My friend Julia put me on to BINY. It’s an unassuming karaoke spot on the border of Chinatown and Tribeca, an area that’s not particularly known for having anything interesting to do at night. What this tells me is that everyone who comes here is committed to being there precisely because it’s not the kind of spot one wanders into. There’s a few perks to this place—for example, it’s $70 an hour for a private room, but the package comes with $70 worth of free drinks. That’s great and well-appreciated, but here’s the real reason why you should be at BINY: this place has the most extensive catalogue of deep cuts I’ve ever seen. The song selection is incredible. One of my favorite things about karaoke is that if you do it right, it ends up not being about selecting the song that you feel like singing at that particular moment; instead, it’s about choosing the song that’s going to make everyone in the room go wild. There are very few things in life that bring the same rush of emotions as following up your friend’s ironic choice of 90’s Nu-metal hit “It’s Been a While” by Staind with “Toot It and Boot It” only to have that weird dude who tagged along with your friend jump in with “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked and everyone in the room throws their arm up in disgust and looks at him sideways. Except that scenario never happened and I was the one who lined up all three of those songs in row.
A bar modeled after a speakeasy located in Williamsburg. While that technically describes what Larry Lawrence is, the experience here has almost nothing to do with what it sounds like on paper. I’ve been a regular patron at this place for nearly four years and the place has been around for much longer than that. The hidden entrance and the glass-encased smoking section is where the speakeasy comparison stops. It doesn’t have any of the insufferable period-style caricature and general insincerity establishments of that nature usually bring with them. The drinks are well-priced, the bartenders are down to earth and all of them are sweethearts. Here, you’re getting served by someone sporting a tank top and not a handlebar mustache. If you’ve been to Larry Lawrence more than once they probably know your name. Ook Seo, the owner (and one of the most interesting people I have ever met), named this place after a childhood friend. There’s something really nice about that. So many bars have come and go or have been irreparably changed for the worse by the transitions of their host neighborhoods, with Williamsburg being the prime example of this. That said, LL has remained consistent and has always treated me solid. It’s gotten busier on Saturday nights as of late, but catch it during the off-peak hours or a weeknight and it feels like home. It’s where I would take a friend who I haven’t seen in years if I really wanted to catch up with them. If I start the night at Larry Lawrence, I probably won’t be inclined to go elsewhere. If I end the night at Larry Lawrence, I’ll go to bed content with how the evening wound down.
Thriving Steam Pot
This place is a relative newcomer to Flushing’s ever-evolving culinary scene, but it’s a game-changer as far as I’m concerned. My dad suggested this place for a late lunch a few months ago. He was running late and told me to order for him but when I got there, it took me a while to understand the restaurant’s concept - hot pot without the broth. Sounds weird but it works unbelievably well. So well, in fact, that it may turn you away from regular hot pot forever. Everything is steamed. Here’s how it works, there’s a hole in the middle of your table where a bowl of rice grains sits. It’s filled with water and covered at the top with a metal grill. While the whole thing is steamed, your food at the top is being cooked. When you’re done, the lid is removed to reveal the congee that had been slow-cooking since you sat down. While it’s definitely a healthier alternative to hot pot, the taste is ultimately what makes it appealing. Shellfish is the secret weapon at Thriving. Clams, abalone, mussels and crab cook on the shell so all the juiciness and flavor remains intact. High-quality ingredients retain their integrity and taste with this method because they aren’t overpowered from sitting in a vat of boiling, spicy liquid. That’s also the reason you don’t end up feeling lethargic after your meal. The congee at the end rounds out the meal beautifully as it’s taken on subtle hints of flavors from everything else you ate that night. I honestly hope this method of cooking gets emulated everywhere.
Why is it important to support independent businesses?
More than ever, it’s imperative that we continue to patronize independent businesses that we’re fond of. The internet as we know it has largely dissolved the line between underground and mainstream in many industries. The most obvious example that comes to mind is music—today, songs from independent and mainstream record labels can be accessed via the same channels. We often talk about how the playing field has been leveled but it’s a double-edged sword. Just as smaller labels appear bigger, larger labels can appear smaller. As our online lives begin to creep into real and physical spaces, this is going to be even more apparent in other industries as well. It’s becoming too easy for us to take access to products and content for granted as values such as convenience and speed position themselves as the main barometers of innovation. Visiting your favorite small bookstore, seeing a title you like, and taking your phone out to see if it’s cheaper on Amazon has become a tragic cliché at this point. What gives a person who does that the right to complain about their favorite spots closing? Our increasingly algorithm-driven values and perspectives make it easy to forget that independent shops rely on our dollars in a much more real and existential way...if they go under, that’s it. For everyone who is intimidated by politics, supporting small businesses with your money is a very real political act that has meaningful impact on society. And in a city like New York, with all of its amazing independent businesses, it’s a fairly easy choice to make.