YouTube Sensation: Real Actors Read Yelp

Possibly, I’ve been living under a rock, but I just discovered the hilarious YouTube series “Real Actors Read Yelp,” the brainchild of Gotta Kid to Feed Productions.

Broadway thespians and television bit players provide heart-wrenching (and sometimes downright terrifying) enactments of real reviews from across the country. There’s everything from the Times Square Olive Garden (“The waitresses-slash-waiters smile, and seem … nice, but it feels like they’re doing it just to increase their tips.”) to Crazy Horse Gentleman’s Club (“I’ve never been impressed with the dancers. They either look like they just had a kid, or they’re obviously on drugs.”).

It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I’m partial to this disembowelment of a PF Chang’s, as performed by Tony Award-winner Greg Hildreth.


An Exclusive Look At The View From America’s Tallest Hotel Building

Last year, Marriott International made waves with the announcement that its latest New York City property would be the tallest stand-alone hotel building in Manhattan. But now, about 17 months into construction, it has become clear that the new Nobutaka Ashihara-designed skyscraper will not just be the city’s tallest hotel, but the tallest stand-alone hotel building in the entire United States.

The new property, located at 1717 Broadway and 54th Street, consists of 68 stories extending nearly 753 feet into the midtown Manhattan skyline. It will house the new Courtyard by Marriott-Central Park on floors six through 32 and the new Residence Inn by Marriott-Central Park on floors 36 through 64. Earlier this week, we were able to get a sneak peek at the construction of the new property, including the jaw-dropping, 360-degree view from the top.

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At elevations that high, the city is quite literally at your feet. To the west, you can see straight across the Hudson River to New Jersey. To the south, you have the heart of midtown Manhattan, including a clear view of Times Square, and to the east, you can look down at iconic structures like Carnegie Hall and the Hearst Tower. Northbound, you can see the whole of Central Park spread straight up through the tip of Manhattan. It’s a sight that will take your breath away (if your breath wasn’t already suffering from the high altitude).On the bottom chunk of the building, the Courtyard will contain 378 rooms, each providing the brand’s trademark “refreshing business” environment to help guests stay connected, productive and balanced. Up top, the 261 Residence Inn suites will provide comfort to guests on longer stays, offering full kitchens and home-style comforts. The 34th floor will house a shared fitness center, while common spaces, restaurants and retail space will take up the five-floor “pillar” of the building.

The building owners, Granite Broadway Development, and building contractor, CNY Builders, will celebrate the completion of the skyscraper’s structure this morning with a commemorative topping out ceremony, followed by the hauling of the final bucket of concrete to the top floor. From here, contractors will work on building out the interior of the hotel to Marriott specifications. An opening is slated for the end of 2013.

Classic Travel Writing: Jack Kerouac’s ‘Lonesome Traveler’

Jack KerouacWhile blogs take up most of my travel reading these days, every now and then I like to dip into an old classic. So on a recent flight to Washington DC to attend the Gadling bloggers summit, I read “Lonesome Traveler by Jack Kerouac.

This slim volume contains eight stream-of-consciousness essays in the style you’d expect from one of the leaders of the Beat Generation. For example, the author tells a friend:

“Deni the reason I followed the ship all the way 3,200 miles from Staten Island to goddam Pedro is not only because I wanta get on and be seen going around the world and have myself a ball in Port Swettenham and pick up on gangee in Bombay and find the sleepers and the fluteplayers in filthy Karachi and start revolutions of my own in the Cairo Casbah and make it from Marseilles to the other side, but because of you, because, the things we used to do, where, I have a hell of a good time with you Den, there’s no two ways about. . .I never have any money that I admit, I already owe you sixty for the bus fare, but you must admit I try. . .I’m sorry that I don’t have any money ever, but you know I tried with you, that time. . .well gaddam, wa ahoo, shit, I want to get drunk tonight.”

When you have a monologue like that, you know you’re in Kerouac territory. The posts range from his time hanging out with William S. Burroughs in Tangier to his jobs as a fire watcher and on trains and boats.

Sometimes the best travel writing is that which takes you back to a place you love, in my case old New York City before its seedy heart was cleaned up and dulled. Kerouac takes us on a tour of all the crazy Times Square spots where the Beats used to hang out while a cavalcade of oddballs passes by. Through all this blur of activity Kerouac wonders, “Why does Times Square feel like a big room?”

Wow, yeah! Times Square does feel like a big room, even fifty years later when I hung out there. That broad open space enclosed by four walls of skyscrapers with all the people coming and going has a strange homey, interior feel to it. A good travel writer can put into words what you’ve always felt about a place.

And Kerouac is a damned good travel writer. “Lonesome Traveler” is filled with quotable one-liners about booze, sex, solitude, trusting strangers, nature and just about everything else. The one that perhaps best sums up the Beat mentality is actually by Gregory Corso, who in the New York sequence says, “Standing on the street corner waiting for no one is Power.”

Not a bad summary of the attractions of travel.

Biking the car-less streets of New York City after Hurricane Irene

I’ve suddenly found myself stuck in New York City after my 3-day Rome trip canceled. Watching the news last night, it looked like Manhattan would be without power and struggling even to survive the ‘storm of a lifetime’ on Saturday.

Instead, after Hurricane Irene passed through the city earlier this morning there was an erie calm. As I woke up, I wondered if we were in the eye of the storm.

It turns out, Irene may have some strong winds on the back side, but for now, a little fun could be had by biking through the empty streets of the city.

Here’s what I found at 5th Avenue, Central Park, Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, the U.N. Building the Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge and the East River. Wide open streets and unencumbered riding! A video is the best way for me to describe the morning:


There was a atmosphere in the city today. One biker told me he saw people playing Wiffle Ball in Times Square. Tourists, with nothing else to do, gathered on Broadway, umbrellas in hand, just to look at the streets.


New York is an amazing city, but after a snow storm or situation like we had today, the break in monotonous city life offers a chance look around them and see just how great this place is.

I thought I’d had enough of Irene after experiencing it from the air, but today Irene brought many of us a pleasant surprise, and some time to reflect on how thankful we are that it wasn’t worse.

Marriott Renaissance New York Times Square: Manhattan’s hidden hotel treasure

There’s a lot to love about Times Square. The bright lights of Broadway, the scrolling marquees, endless restaurants and bars, TKTS booth and on any given occasion, a live street performance. Times Square is the epicenter of New York – the convergence of everything – the mecca of Manhattan.

Tourists come in droves, book Times Square hotels and spend the majority of their time walking Broadway and 7th, snapping photos and looking for anyone of the morning talk show hosts on their way to Rockefeller Center. Those of us in the know, though, know to stay elsewhere. Times Square can be chaotic to the nth degree and at the end of the night, when even you have to get some shut eye in the city that never sleeps, the last thing you want are blinking lights from the billboard across the street shining through your hotel room window. When I booked a last-minute at a Time Square hotel I was admittedly hesitant. My hesitation, however, quickly turned to eagerness when I walked into the Renaissance New York Times Square.

Located in the heart of Times Square, this New York hotel is, quite literally, in the middle of it all. At the corner of 7th and W. 48th Street, and one block from Broadway, the hotel is in the perfect location for walking to 5th Avenue, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall and the subway. The best part? You’d never know you were staying in Time Square.

Check-in and Lobby

If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss the entrance to the hotel. The glass doors are hidden under an awning that helps shade the hotel from the bright lights of Times Square. Note your surroundings: the famous M&M store is right next door and thanks to the giant green M&M on 48th street, it’s hard to miss your mark. This hidden element, however, is the part of the allure of the Renaissance Times Square. Walking through the glass doors is a retreat from the chaos of the streets.

The first floor entrance is dimly lit to help level the mood and a quick chat with the check-in desk will have you on your way up to the official ‘lobby’ level. The lobby of this hotel is part jazz club, part business conference room. The lobby was recently redone to appeal to various personalities, but with a common theme of serenity. The lounge area is set in dark wood with dark blue, purple and brown furniture throughout. There are alcoves (dubbed the “technology niche”) with computers for those who want to work on the hotel’s free WiFi system, or you can plug in at the lobby’s workstation — a long brown table with outlets at each chair, positioned perfectly across from the lobby bar and in front of a large flat-screen TV.

Order from the bar menu or just relax with a cup of coffee and your laptop. A blend of funk, jazz and pop music rotate over the sound system throughout the day, providing a mellow vibe for visitors.The Rooms

The 310 guest rooms are spread throughout 26 floors of the building. I slid my key into room 1903 and entered the hotel room overlooking the giant billboard of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ in Times Square.

The guest rooms are available with king-sized or two double beds. Complimentary coffee an tea is available and the mini-bar is stocked with snacks (candy, peanuts and Power Bars) and select liquors. WiFi is available in all rooms for a fee ($16.95 a day), or free of charge if you’re a Marriott or Ritz-Carlton Platinum rewards member.

Beds feature Revive bedding and organic Aveda products are available in the bathrooms. The decor is simple and understated – dark wood with gold and blue accents – but let’s be honest, you’re not in New York to spend time in your hotel room. The best part? All rooms are soundproof, which means the hustle and bustle of Times Square remains on the street, and not as background noise in your room.

There’s no turn-down service at the hotel, but on occasion you’ll come back to your room and find a few chocolates on the pillow.

Dining

With all the dining options in New York it’s hard to justify dining in the hotel, but thanks to the renovations that included the opening of R Lounge at Two Times Square and a partnership with Blue Ribbon Restaurants, it’s no shame to hang in the hotel for dinner and drinks one night.

R Lounge boasts panoramic views of Times Square and the Broadway theater district, and features unique offerings from Blue Ribbon and a custom created menu from the hotel chef (I highly suggest the tempura green beans, french onion soup, burgers and calamari). A perfect start to your New York night can start with a martini or glass of wine in R Lounge before hitting the NYC scene. Be careful, though, because the lounge has a way of sucking you in. If you didn’t get tickets to a Broadway show, you can be sure you’ll see plenty of sights from one of the window seats at R Lounge.

In addition to the bar area, the VIVID lounge is open daily for breakfast serving a buffet or a la carte menu. One thing to note:
The hotel doesn’t have a concierge level, but rewards members can enjoy free continental breakfasts in R Lounge in the morning.

Amenities

While I didn’t take advantage of the amenities, the hotel does offer a fitness center and boardroom facilities. A concierge is on duty 24 hours a day to help with show tickets, transportation or dinner reservations.

The Bottom Line

As far as Marriott’s go, this hotel has a lot of soul. While the guest rooms could use a bit of a touch up, the renovations the hotel made to the check-in, lobby and restaurant areas far outweigh the need for a fresh coat of paint in the rooms (though we suspect that’s coming soon). This little hotel on 48th Street is nothing short of a hidden gem – a secret hideaway from the chaos and commotion of Times Square, but a perfection location for New York visitors who want to be in the heart of it all.