Girls Night Out: Times Square

Friday, I enjoyed a girls night out in Times Square with my dear friend Lisa.

The evening’s main event – Rock of Ages. As an 80’s child and diehard fan of music from that era, I’ve been wanting to see this show for years. It didn’t disappoint.

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Constantine Maroulis and the cast of Rock of Ages (photo credit: Joan Marcus/Playbill.com)

American Idol alum and original cast member Constantine Maroulis anchors Rock of Ages’ lively cast in the story of a city boy and small town girl seeking love and stardom in L.A. The show offers plenty of sing a long moments, weaving in about 80’s hits from, among others, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister and Whitesnake.  It strikes the pitch perfect balance of kitschy, nostalgic fun and cheeky humor. Constantine is back through October 26 only, don’t miss your chance to see him.

After the show, Lisa and I briefly braved the Times Square crowds to walk over to Blue Fin nearby for a late dinner. I enjoyed bronzino with squash salad and cinnamon ice cream–all delicious with a capital D.

As I headed home, I thought about two things: good friends and my good fortune to live in NYC.

I heart my hometown.

An A-mazing Weekend In L.A.

This weekend marked my second visit to L.A. this summer. The occasion–celebrating a very special milestone for my dear friend A Martinez: the premiere screening of his new movie, Before Your Eyes.

The short film is A’s first foray into screenwriting and directing. And its debut made for two memorable evenings I feel so fortunate and happy to have been a part of.

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Malibu Cafe

Friday night, Malibu Cafe provided the ideal setting for an intimate outdoor dinner with A and his beautiful family. Nestled in the heart of Malibu Canyon, it offers a picturesque outdoor setting with whimsical touches like chandeliers strung from the trees and paddleboats. Joining me for the festive meal were my good friends Marilyn and Candy, and Candy’s Italy-based friend Elisa, all of whom (like me) became acquainted with A decades ago during his iconic Emmy-winning role as Cruz Castillo on the NBC soap Santa Barbara.

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(from left): Marilyn, me, A, Candy and Elisa

Over dinner, we reminisced about the magic that was SB and all of the good that has come from it — most especially our enduring friendships. With Candy in France, Marilyn in Ohio and me in NYC, we were thrilled to be together for such a happy occasion. Last night, we headed to Olandar, home and artistic sanctuary of actor Leigh McCloskey and wife Carla, for the screening. The evening began with a stirring performance by A’s son Dakota Martinez and wife Sandra Pehrsson a.k.a SandraKota.

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SandraKota performs at Olandar

Their soulful voices harmonize just perfectly together and you can feel the love between them. Sandra later told me the sweet story of how she approached Cody when they were both in the same class. Upon discovering that he shared her affinity for dates, she invited him to go to a date farm. They clicked immediately and married a year later. Seeing them together is enough to make this jaded single believe in true love again. Finally, it was time for the main attraction and Before Your Eyes didn’t disappoint. The film takes place on a climactic night for one family after their tormented father leaves. They come together to make a video in a bid to avoid losing their home. It is a powerful tale of the ties that bind and pull us apart, vividly brought to life by the talented ensemble cast. A seamlessly blends Before Your Eyes‘ dramatic story with humor and wit, grounding the film in rich characterizations and engaging dialogue. The transcendent song around which all of the action takes place, co-written by A and Cody, stays with you after the credits roll. I couldn’t be happier for or prouder of A in what he has accomplished with Before Your Eyes. As I told him afterward, he is as much a hero to me now as he was when we first met more than 25 years ago. Congratulations, my friend.

Two Girls Nights Out To Remember

This week, I enjoyed two delightful girls nights out.

Wednesday, I enjoyed a much-needed reunion with my beloved cousin Alexandra at Trattoria Bolognese in Midtown.

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Trattoria Bolognese in Midtown (photo courtesy: Zagat.com)

Trattoria Bolognese is one of those rare and wonderful NYC restaurants that has been around for awhile. I remember eating there often in my twenties, as it was located right around the corner from my parents’ building. Serving delicious old school Italian fare in a casual, warm setting, Trattoria remains one of my favorites – and a perfect setting for lingering conversation.

Alexandra and I hadn’t seen each other since she glammed me up for my photo shoot back in June, so we had a lot to catch up on. We talked about summer getaways, the ebb and flow of professional contentment and coping when life throws you a curveball.

Alex has been my rock through so many trials and tribulations, a soul sister whom I have cherished since childhood. We already have our next bonding session scheduled and I can’t wait.

Speaking of wonderful women, I also had the pleasure of catching up with my dear friend Lauren. A fellow hospitality marketing pro, Lauren was the first person I connected with in the industry a decade ago. I remember thinking when we met that if everyone in the biz was as awesome as she is, I was going to love being part of it. I was right.

Lauren invited me to join her at a fantastic networking event hosted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association and Colombia Tourism. Held at Barraca in the West Village, the night offered great opportunities to mingle along with delicious Latin cuisine and beverages. Among the interesting folks we chatted with — a freelance writer who has ridden halfway across the country on a bicycle and a twentysomething finance rep by day/travel blogger by night.

The finance gal asked lots of questions about parlaying her passion for travel into a career change. Happy to share my experiences as a career changer, I found myself thinking how fortunate I am to love what I do. The varied work I did before couldn’t have been a better preamble for it had I planned it to be.

And I couldn’t be more blessed to have amazing women like Lauren and Alexandra to remind me of all I have to be grateful for.

A Special Sisters Night Out

Earlier this week, I headed to Public House in Midtown for a girls night out with my sister Hilary.

Public House in Midtown (photo courtesy: PublicHouseNYC.com)

A lively casual venue with a great after work scene, Public House is very generous with giveaways. I’ve won two complimentary happy hours and on this occasion, enjoyed a free three course dinner with unlimited wine (regular price: $35). The food is average but the fun atmosphere makes up for it.

I was especially happy to have some bonding time with Hil. As a single mom of two boys, she rarely gets a night off so we had a lot to talk about.

We reminisced about old times with our late and beloved parents — admitting how much we miss their ability to bring everyone together and how much our family life has changed without them. And, like people all over the world, we shared our shock and sadness about the untimely passing of Robin Williams.

Much has been said about his singular comic genius and gifts as an Oscar-winning dramatic actor. His versatile talents moved and entertained me many times over the years. But what has truly stayed with me since the news of his death is his humanity–most especially as an adored father of three.

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Family man: The star with kids (from left) Zachary, Zelda and Cody in 2006 (photo courtesy: People Magazine)

I too lost a parent when I was in my twenties, also in an untimely and cruel way (Mom was 57 when she died of breast cancer). As I read the beautiful, poignant tributes from Williams’ children, I was reminded of something I have learned from being parentless for 8 years now: a parent’s love and imprint on your soul stays with you forever. For all of his many and varied professional accomplishments, this is Williams’ greatest legacy.

Rest in peace, Captain.

New Connections Through An Old Friend

One of the best parts of living in NYC is the abundance of great restaurants. I recently caught up with dear friend Yong at one of my longtime favorites, Cara Mia in Hell’s Kitchen.

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Cara Mia: One of NYC’s best Italian bistros

The cozy Italian bistro offers attentive service and delicious fare in a relaxed, low key setting. It provided the ideal venue for Yong and I to fill each other in on recent developments. We talked about summer travels, his firstborn heading off to college soon and my excitement over being quoted in The New York Times about a new package for women at The Westin New York Grand Central.

Yong invited me  to join him later in the week at a social networking event being hosted by a college friend of his. Upon arriving at Latitude, my first thought was–too crowded and too loud. So I felt truly reassured when one of the attendees at the mixer said the same thing.

“This reminds me of where I used to go in my college days,” she said as I nodded in agreement.

Yong’s friend Marc, who hosted the gathering, shared that he organized it to offset the challenges of broadening your social circle in a fast paced city like NYC. Indeed, even in a metropolis of millions, you have to make an effort to meet new people.

The mixer introduced me to some fascinating locals–a photographer, lawyer and wardrobe stylist among them. It was a reminder that if you want to change something in your life, taking even a small step can make a difference. Especially when you have good friends to take those steps with.

An NYC Fashionista Joins Chloe + Isabel

Some people inspire you with their ongoing ability to reinvent themselves. My dear friend Heidi (a.k.a Divalicious) is one of them.

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Heidi and me (February 2010)

I nicknamed Heidi Divalicious because she is a diva in the best sense of the word: a vibrant spirit with a zest for life who is continually stretching beyond her comfort zone. In the decade that I’ve known her, her pursuits have included acting, tango dancing and karaoke, to name a few. She recently obtained a master’s degree in interactive media — and is now adding style entrepreneur to her already versatile resume.

Heidi has joined Chloe + Isabel. The NYC-based company’s jewelry, which has appeared in Vogue and O Magazine, has something for everyone. Pieces start at just $18 and all items are nickel-free, lead-safe and, natch, designed in NYC.

In this fun YouTube video, Heidi shares why she wanted to partner with Chloe + Isabel. My good friend is a perfect match for Chloe + Isabel. A New Yorker herself with five years of fine jewelry experience, Heidi is a true fashionista with a very distinctive style. When we worked together in TV news doing the graveyard shift, she always managed to look fabulous despite the ungodly hours (I tended to favor the just-rolled-out-of-bed look).

Her online GeishaGlam boutique features items that she has curated. Among her personal favorites are these dazzling items below, all under $100.

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Pictured: Sunset on the Seine Drop Earrings ($38). Sunlit Sahara Cuff ($98). Tangier Collar Necklace ($98).

Wondering which accessories would work best for you? Heidi is available to be your personal style consultant. With Chloe + Isabel’s lifetime replacement guarantee and 30-day money-back policy, online shopping doesn’t get any easier than this.

I think I’m going to treat myself to the drop earrings pictured above. To start with anyway…

NYC Gal Picks For Singles: Get Me A Guy & Bravo’s New Dating Show

Last weekend, I headed down to the East Village for brunch with my dear friend Jenn—and a performance of the new comedy Get Me A Guy.

A scene from Get Me A Guy Get Me a Guy (Photo courtesy: Alexander Fabozzi)

The briskly paced, broadly acted 80-minute ensemble show is a hilarious, incisive look at the ups and downs of dating today, seen through various vignettes. There’s the nebbishy surgeon desperate for a relationship but, as he tells a female friend, only with someone who satisfies everything on his lengthy checklist. We also meet a girl who reconnects with a guy she feels guilty about rejecting years ago—only to discover he doesn’t remember her. Then there’s the bachelorette who regularly goes out with a single male friend while remaining oblivious to his feelings for her.

In every scenario, two common themes emerge—rampant miscommunication and unreasonable expectations, the latter of which is amplified in the (admittedly cheesy) musical number from which Get Me A Guy takes its name. The show repeatedly asks, have singles become so picky and set in their ways that it’s almost impossible to find a lasting connection?

A pair of sweet closing scenes depicting elderly couples make the case for having a less demanding mindset. We see that, in the end, perfection isn’t a prerequisite to lasting companionship. Get Me A Guy is an entertaining romp, one I highly recommend for a girls day/night out.

If you’re feeling especially adventurous when it comes to meeting new people, Bravo TV wants to hear from you. The network is looking to schedule daters for current cast members in a new series called The Singles Project.

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Want to go on a (televised) date with one of these people?

According to a casting producer, the show is based around New Yorkers, their careers, social circles and dating.

“Essentially, it’s a lifestyle show that highlights dating in New York City,” she told me. “There are no rose ceremonies, no matchmaker advice, nothing contrived. Everything is done very organically.”

Though I don’t know how organic any reality show can really be, one thing about The Singles Project impresses me. Unlike most of these programs, there’s no age limit — i.e. you don’t have to be twentysomething to participate. For more information about how to apply, visit the show’s website or email carissa@thehousethatcastingbuilt.com.

Bruno Mars and Pharrell Rock MSG

Earlier this week, I headed to Madison Square Garden for an evening with two of pop’s biggest superstars–Bruno Mars and Pharrell. The concert marked the first-ever performances for both at MSG, and they each brought their A-game.

Pharrell—sporting one of his trademark hats, of course—breezed through a lively opening set. Backed by hip hop dancers, he charmed with his playful onstage banter and signature hits.

Pharrell

A huge LED screen lit up behind him as he did “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky.” Not surprisingly, he wrapped things up with “Happy.” Even after hearing it so much everywhere, I have to say this song is infectious live.

The excitement continued when Bruno Mars took the stage. From the minute he came out, singing “Moonshine” set against a dazzling light show, you knew this was going to be a night of high energy fun.

Bruno Mars

Mars said as much himself, inviting the crowd to stay on its feet—an easy task as he powered through his hour and forty-five minute set. He brought the soulful funk and smooth sounds that have made him a Top 40 mainstay over the last couple of years. He wowed with an irresistible mix of ballads and dance hits like “It Will Rain,” “When I Was Your Man,” “Marry You” and “Treasure.” Two of the evening’s highlights—a slowed down version of “Nothin’ On You” and a showstopping rendition of “Grenade.”

A talented group

Joining Mars on stage were a talented group of backup singers/musicians who ably kept up with him and the huge spectacle behind them (pyrotechnics, colorful lighting).

After a keyboard solo, Mars launched into “Just The Way You Are” before an action-packed encore. He returned to the stage for a drum solo and “Locked Out Of Heaven,” surprising the crowd then with a special guest: Lenny Kravitz.

Bruno Mars and Lenny Kravitz

The two covered Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” before Mars closed out the epic night with “Gorilla.” Truly a concert to remember–and not to be missed if you get the chance.

Bruno Mars’ Moonshine Jungle tour continues through September 6th.

Sakagura: Japanese Delight In Midtown

Some of NYC’s most delightful dining experiences are also hidden gems. I had the pleasure of being reminded of this earlier this week with my first visit to Sakagura.

Sakagura: a delightful slice of Japan in Midtown NYC (photo courtesy: nymag.com)

Tucked away in the basement of an office building in East Midtown, Sakagura is a restaurant that truly transports you. From the bonsai trees to bamboo infused decor and attentive service, it feels like an authentic taste of Japan.

Speaking of flavors, Sakagura is a flavorful treat for the palette, with a delicious selection of hot and cold Japanese tapas.  Fellow foodie Stacy — thanks for the invite my dear friend! — and I savored every bite of our meal. I enjoyed eel vinaigrette with cucumber and Wakame seaweed, grilled Japanese Squid brushed with garlic soy sauce and this decadent confection…

Mashed potatoes in sweet, fried donut batter. Yum!

We had a lot to catch up on. I filled Stacy in on my glorious July 4th getaway to LA while she shared the itinerary for her upcoming European adventure (London-Berlin-Reykjavik). We also talked about how rapidly times goes by once you hit 40 — making it feel even more urgent to follow your bliss wherever it takes you. I’m excited to rededicate myself to doing just that.

By the way, today wraps up NYC Gal’s 14 days of giveaways. It’s not too late to enter to win a stay at The Westin New York Grand Central! Visit this page for more info and heartfelt thanks for supporting my second foray into the blogosphere!

Looking Through A Different Lens

One of my favorite books is Amy Spencer’s inspiring Bright Side Up: 100 Ways To Be Happier Right NowAnd one of my favorite pearls of wisdom in it is about refocusing your perspective.

“Like the camera lens of life,” Amy writes, “We can zoom out from the negative stuff and see the whole picture. Pull back and see what else is there–the good stuff.”

I found myself doing exactly that during a recent photo shoot with my cousin Alexandra and fabulous photographer Andrea Reese.

The afternoon began at my place, with Alexandra working her makeup artist magic to make me ready for my closeup.

Getting all glammed up

After an hour in her capable hands, I felt like a supermodel–especially when Andrea arrived brimming with excitement and effervescence. Her infectious energy put me at ease right away.

Once Alexandra put the finishing touches on my makeup, the three of us went into my room, where Andrea put on her stylist hat to help select wardrobe and accessories for the shoot. We then headed up to my building’s roof deck — a true urban oasis — for the first series of photos. In the background, a swimsuit-clad resident lounging around while a more clothed neighbor read the newspaper. Only in New York.

All smiles on the roof deck

For the next setup, Andrea led us to a series of nearby locations all within a five block radius.

One of my favorites from the shoot. My cousin rocks.

From a townhouse stoop and distressed wall to a nearby playground and the rich red doors of favorite dive bar O’Flanagan’s, Andrea made me appreciate my neighborhood in a completely new way. Seeing how she views everything through a creative, beauty seeking lens helped me reframe my own view–and reminded me it’s never too late to do that.

Two hours and plenty of smiles and sultry poses later, my supermodel moment drew to a close. As I told Alexandra, I really didn’t want to wash my face that night, particularly since the makeup was still completely intact.

You can check out more of the many great photos that Andrea took here. And there’s still one more week of my giveaway extravaganza, including two tickets to the new Off Broadway comedy Get Me A Guy (full review to come) and a one-night stay at The Westin New York Grand Central! Visit this page for info about how to enter.

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