Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Allentown Art Museum: The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design


In today's mail, we received the quarterly newsletter for the Allentown Art Museum (31 N. Fifth St., Allentown, one block from Hamilton St.). I'm excited to see the two new exhibitions opening February 7, all about "green" residential design. Green House will feature 11 models and drawings, and photographs of 21 homes. Lehigh Valley Going Green focuses on local examples of residential, commercial and institutional building projects that are LEED certified.

The exhibition's "Preview" party at the museum is inexplicably scheduled to be held after the exhibition opens on Thursday, February 11, from 6-8 p.m. It's open to the public, but non-members must pay a $15 cover to enjoy food, drink (generally cash bar), live music, and a fun evening in Allentown. RSVP is requested. If I were you, I'd go to the party, then check out the scene at Allentown Brew Works (812 Hamilton St., Allentown). The bar is hosting an Over the Hump Wednesday happy hour, and also a martinis and manicures event until 8, and I'm sure the crowd will hang around after.

If a preview party is not your scene, the museum will likely be much less crowded on weekdays, and non-members pay just $7 to see the show. If you can make it on March 3, you can take advantage of a free (with price of admission) gallery talk led by chief curator Jacqueline M. Atkins at noon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Secret Art Space in Bethlehem

Ninjessa

Fursaxa

Want to know a secret?

The Secret Art Space is on Rink Street, near Vine Street, on the South Side of Bethlehem (very close to Deja Brew Coffeehouse - look for the green door).

The first-ever LV Ladyfest will be taking place there on January 2, featuring Fursaxa, Bad Temple, Ninjessa, Dark Circles, and Mad O, "a celebration of bands in the Lehigh Valley that have female musicians." Fursaxa is the only artist I'm familiar with; Tara's music is considered "acid folk." Overall I'd say they're mostly punk rock/indie but most indie groups defy classification in my mind. Check out the links above for more information and free previews of each group's music.

Randi from Comfort & Joy (105 East 3rd Street, Bethlehem) was bragging about her daughter's band, Ninjessa; she said that in addition to being insanely talented, the members are beautiful women and good cooks.

Secret Art Space is home to some of the the most free form, creative art gatherings in the area. If you have an itch for some original music (and it seems like some of you might, based on your recent comments), this would be a good place to scratch it. Doors open at 6 p.m., bands go on at 7. Cover $6-8.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

CitySlips at Mixed Bag on Main


While doing some after-Christmas shopping on Main Street today, I noticed this display in Mixed Bag on Main (450 Main St., Bethlehem, PA) for CitySlips. Their tagline is "Compact, portable, foldable ballet flats with expandable carrying case. Helping soothe sore soles from killer heels." Such a good idea - after running in heels at a late-night work event or at a wedding or prom, these would be golden. They come in three sizes and three colors. I'm pretty sure I saw them featured on NBC's "Today" Show before the holidays, a promotion by Oprah's buddy Gayle King about great gifts for under $30.00. I couldn't help but thinking that this was the kind of thing that you'd have to Google to find, then order online from a web retailer.
I was so happy to see them in a local shop, and sure enough, the price was just $27.00. That is less than the sale price on the ShopNBC site, because there's no shipping and handling.
Mixed Bag has great gift items for babies and kids, too - the kind of stuff a mom would probably never buy for her kid but is unbelievably adorable. Need to remember that for some upcoming baby showers!
Did anyone else find a good deal locally before or after the holiday?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Challenge to Metromix

Neko Case, who will likely never play a concert in the Lehigh Valley



Dear Metromix,

I picked up your latest issue in a plastic box outside Christkindlmarkt last week, and I'm writing to let you know that I have a beef with your "Best albums of 2009" article. I realize that Andy Hermann is the national music editor of Metromix, and he's probably never been to the Lehigh Valley, PA. But your list of the best albums (online content via NYC Metromix - TMC has not posted it online yet) does not even remotely reflect the musical sensibility of most Lehigh Valleyans.

If your intent was to educate the masses about "real" music, it falls on deaf ears. We in the Lehigh Valley have lots of opportunities to rock out to live music, but most of it is by way of cover bands. Some are more metal, some are more classic rock, others pop or punk; however, I doubt any of them covered a song from your #1 album, "Middle Cyclone," by Neko Case. If one did, I would be belly-up to the bar singing "Man-man-man, man-man-man eater" at the top of my lungs with the one other Neko Case fan in the Lehigh Valley.

But Neko Case didn't stop in our at any of our great local venues like Godfrey Daniels (7 East Fourth Street, Bethlehem), Porter's Pub (700 Northampton Street, Easton), or Crocodile Rock (520 Hamilton Street, Allentown). She did perform at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside last April. She also played two shows at my favorite live music venue in Washington, DC, the 9:30 Club, where I once took in performances by artists like Ryan Adams, Kasey Chambers, Basement Jaxx, Zero 7, Pete Yorn, Old 97s, Mindy Smith, and Keane. She never came to the Lehigh Valley, because her record company believes that there is no audience for her here.

People like me, displaced music fans, have a couple of options:

Metromix, I am disappointed. Your writers could have spent a few hours researching an article on the top 10 list of the best concerts that came to the Lehigh Valley in 2009 - it would have been easy enough, since you print their listings every week! By publishing this list, you have proven how little local content you are actually interested in providing to readers, and I think that's a shame.

Sincerely,
Lehigh Valley Transplant

Friday, December 18, 2009

Potbelly


I read this week in Retail Watch about Potbelly Sandwich Works looking into opening franchise locations in the Lehigh Valley. If you have never been to a Potbelly, let me tell you from experience, they serve up some tasty sandwiches and milkshakes.

From their web site:
Potbelly started in 1977 when a little antique store on Lincoln Avenue in
Chicago started selling toasted sandwiches (right along with vintage stoves, old
books and other knick knacks) to boost business.
Besides toasted sandwiches, they also offer chili and salads. But my favorites are the freshly-baked cookies, hand-dipped milkshakes with a cute little butter cookie on the straw, and to-die-for ice cream sandwiches. Potbelly restaurants are unique in that they always feature antiques in their decor, especially potbelly stoves, but they also offer live musical entertainment, every day, all day long. In small stores, like the one near my office in DC (14th St. & NY Ave.), the artists actually perform above the line of people that inevitably formed below. Once or twice I thought there was recorded music playing, until I saw the artist climb down a ladder next to us.

Has anyone else experienced Potbelly, and what do you think? Is there room for a Potbelly here in the Lehigh Valley?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On 3 Imaging

There are photographers, and then there are photographers you can call at the last minute, set up a studio in their dining room, sweat it out in a building with no air-conditioning, spend hours making elected officials look good in ribbon-cutting photographs, and make sure you are happy with the photos of yourself, even though you are self-conscious and not photogenic.

I know of only one, and it's my friend Eric Gensel, who is a terrific photographer, former colleague, and dear friend. His company is On 3 Imaging.

Eric is responsible for the portraits on this blog, which are scheduled to appear alongside my first Lehigh Valley Style column in March. I am sincerely grateful. Also, special thanks to his beautiful wife Kinsey, whom I've known since high school, for the inspiration to use the Brew Works bar and for her patience!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

19th Street Allentown

the store's exterior at night

The Lehigh Valley has some great shopping districts, and I don't mean the Promenade Shops (2845 Center Valley Parkway, Center Valley) or the Lehigh Valley Mall (1491 Macarthur Road, Whitehall). I am referring to South Side Bethlehem, Historic Bethlehem, Downtown Easton, Main Street Hellertown, Downtown Emmaus, and my recent fave... 19th Street in Allentown.

Last week I joined a group of commercial real estate brokers and developers on the West End of Allentown for a walking tour of 19th Street and a preview of what's to come.

Frank Shipman gave us an update on what's going on in the former Shanty Restaurant. The building will soon be a salon and spa with a full-service restaurant. He is looking for a distinctive eatery to lease the 3,000 square foot frontage of their space. Then we visited the Civic Theatre (527 North 19th Street, Allentown), where my family will be enjoying the annual production of "A Christmas Carol" on Friday night. We heard about the West End Alliance's efforts to improve the quality of life in their urban neighborhood. The Alliance put together "19 Fun Facts About 19th Street," an inspiring list for any neighborhood, let alone one in Allentown! A few tidibits I didn't know: The Allentown Farmers Market attracts 25,000 people weekly, and the West End has its own dinner theater, Pines Dinner Theater (448 North 17th Street, Allentown).

When I saw the sign for Step in 4 Mor (1823 W Allen St., Allentown - a block off 19th Street) when I was turning around to go home, I pulled in to the parking lot. Niki told me about the store, which is owned and operated by her friend, Muhlenberg College alum Stephanie Morffi. I'd seen her ads, and I've been told that if I liked Shuze, that I should check out what Steph's got going on in Allentown. Steph and Vino, her adorable dog, were inside the store when I stepped in. Steph's done a great job selecting beautiful, of-the-moment shoes. I picked up a pair of Sam Edelman ballet flats with a crocodile-patterned leather and leopard-print fabric lining, and definitely selected an outfit to go with them today so that I could break them in! The store also has a fully-stocked wine fridge, some perfect housewarming gifts for holiday parties (including a girlie flask with hot cocoa mix), and great accessories you might just want to gift to yourself.

Check out little Vino, posing on the zebra-print settee!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Challenge: Shop Locally for the Holidays

It seems like the spirit of Christmas in a tough economy has everyone thinking about shopping locally. The Neighbors of Easton wrote about local businesses this week, and included some helpful links to learn more about creating and fostering a sustainable local economy. Then I received an email with a direct link to the SBNLV (Sustainable Business Network of the Lehigh Valley)'s new Internet video. Check it out on youtube by clicking here. A few of my favorite places to shop are featured in it! After that, I read Jana's blog for Lehigh Valley Style, and was inspired by her commitment to contribute to the local economy for the holidays:
It has become customary that my dad, sister, and I bear the selfish Black Friday crowds at the Lehigh Valley Mall for a few deals and steals, but this year I want to focus my energy into seeking out unique gifts while helping our local economy at the same time.
And today even the Chamber of Commerce asked for businesses to pledge to shop locally:
The pledge is simple: businesses, whether they are members or not, pledge to shift 5% of their spending from out of the Valley to back in. According to our statistics, if every business in the Valley took this pledge, an additional $100 million would be spent in the Lehigh Valley.
I realize that not everything on your list is going to be available in an independently-owned local business, but to the extent that it's possible, give it a shot. It might mean one extra trip in the car, but maybe you'll start a new holiday tradition of shopping in a downtown area, or discover a whole new shopping experience. If you have already done some local shopping, how did it go? Did you find anything completely surprising or unique?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In Search of the Great Third Place

When I read about the outcry over an Emmaus coffee shop (Mas Cafe) closing, it reminded me of Dr. Ray Oldenburg's "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community." I read Oldenburg's book shortly after we moved to the Lehigh Valley: in it, he travels all over the United States, seeking out the "third places" (meaning, a place to go when you aren't at home or work) where people congregate.

The Great Good Place argues that "third places" - where people can gather, put
aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of
good company and lively conversation - are the heart of a community's social
vitality and the grassroots of democracy.
For people living in big cities, open space and community gathering spaces are key. Apartments are small and many people don't have cars or prefer not to use them to get around. So their little neighborhood joints become part living room, part kitchen, part remote office, part conference room. The people who work at these businesses, and the other people who hang out there regularly, become a second (or third) family.

In a region like the Lehigh Valley, it's easy to get into a rhythm of driving from home to work and back again without getting to know your neighbors or spending any significant amount of time anywhere else. There are a lot of private clubs in the area, where mainly locals meet for cheap eats and drinks, gambling (shh...) and sometimes entertainment. But what about those of us who are new to the area? Especially if we aren't the kind of person to hang around a coffee shop and strike up conversations with complete strangers who might just be there to pick up something to drink and head back home or to work?

Do you have a Third Place? Would you nominate some of the best Third Places that might be a good place for a transplant to meet other like-minded individuals?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Latin food in the Lehigh Valley

my lunch - a beef burrito (just eh) and chicken and cheese taco (YUM). Hot sauce on the left.

Danielle and I had lunch at General Zapata (15 East 4th Street, South Side Bethlehem, a.k.a. GZ) last week. I'd been there a couple of times before (notably, once with the gang from RenewLV) and even ordered some quesadillas for a little office open house we held last Friday night.

The restaurant's name pays tribute to the former Zapata's Place (ZP) on Stefko Boulevard, where Rick worked for 10 years. Rick told me that even the hot sauce on each table is an homage to ZP's owner. Rick's extended family operates Amigo Mio (545 Cleveland Street, Allentown), a place known as much for its incredible food as it is for its strict rules (open 6-9 p.m., cash only, long waits because staff is limited). In addition to great Mexican, General Zapata's also includes cuisine from Rick and Carmen's Puerto Rican heritage. Rick makes the tortillas from SCRATCH, people. That means they are seriously fresh and chewy, not rubbery from refrigeration like the kind you get at many Mexican places. He also sources his beef and some other ingredients locally.

GZ open its 30-seat Mexican/Caribbean fusion dining room in May. When it's full (as it's been many lunches and dinners since it received a positive review from The Morning Call), it's tough to get in. I adore this size of restaurant; many are BYOBs and usually, the owner's in the back cooking up a storm or in the front, making sure everyone is comfortable. Sette Luna (219 Ferry St., Easton) started out about that size (before expanding into the space next-door). Sagra Bistro (620 Main St., Hellertown) seats about 30 in the dining room. The Cafe (221 W. Broad St., Bethlehem) probably seats about 50 in two separate, intimate rooms. You get a cozy feeling in a place that size. I know there are other restaurants this size - did I miss any gems?

Speaking of Mexican, Danielle told me that Fiesta Ole is opening where Fuddrucker's was (2955 Linden Street, Bethlehem), and then I read about it in Retail Watch. She is not the first person to tell me that Fiesta Ole is good stuff. But Mike at Beyond Scrapple (and Capri) panned it, so I'll need to investigate for myself. There are now three locations (in addition to Bethlehem, at 1116 Chestnut Street, Emmaus and 1808 MacArthur Road, Whitehall) in the Valley and two in Reading.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Nazareth Center for the Arts

I learned this week that an arts center has opened at 30 Belvidere Street in Nazareth Borough. Volunteers spent the past year renovating the building that previously housed the Vigilance Hose Company No. 1 into an art gallery and venue for musical performances.

The second annual Nazareth Area Holiday House Tour (to benefit the Nazareth Center for the Arts) is Saturday, December 12, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. In addition to the Nazareth Center for the Arts, nine other properties in Nazareth and Bushkill Township will be included on the house tour. Each home will feature art by a local artist and live music. Tickets are $20.

The Center's blog has more information about the house tour, and lists a few upcoming events. Their current web site is a bit sickly. When you're in Nazareth visiting the Center for the Arts, check out one of these great restaurants (just one or two blocks from the new Center for the Arts):
  • Rios Brazilian Steak House (a meaty bonanza at 127 South Broad Street)
  • Hana Sushi‎ (just opened last month at 6 Belvidere Street)
  • Main Street Garden Cafe‎ (lunch only, 52 South Main Street)
  • Bistro on Main (replaced Dutch N Such at 47 South Main Street)
If you live in Nazareth, please investigate and report back! Or if you're involved in the project, let us know how it's going.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Middle Eastern Cuisine in the LV

When I was in Easton last week, I noticed a sign announcing Phoenicia Restaurant (154 Northampton St., Easton) would be opening soon. I saw on a blog this week that the restaurant recently joined the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber is hosting a ribbon-cutting event for them. I checked out the web site and learned that it will be opening on December 10, and the Grand Opening Friday & Saturday nights, December 11 & 12 , will feature live entertainment and belly dancing.

I was thinking to myself that it might be the only Middle Eastern restaurant in Easton. Both Olive Branch Cafe & Restaurant (355 Broadway, Bethlehem) and Petra Mediterranean (81 W Broad St, Bethlehem) feature Middle Eastern dishes, but I think Allentown has cornered the market on real Middle Eastern food in the Lehigh Valley: Damascus Restaurant‎ (449 North 2nd Street, Allentown); Habibi Sweetheart Restaurant‎ (1429 Lehigh Street, Allentown); and Aladdin Restaurant (651 Union Boulevard, Allentown). I know there are some loyal LVT blog readers who are big fans of Middle Eastern cuisine - what's your favorite? I know that Petra's food is a little Moroccan and a little Jordanian, Habibi is Jordanian, and Phoenicia will be Lebanese. From where in the Middle East do the others originate?

Also, does Easton have room for another fabulous restaurant? (Sort of a rhetorical question.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Pay to Shop?

I volunteered a shift at Christkindlmarkt (C't) yesterday. I was initially signed up to help at the information booth, but was reassigned to "St. Nick's Assistant." (No, I did not have to wear an elf costume.) I got a kick out of seeing the little kids interact with Santa - I kid you not, our M.O. was to encourage them to 'Give Santa a High Five' - and surprisingly, seeing so many adults cozying up to the old guy. A few even paid to have their picture taken with him. The tradition of children seeing Santa, telling him what they want for Christmas, and getting a gift, evolved into a moneymaker once malls figured out they could milk you for another few bucks. Polaroid cameras made it possible to instantly have a momento of your child screaming because Mommy left him on the lap of some stranger. With the advent of digital photography, everyone's got a camera or a phone with a camera in it at all times. We don't need anyone to take our kid's picture. But not only will ArtsQuest volunteers take a picture, they'll take a few, and let you pick your favorite. Then they'll print however many you want in whatever sizes you need. I noticed that most people only got one 5"x7" photo; I'm sure most will scan it, put it on Facebook, and email Grandma. Some people didn't want to purchase a photo. One teacher held up the line of paying customers while she took pictures of her students with multiple cameras and cameraphones. But here's the problem - the proceeds from this annual photo op benefit kids' programs at The Banana Factory. While the artists profit from the purchase of the items in the booths and pay a small fee to exhibit, it's ArtsQuest that pays the bills (including St. Nick's salary). Many locals shun C't, because they 'don't want to pay to shop.' I justify the $7 entrance fee this way (we saved $1 using the coupon on the Artsquest web site): I paid $2 to park in one of the City's municipal parking lots. I figure that I would pay $5 or more in a bigger city. So that's a $3 donation for parking. Then I'd pay at least $3 for the entertainment - there's live music and performances all day inside, plus glass blowing and ice sculpting demonstrations outdoors, between tents. And finally, I'd make a $1 donation to the folks at ArtsQuest for creating a warm, festive holiday wonderland that has become an annual tradition. Then the $7 entrance fee doesn't seem so steep to me. Considering the large groups of visitors that come on tour buses from all over the mid-Atlantic, it seems like a lot of people agree. I went to C't today and purchased two wall-hanging pieces from an tile artist from Easton whose company name is BB Tiles. The artist's web site is a little outdated (shows listed are from 2004), but contact information is correct.