Where Will You Go For Free Museum Day?

Cartoon Art Museum - free museum day
Flickr, Kim Smith

Whether you are traveling in the U.S. or having a staycation this Saturday, be sure to include some culture. September 28 is Museum Day Live! (aka Free Museum Day), when museums all over the country open their doors without charging admission.

The annual event is inspired by the Smithsonian museums, which offer free admission every day. You’ll have to register and download your free ticket in advance, which will get two guests in free to participating museums.

A few of our favorite museums participating:

Chicago
Smart Museum of Art
The University of Chicago’s art museum is always free, but this weekend is also the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, and museum-goers can also enjoy free concerts in the sculpture garden.

Dallas/Ft. Worth
American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum
Regular price: $7 adults
Serious airline nerds, frequent flyers and those on a long layover can check out this museum of aviation and American AIrlines history, just a few miles from DFW airport. Exhibits include a rare Douglas DC-3 plane.

Las Vegas
Burlesque Hall of Fame
Regular suggested donation or gift shop purchase: $5)
What’s Sin City without a little strip tease? See costumes, props and photos documenting the history, traditions and stars of burlesque dance.
Los Angeles
Grammy Museum
Regular price: $12.95 adults
Pop music lovers can check out four floors of music exhibits and memorabilia. The current exhibition features the career of Ringo Starr, including an interactive drum lesson with the Beatles‘ rhythm man himself.

New York
Museum of Chinese in America
Regular price: $10 adults
Learn about the immigrant experience in New York’s Chinatown in a building designed by Maya Lin. Current special exhibitions on the glamour of Shanghai women and the role Chinese-American designers in fashion. Follow it up with dim sum in the neighborhood.

San Francisco
Cartoon Art
Regular price: $7 adults
Take your comics seriously? This is the art museum for you, with 6,000 works of cartoon cels, comic strips and book art. Best. Museum. Ever.

Washington, D.C.
Museum of Crime and Punishment
Regular price: $21.95
Value the free admission and your freedom at a museum dedicated to criminals and police work. Fans of police procedural TV shows will enjoy the CSI lab and the filming studio for “America’s Most Wanted.”

Budget Guide 2013: Downtown Manhattan

There’s always something new to discover in New York City, and if you’ve always stuck to the landmarks, skyscrapers and overpriced restaurants of midtown, now might be the time to venture south to the wilds of up-and-coming neighborhoods like Chinatown.

Here, the buildings are shorter, the streets are narrower and the Starbucks are less ubiquitous. Chinatown is a gritty neighborhood, with its congested streets, mysterious foreign smells and aggressive fake Rolex vendors. It is also one of the city’s most vibrant ethnic enclaves, with bright fruit stands, bargain foot massage parlors and scores of dingy but delicious eateries.

But the times, they are a-changing. In the past few years, farm-to-table fusion restaurants have started replacing the neighborhood’s traditional Chinese noodle shops. Some trace Chinatown’s renaissance to the opening of Apotheke, a trendy artisanal cocktail bar on Doyers Street. But it was Parisian club Le Baron that sealed the neighborhood’s fate when it selected lower Mulberry Street as the site for its much-hyped New York outpost last year. Real estate developers have descended on the neighborhood, branding the easternmost part of it “Chumbo” – a mash-up of “Chinatown” and “DUMBO,” its trendy Brooklyn counterpart. Costs, in turn, are rising.

However, deals can still be had for the budget traveler. Lower-end hotel chains fill the neighborhood, and cheap eats abound. Plus, Chinatown is a landmark in and of itself – just stepping out the door can yield dozens of classic New York experiences. Catch it while you still can.


Hotels

Wyndham Garden Chinatown: Opened in late 2012, the Wyndham Garden Chinatown is a bright new addition to Chinatown’s budget hotel scene. The contemporary 106-room property is located right in the heart of the Bowery, one of lower Manhattan’s main thoroughfares. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the hubbub of the neighborhood, while double-paned glass keeps the street noise muffled. All in all, it’s a clean and comfortable option. From $116. http://www.wyndham.com/hotels/new-york/new-york/wyndham-garden-chinatown 93 Bowery

Howard Johnson Manhattan SoHo: Forgive us, that’s “HoJo,” according to Howard Johnson’s youthful new branding campaign. The roadside motor inn has spiffed itself up for its brand new downtown Manhattan location, with pop art on the walls and neon purple track lighting in the lobby. Rooms are small but feature amenities like free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Early reviews are positive, with raves about comfort and value. From $169. http://www.hojo.com/hotels/new-york/new-york/howard-johnson-manhattan-soho 5 Allen Street

The Nolitan: Splurge on a room at the area’s first luxury boutique hotel, located just above the Chinatown border in trendy Nolita. The 55-room hotel opened in early 2012 and offers modern industrial design from Grzywinski+Pons, the same team behind the Lower East Side’s popular Hotel on Rivington. While prices may hover slightly above the typical budget range, guests can save on the affordable mini bar, free access to nearby 24-Hour Fitness and free bike, skateboard, laptop, iPad and video game system rentals. From $285. http://nolitanhotel.com 30 Kenmare Street

Eat and Drink

Nom Wah Tea Parlor: New York’s oldest dim sum teahouse reopened in 2011 under the energetic Wilson Tang, a former banker and nephew of former owner Wally Tang. Wilson redid the restaurant’s interior but kept vintage touches like the original tea booth, 1920s-style leather seating and newspaper clippings celebrating the teahouse’s 93-year history. Prices for small plates are in the $3-$7 range, while traditional teapots are around $1. Don’t miss the shrimp siu mai and house special pan-fried dumplings; they are superb. http://nomwah.com 13 Doyers Street

Nice Green Bo: Tourists regularly queue up for soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai, but locals in the know tend to prefer nearby Nice Green Bo. The dingy hole-in-the-wall restaurant offers a full menu of Shanghainese specialties, but its main draw is succulent steamed soup dumplings filled with crab and pork. http://nicegreenbo.com 66 Bayard Street

Epistrophy: Vintage furniture and antiquarian knickknacks fill this charming café and wine bar, which serves a reasonably priced selection of wine, coffee and panini. The place shines in the spring, when the windows are left open to welcome in the neighborhood. http://www.epistrophycafe.com 200 Mott Street

Budget Activities

Museum of Chinese in America: This under-the-radar museum excels in its series of quirky and relevant exhibitions. Currently on display are two comic-themed exhibits: “Marvels and Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986″ and “Alt.Comics: Asian American Artists Reinvent the Comic.” April will see the unveiling of two fashion-oriented showcases: “Front Row: Chinese American Designers” and “Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s.” Admission is regularly $10 but free on Thursdays. http://www.mocanyc.org 215 Centre Street

LES Tenement Museum Neighborhood Walks: What better way to explore the neighborhood than by walking it? Learn the history of lower Manhattan’s immigrant communities through the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s informative neighborhood walking tours. “Foods of the Lower East Side” is a particularly delicious way to get acquainted. http://www.tenement.org 103 Orchard Street

Pearl River Mart: Bypass the counterfeit handbags of Canal Street and head instead to Pearl River Mart, a massive emporium of cheap, quirky novelty items, like bright kimonos and paper lanterns. It’s the perfect place for souvenir hunting. http://www.pearlriver.com 447 Broadway


Get Around

Downtown Manhattan is relatively accessible from New York’s major airports. From JFK, you take the J subway line from Jamaica Station-Sutphin Boulevard direct to Chinatown’s Canal Street. Public transport from LaGuardia and Newark can be more arduous, with multiple stops and transfers. Google Maps is the best way to compare your transportation options in the city, whether you’re taking a taxi, riding the subway or using your own two feet.

If you’ve previously relied on traditional forms of transportation to get around, prepare yourself for some sticker shock this year. Subway fares are slated to increase from $2.25 to $2.50 per ride this March, following a 17 percent rate spike for taxi fares that occurred last year.

But there is a budget option: the bicycle. New York is to unveil its new Citi Bike Share this May, with 10,000 bikes distributed among 600 stations across Manhattan (and parts of Brooklyn and Queens). A day pass can be purchased at any kiosk for $9.95, while a seven-day pass will cost you $25. The city has made major improvements to its biking infrastructure over the past few years, and a fantastic new path recently opened on Allan Street that connects Chinatown to upper Manhattan.


Budget Tip

Wake up early and go for a stroll through Columbus Park, Chinatown’s largest public park. Historically known as Five Points, this area was once the formidable site of the gang violence depicted in “Gangs of New York.” Today, it’s where Chinatown’s elderly community gathers for early morning tai chi and mah-jongg. Pick up a milk tea and pork bun, grab a bench and pay witness to the last vestiges of a neighborhood in transition.

[Photo credits: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews (top photo) and Andrew Burton/Getty Images]

5 Tips For Experiencing Toronto’s Changes

As the author of “Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto,” Shawn Micallef knows more corners of Toronto than most visitors will ever see. He can take a look around a neighborhood and pick out the new places in an instant. But newcomers may not know the difference. Here, Micallef offers his five tips for enjoying Toronto (with a little help from me).

  1. Hop on a street car. “It’s slow, it’s above ground, and the stops are every block. You can get off, walk a block, if you’re bored, get back on.” He advises picking one street – such as College, Queen, or Spadina – and riding it from end to end. An affordable way to do so is the Day Pass sold by the Toronto Transit System at all subway stations. Up to six people, with a maximum of two adults, can ride the system from the date on the pass until 5:30 a.m. the next day, meaning you can take a street car to sight see, dine out, and drink until bars close, if that’s your fancy.
  2. In the summer, go to the beach. The Toronto Islands are just a short ferry ride from downtown. The breathtaking view of the skyline is exchanged for a visit to cottage country, akin to a 1930s movie set. Toronto is proud of its eight Blue Flag beaches, recognized internationally for their cleanliness and safety. The islands are also home to Hanlan’s Point, a clothing optional choice, one of the few such public beaches in the country. “It’s all the weirdness of urban Toronto landing on a beach,” says Micallef.
  3. In the winter, go underground. Visitors to Toronto are often amazed when they venture down a staircase and find an entire city beneath the city. Underground Toronto stretches for 17 miles, from Front Street up to Yorkville. There are restaurants, shops, shoe repair stores, the basements of major department stores, parking garages, and more than 125 access points to buildings up above. “You could live down there,” he says, as a reporter for the Toronto Star did recently. Even if you don’t want to spend that much time, at the very least, it’s a pleasant short cut.
  4. Visit a market. Toronto has embraced farmers markets with gusto. During the height of the summer and fall harvests, there is a market somewhere every day of the week, with some starting at dawn and others in the evening. Because of its varied ethnic groups, Toronto markets range well beyond fruits, vegetables and cheese. I’ve tasted Thai influenced dumplings and salad, enjoyed Dutch pancakes and taken home vegan tarts. Don’t overlook the permanent St. Lawrence Market, either, where stalls are open six days a week. The Kensington Market area in Chinatown abounds with sights and smells, and newcomers from Latin countries and South Asia are adding their own contributions.
  5. Watch for contrasts. With neighborhoods shifting, you will find old school and new school right next door to each other. Conduct your own pub crawl or tea tastings. Sample baked goods from traditional and modern purveyors. And talk to the owners. Torontonians have the same friendliness found in Chicago and New Orleans. They’ll tell you what they think of what’s changing around them.

For more on “Toronto In Transition” click here

[Photo Credits: Micheline Maynard]

Toronto In Transition: Pushing Neighborhood Boundaries

Joel and Joshua Corea grew up in Toronto’s Little Portugal, which lies west of downtown. They can tell you about the park where they played, the streets their parents didn’t want them to visit, and give you details of who owned which store.

Now, the Coreas have opened their own place, Archive, a gleaming new wine bar in the same sized storefront where many other entrepreneurs have gotten their start. The street sign on the corner says “Portugal Village” and just down the block are bakeries, banks and a radio station serving the Portuguese community.

But this end of the neighborhood is known by another name: Dundas West, after the street where Archive sits. It is still a little lonely looking area, lacking the polish of a gentrified neighborhood like Leslieville, or the bustling activity of Toronto’s Chinatown.

However, Dundas (pronounced Dun-DASS, as in behind) West has now become what’s known in Toronto terms as a “micro-neighborhood,” and its offerings are growing. In Archive’s block, there’s a standout breakfast/lunch cafe called Saving Grace, a small art gallery, two coffee bars – Ella’s Uncle and Ezra’s Pound – along with a laundromat and a travel agent.

It was the idea of starting fresh but with proximity to their roots that attracted the Corea brothers to Dundas West. They had restaurant experience, and a deep interest in wine, especially those made across Canada. “We wanted to create a civilized drinking establishment,” explained Joel, who had another idea in mind.

He and his brother wanted to make Archive a hangout for their colleagues in the restaurant business, who were often looking for a place to go after their establishments closed around 10 or 11 p.m. The only trick was finding the right spot.

%Gallery-174399%The Portuguese landlord, who knew the Corea family, “wanted us in here,” he explained, and so the transition from vintage clothing store, the old tenant, to wine bar began.

Creating Archive required a complete tear up, which was a team effort involving the Coreas, Josh’s girlfriend Tara Smith, who created the bar’s tapas menu, and her brother Brandon, a carpenter, who built the sleek bar, the furniture and laid the floors. The money came from the Corea brothers’ savings, plus loans and other help from family and friends.

Neighbors often stopped by to see how the work was going, and the community support came in handy when it was time to pass various fire, health and building inspections. Archive has the only liquor license on the block, which keeps crowds and noise to a minimum.

Still, the work sometimes seemed daunting. “A lot of days, I came in here, shook my head and said, ‘what are we doing?'” Joel Corea said.

By contrast, their friend Nicole Angellotti had experience under her belt when she opened Lit Espresso Bar on College Street West, right in the center of Little Portugal. It’s her second establishment, and her second foray into a traditionally ethnic neighborhood.

The original Lit Espresso Bar is on Roncesvalles Avenue, in what has been a Polish enclave. But in recent years, it’s become one of the most popular areas for young Toronto families, drawn by inexpensive rents and solidly built properties.

While Dundas West is still emerging, Angellotti has Portuguese neighbors to her right, and a sandwich shop to her left. Portuguese is spoken on the street, and traditional foods like sweet custard tarts are easy to find.

Lit, however, seems like the kind of sleek spot that can be found in any North American urban center, from Vancouver to Chicago. Tables are filled with young men and women typing on Macs, while a few spots are filled by moms with squirming children. “It’s a community space,” Angellotti says.

And, there are signs that like Little India, Little Portugal may be about to modernize, as well. Just down the street from Lit, construction crews are at work on the same kind of low-rise condominium building that’s being built across town, its streamlined appearance just as much a contrast to its ethnic neighborhood.

Angellotti, who grew up in the Toronto suburbs, comes from an Italian family, which she says gives her empathy with her family oriented Portuguese neighbors (and also confuses them, since her name makes them assume she speaks Italian or Portuguese).

One thing the two cultures have in common is a love of coffee, especially Italian roast. “One thing my dad always said was, ‘pick a business that’s recession proof,'” she laughs.

But her coffee is a contrast to what her neighbors are used to. Rather than serve pre-ground espresso shipped in cans from Europe, she’s roasting it herself, under a label called Pig Iron. She and her brother Joe, who is her business partner, are so convinced that Toronto will embrace locally roasted beans that they’ve decided not to open more cafes, for now, and concentrate on growing the coffee business.

The decision has actually been a bridge to her new neighborhood. “We do have some of the younger Portuguese guys coming in,” Angellotti says. “I feel like I’ve won a little battle every time they say, ‘this espresso’s good.'”

For more on Toronto In Transition click here

[Photo Credits: Micheline Maynard]

Food crawl in New York’s Chinatown: meat on a stick edition


Chinatown food crawl in New York City: meat on a stick

The man with the gas mask recommended I get the lamb. As smoke from the charcoal grill wafted heavenward, up from his cart toward the Manhattan Bridge, I stood there having an internal debate. There was a special that day: chicken hearts. Or should I just get the lamb and move on to my next stop?

Welcome to Lamb on a Stick, also known as Xinjiang Kebabs. It’s a misnomer for sure, as this cart, anchored until around 9pm on most days on the corner of Forsythe and Division Streets next to the Manhattan Bridge in New York City’s Chinatown, serves up an array or carnal delights, all attached to a stick. Nearly everything I’ve eaten here has been almost transcendent: the lamb, for starters, is unctuous and juicy. But why stop there? The griller (the guy keeping the smoke out of his face with a gasmask or his non-mask-wearing wife) is also quite skilled when it comes to chicken wings, beef, and partridge. Since I discovered the cart a few months ago, I’ve been back every week, hoping to try everything here. And at $1 per stick, it’s very possible to get full on the cheap.

Xinjiang Kebabs is just one of a handful of places in Chinatown I’ve found since I decided to regularly eat my way through the neighborhood. The Atlantic recently ran an article claiming Chinatowns in America as we know them–In New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, for example–are dying; a collective relic of a time when China was poor and its citizens clamored for a better life by retreating to American shores. But with China’s economic rise, so the logic of the article goes, there will be less immigration. And as the population of these ethic enclaves in American cities grows old, they will cease to exist. Or be taken over by another immigrant population (see New York’s Little Italy).

Whether the Atlantic piece is prophetic or not, it got me thinking that there are a lot of restaurants in Chinatown, some of questionable quality and some very good ones. How to figure out which ones to go to and which to avoid? I decided to go find my very own canon of Chinatown restaurants. Starting, of course, with Xingjiang Kebabs. The next place I usually hit up after a couple sticks of meat is the Malaysian beef jerky spot. At Malaysia Beef Jerky, Inc., located at 95 Elizabeth St., you won’t find a Slim Jim or that dried jerky we grew up masticating on. This is moist and tender and just spicy enough to dazzle the palate.


But before I headed there, I had a decision to make at the cart: I said yes to the chicken hearts, which were grilled perfectly. The taut exterior gave way to a burst of flavor. I also opted for the lamb and beef. Two sticks each.

Not yet full, I would head on to the Malaysian beef jerky spot and then, as per usual, stop off for some soup dumplings and then maybe one or two other out-of-the-way spots. Just another food crawl in Chinatown.

[Photo credit: Kirsten Alana]