Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Warm Winter Bike Ride Through Bed-Stuy!

I had a fun day. I had my whole afternoon planned to sit at my computer and edit my book newly titled "Drink This Book", but as i walked outside late this morning to grab a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin I was overwhelmed by a sunny 65 degree day. Since the weather has recently kept me away from my normal rounds, I decided to scrap the editing (for a while) and go for a bike ride.

I didn't want to go too far because i really did have work to do, but since Bedford-Stuyvesant, the heartland of Brooklyn is just blocks away and I haven't really done it much there on my tour, it sounded just about right. 2 hours and 100 pictures later, I was a very happy urbanite. I wended my way through street after street of old buildings, new developments, empty lots, a slew of great urban art, Gothic churches, parks and thousand of people outside enjoying the day.

Bed-Stuy is a wonderful neighborhood. It, possibly more than every other neighborhood with the possible exception of Coney Island has influenced the world's opinon of what Brooklyn is. That is both good and bad. During the Holidays i watch the PBS special a Walk Around Brooklyn with David Hartman and Barry Lewis. I remember being a little put off by the fact that all they showed was beautiful homes and old historic buildings and none of the real everyday life of the communities that live there. But given more thought, i think that might have been on purpose. The outside reputation of Bed-Stuy and most of NYC is not the best. I realized that if someone called Bed-Stuy the Harlem of Brooklyn it would be very accurate. But I think the biases that most of the country has developed on NYC neighborhoods, the reference to Harlem would not inspire visions of a vibrant community but instead of a bad neighborhood with a lot of crime and dark alleys...and that is unfair at best and racist at worst.

Bed-Stuy is very much like Harlem. It has a long proud history and sense of itself that can only be compared to Harlem. When the subway system grew into the area in the 1930's a lot of residents of an over-crowded Harlem moved to Bed-Stuy. Bed Stuy still has the largest concentration of African-Americans of any neighborhood in the U.S. This unfortunately has had a negative effect on the reputation of the area as well as a real economic effects like bank redlining and lack of city sponsored investing and basic city serivice and upkeep. There has been a rashes of crime and urban decay, but no more so than any other neighborhood has at some point during its history.

The new renaissance of the neighborhood has brought a balance of throw-back architecture, a reinvigorated pride in its history and of course real estate driven gentrification. But for now, its a nice place to take a few hours and aimlessly ride a bike, go for a walk, check out some of the local museums, historic houses and grab a slow cup of coffee in one of the corner cafes.

Well, back to work. I'll check back soon.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Drunken Pizza

As my plans for the future start to heat up, my tour is slowing down. But not before a visit to my all-time favorite pizza joint.

Big Nick's

When I moved to NYC in 1994, I barely left the upper west side. I would go to school on 85th, work at Lincoln Center and go back home on 79th street. Occasionally (only occasionally mind you) I would frequent a great bar on my block, The Dublin House. (More on my favorite bars later this month)

After hoisting back a few choice pints of the best Guinness in town, i would get a bit hungry. Almost always I would go for a late night slice of pizza. Now, there is good pizza, great pizza and even gourmet pizza that you would list with even the best high-end cuisine New York has to offer. But you know the pizza is good when you are drunk and need something in your stomach, and you still pass by 4 other pizza joint just to get that one slice that you crave above all others. This is Big Nick's pizza on Broadway and 76th.

They are a burger and pizza greasy spoon type of spot that claims to be open 23 hours a day...although I have never found that one hour they weren't. I always promised to try their other food, but never got past the smell of their one-of-a-kind tomato sauce that fills your nose as you approach the store front. It looks like regular NY style pizza, but it tastes amazing.

As I moved around NYC the last 14 years, I found other great pizza joints and almost forgot the first of the bunch. Its hard to accurately recollect taste, so any memory of food is never quite genuine. Every once in a while you need to re-spark those memories. Last week while up at the Beacon Theatre, I arrived early and took my buddy for his first slice of Big Nick's and my first in 5 years. Damn! It was better than ever.

I have been to a few dozen of the "Best slice in NYC" places over the last few months and some of them might be fancier, and maybe even better food. But Nick's will always be my favorite. And for anyone who lives up there knows, it will always be the "Best Drunken Pizza" anywhere.