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Dark Tourist Takes You Away to Messed-up-aritaville

In Kent Russell’s wild yarn, “The Disaster Tourist,” the gonzo journalist enlists the tour operator that was showing Otto Warmbier around North Korea when the doomed American was thrown in jail. With his fellow thrill-seekers, Russell embarks on a “profoundly stupid—nay, monumentally irresponsible” trip to Chechnya and the diplomatically unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, conflict zones where Americans are definitely not supposed to go. Their goal: to “experience something so transformative that we just might return home an improved version of who we were when we left.”

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New Target Desperately Tries to Fit Into the East Village: Does It Hit the Mark?

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

I had been caught in the pouring rain without an umbrella, and my shirt was soaked through like a wet dog on the night of the East Village Target’s soft opening. “This is a bad omen,” I muttered, the weather not improving my already lukewarm attitude toward the behemoth chain store right across from my home in the East Village. As a resident of 14th Street, I had walked by the 27,000-square-foot, two-floor Target at 500 East 14th Street nearly every day for the past year, spanning its early construction all the way up to its glitzy opening day. To confess: until yesterday, I– like many East Villagers— found the Target to be a mostly unwelcome eyesore and a reflection of the hyper-gentrification of the neighborhood. It didn’t help that one of my go-to Chinese food joints had been shuttered in 2017 in the same location. Sitting atop the Target are luxurious, $3,695-per-month apartment units.

As I peered into the store’s open windows and looked at the svelte mannequins sporting trendy summer dresses, I thought that it resembled something more akin to a Saks Off Fifth than the decidedly un-hip Targets of my suburban California childhood. But by the end of the store’s opening that night, I’d become mostly convinced that if a megastore must take over a corner of the East Village, it might as well be Target.

How did they convince me? Target plans to open up a new store on the Lower East Side in August and is coming to Kips Bay and Hell’s Kitchen next year. Part of the brand’s commercial success in metro New York may lie in its distinct appeal to the communities it serves. That’s evident from the moment you walk in the store and spot the pastel-pink mural designed by Vault49, which spans the length of the checkout area and references Avenue A and the Nuyorican community of the Village and LES. Or the kombucha in the grocery aisles and the sliced toasted coconut chips hanging near checkout, perhaps catering to the area’s millennial population.

A mural in homage to the East Village behind the Target checkout counter.

“When we think about going into a community, we spend a lot of time talking to guests and understanding what they would be looking for from Target,” said Target spokesperson Erin Conroy. “Making sure the store fits the flavor not just from an assortment perspective but from an aesthetic perspective as well.”

The East Village store’s team leader, Steve Dyba, echoed comments along a similar line. “I think we really have an opportunity to become the neighborhood store.”

Some might balk at the idea of Target becoming the “neighborhood” store in the once-burgeoning artists’ community. But gesturing towards a toy set which she intended to purchase for her grandchildren, Susan Stetzer, district manager for Community Board 3, said, “Where could I buy Harry Potter LEGO in our community? I can’t. I can’t. So I think people are excited about buying things that are no longer available in our community.”

I spoke with both Stetzer and Alysha Lewis-Coleman, chair of Community Board 3, near the first-floor produce section. Both were generally pleased with the new Target, which they said had been consulting with the community board prior to the store’s opening to hire local employees.

“Jobs are so needed and so scarce right now. I’m just happy they created another job source for families and young people in this area,” said Coleman. She added, “They wanted to do right by the community.”

A Target employee adjusts an item of clothing.

Over the course of the night, I did, however, learn that not all store employees were from the area. Not including senior Target team leaders or communications officials, I spoke to two of the store’s 110 employees. Neither of them lived in the East Village. Many employees who were not from the area seemed to be part of the extended Target family, such as Teresa G., a lively young woman who had been promoted from her previous station in Queens to oversee home goods and other items here in the East Village.

The star of last night’s show was the iconic English bull terrier and Target mascot Bullseye. I wondered how they had managed to paint the Target emblem—a bullseye, of course—around the pooch’s eye. I then decided better of it. Attendees gleefully posed for photos with the terrier, who was perched atop his own pedestal.

Employees pose for a picture with the Target mascot.

Following that, attendees sipped red wine, chowed down on mini Korean BBQ tacos being passed around by servers, and explored the store’s wares, which included an array of women’s wear and reasonably-priced produce on the first floor, as well as apparel and home goods—including a Target-owned men’s clothing brand and candles affixed with the image of Jesus Christ—on the lower level. The odd, but somehow fitting assortment of items made me think that while this Target would never become a beloved neighborhood fixture, it was going to do just fine. Maybe I would even stop by and pick up some of their $2.99 mini watermelons to make a summer slushie. But as I left, I frowned, asking myself, “Am I a sellout? Or just adjusting to the changing reality of the East Village?”

The East Village Target is located at 500 E 14th St.  The store launched for its soft opening yesterday. Its grand opening will take place on July 21.

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East Village Thai Has Closed After Two Decades

(Photo: Daniel Maurer)

Pour out some milky, sweet iced tea for East Village Thai, a tiny, beloved neighborhood fixture.

The East 7th Street hole-in-the-wall has been known to take summer breaks, maybe because the small, open kitchen behind the takeout counter kicked up so much heat. But this time the four-seat restaurant won’t be back. A sign on the shutter thanks customers and says “It has been a true privilege to serve you for these past decades.” Facebook postings from the cheap-eats go-to indicate it is “closed permanently” as of this week. 

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Shakespeare in the Parking Lot Saved, Making For Some Dreamy Midsummer Nights

Performers from Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s “Hamlet”, including Gracie Winchester as Ophelia and Jane Bradley as a female Hamlet (Photo posted on Instagram by Gracie Winchester)

Shakespearean tragedies don’t typically see a peaceful resolution, but it looks like there’ll be a happy ending for a drama that unfolded center stage at a Community Board 3 meeting last month.

There, Hamilton Clancy, artistic director of the non-profit that runs Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, bemoaned the potential loss of their performance space at the parking lot managed by the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. His efforts to find a second home for the theater company in Sara D. Roosevelt Park had been met with bureaucratic red tape. All hope seemed to be lost.

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New Doc Explores The Integratron, California’s Most Other-Worldly Structure

Images from Calling All Earthlings.

The late Anthony Bourdain described it as “a special place where an inexplicable confluence of people, magnetic forces, extra terrestrials, and otherwise strange shit came together.”

In the episode of No Reservations, Bourdain’s sound bath at the Integratron, a 38-foot-tall wooden cupola in the middle of the Mojave Desert, is paired with a psychedelic montage. Which makes sense. Many hipsters and new-age types seek a sort of Ayahuasca Lite experience at one of the “sound baths” there. (Some 30 participants lie on a mat as a sort of healer-musician rubs the rims of crystal bowls and fills the vaulted space with calming, surreally resonant tones). But the backstory of the bizarre building is even trippier, and it’s explored by Jonathan Berman in his new documentary, Calling All Earthlings, opening at Maysles Cinema on Aug. 1.

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Popular Skate Spot at Columbus Park in Limbo Due to Renovation

An empty recreational facility at Columbus Park (Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

At the intersection of Baxter and Worth Streets, adjacent Columbus Park’s basketball courts, some olive-green workout equipment and a fire-engine red jungle gym sit unused. Plastic sheets cover the workout equipment and the jungle gym lays barren, practically begging buff dudes in muscle tees to do some pull-ups. A sign on the cordoned-off fence surrounding the site reads “Work in Progress.” But during a recent visit there were no workers or construction materials in sight.

This closure also comes as the latest offense for frequent skateboarders of the park who feared “grave consequences” when a fence was erected between the fitness units and an adjacent basketball court earlier this summer, thus limiting skaters’ ability to crisscross the park. Previously, skateboarders would skate up or down a two block ledge between the fitness area and the basketball courts, making for some gnarly video footage. Since the late 1990s, Columbus Park been known as a sweet unauthorized spot for skaters to hang without getting booted by the Parks Department. Though that may all change post-renovation.

An empty recreational facility at Columbus Park (Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

The outdoor recreational facility has been closed down as part of a multi-site renovation effort, which also includes Chelsea Playground, in Staten Island, and the handball courts at Booker T. Washington Playground, on the Upper West Side. Unfortunately, due to unexpected conditions found at Columbus Park, the reconstruction project has been delayed and a revised layout issued to handle problems with measuring the site.

Barring any further impediments, the Columbus Park fitness units will be re-opened at the end of the summer, but it’s a bummer for Lower East Side skateboarders who often frequent the park. According to Quartersnacks.com, local skateboarding legend Robert “Bobby” Puleo put the spot on the map when he nailed a manual going down a kinked ledge at a much-more downtrodden Columbus Park circa 2000. Its hallowed reputation only grew in the mid-late 2000s. If you were any sort of halfway decent New York skater, you were expected to pay your respects with a session at Columbus Park rail.

In any case, for the time being, may we recommend Slappy Sundays at Boca LES instead?

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Vote on East Village Tech Hub ‘Seriously in Question’ After Hearing

A sign held by an attendee of a hearing on the proposed Tech Hub (Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

“Let us have peace”– the words of Ulysses S. Grant– hung high on the ceiling of the City Council’s austere chambers. But down below, at a hearing yesterday, a not-so-peaceful conflict brewed over a proposed $250 million, 21-story retail and tech center off of Union Square.

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Patti Smith Mural Pays Tribute to Punk Icon’s East Village Roots

(Photo courtesy of @walkinggirlnyc)

“P U N K is back in the East Village,” reads the Instagram comment from neighborhood street-art curators East Village Walls.

That might be a stretch, but this imposing portrait of Patti Smith just went up on East Second Street, near First Avenue. It’s by Huetek, the Brooklyn-born artist who has previously dedicated walls to Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Cobain, and Mike Tyson.

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Watch Out, Pizza Rat: Croissant Squirrel Hits the Town

(Detail of photo posted by Andrew Goldston on Twitter)

For some time, the lore of Pizza Rat reigned supreme over the subways and streets of Manhattan. But this morning, a truly worthy competitor strolled into town, ready to take the crown. Meet: Croissant Squirrel.

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