New York City, starring Chicken Delicious

18 Jan

I just completed a week in New York City and I’m writing this from the American Airlines Admiral’s Club at LaGuardia – a place where I’ve spent countless hours over my career.  A fun and interesting week for sure.  I arrived on Sunday as I had three days of meetings with one of our clients here from Monday through Wednesday, as well as two meetings with Google, and then yesterday and today, participated in the iProspect Senior Leadership Team “SLT” meetings at Aegis Media’s HQ office on 42nd street near Grand Central.

I’ve been coming to NYC fairly steadily for work for at least 15 years, and prior to that on an occasional basis (except for a 2 year period where I more I less lived here).  So, The Big Apple is familiar territory for me.  I generally know where I am at any given point, and even do “New Yorker” things like use the subway to get around.

There is no place like NYC.  If you think you’ve seen it all, wait less than two minutes and then you haven’t.  What continually, always amazes me is the pure size and scale and density of Manhattan.  As a place on earth, Manhattan isn’t a particularly large place – an island about 2 1/2 miles across at its wide point, and about 10-12 miles long.  The city of Chicago, by comparison, is tremendously larger.  Of course, NYC isn’t JUST Manhattan – it consists of the five boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn – each of which is as big as or bigger than most other cities in the US in population.  But, my focus, as usual is on Manhattan.

If you’ve never visited it, well, you just can’t appreciate it until you do.  It is one solid “business district” from end to end, edge to edge, with people living everywhere among the businesses.  Yes, once you get out of midtown and especially on the upper east and west sides, it does get residential, but only in the NY sense – rowhouse an apartment building standing wall to wall, block after block, and no where, anywhere, are you more than a few steps from a grocer, a dry cleaner, a bar, a pizza place, a chinese restaurant, more restaurants, a drug store, etc. etc etc.  For this small town boy from the cornfields of Iowa, it never, ever ceases to amaze me.

I like to joke that I’d love to pull up stakes and move to NYC for just one year.  It would be great – I’d live like a New Yorker, outsource my entire life (including laundry!), live in an apartment the size of my current master bedroom, with a kitchen that you can cook an entire meal in without moving your feet more than two steps, and a bathroom that you can shave, shit and shower also without moving your feet more than two steps.  I’d walk everywhere, ride the subway everywhere, have NYC pizza and eat it while walking down 6th avenue, folding it in half of course, Robin and I would go walking Sprite in Central Park on the weekends, have dinners in a different restaurant every time we ate out, have amazing bagels for breakfast on the weekend, and more and more.

And then I find out what people pay for rent – $4000 or more for a tiny one-bedroom.  The sheer costs of New York and especially Manhattan, sort of put that idea aside.  I can visit. And see the sites.

Monday evening was fun – we were out with our Google sales team that serves our NY client for dinner at a place in the Chelsea/Flatiron district called ABC Kitchen – a huge place where two restaurants are joined with a huge home store – what would occur if IKEA sold upscale goods and turned half of their space into high-end restaurants.  As we were leaving the restaurant, this VERY tall guy with a very 1980s-looking, dyed black haircut walks in with a beautiful woman.  I turn and do a double take – it’s Ric Ocasic from the 80s New Wave/Pop band, The Cars, with his wife, Paulina Poriskova.  The guy looks like a tragic beanpole with a punk rock mullet.

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So, it’s an official NY trip – a celeb sighting was had.  In the last two trips I’ve taken here with Robin, we saw Jesse Eisenberg, who was right at the peak of his stardom from the movie The Social Network.  He came into a little sushi place with an older woman that we guessed was his publicist and sat down literally right next to Robin at the next table.  And this past fall, right here at this very bar in this very Admiral’s Club, none other than quintessential New Yorker and star of Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick was sitting here having a beer.

Wednesday morning I had the interesting experience of visiting Google’s NYC offices at 111 8th Street – 8th and 16th.  While not allowed to take pictures in there, among other things they had:

  • A huge cafeteria with hot food served three times a day – and a tremendous selection as well, all generally very healthy
  • Multiple “mini cafeterias” with coffee bars, additional food and drinks, open 24×7
  • A full-on barista-manned coffee shop in yet another of the cafeterias
  • A hallway with at least 15 machines capable of playing a variety of 1980s video games including every variant of Pac-Man, plus Galaga, Galaxian and more
  • a huge space just devoted to games – pool, pingpong, board games, jumbo jenga, and much more
  • Most of the mini cafes had a theme – for example, on the 5th floor, there is a Lego-themed cafe with a huge play area with a wall covered in bins of Lego bricks, and work tables where you can build your creations and shelves to display them.
  • Many, many signs with “Googler’s only from this point forward” – clearly plotting the world’s takeover
  • and scads and scads of ridiculously happy people that work there

The one thing I could take a picture of was the immense neon Google logo rendition on the wall of the reception area:

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Wednesday evening was my “night off” from doing client and company-related stuff.  I started out with a couple of beers with Robin’s cousin “Doc Craig”.  We met up at one of Midtown’s ubiquitous Irish Pubs, this one being “The Long Room” on 44th Street.  We had a few good laughs for an hour and then I headed off to go to my dinner.  Here’s the shot I took of the Doc enjoying his first beer of the evening:

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After I left the Doc, I headed to the upper east side and I met up with my long-time pal, fellow MadMan, career mentor and all around great guy, Professor Troutstream.  The Prof works for “another big ad agency” in NYC and commutes from Chicago to NY for work each week, staying in his little pad he calls The Treehouse.  He’s earned his nickname because even though he’s been an ad man for more than 30 years, we all know he’d rather be teaching marketing part time at some university in a western state somewhere, and spending the rest of his time in waders, waist deep in a trout stream, going all catch and release on the local rainbows.

The Prof has been doing the NYC thing for a lot of years, and has some favorites.  He shares my love of funky, off the beaten path places, and so he recommended a choice of either Donohue’s Steakhouse on Lexington at 65th street, or an Italian joint called Mimi’s on 2nd Ave in the 50s.  He was selling Mimi’s on the information that it has a piano bar featuring one guy who “look’s like Eddie Money’s love child and can’t sing for siccum” and the next guy who “no shit, goes by ‘Chicken Delicious’ and plays a mean piano”.

We didn’t set out to go to both places – we made a reservation at Donohue’s at 7:00.  Donohue’s, if it were in Wisconsin, would be called the local “Supper Club”.  It is like 1968 arrived and the clock stopped in there.  Except for the aging of the patrons, who all looked like they might have been in their 40s in 1968 but, father time marches on.  I walked in, every head at the bar swiveled to take me in, I said “Hello!” to the bartender, which was greeted by a “harumph!”  The two 20-something waitresses were also appropriately rude to the new comer, although when I started asking about the food, and started talking cocktails with the bartender, he warmed up.

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The Prof arrived, we took a booth and he and I both ordered the same thing – filets medium rare, salad with blue cheese dressing, baked potato and sautéed spinach.  The food is outstanding and a huge value – where  in NYC can you get a prime steak dinner with all that stuff for about $40.  Of course the bar bill ran up the tab a wee bit, but the value there was stunning.  This place is definitely a “must do” for anyone wanting a delicious meal in NYC in a funky atmosphere with interesting people watching.

After some great conversation and getting a kick out of watching the local/regulars cycle in and out, we decided to walk back to our respective abodes, and as we approached Lex and 54th, the Prof said “hell Stew, let’s play two.  We can get to Mimi’s just in time for the second show.”  Hey … you all know me, I’m always all in on more fun.

Let’s play two indeed!

Now mind you, when the Prof was selling the idea of Eddie Money’s Love Child and a piano player named Chicken Delicious, well, I figured this was all “good copy”.  He is an ad man after all.  But NOOOO.  Truth in advertising baby.  We arrived just as Eddie Money’s Love Child was giving up the piano and Mr. Delicious himself was taking over.  Chicken Delicious is about 75, EXTREMELY flamboyantly gay and positively hilarious.  At the same time, he’s also a virtuoso piano player with hundreds and hundreds of songs committed to memory.  One of his especially interesting things he does is get into costume for various songs … he put on a two-piece Billy Joel mask to sing Piano Man, put on a stocking cap with long braids coming out of it for “You are always on my mind” by Willy Nelson, and etc.  Awesome.  And he tells stories and interacts with the crowd and will rubber band his iPhone to his forehead with a message on it and more.  Truly a great entertainer.  He said he grew up in Mississippi and by my guess, being as flamboyant as he was, well, had a rough time of it growing up.  But now, he makes his living entertaining tourists and regulars at a place called Mimi’s in NYC.  Here’s a couple of shots of Chicken Delicious himself:

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The best thing about New York is stuff like this.  You can find things that you just can’t make up, everywhere you turn.

The last two days of my trip were filled with two straight days of meetings with the senior leadership team of my company, iProspect. Ordinarily I’d look at two straight days of time spent in a conference room, looking at power points and listening to speakers with the same amount of excitement I’d give to having a colonoscopy – but not at all in this case.  Meetings like this are why I joined this company – it’s an extremely well-run organization and the senior leadership team are a great bunch of really bright folks.  We had a great finish to 2013 which has put us in a place to have an amazing 2014, we’ve got a bunch of work to do in 2014 to put initiatives in place that began developing in 2013 that will drive the business even higher.

So, is there a point to all this?  Yes, a small one.  But an important one – you find the bits of amazing when you go off the beaten path.  One of the big themes of our leadership meeting was “going outside of our comfort zone” … and it’s true.  Outside the comfort zone is where great stuff, great fun, great memories, great adventures and more happen.

I say it to anyone I talk to who has never been to New York City.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a small town person or a big city person.  If you haven’t enjoyed a few days in New York City, then your life’s adventures are seriously missing something.

As you were,

Stew

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