I left this on Sunday to come back here! :(
In my last article for lifeinbkln.com I brought up the question of what makes living in New York City so special and whether or not this city was a net importer or exporter of culture in this day and age. I purposefully left that question open for readers to discuss and to consider. With this article I hope to add some food for thought by bringing up New Yorkers of another age with names which are undoubtedly familiar to most Americans. They are names synonymous with wealth and privilege, with history and with the fortunes of this city and of our nation as well. Many of their homes remain as a testament to the way they lived. As a sort of living history book for later generations to enjoy and breathe in while walking well worn paths etched by time. Paths still redolent with the gilded age flower gardens continuing to bloom faithfully beneath the canopy of trees hundreds of years old and who alone can hold all the weight of history within their enormous girth.
A trip to the Hudson Valley is a trip back in time. Just over one hundred miles from the madding crowd of Brooklyn sit majestic and well preserved mansions of another age. They line the East bank of the Hudson river and invite visitors to explore the way families like the Vanderbilts, the Roosevelts and the Rockefellers lived. It takes just under 2 hours to get to Dutchess county which is where the majority of these great mansions are located but even the trip there is enjoyable as it winds through the low lying Catskill mountains made famous by artists of the Hudson River school and authors like James Fenimore Cooper, Edith Wharton and Washington Irving.
My first stop was Clermont (photograph above), the ancestral home of the Livingston family. The patriarch was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the serene home perched high over the Hudson hosted the likes of George Washington and seven generations of the Livingstons. The grounds are well manicured and the home is quite secluded at the end of a winding road through heavy forest. This home was also the launch site of the first Steam Boat which was developed by Robert Fulton and one of the Livingston clan. There are reproductions of the steam ship housed in the visitor center, objects found during archeological excavations nearby as well as a touching short film narrated by the last Livingston to live in the house;
Honora Livingston, who passed away in 2001.
Next stop was Springwood, home of the Roosevelts in Hyde Park. This is a major national historic site and is currently undergoing much renovation on the grounds of the Presidential library. The 290 acre site includes the Roosevelt mansion where FDR grew up, Eleanor’s residence Val-Kill and of course the Presidential library which FDR himself had planned to house the wealth of historical documents pertaining to his 4 terms as President. I really enjoyed looking into his childhood room to see his bed, diplomas, photographs on the wall as well as his wheel chair down the hall.
The library in the mansion looks like the Roosevelts just stepped out for lunch. Even his dog Fala’s favorite blanket is still laid out. There is a reproduction of FDR’s oval office in the Presidential Library building just as it was in 1940. Historical papers such as the actual legislation which he signed to enact the Social Security program fill rooms spanning different eras from the Depression to WWII. The Presidential tomb sits at the center of the family rose garden and consists of an enormous rectangular marble stone which seems to glow in the sunlight.
Down the road from the Roosevelt mansion, about a ten minute drive away, is the stately entrance to the McKim, Mead and White designed Vanderbilt mansion. The estate is comprised of hundreds of acres sitting high above the surrounding landscape. The drive up to the house includes a stone bridge over a creek and a winding road up a hill. The house is practically hidden from view by the surrounding trees until one reaches a flat stretch at the base of a large green field. Looking West from that point the imposing mansion is then seen full on, giving the visitor the feeling of being instantly transformed into a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel or lost somewhere in an old European estate. The National Park Service runs hourly tours of the house during which you can see the priceless antiques and artwork inside. There are hiking trails throughout and convenient scenic lookout points from which to take in the beautiful surrounding countryside across the Hudson.
My short weekend family trip ended at Locust Grove, home of the American artist and inventor Samuel Morse (most notable for the “Morse Code” and telegraph machine). This is a beautiful, Italianate villa designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, the great 19th century architect also known for designing the New York Customs House which still stands as the image of Wall Street. The visitor’s center has an excellent little gallery of Morse's art work on display. Outside of the actual home which contains fantastic examples of 19th century furniture and art and within the forested grounds of this estate, are numerous hiking trails, gardens and the sounds of locusts and cicadas everywhere. In one corner of the property, right by a brook, is the family pet cemetery with small headstones denoting beloved animal companions with names like Penny and Petey. Morse himself is actually interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
In between visits to old mansions there are a multitude of things to do from antiques shopping in towns like Rhinebeck and Poughkeepsie to a drive-in movie theater in Hyde Park showing two features for the price of one beginning at 8:30 every night. If you are lucky, you can call ahead and get reservations to dine at one of the restaurants in the famous Culinary Institute of America (CIA) located just south of the FDR home.
There are too many homes and mansions to visit in one trip including but not limited to names like Olana, Montgomery Place, Staatsburgh, Wilderstein and Kykuit (the Rockefeller Estate).
Not to be missed are the opportunities to sit with the family and have a good old fashioned picnic on the grounds of one of the State Parks. Several of the homes are run by the NY State Park system which makes certain that the picnic areas are well maintained with ample parking and clean facilities. While sitting back on a sunny summer day, looking at the trees above and the river below with the sounds of a cool breeze teasing the leaves above, you can almost make out the faint sounds of a bygone era still echoing between the banks of the Hudson.
August 13, 2011 10:47 PM - Open Thread
When: August 25th, 6:30pm
Where: 308 Flatbush Avenue
What: Do you really have to ask?
Awwwww yeah! It's that time again folks! CobbleSnaps Productions is proud to present our annual End of Summer Shindig! This year we take the party to Ocean's 8 located at 308 Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn (near the corner of 7th Avenue).
What the heck is Ocean's 8? Well, it just happens to be the largest fun spot in...well...ok...we don't *know for sure* that it's the largest anything anywhere, but hey, trust us when we say it's HUGE! Ocean's 8 features numerous pool tables, 2 bowling lanes, air hockey tables, ping-pong tables, a bar (of course!) and a kitchen that serves food! (The onion rings are FABULOUS!) For more information about Ocean's 8 and to see pictures of the space, visit their website at http://www.oceans8atbrownstone.com/index-1.html
No excuses will be accepted...get yer booty on down to Ocean's 8 on August 25th from 6:30pm until whenever and party with all the gang! We always love to meet new people and familiar faces are always a pleasure, too. Please RSVP by adding a comment to this post so that we can get an approximate headcount. Hope to see you all there!
Ocean's 8 is located at 308 Flatbush Avenue. Take the B or Q train to the "7th Avenue" stop and use the exit that is marked "7th Ave and Flatbush." The main entrance to Ocean's 8 is right outside this stop. You can also take the 2/3 to either Bergen Street or Grand Army Plaza. For the bus riders, take the B67 to the corner of Flatbush Avenue and 7th Avenue, or the B41 to Flatbush Avenue and Park Place. (map - http://tinyurl.com/3vacg9s)
**THIS IS AN OFFICIAL COBBLESNAPS PRODUCTION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED AND ENFORCED BY CATS WITH SUPER SHARP CLAWS.**
Just got up. Having an English muffin which DeLepp correctly describes as "just a vessel for the delivery of butter."
225 Wythe Ave (btw N3rd and Metropolitan)
So I glanced over on Brownstoner today and saw the post that said the Freeman's offshoot Isa (not Ina) was open and serving dinner on Wythe and South 2nd, so I decided to swing by for an early dinner before the hoards of Manhattanite scenester foodies make the place unbearable. Of course the Brownstoner information was WRONG and they're still doing friends and family soft open, so figured I'd keep it consistent and try another Manhattan Burg spinoff......La Esquina (or Cafe de La Esquina at the Wythe Diner as they're calling it).
Okay, so I really wanted to hate this place. It embodies everything that is going horribly wrong with Northside Williamsburg nowadays. For those who don't know, La Esquina is this Mexican restaurant-cum night club in Soho (Kenmare/Lafayette) that was a hotspot circa early-mid 2000s where downtown kids went to do blow and eat overpriced tacos. The food at the taco stand portion of the Soho original has always been solid, but the scene has always been a real turnoff. The Brooklyn location opened this week in the former space of a fairly beloved Williamsburg classic, Relish, which closed earlier this year, certainly not scoring it any points with any long-time Williamsburgers (the few that are left).
So it was pretty crowded when we walked in at 7:30, but the friendly hostess greeted us right away and steered us to a couple of bar seats. The place is an old school diner car - think "Diner" on Broadway, but much more spacious. So far so good. Once seated, a nice bartender/server greeted us immediately and got us some water. Already quite an improvement over the original La Esquina, as she didn't scowl at us and make us feel like losers for not being dressed like we just stepped off a runway in Milan.
What to drink......No beer on tap yet (despite having it on the menu) so we ordered a round of beers (sol, modelo especial can) and some shots of "not too expensive but not shitty tequila." The tequila shots came with a nice sangrita chaser (but were $10 bucks each for a Manhattan sized pour). The waitress made a funny crack about doing shots so early. They also had a small cocktail list with pretty standard stuff you'll find in a Mexican place (micheladas, margaritas and other tequila based libations). Margaritas started at $10, which seems the going rate at other places in the nabe nowadays.
Our water glasses never got less than half empty before being refilled. Already my expectations were more than exceeded.
Food: I had the mole enchiladas, as I always find a Mexican place's mole sauce a good barometer if they know what they're doing. Pretty damn good. Definitely beats the hell out of the ones at "Mole" in the Northside Piers retail space - but definitely not as good as Mesa Coyocan over on Graham. Dining companion had some tacos - good, but not great. I saw lots of people ordering the burger, which looked pretty legit.
As soon as the clock struck 8:30 - the music volume got turned up by 50% and switched from decent indie rock to an odd mix of poppy hip hop and Fleetwood Mac. The bass was vibrating the bar, but I really didn't mind since I was comfortable, full and had a pretty good buzz going.
Crowd was a decent mix of your typical Williamsburg "hipsters", some old dudes in their 60s and the new-to-the-waterfront finance dudes. Everyone seemed to get along well though.
This place is pricey. 2 beers, 2 shots, an entree and a couple of tacos came out to $86 bucks before tip. Left the server a $20 because I expected her to be a total bitch but she was actually the nicest server in Williamsburg I've encountered in months (probably because she wasn't a hipster, more like an aspiring european model/actress type). If you want cheap, good Mexican stay away from here and go to La Superior and be prepared to stand your ass out on lower Berry St for a good 90 minutes.
Overall, a pretty damn good time. I will definitely be back as it seems rather than bringing Soho to Williamsburg, the owners seem to know that Brooklyn demands a more low key experience (yes, even in WB) and have catered to the tastes of the neighborhood.
Granted as I write this at midnight on Friday - it may have turned into a total shitshow over there.
Ratings (out of 5):
Ambiance : 4
Food Quality : 3.5
Overall rating : 3.5
August 12, 2011 9:44 AM - Open Thread
959 Atlantic Ave. (Just east of Grand)
I had a real craving for greasy food on Wednesday evening, and based on advice form people on the LifeinBlkn OT, I decided to give White Castle a try.
Having lived my entire life in the Southeast and California, I had never tried one before, although I was familiar with the chain through various pop culture references.
We walked there, but there appears to be amble spaces in their parking lot. The inside of the restaurant was somewhat dingy, but not overly nasty. It was clearly designed to “high crime area” standards, with a small window for ordering and pickup instead of a counter, and a bathroom that required employees to buzz you into.
Being my first time, I decided to stick to the hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and onion rings, although the “Chicken Rings” looked like they could be interesting. The total for 4 hamburgers, 2 cheeseburgers, 1 order of onion rings, and 1 medium fountain drink (which I would call large) was $8.80, including tax.
The drinks are self-serve, which means unlimited free refills while you are there. There is a large stash of ketchup and mayo packets for customers, although it looked like a ketchup packet had leaked at one time, leaving the rest slightly sticky. The tables were clean, and we had the choice between standard tables, booths, or high table.
It took the food around 5 minutes to arrive, largely because they cooked us a fresh order of onion rings. The onion rings were standard fast food quality, made of shaped tiny pieces of onion and not whole rings.
The tiny burgers were quite interesting. They were very moist, both from the onions they are cooked on as well as from fat. The bottom bun was quite soggy on all of the burgers, although sometimes the sogginess pattern was uneven. The burgers went down quite easy, seeming so “slide” down my throat. The onions gave them a good flavor not usually found in low end fast food burgers.
Overall, the burgers seem to find an odd combination of deliciousness and utter disgustingness.
Ratings (out of 5):
Facilities and Ambiance : 2
Food Quality : 1 and 4
Overall rating : 3
August 12, 2011 8:02 AM - Open Thread
Here are some shots I took on Wednesday evening.
August 12, 2011 7:00 AM - Open Thread
August 11, 2011 7:18 AM - Open Thread
Good day blog readers and participants. My name is N. Ter Vivos (the attorneys in the house will understand the play on words!) and I will be writing a column/article on legal issues called "Briefly Speaking." I have already selected several topics about which I will write, but I also want to hear from you. What types of legal issues would you like to see covered? Remember, although I am an attorney, I can provide information about legal issues and topics but cannot and will not give specific legal advice. Please let me know what interests you, what you've always wanted to know about, etc. I make no promises, but will do my level best to cover topics within the realm of my knowledge and experience. I thank you in advance for your contributions, ideas and readership.
Check out the outdoor spaces, stained glass and the ceilings in the 1930s spanish style casa in LA.
August 10, 2011 9:22 AM - Open Thread
It's about that time again...CobbleHiller and InsertSnappyNameHere will host another raucous CobbleSnaps Event on August 25, 2011. Mark your calendars and get ready to party. Details regarding time and location will follow soon! Tell your ma! Tell your pa! Tell everybody to BE THERE!