Pauline Frommer and host David Lytle discuss Pauline's guide to New York City from her new series. She focuses on "the other" New York -- experiences that visitors can have in the city usually overlooked or unknown by visitors. Learn about finding free classes and lectures, learning to cook from professional chefs, dancing with Broadway stars, getting dinner at a performance art restaurant, attending a Japanese tea ceremony and checking out spiritual sites in the Big Apple. You'll get to hear about some of the great things you can do in Manhattan (and the Bronx and Queens). Pauline Frommer's New York City is in bookstores now.
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- Russian nightclubs: Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
- Piano History: Steinway Factory, Queens
- Buddhist Temples: Chinatown
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.Announcer: Welcome to the frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit us at www.frommers.com.
David: Hi, this is David Lytle. I'm the editorial director for frommers.com. Today I'm talking again with Pauline Frommer. Hi Pauline.
Pauline Frommer: Hi David.
David: How is it going?
Pauline: Oh, everything is very exciting right now. The books are out and after two years of work, we are finally moving to the next stage which is terrifically exciting.
David: Absolutely. It is nice to see all that hard work pay off. I'm holding one of the guides in my hands right now and I have to say they are very attractive to look at.
David: Enjoying the layout. And of course the information in here is really fantastic. I think that what really is going to stand for readers who pick up any of your Pauline Frommer guides, there is all that fantastic nitty-gritty information of prices and contact information and how to save money which is sort of the crux of the book. But every book has a chapter called "The Other." Can you explain to listeners right now, what that is exactly?
Pauline: Well, "The Other" are those experiences that allow you to meet locals in the place that you are visiting or pull back the curtain a little bit on the culture and see what it's really like to live there. I don't know about you, but when I think back on the trips I've taken what I always end up remembering are not so much the sights I've seen. Of course I love going to great museums, and seeing great shows, and having delicious meals, but what I really remember, what touches me when I travel is when I actually meet people and have meaningful exchanges with them. So "The Other" was created to allow travelers to do that, so we suggest a number of experiences people can have.
For example in "Pauline Frommer's New York City," we tell people how to attend evening lectures. New York is the capital of the media in the United States and if you want to get a product out or a new idea or even a policy decision before the press, you present it here. So you often have the world's greatest minds giving lectures on a Thursday night attended by maybe twenty people. And so these can be extremely exciting events and so we tell people how to find the best of those.
That is on the high-fluting end of the scale. We also talk about how you can go to a quiz night at a local bar or perhaps take a tango lesson for free at the Argentine consulate. Also towards ethnic New York, we also have things like going to a tea ceremony, a Japanese tea ceremony, for very little money and experiencing what that is like.
Or going to the Russian nightclubs of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn where you will sit side by side with Russian Mafioso-types, quaffing vodka and watching showgirls where these women dance around in feathers and everyone around you is speaking Russian. It is really a wacky experience and like nothing else I know. It's so much fun.
David: Yeah, absolutely. One of the great things about New York is that polyglot of languages that you can run into anywhere in the city, but actually being able to immerse yourself in something like a Russian nightclub has got to feel other-worldly in a sense.
Pauline: Oh sure, so beyond ethnic experiences, this is where people come to make it big so you can often have tremendously informative classes with these top minds. For example, if you are an avid chef, you can learn how to cook from people who are cooking in the top kitchens in the city at the International Culinary Institute.
Or if you have ever had the dream of being a Broadway dancer, you can dance side by side with them, if you have the guts! [laughter] At Steps, which allows you to take one-off classes, you don't have to sign up for more than one, and you'll be side by side with actual Broadway dancers. Now these are tough, and you'll have to bring a leotard. If you're not that brave, you can also just stand at the door and watch. It is fascinating to see what the human body can do and, really, people who want to dance come to New York. And it is great to see them learning.
David: Absolutely. That was one thing I was not aware of when I was reading through this. Not that I am a dancer or would ever put myself out there. That has to be fascinating to watch, it's like stepping into a Bob Fosse movie.
Pauline: Oh, yeah. And other things to do? You can take a tour of the Metropolitan Opera, which may sound like a snooze but it's actually fascinating. I say it is like looking at the insides of a car engine or taking apart a clock. Because making this massive institution run, it puts on hundreds of performances a year all with these huge sets, thousands of costumes, a hundred of people in the chorus. They'll take you through on what is literally a two-hour tour and you'll go upstairs and downstairs.
You might hear these trumpet-voiced opera singers rehearsing in one room while two dozen people are desperately sewing sequences on to costumes in another. While in another room a man is fashioning wax heads for "Salome," for all the people who get beheaded in that opera. It is really a great thing to see even if you are not an opera fan.
Or you can go to the Steinway Factory where the famous pianos are made. This you can only do in the spring months but it is so interesting. It is really an art and you'll understand after going through the tour why these are the pianos used by the top pianists in the world.
David: That tour is also nice too because it takes visitors out of Manhattan and into Queens. I think travelers often times don't consider the other four boroughs that exist in New York.
Pauline: Yeah, Queens is a fascinating area. Parts of it are not that pretty physically, but this is where a lot of the ethnic communities live and congregate in New York City. And if you go out to where the Steinway Factory is, you'll be on a street filled with hookah shops because it is a Middle Eastern community. There are men smoking hookahs late into the evening having avid discussions and they are very welcoming of outsiders. You can sit down and take some fruited tobacco and smoke it up with them. It is a great experience.
David: That's fantastic. I also noticed you had in here one of my favorite tours in the city which is the Brooklyn brewery tour.
Pauline: [laughter] Well, you must be a big beer drinker then. Yeah, it is a fun tour. The highlight of it, I think, is drinking the beer itself but you learn all about beer making. When I last took it, the guys behind me took the tour, got their free drink and said, "Let's take the tour again." [laughter] Because they wanted more free drinks.
It is a fun tour because it takes you out to Williamsburg which is this burgeoning artist community that I have in the book as well. It is filled with all these little galleries, many of which are in the gallery owner's own homes. So you look at some art and then you look at their kitchen design and then you look at some more art and you peak into their bedroom. It is a really fun way to see behind the scenes what it is like to live in New York City.
Also in Williamsburg, we have in the book this place called "Monkey Town," which is a performance art restaurant. You eat dinner while huge art videos play on the walls. When I was there, they were showing "America's Funniest Pet Videos" in slow motion and backwards while in the middle of the room this man got a massage from another man. It was absolutely fascinating, I have to say.
David: And it made so much sense.
Pauline: On the subterranean level, sure, sure. [laughter]
David: That does sound like a blast. Another great thing that you mention, travelers might not consider when they go to New York. I think in some people's mind New York is this godless home of capitalism. Yet you suggest that there are several different ways you can visit houses of worship in New York.
Pauline: No, New York is actually a very spiritual city. Brooklyn has been known as the Borough of Churches for a long time, because it has more churches per capita than most other places in the world. So one of the things New York is famous for is for its Gospel churches, where you'll still go and hear this heart-thumping music. It's just totally stirring even if you are not a Baptist. And you are welcome to these churches. It can be a wonderful experience.
Or you can go into a Buddhist Temple in Chinatown, which is a fascinating sight to visit, with statues all over the place and little scrolls where people have written down wishes for either their ill relatives or their deceased relatives. It really is an interesting place to visit, where visitors are welcomed, and you'll see another side to Chinatown.
Other fascinating areas to see, there are also just churches and synagogues, temples and mosques, that are architecturally fabulous and worth seeing.
David: That's great to know. I just think it's something that I don't think travelers would have considered before.
Pauline: Although I think a lot of people are nervous about going into a church that is not their own, but they should know that they're very much welcomed in New York. I think that's what surprises people about New York City. We have this reputation for not being at all friendly but it couldn't be farther from the truth. It's actually a very welcoming, friendly, gracious city, and you feel that most when you go to these houses of worship.
David: Right. And New York is a city filled with New Yorkers, so everybody has their opinion and they love to share their opinion.
Pauline: Oh, absolutely.
David: They're more than willing to engage in a conversation. When I first moved there, I was very surprised at how accommodating people were.
Pauline: Yeah. You can ask people for directions on the street all the time. I say that in the book. It's also a very safe city now. The FBI has ranked New York as the number one safest big city in the United States. Obviously you don't want to wander around waving your wallet in the air, but other than that you should be fine. As long as you keep it somewhere safe, and you take the precautions you'd take in any large city, you'll have a safe, fun trip to New York.
Beyond the "Other Section," I go deeply into nightlife in the city and how inexpensive it potentially can be to go to the theatre. There are literally dozens of ways to get discounts for the theatre. You can do it in advance, by going to sites such as Playbill.com or BroadwayBox.com. Or you can even serve as an usher. You simply call the theatre in advance, you make sure you pack black pants and a white shirt, you show up half an hour before, you hand out some programs, and you see a show for free.
So there are so many insiders' ways that you can see the city and save money doing it. It was so much fun researching them. I got to go to nightclubs and interview bouncers, and find out why they did and didn't let people into clubs. I can talk a little bit about that if you like.
David: Yeah, absolutely. What does somebody need to do to get into a club?
Pauline: Well, my biggest tip that I got from a bouncer is go to the club's website, find out who the DJ is, and say you're a buddy of the DJ. They never go and ask the DJ, because he's too busy working, and it gets you into almost every club.
But the thing about clubs and bouncers is that it's a totally perverse system. It really has to do with how the bouncer feels that night. I had one bouncer tell me that he didn't let anybody in who had streaked hair, but he would let anybody, who was over 50 automatically got in, because he wanted a real interesting mixed crowd. You never know what their criterion is going to be, so you can't take it personally. You just have to be polite.
Never wait for more than 20 minutes. If you wait for more than 20 minutes you're not getting in. Just try to be polite, and my biggest tip is, don't ever say you're from out of town. This is the one area where New Yorkers are not friendly. They really want insiders in these clubs. So don't say, "I'm from Alabama! It's my only night here!" That's a sure way of not getting into the club.
David: A good idea is just don't even bring up where you're from at all.
Pauline: Don't bring up where you're from.
David: There's no need to lie and say that you're a New Yorker; just don't touch the topic.
Pauline: Right. And if you stand there for 15 minutes, that may be when you want to bring out the DJ's name. I mean, don't try it until you get desperate. But believe it or not, it does work.
David: That's a great tip to know. I'm going to actually try that the next time I'm in town.
David: One other thing that I wanted to touch on, before we close this off, are the great insider tours that are available, for free, to anyone who comes to the city with a little bit of pre-planning. Can you talk about the Big Apple Greeters?
Pauline: Yeah. The Big Apple Greeters are one of the most incredible programs offered by the City of New York. These are volunteers who simply love to meet travelers and share their love of the city with them. So you contact Big Apple Greeters pretty far in advance, because they have a limited number of greeters, and tell them what your interests are. You could be interested in architecture, or you might just be interested in a particular neighborhood.
They will hook you up with a volunteer who knows something about that, or who they think is similar to you, and that person will show you around the city, absolutely free of cost. In fact, they will bring a MetroCard with them, so that you don't have to pay anything for transportation. They'll teach you how to get around the big city. They may spend part of the tour just explaining how the subway works.
I can't tell you how exciting it is to be going around with a local and learning about the area from their eyes. I did it in a section of Queens that I don't know very well, with a young man who is the son of Hispanic immigrants and we spent the afternoon wandering in and out of Catholic churches and botanicas. He would point out buildings where he knew that ten families lived in two apartments, introducing me to a side of New York I never would have been able to see on my own. It was a fascinating afternoon, and he was just a delightful guy -- this roly-poly banker named Teddy.
David: That's fantastic. Did you learn anything about the mysteries of the botanicas?
Pauline: I did! I learned all about which herbs you're supposed to sprinkle, where to get which miracle, and the waters that you pour into different sculptural jugs. It was absolutely fascinating.
David: In my old neighborhood in Brooklyn there were several botanicas. I was fascinated by them, but I really never got up the gumption to go inside.
Pauline: Yeah, it's hard to go in on your own. First of all, there's the language barrier in a lot of them.
Pauline: These are really Spanish-speaking places. And you don't want to be impolite and seem like a gawker. So it was so great to have a tour guide who would take me in there bravely and just show me around.
David: That's fantastic. Big Apple Greeters can really set up almost any tour that you can imagine.
Pauline: Sure. Actually, their most popular tours are of Harlem. That's very requested, and they do a lot up there. They also go to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Greenwich Village, you name it. They have somebody who can guide you there.
David: That's great to know.
Pauline, I want to say thank you. It's always enjoyable talking to you. People who are listening to this can get any of this information in depth in the new "Pauline Frommer's New York City Guide." It's in stores now. I wish you great success with this series of books, Pauline.
Pauline: Oh, thank you.
David: It's good talking to you.
Pauline: Thanks so much, David. You too.
David: OK. Bye.
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