like, did you ever hear how you can boil a frog alive by putting it in water and raising the temperature so gradually that it won’t even realize that it’s being boiled alive? That’s what this summer feels like; we’re all being boiled so gently that we won’t even notice until it’s too late.

Well, so, that’s what I was thinking about as I made my way to Brooklyn Proper, the latest addition to Windsor Terrace’s burgeoning food and drink scene. I was riding my bike from work, and it was uphill all the way, and so, yeah, I was thinking mean red thoughts about death and destruction. As one does, you know? If I’d had to pick a place to match my mood, there probably would have been black walls and cheap beer and astringent liquor and stale popcorn. Instead, I walked into a small, bright room with floral wallpaper and good-looking people who were all smiling and chatting and wearing outfits that coordinated with the decor. I felt a little bit like I was on the set of some TV show that I would never watch because nothing tragic would happen. I was skeptical about the spot, to say the least.

But then I sat down and I ordered a Wassermelone, an incredibly refreshing blend of watermelon, white wine, and cocchi americano. Brooklyn Proper doesn’t serve hard liquor, but they have an imaginative cocktail list nonetheless, with drinks made with fortified wines and housemade vermouth, as well as fresh fruit purees. Also of note was the Apricot Fuzz, an effervescent blend of apricot, dolin blanc, and sweet stevia leaf. There’s also a small but thoughtful selection of wines and draft beer (including the excellent Peekskill Simple Sour) if fruity cocktails aren’t your thing. And there’s a finely curated food menu, replete with well-priced delicious snacks (the beautifully seasoned roasted almonds and mustardy deviled eggs were perfect bar snacks, and at $2 and $4, respectively, perfectly priced) and smart farm-to-table fare, like duck three ways, as prosciutto, confit, and pate. By the time I was ready to leave, my dark mood had disappeared, replaced by something lighter and clearer. (Was it due to the two cocktails and glass of wine I’d had? Sure! Probably.) And so as I rode my bike home through another glorious summer twilight, I couldn’t help but think that Brooklyn Proper wouldn’t be the worst place in the world to wait out the apocalypse. Not at all.

05/21/14 4:00am

The Adirondack
1241A Prospect Avenue, Windsor Terrace

A new bar in a sedate section of an already sleepy neighborhood might distress locals for several reasons: more noise, maybe? A rise in late-night loitering on quiet residential streets? Or, I don’t know, an increase in public urination? But who would’ve thought that there’d be such an outcry over the name? Such was the case with the Adirondack, née Mohawk Tavern, which opened earlier this month in a prime corner-location outside the Fort Hamilton Parkway F/G stop.

Owned and operated by Paul Hamill, Leah Allen, Mike O’Neill, and Brandon Lenihan (all of whom are involved with or own Abilene in Carroll Gardens and Lowlands in Gowanus), the bar pays homage to the Mohawk Valley from which Hamill and Lenihan hail. Their Upstate upbringing is clear not only in the New York-brewed beers and Finger Lakes-sourced wines but also in the decor, which is heavy on rough-hewn wood planks and even features a mountainscape mural. It was also clear in the bar’s original name, Mohawk Tavern, so named to honor the region, not to dishonor the Native American tribe of the same name. However, once the name got out, enough people protested (and enough articles were written about it, including by us) that the owners decided to go with something more neutral—and thus The Adirondack was born, settling the matter before it had a chance to become a full-fledged “issue.”

Which is good, because The Adirondack is exactly the kind of comfortable local hangout that the Windy T needs. Besides some of the more expected though still appreciated draft beers (Captain Lawrence, Saranac Pale Ale) there are quite a few nice surprises, including Ithaca Flower Power—a marmalade-hued, piney yet vaguely tropical IPA—and Newburgh Hop Drop Double IPA, which is aggressively hoppy but still eminently drinkable. There’s also a full bar, and a short menu of unpretentious mixed drinks (Dark and Stormy, Old Fashioned). It seems like every bar and restaurant these days has a complicated cocktail menu featuring drinks that cost as much as an entree, so it’s refreshing to find a place where nothing’s more than $10.

A small food menu includes fresh hot pretzels from Pelzer’s in Crown Heights and a few pressed sandwiches (the roast beef, swiss, and horseradish was particularly delicious, and it comes with a bag of Lay’s potato chips), all of which is simple but satisfying—much like the bar itself. I’ve lived in the neighborhood a long time, and so I appreciate having a new, friendly spot to while away an afternoon with a beer and a book. Over the course of an hour on a recent sunny afternoon, no fewer than five people stopped in to The Adirondack just to remark on what a great addition it was to the area—and how they planned to come back soon.

04/22/14 1:56pm

Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally star in Sharr Whites play Annapurna

There’s no more intimate theater experience than watching a two-person play. Whereas a one-man show is so explicitly performative and an expansive cast makes it impossible to forget the more, well, theatrical elements of theater, two people alone on a stage afford the audience a potentially unparalleled glimpse into the dynamics of human relationships. Two-person plays tend to revolve around love or hate or (most likely) love and hate. In other words, they’re the perfect vehicle to explore the intricacies of a marriage.


Set entirely in a filthy, insect-infested trailer perched in the “butt crack of the Rockies,” Sharr White’s Annapurna (at the Acorn through June 1) is an intense look at the death of a marriage and the ways in which every decision (or mistake) we make—no matter how small—will ultimately have life-defining ramifications. Real life husband-and-wife Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) are Emma and Ulysses, a once passionately in-love couple whose marriage abruptly ended when Emma left with their 5-year-old son in the middle of the night. It’s now 20 years later, and Emma has—without warning—come to visit Ulysses, whose decaying trailer mirrors his deteriorating health. He’s dying, and Emma’s arrival, like some Formula 409-wielding angel, is clearly his chance to escape his purgatory-like exile, seemingly self-imposed following the alcoholism-related loss of his job (English professor), creative career (poet), and family.

While it’s not the lightest of theatrical fare, White’s script is often darkly humorous, and is in fact at its best when funny and not making such an uncomfortably apparent effort to land a dramatic punch. (Notably, the play opens on a nude-but-for-a-tiny-apron Offerman, and gets some of its biggest laughs when Ulysses refers to his trailer park as being “the ugliest and saddest accidental nudist colony you ever saw.”) But while it might not come as much of a surprise that Mullally and Offerman are adept at handling comedy, what the pair do with the more serious elements of Annapurna is all the more impressive considering that the “dramatic” end-of-play reveal was easy to predict and thus disappointing.

No matter, though, because the flaws in White’s script (which is not bad exactly, just not great) are overcome by Mullally’s excellent embodiment of a very specific type of woman—one whose long ago, dearly held belief in the power of love was broken, and so who now clings to rituals like cleaning and cooking to prove that she’s surviving—and by Offerman’s pathos-filled portrayal of an embittered man who must pretend to others (and to himself) that he’s doing the best he can, that the problems in his life are due more to the exigencies of fate than to his own misdeeds.

The title of the play comes not only from the towering mountain Annapurna, a peak whose ascent has claimed men’s lives and limbs, but also from the epic poem that Ulysses has been busy composing during his 20-year exile. The poem (obviously, but forgivably) is about his marriage to Emma, and about the fading of the “optimism of the morning.” But rather than end on a hopeless note, the poem (and the play) allow us a glimpse of “the brightening blackness, and at last, at last, oh God, the sun.” The sentiment might be a bit trite, but Offerman and Mullally make you believe that they will walk out of that squalid trailer and into the surrounding mountainous glory—if only for a little while.

04/09/14 4:00am

Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
514 Union Street, Gowanus

“Shuffleboard is like the man-bun of bar games,” I said to a friend as we made our way to this place after a long day of work. I won’t lie—I was being shitty. I was prepared not to like the Royal Palms, to find it too expensive, too twee, too full of people who take ironic pleasure in playing the games their grandparents enjoy down in Boca. But a funny thing happened as we walked from Smith Street toward Gowanus: any annoyance or anger I’d felt started to melt away. Maybe it was the cool, early evening air that held a promise of warmer days to come, or maybe it was the fingernail-thin crescent moon reflecting in the murky canal waters, but by the time we entered the brightly lighted, cavernous converted warehouse, I was feeling pretty good—and the lively space, decorated with old sports pennants, black-and-white-striped private cabanas, pink flamingo wallpaper in the bathrooms (handily labeled “Biscuits” for women and “Tangs” for men, after shuffleboard equipment), walls painted Tropicana Cabana blue, and 10 full-size shuffleboard courts only added to my good cheer. And, uh, the drinks helped too.

Although I was skeptical about the many fruit-based cocktails (some of them premixed and all served in Mason jars), I couldn’t bring myself to order anything that might, say, have an olive in it. Anything too salty or savory seemed sensorily dissonant in a place so vaguely tropical. And so I went with the not-too-sweet but very refreshing Shuffleboard Bob (gin, coconut water, cucumber syrup and lemonade) and also sampled the super-sweet Earl Ball (bourbon, black pepper, ginger, and a heavy dose of pineapple) and the smoky Jim Allen (Herradura tequila, mezcal and orange juice). Each cocktail was better than anything I’ve ever had in a Mason jar and perfectly complemented the excellent—and spicy!—sopes I ordered (two for only $7) from the Country Boys food truck stationed in a corner. (The Royal Palms will feature a steady rotation of food trucks, including Red Hook Lobster Pound and the Morris grilled cheese truck.)

And while I didn’t play shuffleboard that night, it was easy to imagine whiling away an evening with friends (a shuffleboard lane is $40/hour), sipping cocktails, and eating lobster rolls. The retro feel of the place isn’t at all heavy-handed; instead, it makes you nostalgic for the type of 60s cruise vacation that you imagine Don Draper used to go on, even though they probably only really exist in your imagination. Forget nostalgia, though. You don’t need it. The real thing is right there waiting for you at the Royal Palms.

03/12/14 4:00am

Edited by Chad Harbach

The titular binary of Harbach’s 2010 n+1 essay “MFA vs NYC” posited two paths to literary success: the MFA route, which starts with workshops full of aspiring writers run by larger-than-life instructors (who have fine-tuned craft into a science) and ends with those same once-aspiring writers eventually drilling the glories of craft into the next generation of MFA candidates; and the alternate path, upon which writers find themselves “condensed in New York” and involved with the publishing industry, wherein they not only learn about writing but also about the business of writing. Harbach acknowledged that these two overlap some, but he maintained that understanding the current economic and cultural literary landscape is best—or even only—understood through
this paradigm.

Despite the strength of the book’s title (because, you know, POW), Harbach’s essay, which kicks off this new anthology, is one of its weakest if only because of its flawed premise that there’s limited fluidity between the MFA and NYC camps. And if the whole book (if, indeed, all of American fiction) were divided so neatly, it would have been too on-the-nose. Instead, MFA vs NYC is split into sections like “The Teaching Game” and “Two Views on the Program Era,” within which were some of my favorite essays (those by Elif Batuman, Carla Blumenkranz and Keith Gessen), all of which demonstrate that the writers didn’t adhere too closely to the proscribed dichotomy (because they live outside it, as almost all writers do); instead, they used it as a starting point to write about their experiences of living as writers.

But who gets to be a writer? This question plagued me as I read, recognizing the experience of embarking on a career that makes no remunerative promises but that happens to be the thing you do well, and realizing that almost nobody—and certainly not any of the writers in the book—becomes a writer just because he or she earns an MFA or makes the right publishing connections. Someone gets to be a writer (as is apparent from the list of contributors to this book, more like a web of literary and personal connections than a simple catalog) is by writing well for other writers. This, and being a part of a larger community, is essential to an individual writer’s success—to making a living but also to that other indispensable part of being a writer: getting read. Writers become writers by writing things that other writers want to read. Then they get to write more, thus building a career based on their individual talents, yes, but also on the larger collective structure within which they work. As long as writers keep writing for each other, distinctions of pedigree will continue to fade and real talent will prevail—though there still won’t be much
money in it.

02/12/14 4:00am

Long Island Bar
110 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Heights

Sixty years ago, the western stretch of Atlantic
Avenue was populated with bars and restaurants frequented by longshoreman from nearby dockyards. Until recently, one of the few surviving relics of that era was the Long Island Bar and Restaurant, which operated from 1949 to 2007 under the ownership of Emma Sullivan. For the last six years, the red-and-green neon sign on the corner of Atlantic and Henry remained dark, while the perfectly preserved interior features—red-and-white leather booths, terrazzo floors, original Art Deco bar—gathered dust. All that changed last year, when stewardship of the coveted corner spot passed to Toby Cecchini (formerly of Passerby) and Joel Tompkins, who turned on the neon sign and reopened the space as Long Island Bar.

On a recent evening, the air outside was clear and cold and the sidewalks were lined with mountains of snow—at least what passes for mountains in this city. And maybe it was the cold weather or maybe it was the clarity of the night or maybe it was that I hadn’t really eaten all that much that day, but I was already lightheaded when I stepped into the bar’s warm yellow glow and slid into a booth. I was unsure if the Bombe 75 (Apple Brandy, Calvados, Lemon, Prosecco) would help or if I would just wind up bouncing against the Formica walls on my way to the ceiling. It can be hard sometimes not to be tied down.

The drink helped. It was both warm and bright, the sweet richness of the brandy balancing the bubbly Prosecco. It was also an ideal lead-in to the Rip City Fizz (Aquavit, Cynar, Honey, Lemon, Hard Cider), which tasted, my friend said, “like salad in a glass.” A lot of the cocktails taste like other things (the Boulevardier is not dissimilar to cough medicine, though in the best possible way, and the Carronade is a dead-ringer for French Toast), but I like that. I liked everything, actually: John Prine singing at just the right volume in the background; decades-old lamps with pull chains affixed to the wall at each booth; and the waitress, who was always there when we needed her, whether for water or something stronger. I liked that I walked in cold and lightheaded and left feeling grounded—from the warmth of the drinks, yes, but also the warmth of the bar itself. The Long Island Bar of today might not be representative of the area’s longshoreman past, but if it’s an indication of the neighborhood’s future, then it feels—against all odds—like everything’s going to be all right.

12/19/13 1:27pm


What a year, right? Remember when…wait. I remember nothing. Are you the same way? Are you like me? If so, first of all, sorry. But second, don’t worry! You don’t need to remember everything. It’s the Internet’s job to do that for you. And one of the ways the Internet does that is by flooding you with year-end lists of all the good and bad and mediocre things that have happened in the last 12 months. But let’s skip over the bad and the mediocre and go straight to the good. And good, of course, means popular. So here we go with a trip down memory lane with our most popular stories at the L Magazine in 2013.


11/20/13 4:00am

Photo by Austin McAllister

Battery Harris
64 Frost Street, Williamsburg
4 Ls

When last I drank something alcoholic that’d spent time in a blender, it definitely wasn’t in Brooklyn, and it definitely wasn’t on a cold November night. Yet when I arrived here, after walking many dark blocks under the BQE’s rumbling river of cars, it was hard to resist the beachy, vaguely tropical vibe of this former gas station, and so I quickly ordered the bar’s frozen drink of the day. One sip of the toasted five-spice, syrup-laced Dark and Stormy and I started questioning my decision to avoid frozen drinks—and my decision to stay away from simple pleasures in general. Let’s just say by the time I slurped up the last of its slushy, rummy goodness, I had questioned most of my major life decisions and was ready for food.

11/05/13 10:55am


Last Sunday, The Simpsons paid tribute to the great Marcia Wallace as Bart wrote “We’ll really miss you Mrs. K” on the chalkboard (which, ahh! chalkboards! evidence that this show premiered in 1990), and looked far sadder than he ever had than at any other time in his two-plus decades of punitive chalkboard-writing. And for all of us who grew up with The Simpsons, it was impossible not to get a little teary-eyed along with Bart.


Marcia Wallace was that rare Simpsons voice actor who only inhabited one character (the only other main actor who does that is Yeardley Smith as Lisa), and yet the character she brought to life—the inimitable Edna Krabappel—was one of the most fully realized secondary characters on a show that has no shortage of fully realized secondary characters. Mrs. Krabappel was your typical chain-smoking, child-hating, world-weary, divorced (her husband ran off with their marriage counselor!) fourth-grade teacher. Except, of course, that she wasn’t “typical” at all. Krabappel’s humor and pathos came through clearly, due in no small part to Wallace’s vocal talents, and her ability to rattle off a sardonic “Ha!” with the same ease as the unrestrained glee during those rare times when Bart got what was coming to him (as in the episode “Lisa’s Substitute” where Bart loses the election for class president because he fails to vote for himself). And so, in honor of Marcia Wallace, and one of the best depictions of a fourth-grade public school teacher ever, here’s a look back at the five best Edna Krabappel episodes.