Archive for December, 2011

December 21st, 2011

Book Review: Zinester’s Guide to NYC

by Joanna Eng

Let me start by saying I’m not a zinester. I have never really read a zine beyond casually paging through one in a bookstore. Nonetheless, the idea of a “wholly analog” guide book with alternative picks appealed to me. So I checked out the Zinester’s Guide to NYC from the public library.

The guide is not a zine but an actual book, printed, bound, and distributed by an indie company. The primary author, Ayun Halliday, got some of her zine-making friends to contribute reviews and suggestions that appear in the book. The result is a collection of funny, weird, cheap, random, participatory, vegan, artsy, etc., things to do in all five boroughs.

Park(ing) Day photo by Barry Hoggard

I love the inclusion of tons of hands-on activities like pie bake-offs, story telling events, juggling classes, mix tape exchanges, guest bartending, turning a parking spot into a public park, and displaying your own art on street poles. I love the section on vegetarian restaurants. I love the handwritten list of songs, books, and movies about New York City that runs along the bottom of each page. I love the lists of places to find the best bathroom graffiti and old-school black-and-white photo booths. I love that the book not only mentions rats and other disgusting sights and smells, but expounds on these subjects—way to keep it real.

The book definitely has flaws. Beyond the typos and formatting inconsistencies that I spotted—who knows, maybe they were left in on purpose to make it more zinelike and immediate?—I wasn’t too impressed with the book’s coverage of Queens, my home borough. For instance, the list of bars in Queens only includes businesses in Astoria, the yuppiest neighborhood of all. The section on volunteer opportunities also seemed limited to me: there are plenty more nonprofits in the city that would appeal to readers, so why are these the only ones highlighted? I guess it’s more of a list of the places the author’s friends have volunteered. And I suppose that characterizes the spirit of the entire book, in a way.

All in all, I’d say the book is worth the low price ($9) for those with quirky tastes who are new to the city or planning a trip here for more than a few days. If you don’t have a group of artsy, adventurous friends to show you the ropes, this guide book is a good stand-in.

December 17th, 2011

Restaurants That Treat Workers Well

by Joanna Eng

A lot of talk about ethical restaurant choices revolves around the food itself and whether it’s local, organic, seasonal, healthy, natural, humanely produced, and so on. Obviously, I’m interested in those foodie factors, but what about how the restaurant treats its employees? When dining out, it would be nice to know not just whether your steak is from a grass-fed cow, but whether your server and the rest of the staff are being paid fairly.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) just released a Diners’ Guide (the first annual) to help people choose where to eat based on businesses’ track records with fairness towards employees and opportunities offered to employees. You can download the guide and other advocacy information here.

A standout in DC. Photo by Katie Campbell

The Diners’ Guide assesses a limited number of restaurants in Ann Arbor, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Washington, DC, and a few others spots, as well as plenty of national chains. Businesses range from cheap eats to fine dining, and the guide shows that most of those evaluated do not live up to ROC-United’s standards. There are some standouts, though, and it’s especially helpful to see which fast food chains offer paid sick days, adequate wages, and the like.

If you really want to support restaurant workers’ rights, perhaps a night out at COLORS is in order. It’s an eclectic restaurant founded and cooperatively owned by former workers of the Windows on the World—which was at the top of the World Trade Center—who survived 9/11 and went on to create the Restaurant Opportunities Center. It’s actually the social enterprise arm of ROC-United, and it has been on my to-eat list for years.

Others that earned top marks in New York City include Cowgirl, Craft, Crema, Good, La Palapa, Las Chicas Locas, Nectar, One If By Land, and the restaurants under Union Square Hospitality Group (Blue Smoke, Shake Shack, Union Square Cafe, etc.).

December 12th, 2011

LGBT-Friendly Honeymoons

by Joanna Eng

I’ve been thinking a lot about honeymoons—specifically my own, which remains completely unplanned. We haven’t even settled on a country. But for us and many LGBT couples and straight allies, one factor that “helps” narrow down the list of destinations is the level of support that each country’s (or region’s) government offers to LGBT people.

Obviously, this filter can apply to any kind of travel, not just honeymoons. But since a honeymoon is specifically about celebrating a relationship, it’s particularly relevant. As a recently married couple, even a heterosexual one, would you want to commemorate your commitment in a place that doesn’t welcome gay couples? As a same-sex pair, general safety, comfort, inclusive cultural offerings, and equal treatment while traveling are some of the extra factors to consider.

Some honeymoon planners might want to pick from among the ten countries that currently allow full, legal same-sex marriages nationwide: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Other cities and states that have legalized same-sex marriages at a more local level include Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mexico City, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, DC.

Street art in Buenos Aires

Or you may want to at least avoid countries where same-sex relationships are completely illegal. There are plenty of other pro-LGBT and anti-LGBT measures to weigh; the ILGA website breaks down the relevant laws by country on a helpful map on its homepage. Beyond the legal factors, sources such as Equally Wed—a same-sex wedding magazine—provide information about what it might be like to travel to certain destinations as a same-sex couple.

You may also want to look into LGBT-welcoming accommodations wherever you decide to go. Purple Roofs is an international directory of bed and breakfasts, hotels, and tour operators that identify themselves as “lesbian owned,” “transgender owned,” “gay friendly,” etc. There are even discounts available at some lodgings if you mention Purple Roofs.

There are more gay travel websites and books out there, and targeted sections of guides such as Lonely Planet, but to be honest, most of these resources don’t seem all that helpful. Your best bet is probably to figure out where you might want to go first, and then look up independent LGBT sources specific to that destination.

Does anyone know of other resources to check or factors to consider when planning an LGBT-friendly honeymoon?

December 6th, 2011

The Best in Travel Journalism 2011

by Joanna Eng

Like last year, I read through the winning articles of the 2010–2011 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition and wanted to post my favorites here.

“Out of the Mist” by Kim Brown Seely, Virtuoso Life – Takes the reader from a Rwanda known for genocide to a Rwanda with a growing ecotourism market.

“Loneliness the Same in Any Language” by April Orcutt, San Francisco Chronicle – This short piece reminds us that the most memorable travel moments often have nothing to do with seeing the sights.

“On the Backs of Giants” by Melanie Radzicki McManus, Star Tribune – Taking care of elephants in Thailand sounds much more interesting than just riding them.

Photo by Andrea Hale

I also ordered the winning book Zinester’s Guide to NYC: The Last Wholly Analog Guide to NYC by Ayun Halliday and will be reviewing it here soon.

December 5th, 2011

8 Gift Ideas for the NYC Adventurer

by Joanna Eng

For that New Yorker who doesn’t stop exploring, here are some gifts that might be their speed. (True, this is more or less a wish list for myself, but I thought it would be helpful to others too.)

Photo of the New Museum by Jeffrey Chung

Free Arts NYC membership: A $35 (minimum) donation to this local educational arts and mentoring nonprofit gets you an entire year of free access to the Bronx Museum, the Dia:Beacon, and the Museum for African Art, plus two-for-one deals at 16 more museums and other benefits. On the donation page, just select “Membership Card is a gift for” and put in the recipient’s name.

Brooklyn Brainery gift certificate: At this crowdsourced educational center, you can take inexpensive classes on practically any subject that people are willing to teach. Course titles have included “Abandoned New York City,” “How to Kill at Karaoke,” “Weird Spices,” “Beekeeping 101,” “Foreign Alphabets,” “Pizza History,” “How to Shop in Chinatown,” and “Fashion Anthropology through Shoes.” Gift certificates start at just $5.

Forgotten New York by Kevin Walsh: Even the most savvy New Yorker will learn something new from this guide book that points out obscure and quirky spots around the five boroughs. As one reviewer quipped, “There are no more nooks nor crannies in NYC left to find hidden gems. Kevin Walsh has found them all.” It’s $14.95 on Amazon.

AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City by Daniel Case: This guide book details 50 day hikes accessible from NYC—many via public transportation. It would be a helpful reference on those weekend days when you just need to take a break from urban life but don’t have time for a full-fledged vacation. I have used the Berkshires book of the same series and would highly recommend it. You can get it for $11.67 on Amazon.

The Diner’s Deck: Packaged like a deck of playing cards, each set of 52 coupons lets you finally try out some of those restaurants you’ve been meaning to go to for years. Every card is a $10 gift certificate that can be used with a $30 purchase anytime during 2012. It’s $29.95 for a restaurant deck or $19.95 for the bar and lounge version. A good deal if you use more than a few of them throughout the year.

Smartbox Adventure Gift Card: Similar to the Diner’s Deck, this is a set of gift certificates for over 60 businesses in the New York area. Activities include horseback riding, rock climbing, biking, paintball, windsurfing, swimming, fencing, paragliding, surfing, skateboarding, and martial arts. It’s $58.65 at Barnes & Noble. Smartbox also sells gift card sets focused on restaurants, spas, B&Bs, and family fun.

Unlimited Ride MetroCard: For someone who doesn’t already get these automatically every month through their job, an unlimited card frees them up to explore the whole city via subway and bus for a whole week ($29) or month ($104) without having to pay. This pass makes for a good gift because the recipient can begin their free period of transport anytime they want, provided they do so before the expiration date—which is usually pretty far into the future.

Zipcar or Mint membership: Car sharing is a practical option for someone who wants to use a car occasionally, since not all of NYC is easily accessible by public transportation. Membership comes with perks like free gas, convenient pick-up spots, hybrid and other low-emissions vehicles, and lower rates than those of typical car rental companies. Mint only offers cars in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, while Zipcar is more widespread. Note that you’ll need access to the person’s driver’s license and other personal info to sign them up.

Any other ideas?