Off The Record is a recurring feature here on the Drunkard that marries two of my greatest interests; music and travel. Having a locals perspective when visiting a new locale is the difference between experiencing it through the lens of a tourist and of that of a native.
Off The Record gathers some of my favorite artists, asks them to reflect on their city of residence, and choose a handful of places they could not live without — be them bookstores, bars, restaurants or vistas.
Tomorrow Scarlet Shame Records release the debut LP by The Flying Change (née Sam Jacobs) entitled Pain Is A Reliable Signal. Below, the singer-songwriter takes us on a tour of his Upper West Side neighborhood. Do check out the first track on the album, “Broken Bow,” below.
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New York is a place of neighborhoods; pockets of character and idiosyncrasy slumped next to each other like restless brothers. Mine is the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My wife and I moved up here a few years ago in a search for more space and some proximity to a green area that we like to call Central Park. It’s somewhat controversial to live on the UWS while trying to maintain some semblance of being hip and cool. There are lots of strollers up here. Schools. Families. Old people. The only celebrity you’re likely to see on a regular basis is Tim Blake Nelson and he hardly qualifies despite his not inconsiderable acting talents.
The Upper West Side has also been home to many of the adventure, tragedy and misfortune documented on my new record Pain Is A Reliable Signal. I don’t know if any of the spots qualify as hot but here are some of ours.
Pinky’s on Broadway (2240 Broadway) :: Pinky’s is a chain of salons strewn throughout the city. You go there for manicures and pedicures and assorted groomings. You can also get a massage. This particular Pinkys is important to us because there’s an older Asian guy named Dan that works the massage table. Because of my wife’s back pain and sciatica, she requires frequent agitation of her muscles and nerves and she needs people with strong arms and hands to massage her shoulders and back on the regular. If you’re too weak or not up to snuff, you only agitate her nerves and don’t alleviate the pain. There are two people that have those talents. One of them is me. The other is Dan. So if you need a good massage and can take the pain, go to Pinkys on Broadway and ask for Dan.
Lincoln Square Theater and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (1998 Broadway and 1886 Broadway) :: Of course you should go to the newly renovated Lincoln Center for a concert or the opera or something. Its beautiful and its a landmark. But if you’re like us you may not always have the dough for that. So we go to the movies. A lot. Every Friday night is movie night and we are homebodies so we stick to the Upper West Side an inordinate amount. Lincoln Square Theater is the AMC complex that has all the blockbusters. Lincoln Plaza Cinemas is the family-owned place that has the indies and foreign films. Some important points. Unless you’re a Communist, you understand that, while concessions are over-priced, they subsidize the existence of the movie house in general. So being the good American patriot that you are, you always get popcorn, candy and a soda of some sort. If you’re going to the AMC, the popcorn is better but they don’t have real Raisinets, which is obviously a problem. Consider plain M&M’s as a substitute. The private label Sun-Maid brand is not the same. If you’re going to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, they don’t even carry Coke products so we suggest you sneak in a 20oz Diet Coke and then ask for some cups of ice. Here are some of the other rules (courtesy of my wife) that we advise for the proper consumption of movies: a) test the soda before you buy to ensure proper levels of carbonation b) candy is only allowed to be consumed once movie has actually started (as a treat). During previews, you are only allowed to eat popcorn and drink soda. And c) most importantly, if the movie is average to good, you must not discuss it for 30 minutes after it has ended to ensure proper absorption and digestion. Don’t be one of those people that loudly proclaims their opinion on the walk out of the theatre thus disturbing the personal reflections of other attendees.
Central Park :: It’s not cliche. It is a truly amazing special place. Never has so well frequented and crowded a space been able to conjure such a personal and private atmosphere for its denizens. It’s vast and well traveled and somehow it always feels like it’s made just for you. I suggest you go for the proverbial/literal/allegorical/actual “run in the park”. The full loop is 6 miles but there are lots of ways to mix and match routes. Perhaps the most surprising bit is the very North end that houses a beautiful public pool (bring your own lock) and a rugged mountanous series of rock formations that would look more at home in the Catskills. I suggest you listen to ‘Alive 2007’ by Daft Punk as you run and/or Justice but that’s just me.
Zabars :: An Upper West Side institution, always crowded, and it smells extremely funky. But its got the best smoked fish in the city, some great cheeses, and an assortment of air conditioners and space heaters to help climate control your apartment. A bizarre combination of Jewish supermarket, hardware store and home furnisher. A bustling, crowded, surreal and smelly landmark.
The Hudson :: The East River is fine but the Upper West has easy access to a much more scenic body of water. Start off at the Boat Basin on 79th street, have a burger or a beer, and then walk up the river towards Harlem. You’ll pass tennis courts, basketball courts and, after working up a hunger you can end your bike ride/walk/run at Dinosaur Barbeque at 131st St. Some of the best in the city, outstanding ribs, a great staff and a view of the water as you eat.
The Food :: There’s plenty of decent food and little great food. Briefly: Hi-Life for a decent turkey burger, Shake Shack for the best regular burger, Mughlai for good Indian, Kefi for good Middle Eastern, Land for Thai, Ouest for over-priced but good French, Isabellas for brunch and Telepan for something special. Call me if you’re in the neighborhood.
MP3: The Flying Change :: Broken Bow
MP3: The Flying Change :: If You See Something, Say Something
Amazon: The Flying Change – Pain Is A Reliable Signal