Photo by Andrew Marks (andrewmarksphoto.com)
Don’t call it a tour, but DO tip your guide: Rev. Jen (inside sandwich sign) and crew, on the inaugural Troll Stroll.
Rev. Jen, on why Downtown still kinda rocks
BY REV. JEN | Saying Downtown is dead is like saying disco is dead. It’s not. As long as weddings and bar mitzvahs exist, someone, somewhere in this world will dance to KC and the Sunshine Band or The Village People. But like disco, Downtown can be unbearable at times — especially on Saturday nights, when Ludlow Street turns into “Girls Gone Wild Cancun” without the tans or bikinis. If you live Downtown, as I do, there is oft a night when two Benadryl and two earplugs are required just to block it out, sleep and face the next day.
Despite this, Downtown still kinda rocks. Here’s a few reasons why.
Let’s start with my favorite subject: me! After 12 years of working at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where I provided stellar customer service and yuks, I was fired — without warning, a severance package or any trace of humanity. Rather than curl up in the fetal position, drinking and crying for several days (okay, I did do that), I bounced back and did what the Lower East Side is best at: I turned the lemons into lemonade.
As many of you know, I have run my own “Museum” since 2000. “Reverend Jen’s Lower East Side Troll Museum” is located in my apartment, where my collection of over 400 troll dolls is displayed — surrounded by my psychedelic paintings and a level of eccentricity most consider as outmoded as the cotton gin. The Troll Museum is kind of like Warhol’s Factory without the money, fame or recognition. So upon my job “termination” I decided the thing to do was to create a historic stroll of the neighborhood combined with a visit to the Troll Museum. I also added a bikini-clad assistant and a musical guest.
Immediately, people signed up. Why? Because the Guggenheim, MoMA, Met, the Tenement Museum and even the Museum of Sex have no trolls, bikini-clad assistants or musical guests.
We began our stroll on the Southeast corner of Orchard and Delancey. I wore a sandwich board advertising the Troll Museum and my “Barker Beauty” Amanda Whip (a burlesque performer who has also posed for “Penthouse”) wore a hot pink bikini while holding up an applause sign as guests gathered. Among them was a child who wanted me to autograph her troll dolls and a young man wearing elf ears. The child brought along a portable fan with which to cool down other guests. Our first stop was Bereket Turkish Kebab House (187 E. Houston St.). As one Yelp reviewer pointed out, Bereket’s food is a great weapon against hangovers. It’s also where our musical guest, Super Bad Brad, who’s appeared several times on “Amateur Night at the Apollo,” greeted us. Armed with a giant boom box, ill-fitting ’70s attire and a voice like Marvin Gaye, he busted out hits ranging from “Ave Maria” to “Me and Mrs. Jones.”
After dancing in the streets, we waved goodbye to Brad and went by Katz’s Deli (205 E. Houston St.), a dining establishment that’s survived two World Wars and the Great Depression. Why? Because people love a good swinging sausage party. This was followed by my “Gentrification Puppet Show” wherein I used poorly made cardboard puppets to reenact the Dutch “purchasing” Manhattan from the Lenape. The fun didn’t end there. After several other stops, which included a visit to the empty lot that is now the resting place of Collective: Unconscious (where I used to do my open mic), we made our way to B&B International LLC, Discount Center (110 Ludlow St.), where you can look at holographic art featuring tigers, Jesus and the Virgin Mary for a lot less than a visit to MoMa.
There, one visitor even procured a pair of hot pink goggles, which matched Amanda’s bikini perfectly.
We then stopped by Jade Fountain Liquor Corporation (123 Delancey St.) — a store I’ve frequented for two decades due to their prices. As yet another astute Yelp reviewer observed, the money they’d saved shopping there will buy them “a new liver” when the time comes.
Since temperatures were soaring above 90 degrees, we cut out other stops and climbed “Mount Rev” (my six-floor walkup) to the Troll Museum — where visitors regaled in the bewildering variety of trolls on view. I think most Troll Strollers would agree that it was an experience unique to the Lower East Side and unlike any other experience on earth. The next one will leave from the Southeast corner of Orchard and Delancey on Saturday, June 22nd, at 3pm. FREE (though donating money to your extremely poor “guide” is heavily encouraged).
Aside from the Troll Stroll, if you’re looking for cool stuff to do on the Lower East Side, there’s plenty of activity. The day after the Stroll was a Sunday. This is considered by many to be a day of rest. However, when you’re on “funemployment,” every day is a day of rest. I decided to go out. For over a year, my friend, Tom Clark, has produced a music show called “The Treehouse” at 2A (25 Ave. A), a favorite bar of mine — not just because it features great talent, but also because the address is in the bar’s name (it’s on Second and A). So no matter how banged up you get on government cheese and Budweiser, you can find it. Also, Tom doesn’t book crappy musicians. Ever. This week, I saw a renowned musician named Ann Klein play a cover of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” that offered me a catharsis. And, amazingly, that catharsis was free. Check out the Treehouse every Sunday at 8:30pm. The musicianship will amaze you.
Finally, they say laughter is the best medicine — and as somebody who can’t afford medicine, I couldn’t agree more. Tuesday nights offer two great opportunities to laugh away crippling depression (I would have written about Mondays but until I can also afford Botox, I need a day off).
My first stop Tuesday was Lucky Jack’s, a pub that hosts a free comedy open mic. If you are a neophyte comedian or a potential audience member who wants to laugh while drinking a properly poured Guinness, go there (every Tuesday, 6pm, 129 Orchard St.). You can find even more yuks immediately after (at 8pm) at No Fun, a bar just two blocks away (161 Ludlow St., btw Stanton & E. Houston Sts.). Don’t let the name fool you. No Fun is fun! Host Todd Montesi books a comedy show that will make you forget you are suffering.
So there you have it. The Lower East Side isn’t completely lame. There is plenty to do that doesn’t involve velvet ropes or excessive cash. So get out there and support the avant-garde, the experimental and the 99 cent-plus places of Downtown NYC.
The opinions in this column are those of one very specific urban elf, and do not necessarily reflect those of the staff, interns or drinking buddies of this fine publication. For all things Rev. Jen, visit revjen.com.