Tag: music

Old Themes/New York

Two weekends back, I was in NYC for yet another concert, this time to see the fantastic Mayer Hawthorne, the fabulous Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and legends Hall & Oates at Madison Square Garden. Such a fun show.  I had reserved a room at the Holiday Inn a couple blocks from the venue and a few minutes’ walk from the Vamoose bus stop.  Times Square is only about a 20 minute walk.  I’d stayed at the hotel before so I knew it was decent, and it just made sense to stay there in light of how convenient it was.  (Also, free breakfast!)

My Vamoose bus got in around 1:30 and I went to the hotel to drop my stuff before getting a late lunch/early dinner at Haymaker, a great restaurant just next door to the hotel.  The burger was great and the beer menu was excellent.  Cool space, great atmosphere. Didn’t expect to find a place like that in that part of town, but glad I did and that it was so convenient.  I think it had only been open a few months.  Definitely worth checking out if you’re in that part of NYC.  Before the concert, I walked to Ayza for hot chocolate and dessert.  The hot chocolate was delicious, but I thought the dessert was a bit overpriced for what it was.  Also, I practically had to stare down the staff to help me even though I was sitting at the bar.

Saturday morning I was up early.  I had actually booked a room for that night at the 70 Park Avenue, so I schlepped my way over there, dropped off my bag, and headed out again. I had made plans to see a matinee of Aladdin on Broadway and had a few hours to kill.  You may remember that I saw the Star Wars:  The Power of Costume exhibit in Seattle last May; well, I saw it again in NYC at Discovery Times Square.  I was excited to find that there were even more costumes this time, and not just additions from The Force Awakens.  There were some parts of the exhibit where the staging was fantastic (a mirrored room creating the illusion of a clone army, the background from Padme and Anakin’s wedding), but the lighting wasn’t always great and I’m pretty sure there were signs that did not sync up with the costumes on display.  But overall, I was still glad I went.

I still had time to kill after wandering through the exhibit (since I’d seen most of the costumes already, there were only a few where I lingered) and figured I should get lunch before the show.  I wanted a relatively authentic New York experience, but where are you going to find something like that in Times Square?  I walked a block over (the theatre wasn’t far from Discovery, so I didn’t see a point in going too far away) and found yet more chains and places with mediocre reviews.  But I stopped short when I saw reviews for a nearby pizza place called 2 Bros with fantastic reviews and cheap pizza.  A giant slice of tasty pizza and a bottle of water for $3.50?  Practically unheard of.

The theatre opened at 1, so I took my seat, glad to have a chance to sit after walking all morning.  Aladdin was great, with new songs and a few changes from the movie, although as expected, Genie is just as much of a show-stopper here.  The pop culture references have been updated to reflect current memes (Genie says “Ain’t nobody got time for that” and does the Whip and Nae Nae).  The show was lots of fun, but I still like the movie better, and not just because no one could ever beat Robin Williams.

On this trip, I had also pledged that I would attempt to find the memorial near the late David Bowie’s apartment in SoHo.  I’m not sure how close I was to where he had lived (the memorial was probably long gone anyway), but I found the studio called The Magic Shop where his final two albums The Next Day and  were recorded; it apparently wasn’t far from his apartment, so I can’t have been too far off.  I was sad to read that the studio will be closing this month; it made me wish I had been bold enough to buzz the door to see if someone would give me a tour.

I sauntered around SoHo a little more until I ended up across the street from the famous Apple store (another place I’d been before).  I was thinking about dinner and I figured SoHo would have far more options than the area around my hotel.  Just after recognizing the Apple store, I saw there was a food truck with empanadas outside.  (This was my train of thought:  “Oh there’s that Apple store I went to that one time OH S*&^ THERE ARE EMPANADAS.”)  I found yet another place to get dessert and hot chocolate, Jacques Torres, before getting back on the subway back toward the hotel.

The 70 Park Ave is a Kimpton property, and if you are a member of their Kimpton Karma rewards program, you get a credit to use at the bar or to raid the minibar.  This one was $15; I think outside of NYC, it’s $10.  Either way, free stuff just for being part of the program!  Who says no to that?  I treated myself to a drink and a snack at the bar (the credit only covered the drink).  The room itself was fabulous; I wish I had taken a picture. Even though the hotel was off the beaten path for me, a bit more expensive than the Holiday Inn room, and there wasn’t much of interest around it, I would consider staying there again just because I liked it so much.

It was yet another good, full-to-the-brim trip to New York (but still no Umami Burger). My overall impression of the city hasn’t improved:  It’s dirty; it’s full of tourists and ways to leach money from you; I tired of hearing car horns within a few hours of arriving.  But it still unfailingly provides you with new adventures even when retreading old ground.


Pros and Cons of Taking Amtrak for a Weekend in DC

The first time I took the Amtrak between Alexandria and Richmond, I wasn’t thrilled with the experience.  The train was about 30 minutes late leaving Alexandria and it was crowded.  On the way back from Richmond that evening, you had to practically fight for seats.  The one I ended up with was broken, which I didn’t realize until after I claimed it.  The stations were unattractive and needed updating (still true). I thought trains were supposed to have some element of glamour!

My subsequent rides have been much better–quieter and much less crowded.  I’ve actually had productive train time.  While taking Amtrak is more expensive than driving for me, is being able to reclaim that few hours for myself worth the price of admission?  Consider looking out from the train window and seeing that 95 is completely swamped.  Even if your train is slow or not moving, at least you can do something else like watch a movie or read.  You could even nap!

What should you do when you’re stuck in traffic, whether on 95 or on a delayed train?  Relax, because there is not a damn thing you can do about it.  Just make sure that if you’re on the train, you have plenty of reading material/entertainment and snacks.

I’ve been hankering to get back to Alexandria and hang out in Old Town, and this weekend I got to, again staying with friends who live there.  This weekend was Old Town’s sidewalk sale, so a lot of the boutiques and stores had great sales running–my friend and her coworkers got some fantastic steals at the consignment stores!

Saturday night, some friends and I went to see Carbon Leaf at The Hamilton Live, a venue none of us had ever been to before.  (You may remember my friend Amanda and I have a history with this band…)  A friend and former roommate of mine used to work in the restaurant that houses the venue and he raved about it.  We made plans to get dinner at the restaurant before the venue doors opened.  Dinner was fabulous (pricey, sure, but that’s DC for you; Amanda balked at the fact that my cocktail was $13) and the service was fantastic.  Our waiter was very personable and accommodating.  Our tickets at the venue were standing room only, which naturally was right in front of the stage, in front of all the people who had paid more for actual seats and tables.  (You can order food and drinks in the venue, and their menu is different from the restaurant’s.)  The venue was very cool and posh-looking.  I saw TVs in the back for people who couldn’t see as well from where they were sitting.  Not only was the venue outstanding, but the band put on a legendary performance, and the crowd ate it up.  Carbon Leaf has a very devoted following, and it’s easy to see why!  Their opening act, The Christian Lopez Band, were also excellent and I recommend that if you live in NoVA that you go see them Saturday night at 10 p.m. at Jammin’ Java in Vienna (another cool venue)!

I also had a craving for an overpriced brunch from Le Pain Quotidien, a place my friends and I sometimes went in Old Town.  I went there Sunday morning with my friends Mileva and Aaron (you may know her from Capital Fit Geek) and I got the amazing avocado toast summer special (I have to figure out how they made that citrus cumin salt–sooooo delicious) and liberally slathered any bread available to me with the chocolate hazelnut spread (I still regret not buying a jar of it even though it’s $10).

So all in all, another great if short weekend in Northern Virginia.  Until next time…

Flashback Friday: Memorial Day Weekends Past, or Tales of a Sometime Groupie

How has Memorial Day come and gone already?  I got my hair cut the other day and two people at the salon asked me what I did over the holiday.  I couldn’t remember!  Clearly it was enthralling.  But I’ve been thinking in the past day or two about some of the more memorable holiday weekends I’ve had over the years…

In 2009, I had just gotten into Flight of the Conchords and was absolutely nuts about the band and their tv show.  (How has this been five years ago already?!)  I joined a message board to geek out about it with fellow fans, and met two ladies from the boards who also lived in the DC area after the Conchords’ concert at DAR Constitution Hall that April.  Later, on the boards, these two ladies, Sara and Sheila, were discussing travelling to Vegas and LA to see them over Memorial Day weekend.  I had no plans and thought this sounded fantastic, so I asked if I could join.  I had never been to Vegas or LA either (or any parts of Nevada or California at all), so checking two more places off my list was a bonus.

I had arranged to leave work early that Friday so I could catch my flight, and my coworkers assumed I was just going to Richmond to hang out with family for the weekend.  Needless to say, they were quite surprised when I told them my plans.

I got to Vegas after dark that night and took a really expensive cab ride from the airport to Circus Circus to catch up with Sheila, and we walked around The Strip for hours, getting drinks at Trader Vic’s and eventually winding up at the Stratosphere around 2 a.m. before wandering back to Circus Circus, not too far away (and farther off The Strip than I’d realized).


The next day, we met Sara at her hotel, the Venetian, which was niiiiice.  Oh so nice.  The concert that night was a lot of fun, and we met yet another fellow board member, but even better was being “those groupies” hanging out outside the hotel in the hopes that the band will come meet them.  I got to meet Jemaine, and my legs were like jelly because I had a crush on him…  Unfortunately, we left before Bret made an appearance.

Me and Jemaine

The next day, I flew separately from Sara and Sheila and got the rental car at LAX.  I had a couple hours to kill before they would get there, so I drove around to get a feel for LA.  Somehow my GPS failed me and I ended up in the cute community of El Segundo, where I got lunch at a coffee shop.  I picked the girls up at the airport and we went to our hotel for a little bit before meeting other “Flighties” at the vegetarian restaurant Bulan Thai prior to the show, which was at the awesome Greek Theatre.  This show in particular was cool because during one song, the guys brought out the men who did the Spanish-language dubbing for their voices.  Bret greeted the crowd again that night, but only because Sheila had brought him a red toy piano to replace one he’d broken earlier on the tour.  I flew back to Northern Virginia the next day, sad that my whirlwind weekend as a “groupie” was over.

The next memorable Memorial Day was in 2012.  I was just leaving work, getting into my car as one of my best friends called me. “What are you doing tomorrow?” she asked.  I had no plans.  “Let’s go see Carbon Leaf at Massanutten.  They need volunteers to work their merch table.”

Now, Amanda and I have a history with Carbon Leaf.  We went to the same college, albeit at different times (their 10-year graduation anniversary was our freshman year) and we first met them when they played on campus during our first-ever Homecoming weekend. Eleven years on (!), the guys know me by sight and her by name (although unfortunately, it has been a couple of years since I’ve seen them).  We’ve seen them numerous times in different venues in three states and DC, sometimes separately but usually together.  We once saved Barry, the lead singer, from falling down some stairs at Richmond’s lovely National.*

Me and Barry, October 2003.

Our boys were playing a festival at Massanutten, a resort about 2.5 hours’ drive from the DC area.  We wandered around a bit before sitting through probably a couple hours of other bands (country…ew), finally taking our place at the merch table as Carbon Leaf took to the stage.  There was a pretty steady stream of people come by during the show, and then afterwards, it was much, much busier. Even though it was pretty toasty and humid that day, and we had a long drive home, we had a great time.  Making such a spontaneous plan is rare for me, which I think made it all the more memorable.

These stories make me think it’s time for some more spontaneous trips so I can have more stories…I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

*This story is only slightly exaggerated.