Cover photo by Maggie Mbroh, used under Creative Commons license

How I commute now

I have a pretty easy commute to work each day. Most people in Toronto have to drive, or take a GO Train, or at least a long subway ride. Me, I’m about 20 minutes door-to-door: short walk + 7 subway stops + even shorter walk. I don’t know how people do an hour (or more) each way every day. I’ve never been one for needing a giant house (not having kids helps, I guess) so I don’t get the trade-off of spending that much time in a car or on a train.

I was thinking about some people’s long commutes earlier this week, when I flew home from New York. I was in and out of NYC in about 12 hours, just long enough to check in to my room, get some sleep, take care of some work things, and fly home. I flew Porter, naturally.

I didn’t even get to have a meal in New York, which just seems criminal. Worse yet: on my way into Manhattan my taxi stopped at a light right in front of The Pony Bar (one of my all-time favourite beer joints) and I couldn’t even go in. I just stared longingly through the window like a thirsty Garfield.

The next day I wrapped up my work thing at the Marriott Marquis, took a picture of Times Square from the 9th floor lobby, and beat it out of there.

Here’s the mildly-amazing bit: I left the hotel at 10:45. By 11:15 I was at Newark airport. By 11:20 the Porter agent had switched me to the noon flight. By 11:45 I was boarding. By 12:05 we were airborne. By 1:20 we were on the ground back in Toronto. By 1:25 I was clearing customs (well, a Nexus machine). By 1:35 I was through the tunnel and in a cab. By 1:45 I was home.

So that’s three hours from the door of my hotel room in midtown Manhattan to the foyer of my condo in downtown Toronto. I know people in the GTA who commute for three hours by car every day. I’m not sure whether to be impressed by the efficiency of modern air travel (when you get pretty good at it, that is) or sad for the people I know who spend 20% of their waking day fighting Toronto traffic.

Maybe both.


Cover photo by Maggie Mbroh, used under Creative Commons license

High Line and Empire State

Spitzer's & Bayard's & Pony & Mugs

I’m not sure why we booked last weekend’s trip to New York, to be honest with you. I think we’d gotten this close to booking an impromptu weekend in California earlier in the year and we were so disappointed when it fell through that we used points to book a trip to NYC instead. In other words: two incomes + no kids (+ no house) = hooray!


I met Nellie at the airport, after misleading her about the presence of a new Mill Street Brewpub in Terminal One (it’s there, it’s just on the Canadian side) which forced us both into the {shudder} Molson pub. After a couple of flight delays — not our last on this trip — we were on our way. We landed at LaGuardia and crossed the Williamsburg bridge to our hotel, The Nolitan, a nice little boutique hotel in, uh, Nolita. North of Little Italy, geddit?

Even in the dark we could tell we had a great view of the Manhattan skyline to the north, and we could lean out over our balcony to see the Williamsburg Bridge all lit up. Speaking of that skyline: it doesn’t matter how many times we visit New York, it’s always thrilling to see it for the first time.

We were starving, and a quick look at our handy Google Map told us the nearest spot for a bit and a bite and a drop was the Epistrophy Cafe. We ordered some interesting wine (my first Cannonau; hearty!) and a board of meat & cheese to nosh, and then I spent the rest of the time there being warm and feeling inadequate. I swear, four out of every five people in that place looked like a model or an actor. I don’t know what was going on, but it was too common to be a coincidence. It was like a hot person nexus. Even the hotel described it as the place where the beautiful people dine. I need to lose a bunch of weight and buy some new clothes before I even consider returning to that place.


Hey, look at that view. Even better than we expected when we rolled out of bed and onto the balcony. Hooray for the almost-top floor.

We didn’t have many plans for Friday. Truth be told, we didn’t have many plans for this trip at all. We went with only a couple of must-sees, and as it turned out we nailed two of them on the first day. After some breakfast we headed west toward Soho.

About two blocks after setting out we were filled with regret for wearing jeans — it was bloody hot. In fact, it would feel north of 40°C the whole weekend. We had some coffee and bacon (vacation!) at Vins et Fleurs on Thompson, bought Nellie some cropped jeans at a 7 store and dropped in at Meg Cohen Design to see if we couldn’t replace the scarf Nellie had picked up last year and since lost. Verdict: no dice, but she wanted to check at the office and would we come back Sunday. Sure, why not? Off we went again to buy some new Converse, namely slip-on Chucks: great for hot summer days + airport security lines.

We circled back to the hotel and dropped off our shopping bags, changed, and left again in search of a cab. We had business on the west side of town. It took us forever to catch a cab; we don’t have our New York cab-fu down pat yet, to be sure. Eventually we grabbed one who took us into the West Village and dropped us near Bayard’s Ale House, the top-rated New York beer place on BeerAdvocate. While Bayard’s was a perfectly good place, it raised some suspicions about those BA ratings, since it was nothing to write home about, and certainly not deserving of a score higher than, say, Volo or The Avenue Pub. Anyway, here’s what we had:

  • Me: Weihenstephan, Sixpoint Sweet Action, Harpoon UFO
  • Nellie: Brooklyn Lager, Sixpoint Bengali Tiger IPA

A few blocks north of Bayard’s was the entrance to the High Line, a park built on an abandoned rail line running up the west side of Manhattan. It was terrific — this crazy green space running over busy downtown streets and through buildings.

There were small cafes, and even (blessedly, given the heat) a wine bar called Terroir! We stopped for a drink of some wine from New York’s Finger Lakes region, and I somehow ended up with a temporary tattoo. More on that later.

We climbed down off the High Line around 20th street and started the long hunt for a cab. At rush hour. On 10th Ave. Not our best idea. We finally flagged one and crawled slowly up 10th. $28 later (bear in mind, in Toronto it would have been $50+) we arrived at the favourite find from our last trip: The Pony Bar. It was just as awesome as last time, and we had the same delicious plates of sausage and pretzel as last time. They’ve updated the system so that the bartenders no longer climb up on the counter to change the draft board, instead updating it via an iPad. But they still ring the bell.

And here’s that temporary tattoo I was talking about:

Alas, I drank a truly awful Stone Smoked Porter which just killed me, so we ended the evening a little earlier than intended, but we still made a pretty good dent:

  • Me: Penn Weizen, Empire White Aphro, Brooklyn Ale (on cask), Stone Smoked Porter (ugh!), Empire White Aphro (again)
  • Nellie: Capt Lawrence Golden Delicious, Peak Organic Summer Session, Magic Hat Elder Betty, Stone IPA

We got out of our cab home a block early and topped off our stomachs with some Asia Dog — basically, small hot dogs with Asian-inspired toppings. For example, mine had scallions, cucumber and pork belly. Dee-lish! We scarfed it and went down for the count.


Saturday was all about Brooklyn. All of our past New York trips had actually been Manhattan-only trips, so we decided we’d better see another borough. Or part of another borough. We picked Williamsburg, right across the, um, Williamsburg bridge.

Our first stop was at Mast Brothers chocolate, a must-see tip from our Rather guide. It wasn’t open yet, so we began walking northeast toward some parks. Brooklyn was much quieter than Manhattan, filled with people walking dogs, young parents walking kids, various hipsters on fixie bicycles, and so on. We decided to check out the East River State Park for the views of the Manhattan skyline. We found it, but it was what was happening in the park that made our day: Smorgasburg! It was a big food fair, with tons of vendors selling just about everything you could imagine. We loaded up on food and ate it in the the park next to the fair, looking out over the midtown skyline.

Nellie had empanadas; I had the best pulled pork sandwich I’ve eaten since our lunch at Cochon in NOLA. We shared lemonade and savoured the shade, happy for our good luck at having found the place. Sadly, we couldn’t stay there long because of the spectacularly annoying lady standing near us who kept droning “water water water water water water one dollar one dollar water water one dollar water water…” and on and on and on and barf.

We walked a little further to the northeast to McCarren Park and…did nothing. Seriously. We sat in the grass in the shade of a giant tree and watched a mixed league slo-pitch game. ‘Cause really, what else did we have to do? We were very, very on vacation.

And you know what else we like to do when we’re on vacation? Drink beer. So we walked a couple of blocks to Mugs Alehouse, one of the top-rated places in Williamsburg. We only stayed for two drinks each, but lots of stuff happened in there. We discovered that the bartender grew up in New Brunswick, a few hours away from us. We heard about his recent trip (as in, he got back the day before) to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. We also survived a close encounter with a large, loud gang of home brewing aficionados from Pennsylvania doing a tour of Brooklyn breweries. But most of all we enjoyed their killer beer lineup. Here’s what we tried:

  • Me: Brooklyn Sorachi, Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy
  • Nellie: Blue Point white IPA, Ithaca Flower Power

After leaving Mugs we walked back from whence we’d come, roasting as we went, to Mast Brothers. It was cool (literally and colloquially) in there so we lingered for a bit, sampled some chocolate and bought a bar to bring back with us. It was meant to flavoured with “crown maple”, though I couldn’t taste that at all, and I know from maple. It just tasted like rilly, rilly good dark chocolate to me.

We grabbed a coffee a couple of doors down at Modca and, suspecting it would be difficult to find a cab in Brooklyn, summoned an Uber car. By the way, this is like a whole other blog rant, but Uber costs the same in New York as it does in Toronto. However, in New York Uber trips are 50-100% more than a cab; in Toronto it’s maybe 10%. In short, Toronto cabs are asstastically expensive.

Anyway, it took us a while to crawl back across the bridge, to the point where we just jumped out and walked the final few blocks because it was faster. By this point we were getting a little peckish again, so to tide us over we had some more tiny Asia Dog hot dogs.

Hot? Check. Sweaty? Check. Little bit tired? Check. Therefore, our two tasks for the evening were to a) shower and b) find a decent place for dinner. We didn’t want to go far and we didn’t want something overly fancy. With a little help from the hotel and a little Googling we landed on Barmarché, just up the street from our hotel. It was exactly what we were looking for. It was nice inside, but understated. It felt elegant, but cozy. The host wore a trucker hat and thrift shop tshirt, but the dinner service was of a standard you’d expect from a top-tier place. And the food was excellent: Nellie had an enormous watermelon salad and some seafood pasta; I had a delicious apple/fennel salad and the chicken breast. We again stayed local with our wine choice, but it was even more local than we’d expected: a Chardonnay from Bedell, in Long Island. I didn’t even know they made wine in Long Island. Not only do they make wine, they make good wine if the one we had was any indication. Then we ended up splitting churros for dessert. Zing!

We weren’t quite done for the evening, so just before getting back to the hotel we stopped in for a drink or two at Xicala wine bar. God, what a mistake that was. There was only one person working (the room is tiny though…you could fit twenty people in there, tops) and she greeted us with…something between indifference and a scowl. We just seated ourselves; after a few minutes she took our drink orders. No personality whatsoever, just a nod with our order and plopped two glasses in front of us a few minutes later. We chalked it up to her being busy. We drank our wine — mine went faster than Nellie’s; I blame the heat — and selected our next victim from the menu. We waited for her to come around again. And we waited. And waited. And waited some more. She took orders from everyone else in the room. People ordered food. People got that food. And still we waited. We tried signalling; she never looked over at us. I thought about going up to the bar, but at this point I didn’t even want another drink. Then it just became a curiosity — how long, in a room smaller than our living room, with fewer than fifteen patrons, could we be ignored? The answer turned out to be about forty-five minutes. She asked if we wanted something else; we laughed and said we just wanted the bill. It came to $21.78; we left $22.00. Now, those of you who know us know that a 22-cent tip is an extreme outlier for us. And let’s be clear: we would have been happy to leave no tip whatsoever, but we couldn’t be bothered to wait for change. I can’t remember the last time we tipped that poorly. We leave a tip when we have mediocre service. We leave a tip when we have poor service, just because we give the server the benefit of the doubt, and assume they’re having a bad day or that the kitchen screwed up or whatever. But this was just…wow. At least it was so bad that we could laugh about it, and it didn’t ruin the pretty goddamn awesome day we’d just turned out. Down with Xicala; up with Barmarché and Mugs and Mast Brothers and pulled pork and Brooklyn parks and even the droning one-dollar one-dollar water lady.


Happy Canada Day! We celebrated in the ways we each like best: Nellie slept in while I read the Sunday edition of the New York Times.

Nellie had a notion, once she was up and about, to visit the 9/11 memorial. I had no problem with that as I wanted to see the huge new One World Trade Center building. We walked through the stinking hot streets and got on the even stinkinger hot subway and got off at Wall Street. A few blocks later we were at the memorial which, as it turns out, you need tickets to enter. Tickets bought in advance. Tickets we did not have. OK, so never mind then. On the plus side, we had a great view of the new tower, and got to see lots of portly policemen holding machine guns. So there was that.

We took the subway back to Soho with the intention of checking back in with Meg Cohen. On the way to her store we passed a restaurant I’d noticed two days earlier, mainly because of the French name: Le Pescadeux. We noticed a sign in the window saying “Happy Canada Day!” and pointing out their special Canada Day brunch menu. Well, we’d been trying to think of a cool way to do something Canada Day-ish in New York, and this was it! We were forced to sit at the bar because of an incoming wedding rehearsal brunch; little did they know the bar is our preferred spot. I ordered a giant breakfast of Canadian bacon, sausage, eggs, and pancakes and got a Caesar to wash it down. I don’t even like Caesars — I just couldn’t believe they knew how to make one! Nellie had a mimosa and some Montreal smoked meat poutine. It turns out the owner is from Quebec, and we just walked by it on our random way to hunt for a scarf. What an awesome and tasty way to celebrate our country’s 195th birthday.

Anyway, from there: the return visit looking for the scarf was a bust so we walked home. Sunday must have been the hottest day of the whole trip, ’cause we were baked when we got home. Back in the cool shower for us, and then we set out looking for a place a) blasting air conditioning and b) showing the Euro2012 final. Because we were on the very fringe of Little Italy there were no empty seats for the likes of us, so we went hunting up the street away from the “Ita” part of Nolita. Getting very frustrated and very warm, we stumbled into Barbossa, a small Brazilian joint. We took seats at the bar, smack in front of the TV, just before it filled up. I tried to drink a beer but it was just too hot. We ended up drinking mojitos and caipirinhas and micheladas all afternoon. Basically I was just GIVE ME ALL OF YOUR DELICIOUS ICE and I finally managed to cool down while Spain thumped Italy.

This being our last night in New York we had a lot of decisions to make about how we’d spend the time, what with all the options laid out in front of us in the shape of Manhattan oh whatever obviously we found a place that served craft beer. Spitzer’s Corner, to be exact, which ended up being maybe our best find of the trip. We sat on a low bench; our table was the ledge of a large window looking out over Ludlow Street. We drank outstanding and interesting beer, and ate sliders (me) and truffled mac n’ cheese (guess who?), and watched New York’s lower east side happen in front of us. Our sampling lineup:

  • Me: Allagash White, Widmer Dark Saison, Ommegang Rare Vos, Goose Island Sofie
  • Nellie: Ommegang Witte, Peak Organic Summer Session, Southern Tier Hop Sun, Flying Dog Raging Bitch

We had small meals at Spitzer’s mainly because we wanted to leave room for a New York cliché classic: Katz’s Deli. Those of you who haven’t been there will probably know it from this famous movie scene (RIP Nora Ephron) but those who have been there will know it both for its crazy ordering process and for the absolutely immaculate pastrami on rye. We got our orders (seriously) from the security guard (seriously), got our sandwich and got out. We walked home, watched HBO, packed, and scarfed down one of the best sandwiches I’d ever had in my life.


There wasn’t much up our last day there: have breakfast, finish packing, head to the airport. Simple. We got to LaGuardia with no traffic problems. We’d done web check-in the day before, and cruised through security in mere seconds. We walked down terminal B’s ugly little hallway to our gate, but that gate was already full so we camped out a section away. I had to walk near our gate to get to the washroom, and happened to see on the board that our flight had been canceled. Great! Of course we didn’t hear the announcement since we were sitting far from our gate, so we joined the back of the massive Air Canada counter lineup. We eventually got to the front and found out we’d been booked on a 2:30 flight, so we had a good 3 hours to kill. Luckily we have lounge access courtesy of Priority Pass, so we enjoyed the United lounge’s comfy chairs and open wifi and free drinks and snacks.

Our flight eventually got delayed again, to 3:30 — the same time as another Air Canada flight, also going to Toronto, boarding at the next gate over. You can imagine how smoothly that went. We saw some people snarling at staff and generally forgoing human decency, though if you’ve spent an extended period of time in LaGuardia terminal B that won’t surprise you. Anyway, long story short: we will always, always take Porter to New York from now on. Always.

Luckily we had no pressing need to get back to Toronto early, no timetable we were trying to keep. And really, that was the theme of the whole weekend: no schedule, no agenda, no expectations. Just see and do and eat and drink and explore parts of New York that we hadn’t gotten to on previous visits. In that, I’d say we succeeded nicely.

The promised land

Last night we wedged ourselves into what might be my favourite place of the trip so far, and we’d been to some pretty fantastic places. The Pony Bar showed up near the top of BeerAdvocate‘s NYC beer bars, and last night we found out why.

As it turned out I never did sit down in the place. There was only one stool available at the bar, so Nellie sat and I stood. It started off a little crowded and ended up very crowded by the time we left, so a table never presented itself. Just as well — we found there was an advantage to the spot we had. Meanwhile, the music was tailor-made for old guys like me…Jane’s Addiction, Bob Dylan, Heartless Bastards, CCR…so good.

There was a board over the bar with twenty featured taps. Every time they changed a tap one of the bartenders would ring a bell, the crowd would cheer and then — depending on the new entry on the board — clap or boo playfully. One of those bartenders, Mirjana, became our buddy for the night and took great care of us. I don’t know how we always get adopted by great bartenders, but I’m not complaining either. Especially since at least one of the beers was comped.

We ended up drinking twelve beers between us (Chelsea High + Dry porter, Avery Out Of Bounds stout, Davidson Bros. coffee stout, Abita Turbo Dog, Long Trail Hibernator, Sly Fox O’Reilly’s stout and Magic Hat Circus Boy for me; Weyerbacher Fireside ale, Magic Hat Circus Boy, Barrier Bulkhead red, Southern Tier IPA and Firestone Walker Double Jack double IPA for her) and an amazing plate of sausage & pretzels. All that, plus a tshirt for Nellie, came out to $81 before tip. Incroyable.

Despite that, the twelve beers weighed on us and I knew we’d need a little extra grease in our bellies to be functional the next morning, so…back to Shorty’s for more sandwiches! It was an early evening by NYC standards, but mainly because now (the next morning) we’re up, showered, fed, packed and about ready to head to the airport. What a great wrap-up to a superb trip.

Now then…here’s hoping that EWR doesn’t screw us on the trip home.

J'aime l'houndstooth

First of all: dinner last night. Holy crapmonkey. The Strip House was incredible. Drinks at the bar. Corner table with lots of space. Maybe (but probably not) Uma Thurman sitting a few tables away. And of course, the food: scallops and rib-eye for me, crab cake and bone-in filet mignon for Nellie, all paired with a Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. We managed to avoid dessert…not that we had room for it. It was a great call; too many New York steak places are stuffy holding pens for old men, but this one was a nice mix of great red meat and laid-back vibe. Thus sated we took a cab (by the way — cabs here are so cheap compared to Toronto!) back to the hotel.

Today, having slept in once again, we got up and subway’d it down to Greenwich Village for breakfast at Gottino. What an awesome spot: eggs and toast and piles of prosciutto and white wine and espresso and nice people and walls stacked full of food. Another win for the NYC guide.

Speaking of the NYC book, it also pointed us to Meg Cohen Design in SoHo, where we bought two scarves and had a great chat with Meg. We did a little more shopping in SoHo (including a visit to M0851…which we seem to visit in every city) and wandered around Nolita and the Bowery, struggling to find a place that was open before finally happening on Sweet Revenge, which bills itself as New York’s only cupcake, beer & wine bar in New York. Uh, universe: why was I not aware of this place until now?!? Delicious, fun and filling enough that we didn’t need a dog from Gray’s Papaya after all, so home it was.

Tonight our plan is to hit another recommended beer place: The Pony Bar.

Double shot of culture

Our first full day in New York was our attempt to wrap up some unfinished business. In our previous trips we’d visited several museums but not the Met, or the Guggenheim, and that seemed like a miss.

Our dinner last night was quite late so we slept in, then took the subway up to the upper west side and walked through Central Park to the Guggenheim. Before checking it out we had an excellent lunch at The Wright, the restaurant below the museum. We then went through the museum, which was great…short, lots of good paintings, and obviously very interesting architecture.

After walking up and down that big spiral we were ready for dessert, so we stopped at Cafe Sabarsky, where Nellie had strudel and I had klimttorte, both mit schlag. Our strength (and sugar levels) thus restored we walked down Fifth to the Met, and spent a few hours soaking up the culture. My favourites, predictably, were the giant Rothko paintings. Our feet were complaining a bit at this point, so we walked back across the park and took the subway back to our hotel to relax for a few hours before another late dinner.

Delay us, do we not drink fast to make up for it?

So, let’s see…since we got to New York less than twelve hours ago we:

  • spent an hour getting the hell out of Newark airport, and another half an hour getting into Manhattan and to our hotel
  • got our asses very quickly to Shorty’s, a bar around the corner from the hotel where I had my first Philly cheesesteak sandwich (delish!) and we tasted several great beers
  • checked into our hotel, which has surprisingly spacious (for New York) rooms and great views
  • went to see Al Pacino in Merchant of Venice, playing at the Broadhurst Theatre. Which was fantastic. And it was a little weird to be in the same room as Mssr Pacino, even if it was with a thousand other people.
  • had dinner at Riposo 46, a wine bar on 9th. Nellie loved the prosciutto-wrapped truffle-oil-drenched asparagus, and I loved the sausage margherita flatbread, and we both loved our wine selections.

Seriously, we could go home right now and call it a good trip.