Manhattan, Staten, Riker’s, Governor’s. New York is a city of islands, with only The Bronx connected to the U.S. mainland. The rest of us are in good company, however, as there are dozens of little-known or visited islands around NYC, each (well, most of them) with rich stories of their own. Here are just a few:
City Island is somewhat of an anachronism in NYC and residents are happy to keep it that way. Located northeast of the Bronx and accessible by a small private bridge, this island is home to a New England-like oceanfront community of around 4,000 (fewer than some blocks in the rest of the city). City Islanders, or “clamdiggers,” consider the place an oasis apart from the rest of the city and can be somewhat insular. If you hope to visit the City Island Nautical Museum or try some of their famous seafood, your best bet to past the security gates is the Bx29 bus.
A stone’s throw from City Island, Hart Island has attained some notoriety in recent years for its burial grounds of unclaimed people and prisoners. Formerly home to a boy’s prison and Civil War POW camps, more than 1 million people have been laid to rest here since it was converted to a municipal cemetery in 1869. Not a hotspot for vacationers, Hart Island visitation is strictly limited to twice per month ferry trips for relatives of the dead and morbidly curious tourists who have requested spots ahead of time.
Hoffman and Swinburne Islands
It might seem farfetched now, but as nearby Fort Wadsworth serves to remind us, New York has historically been a vitally important port during wartime. Hoffman and Swinburne Island, originally created as quarantine stations for immigrants arriving at nearby Ellis Island, also served as training grounds for Merchant Marines during WWII, and more integrally, were designated anchor points for anti-submarine nets to keep the city’s harbors safe. Thankfully, they were never called into duty for this use, and are currently protected lands as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area managed by the U.S. Park Service.
U Thant/Belmont Island
For a spot of land measuring just 100 by 200 feet, this tiny island on the East River has had a colorful history. Made up of materials from the digging of the 7 train tunnels connecting Manhattan and Queens, Belmont Island (named for the tunnels’ financier) became U Thant Island when the land was leased by devout followers of the Indian meditation guru Sri Chinmoy and designated a Buddhist shrine. The island sat quietly until 2004, when in protest of the then-ongoing Republican National Convention, artist and island-hopper Duke Reilly rowed out to the island and declared it a sovereign nation, hanging a homemade flag from the island’s navigation tower. He was taken home by the Coast Guard, and U Thant Island continues to sit peacefully.
North Brother Island
North Brother Island sits southeast of the Bronx and has been the site of some of the more harrowing stories of New York City history. It sat uninhabited until 1885 when the city designated it the site of Riverside Hospital, a place where highly contagious patients could be treated safely away from the rest of the city. It was the home to perhaps the most famous such patient, Typhoid Mary, who notoriously spread the disease around the city as a cook for several wealthy families. Less famously (but more destructively), the island was also the beaching point of the doomed passenger ship the General Slocum, which ran aground on North Brother Island after catching fire in the East River. A memorial to those who lost their lives currently stands in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan.
An uninformed observer would never guess that this unassuming bird habitat, nestled between Staten Island and New Jersey, was once the dominion of spies fighting the American Revolution. Originally a hunting preserve (hence the name), quiet and isolated Shooter’s Island was designated by George Washington as a drop-off point for top-secret missives used to help topple the British. In post-war years, the island belonged to industry as the home of refineries and shipyards, and was the site of the 1902 launch of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany’s private yacht, attended by President Theodore Roosevelt and filmed for posterity by Thomas Edison. Returning to its calm and isolated roots, Shooter’s Island is currently a bird sanctuary.
Delays in New York City are getting worse, and the M.T.A. has rolled out several initiatives to fix things. Will it work?
Opened in 1904, covering 236 miles of routes, praised in songs like “Take the A Train” and movies from “The Money Train” to “The Warriors,” the New York Subway is legendary, huge and iconic.
But right now, it’s a tarnished icon as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (M.T.A.) struggles to fix problems ranging from overcrowding to signal malfunctions—all of which are causing train delays and passenger frustration.
A recent New York Times article describes the M.T.A.’s recently released plan to address the worst of the problems, starting with the 8th Avenue line– which experiences line car equipment breakdowns about 25 times per month, that last 19 minutes on average, and cause delays not only to the affected train but to all trains along the line.
So, what’s their plan?
It starts at the top, literally, with reorganizing the leadership structure so that the position of Chairman (big picture leader) and CEO (day-to-day management) are separate.
There will be new subway cars and improved maintenance on old cars.
Improving tracks and signals, especially via preventative maintenance that targets signals most prone to failure, is a key point. As a safety measure, the New York subway was built to be “fail-safe.” That means when a sensor is tripped all lights go red, everything stops and delays occur. The M.T.A. also will also increase the number of rapid response teams available.
Likewise, the authority plans to have EMT’s at five specific stations to speed the response to sick passengers (who are often hard to locate) and coordinate better with the NYPD so that when issues that require police intervention arise, police arrive faster.
Finally, the plan calls for streamlining passenger loading and unloading and dealing with system bottlenecks.
This all looks good on paper, but will it work?
Fixing and maintaining the New York subway is always a balancing act of meeting short-term needs, addressing long-term needs and dealing with budget constraints.
Unfortunately, the M.T.A. has a long history of money running out before the subway problems are fixed.
According to the Times the 1970’s illustrate the multi-level problem the best. In May, an article published by the paper begins, “Nearly four decades ago, New York City’s subway system hit rock bottom: track fires, graffiti-covered cars and crime came to symbolize that era.
An intervention was required. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, under the leadership of Richard Ravitch, persuaded the governor and legislative leaders to allow the agency to issue bonds — clearing the way for a $7.2 billion, five-year capital program.”
The money wasn’t enough, certainly not enough to address all the bridges, tunnels, commuter railroads, bus systems and the specific-to-the-subway problems that the M.T.A. oversees.
New train cars were added, and much of the fleet refurbished, but long-term goals, including the Second Avenue subway line project, were abandoned.
It was only in January of this year that the first section of the proposed Second Avenue line opened.
Given that it took 40 years to achieve one goal, and that funding continues to be limited, what are the chances that the goal of fewer delays and easier commutes will be met?
It’s hard to say. There are a few things in play that indicate the M.T.A. will step up. First, the press and the public outcry, including on social media. The M.T.A. has already responded with educational campaigns (for instance, don’t pull the emergency break for a sick passenger) and that alone- public outreach- is a step.
The outcry has also resulted in the formation of an advocacy group, the Riders Alliance, which can organize outcry into action.
Finally, there is a plan in place. As the saying goes, the first step to solving a problem is to admit you have one. The M.T.A. has clearly admitted there’s a problem and the plan to address it is, at least, a good first step.
New York City… you come for the sights, but you stay for the desserts. With each borough teeming with a variety of cultures, cuisines, and surprises, New York-style cheesecake is just the beginning of what the Big Apple has to delight your palate.
Visitors and residents alike have long flocked to new “novelty” dessert spots, even and especially if it means waiting in a long line for a sugary fix. Remember the cronut, that legendary croissant-donut hybrid? You can now preorder them and skip the line. But cronuts are so 2013, and while the flaky goodness is still recommended, there are other fish in the sea.
Here are a few other delicious novelty desserts you can find in New York City. Given their nature, we advise that you practice moderation. Or not. It’s your mouth!
Boozy Ice Cream at Tipsy Scoop
Deciding between drinks and desserts can be difficult, while opting for both comes off as a bit excessive. The solution? Boozy ice cream. Tipsy Scoop, New York’s first ice cream “barlour” so to speak, has opened in Kips Bay. The best part? Their treats, spiked to just over 5% alcohol, can actually get you buzzed. Enjoy flavors like Mango Margarita and Strawberry White Sangria Sorbet, and don’t forget your ID.
Rainbow Crepe Cake at Dek Sen
Photo via The New York Times
Besides the Statue of Liberty, crepes may just be France’s best gift to New York. What you might not know is that crepes are also a staple dessert in Thailand, and that Dek Sen, a restaurant in Elmhurst, Queens, sells a 20-layer rainbow crepe cake with seams of whipped cream. For New Yorkers sick and tired of Starbucks’ basic Unicorn Frappuccinos, here’s a colorful alternative for your ROY-G-BIV-fix.
Decadent Rice Pudding at Rice to Riches
Ice cream is ubiquitous, but rice pudding? Now that’s a way to pack flavor without a brain freeze. There are several rice pudding parlours in New York City, one of which is Rice to Riches in Nolita. The parlour offers delightful flavors such as “Almond Shmalmond” and “Sex Drugs and Rocky Road,” which are not only vegan, but can be shipped overnight.
Cookie Dough Confections at DO
If you’ve ever binged on cookie dough, you’ve known true bliss and risk: after all, raw eggs aren’t usually your friend. The West Village’s DO, Cookie Dough Confections offers the bliss without the risk by subbing eggs with pasteurized egg product, eliminating any risk of bacteria. Enjoy straight-up, unbaked cookie dough, ice cream sandwiches, cookie dough milkshakes, or any number of baked and unbaked products.
Raindrop Cake by Darren Wong
Last year at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg, Darren Wong’s incredible Raindrop Cake became a cult sensation, and we’re thrilled to say its back this year. Based on a Japanese dish called Mizu Shingen, the gelatinous creation is clear, vegan, refreshing, highly-photogenic, and with the help of some ube (purple yam), a whole new hue.
Ice Cream Rolls from 10 Below
Located in Chinatown, 10 Below is New York’s first establishment to serve Thai-inspired ice cream rolls. Watch as your ice cream is crafted with fresh ingredients right before your eyes as ingredients are poured, mixed, and rolled on a cold plate. Enjoy flavors ranging from fresh avocado to thai iced tea flavor, rolled up for your pleasure beneath unlimited toppings.
The history of tattoos – particularly in a city as creative and cosmopolitan as New York – is as colorful as the epidermal artwork itself. As The New York Times notes, denizens of New York are surrounded by advertising, so how could they resist using their own skin as a form of expression?
But tattoos have been inked for centuries – even millennia – all over the world. There is evidence of Native Americans bearing marks upon their skin: “’Indigenous people of North America pricked or scratched the skin with sharpened bones, branches, or needles, then rubbed soot or crushed minerals into the wound as pigment.’” According to Time, “in the mid-18th century, Native American women tattooed themselves to alleviate toothaches and arthritis, similar to acupuncture.” A set of mezzotint portraits titled “The Four Indian Kings” depicts tattooed Mohawk and Mohican leaders circa 1710.
During that century, the word “tattoo” was derived from Captain James Cook’s voyage in the South Pacific, where he encountered Polynesian tribes bearing marks upon their skin. According to the Village Voice, the famous explorer “first introduced the Tahitian word tautau to England.” Cook’s crew also picked up souvenirs from their travels, which they carried back West.
Sailors began to request tattoos signifying important events, like ship names, birth dates, or milestones, “to mark the first time they crossed the equator or rounded Cape Horn or the Arctic Circle. […]The common anchor tattoo was meant to signify stability and to safeguard them from drowning […].” Apparently, the red star logo of Macy’s department store was inspired by the founder’s tattoo, from his days working on a whaling ship.
Tattoo shops catering to maritimers shared space with barbershops, initially in the Financial District, then in the Bowery. Barbers have a history of practicing surgery as well as cutting hair, hence the traditional striped barber pole. According to Untapped Cities, “these storefront ornaments reflected the common belief that hair cutters were “doctors” of the days (blue – veins, red – blood, white – bandages).”
Sailors are in great part responsible for the spread of tattoos, which eventually attained social cachet. The New York elite inked their skin once the practice was made fashionable by British royalty: “Britain’s Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) had gotten body art during an 1862 trip to Jerusalem, while his sons Prince Albert and Prince George (future King George V) got dragons inked in Japan by Hori Chyo, an artist known as ‘the Shakespeare of tattooing.’”
Tattoos were also a practical necessity. During the Civil War, they took the place of dog tags. In the mid-19th century, professional tattoo artist Martin Hildebrandt inscribed thousands of soldiers – both Union and Confederate – with their names, so that if they fell, their bodies could be correctly identified. Hildebrandt made his shop permanent in the Lower East Side, where tattoos continued to be relevant. In New York, “the first electric rotary tattoo machine was invented in 1891, inspired by Thomas Edison’s electric pen,” by Samuel O’Reilly, and was later improved by Charles Wagner. The practicality of tattoos was again demonstrated in the 1930s, when Social Security numbers were first administered, and people needed help retaining their numbers.
One of Martin Hildebrandt’s best clients was a woman: Nora Hildebrandt showed off over 300 tattoos in the Barnum & Bailey Circus during the late 19th century. Other women eventually owned their own tattoo shops. Mildred “Millie” Hull was the first, opening the Tattoo Emporium in the Bowery in the 1930s. Millie started as a burlesque dancer, and made her appearance all the more exotic by acquiring a number of tattoos, earning the nickname the “‘tattooed lady.’”
Betty Broadbent was almost crowned queen of a beauty pageant at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, giving female tattoos a broader platform. While Betty was one of the most photographed tattooed women at the time, she was not nearly in the minority. “The New York World, reports the Historical Society, placed the percentage of fashionable NYC ladies who were inked at the turn of the century around three-quarters.” Tattoo artists made house calls to accommodate the popularity of tattoos among women. Winston Churchill’s mother reportedly had a wrist tattoo, easily concealed by bracelets.
Despite its popularity with both women and men, the tattoo industry suffered a setback when in 1961, the New York City Health Department instituted a ban on the practice. Tattoos were blamed for “an alleged series of blood-borne Hepatitis-B cases linked to Coney Island tattoo parlors in the late 1950s.” However, according to Gothamist, other reasons may have weighed on the decision: “members of the public recall other motivations for the ban, including the mayor’s desire to clean up the city in preparation for the 1964 World’s Fair, a city health inspector’s personal vendetta against one of the Bowery tattooers, and even a scare regarding contaminated shell fish.”
The ban simply drove the tattoo business underground. Artists opened up shop in apartments and arranged signals in case of a raid, as with Prohibition. Tattoo parlors operated illegally in the 70s, like Mike Bakaty’s famous Fineline, considered the oldest tattoo shop in New York. Mayor Giuliani ended the ban in 1997, but tattoos had never really left New York, and the art had only become more international.
To learn more about the history of tattoos and the special role New York played in their popularity, check out the exhibit “Tattooed New York” at the New York Historical Society. Or visit the South Street Seaport Museum to learn about “the most tattooed man in America”: “The Original Gus Wagner: The Maritime Roots of Modern Tattoo.”
When one door closes, another opens, and though this is not always the case for bookstores, the adage is holding true in Cobble Hill—to some extent, anyway.
The Brooklyn neighborhood recently suffered the news that BookCourt, a Cobble Hill staple, would be closing after 35 years in business when its owners retire at the end of the year. This news came not long after the neighborhood’s chaotic but lovable bookstore, aptly called Community Bookstore, was cleared of its unkempt stacks.
Luckily, another independent bookstore is in the works, and in a world where it sometimes seems bookstores big and small are losing business, it will be a welcome addition.
The new store, called “Books Are Magic,” is set to open on or around May 1. While the name may seem a little trite, most bibliophiles can agree that books are magic (if not actually, then certainly metaphorically). The new store is a business venture by Emma Straub, author of novels such as Modern Lovers and The Vacationers, and a former employee of BookCourt. According to her website, “A neighborhood without an independent bookstore is a body without a heart. And so we’re building a new heart.”
The store will be located on 225 Smith Street between Butler and Douglas, not far from BookCourt’s old location. As she’s been preparing for the opening, Emma has shared her journey on social media and with the press. She’s even hinted at collaborations with neighbors including Warby Parker and the cheese shop Stinky Brooklyn. Books, glasses, and cheese? Sounds like Brooklyn alright.
One independent bookstore replacing two may not be ideal for residents used to having their choice of store, and the “two out, one in” is annoyingly reminiscent of the Trump Administration’s regulation policy. With Barnes & Noble just a short walk down Court Street, too, it seems the community’s dedication to books (or magic, if you will) will live on.
And who knows? Maybe another overstuffed literary treasure trove will pop up to fill the hole left by Community Bookstore, too. Stranger things have happened in Brooklyn.
New York is finally starting to thaw out from a nasty, wet, snowy winter. The days of warm afternoons and late sunsets are upon us again, and that means that plenty of fun happenings are taking place, whatever you’re into. Here are some exciting events where you can best take advantage of the turn of the season.
Governor’s Ball Music Festival
For the young and the young at heart, there’s nothing like an outdoor music festival to make the best of the warm weather. This year’s Governor’s Ball (June 2-4) boasts a star-studded lineup with headliners including the red-hot Chance the Rapper, perennial indie favorites Phoenix, and the return of 90s rock legends Tool to the NYC area after 11 years. Not to mention an undercard of over 60 bands representing every genre from dance-pop to experimental hip-hop, rock and soul. Single-day tickets are available too if you don’t feel like making a weekend of it.
Hanami Cherry Blossom Festival
Long a favorite destination for Brooklynites, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden pulls out all the stops at their yearly Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival (April 29-30). The stunning cherry blossoms promise to be in full glorious bloom while you stroll through the picturesque grounds taking it all in. The Festival also includes several exhibitions of historic Japanese culture including Taiko drummers, samurai sword displays, a Japanese tea room, and art gallery. There’s also a flea market so you can take a little bit of the celebration home with you.
Affordable Art Fair
Whether you want to pick up something to class up your apartment or just enjoy the scenery, the Affordable Art Fair (March 29-April 2) has something you’ll enjoy. Over 70 artists from Buenos Aires to Tokyo will be there to exhibit their works, with prices a touch cheaper than the usual art-world fare. Even if you’re not the type to drop more than $100 on some museum-quality artwork, feel free to grab a cocktail and take a stroll through the gallery. At $18 a ticket, it’s cheaper than a trip to MoMA. Workshops for kids are also available, so feel free to bring the whole family.
Five Boro Craft Beer Fest
The NYC craft beer scene is one of the most robust in the country, and the vendors at the Five Boro Craft Beer Fest (May 12) will be more than happy to show you why. Beer mavens from local breweries ranging from the renowned Brooklyn Brewery to up and comers like Long Island City’s Big Alice Brewing will be at the Bushwick fest to meet and greet and, most importantly, imbibe. All-you-can-drink 2 ounce tastings, a home brew contest, and live music make this an event no beer lover will be willing to skip.
NYC Taste of the Nation
If you’re looking to give back a little while you enjoy yourself, you can indulge while helping a great cause at NYC Taste of the Nation (April 24). Benefitting No Kid Hungry, a national charity devoted to ending childhood hunger, this festival brings together over 50 chefs and bartenders to curate a wide-ranging culinary experience. Sample different dishes as well as unique attractions like the Candy Carnival and Donut Derby. You won’t leave hungry, and your ticket will help ensure that kids around the city won’t be, either.