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New York City is ready to dazzle visitors again

New York City felt like it was almost its bustling self again.

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New York City felt like it was almost its bustling self again as I walked through the streets enjoying the warm spring weather during a recent trip.

The city, like many others, is forever changed after more than two years of the COVID pandemic, but in true New York fashion, the Big Apple is coming back. It was my second trip within six months after about a two and a half year break.

New Yorkers rolled up their sleeves (more than 80% are vaccinated), masked up, and have done pretty much everything they can to get their groove back. However, COVID subvariants continue to emerge in the ongoing pandemic. Some venues are still enforcing proof of vaccination and masks. Face coverings are still required on all public transportation until further notice and in Broadway theaters at least until May 31.

Recently, COVID cases have been on the rise in New York due to the new highly contagious Omicron subvariant, BA.2.12.1. People planning to visit should check the city’s visitor site (under Basic Information) for the latest.

New York City Pride returns to an in-person march in Manhattan June 26. Photo: Courtesy Madison Voelkel/NYC Pride 

Some Broadway shows have canceled performances due to COVID. Other shows are taking place. New restaurants are opening, and reservations are harder to get than ever before. New museum exhibits are opening. Big events are coming back like New York Pride, which returns in-person June 26 with the theme “Unapologetically Us.”

“Our community has been through tremendous hardships over the past few years, beginning with the pandemic, and continuing with a reckoning with social justice, threats to our democracy, and more recently armed conflict overseas,” stated NYC Pride’s new executive director, Sandra Perez, in a March 25 news release. “Compounding these struggles is the onslaught of legislation around the country that directly targets LGBTQIA+ individuals.

“In spite of these challenges and attacks, we are here to tell the country and the world: we will not be erased,” Perez continued, stating that the community will stand together to face the attacks on the LGBTQ community across the country and around the world. “We will continue to love and live our truth and be our full and complete selves – and we are not going to apologize for it.”

NYC Pride board Co-Chair Sue Doster noted the importance of the annual celebration that attracts upward of two million people from across the United States and all over the world.

“We’re thrilled to be able to finally invite everyone back,” she stated.

Tourism officials said the city is rebounding.

“The city is as vibrant as ever,” said Chris Heywood, a gay man who’s executive vice president of global communication of NYC & Company, New York City’s destination marketing and convention and visitors bureau.

The pandemic did not completely stop New York from retrofitting, innovating, and building new hotels, spectacular sites, and opening new restaurants. 

“That’s the beauty about New York,” Heywood continued. “Resilience is really our middle name. People are going to encounter a city that is continuing to come back.”

New attractions

Some of the new things to see in New York are Summit One Vanderbilt, the Moynihan Train Hall, and Little Island, the latest park near the Chelsea Piers.

The city’s newest vantage point is at Summit One Vanderbilt. The Summit is a 65,000 square foot space at the top of the 93-story office and residential building at One Vanderbilt adjacent to Grand Central Station.

A new view of New York City from The Summit at One Vanderbilt. Photo: Heather Cassell

The observatory deck opened in October 2021. It is much more than the highest view (for the moment) of New York City; it’s an experience with a view. Each room is an art installation accentuating the feeling of being high in the sky or in the clouds. At the very top are Apres and the Summit Terrace, where my girlfriend and I enjoyed a cocktail while admiring New York’s sparkling skyline under the night sky.

Tickets to catch the sunset view cost about an extra $16. The Summit does not itemize what the extra amount is at checkout, but it’s for experiencing the Summit at the golden hour, the optimal time of day.

It wouldn’t be New York City without the many opportunities to see art. This spring and summer visitors can catch the 80th edition of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s “Biennial 2022: Quiet As It’s Kept,” which opened April 6. The two-floor exhibit brings together a survey of 63 American artists exploring the darkness and disruption of 2020. The title is a colloquial phrase taken from the late novelist Toni Morrison. The show runs through September 5.

Henri Mattise lovers can take in a rare exhibit of the French artist’s early works that formed modern art at the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Mattise: The Red Studio,” which opened May 1. The show runs through September 10.

The Brooklyn Museum is featuring “Andy Warhol: Revelation”, showing now through June 19.

Brooklyn Academy of Music is featuring the DanceAfrica Festival, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary through the end of this month.

I rarely leave New York without seeing at least one show on Broadway. Right now, it’s all about the classics and some new musicals (“Wicked,” “Chicago,” and “Funny Girl”) and plays (“Plaza Suite” and “To Kill A Mockingbird”).

Dining and drinking

Food draws my girlfriend and I to New York just as much as Broadway’s musicals. For this trip, I sought out restaurants that were old favorites that survived the pandemic, some that were reborn, and others that were new.

During the day we lunched at the fun, cheeky and very gay diner Cafeteria; a Chelsea neighborhood staple, Elmo; and famed chef and restaurateur David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar.

At night we hit the town enjoying dishes crafted by some of New York’s finest lesbian chefs. Chef and restaurateur duo Rita Sodi and Jody Williams’ beloved Via Carota lived up to the hype. You can’t go wrong with pasta, but this is exceptional pasta. I also dined at the culinary couple’s newest venture The Commerce Inn. It veers away from the chefs’ usual turf, French and Italian cuisine, exploring and modernizing American Shaker dishes that hit the mark. 

Lesbian executive chef Hillary Sterling crafted a distinctive Italian menu at Ci Siamo restaurateur Danny Meyer’s latest culinary venture. Lesbian executive chef Mary Attea at the Michelin-rated The Musket Room serves a revisioned world on your plate. There was no doubt that I wouldn’t enjoy chef and restaurateur Mark Strausman’s new restaurant Mark’s Off Madison, which has a warm atmosphere and incredible, flavorful comfort food. 

Two unique restaurants that might signal a shift in the queer culinary scene in New York are Tagmo and Hags. Both restaurants are queer-owned and -operated. They actively hire LGBTQ staff and are deeply involved in the community.

Restaurateurs chef Telly Justice, right, and sommelier Camille Lindsley, are about to open Hags, New York’s first-ever queer fine dining restaurant. Photo: Courtesy Hags

Queer chef Surbhi Sahni is the heart behind Tagmo, an Indian restaurant that opened in Seaport, a small shopping and dining center near One World Trade Center, in September 2021. Tagmo is not your average Indian restaurant. Dining there is a gastronomic adventure through India with all its diverse cuisines.

Queer chef and restaurateur Surbhi Sahni brings the world of India to New York at Tagmo restaurant in the Seaport neighborhood. Photo: Courtesy of Tagmo/Brittainy Newman

The much-anticipated Hags is targeted to open just ahead of Memorial Day weekend, May 25. The Lower Eastside restaurant aims to be the first upscale queer restaurant, according to business and life partners Telly Justice, a transgender woman, and Camille Lindsley, a queer woman.

New York’s nightlife isn’t quite what it used to be like yet. My girlfriend and I enjoyed early nightcaps at Tiny’s & The Bar Upstairs in Tribeca, the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, and Bar Veloce in Chelsea.

Village lesbian bar mainstays – Henrietta Hudson and Cubbyhole  – and Brooklyn’s Ginger’s Bar got makeovers during the pandemic and recently reopened. Catch roving lesbian events hosted by Dyke Beer and Dave’s Lesbian Bar on their websites or follow them on social media.

The boys are back in action from Midtown to Harlem with bars and nightclubs for every stripe in the rainbow flag. Check out Midtown’s swanky The Townhouse of New York. Head to the West Village’s Playhouse or get nostalgic at New York’s oldest gay bar Julius’ and the historic Stonewall Inn. Head uptown to Harlem for the last remaining Black-owned gay bar Alibi Lounge.

Where to stay

My girlfriend and I stayed at the Smyth Tribeca. The newly renovated modern 100-room hotel opened in September 2021. The hotel is comfortable, chic, and perfectly located on the corner of Chambers Street and West Broadway above the Westside’s 1 line. The subway line is a direct vein to Broadway, the Village, and many of New York’s most popular destinations.

Getting around

New York’s metro is going touchless with Omny, an app that allows riders to tag on and off the subway and buses with their smartphones and other smart devices. Riders can choose to use the Metro Card or the app to get around the city.

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Photos

PHOTOS: DCGFFL 25th Anniversary Party

Gay flag football league marks milestone at Penn Social

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The D.C. Gay Flag Football league held a party celebrating their 25th season at Penn Social on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) held a 25th season anniversary party at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. Proceeds from the event benefited the LGBTQ youth services organization SMYAL as well as the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Books

New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more

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(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

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Theater

Rupert Murdoch’s powers on full display in ‘Ink’

Media baron helped pave the way for Brexit, Prime Minister Thatcher

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Cody Nickell (Larry Lamb) and Andrew Rein (Rupert Murdoch) in ‘Ink’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Margot Schulman Photography)

‘Ink’
Through Sept. 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814
$46-$94
Roundhousetheatre.org

Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s loathsome traits are many, but his skills to succeed are undeniably numerous. 

In the first scenes of John Graham’s West End and Broadway hit drama “Ink,” an exciting year-long detail from the life of a burgeoning media baron, Murdoch’s powers of persuasion are on full display.

It’s 1969 London. Over dinner with editor Larry Lamb, a young Murdoch shares his plan to buy the Sun and rebrand the dying broadsheet, replacing the Daily Mirror as Britain’s best-selling tabloid. What’s more, he wants to do it in just one year with Lamb at the helm. 

Initially reluctant, Lamb becomes seduced by the idea of running a paper, something that’s always eluded him throughout his career, and something Murdoch, the outsider Australian, understands. Murdoch taunts him, “Not you. Not Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith, not the guy who didn’t get a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, who didn’t get a degree from anywhere. Not you.”

Still, Lamb, played convincingly by Cody Nickell in Round House Theatre’s stellar season-opener, a co-production with Olney Theatre Center, remains unsure. But Murdoch (a delightfully brash Andrew Rein) is undeterred, and seals the deal with a generous salary. 

Superbly staged by director Jason Loweth, “Ink” is riveting. Its exchanges between Lamb and Murdoch are a strikingly intimate glimpse into ambition involving an ostensibly average editor and a striving money man who doesn’t like people.  

Once on board, Lamb is trolling Fleet Street in search of his launch team, played marvelously by some mostly familiar actors. He makes his most important hire — news editor Brian McConnell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) — in a steam bath. The remainder of the Sun’s new masthead falls handily into place: Joyce Hopkirk (Kate Eastwood Norris) the women’s page editor whose forward thinking is marred by her casual racism; Zion Jang plays Beverley Goodway, an awkwardly amusing young photographer; persnickety deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Michael Glenn) who learns to love ugly things; and an old school sports editor who proves surprisingly versatile, played by Ryan Rillette, Round House’s artistic director. 

At Lamb’s suggestion, the team brainstorms about what interests Sun readers. They decide on celebrities, pets, sports, free stuff, and —rather revolutionarily for the time —TV.  Murdoch is happy to let readers’ taste dictate content and the “Why” of the sacred “five Ws” of journalism is out the window. 

Murdoch is portrayed as a not wholly unlikable misanthrope. He dislikes his editors and pressman alike. He particularly hates unions. His advice to Lamb is not to get too chummy with his subordinates. Regarding the competition, Murdoch doesn’t just want to outperform them, he wants to grind them to dust. 

Loewith leads an inspired design team. Scenic designer Tony Cisek’s imposing, inky grey edifice made from modular walls is ideally suited for Mike Tutaj’s projections of headlines, printed pages, and Rein’s outsized face as Murdoch. Sound designer and composer Matthew M. Nielson ably supplies bar noises and the nonstop, pre-digital newspaper clatter of presses, linotypes, and typewriters.

From a convenient second tiered balcony, the Daily Mirror’s establishment power trio Hugh Cudlipp (Craig Wallace), Chris Lee Howard (Chris Geneback) and Sir Percy (Walter Riddle) overlook all that lies below, discussing new tactics and (mostly failed) strategies to remain on top.   

Increasingly comfortable in the role of ruthless, sleazy editor, Lamb is unstoppable.

Obsessed with overtaking the Daily Mirror’s circulation, he opts for some sketchy reportage surrounding the kidnapping and presumed murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of Murdoch’s deputy Sir Alick (Todd Scofield). The kidnappers mistook Muriel for Murdoch’s then-wife Anna (Sophia Early). Next, in a move beyond the pale, Lamb introduces “Page 3,” a feature spotlighting a topless female model. Awesta Zarif plays Stephanie, a smart young model. She asks Lamb if he would run a semi-nude pic of his similarly aged daughter? His reaction is uncomfortable but undaunted. 

For Murdoch’s purposes, history proves he chose well in Lamb. By year’s end, the Sun is Britain’s most widely read tabloid. Together they give the people what they didn’t know they wanted, proving the pro-Labour Daily Mirror’s hold on the working class is baseless and paving the way for things like Brexit and a Prime Minister Thatcher. 

“Ink” at Round House closes soon. See it if you can.

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