Monday, September 13, 2010

brooklyn brewery & williamsburg

One of the amazing things about New York City is how different its neighbourhoods are. Never mind the boroughs (Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island); simply trawl through Chelsea, SoHo, the West Village or the Lower East Side – and that’s just for starters – and you’ll see how the vibe, the architecture, and the buzz changes.

So when a visiting friend showed an interest in touring a Brooklyn-based craft brewery (apparently it’s too big to call itself a micro-brewery), I went along for the ride. Beer’s not quite my thing, but the opportunity to visit a new neighbourhood is.
So we took the L subway train from Manhattan to the Bedford stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We instantly fell in love with the neighbourhood. Leafy, laid-back, with decidedly less din and traffic and honking horns than Manhattan, its buildings are mainly three-storey low rises with plenty of character. There’s a lot of russet-red brick and row houses in pastel colours with wavy decorative parapets. There’s also graffiti and street art and doodles painted on the sidewalks – the grittiness of innovation and cheeky boldness of the young up-and-coming arty set.

The Brooklyn Brewery on 11th Street is aptly situated in a raw brick factory-like space, and was positively humming with noise, laughter and beer-swilling visitors, both locals and out-of-towners. The hand-crafted beer is cheap (and delicious, so I was told) and the short but witty tour (half-hour) was free. You can also haul in your own food deliveries (stacked boxes of pizza were arriving by the minute), but we found a light-filled pub with pressed-tin ceilings, stained-glass windows and a modernised jukebox instead. It was a great way to fill the hole in our stomachs. And, of course, they served Brooklyn Brewery beer. Williamsburg, we’ll be back again!

You'll find this portrait underfoot, painted on the sidewalk. . . Genius.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

happy labor day!

So … the Labor Day weekend is upon us. I can’t quite believe it. An important marker in the US calendar, it’s the official signifier of the end of summer. Radiant fall, with its hot-spice colours, is a mere skip and a jump away.

We’ve been here for 18 months and it feels like home.

So just to celebrate, here are a couple more less obvious architectural icons of a city we never had to learn to love – we were addicted at first bite.

From über-modern to graceful historical…

I’m smitten with Apple’s ingenious glass cube on 59th St and 5th Avenue. You can either descend to its merchandise floor via the spiralling opaque-glass staircase, or take the elevator – a reinforced-glass platform that travels down a transparent cylinder cutting right through the centre of the cube.

Then there’s the main concourse of Grand Central Station at 42nd Street, with its iconic four-faced clock (made of opal and valued at around $10–20 million by Sotheby's and Christie's) and those beautiful windows where the light pours through, inspiring this famous black-and-white photograph below. (Just imagine, blackout paint applied to the windows during World War II was only removed in 2007.)

My favourite part of Grand Central is its restored ceiling (well, since late 1998, that is). Painted a turquoise-blue, it is studded with gold stars and mythological depictions of the constellations as imagined by the ancient astronomers. Painted in the late 1930s (artist: Frenchman Paul César Helleu), it had become blackened by what was believed to be coal and diesel smoke. Spectroscopic tests proved this to be tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke! You simply shouldn’t pass through the station portals without craning your neck upward to this marvellous celestial dome.

Oh, and don’t forget to linger at the front façade on 42nd Street to ogle at the elaborately carved trio of Minerva, Mercury and Hercules (designed by sculptor Jules-Félix Coutan), backed by a giant eagle, symbolising America. Aptly, Mercury, at the centre, represents commerce.

Photo of Grand Central celing: Arnoldius, Wikipedia