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New York City 2019: A Mermaid Parade, The East Village, and a lot of Great Food

Visiting local friends in New York City: The Coney Island Mermaid Parade, Exploring the East Village, Williamsburg, and a lot of great food.

 

I finally feel like I really got to know New York City. My three previous trips to New York City were all quick two-day adventures, mostly focused on hitting up big attractions in the city. This was a solo trip to visit my native New Yorker bestie Keith, for 6 nights. Keith and his partner Mike were kind enough to put me up in their Inwood apartment guest room, and I timed my trip around the Coney Island Mermaid Parade in June. Having seen most of the big tourist attractions, I was able to spend my 5 days in New York City having fun and and exploring some of the amazing food and quirky attractions New York has to offer.

Day 1: The Museum of Sex, The Guggenheim, and a Tiki Bar

Following a three hour flight delay due to thunderstorms in New York, an evening of catching up with Keith and Mike, and a good night’s sleep, I was ready to head out into the city.  Keith’s suggestion for the day was the Museum of Sex in the mid town area. They were having an exhibit on sexuality in the 1970’s -early 1980’s punk scene, and Keith had read about a bouncy house made out of boobs. That there was a bouncy house of boobs was really all he had to say, but the punk exhibit sounded great too.

The punk exhibit was interesting, focused on the early punk scene in New York City. Punk celebrity fashion, show posters, show videos, and photographs were displayed with a lot of text about sexuality in early punk culture.

There was also an exhibit on the history of the stag film, with video clips of various pornographic films and cartoons from the 1920’s on display along with an informative history timeline of pornographic films.

The main highlight however, was SuperFunLand, which was a carnival like exhibit with a kaleidoscope room, various carnival games, and as promised–a bouncy boob house.

SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex

SuperFunLand costs a bit extra (I think like $4 extra), but it is totally worth it. You only get about 5 minutes in the bouncy boob house, but I really don’t know how much longer than that I could jump around on boobs to Van Halen’s “Jump.” It was a good amount of time for me.

Bouncy Boob House at Museum of Sex
Bouncy Boob House at Museum of Sex

After bouncing on boobs, we went down a dark velvety hallway to a door titled The Tunnel of Love. The ticket man asked us if we were prone to seizures or motion sickness, and if we minded being squirted in the face with water. We weren’t sure what we were in for, but we swiped our ticket cards and forged ahead.

The Tunnel of Love was a large-scale immersive short film exhibit with moving seats and special effects to make you feel like you were moving through the film. And yes, we were squirted in the face with water twice. It was a little sexy, a little psychedelic, and a little obnoxious. Overall, I’d recommend. A note about motion sickness: I am very prone to motion sickness, and I was fine.

After the Museum of Sex and a bit of meandering in a book store and getting coffee, we were ready for a bite to eat. One of my bucket list food spots on this trip was celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s Baohaus in the East Village.

Baohaus New York
Baohaus

I wished I was a bit hungrier, as I wanted to try all the baos. I settled on the Chairman Bao with pork belly, relish, crushed peanuts and cilantro. Keith tried the Birdhaus Bao, which was fried chicken with a lemon-garlic aoli, crushed peanuts, and cilantro. They were really good and if there weren’t so many other great places to eat in New York City, I would have gone back and tried them all. Note that one bao is snack-sized, two would be more of a meal. They also serve rice bowls and taro fries, which we did not try.

Baohaus New York
Baohaus New York: The Birdhaus Bao and the Chairman Bao

Second on my East Village bucket list was getting dessert at Milk Bar. Milk Bar is chef Cristina Tosi’s creation, most famous for her cereal milk ice cream, and Milk Bar Pie (formerly known as “crack pie,” but I guess someone gave them flack about that). Paddy and I really enjoyed the episodes about Milk Bar and Cristina Tosi on David Chang’s segment of Mind of A Chef (Netflix), and I needed to see what the fuss was all about.

Keith and I both opted for the cereal milk and compost cookie ice cream swirl combo, with compost cookie topping. It was pretty damn good, but not something I would go out of my way for specifically. You do have to be someone who really likes the salty-sweet flavor combo (which I do) to enjoy this ice cream.

I really wanted to try a piece of the Milk Bar Pie too, but there is only so much sugar I can consume in one sitting. I vowed to return.

*Note: Milk Bar has several locations around Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as other states.

Milk Bar East Village
Milk Bar East Village
Milk Bar East Village
Cereal Milk and Compost Cookie swirl ice cream at Milk Bar East Village

 

Later that evening, Keith and I took a walk through Central Park on our way to the Guggenheim Museum.

Central Park
Central Park

The Guggenheim Museum was having a private preview party for it’s members to come view the new Basquiat exhibit after hours. Keith was a member, and what is more New York City than a private party at the Guggenheim?

The Guggenheim had a really awesome corkscrew layout, where you can walk (up or down) the spiral to view the art. There are off-shoots from the spiral levels to larger exhibit rooms. There was also a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit that was really interesting.

The Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is normally open from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM daily, and Saturdays until 8:00 PM. Check it out.

After the Guggenheim we took a cab to the East Village to meet up with Keith’s partner Mike for dinner.

Mike has been trying to eat a more plant-based diet lately, so he suggested Bar Verde, a Mexican restaurant serving only plant-based dishes. Bar Verde was packed, but the wait for a table wasn’t too long.

We started with the smoked pineapple mezcalito cocktails, which were pricey ($15) but delicious. We also tried the hearts of palm ceviche, and several types of tacos including tempura avocado, maitake mushroom carnitas, and farro chorizo.

Bar Verde plant-based Mexican food
Bar Verde plant-based Mexican food

I’m not a vegetarian but I do love veggies. The array of veggies used in all the dishes was extremely broad, and everything was packed with flavor. I would absolutely recommend this place, even if you aren’t vegetarian.

After dinner, we went to the one Tiki Bar in Manhattan: Otto’s Shrunken Head.

Otto's Shrunken Head tiki bar
Otto’s Shrunken Head tiki bar New York City
Otto's Shrunken Head tiki bar
Otto’s Shrunken Head tiki bar

Otto’s Shrunken Head was having Rebel Night, a 50s and 60s vinyl dance party that happens every third Friday of the month. We ordered some drinks at the bar (I got the squealer– a lychee and passion fruit slushy in a pig tiki mug) and made our way to the back room to check out the dance party.

*Tiki drinks at Otto’s are $20 including a tiki mug. If you don’t want your mug, just return it to the bar when you’re done for $6 back.

I thought it might be fun to do the twist to some old vintage vinyl, but the back room was full of people who actually knew how to dance. There was a group of about 12-15 people in full vintage rockabilly attire, with rehearsed swing-dance style moves. I was not going to try and join in with that, but was happy to drink my slushy pig on the side bench and watch. It was impressive.

We didn’t stay out crazy late because we had a mermaid parade to judge the next day.

 

Day 2: The Coney Island Mermaid Parade

I timed my visit to New York City around the Coney Island Mermaid Parade in June after Keith told me it existed. We had purchased judge-ships for $200 each well in advance, which included bleacher seats, port-a-potties for judges only, free beer and food, a t-shirt, and the opportunity to view and judge the mermaids. Because mermaids.

Coney Island was a two hour subway ride from Keith’s apartment in north Manhattan, but it was worth it. We donned sailor attire for the occasion.

Coney Island, New York
Keith at Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade

I wrote a more in-depth post on the mermaid parade and how to be a judge, which you can read here.

The parade and costumes were fantastic, and I would absolutely recommend it if you are in New York in June. I read later that there were approximately 850,000 people at the parade. Bring water and sunscreen and try to arrive by 11:00 AM if you want to avoid subway crowds and stake out your spot. Or be a judge, and get a great seat in the shade with all the amenities.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade

The parade lasted from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, and included three marriage proposals and one actual wedding. The costumes were impressive, and glitter was everywhere.

After the parade was over, the “mayor” of Coney Island did a beach opening ceremony, which we missed. We walked along the boardwalk where mermaids from the parade were posing for photos. The beach was definitely open, and very crowded.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island beach
Coney Island beach

We had enough of crowds for the day, so we headed back to the subway station to go get dinner and relax a bit in Brooklyn.

Keith’s friend suggested a little French Bistro called Bar Tabac right near the subway in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. We got a little side walk table outside, a nice shady spot to wind down after a day of crowds and mermaids. I had the calamari and the gazpacho, which was delicious on a hot day. Bar Tabac was very cute and everything on their menu looked amazing. I would definitely recommend this place for lunch or dinner if you are in the area.

Bar Tabac, Brooklyn
Bar Tabac, Brooklyn
Bar Tabac Brooklyn
Calamari and gazpacho at Bar Tabac Brooklyn
Bar Tabac Brooklyn
Moroccan chicken dish Bar Tabac Brooklyn

The Mermaid Parade and long subway journey wiped us out, so we ended our Saturday night watching Golden Girls at Keith and Mike’s apartment.

 

Day 3: Lazy Sunday Brunch in Harlem

New Yorkers love their Sunday Brunch. My celebrity chef nerdery led us to Marcus Samulesson’s Red Rooster in Harlem, an easy subway ride from Keith and Mike’s north Manhattan apartment.

Red Rooster has a “gospel brunch” on Sundays, with live gospel singers as entertainment. They don’t take reservations for brunch, and I was worried that the wait might be long. To our surprise and delight, we walked right in and were seated right away.

Red Rooster Harlem
Red Rooster Sunday Brunch in Harlem

I will warn you, Red Rooster is a bit on the expensive side. Expect to pay for brunch what you would for a nice dinner. That being said, the food is heavy and delicious and you will leave full and happy.

We started with some bloody marys, which were strong. I had to try Marcus Samuelsson’s fried chicken that I’d heard so much about, so I ordered the Hot Honey Yardbird which came with sweet corn succotash and tomato salad. The chicken was crispy and a little sweet, and the tomato salad and succotash was the perfect fresh and acidic compliment to the heavy fried chicken.

Hot Honey Yardbird Red Rooster
Hot Honey Yardbird at Red Rooster

Keith had the Rooster Slam, which had a little bit of everything, and Mike had the NY Cheddar & Kale Omelette. Everything was outstanding.

Rooster Slam Red Rooster
Rooster Slam at Red Rooster
NY Cheddar & Kale Omelette Red Rooster
NY Cheddar & Kale Omelette Red Rooster

One of the gospel singers walked around the room with a portable microphone, serenading diners.

When we left, there was a line out the door. I guess we hit the right time. Red Rooster lived up to the hype, and I will definitely want to come back on my next visit to New York City.

After brunch we walked around Harlem a little bit. Mike has a thing for cookies, and said that I had to try one of the enormous cookies from Levain Bakery. We stopped into their Harlem location to pick some up for dessert that evening. The cookies are huge, more like a cookie mountain. I can attest that they are delicious. The bakery was tiny, and there were a few other baked goods for sale, but it was clear that the cookie was the star of the show here. They come in chocolate chip walnut, chocolate chocolate chip, chocolate with peanut butter chips, and oatmeal.

Levain Bakery Harlem
Levain Bakery Harlem
levain bakery
image from https://www.levainbakery.com/chocolate-chip-walnut

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking in Inwood Hill Park, and having drinks with friends and watching the Women’s World Cup at the Tubby Hook Tavern in Inwood.

 

Day 4: Wandering in Williamsburg

On Monday, Keith and Mike had to go back to work so I had a day to myself. I had read about a plus size consignment clothing store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so I decided to wander around Williamsburg for the day.

Williamsburg was an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn without a lot going on until the 1990’s. As with any trendy neighborhood, low rents brought in artists and young people and gentrification set in. Williamsburg is now a hipster-mecca in Brooklyn, and I was curious to see what it was all about.

Mural in Williamsburg
Mural in Williamsburg

After three days of walking all over New York, my feet were a little beat up. I had a little time to kill before some of the shops in Williamsburg opened up, so I got a reflexology foot massage at Happy Foot Spa on North 5th St.

Feeling relaxed and my feet rejuvenated, I walked over to Plus BKLYN consignment boutique. It was a super cute shop, but the inventory was a little low. I didn’t find anything I loved this time, but would recommend checking it out if you are a size 14+.

Plus BKLYN Williamsburg
Plus BKLYN Williamsburg
Plus BKLYN Williamsburg
Plus BKLYN Williamsburg

I poked around in a few more shops on Bedford Avenue before I got a little overheated walking in the hot sun. Time for lunch and a cold drink.

I had originally scoped out Pies and Thighs as my lunch option for the day, but after just having eaten fried chicken the day prior and it being so hot, I wanted something lighter. I ended up at Pearl’s, a Caribbean spot on North 8th St, and ordered a refreshing jerk chicken salad with mango and arugula. A variety of sauces were brought to the table, the best of which was a creamy garlic sauce that I ended up slathering all over my chicken.

Pearl's Caribbean restaurant Williamsburg
Pearl’s Caribbean restaurant Williamsburg
Pearl's Caribbean restaurant Williamsburg
Pearl’s Caribbean restaurant Williamsburg

Later that evening, I met up with Keith and Mike in the East Village for dinner at Prune, another restaurant on my celebrity chef nerdery list. On Mind of a Chef, one of our favorite cooking shows on Netflix, Paddy and I fell in love with chef Gabrielle Hamilton. I loved her aprons and mis-matched pots and pans, down-to-earth cooking style, and her creativity. She hates letting anything go to waste in her kitchen, which is also something I greatly admire. I was excited to try her cooking.

Prune New York City
Prune restaurant, New York City

Prune is tiny but intimate. I was glad I had made a reservation, as the place was packed on a Monday night.

We started with the shaved celery salad with blue cheese toast, and the fried anchovies. The anchovies were simple but delicious. The celery salad was really impressive. I wouldn’t think to make celery a star ingredient in anything, but here it was, hogging the spotlight drenched in butter on blue cheese toast. And it was fabulous.

Celery salad with blue cheese toast Prune New York City
Celery salad with blue cheese toast at Prune New York City
Fried anchovies Prune New York City
Fried anchovies at Prune New York City

For an entree I ordered the roasted duck breast with braised beans and smoked tomato vinaigrette, which was smoky and cooked perfectly. Mike had a medley of different veggie dishes which was their vegetarian option, and Keith had some gargantuan hunk of meat on bone that I can’t remember what it was. Forgive me, I was enamored with my duck and wasn’t paying attention.

The dishes didn’t have the prettiest presentation, but that is exactly Gabrielle Hamilton’s style. Food cooked with lots of flavor and love that doesn’t have to dress to impress. I am looking forward to going back here again with Paddy someday.

Prune New York City
Prune New York City
Braised duck breast Prune New York City
Braised duck breast Prune New York City

As tempting as dessert was at Prune, we wanted to cap the evening off with dipped soft serve from the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop around the corner. New York’s best soft serve is big, gay, and covered in delicious toppings. No matter what your sexual orientation is, you have to have Big Gay Ice Cream in New York City. Complete with Heimlich maneuver instructions illustrated with Bea Arthur and a unicorn.

Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City

Keith got the Dorothy cone, which was vanilla soft serve with dulce de leche syrup and crumbled nilla wafers. I naturally opted for the salty pimp, another vanilla soft serve cone with dulce de leche dipped in salty dark chocolate. What’s not to love?

Our subway car’s AC was out on the way back to north Manhattan, so we got a free impromptu crowded public sauna to end the evening. It was gross. Se la vie.

 

Day 5: Catacombs and the East Village

Late Monday night before I went to bed, an ad popped up in my Facebook feed for a Catacombs tour at Saint Patrick’s Basilica in the Nolita neighborhood. I didn’t have any solid plans the next day, so I booked it.

The tour is run by Tommy’s New York and is a tour of the tombs underneath the basilica, which contain members of New York’s historical elite. Buried here are bishops, congressmen, and members of the Delmonico family, as well as many others.

The tour started at 11:00 am, where we got a brief history of the church in a waiting room across the street from the basilica. We were then led to a basement room under the church where two huge wooden doors creaked open for dramatic effect, revealing a dark hallway lit only by candlelight and an eerie red glow.

Catacombs Saint Patrick's Basilica New York City
Entrance to the catacombs under Saint Patrick’s Basilica, New York City

Before you get too excited, this isn’t like the catacombs you might see in Paris or other parts of Europe. You aren’t going to see any real human bones. Overall this tour is mostly an interesting New York City history lesson, and not much of a macabre experience. It was fun to tour it by candlelight, however, and we were all given a souvenir electronic tea light to walk with and help us read the inscriptions on the tombs.

Turns out the gothic red glow illuminating the hallways was from red exit signs in the back of the catacombs. It did make for a nice effect.

The catacombs under Saint Patrick's Basilica, New York City
The catacombs under Saint Patrick’s Basilica, New York City

Our guide was informative and fun. If you have time and want to learn about some historic New York families and feel like getting a little spooky, this is a nice way to spend two hours. I’d recommend it as a good escape from the heat or rain as well. That day I was happy to escape both.

We got a brief tour of the inside of the basilica before afternoon mass started, and ended with a tour of the cemetery surrounding the church.

Saint Patricks Basilica New York City
Saint Patricks Basilica New York City
Saint Patricks Basilica New York City
Saint Patricks Basilica New York City

Saint Patrick’s Basilica is only a few blocks from the East Village, so I walked over there after the tour to have lunch and do some shopping. On my agenda for lunch was the B&H Dairy, a kosher deli in business since 1938. B&H advertises itself as a vegetarian restaurant, but in truth it is a pescatarian restaurant (they serve fish). I don’t eat beef, so I thought I’d skip the long lines at Katz’s Delicatessan in favor of this place (I’ll go to Katz’s someday with Paddy on another trip, he is all about the pastrami).

B&H Dairy New York City
B&H Dairy New York City

Seattle is seriously lacking in the kosher deli department, so I felt like I couldn’t leave New York without having some matzo ball soup at a kosher deli, and I’d also never had a knish. I bellied up to the lunch counter and ordered both.

B&H Dairy New York City
Mushroom knish at B&H Dairy New York City
B&H Dairy New York City
Matzo ball soup at B&H Dairy New York City

I have mixed feelings about my meal choice here. On one hand, I was happy to tick New York City matzo ball soup and a knish off my New York checklist. On the other hand, I was kicking myself for not ordering one of the tuna fish or white fish salad sandwiches on thick homemade bread that I watched the deli guy constructing. The sandwiches looked AMAZING, while my knish was kind of like eating mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy. I am determined to revisit this place on my next trip and order one of those sandwiches.

After lunch I walked around and looked at some of the shops in the East Village. Two that stood out for me were Enz’s, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, and Trash & Vaudeville.

Obscura Antiques and Oddities is just that, a place to look at and purchase odd stuff. I am drawn to the weird, so this was right up my alley. Old post cards, creepy dolls, taxidermy, and other random items are for sale. I didn’t find anything I was in love with, but it was fun to explore.

Obscura Antiques and Oddities New York City
Obscura Antiques and Oddities New York City

Trash & Vaudeville is punk rock, and if you have a love for outlandish shoes this is your place. I found Paddy an awesome button down shirt with jellyfish printed on it. Their lack of plus sizes however was a little disappointing, especially when they carried a lot of brands that made their styles in plus sizes.

Trash & Vaudeville New York City
Trash & Vaudeville New York City

Enz’s is a tiny boutique rockabilly clothing shop right next to B&H Dairy. The shop owner was really nice and makes a lot of the dresses herself.  I loved a lot of them, but sadly she doesn’t have a lot of plus sizes either.

I stopped by Milk Bar again to try and get a slice of their famous Milk Bar pie, but they were closed for repairs that afternoon.

I ended my evening spending time with Keith and Mike and their friends. This trip I felt like I really got to know New York City outside of the tourist trail. It was nice to have time with friends and to see different neighborhoods without the pressure of trying to check places off of a sight-seeing list. The East Village is my favorite neighborhood in New York, but there is still so much I haven’t seen. So many meals not eaten. There will be other trips to New York City in my future, I can assure you. There is something for everyone in New York.