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‘Speakeasy’ Exposes Itself

About a year ago, everyone was atwitter about the opening of modern-day "speakeasy" the Blue Owl: "You'll spot it by an image of a blue owl hanging unobtrusively over a staircase," UrbanDaddy teased. Scratch that: On Saturday, the owners erected the ginormous sign you see above. If business doesn't perk up, they could always turn the place into a Hooters. — Daniel Maurer

We Spot-Check Gordon Ramsay's Stink

We recently noted that the notoriously truculent Gordon Ramsay has finally pissed someone off with his new Gordon Ramsay at the London. His neighbors in the apartment building behind the restaurant have been complaining bitterly about the noise and smell produced by the restaurant's air exhausts, among other things. We decided to see for ourselves just how bad they really have it. Our correspondent, who shot the photograph above, was led into an apartment right across from an apparently unfiltered exhaust vent. "A steady, noticeable hum is apparent," he reports. "This becomes much louder when the windows are opened. I can definitely see how it would impact people living on that side of the building within a few floors of the vent." Then there's the smell. Shirley Lemmon, the residence manager, told our reporter that, "We know what they're having for dinner. Sometimes it's bacon, which I don't mind. I like bacon. But sometimes it's duck, and the smell is terrible." (Lemmon also claims that Ramsay's air-conditioning unit has been measured at 75 decibels. History's loudest rock concert — the Who at Leeds — peaked at 120 decibels.) Ramsay's people told us that "the hotel has addressed the problem and is working to resolve all issues." Something tells us they're not taking duck off the menu. Earlier: Gordon Ramsay Finally Pissing Someone Off

Matt Damon Learns an Important Lesson

The Good Shepherd premiere. Ziegfeld Theater, 141 W. 54th St., nr. Sixth Ave., 7 p.m. Director Robert DeNiro and stars Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Billy Crudup, and John Turturro expected. Based on the movie's title and trailer, we're supposing that a white-haired mentor figure will shoehorn some sort of half-assed allegory about sheep into a conversation with Matt Damon's character. • Partnership for Public Service gala. Cipriani, 110 E. 42nd St., nr. Vanderbilt Ave., 6:30 p.m. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will award Senator Joe Lieberman with the Theodore Roosevelt Award for the Advancement of Public Service. Humorously, Dennis Haysbert will be honored for the "portrayal" of public service but sadly will not receive it from Commissioner Tony Scali.

Alexander Litvinenko Food News

Daily Intel points out something that never would've occurred to us in a million years: Since former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko dined on possibly polonium-tainted sushi at what has officially been the most publicized restaurant meal of 2006, the eatery, Itsu Sushi, has been on a roll. Riding a wave of publicity, the owners plan on opening a branch in New York. "It sounds macabre and opportunistic to say that this is Itsu's moment, but they just have to make sure they manage it properly," brand consultant Graham Hales told Bloomberg. "There is a point of notoriety that Itsu has achieved that it can now build upon." Now for the "fusion" cooking jokes. New Restaurant to Test Whether There Actually Is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity [Daily Intel]

Hark! The Herald Angels Burn Energy!

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Amazingly enough, there really is some religious devotion to be found in this godless city. And how is it displayed? With enormous, expensive lighting displays, naturally. The good people at Gowanus Lounge took a trip over the weekend to Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, which is apparently the extravagant-Christmas-lights capital of New York City. This picture's our favorite, mostly for the rows of herald angels flanking the entryway, which provide a nice counterpoint to the usual excessive rows of lights and signs. But there's lots more what that came from. And, hey, Merry December 11! Dyker Heights Lights! The Photos [Gowanus Lounge]

Bummer Indeed: Gray's Papaya Finally Raises Prices

When Gray's Papaya announced in September that the price of its Al Franken–endorsed frank was to go up from 95 cents, founder Nicholas A. B. Gray was keeping mum about the math. We visited the Sixth Avenue location this weekend and can now report that as of the beginning of the month, the price is $1.25. This exceeds even the 25-cent jump (from 50 cents to 75 cents) of 1999. Still more devastating, the Recession Special — two dogs and a small drink — has gone from $2.75 to $3.50. Not that we would forsake Gray's for an inferior imitator, but when we called every other listed Papaya stand in the city, we made an all-too-sobering discovery: These days you'll have to go out to Queens to get a 95-cent frank. Here's how much fourteen different dogs will set you back.

Malcolm Gladwell, 4-Year-Old Sheriff

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So we happened past New Yorker scribe Malcolm Gladwell's blog today — don't ask; we have no good excuse — and we were struck by what we found there. It seems Gladwell is in a big ol' blog fight with professional conservative Steve Sailer, and the argument has driven the extravagantly coiffed author — heretofore known for his incisive journalism, his best-sellers, and, well, his exuberant coif — to adopt another claim to fame. Perhaps, from now on, he will be known as the Internet sheriff who saddled up on his blog and roped one errant hive-mind contributor like a straggling baby calf:
Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that Steve Sailer doesn't allow readers to comment on his posts. Can you believe that? Here we have the aggrieved Steve Sailer, donning the cloak of victim as he decries my attempt at censorship. Here we have the allies of Steve Sailer, speaking out on behalf of the virutes [sic] of the free exchange of ideas, the importance of confronting one's critics, the necessity of fighting the good fight in arena of free speech. And all the while their leader is cowering behind the gates of a comment-free blog. Oh my. Is it possible that in addition to everything else, Steve Sailer is also a chicken?
See? That's what's so revolutionary about the Internet: It can turn a dude with a camera phone into a photojournalist, some dorky grad students into billionaires, and, it now seems, Malcolm Gladwell into a 4-year-old. Imagine My Surprise … [Gladwell.com]

Restaurant Guru Predicts the Future, Assumes We'll Eventually Get Hungry

Michael Whiteman — the restaurateur who, with his late partner, the legendary Joe Baum, created the Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, the Hudson River Club, and a number of other historically important places — has issued his annual predictions for next year's restaurant trends, including "tropical superfruits," "ethical eating," and "wildly flavored chocolates." The list is pretty wide-ranging, but if we were handicapping all ten wrinkles, we'd say the odds are on "chef-driven steakhouses" (as Whiteman has persuasively argued), "Japanese small plates" (i.e., izakayas), and "burgers with pedigrees," like those promised by Joe Bastianich's Heritage Burger (which we announced the other day). The long shots for '07? Peruvian cooking, those spice-flavored chocolates, and the popularization of molecular gastronomy ("equivalent to a gastronomic IQ test in which typical diners are all below average"). Then again, no one ever said we were the oracle. 'Party-Colored Beets': 2007 Buzzword Preview [Eater] Remembering Joe Baum [NYM]

Michael Chabon, Defender of the Acknowledgment

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Last week, Times books reporter Julie Bosman took a swipe at Norman Mailer's Aeneid-length acknowledgments. In today's letter column, Pulitzer-winning novelist Michael Chabon presents a defense:
Here's a crazy reason your article did not mention for including an acknowledgment at the end of your novel: to acknowledge. If there is some kind of old-fashioned virtue in concealing one's debt to and gratitude for the hard work of others, it's difficult for me to see where it lies.
But of course Chabon approves of the public airing of private gratitude. He's married, after all, to novelist Ayelet Waldman, who famously published a certain delightful bit in a March 2005 "Modern Love" column. What did she have to say?

Upscale Dry Cleaning Comes to Harlem

NYPL Stacks
Astoria: Shooting on location is On 31st Street, coming soon to Greek TV. [Columbia Journalist via Joey in Astoria] Brooklyn Heights: Brigate Bocce got the boot in the first round of the New York Fall Bocce Playoffs. We'll keep you updated. [Brooklyn Heights Blog] Chelsea: Burgers & Cupcakes waits till after dark to erect a new awning on its 23rd Street location. [Blog Chelsea] Fort Greene: Are hedge-fund managers actually invading, or is that a real-estate urban legend? [Set Speed aka One Hanson Place] Harlem: New condo buildings bring with them new dry cleaners. [Uptown Flavor] Midtown: Inside the closed stacks (right) of the New York Public Library. [NewYorkology] Red Hook: The Revere Sugar factory is going down, but slowly at first. [Gowanus Lounge]

As Art Fair Ends, It Becomes Clear: Girls Ruled

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Amid the dense and hedonistic five-day spree of partying at Art Basel Miami Beach, it's easy to forget that millions of dollars of art changed hands, too. And when the rhinestones had settled, the surprises went far beyond the no-shirt dress code (for men, at least) at the Visionaire party Saturday. Art dealers at the fair, which drew a record 40,000 attendees, had braced for Russian buyers, hedge-fund spending, and buzzy interest in the new new things. Instead, Latin Americans went on a binge, artists from the seventies outdrew emerging stars, and there was furious — even competitive — buying by a suite of New York–based real-estate developers. So who bought what?

Mel Gibson Rides Feathered Serpent to Boffo B.O.

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Seems he will work in that town again. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is the weekend's No. 1 film. Okay, it's true: Its haul was only a so-so $14.2 million, which means its top rank was due mostly to lack of competition — the only potential challenger, Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Blood Diamond, flopped hard with an $8.5 million box office, which means it'll be okay to wear diamonds to the Oscars. And Gibson's take also pales next to the $83.8 million premiere of his previous directorial effort, The Passion of the Christ. (Then again, more people seem to be into Jesus than the Mayan god Chac.) But the main point remains: The auteur's DUI arrest and the subsequent Jews-and-sugartits business apparently did little to hurt the film. Apocalypto's dialogue is entirely in Mayan, it has no stars, and it's rife with Gibson's trademark torture-porn, so it's hard to see it making any more money even without the baggage. It's amusing, however, to see the industry insiders' tone shift from gleeful derision to polite surprise ("The movie obviously succeeds on its own level") at the first hint Gibson might actually still be financially viable. Oy. Gibson Delivers Another Box Office Win [Yahoo News]

Roll Tape

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Despite our odd obsession with the Charmin Times Square toilets, we confess this hadn't previously occurred to us. But thanks to the latest installment in the Times' ongoing coverage of the recent invention of the Internet — today we learn about YouTube videos of Times Square marketing — we decided to check YouTube for some videos of Times Square marketing. Oh, the mother lode! Feast your eyes on an oddly hypnotic, entirely unnarrated four-minute travelogue of a visit to our favorite public bathrooms. (There are plenty of other, related videos available, too, if this one doesn't quite do it for you.) It's almost like being there — but you won't need to wash your hands when you're done. Charmin's Times Square Bathrooms [YouTube] Times Sq. Ads Spread Via Tourists' Cameras [NYT]

Weekend Watch: Yards Supporters Approve It; Yards Opponents Sue to Block It; Earth Spins on Axis

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Bruce Ratner's Brooklyn juggernaut kept churning through the weekend, as two residential buildings in the way of his Atlantic Yards dream moved closer to a date with the wrecking ball. The Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency that's been pushing this megaproject all along, unanimously voted to condemn any and all structures that stand in its way. Ratner's Forest City already owns the buildings in question, having thoughtfully bought them two years ago; what it doesn't own, and has little authority over, are some of the tenants' stabilized rents. Thirteen of the affected residents immediately banded together and sued. The charge: You can't condemn a building without officially erasing the tenants' leases first. The question is now, and surely not for the last time, in State Supreme Court. Which should hold up that wrecking ball for at least a little bit. A Nod for Atlantic Yards, and Then a Lawsuit [NYT]

New York's Rats: Irritating When Infesting, Delicious When Smoked

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While New Yorkers have been tying up the 311 lines to report their ever-escalating rodent problems, as the Times reminded us early last week, the enterprising folks at West African Grocery in Hell's Kitchen don't complain about their rodents — they stock them in the refrigerator section. Food-safety inspectors seized two pounds of smoked rodent meat from the market last week; there's no word on whether these were imported specimens or New York's native Norways. According to Microlivestock: Little-Known Small Animals With a Promising Economic Future, a book put out by the National Research Council, an estimated 42 cultures worldwide eat rodents; the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that rat meat makes up half the locally produced meat consumed in Ghana. The rats for sale at West African Grocery don't seem to be in quite as high demand — a prescient poster on Chowhound wrote of the place last May, "while I'm not at all squeamish about the arguable lack of sanitary conditions (to put it mildly), I've just never had the impression they have particularly high turnover." And, really, who likes rat that isn't fresh?
Wren Abbott N.Y. Cracks Down on Armadillos, Iguanas, Rodents and Cow Lungs [AP via WABC]

Two More on the Burger Bandwagon; Hardly Any Space for Buns

A blizzard of burger openings has recently hit the city: BLT Burger, Royale, the new Goodburger, and Fort Greene's 67 Burger. And there are more on the way: Heritage Burger, the concept for which we recently sketched out, and the still-secret chef-driven East Village place that we announced in late October. This week, Rob and Robin introduce two more newbies — Stand and the convenient-to-text-message brgr — breaking them down by beef, bun, and condiments. It's all practically enough to make you forget the name Shake Shack. Burger Madness [NYM]

Miss Anna May, In Fact, Like Fat People

A movement is afoot to regulate the body weight of runway models in New York City, and Anna Wintour is leading it. Blood Diamond director Ed Zwick took Russell Simmons to task after Simmons went on diamond-industry press junket to South Africa and Botswana and claimed the diamond trade there to be mostly beneficial. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin put their Tribeca pad on the market, but only for one day. The Hilton sisters don't get much love from their potential in-laws. (One suspects the feeling is mutual.) ABC anchor Charles Gibson thinks Mayor Bloomberg will run for president. Nasdaq CEO Bob Greifeld admitted in court that he did not know the difference between a markup and a gross profit margin. The Little Dog Laughed star Julie White got a ticket for bringing her dog on the subway. Brazil's first lady wants to adopt a child. Demi Moore dragged Ashton Kutcher to Fashion Week in September, but all Ashton wanted to do was watch football. The duo behind holiday show What I Like About Jew have gone their separate ways. Dakota Fanning thinks her next film is wonderful, despite the fact she's raped in it. Matthew Fox and the cast of SNL hung out late night. Victoria Beckham styled Katie Holmes for a magazine cover shoot, and the 300-plus people involved were (allegedly) instructed not to make eye contact with the ladies. For reasons entirely unclear, Brett Ratner's grandmother has her own realty show on VH1. Cindy Adams hates on Mel Gibson's Apocalypto (although she hasn't seen it), and Liz Smith loves James Lipton.