Saturday, September 13, 2008

Queens Of The Roller Derby

I grew up watching roller derby on television. You have to be of a certain, ahem, age to appreciate how big it was. First televised in the late 1940's it exploded in the 1960's when the Bay City Bombers were televised live in San Francisco and the shows were syndicated and broadcast in another 120 cities. Luckily, Minneapolis was one of them.

I hadn't really thought that much about Roller Derby for years. It has pretty much faded into history, but for awhile it was the professional wrestling of its day. Scripted mayhem, long simmering feuds, full-out fist fights, thrilling come-from-behind victories with the Bay City Bombers usually prevailing, often over their arch-rivals the New York Chiefs. Ah, those were the days, my friends.

Babe Bomber Joanie Weston In Action

Much has changed since those halcyon days of yore. Although there has been a resurgence in Roller Derby, it is now a different animal altogether. First and foremost, the track is now flat and lightly padded, not banked and hard. This slows things down considerably. Secondly, the railings are gone. This would be like wrestling without the ropes. And that leads to the last difference, it is now largely amateur, not professional. Thinks amateur wrestling (no ropes) compared to professional wrestling. Amateur wrestling is, without a doubt, more authentic, but decidedly less entertaining.

Still, it is a lot of fun and you get plenty of bang for your buck. Thirty bucks for VIP tickets that put you, literally, inches from the action. You need quick reflexes to sit in this section. And the event was a sell-out with turn-away crowds at the door. Granted, it was in the basement of Hunter College on their basketball court, capacity 1,250. Still though...

Playing To A Packed House

Tonight's match was between the Manhattan Mayhem, in the orange, and the Brooklyn Bombshells, in the blue.

Go Blue

Trash Talking, Or Making Dinner Plans?

My Girls Cruising By

I liked the names the girls had selected for themselves.

Getting Creative

My favorite was probably Surly Temple.

Ah, but how does this thing work? Well, you have two teams and each can have a maximum of five skaters on the rink at one time. Each team has a pivot, who skates at the front of the pack and controls the speed. They also are the last line of defense against the opposing jammer and, in certain circumstances can become the jammer.

The jammer is the one who scores the points. They start 20 feet behind the rear of the pack at a dead start. The jammer has to skate through the entire pack one time and then lap the pack before she can begin to score points. She receives one point for each skater on the opposite team that she passes.

The blockers work with the pivot to help their jammer move through the pack and, at the same time, prevent the opposing jammer from doing so.

The jammer is identified by a cloth helmet cover with a star on each side. The pivot wears a striped helmet cover. A jammer can pass her helmet cover to her pivot if she gets stuck in the pack and the pivot then becomes the jammer.

Each match lasts 60 minutes, either three 20 minute periods or two 30 minute periods. Each period is made up of as many two minute jams as you can get in. Each team has just 30 seconds to line up for the next jam once a jam ends. A jam ends after two minutes or when the lead jammer calls it off.

The lead jammer is the first jammer to get through the pack. A referee will identify the lead jammer with one short whistle blast and by pointing to the jammer.

Simple, huh? Well it is entertaining and the action is certainly fast. There are more subtleties involving penalties, whether or not the lead jammer can pass their helmet cover to the pivot, and who knows what else. I basically had no clue as to what was going on though, and the scoring was always a mystery to me.

I do know that my beloved Brooklyn Bombshells got hammered, 146 to 91. I had the dubious pleasure of watching the Mayhem set two records, though. Team Captain Sweet Sherry Pie (got to love the names) scored a league record 20 points in one jam and Em Dash set a new team record by scoring 56 points in the match.

Halftime entertainment was also a blast of the past. Hula Hoops. Ah, the memories those bring back.

The 1960's Revisited

And, of course, you had the dance team.

Shake Your Booty

And cheerleaders, you got to have cheerleaders.

Not Exactly The Dallas Cheerleaders

All and all it was a fun night in a 1960's kind of way. I will have to say though, there were a lot of real fans in the stands. They seemed to know the players and obviously followed the teams. The crowd seemed to be split between Mayhem and Bombshells fans but it was kind of hard to tell which were which. There isn't much, if any, team specific sports gear available. Just generic Gotham Girls Roller Derby stuff. I see a real business opportunity here.

GoGo BaiBai

Got a lot on my plate today: shopping for ribs for tomorrow's indoor tailgate party, mixing up a batch of my dry rub, and a street fair down by where I saw Spider John Koerner a few weeks ago. I thought I would give you a quick sneak peek at my next post about my night at the Gotham Girls Roller Derby, though.

Jammer GoGo BaiBai Going Bye Bye

And what is a jammer, you might ask? Well, more on that next time when you will learn all about jams, jammers, pivots and blockers and how a pivot can become a jammer during a jam.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Queen Is King

Tucked away on busy Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn is a truly great Italian restaurant, one of the best in Brooklyn, and in all of New York City, in my humble opinion.

Unexpected Quality In An Unexpected Place

If you didn't know better you might easily walk right by this place, but it is well worth a closer look.

A Closer Look

Originally opened in 1958 by the late Chef Anthony Vitiello, it is now run by his son's Pasquino and Vincent. When I first moved to Brooklyn about 25 years ago it was located about a block away sandwiched between a real dive bar, Juilio's II (think bartender behind Plexiglas) and an abandoned porno theater. It was a classic Italian restaurant, dark wood, low lights, the real deal. When the block was redeveloped with a Barnes and Noble bookstore and a multiplex movie theater they relocated and redecorated with a more modern, fern-bar look.

No More Dark Wood

At first I was not overly impressed. However, the food remained the same, outstanding.

There is a small bar with only four chairs, mostly a service bar but before the place gets too crowded in the evening it is a pleasant enough spot to sit and have a drink.

Small, But Nice

The dining area opens up in the back so it is larger than it looks in the picture above. We got there early so we pretty much had our choice of seats and opted to sit up front by the windows.

A Window Seat

From here we could just sit and watch the world walk by.

Watching The World Walk By

If you squinted you could even imagine that you could see the Manhattan skyline.

You Have To Squint Really Hard Though

The squinting works much better after several cocktails. And they do turn out really good cocktails here. I like to start off with either a Bombay Martini, up with a twist or a Manhattan. They never fail to deliver a well-built one, icy cold.

My Pre-Dinner Libation

They are quick to bring you a bread plate that has a nice selection of freshly made bread and bread sticks. The bread sticks are sprinkled with fennel and they always make me think of my days living in the North End of Boston.

Bringing Back The Memories

You may remember me raving about the grilled octopus appetizer that they serve here. Simply delicious and one of my favorites. They also serve a dynamite steak, easily as good as you get at most steak houses and for about half the price. This trip though, because we got there early, we opted for the $24.99 prix fixe dinner. Truly a bargain, and not just something they throw together as some kind of an early-bird special.

Well Worth An Occasional Early Dinner

I started with the green beans and beets served with little dollops of Gorgonzola cheese and a couple of olives. It was nicely plated and looked even better before I ate a couple of the beets.

Crisp And Fresh

The Mysterious Chinese Woman started out with the arugula salad, her usual first course. She then followed that up with the Filet of Sole, lightly crusted with bread crumbs and grilled with fresh herbs.

Looking Good And Tasting Just As Good

I opted for the Scallopine Of Pork sauteed with rosemary and served with homemade sausage.

Simply Delicious

As you can see, the portions are more than adequate and everything is very flavorful. Even the potato croquettes that come with them are delicious here and not just something thrown on the plate for filler. I will sometimes eat them the next day if we take home a doggy bag

Potato On A Stick, Er, Fork

Okay, that was just for the camera. I put it back on my plate and used good table manners to actually eat it.

We both finished our meal with the Ricotta Cheesecake served with two fresh fruit sauces. Again, it was beautifully plated and delicious. Kiwi fruit and strawberry sauces were a perfect complement to the not overly sweet cheesecake.

Looks Good Enough To Eat

I always like to finish off my meal with an espresso and a Strega or two. A lot of places do not carry Strega, a traditional Italian after dinner drink that is somewhat like Sambuca, but not nearly as sweet. Strega is Italian for Witch

Bar Man And The Witch

Strega is an herbal liquor with over 70 different herbs including fennel that gives it the licorice flavor and safron that gives it the yellowish color. It has been around since 1860 weighs in at 80 proof, the same as most whiskys these days. Somehow it goes down much easier though, so you might want to take it easy. Something Bar Man often fails to do.

If you are ever in the neighborhood you owe it to yourself to stop in at Queen for a truly delicious Italian meal. The service is also very attentive and friendly and, as mentioned, the drinks are well-built. They have a decent wine list as well, but I am always satisfied with their house Chianti and The Mysterious Chinese Woman is more than happy with one of their house whites.

Even if you are not in the neighborhood, this restaurant is well worth seeking out. It is easily reached by subway, just being a couple blocks away from more lines then you can shake a stick at.

Although Queen wasn't very crowded when we first got there because it was quite early, by the time we left it had packed up pretty well.

The Crowd Rolled In

They also do a real nice lunch business, especially on Monday through Friday.

Smith Street is considered to be Brooklyn's restaurant row these days, but Queen alone puts Court Street in close competition.

Queen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cha Cha's Old Tyme Burleque

Well, at long last we get to Cha Cha's. It had already been a fairly long day what with beers on Beer Island while listening to Rockabilly and then a cocktail and fish fingers at Footprints before we finally headed back to the seaside and Cha Cha's. And the crowd was already forming for the entertainment within.

Crowding In At Cha Cha's
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Luckily, we actually managed to find seats at a table relatively close to the stage and were soon joined by a friend of ours. She was just there to watch, not to perform.

The Mysterious Chinese Woman, Ellen, And Bar Man
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The Mysterious Chinese Woman had to be restrained a few times. I kept reminding her that she had left her tassels at home.

The evening started with more Rockabilly music and the crowd was really getting into it.

Rocking To Rockabilly
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And, as promised, there were a variety of sideshow performances. Everything from fire eating to laying on a bed of nails.

And, Of Course, Toilet Plunger Swallowing
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Needless to say there was also plenty of burlesque. Pretty mild stuff by today's standards, but reminiscent of the performances of old.

More Fun Than Flesh

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Did Someone Order A Pizza?
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More Than You Ordered, Or Less
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It was a rollicking good time that went on for who knows how long. But after a few more beers and a couple of shots everything was beginning to look a bit bleary to me.

Oh, Pretty Colors And Bright Lights
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I wobbled on out and took one last look back before taking the subway home.

That Last Look Back

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Nobody knows what lies in store for Coney Island in the years to come. In typical New York fashion things end up in a state of limbo for years. The developers and the city can't seem to agree on what they want to do and in the meantime lots sit vacant and long-time attractions like Astroland shut down because of no guarantee of a lease. And nobody is going to invest significant money in upkeep to their establishment because of the possibility that they will be closed down. It is really sad. All the promises for a better tomorrow and the reality is that things just start going to hell.

Sadly, it isn't just Coney Island. The big promises for a new basketball arena in downtown Brooklyn with new housing and modern office buildings. Just lovely pictures. The reality; vacant lots and deserted buildings. The new Brooklyn Bridge Park, after years of promises and more lovely pictures and scale models, it is just fenced off crumbling piers. The big push for a new Jets stadium on the west side of Manhattan, still just railroad yards and the Jets gave up and stayed in New Jersey. The much vaunted redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, just a hole in the ground seven years later. Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick On A Pig

Don't know whether to laugh or cry:

At a campaign event in Virginia, Obama mocked McCain and his running mate for their effort to co-opt his campaign's "change" mantra."

"You can put lipstick on a pig," Obama said as the crowd cheered. "It's still a pig."

"You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still gonna stink."

Though Obama prefaced the "lipstick" jab by referring to the GOP ticket's political positions, Republicans charged it was a thinly disguised slam on Palin, who famously described herself as a hard-charging hockey mom during her GOP convention speech last week.

Personally, I would have thought they would have been more insulted by the reference to an old fish still stinking.

Come to think of it, if I was Sarah Palin I would be most offended by the Republicans thinking that a comment about putting lipstick on a pig somehow referred to her.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Rockabilly Riot

Well, I had a riot anyway. Cha Cha's, rivaled only by Ruby's Bar & Grill as a contender for best dive bar on a beach, sponsored a Rockabilly festival out at Coney Island not too long ago. The location was Beer Island that I often, mistakenly, refer to as Beer Beach. Personally, I think Beer Beach sounds better. The alliteration and all.

Although Beer Island just has a small shack where you can get your beer, it offers up an amazing selection of them, domestic and imported.

More Than Meets The Eye

I grabbed a Brooklyn East India Pale Ale and made my way to an empty table up close to the bandstand. The bands hadn't started playing yet and the crowd was still sparse. The biggest problem was finding a table with an umbrella that actually opened. I guess, because it is late in the season, they aren't bothering to replace anything that is broken and just waiting to see if they will be back next year. I sure hope so, I really like this place.

Bar Man, Beer, Beach (or Island)

Soon the bands began and they were all pretty good, especially if you like this kind of music, which I do.

The singer from the group pictured above took his singing out onto the sand and after serenading the Mysterious Chinese Woman stayed to chat a bit.

The Mysterious Chinese Woman And Her Seranader

Bar Man really needs to take better notes because I don't remember the name of the group or this gentleman's name. The whole group was good and the saxophone player was outstanding. We did chat a bit though and I mentioned that I lived in Downtown Brooklyn and Hank's Saloon, that is not far from me, had Rockabilly music several nights a week. Wouldn't you know it, he said they would be playing there that evening. Small world.

Everyone had a great time and there was dancing in the sand by both the very young and the just young.

The Very Young

The Just Young

The group in the background of those pictures is, I believe, The Cocktail Shakers and they hail from Pittsburgh. Another really good group.

We had a fun time and the price was right. Because we got here before the music actually started admission was free. I think they were charging a whopping $5 after that. And they don't rip you to shreds for the beer either. I think just $5. They do have table service too and they have hot dogs, hamburgers, and some pretty decent barbecue.

We would have stayed longer but we were going to the Real Live Burlseque and Real Live Sideshow later and we wanted to stop at Footprints for a bite to eat beforehand. As we were heading to Footprints I passed what has to be about one of the worst ideas imaginable.

Would You Eat One?

Lord only knows how long the hot dogs in this machine have been there, but I suspect with Nathan's just down the block it doesn't turn over a lot of inventory.

The Only Place To Get A Hot Dog At Coney

I am not sure what the police were expecting, but they were out in force. And you don't want to mess with a mounted policeman and his horsie.

Which Way To The Merry-Go-Round, Officer?

I asked one of the policemen if they were expecting trouble or something and he said No, this was just usual crowd control procedure. Seemed like a bit of overkill to me, but, What do I know?. The crowds at Coney Island are only a quarter of what they were just two years ago. I don't know what they will be like next year after Astroland Amusement Park closes down. I am sure new rides will be brought in, but it just won't be the same. At least the Cyclone will remain. And Ruby's Bar & Grill will probably return. Cha Cha's is open year-round and I don't know if they are in the re-development footprint or not. Only time will tell.