This past Spring, I had a game in New York on Saturday. I literally had not been to New York in over two years, so I figured it was about time to have a wandering around day, and check out some stuff.
My first goal was to check out the infamous Shopsin’s, potrayed in the documentary I Like Killing Flies. Just watch so you understand. Unfortunately, I had a bit of work to do. I got an early start, and worked at Starbucks nearby. (Actually kudos to this particular Starbucks, it had plenty of big tables.) I finished my tasks around 10:30, and went over to Shopsin’s for brunch.
As I walked over, I was treated to the familiar sights of the East Village, brought about by many trips on the Chinatown bus (RIP). The produce of all kinds. The Congee Village Bar. All of the restaurant supply stores.
Shopsin’s is not in its original location, as you can learn in the documentary. It’s in the Essex St. Market, essentially a few tables in front of a counter. There are still a good number of tchotchkes decorating the walls around the counter, making it seem like a bit of the old joint. There was a 3 top bar and a handful of two and four tops. No wonder this place gets crowded on the weekends. It was about half-ish full at 11 am on a Friday.
Kenny himself was present. He is a balloon of a man. He wasn’t cooking that day, and I wonder how often he cooks. During my meal, he mostly sat in a plastic chair in the corner which had two pillows on it. Played a bit with his flip phone. Occasionally would yell at his employees. But not actually criticizing them, just communicating via yells.
Kenny’s son was my server. He had long hair in a ponytail and a Metallica shirt. I wanted to steal the menu, but realized I could print it…It is dense:
I guess Kenny has a brain that just keeps creating new things, but never wants to edit. So the menu and the food resembles the walls covered in stuff.
The decor reminded me of Carman’s in Philly (RIP) though with not so many penises. Carman’s had exactly the opposite concept as far as food. Two, maybe three options per day. Changed daily.
There was a sign saying no smartphones. I was brought a plastic cup of water. The prices are a bit high for what you’re getting, but hey, they’re paying rent in Manhattan.
Kenny literally shuffles, but silently. He wears suspenders, an apron, a greasy rag tucked into his pants, and backwards trucker hat of unknown origin. I admit I was nervous he was so close. I was afraid I would start talking to him, geek out, and look like an idiot.
I had corn tamales, hatch and chorizo mac and cheese pancakes, and pound cake french toast. The tamales were well-seasoned but falling apart. The hot sauce (which was recommended) was good but not needed really on anything I got. The pancakes were spicy, but the spiciness was distributed in a way so that there were blank spots where I could tell what the unadulterated thing tastes like. It was good and had a nice skin. The FT was sweet, and came with a little bottle of VT maple syrup.
When I was done gorging, I was surprised and happy to see that they accept Square. It was $35 including tip.
The table close to me had a man and woman sitting across from each other, next to Kenny’s chair. The man used the restroom, and Kenny got into a conversation with her.
She said she was an escort, joking, “I love my fucking job.”
She also added, “Seriously, it’s great, it’s a cash-based business.” This was somehow related to Square in a way I don’t recall.
Kenny replied with, “We’re in the same business, making people happy. It’s unfortunate, we have to declare 40% more of our income than we used to. It used to be you could buy used, do some work yourself and make a living. It’s harder now. I always figured there was enough business to go around. I’ve realized being happy has to do with the essence of how you are, separate from the world.”
The escort offered, “My grandmother was very sick, and passed away recently. But I know she was surrounded by people who loved her at the end and was at peace.”
“Yeah, then I guess we all have our happy endings, my son just opened a massage parlor. ”
The Essex St market itself is a pretty nice place. It reminded me of a super-chill version of Reading Terminal Market. It has about one of each thing: cheesemonger, fishmonger, chocolatier. A few produce stands and bread stands. A stand with Japanese ingredients, a stand with Latin American ingredients. If I lived in the East Village, I’d be a regular.
Full, I decided to spend my noontime checking out shoes at Nordstrom Rack and Gap, because I needed some for a wedding. I decided to walk up Bowery to Union Square. On the way, I passed the Bowery Hotel, the Village Voice, and the old CBGBs. Appropriately listening to Patti Smith’s “Wander I Go.”
At some point, maybe around Houston, the whole place gets decidedly less punk rock. A bar for shots, which can go either way, I suppose. Whole Foods and pizza shops and diners. Cleaner, fancier, younger, and whiter. Duane Reades, McDonalds, 7-11 and Loews. Kiehl’s. Shoppes. Restaurants. A Jennifer Convertibles. Trader Joe’s, Chipotle and GameStop.
My shoe expedition failed. I peed at Starbucks twice.
At some point I decided to travel to JB Prince. I love cooking things, equipment, and tiny things. JB Prince is a store that chefs actually go to. Business cards of chefs serve as the wallpaper for the entrance. The store itself is a smallish few rooms on the 11th floor of an office building. Thye have sous vide equipment, any kind of knife you want, any sort of cookware and serving ware of all sizes. And they have only one of each thing sitting out, to save space. Pictures of tiny things follow:
Next I wanted to check out Crif Dogs. On my way I passed the great Joe’s Pub, seen many a show there. Walked along St. Marks place; Karaoke, sushi, tattoos, head shops, two dollar sunglasses, comics, suspenders, jazz. I also saw the RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH guy.
In Crif’s there are upright arcade games and arcade tables. You can get PBR or Dales. I went PBR since the afternoon was hot and still very much happening. I got a Spicy Redneck, bacon-wrapped, with chili, coleslaw, and jalapeños. The bacon was nice but more of a texture thing. The ingredients worked well together. I wanted to try more hot dogs but this was not the day for that. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. A wonderful place for theoretical day drinking and eating, though.
There were a couple good-looking places next to it, too. A Tuck shop (meat pies) and Five Tacos. I walked up Avenue A and saw many charming cafes. Then I walked to Katz’s.
I had never been to Katz’s deli before, so I made a point to do so. Definitely a touristy zoo-like place now and crowded and sweaty, and the sandwich is a bit too expensive. But it is yummy. And really two meals. And the pickles. There were two 65ish rotund midwesterners sitting next to me who probably could done without this trip. They asked for salt. One asked what a Reuben was. Facepalm.
I ended my workday at the New Museum, which was having an exhibition on early 90s artists. Pretty worth it, though I was paranoid about the smell of my leftover Reuben.
After I was done at the museum, I met one of my hosts at a sports bar. He was drunk with some other Englishmen and they were watching soccer. I was offered a couple pints, then we went on our merry ways. I was running late for a dinner in Astoria with people from high school.
It was far. I ended up taking a cab. Which ended up being a private car-type deal, which cost me too much money.
After dinner, I was half expecting us to have more drinks, but my company seemed to be in really lazy friday moods. So I met up with my hosts at the Way Station, a bar in Brooklyn with a TARDIS bathroom. We saw a jug band and danced and clapped along for a good long while. Much sleep was had.
The next morning, before my game, the second half of the Reuben was consumed. No comment on my athletic performance.
Random: 99 miles to Philly