United States

Kansas: A Series of Lies

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Somewhere, United States | 1 Comment

Kansas City

When I was growing up, my grandparents had returned from Kansas with a souvenir mug, which they oddly kept in the bathroom. The mug listed the top ten things to do in the state. The list recommended a visit to the largest ball of twine. I can’t remember the other nine items, but none seemed as exciting as the ball of twine, which spoke volumes about Kansas. From quite a young age, I knew it’d be quite unlikely that I’d ever plan a trip to Kansas. I should point out that I came to that decision despite having nine family members–aunts, uncles, first cousins–living in the state.


But then the Kansas Book Festival invited me to Topeka to present on my book this year. I figured, why not? Let’s see if the mug is outdated.


I picked up the rental car at the airport and drove west to Topeka. It was late at night, so I couldn’t see the landscape. But it was dark and quiet on the roads. So quiet that even the truck driver in front of me seemed to think the roads empty enough to drink and drive, a plausible assumption, as he swerved so violently for miles that I had to keep my distance.


Since I had missed the dinner for visiting authors, which I heard was a lovely affair at the governor’s mansion–though certainly not an endorsement of the state’s governor, I just like lovely affairs–I had to make other plans. Prior to my drive, I had researched the best places to eat in Topeka. Across the web, the consensus was solid: a barbecue joint, a burger spot, and a brewery were everyone’s top three. They must be that good, I reasoned. There was no need to skim the rest of the list. Since the barbecue place was closed and breweries always beat out burgers, I opted for the brewery.


A few things I discovered form this experience. Topeka only has a few restaurants. So to expect quality from a restaurant placing one, two, or three in the depressed capital is like betting on a three-legged horse in a four-legged horse race because the three-legged horse has an undefeated record (though only from only racing no-legged cows). While the IPAs were fine, the brewery’s barbecue was atrocious: hard, dry, and accompanied by sides that could have been used to grout a bathtub. I was uncomfortably stuffed–a fullness that I wouldn’t shake once during the trip, though I’m partially to blame.


As sad a place as Topeka was, it’s state building was gorgeous, and I enjoyed the small festival and kindness of the people.


Kansas Book Festival


After the event, I needed to shake the memory of the previous night’s blunder, and plugged the famed barbecue joint Jack Stack into Waze. On my drive, I discovered that my grandparents’ mug was proving accurate.


Kansas City’s Jack Stack, however, served phenomenal barbecue: tender, moist, and with sides and sauces that were perfect complements. But one problem: the restaurant was in Missouri.


Jack Stack Kansas City


So now here’s Kansas’s little secret: Kansas City, which some of you may know spans both states, is mostly in Missouri. And all that is ostensibly wonderful about Kansas–the charming Crossroads Arts District with breweries, art galleries, jazz venues, and restaurants galore; the museums of art and World War I; the sports teams even–is in Missouri.


The mug was right.


The only other thing that I knew about the state was that my cousin, Becky Mandelbaum, titled her award-winning short story collection Bad Kansas, which offers wonderfully conflicted and nuanced vignettes about lives in the state. One of my favorite lines about Kansas, which perhaps should have given me insight into this trip, is: “You can’t take a girl from California and stick her in Kansas. It’d be like putting a fish in a tree.”


Kansas City Brewery


That evening, I stayed at the Ameristar Hotel and Casino, which is also part of Kansas City, and also on the Missouri side. Unlike Kansas City, Kansas, there were things happening in the casino. Country musicians performed beside old train cars, steakhouses buzzed beside oyster bars, and one of the only breweries operating in a casino crafted fine beers. Even the smokey casino, with its falsely painted blue-sky ceiling, had a more refreshing quality than Kansas City, Kansas.


While I had no great love for Kansas, I guess in the end, I truly respected the mug’s honesty–and the Kansans who felt compelled to be so brutally honest–for I’ve seen a lot of misleading mugs in my time: Best Teacher on a former English teacher’s desk; she was the Kansas of teachers. Best Mom in my friend’s cupboard; his mom was Topekaish.


Though I do hope that when the world floods from climate change and we start to experience environmental apocalypse, Kansas forgives my unborn grandchildren for this flippant story, and permits them to enter this not-so-exciting state. Perhaps then, Kansas will have more thrilling mugs.


Street Art in Wynwood Miami and Art Hotels

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Somewhere, United States | 1 Comment

Street Art in Wynwood Miami

A decade ago, Wynwood, Miami, was sixteen square blocks of gray walled factories. The neighborhood featured little more than the detritus of a city section ignored. But after famed street artists like Books Bischof and Shepard Fairey—lauded even in the mainstream for his iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster—started spraying the neighborhood, art galleries, seeking to take advantage of the low rents, moved to town. Then, the late developer Tony Goldman bought property and handed over his walls to muralists, who, using the ephemera of graffiti, left an indelible mark on the neighborhood.


Today, Wynwood’s walls and Wynwood Walls—the more revered concrete canvases that are less likely to be painted over—feature art that ranges from the political to the poetic. Yet the murals, as a collective, have done the work of masterpieces: they have singlehandedly revived a once bleak neighborhood. Boutiques and galleries are now abundant, like Boho Hunter, which sells underrepresented Latin American designers, and Plant the Future, a nature-inspired design firm and purveyor of white statues—including Imperial Stormtroopers and angry gators—that double as cacti planters.



Star Wars is big in Wynwood. Huge murals are dedicated to battle scenes that reduced the droid C3PO to parts. A rainbow-tinted Yoda presides over one corner. And immediately after Carrie Fisher died, a Princess Leia tribute went up.


Just as abundant as Star-War- themed walls are craft breweries on 24th Street. Begin east with the J. Wakefield, a brewery that is about two things: beer and, as it happens, Star Wars. Inside are a half dozen painted odes to Jedis and Dark Siders drinking pints, along with twice as many great beers. Their sours and IPAs, which the other breweries also do well, are best. End the Wynwood beer tour on the western and quieter end of 24th , where the neighborhood’s first microbrewy, the Wynwood Brewing Company, pours pints.



But the largest of the neighborhood’s breweries is Concrete Beach. As the name implies, the brewery is a big concrete slab for imbibers to lounge around on. Beyond the murals, the brewery’s walls are works of art, too. The concrete crumbs—a result of the demolition work to build the brewery—have been restacked into walls and held in place with metal cages. The industrial feel extends to the games, too, like their huge, scrap-made versions of Jenga and Connect Four. Concrete Beach also hosts the best events of all the breweries, including a fortnightly pig roast, and, paradoxically, free yoga paired with four-dollar pints.


Street Art in Wynwood Miami


As much as artists can revitalize a neighborhood, it is often the chefs that sustain it.
Wynwood, today, is home to some of Miami’s best cuisine, including Alter and KYU. The former focuses on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients; the latter brings Japanese grilling techniques to their eclectic menu. For less formal dining, head to the Wynwood Yard—a massive gravel lot that is home to nearly a dozen food trucks, including Myumi, America’s first omakase sushi truck, and the Michelin-starred Ricardo Saenz’s latest ride, Kuenko, a fusion of Japanese and Spanish cuisines.


After dinner, head to the heart of Wynwood for its nightlife. Gramps, one of the elders of Wynwood, is an outdoor dive bar that dishes up “Hot slices, Cuban coffee, Bogus claims.” (They don’t serve Cuban coffee.) But they do host some of the best acts in town. Any one night can deliver the following: stand-up comedy shows, musical performances, and bingo hosted by a drag queen. The Wood Tavern also puts on events, and is the better choice for those who prefer craft beers. Coyo Taco, which serves inventive takes on this Mexican staple—try the octopus or duck tacos—has a hidden bar behind their shop. If you arrive early to the festivities, Panther Coffee, the small-batch roaster and specialty retailer of fine beans, is the best place to waste time. Their courtyard is perfect for watching the speedy evolution of night and neighborhood.


Street Art in Wynwood Miami


As Wynwood matures, the hotels will appear. But for now, it’s easier to stay nearby. More upscale than the edgier streets of Wynwood, but equally dedicated to the arts, is the Betsy Hotel. This South Beach luxury accommodation places poems on pillows and sets guests up with in-room libraries (that actually have worthy reads). This in-room, literary vibe extends out into the hotel, where salons—often presented by their writer-in-residence, or other revered authors—are run in intimate settings. The hotel triples as an impressive photo gallery, as portraits of celebrated poets, and hundreds of early-years’Rolling Stones and Beatles snapshots hang throughout. The Betsy also harks back to a Miami of yesteryears when it transforms into a jazz hideaway on Wednesdays and Thursdays, or a Yiddish salon on Sundays.


If an artsy party is more of an appeal—and proximity to the beach matters little—consider the Langford Hotel in Downtown Miami. There, the rooftop bar, Pawn Broker, buzzes above the building that was once an old bank. Pawn Broker’s bartenders pour creative cocktails. (Best are the gin drinks presented in miniature porcelain bathtubs.) And on the white-walled edifice across the way—a Wynwood dream—the hotel bar plays classic films, sans sound.


Whether it’s a stay in South Beach or Downtown, it’s just a quick, cheap ride to Wynwood—Uber Pool, for instance, costs a few cents more than public transport. And the neighborhood that was left the day before is likely a different place entirely upon return.


A Day in New Hope

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Somewhere, United States | Leave a comment

New Hope Crab Cakes at Karla'sNew Hope is one of those towns that you visit for the nothing-much-to-do. It’s pretty, like if a less charming Charleston had shrunk down to a few blocks and moved to the north, or if Woodstock lost some of its hip because it allowed Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts to come to town. Read more

Traveling 30A and The Real-World Truman Show

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Somewhere, United States | Leave a comment

Traveling 30A, Post Office, Seaside Florida

In the 1998 Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show—about a psychological experiment that secretly turned one unknowing man’s life into a reality television show—place is paramount to the film. It’s set in a perfect white picket-fence community with everything in walking distance; you really wouldn’t ever want to leave, (unless you discovered a conspiracy to keep you imprisoned for the world’s entertainment, as Truman Burbank does).


Interestingly enough, many people opt to never leave the Truman Show, or at least Seaside, Florida, where the movie was filmed. In South Walton, Seaside is one of the many quaint and beautiful beach communities along 30A—nineteen blissful miles of beach, forest, and rare coastal dune lakes, where red-tinted lakes will merge with emerald gulf waters after a heavy rain. Read more

Chinatown in Honolulu: Before Gentrification

Posted on by Noah Lederman in I Ate What?, Somewhere, United States | 2 Comments

Chinatown in Honolulu Manifest Bar

It was our second night on Oahu and we were trying to find a place to eat, but without reservations nabbing a walk-in two-top required an hour wait. And with a hungry baby and a pregnant wife, the wait just wasn’t doable. And for Waikiki’s subpar food, it was inconceivable. In fact, I lost some grasp on reality when a line, fifty people long, extended from the hostess stand of the Cheesecake Factory and traveled down the block. In what world did people line up for the Cheesecake Factory?

Read more