Saturday, September 29, 2007

SNL's Samberg Ahmadinejad 'Iran'
Digital Short Shot on Northside Waterfront

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The foot of North 11th Street and East River State Park on the Williamsburg / Greenpoint border made a guest appearance on tonight's Saturday Night Live, in an R&B music video parody spoofing last week's visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The hilarious short, which includes Fred Armisen as a drop-dead Ahmadinejad in a red cocktail dress (a la Michelle Pfeiffer in the Fabulous Baker Boys), also used the Kent Avenue CitiStorage mural as backdrop. Previous "SNL Digital Shorts" by Samberg have topped download charts. Samberg's collaboration with Justin Timberlake, Dick In a Box, won an Emmy earlier this month.

At press time, YouTube's servers were contemplating taking a personal day on Monday...

And I Ran
Video [YouTube]

Dick in a Box [YouTube - requires account]

Lazy Sunday [YouTube]

The New Taxi Logo is Blobby

new taxi logo
the new NYC taxi logo on a Lexus 400 Hybrid; from NYC TLC website

We began seeing the 'new' New York City Taxi logo on cabs around town earlier this week. At first we thought it was possibly a film car from a movie shoot, imported from a place where the prop master had never seen a real New York cab and was winging it when he painted it. Or a rogue medallion owner decided to violate Taxi & Limousine Commission specs and give his car a makeover. Either way, until we saw several more (and by Friday night the infestation had gone critical), we never considered that this could be the new standard. Why? Because the logo is, well, just so damn...blobby.

We used 'new' in quotes here because the previous NYC Taxi logo was not a logo at all. It was either a decal in 50 point Helvetica or a spray-painted stencil reading "NYC Taxi". So the idea of a logo treatment is very appealing. The old identifiers had all the panache of army surplus vehicles or Chinatown delivery trucks.

But the new look - created gratis for the city by Smart Design, a brand identity and design shop who's created some fantastically-elegant products (OXO kitchenware, XM's SKYFI receiver) and brand communication (Simple Human's branding and packaging) - is heavy and awkward. At a glance, it looks like someone painted it freehand with a too-large brush. Or stenciled it with too much black paint, which oozed in all directions.

We're no typographers, but the "NYC" portion looks like a variant on the old Varsity font (outline removed), turned ultra-bold and short-tracked until the letters run together. Super blobby.

The "TAXI" portion consists of a rounded sans-serif "T" (different font) knocked out of a big black circle (ripping off the MTA's subway line designators?), and the "AXI" in positive lettering that's been pushed away by the big black circle to the point that "AXI" reads as a separate word. Mediabistro nailed it: "Sir, can you call me a T-Axi?"

For the record, we love the checkerboard reference on the rear quarter panel. The fading checker pattern looks like a graphic representation of a bitstream, and makes the cab look like its going fast, even when its locked in the Holland Tunnel approach lane on a Friday afternoon. The fare panel, which is also a decent modernization of the old barber-shop menu decal, swaps positions with the new logo and lives on the rear passenger doors where it belongs. But the pricing info (which competes for space with a cute-but-unnecessary cab hailing person icon) is impossibly small; possibly it was made intentionally illegible, given the two recent fare increases.

Sorry to be so critical (though that's what we do best, isn't it?), but when you set out to redesign something as iconic as the look of an NYC Taxi, its important to get it right. Given the pace of change at the TLC, we'll likely be stuck with the blobby taxi logos for decades to come.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

BREAKING: Northside Piers Tower on Fire


At 11:25 am the 29-story Northside Piers tower under construction caught fire. Fire appeared to be coming from the roof. Updates as available.

Update 11:39 am:

FDNY appears to have fire under control. Black smoke gives way to white steamy smoke. Construction at neighboring The Edge continues unabated. Condoburg is saved.

Northside Piers Fire Photoset [flickr]

Monday, September 24, 2007

Blackbird Parlour Brings Bread & Honey
(and Pie...and Wine) to Bedford & North 6th

blackbird parlour

We're wagering that the name of newest anchor at the ever-changing intersection of Bedford Avenue and North Sixth Street in Williamsburg is a reference to the nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Six Pence". If not, that headline makes no sense whatsoever.

Either way, when Blackbird Parlour opens at 197 Bedford, it will offer the very European hybrid of a pastry café by day and wine bar by night. Which is really not so unorthodox, given that the American alternative is usually either a café that's shuttered in the evening, or a bar that - if open during daylight - caters to a few regular bloodshot boozehounds and serves lousy burgers with greasy fries.

The interior of the corner shop got a full renovation with a pair of bars, lots of wood, and new lighting. Locals will remember it as the super-shady video store that papered their windows with the same fading B-movie one-sheets for years at a crack. It was never clear to passersby whether they were still renting Porky's 2 on beta, or they had just given up and gone out of business...but didn't have the wherewithal to post a sign saying so.

Blackbird joins the recently-relocated Uva Wines which opened a couple weeks back, across the corner at 199 Bedford, and what appears to be an upscale replacement to the classic Pepé's Deli - an old-school bodega that occupied the Southwest corner for decades. Pepé's closed about six weeks ago, and the space has since been gut renovated and looks close to reopening. We'll miss Pepé's tin ceiling, its classic plexiglass and chasing lights canopy, and the friendly couple that ran it...but not its funky odor and half-stocked shelves.

Blackbird Parlour opens at 197 Bedford Avenue the first week of October.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

East River is Coast Guard Central
Ahead of Ahmadinejad Visit

USCG Thunder Bay

We haven't seen this much hot Coast Guard-on-river action in recent memory. Sunday, the US Coast Guard Icebreaking Tug Thunder Bay (above) patrolled the river off Brooklyn continuously. A second USCG ship sat just off the UN compound on Manhattan's East Side, and a bright orange Coast Guard chopper was seen making the rounds above it all.

Just a hunch, but the arrival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at 4:20 pm EDT could have something to do with it. His visit to address the UN's General Assembly Tuesday - and particularly his speaking engagement at Columbia University Monday at 1:30 pm - is expected to draw protestors. The Columbia speech has already sparked a heated debate, with many condemning the school's invitation, and others insisting that the open dialog will allow folks to form an educated opinion on the controversial leader.

Clarification: the Coast Guard security detail is in all likelihood a pretty standard show of force for any UN General Assembly week. But unlike a typical GA event, Ahmadinejad's visit seems to have the General Assembly on everyone's lips right now.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

City Parks = Cool Uncle
State Parks = Uptight Parent

park rules

Thursday evening, about the same time our more responsible neighbors were gathering at the Brooklyn Brewery to discuss improvements to Williamsburg's East River State Park, we became mesmerized by a gorgeous sunset, grabbed our SLR and tripod, and motored over to that very same waterfront esplanade.

But before we even broke the plane of the park's Kent Avenue gate, we were rebuffed by a State Parks staffer.

Ranger Bob: "We're closing in five minutes. And you can't bring that in."

i'mnotsayin: "Bring what in? My camera? I've had it in here a million times."

RB: "The tripod. You need a permit."

ins: "Huh? Since when? Is that a state rule or a city law?" (we know there's no such city ordinance. yet)

RB: (thumbing over his shoulder at the unavoidable list of park rules): "Park rule. Its there on the list. You can shoot through the fence if you want."

We proceeded to grumble a bit and explain that the tripod is only to compensate for low light and camera shake. But with the spectacular sunset quickly fading, we accepted his offer and shot a few uninspired frames between the jail-like fence bars.

The episode was so typical of our experiences at both Brooklyn state parks - and so frustrating - that it got us thinking. Why are state parks in New York City so much stricter and more uptight than their City Parks brethren? Is it our imagination?

To be fair, we haven't been to many of the other state parks within the city limits. So we've limited our comparison to the two East River waterfront parks on Kent Avenue in the 'burg: East River State Park and Grand Ferry Park, a small city park about ten blocks south.

On the surface, the differences are obvious: ERSP is surrounded by a tall steel fence, and its gates are locked nightly. As we mentioned recently, given the late opening (10 am) and the rapidly-receding closing time (dusk), the state park will soon be accessible less than eight hours a day. Grand Ferry park, by contrast, is open from sunrise to 9 pm, has no fence...and the closing time is seldom, if ever enforced. Score one for Grand Ferry Park, zero for ERSP.

Beyond the frustration of park access, even when it is open the state park feels Draconian by comparison to its sister down the street. The park rules are posted on a French barricade one nearly trips over as they enter. Often two or three personnel sit just inside the gate, eyeballing every visitor for contraband (tripods, pets) and when the border guards retreat to the park office trailer 100 feet away, they use a bullhorn to tell bike riders to dismount as they enter. Down in DUMBO, where the state's Empire-Fulton Ferry Park abuts the city's Brooklyn Bridge Park, one might not even realize there's two parks, except that cyclists are scolded by state park rangers if they obliviously ride across the invisible divide, or instinctively saddle-up before leaving the state's territory.

In an effort to be Fair and Balanced (Fox lawsuit forthcoming), we've created a handy table to analyze the park rules. See Figure 2.7, "Funner Park Analysis" below.

To be clear - we've said it before - we love the new park. We just wish it would relax and chill out. We wonder if State Parks is so uptight with their upstate parks? Being relatively new to NYC - and especially Brooklyn, is the state (which is much more conservative than the city), playing the suburban "we know there's gonna be trouble - its the CITY for God's sake" card and policing the new parks accordingly?

State Parks is behaving like an authoritarian parent, convinced that you're going to either get arrested or kill yourself; by comparison, the NYC Parks Department feels like that cool uncle that let you smoke when your parents weren't around.

Oh, and one more thing: when researching this post, we actually read the state's posted rules. There is no "photography permit" rule to begin with...

parks table 2
Figure 2.7a "Funner Park Analysis"

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thursday Eye Candy: Bushwick Inlet

bushwick inlet 2
Kent Avenue at North 13th, Thursday Evening.

From a new photoset: 'bayside' [Flickr]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thursday Eye Candy: Converse

converse; North 7th dead-end, September 12th 2007

A young couple conversed atop a pile of wood barricades along the dead-end of North 7th Street Wednesday evening. The scene is familiar at sunset most nights, along the perimeter of East River State Park in Northside Williamsburg. Unlike most city parks in New York, which are often open until 1 am, this State Park closes promptly at "dusk", with park rangers often beginning to shag park-goers even before sunset.

The dusk closing hour means that as fall turns to winter, the park will be closed well before most neighbors get home from work (it opens at 10 am, when most New Yorkers are taking their second meeting or going for coffee). Indeed, most Brooklynites will only have access to the new park on weekends and holidays.

Last night, a number of would-be park users stood at the fence, grumbling and taking photos of the glorious sunset - through the bars - as park rangers locked up. But the couple above seemed happy with their perch.

More Wednesday Evening Riverfront Photos

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tribute in Lights

remember: redux
remember; September 11, 2006

We saw the 'Tribute' lighting tonight and recalled this shot from a year ago. This vantage point no longer exists - its obstructed by the Edge construction site, and the cranes and barges building the future Northside Piers esplanade now dominate the foreground.

Click through to a few additional images from the same evening. [Flickr]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Music Hall of Williamsburg: Close, But No Guitar

hot opening night

Contractors hustled sheetrock into a gaping hole in the newly-exposed facade. One of the project's principals paced up and down North 6th Street, working his cellphone with that high-elbow intensity reserved for "I'm down here and you're not; Its my call." conversations. That was the scene at Brooklyn's newest music venue at seven o'clock tonight, just an hour before doors were to open on its inaugural show.

Despite a valiant sprint toward the finish - which for days has included a sidewalk clogged with truckload after truckload of furniture, staging, stanchions, lighting equipment, and all the other stuff that makes a rock club a rock club, Bowery Presents came to their senses and called off opening night. At some point in the late afternoon, the MHOW website's page announcing tonight's Patti Smith show was updated to include the sober pronouncement: "*POSTPONED* New Date TBA. Check Back Soon."

With another sold out show (Against Me!) slated for Wednesday night, we imagine it will be a long night at 66 North 6th.

Update: 8:15 pm

Dozens of bewildered concert-goers descend upon the unfamiliar, shady-looking block, drawn by the buzz of activity and the rumble of rock n' roll. But instead of a will-call line and an opening act, they encounter a swarm of contractors and a tech crew sound checking the PA for the first time ever. Stage lights competing with welding torches for attention.

The more adventuresome visitors wander into Galapagos. Others chuckle on cellphones to friends en-route, "they're laying down the floor right now!" An inauspicious beginning to what's sure to become a hot venue; but in Williamsburg, is anything really surprising?