Fourth Avenue condos

Fourth Av Condo50 Favorite Places #14

April Fool! No, the condos that have sprouted like so many 12-story mushrooms along Fourth Avenue in Park Slope aren’t actually among my favorite places. In fact, I think they’re hideous. But one’s dislikes can reveal as much as one’s likes, or possibly even more, and so I’m devoting this post to them – and in particular, to thinking through just why I find them so awful. Continue reading

Tepoztlán

IMG_7991 (2)50 Favorite Places #13

A short, scenic bus ride from Mexico City’s Taxqueña bus terminal, Tepoztlán is part traditional Mexican town, and part new age retreat.  It’s the kind of place where the central market offers both chapulines and gluten-free baked goods, where you can relax by chugging down micheladas or undergoing a hot stone massage, and where you can indulge in a pre-hispanic vegan menu or share giant skewers of grilled shrimp (distance from the coast be damned).

Tepoztlán’s primary claim to fame – aside from its beautiful natural setting and general charm – is Tepozteco, a peak topped with a small pyramid dedicated to Tepotezcatl, the god who brought pulque to humankind. His mother was the goddess of the maguey plant, and his father discovered fermentation, so it was only natural that Tepotezcatl would drawn on this lineage to ferment maguey sap into a tart, viscuous drink. (I’ll have more to say about pulque later.)  Continue reading

Bosque de Tlalpan

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50 Favorite Places #12

Let me say first off: I would have loved the Bosque de Tlalpan under any circumstances. But in these fear-stalked, plague-ridden times, I love it even more. We all need more nature in our lives right now. Every breeze, every birdsong, every falling leaf and fluttering butterfly feels like a little bit of normalcy that also happens to be beautiful and soul-soothing. Continue reading

Viveros de Coyoacán

IMG_679350 Favorite Places #11

Get there early in the morning, before the sun is fully up, and you’ll find the Viveros de Coyoacán already alive. Birds twitter and chirp as runners circle the perimeter path, their feet making crunching sounds in the fine red gravel.

The Viveros are part park, part nursery. They date from 1901, when Miguel Ángel de Quevedo – an engineer and architect who was also a passionate environmentalist, known in Mexico as “el apóstol del árbol” – donated a plot of land to be used as a public nursery. The idea caught the attention of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz. Díaz was an asshole, but he was also genuinely committed to the beautification of Mexico City. In his autocratic eyes, making the city more beautiful meant making it more modern and European, and that meant ornate architecture and wide, tree-lined boulevards.

Where would all those trees come from? Why, the Viveros of Coyoacán, of course. Continue reading

Coney Island in winter

IMG_7920 (2)50 Favorite Places #9 (special Leap Year photo edition)

It has a mostly empty boardwalk to run on. It has Russian ladies in fur and Russian men in Speedos. It has birds: loons and gannets and Long-tailed Ducks, the occasional Razorbill, great flocks of gulls. It has a terrific aquarium. It has the ocean. It has palm trees, even if they’re fake. It has Nathan’s, open for business, and the silhouettes of amusement park rides padlocked for the season.

It even has a song by the great Garland Jeffreys. You might want to cue that up right now before taking a look at the photo gallery that follows. Continue reading

Yafa Cafe

IMG_794450 Favorite Places #8

That glowing review in the New York Times at the beginning of the year could well have gone to their heads – but it didn’t. Ali and Hakim are as friendly and unassuming as ever, their café’s vibe as relaxed, their food and drinks as good (or possibly better). The only difference I’ve noticed on recent visits is that it’s a bit busier. You may have to share a table at peak hours, but so what? Consider that part of its neighborly charm. Continue reading

The Coignet Building

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Third St entrance to the Coignet Building, circa February 2020

50 Favorite Places #7

Even at its most ruined, the Coignet building was striking. And also strange: marooned on the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street, facing the former American Can factory complex and a fenced-off Verizon lot and, these days, bumping up against Whole Foods, it has always projected faded elegance. It’s like an aging dowager fallen on hard times, querulous and irrelevant and no doubt an incorrigible reactionary, but dangling the promise of interesting stories (some of which might even be true).

For years, I assumed the boarded-up building with the Italianate facade had once been a grand mansion, the seat of the Coignet family. I imagined the Coignets hobnobbing with the Litchfields and the Pratts and the rest of Brooklyn’s Gilded Age elite. Continue reading