Guest Post: Alex de Campi’s Guide To Doing FlameCon Like A Local

Guest Post: Alex de Campi’s Guide To Doing FlameCon Like A Local

Hey there! Are you coming to New York City this weekend for FlameCon? If so, great for you. It’s an absolute blast and probably my favourite convention. It’s also in a great spot for exploring New York City and doing fun stuff, either before the convention begins each day (at a respectable noon, bless them)

Hey there! Are you coming to New York City this weekend for FlameCon? If so, great for you. It’s an absolute blast and probably my favourite convention. It’s also in a great spot for exploring New York City and doing fun stuff, either before the convention begins each day (at a respectable noon, bless them) or in the evenings. I live in Hell’s Kitchen, which is the next neighbourhood over from where the convention is being held, so you’ll be in my (and Daredevil’s) backyard. Let’s talk.

The Basics

The convention hotel is the Sheraton Times Square, which is at 53rd and 7th. Central Park and the Hudson River Walk are short walks away, so is Broadway (Theatres!) and Hell’s Kitchen (Food! Nightlife! A very queer-friendly neighbourhood, even if there is a preponderance of cis male gay culture there.) You’re in the middle of Manhattan’s grid system, so it’s super easy to get around. Avenues (long east-west blocks) get larger in number the further west you go; streets (short north-south blocks) get larger the further north you go. When I can remember if a place’s restrooms are gendered or all gender, and if I’m sure it’s wheelchair-accessible, I’ve noted it down, but I’m sorry that the list isn’t complete. Now the fun stuff!

Food Before/During the Convention

I actually lived in the Sheraton Times Square for a few months about a decade ago (long story) and I can tell you that its food is like all hotel food: overpriced and underwhelming. If you want to just go to a grocery store/supermarket and get cheap eats or snacks, the closest is Gristedes on 8th and 54th. You want bagels? Best near the hotel is Pick-A-Bagel (accessible) on 8th and 53rd — the queue is often long but it moves quickly. Lenwich on 8th between 55th and 56th (all gender restroom; accessible) is great when your body is like “I would like a vegetable please” because it does fast takeout sandwiches, salads, etc. A perfect place if you have to nip out from the hotel for a quick lunch, or want takeaway you can eat at your table. Yes, I bet you’re seeing the theme here: the further West you go, the more fun stuff there is. Oh, for fancy food there’s a Balducci’s on 56th and 8th. And every Rite Aid or Duane Read (pharmacy) stocks a wide range of drinks and snacks at good prices.

Want a bit of a stroll before breakfast? Amy’s Bread on 47th and 9th is pastry paradise.

If you want to go out for breakfast or brunch before the con with friends, my local faves are Blue Dog (50th and 8th, round the side of the WorldWide Plaza building, basically opposite the giant Rite-Aid, has all-gender restroom; is not accessible) for smoothies, omelettes, and a good mix of healthy and indulgent food, plus they play silent movies on the wall. Then there’s Mom’s on 48th and 9th which does fruity pebbles pancakes, chicken & waffle, and shakes as big as your face that come with a whole cupcake in them. (Note that Mom’s cocktails are awful, though; I’ve field-tested this extensively. Its restrooms are gendered but single use; accessible). Brunch in Hells Kitchen is A Thing so I strongly suggest you book ahead at either of these restaurants on OpenTable (the local reservation app) if you’re coming in a group of larger than two.

All the diners in the area are terrible, don’t @ me if you go to Cosmic or something and are dreadfully disappointed. I warned you.

Food & Drink in the Evenings

Hell’s Kitchen is foodie paradise so whatever you want? We got it. Ethiopian, Afghan, Druze, great Mexican, name it. The stretch of 9th ave between 48th and 55th is where you go if you want to just walk and pick, and a lot of it is accessible. I’ll name a few of my favourites, though. Note that some are over on 10th ave because that’s where the locals go. Bear in mind it’s the weekend in one of the most popular going-out neighbourhoods in NYC so be prepared to wait for a table, and if you’re planning to go out with a big group, make a reservation.

Also, this is New York City, so you can order everything for delivery on Seamless to your hotel room — you can always just bring friends back for a catered room party if you want!

You are tired as hell and you just want Tex-Mex and to drink your way through all dozen of the frozen margarita flavours on the menu? Arriba Arriba on 51st and 9th gets you. (Crowded on weekends). You want actual good Mexico City Mexican? That’s Anejo on 47th and 10th. (Accessible; it’s right next to a good little Ethiopian place too.). You’re broke? Ponche Taqueria (cash only; not accessible) on 49th just west of 9th ave is a hole in the wall that is cute and gives great taco.

You want beer and bar food? The usual choices for this are Valhalla and Alfie’s (gendered restrooms), which are basically right across from each other on 9th between 53rd and 54th. Super queer friendly, great beer selection. However, my fave local place is As Is on 50th and 10th: 20 craft beers, gorgeous barely-renovated interior, mellow crowd. As Is is the place to go if you like sours or unusual IPAs or stouts. They also have cocktails and wine, and all-gender restrooms. It’s accessible, too.

You’re a whisky snob? Congratulations, On The Rocks is the best whisky bar in Manhattan and it’s on 10th ave just south of 49th Street. (Also: all gender restrooms; accessible)

You want a nice glass of wine outside? Ardesia (accessible) on 52nd between 10th and 11th. Or, closer to the hotel, Aria on 51st (at 9th, around the corner on 51st from Arriba Arriba, accessible) has great lighter italian food and wines.

You like Asian food? Okay, you are blessed. Ippudo on 51st between 8th and 9th is the best close-by Japanese but you definitely need a reservation and I don’t think it’s accessible. Totto Ramen on 51st between 9th and 10th is cash only and there’s always a queue BUT if you go there on your own they often seat you really fast at the counter. Method on 10th at 51st is small and chic Japanese, but just as spendy as Ippudo. If you have a big crowd and need a place for them, the Chinese hot pot restaurant Ding at 48th between 8th and 7th (tiny sign) is good and often has room when other places don’t. I believe it’s accessible, too. If you want Thai, there’s a ton of places on 9th Ave. If you like Korean and/or karaoke, get yourself to Koreatown which is centered on 32nd Street between 5th and 6th, right in the shadow of the Empire State Building!

Pizza: Don Antonio on 50th between 8th and 9th has good thin-crust pizza and has vegan and GF options, so that’s the one I’d recommend for a big group. Doesn’t take reservations.

Greek: Uncle Nick’s Greek on 9th and 50th is low key and basic neighborhood Greek but the food is good.

Vegans, the closest entirely vegan restaurant is PS Kitchen on 48th just east of 8th ave.

Gluten-free / celiac: Did you know NYC has agluten-free Italian restaurant? Friends have been and love it. Senza Gluten, on 206 Sullivan Street in Soho.

Sugar cravings: Schmackary’s, a cookie place, on 9th at the corner of 45th is right around the corner from Broadway Dance Studio and I can always tell just how much of a hot mess my dance teacher is for a new class by the degree of their Schmackary’s addiction. If you want to make best friends with half the convention, show up at 4pm on Saturday with a dozen cookies from Schmackary’s and start handing them out. (Accessible).

One fancy meal: Locally, I’d probably go for 44 & X in Hell’s Kitchen on 10th and 44th (American, great cocktails, lovely atmosphere, super chill gay; accessible) or Ilili (Lebanese) on 5th Ave at 27th St. For drinks, if it’s sunny out, get yourself down to the Soho Grand’s outdoor bar, Gilligan’s, on West Broadway in Soho and drink watermelon margaritas until you can’t feel your legs. The Harrow on 10th and 49th is also nice and small and has a really good list of non-alcoholic cocktails, plus being much less expensive than it seems like it should be (accessible, also super great about service animals!).

You’re beyond broke? Jacks 99 down on 40th between 7th and 8th is a discount / 99 cent supermarket. And the Halal food cart on the corner of 50th and 6th (near the fountain) is the one all the local cabbies swear by. There’s also a lot of dollar-a-slice pizza around Times Square.

Art Needs

Yikes, you left all your Microns in your other case, which is… at home! Okay, dash up to the Art Students League (www.theartstudentsleague.org) on 57th just east of Broadway — they have a small and subsidized / inexpensive art supplies store that’s well stocked with pens, pencils, charcoal, paper, brushes, etc. They also do drop-in life drawing open sketch classes every day: there’s usually one in the morning and always one at night (from 6:30-9:30pm). They’re cheap and the models are great. The ASL is one of the oldest art schools in America and it just has a wonderful atmosphere. (Note: not accessible)

If the ASL doesn’t have what you need for art stuff, you’re going to have to go downtown to a Blick or to DaVinci. (Pours one out for Pearl Paints, RIP.)

Exercise & Fun

Central Park is so close! Runners, go north up the park and jog around the reservoir. Or, head west to the western side of 12th ave and then run north — the nice part of the Hudson River running path starts at 56th and goes… all the way to the Little Red Lighthouse below the George Washington Bridge. And it’s flat! Yay, flat.

You can also rent bikes a lot of places — best if you want to take a ride up or down the Hudson is Al’s on 10th between 47th and 48th, and for Central Park there are a couple rental places on Columbus Circle. Of course, you can always just rent a Citibike (everywhere), but they’re so clunky for long rides. You can also ride / run all the way to the southern tip of Manhattan — I’ve run to my gym in Soho a few times via the Westside Highway!

Also, you are in DANCE CENTRAL. Both Alvin Ailey (55th and 9th) and Broadway Dance Center (45th between 9th and 8th) do drop-in dance classes — get there a half hour early because you’ll have to register. Both also do yoga and I’d shout out to the Sunday night ashtanga class at Ailey for being the most inclusive yoga class I’ve ever been in, in terms of body type and non-neurotypical acceptance. And the Heels class at BDC has lots of guys in it, in heels. All the dance classes I’ve taken at these places have been uniformly positive, welcoming experiences BUT this is New York City: you may be an Intermediate in Indiana, but you’re a Beginner on Broadway, sweetie. Definitely choose an easier class than you think you belong in. Also, for more class options, most New Yorkers use the ClassPass app so we can slut around gyms without commitment.

Seeing a Show

It’s Broadway; do the thing, people. The hot plays right now are “Sea Wall/A Life” (with Jake Gyllenhaal, he made me cry, when I had a hangover, I almost died from dehydration) and “Betrayal” (Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox and Zawe Ashton); I guess you can go see the Aaron Sorkin in “To Kill A Mockingbird” if you want to. The hot musicals are “Hadestown,” “Beetlejuice” (so fun!), “Oklahoma” (great new staging) and “Moulin Rouge.” Tickets to some of these shows will be hard to get but you can try on the TodayTix app, and if that doesn’t work by queueing at the TKTS booth in Times Square.

Seeing a Movie

So you’ve had enough socialisation and now want to sit in the dark for two hours? Friend, I get it. There are the big AMC and Regal in Times Square but honestly I’d recommend the Landmark 57 at 57th and 11th — more interesting films, much cleaner, and super comfy seats. Also, better / healthier food options, and a bar, and much more accessible than the AMC or Regal. The local revival houses / arthouse cinemas are mostly downtown, otherwise: the IFC, the Quad, the Metrograph and the Angelika are all great. If you want a recommendation, I’d say go see Lulu Wang’s THE FAREWELL because it’s a perfect mix of happy and cry.

Free & Fabulous

The convention hotel is right near Christie’s NYC’s showrooms (49th between 5th and 6th), and if you want air conditioning and to go look at pretty things, it’s free to wander around and peek at the shiny stuff coming up for auction. The current preview is a furnishings sale that also has a lot of European paintings and drawings (including a George Grosz I’d kill for) and jewellery.

The New York Public Library’s main branch is in Bryant Park (42nd between 5th and 6th) and has aircon and great wifi and the Rose Reading Room which is gorgeous. There’s also a Whole Foods next to the park so you can have a park picnic! All NYPL locations have printers and computers if you need to print something off (there’s also one at 51st and 10th). If you’re heading to Bryant Park, also check out Japanese bookstore Kinokinuya (6th ave between 40th and 41st, on the park) with its GREAT comics section and truly awesome, inexpensive 2nd floor Japanese café.

NYC has a ton of outdoor, public swimming pools. You’ll need to bring a lock (for a locker, seriously, they won’t let you in otherwise) and obviously swimwear. John Jay (upper east side), Asser Levy (23rd and 1st) and McCarren (Brooklyn) are all great.

Also (claps hands) THE! HIGH! LINE! An old elevated railway line that runs over 30 blocks (about a mile and a half) down the West side of Manhattan from 34th to the West Village, it was turned into an urban park with amazing views of the city and just… peace. It’s one of the coolest things in New York and is super great for wandering in Manhattan without feeling too crowded. Plus it takes you through the heart of Chelsea’s art district and ends right at the new Whitney Museum of American Art! The High Line has several wheelchair-accessible elevator entrances: Gansevoort (the southern end), 14th St, 16th, 23rd, and 30th, and street level at 34th (the northern end). There are accessible restrooms at Gansevoort and 16th streets.

The Subway

Download a free subway map app; I use one called NYC Subway which also marks the wheelchair-accessible stops (bad news: the NYC subway is super shitty about accessibility). Then get yourself a subway card the first time you go in (plan extra time on your journey for this). If you expect to make more than one round trip per day on the subway, it’s worth getting a three-day pass (so when it asks you whether you want to add value, or add time, choose “add time”). Otherwise, put $10 on that baby (“add value”) and you’re good to go! Note that the subway on weekends is slow so check on your app for service delays or closures. You shouldn’t be too delayed in midtown, but if you’re trying to go to Brooklyn… take care.

NYC Queer History

Fancy taking some time to check out the city’s huge amount of queer history? This article has a couple dozen sites as a starter list that’s very Manhattan-centric, but the best guide is the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, which also has self-guided tours you can download on your phone. And yeah, the LGBTQ Center in the Village is as awesome as everyone says.


Alex de Campi is not Daredevil. Follow her on most social media at @alexdecampi.

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