New York: The free Times Square walking tour
Free tours aren't always worthwhile tours. So when I heard that Times Square offers a free Friday lunchtime walking tour, I was curious just how informative and entertaining it was.
Good news: I took the Times Square Exposé Tour a couple of weeks ago, and I found that It's definitely worth taking. It will open your eyes to the neighborhood's good, bad, and even ugly history. And it's price—free—sure beats the typical $25 cost of similar neighborhood tours.
Lucky travelers will have Judy Richheimer as their guide. She's a true New Yorker with a flair for the dramatic who has been leading the Times Square Exposé tour for over a decade. (When she does take the occasional day off, an equally knowledgeable substitute leads the tour.)
Judy's tour starts at the Times Square Visitor Center under the antique chandeliers inside a gorgeously restored 1925 theater on Broadway between 46th and 47th streets. At the end of the tour, Judy points at the art deco former headquarters of Paramount Pictures, and the ultra-modern New York Times Building. As you stand on the busy street corner, you'll see the differences between the buildings from two very different eras. If you're like me, you'll be awestruck.
Along the way, Judy will make more puns than there are lights in Times Square and even teach you how to jaywalk like a true New Yorker. The tour isn't limited to Broadway and theater sites. You'll visit two "churches" on the tour: St. Mary the Virgin, an Episcopal church, and John's Pizzeria, a deconsecrated church. Both stops include views of stunning stained glass features and intriguing smells. John's, of course, smells of the garlic and basil used in their coal fired pizza. St. Mary's, though, smells strongly of incense—so strongly, in fact, that many, including Judy, refer to the church as "Smoky Mary's." The church even sells tins of Smoky Mary's Incense at their gift shop ($15).
Judy will also point out interesting architectural details, such as the marble and bronze statues of famous actresses on the outside of the I. Miller Shoe Building. The story goes that Miller, an immigrant cobbler whose shoes were a hit with Broadway actresses, wanted to thank the people that helped him "get his feet on the ground" as Judy would say. He decided to put effigies of his favorite New York ladies on the side of his building. He let the public vote on which ladies should be immortalized. The winners and the roles they portrayed—Ethel Barrymore as Ophelia, Marilyn Miller as Sunny, Rosa Ponselle as Norma, and Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy—were unveiled in 1929 and are still proudly visible today.
The free weekly Times Square Exposé tour is sponsored by the Times Square Alliance, which works to improve and promote the neighborhood. The tour starts every Friday rain or shine at 12 p.m. and lasts about two hours. It leaves from the Times Square Information Center at 1560 Broadway, by the landmark Embassy Movie Theatre. Although no pre-registration is required, you should sign-in at the information center (inside the restored theater) and find out where to meet your guide. The tour ends at Smith's Bar on the corner 8th Ave and 44 Street.
This weekend: Take a bite out of Atlanta
More than 70 restaurants will offer food samplings and wine tastings this weekend at Taste of Atlanta. The event will be held on the streets of Atlantic Station, a lively midtown district refashioned out of a former steel mill. Your admission price (starting at $25) lets you try dishes from a list of restaurants that includes Rosa Mexicano, Sambuca, and The Capital Grille. The ticket price includes 10 Taste Coupons, which work sort of like tokens; restaurants will be selling tastes for a certain number of tickets. Additional coupons are sold in $5 and $10 increments. On the main stage, cooking demonstrations will spotlight culinary stars. If you're a Bravo TV lover, prepare to swoon: The schedule includes appearances by Richard Blais, a hometown boy and Top Chef finalist, and Ted Allen, a food and wine guru of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame who is now a Top Chef and Iron Chef judge and Food Network star…(can you tell I'm a fan?) Also on the stage will be bet-you-didn't-know-she-was-a-cookbook-author Trisha Yearwood. The country crooner will be doing some down-home cooking with her mom and sister. Also of interest is set of tables that feature restaurants using local and sustainable food. If you're interested in the local sourcing movement, visit this Country Road section of the event. It's a great way to connect with chefs in the area; they'll even be doing cooking demonstrations with their local farmers. Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Twelve Atlantic Station, 361 17th St NW. Tickets are $25 per day in advance or $35 at the door; children under 12 are free. You can buy tickets online.
Wacky hotels: Sleeping in a grain silo may become a thing of the past
After nearly 30 years in Akron, Ohio, The Quaker Square Inn's days as a hotel may be numbered. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the inn is made out of 36 Quaker Oats silos from the 1800s. Each silo is 120-feet tall and contains dozens of perfectly-round guest rooms, each with a 24-foot diameter and its own private balcony. As if that weren't enough Americana, the Trackside Grille off of the lobby is located in a 1930s Pullman train car and carries more than 30 milkshake flavors. The complex has been owned by Hilton and Crowne Plaza at various times. Recently the inn was bought by the University of Akron, which will likely convert it into a dormitory. Four floors already house students, but a spokesman says the remaining 91 rooms will stay open to non-student guests until November 2009, from $99. While reviews on TripAdvisor were mixed and visitors say the hotel is showing signs of wear and tear, its design is pretty neat. And as a dorm, it sure beats the Howard Johnson that I lived in when I was a first-year student at Boston University. (My school had run out dorm space, you see, and had rented rooms for us at the local HoJo. The karaoke machine in the common area was a fun perk.) Have you stayed here? Do you know of any other re-purposed hotels?
Slide show: See Hawaii's modernist gems on exhibit in New Haven
Anyone who has traveled through Honolulu's airport can appreciate the work of Hawaii-based architect Vladimir Ossipoff. His 1970s renovations created open-air corridors between terminals that let travelers experience Hawaii's temperate breezes immediately upon disembarking. Like the airport, Ossipoff's modernist buildings typically incorporate local materials and careful consideration of the environment to marvelous effect. Ossipoff, who was born in Russia in 1907, raised in Japan, and educated in California, completed over 1,000 buildings, all in the Hawaiian Islands. The Honolulu Academy of Art organized a major exhibition of his work, "Hawaiian Modern: The Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff", which debuted in Honolulu last fall, and is now at the Yale School of Architecture's exhibition gallery. (We first told you about this exhibit last year.) Check out this slide show highlighting 10 structures that Ossipoff designed as Hawaii transitioned from being an isolated land ruled by sugar barons to a tourist mecca of the jet age. The exhibit is open now through October 24, 2008. (180 York Street, New Haven, Conn., 203/432-2288, architecture.yale.edu, free, 9a.m. to 5p.m. weekdays, 10a.m. to 5p.m. weekends; closed Mondays).
Trends we like: India bans smoking in public places
Health-conscious travelers to India may have gotten a break today. The Associated Press reported today that the country has officially banned smoking in public places, including hotels and outdoor cafés. The ban includes not just manufactured cigarettes but also hand-rolled bidi, which contains chopped tobacco. As of now, no one knows if this law will work. On the one hand, the new fine of $5 is a huge amount of money to many people. Consider that 100 rupees ($2.50) is a day's wages to lower class people—the very ones most likely to be on the street and within view of the police. Middle-class people could care less, though officials note that they have plans to raise the fine to $25. On the other hand, it's India. The law's not all that enforceable because 1) bribery is generally more common there than in, say, the U.S. (per Transparency International surveys) and 2) people have a lot more pressing issues to worry about there than smoking (despite the 900,000 smoking-related deaths a year calculated by a study published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine).