The World Of The Great Gatsby: Long Island’s Gold Coast

the great gatsby long island

The official trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s new film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” was released this week, inciting nostalgia across the Internet for the passion, parties and Prohibition-fueled recklessness of 1920s-era New York City. The film doesn’t come out until Christmas but if you’re hankering for a preview, try visiting Long Island‘s Gold Coast, where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived, wrote and based his famous novel.

Geographically located on the North Shore of Long Island, the Gold Coast’s grand mansions and landscaped gardens beckon visitors to explore the lives of the magnates and tycoons that called them home. Former inhabitants include familiar names like the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Whitneys and Pratts, and nearly all of the estates are open to the public throughout the summer.


One Gold Coast must-see is Old Westbury Gardens, a traditional English manor home that you’ll recognize from films like “The Age of Innocence” and “Cruel Intentions.” Built in 1906, the estate was once inhabited by financier John S. Phipps, who outfitted it with lavish furnishings and artwork. Guests are welcome to tour the home’s interior or stroll around the estate’s rose gardens, walled gardens and pond.

The Gold Coast’s residents weren’t all as traditional as the Phipps. A trip to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum reveals the eclectic nature of former inhabitant William K. Vanderbilt II. The 43-acre complex includes a marine museum, seaplane hangar, natural history habitats and a wide array of quirky ethnographic objects. The on-site planetarium is currently under construction, but it is expected to be one of the most advanced in the country once it is completed.

And if you’re a true literature geek, you can’t miss the Hempstead House or Falaise Mansion in Sands Point, a part of Long Island that Fitzgerald referred to as the “East Egg” in “The Great Gatsby.” Both homes are surrounded by wildlife, nature trails and picturesque spots that are perfect for setting out a picnic blanket and giving the classic novel a re-read.

Lost Baggage Finds A Home On New Reality Series

baggageWhen we think of travel baggage, we often think of fees, checkins, carry-ons, overhead storage and the hope that it arrives with us at our final destination. We watch video of baggage handlers misbehaving at work and wonder why we pay so much to check it. When soldiers returning from war are charged extra for it, we’re outraged. But what about when baggage goes missing? It’s a topic that is often infuriating and sometimes mysterious.

On the Travel Channel’s new reality series “Baggage Battles,” we get a peek behind the scenes into the world of auction specialists earning a living off bidding, buying and reselling lost luggage.

Sort of along the lines of A & E’s Storage Wars, they travel to different airport auctions around the world where we see what happens to the 70,000 pieces of luggage that go unclaimed or get lost every year.

“Baggage Battles” features three teams of auction specialists that compete to see who buys baggage filled with valuable treasure or worthless junk.

  • Laurence and Sally Martin, a married couple from California has been in the antique business for over 20 years.
  • Mark Meyer, 25, still lives at home with his parents and is a young entrepreneur from Long Island, New York.
  • Billy Leroy, also from New York, was 25 when he bought a $200 painting and sold it for $18,000.

They visit more than airports too, stopping at customs auctions, police auctions and freight auctions bidding on seized merchandise in different venues.”With dozens of auctions to visit, thousands of bags to explore and millions of dollars at stake, these auction specialists need both skill and luck to hit the jackpot,” says the Travel Channel on the “Baggage Battles” website. “They don’t know if it’s junk or a jackpot until they win the bid and open the suitcase.”

Baggage Battles” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the Travel Channel.

[Flickr photo via Canolais]

Surf the City

When I started this story-before local grocery stores in New York City sold out of flashlights, batteries, and bottled water in anticipation of Irene-surfing in the Big Apple remained somewhat under the radar. In a city where sunbathing often means spreading a towel on a chunk of concrete pier off the West Side Highway, riding the waves seems an unlikely pursuit. And yet as storm hysteria swept the city, surfers took center stage.

Mayor Bloomberg gave a direct warning to New York’s surfing community on Saturday morning, warning them not to head into the water. The day before, the New York Daily News covered the surf scene at Rockaway Beach-the city’s only designated surfing area-as thrill seekers took advantage of a swelling sea and uncharacteristically large waves.

If hurricane Irene didn’t thrust local surfing into the spotlight, then certainly news of an upcoming pro surfing championship did. This is what initially sparked my curiosity. I sat down on the subway one day and saw a tidal wave looming above an elderly man’s head. Plastered to the wall of the downtown A train, there was a poster advertising the Quiksilver Pro New York surfing competition, which begins this weekend in Long Beach, NY. While the competing surfers will come from all over the world, the existence of a major competition nearby got me thinking, what does surf culture look like in NYC?

I started in SoHo where a shop on Crosby called Saturdays deals in coffee, clothing and surfboards. Of course, Saturdays isn’t only for surfers. Walk by on a weekday afternoon and you may see sales associates from nearby shops ducking in for a drink, or a group of chefs from the adjacent French Culinary Institute lounging on the bench outside. However, one surfer you will see there is co-owner Josh Rosen, who has been surfing for 20 years.I asked Josh what characterizes New York surf culture and he mentioned its less visual side. “It’s not as exterior in New York,” he said. “You don’t see cars with boards on top or surfers walking down the street in board shorts. A guy in a suit may be a surfer or a gal in a dress and heels heading to her PR job.” I realized this could be why the local surf scene has eluded me for so long. Another reason? Most New Yorkers are barely waking up by the time Josh and his friends are peeling off their wetsuits. They often meet at the shop at 4am, drive out to Rockaway and catch some waves before heading back to Manhattan so they can be at their desks at 9:30am.

Next, I hopped on the L train to check out another city surf shop, Mollusk, which sits near the quite un-surfable Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn. There I caught up with store manager Johnny Knapp, who further explained the qualities of a New York surfer. “We’ve got a tougher skin here,” he said. “In California they want the wave at the end of the street. We have to take cars and subways to get to the wave.”

Before stopping at Mollusk I had noticed a kitschy spot in Williamsburg called Surf Bar on North 6th Street. I couldn’t wait to ask Johnny about it and secretly hoped we’d head over there to dig our toes in the bar’s sandy floor (real sand…in the city!). But when I mentioned Surf Bar he only smiled and said, “Oh I’ve never stepped foot in there.” I then remembered that Josh Rosen had warned me about theme bars-they usually don’t draw the true surfing crowd. A better bet for a surf hangout, he said, is Epstein’s Bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

I got a taste for NY surfing’s more edgy side, when I chatted with Epstein’s owner, Pat Conlon. “Pat the Rat,” as he was called growing up (he was a water rat from the beginning), was born and raised in Rockaway. When I asked if he’d be checking out the Quiksilver competition this weekend, he said, “Sure, I’ll be there. But I don’t stand in line, I don’t sit in the cheap seats, and I don’t pay for shit.”

After we cleared up his seating preference and established that I’m not a hipster (Pat is not a big fan, so of course I vehemently denied it), we got to talking about surfing in Rockaway. “It’s a mixed bag of nuts,” he said. “Visitors from all over the world surf there-men, women, old and young.” And like Johnny Knapp, Pat took a certain amount of pride in the toughness of a Rockaway surfer. “I’ve earned it,” he said. “I’ve been out there in the winter with Vaseline on my face so that it doesn’t freeze.”

I had to see Rockaway for myself, so that weekend I took the A train from Manhattan. Immediately I gained appreciation for guys like Pat who surf year round because I couldn’t even get my Manhattan friends to venture out on a sunny day in August, let alone in the dead of winter. “Rockaway? It’s too far. And what if it rains?” one friend moaned. So, I went alone. The trip to the Beach 90th St. stop was actually a relaxing one on a Sunday morning. It took just over an hour and the whole time I thought of a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in which he travels all over the country, but always pines for “a Sunday subway for some Far Rockaway of the heart.”

At the Rockaway Boulevard stop two guys carrying boards got on and a gaggle of girls squealed excitedly, “Oh my god! Surfers!” I followed the guys off and watched them maneuver their boards through the subway turnstile-definitely not a skill required for surfing in Hawaii.

Once I got to Rockaway Beach, the surf scene became very apparent, very quickly. On my way to the boardwalk I passed Boarders Surf and Skate Shop where you can store your board and take a shower before jumping on the subway. The shop also rents boards ($35 for a half day or $50 for full day) and can arrange for a lesson.

On the boardwalk I discovered plenty of good bites for surfers looking to refuel-arepas at Caracas Rockaway, fish tacos at Rockaway Taco, and Thai food at Ode to the Elephants. There’s also Thai Rock just up the street from the boardwalk on 92nd. The restaurant sits on Jamaica Bay and has live music at night. But a Rockaway must, according to Pat Conlon, is a frozen piña colada with a floater of rum on top at Connolly’s on 95th Street.

Finally, I made it out to the beach to see the main attraction-the surfers. When I saw the dozens of heads rhythmically bobbing in the water and the artistic turns of a surfer riding a wave, I was surprised to find the sport as graceful as dance performances I’ve scene at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. There was no doubt in my mind-surf culture is alive and well and very much a part of NYC.

The Quiksilver Pro New York competition takes place September 1-15 in Long Beach, NY.

[flickr image via jarito]

Stepping Outside of Manhattan for a Long Island Experience

For the urbane traveler, New York City is thought to be the apogee of culture and excitement. But during late summer and early fall, everyone – even visitors – could use a respite from the sweaty, crowded, concrete jungle. And there’s no better place to visit than the city’s equally alluring neighbor, Long Island.

One of Long Island’s greatest draws is its southern shoreline. The best place to find roaring swells and superb fishing is at the end of the South Fork in Montauk. If you’re a beachgoer who prefers sun to surf, Montauk offers that, too. Check out the Montauk Point Lighthouse, which looks like a precarious beacon sitting at the end of the world. There are plenty of rooms in Montauk, but if you’re a camper, Hither Hills Campground puts you closer to the beach than any oceanfront property. While you’re there, stop for a savory bowl of New England clam chowder at the isolated restaurant Lunch in Amagansett. Also on the menu is the lobster roll, the now ubiquitous sandwich that Lunch claims to have originated. (Traveler beware: Before Labor Day, accommodations, even campsites, are hard to find, and traffic on Friday or Saturday out to the South Fork can be nightmarish.)

If you want a blend of the island’s high-priced Hamptons and relaxed Montauk (and desire a much shorter ride from Manhattan), jump into your car or ride the Long Island Railroad to the ferry stations of Bay Shore, Sayville, or Patchogue and sail over to car-free Fire Island. (Thursday to Saturday, you can hydrate at Blue Point Brewery in Patchogue, just a few blocks from the train station.) On Fire Island, plum trees and tall grass grow wild and create an idyllic vibe. The beaches are pristine and wild deer roam the dunes. If a peaceful day is your goal, head to the sleepy villages of Kismet or Saltaire, but if you’re looking to party, make Ocean Beach your destination. For a repast in OB, have a bite at Island Mermaid, next to the ferry, and enjoy views across the expansive Great South Bay. Sip down your meal with Fire Island’s indigenous libation, rocket fuel-a hopped-up piña colada.

For the more adventurous traveler, skip the ferry ride and drive to Robert Moses State Park. Find parking at field 5 and bike east, one mile past the lighthouse, onto Fire Island. Though at first the path is pocked with rocks and sand traps, once you reach the threshold of residential Kismet there are easy-to-traverse concrete and boardwalk paths. (You can also walk into Kismet and rent a bike in town.) After enjoying the quiet beaches, continue riding to the end of Atlantique, just a few miles down, and walk the mile along the beach to OB. The village of OB doesn’t allow bike riding on weekends. Further east and accessible by water taxi, or by ferry from the mainland, is a verdant sunken forest at Sailors Haven that is worth exploring.Another beach option that is less than one hour from Manhattan is Long Beach. This year, during the first two weeks of September, Long Beach will host surfing’s World Tour. The one-million-dollar prize purse (the tour’s highest ever) is attracting the world’s best surfers for the East Coast’s first ever Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour event. The town, which has a population of about 33,000 people, will be bustling. Expect skate parks, BMX riding, music venues, and crowds that are expected to reach the tens of thousands. (If you visit before Labor Day, purchase the “Beach Getaway” package for $21 from the Long Island Railroad ticketing machine; this includes round-trip fare and bargain beach access.)

Long Island also has some beautiful parks that are perfect for families, birders, and romantics. On the North Shore are Caumsett, a historic state park in Huntington, and the densely wooded Welwyn Preserve in Glen Cove. If hiking is your forte, a moderately strenuous trail begins just behind the Cold Spring Harbor library. The 26-mile adventure (though even trekking the first few miles is sufficient) makes you feel like you’re upstate.

The pearl of Long Island, however, is further along the North Shore: Wine country. Once dominated by potato fields, the North Fork has been transformed into vineyards and is ideal for winemaking thanks to its loamy soil, generous sunlight, and location between the sound and bay, which provides both natural irrigation and winds that dry the vines.

There are two roads on the northern prong that offer visitors access to the nearly 50 winemakers of Long Island: Routes 48 and 25. You’ll have a fine time traveling both, but my top five tasting rooms sit on or near to 48. If 9 a.m., midweek isn’t too early for you, Macari hosts the region’s first tasting and showcases beautiful views of its vineyard in the Mattituck Hills. Their Bergen Road is a beautiful red blend. Stop next at the island’s founding vineyard, Castello di Borghese (open at 10 a.m., a good hour before the rest). On Thursday and Sunday, tour with the owner, and an actual Italian prince, Marco Borghese. Try their pinot noir — they are one of only three vineyards in the region that attempt growing this finicky grape.

The most oddly situated tasting room is Waters Crest. Jim Waters, a retired fireman and 9/11 hero, took his garage-honed grape-stomping skills and opened his tasting room in a shopping center along Route 48. Though it’s hard to picture a quality tasting room in a strip mall, his whites and reds are unrivaled in the region. Waters also conducts Vine University, a two-day winemaking experience for those interested in learning the art. (The next one is September 10th and 11th.)

After leaving the shopping center, turn down Peconic Lane and look for a quaint yellow storefront just before the railroad crossing. This small shop is The Winemaker’s Studio, a newly opened tasting room. Winemaker Anthony Nappa breaks rules with his white pinot noir, which is typically a red wine, and his 2010 earthy Bordo, a cabernet franc that was released rebelliously early. His tastes are unique and his prices are unbeatable. The Winemaker’s Studio includes three other permanent winemakers-including John Leo, whose Family Red is superb-and Nappa also features a rotating list of noteworthy “weird” wines.

Another must-sip is Sparkling Pointe, the only winery in the state that produces purely sparkling wine. Their winemaker, born just outside of the gates of Champagne, France, has brought that acclaimed style to this Brazilian-themed, ultra-modern tasting room. Join them Friday nights for Brazilian dancing.

For breakfast or lunch, stop at Erik’s on 48. And for dinner head into Greenport or try one of the restaurants along 25. (If you find yourself on Route 25 with some extra time to drink, The Old Field Vineyards offers tastings in a rustic setting. You can also stop in at Bedell Cellars and afterward take your receipt to their sister winery up the road at Corey Creek for a free tasting.)

There’s no better time to visit the wine region than harvest season, which begins in late September. This year also happens to be an excellent time to responsibly tipple your way around the North Fork. 2007 and 2010 were the best harvests the region has ever seen, thanks to those years’ hot, dry summers. The 2007 reds are still available and the newly released 2010 whites are a prime vintage.

For accommodations, try the brand new Cedar House on Sound, which has billiards in the great room and solar panels on the roof, or Shinn Estate. Both are tranquil B&Bs run by winemakers, which means the juice keeps flowing.

If you’re traveling with kids, fear not. While you’re wining, abate the whining with stop-offs at the myriad pick-your-own apple, pumpkin, and berry patches in the area. Most of the family farms here have everything from hayrides to candy apples. Nearby, there’s shopping at the Tanger Outlet Center and fun can be had at the aquarium or at Splish Splash water park, until Labor Day.

Whether it’s beaches, parks, farms, or vineyards, there’s something for all on the island that dwarfs Manhattan.

[flickr images via Benson Kua and aka Kath]

NYC snow might not stop until mid-May, according to meteorologist

Despite the recent spring snow in NYC, New Yorkers are keeping their heads up, looking forward to warm weather. But one meteorologist is advising New Yorkers not to get their hopes up too soon.

“This recent snowfall may not be the last spring snow shower we see in New York”, says meteorologist, Harvey Cline. Cline has spent nearly the last decade studying the notorious nor’easters. As a lifelong resident of New York City, Cline has devoted his recent years to understanding patterns related to these unique storms so that he, and other meteorologists, can better predict when the storms will hit.

“I have suspicions, which colleagues of mine have supported, that we may see two or possibly three more snow storms in New York before the snow lets up for this season”, says Cline. “I’m not predicting any North American Blizzard of 2006”, assured Cline, “but I think we might see snow within New York City limits as late as mid-May”. I had a chance to discuss the disappointing prediction with some New York residents. The responses I received were varied.

“This is awful, just dreadfully awful”, commented Regina Landers, a 35 year old ice cream shop owner in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “My business depends on warm weather. Nobody wants to come out to my ice cream shop, or any ice cream shop at that, when it’s snowing. I mean, it’s really not funny. My livelihood depends on this, it really does”.

Landers isn’t the only one in this position. In fact, most people in the city seem to be squirming under the pressure of this news. Beer garden bartenders, Botanic Garden landscape artists, Coney Island lifeguards, Fire Island fire dancers, and even regular people living in New York suffer when winter overstays its welcome.

“My family has suffered enough”, said Michael Zito, a 48 year old father of three. Zito recently purchased a home in Jamaica, Queens and he’s unhappy with Bloomberg’s inability to control these spring snow storms. “This is taxing on my home”, said an angered Zito. “It’s hard on my pipes, my roof, on everything. But does the city care? No, ma’am. They don’t care about little ol’ me”.

In contrast to Landers and Zito, some New Yorkers don’t like it hot. Mira Petrov, 19, came to the States from Moscow with her family 5 years ago so that she could pursue her modeling career. Petrov says the warm weather doesn’t “help” her ambitions and that’s she’s happy to have more cold weather than usual this year.

“My love for fashion revolves around clothing. If the sun is always out, why wear clothing? There’s no need for it”, says Petrov, clearly annoyed by those who are annoyed with the spring snow news. “Summer apparel is much more revealing than winter and spring apparel. Think about it. What does a lady wear? A lady wears gorgeous furs and complex layers”, remarked the girl.

I must have seemed dubious because she quickly neutralized her stance in saying, “Now I don’t want it to snow all summer. It would be nice if we have a few months of weather in the 50’s and 60’s, but anything hotter than that is just unnecessary”.

Meanwhile, NYC’s hip are considering other cities.

“It’s not that I don’t love New York”, said Megan Price of Williamsburg, but originally of Akron, Ohio. “But I’m pretty sure I could wait tables at a cool raw food joint in Austin and not be so miserable half of the year”.

John Mark is a painter based out of Long Island City. He’s been in New York for over a decade now and this spring snow prediction seems to be convincing him to “finally” leave.

“Living in NYC seemed so essential 11 years ago”, he explains. “Before Etsy, I mean. But now I have an Etsy and I sell my art on there and quite honestly, I sell much more on Etsy than I ever did in Union Square. And I mean, I could sell to these customers from everywhere. I’m actually really confused about why I’m paying New York rent…”, he trailed off.

“I guess I’ll just stock up on groceries and hole up in my studio”, Mark continued. “And I’ll try to stay positive. The snowflakes here are really gorgeous when they’re falling. Snow in New York is beautiful. Until it hits the ground”.

So brace yourselves, New Yorkers. If there’s any such thing as karma in any form whatsoever at all, you will probably be rewarded for your ongoing hard work despite the dismal weather with a few decent months this summer.