From our friends in New York: The real midtown

Throughout December Grade "A" Fancy's Karen McBurnie and Jon Hammer will be our guides, revealing aspects of New York that most visitors will never see. Their tour begins in a midtown you may not recognise.

New Yorkers live in the centre of the universe. No sense in arguing the point, they're convinced. But where is the centre of New York City? You might say Times Square, but you would be wrong. We have stumbled upon – or more accurately trod upon – a monument purporting to be the centre of the city, just a mile from where we live in the borough of Queens, on a sliver of traffic island in the middle of a speedy thoroughfare. There it is, on Queens Boulevard at 58th Street, in letters of bronze, the geographical centre of NYC.

Scanning the surroundings for signs of civilisation, a more accurate legend might be "the middle of nowhere." This crossroads features three boring chain stores and a cemetery. Looking west, over a rise in the road, you can just make out the top of the Empire State Building a good four miles distant.

Is this really the geographic centre? It depends some on how you measure and who you ask, but apparently not. The Department of City Planning puts it in Bushwick, Brooklyn, near the intersection of Stockholm Street and Wyckoff Avenue. Strangely; no one seems to know who installed this Queens Boulevard marker. No city agency has owned up to it, and from its condition we would guess no one is maintaining it. It's a mystery.

It appears we've dragged you out to this curious wasteland on a wild goose chase. Never fear, we are steps away from the best pint of Guinness in Woodside and surely that will redeem the day nicely. A short walk up 58th Street to the main drag of Roosevelt Avenue, and here we are at Donovan's, the mother ship of pubs in this very Irish neighborhood.

The old-timers love this place for lunch after church. Their menu is heavy on old fashioned meat-and-potatoes favorites, but the hamburgers and steak fries are the standout items. A cocktail or beer in the dark bar is a fine way to spend an afternoon, with the sun lighting up the colored glass windows and the clatter of the subway heard seeping through the door. But for the scourge of the flat-screen TVs, it could be 1966, the year Donovan's opened. This may not be the centre of New York City, but it is the heart of our own Woodside, Queens.

You owe it to yourself to explore more of New York with Jon and Karen through their Grade "A" Fancy site and also the Herb Lester map, Truly Greenwich Village, which guides the reader through the best of the area.

Posted in Bars, Grade "A" Fancy, New York

From our friend in Barcelona: B for vermut

Illustrator Kavel Rafferty returns with another report from her adopted city of Barcelona, where the vermut flows like wine.

Some of my best Saturdays in Barcelona have started with a vermut at noon, leading to a long lunch in a local restaurant. This vermut is a dark herbal fortified wine much loved over here, known to most of the world as vermouth. There’s a light version and more commonly, a darker, sweet one, both are usually served with small tapas, olives or pickles, the rich sweetness of the wine contrasting nicely with salty accompaniments.

Some take their vermut with ice, lemon and a couple of olives, others prefer to make it into a longer drink 'con syfon', and an old fashioned soda syphon is normally left on the bar for you to help yourself. As delicious as it is, we advise you to go easy: just enjoy the rosy glow of one or two glasses. But if things do go too far, I have yet to find a better hangover cure, the botanicals used to make vermut seem to posses some kind of magical restorative effect.

Although there’s plenty of industrially-produced vermut for sale here, if you ask for a vermut 'del grifo' or vermut 'de la casa' these will more than likely be made locally in one of the small villages outside Barcelona. And remember, in Spain, the v is pronounced with a soft b.

Below are three recommendations for places to enjoy a glass or two of vermut and some food. It’s worth remembering that if you ask anyone in Barcelona, they’ll have their own favourite place. Good food and drink is an obsession here, perhaps that’s why so many traditional bars survive with their Formica tables, chipped tiles, trad bar ware and grumpy waiters.

At the top end of Park Güell, the tables on the pavement get busy but they’re the prime spot, even in the colder months – on one occasion I sat comfortably outside in the January sun. The food is basic but good and generously served.
Carrer Ctra. del Carmelo / Muhlberg 1, 08024

Quimet y Quimet
Family-run and an institution in Poble Sec, with standing room only. It’s in quite a few guide books but locals still go there and mix happily enough with tourists. The food is amazing: we had a plate of cheeses (combinat de fromatges) and then a variety of smoked fish (combinat de fumats) with homemade crackers and bread last time we went. It can get very hectic, and it's not a bargain, but it's worth it.
Carrer de la Poeta Cabanyes, 25 , 08004

Cal Papi
This bustling bar is often busy and can get very hot, but the tapas are great, staff are friendly staff and it always has a nice atmosphere. It’s worth staying on for a lunch if you can get a table, and then walking it off on the beach at the end of the street.
Carrer de l'Atlàntida, 65, 08003

You can see more of Kavel's work on her website.

And for more Barcelona, don't forget to pick up our map!

Posted in Barcelona, Bars, Food, Illustration, Kavel Rafferty, Restaurants


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