Brian Approved: The Bitter End

So a few posts ago, I introduced you to my friend Beth.  Well, she happened to be in NYC recently and when Tara and I joined her for dinner, she mentioned that she had gone to a place called The Bitter End to watch some live music a few days prior.

Not familiar with the spot, she quickly gave me the low down.  This club is located in Greenwich Village and is a cultural icon in New York.  Fred Weintraub opened the place in 1961 as a no-alcohol talent showcase where he presented up-and-coming acts like Peter, Paul and Mary (who made their debut there that year), Joan Baez and Woody Allen. Paul Colby became the club’s manager and talent booker and eventually, owner. The club has given some other little known artists their start….folks like Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder and more recently Ingrid Michaelson, Norah Jones and Lady Gaga to name a few.

Last weekend Tara and I went out to dinner with some of our new friends, Cameron and Leslee.  After dinner, we were looking for something to do and I suggested we check this place out.   We arrived pretty early by “clubbing” standards (8PM) and it turned out that we got there just before the first band was to go on.

The cover was only $5 and the night featured 6 bands (they are open 7 days a week and feature that many bands nightly).  Despite the low cover, there is a catch.  Each person must buy at least 2 drinks per band performance (while that may not be a problem for my wife, it is for an alcohol lightweight like myself).  Although there is a sign on each table stating this policy, we found out that it is not heavily enforced.

The décor inside definitely makes it feel like you’re in an old school rock n’ roll club.  That said, the stage lighting and  sound gear are up to all the latest standards.  They’ve even got streaming video on their website (they’ve positioned a studio mic in the center of the room used exclusively for the streaming) so you can preview the talent before you even get there.  No celebs at this particular show that we went to…just bands trying to get their big break.  I was pleasantly surprised by the talent level.  According to the door man, each band performs about 6 or so songs and then the next band gets set-up to play.

If you’re looking for a live music spot, this is a great spot to go.  Here’s a couple quick snipets below of a band we saw (unfortunately, we didn’t catch their name).  They did mostly their own original music (kinda bluesy) but also sprinkled in a few covers as well.




Restaurant Review: Rosa Mexicano (USQ – 18th/between 5th and Broadway)

It could be that this post is being written because I just finished a Jamba Juice for dinner and I’m still STARVING (can you tell the wife is out-of-town?) or it could that be I want to hook you up with a quality restaurant to check out.  So how did I find this spot?

Insert another friend of mine, Sebastian (Seb) Buffa.

He happens to be the Union Square (USQ) campus pastor for Liberty.  He’s an Aussie who, despite what the picture looks like, is a smiling, pretty hilarious, down to earth dude (follow him on twitter..his tweets are pretty good).  So when he asked if I’d been to Rosa Mexicano and I told him I hadn’t, he put his hand on my shoulder, stopping me dead in my tracks, and said, “Mate, we must go and you have to order the guacamole.  It will change your life.”

Pretty bold statement.  Being from California where Mexican food is as good as it gets (short of having it in Mexico), I thought that he was just mis-informed.  All I kept thinking was that this guy had no clue what TRUE quality Mexican food is.

Then the lunch appointment occurred where Seb suggested we go there.  It’s a fairly visible restaurant from the street.  The flag makes it pretty obvious when you’ve arrived.

What makes this restaurant really stand out against most others is the spaciousness inside.  NY establishments like to squeeze as many people in as they possibly can (whether it’s over the listed Fire Marshall capacity limit or not).  Not here…plenty of room.  In the middle of the room, there’s some cool decor.  They have a wall divider between two rooms that has some type of diver figures attached to sections of it with water running down those sections and a ton of multi colored LED lights changing the feel and look of it every few minutes.

As soon as we sat down, the guacamole was ordered.  The server rolls a cart to your table and it is made to order (you pick the level of spice hotness).  It’s served in an old school clay-looking pot.  They include 2 other small types of salsa…a mild verde one and a hot red oaxacan salsa as well as flour tortillas so you can eat it more like a taco.  I’m not going lie…coming from Cali where they serve guacamole like this in mass quantities, $14 seemed a bit much for this appetizer. But the size of the bowl along with house-made accoutrements and table service made it feel like you weren’t totally getting taken advantage of.

On to the entree..I went with the Carne Asada tacos (skillet style).  I wasn’t too sure what “skillet style” meant but when it came to the table, I got it.

The meat is served in a miniature skillet with melted chihuahua cheese at its base.  The flavor of the meat was unbelievably good!  All the other taco items are served in separate small dishes.  You build the taco of your liking.  Along with the meat and cheese, you can mix up each taco with choices of vegetables, salsas, house rice, refried beans, red bean-chorizo chili, creamy corn esquites, and fresh tortillas. With some of the leftover guacamole, oaxacan salsa, and salsa verde, the different taco combinations you can go with are endless. Price tag on this bad boy was…$23.50.

They had some pretty good-looking desserts but I did not indulge.  It was lunch, after all.  I left feeling completely content.  I must give it up to Seb.  He came through with a good spot.  Come to find out, this restaurant has expanded to a few different states.  Definitely put it on your list of upscale mexican places to check out!

Brian Approved: The Highline

Meet another good friend of mine from Cali, Beth MacLane.

 She has literally seen me grow up from my post High School days.  In a sense, she’s a part of my extended family.  When my parents moved away from California and I was living in the “Golden” state by myself, Beth and her husband Mike became mentors of sorts for me.  They have a phenomenal marriage and navigate such a great balance in their life between work, faith, and hobbies.

Beth also has amazing style and great taste!  I guess part of it comes from her job as a big wig at Calvin Klein.  Working for them has her in NYC quite often.  So when she told me I needed to check out the “Highline”, I immediately took note and made a point to get out there the first Saturday I had a chance.  It’s not on the typical tourist “to do” list…but it really should be.

So what is it?  It’s a public park built on a historic freight line elevated high above the streets on the west side of the City.  It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.  It opened in 1999 and initially only went as far as 20th Street.  In 2011, they extended the park run between 20th and  34th street.  Currently, they are working on a new expansion that will take it even further.  You have to know exactly where to get on the highline as there are only certain streets that have elevator and stair access.

It you were to walk it from one end to the other, you’re looking at about a good 30-45 minute power walk.  They’ve done a good job of landscaping it as well as preserving the train heritage.  The views and pictures you are able to get are one of a kind.  There’s pockets of places along the highline where you can eat, chill on the grass, read a book on the old school benches, observe unique architecture, watch movies on a summer night (permanent projectors are set-up for just this!), or just people watch.  Wanna know the hidden gem?  THE SUNSETS!  Spectacular!  If you’re looking for a romantic spot to take your significant other and watch the sun go down, few places rival this.

Here’s some pictures.  I went by myself when Tara was out of town (during the day) and then took her in the evening (you’ll see why below) when she got back.  She loved it as well.  Now, we tell everyone that this is a MUST when you are in the City!

Cool grassy area…great way to escape the heat.

The rest of these photos are from trip #2 with Tara a few weeks later and of course, I wanted to get there at dusk to catch a sunset. 

My beautiful wife!

Not surprising at all that wedding parties take pictures up here.

One of the few sit down eateries along the Highline.

They’re not Cali sunsets, but the NYC ones rank up there…that’s for sure.  I leave you with a few pics of them.

The best 4th Of July ever…NYC style

The wife is away for a week on business (usually it’s the other way around) which means I’ve got some time to catch up on some much needed blogging.  I’m not at all insinuating that she keeps me from writing blogs…in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  It’s more that we have been through such a crazy season over the last couple months with the few different businesses we’re running and traveling for those businesses that we’ve desperately needed time to just unplug from the computer, hang out with each other in the evenings, settle in to this new city that we’re loving more and more, and start forging friendships with some new folks.

Speaking of new folks, meet one of our new friends – Timothy Reese.

He’s got the coolest glasses on the planet and a personality to match.  Not to mention he’s a video editor, bassist and recently started DJ’ing.  He also happens to go to Liberty Church.  With that much in common, he and I instantly became friends.  Tim has lived in New York a long time and is pretty well connected with different groups of people and events going on in the City.

Because of some crazy stuff going on at work, Tara and I had to stay in Florida a whole week longer at the end of June than we had anticipated.  The way things worked out, we ended up having to go back to NY on July 3rd just to catch our original flight to Chicago on July 5th.  That meant we were spending July 4th in NYC!!  This being my first year doing so and us not having ANY view from our balcony, I texted as many people as I could to see if we could figure out a place to watch fireworks.

Tim wrote me back and his text was this:
“Have a spot for July 4th, we’ll be at a studio on 26th.  We’ll have a front row to the fireworks.”

This sounded cool but was so cryptic.  Would this be a studio apartment?  One as small as ours?  Was there gonna be a ton of people packed in like sardines?  None of this info was mentioned but we thought even if it sucked, it would be a chance to hang out with new friends and it was definitely a way better option than chillin’ by ourselves at our pad with no view of the City.

Tara, I and one of our new friends, Leslee, ventured out to the party but stopped about halfway there for a “pre-fireworks” drink at the White Horse Tavern.  It was ridiculously hot on our walk so this pit stop was perfect.  We hung out there till about 6PM and then started walking again to the party.

On our way, I got a text from Tim with a photo of the invite to the party.  The text read:
“Show them this to get past the police line at 10th Ave.”

As we got closer and closer to the “studio”, the security was tighter and the police barricades became more frequent.  In fact, at one point, I ended up having to text a picture of the invite to everyone in my party because everyone had to have it or they weren’t going to let us through. I started thinking this probably isn’t gonna be your typical house party.

We met up with Tim, got to the building, took an elevator to the 14th floor, and realized we were in no standard home studio.  We had entered one of the most incredible PHOTOGRAPHY studios I’d ever seen in my life.  It literally was 4 studios spaces that were joined together (I later found out that they’d shot a ton of music videos here for Rihanna Jay-Z, etc).  The panoramic view was breathtaking.

This was the view from one of the windows. You can see a few of the barges from this very spot.

There were probably about 300 people in attendance when all was said and done but all those people would have barely made a dent in ONE of the four studio spaces….that’s how large the space was that I’m talking about.  It was potluck style (we brought wine, of course) and there was food for days.  Tons of grilling out, snack foods and drinks along with great tunes playing throughout the house.  Because we were up so high, we actually had an awesome breeze and got to watch the Macy’s Fireworks display (yeah, I’m talking about the televised one – slightly a big deal) on the balcony of this “Studio”.

It was the best July 4th party I’d EVER been to.  I wanted to do my Wayne’s World, “I’m not worthy” dance (I came to find out later that all the other folks down below on the street level had to pay for tickets and arrive by 12PM to be there ALL DAY in the brutal humidity with less than desireable bathroom options to watch the fireworks at 9PM….and here we are in the life of luxury).

Of course, I had to ask Tim, “What do these people who hosted the party do for New Year’s?”  He chuckled and then said that they do a repeat of July 4th (with more of a formal dinner type feel) on NYE at the same venue.  If I don’t have a gig, I will definitely be here for it!  The only thing I kept thinking was, if this was year 1 of celebrating Independence Day in NY, how am I EVER gonna top this?

Here’s a little video footage.  I have NO idea what Leslee and Tara were talking about.  Hair maybe???

We were on a rooftop on TOP of a rooftop. That's when you know you've arrived :) We were on a rooftop ON TOP of a rooftop.  That’s when you know you’ve arrived 🙂

One of our new friends, Leslee, and Tara.

All 4 barges were sync’d up to the same display. Pretty awesome being able to see all of them at once.