Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Beyond Disney: Dressing for New York City's Grand Central Oyster Bar

While I realize I may have pigeonholed myself into a corner with the title of this blog, there are times I'd like to venture outside of the Disney parks. I know this may not interest a majority of readers who simply tune in because of the Disney connection, but hey, it's my blog and I'll post what I want to! Plus, I'm visiting family in Connecticut and NYC for a few weeks, so you get what you get, k?

If you're still reading, I'll try to tie this in with Disney in some way. But that'll come toward the end of the post.

I love New York City. It's got history, culture, variety, and it has an energy to it that I can't put into words. Uptown, downtown, westside or east side-- I love 'em all.

One of my favorite spots is the Grand Central Oyster Bar. It may be a tad touristy, being right in the middle of Grand Central and all, but it's smooooooth. This historic space opened in 1913, the same year that Grand Central re-opened into the opulent space we know and love today. The country was on the cusp of WWI. While the restaurant itself has gone through a few changes, the architectural elements and cove-like setting make you feel like you've stepped back in time.

My mom and I recently visited before catching a train back to Connecticut after a day of wedding dress shopping in the City (and I said YES to the dress!!)

I don't claim to be an expert, but I do know a bit about where the cool kids sit when visiting the Oyster Bar. There are essentially five different seating areas; the main dining room, the lounge, the low countertops, the high top oyster bar, and the saloon. I'll show photos of each space, as well as a little info and comparison to their Disney counterpart.

Disclaimer: the servers here are a bit curt. They're not exactly Disney style, and are often missing warm smiles, small talk, and general patience. It can be a bit off putting, especially to someone who's accustomed to Southern hospitality like I am. But they know their stuff. Any server can tell you about every wine on their exhaustive wine list, as well as every oyster.

Upon entering the restaurant, the main dining room will be off to your left. This is where the tourists typically sit. My mom and I sat there on this last visit, as we've never done so before. It's also the only area that has booth seating. It's light, bright and very open. But like I said, it's where all the tourists sit, which is perfectly fine. Kind of like the Electric Umbrella in Epcot. If you want street cred, go a little deeper. 

Looking in to the main dining room from Grand Central terminal.

Still standing at the entrance, the lounge seating is directly in front of you. I don't know much about this area and have never sat here. I think a lot of people assume it's simply a waiting area and don't know you can actually order and eat here. It kind of reminds me of the little seating area next to the Rose & Crown, across from the bathrooms. Unless someone else is sitting there, people assume it's closed off and don't venture to it.

Turning to your right, you'll see two options. The most obvious is the low countertop seating. This is a pretty hip space to sit. You'll have to befriend whoever sits around you, but that's part of the fun. Same surly service, but a pretty authentic New York feel. I'd liken this to the bar side seating at the Dawa Bar. You know when you sit there, whoever else is there is in the know, and probably pretty cool.

The other option, and the creme de la creme of cool kid seating is at the high top oyster bar. This is where the magic happens. You can watch the guys shucking oysters, and the same fella has been manning the soup steam pots for years. He's got a crazy look in his eye, and is often found talking to himself, but he makes a mean cup of chowda'. This spot fills up quickly and stays packed, but it's worth it to wait for a seat. No frills, no smiles, just damn good food. Pair a dozen oysters and a vodka martini with this spot, and I'm in heaven. This is also where Julia Child sat in 1937 and watched the soup masters before perfecting her recipe for oyster stew. I liken this spot to either Mizners or the bar at Yak & Yeti; Mizners because it's my favorite in-the-know spot, and the bar at Y&Y because it's pretty cool just to stroll up past the crowds and sit at a good spot. 

If you venture further back, you'll spot the Saloon. This is the spot where the nine-to-five suits congregate for a drink or two before getting the train home to the suburbs. Sounds very Mad Men-ish, no? If you're going to sit at a traditional table, this is the place to do so. It's a bit more lively than the main dining room (read: noisy), but is cozy and tucked back into a warm corner of the restaurant. It's also closest to the bathrooms. This reminds me of La Cava de Tequila or the Wine Bar in Italy as it's small but fun. 

Now on to the eats.

While the majority of the menu is seafood based, there are a few options for land lubbers. But the real draw here are the oysters (duh). The restaurant always houses at least 20 different kinds of fresh oysters. As you can see, the menu is extensive. The wine list is just a big, with one side featuring whites and the other featuring reds.

I'd never pass up a chance to get the New England clam chowder, and my mom and I split a bowl and a house salad. A small bread plate is served when you sit down, consisting of one sweet biscuit, one traditional dinner roll, and several pieces of crisp flat bread topped with a variety of seeds and spices (think of an 'everything' bagel).

Any kind of oyster you want, it's here. I prefer small, firm oysters from the West coast, with my favorite being Kumamotos. Those weren't in season, so our server suggested a few others to try from that region. Mom and I both started with a dozen Shigoku. They were wonderful, nice and meaty. I forgo the cocktail sauce and eat mine with a squeeze of lemon, a dollop of horseradish, and dipped into the mignonette sauce. Slurp!

After polishing off a dozen of these bad boys, I was eager to try some others. There were four varieties from Washington State on the menu, so I asked for three of each, totaling one dozen (yay maths!). We also ordered some French fries, because oysters and fries go together so well. No really, they do!

Now on to the Disney connection. Let me be clear, I'm completely assuming, but I can imagine Walt meeting business clients here to talk shop about he 1964-65 World's Fair that was held a short train ride away in Queens, NY. Perhaps he got a table (more practical for talking shop), ordered a drink and a bowl of oyster stew, and dreamed up ideas that made their way into one of the four iconic Disney attractions at the NYWF. I don't know, it's a stretch, but a girl can dream. After all, oyster stew was on Walt's list of favorite foods.

Hope you enjoyed this venture beyond the Disney gates. I'm going into the City again in a few days and plan to visit the Disney Store in Times Square; I'll report back on that in a post that should hopefully appease my die-hard Disney readers. Until then, cheers!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter! Dressing for Air Travel + My Top 5 Favorite Disney Podcasts

Happy Easter to you! Jesus Christ is risen today. Hallelujah! 

Hope you found all the goodies the Easter Bunny left for you. Grab your Easter basket, unwrap a Cadbury egg, and read on to see my go-to outfit for air travel, as well as my top 5 Disney podcasts.

I flew up to and am currently in Connecticut to visit family for Easter; I've got a few trips into New York City planned, and will visit some friends and favorite places while here. (Fun fact: I lived in Connecticut for four years. I'm glad I experienced it; I met some wonderful people, had some great experiences, made some wonderful memories. But boy, did it make me glad to move back to sunny, warm Florida. Those Northeastern winters are no joke.) I wore this exact outfit (below) for my recent flight. I wore something similar when I flew to Disneyland in this post from last August.
Dressing for Air Travel

Ladies, you need these pants in your closet. I have them in navy and black, the latter of which I scored during the last Lilly sale. They have over 100 stellar reviews. For fit, I wear a Small and am a 4/6. 

While traveling, I like to listen to my favorite Disney podcasts. I also listen to these while I clean the house, cook, run errands, work out, or take road trips. They help pass the time, and I get to learn more about my favorite subject! 

Most of these can be found in iTunes. 

I love these nerdy guys (they'll be the first to call themselves such). Between the two of them, George and Jeff have a breadth of knowledge of Disney trivia and history. You'll hear interviews, book reviews, trip reports, history segments, and my favorite, the Five-Legged Goats, which are little secrets and hidden details scattered throughout the parks. I especially like the short and sweet length of their weekly episodes; each show clocks in at around 20 minutes or so.

Jeff is also very active on social media, and will respond to tweets. I appreciate when the podcasters interact with their listeners; it makes them relatable and shows that they appreciate the people who take the time to support them. 

 I'll warn you, this is a little nerdy, but I'm a nerd so therefore I love it. I dare you to listen and not get the little transitional songs stuck in your head. ("Hey look! What's that? It's a five-legged goat. B-a-a-a-a.") I may also be a bit partial because they gave me a shoutout on this episode. Fangirl!!

This monthly podcast is relatively new, with only 5 episodes, but boy are they good. As the title suggests, these fellas reminisce about the Disney World of the past. 

Clocking in at over an hour a piece, these are hefty, but so full of detail and interesting history. Just as riveting are the restored videos that are featured on each episode. The guys find vintage videos and clean them up; it's amazing to see the parks of the past, what has changed and what has stayed the same. I like to watch them once on their own, then watch again while listening to the guys talk about them on the podcast. Like I said, I'm a dork. Admittedly. 

Each episode takes an in-depth look at a specific area, whether it be an extinct attraction, resort, or theme park.  This approach allows for the guys to really get to the meat of the subject, and flesh it out to the fullest. Even though they're on the longer side, I find myself still wanting more at the end of each episode! I could listen to this stuff all day. 

Again, a bit on the nerdy level (I mean, we are talking Disney podcasts here...) but I absolutely love it and look forward to it every month. 

This is the first Disney podcast that I really got in to. It's a bit divisive in the Disney fan community, as Lou Mongello is known as kind of a kiss-ass for the Disney company, and rarely finds fault in anything they do. I believe he's in cahoots with them in some way, so I guess I understand why, and to be honest, it doesn't really bother me too much. Just be aware that you may be listening to a slightly biased, sugar coated view when you tune in. 

That said, this is an established weekly podcast that just celebrated it's 400th (!!) episode. Some of my personal favorites are the DSI: Disney Scene Investigations, which take an in-depth look at specific attraction; history segments with Jim Korkis, live dining reviews, top 10 segments, and walking tours of the parks. 

Lou has monthly meet ups in and around Walt Disney World, and it's nice to put a face with the voice and meet him in person. He's very personable and friendly. 

This is the official podcast of the Walt Disney Family Museum out of San Fransisco, so you know it's legit. It's also hosted by my pal Keith Gluck, so I'm kind of partial. (I'm also a fan of Keith's personal podcast, The Disney Project Podcast. Hopefully I'll be a guest on it one day, hint hint).  

Keith has interviewed some heavy hitters in the Disney community, including Bob Gurr, Rolly Crump, Alice Davis, Richard Sherman, Tom Hanks, and more. There's only been seven episodes, and they're pretty sporadic, but I understand they're ramping up production of more, so stay tuned. This is a great way to learn about Disney Imagineers and history. 

(caveat: I usually watch this one on YouTube, but they also have an audio version as well.)

This is my go-to for up to the minute news and happenings around Walt Disney World. The cast is funny and a tad snarky, but I like it. They tell it like it is and have a lot of fun doing it. I've met several of them in person, and they're very nice and personable. 

This weekly show doesn't feature much history, but is good for keeping up on the goings-on in the Disney universe. They also have a Universal and Disneyland show. 

Okay, those are my favorites. Sad thing is, I'm almost all caught up on all of them! I think I only have a handful of Communicore Weekly and WDW Radio podcast to listen to before I've heard them all. 

So tell me, what are your favorite Disney podcasts? I need to find some more! 

Have a blessed Easter. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dressing for Trader Sam's Grog Grotto (Soft) Opening

When I posted last, I asked if anyone could guess what Lilly Pulitzer I was going to sport for the soft opening of Trader Sam's Grog Grotto. Well...


Did ya guess it?! 

How perfect was this top in the Bubbly print? Especially with the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea theme that Grog Grotto has going on.

A quick backstory on Trader Sam's for those who may not know. In 2011, Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar opened at the Disneyland Hotel in Disneyland, California. It's a tiki-themed lounge that is deeply detailed and full of inside jokes by the Imagineers, with nods to the Adventurer's Club, Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room, and more. It's chock full of 'Easter eggs,' and has quite the cult following of devoted fans. People especially love to collect the specialty glassware. When you order one of the drinks that come in a souvenir glass, the bartenders have a short skit that relates to each drink. 

Fast forward a few years, and we have Trader Sam's Grot Grotto here in Walt Disney World, Florida. If you've been following me on Instagram, you know I've been scoping out the joint for the past week or so, hoping to get in once it opened. 

After a false (Twitter) alarm this past Thursday, my friend Christine and I found ourselves at the Poly,  unfortunately not in Trader Sam's. However, we crossed paths with Brandon K. who's in charge of props for both Traders. He couldn't tell us the exact date for the soft opening, but he did say it wasn't that day (Thursday), nor the next (Friday)... and kind of left it at that. So, Saturday it was. Unofficially. To be safe, I booked a breakfast ADR at Kona Cafe, so we could park and be at the resort that day. Then the Disney Parks Blog posted this, and it was official. 

I called the Disfam and we started to organize. Thomas agreed to get there really early and hold down the fort. He was the first in line at 8 am. I'm so proud! 

That's right- Thomas was there at 8, and the bar didn't open until 4. Dedication. 

FYI- Children are allowed inside the Grotto from 4-8; after 8 pm it's 21 and up. (I believe children are allowed on the patio at all times, but I'm not 100% positive.)

John and I arrived a few hours later, checked in with Thomas, and then headed up to Kona Cafe for our breakfast.

By the time we were done, the line had been moved outside. Fortunately enough, we were able to pull up chairs and tables, so we were quite comfortable during the wait. This is the line around 11:30 or so.

The tarps were pulled down from around the patio. Here's a look at the set-up. It's so nice they put umbrellas with each table; those are essential in the hot Florida sun. 

Soon Angie and Danny arrived, and then the Tambu Lounge opened at 1:00, hooray! We ordered tropical drinks and played Apples to Apples to pass the time. 

Here's what the line looked like around 3:00 or so. 

photo credit: Laughing Place 

A Cast Member came down the line and gave a stamp to the first 50 people in line (capacity inside the Grotto). 

They led us in one group at a time; the Disfam was the very first group to enter Trader Sam's!!!!! And  Thomas was the very first person!!!

The crew was ready to greet us with cheers, sirens, and more. We were SO, SO excited!! I took a video of the group coming in after us if you'd like to hear the commotion. Be warned, the video's shaky. I was so pumped!

Here's a photo from the entrance, looking in to Trader Sam's. 

We all found seats around the surfboard table, and did what any good patron would do-- ordered one of each mug specific to the Grog Grotto! From left to right, the Polynesian Pearl ($16.25), the Rum Flight ($34), and the HippopotoMai-Tai ($15--yes, only $15!!!). John and I split each drink, and it was just right! 
**All prices listed include souviner mugs***

This is the Nautilus- for $59, this beauty comes filled with a concoction to serve 3-4 people. These mugs weren't available for the soft opening, but should be later this month. 

We also ordered some food to soak up all the booze. I enjoyed the pot stickers the most. 

Love is sharing a HippopotoMai-Tai. 

Angie lucked out and got one of the 'shrinking stools.' Every now and then she's slowly melt down towards the floor, the slowly come back up. 

Angie, Thomas and I ventured out to check out the patio and get some fresh air. 

While there, we say Steve Taylor, who portrayed the second Dreamfinder! (He's enjoying a Zombi Head cocktail, which we also tried- $19.50)

Heading back inside, it was time to wander around and get some pictures of the details. How great is this photo??!

The Little Orange Bird makes an appearance. 

There were a few nods to the Parrot Jungle in Miami, which I thought was a nice touch to a fairly local joint that opened in the 1930's. I remember when it was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Andrew, releasing parrots into the wild. To this day, we still have them migrate through from time to time. 

This life preserver is a relic from Maelstrom. 

Look up above the bar -- there's an emergency key hanging from the rafters. It belongs to none other than J. Thaddeus Toad, aka Mr. Toad. We wouldn't want him having one too many Uh-Oa's and getting behind the wheel- we all know how well that ended (RIP WDW version of the attraction). 

This is a remnant of the Adventurer's Club

Below are a few of the props that are used in the effects when someone orders a Nautilus. The cephalopod has a tentacle that lowers to pour some booze into the vessel. I've included another video, but be warned-- it's really shaky. Maybe close your eyes and just listen? Or take some dramamine before watching if you get motion sick?

You'll hear the voice of Captain Nemo and a sound clip from the extinct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. 

Then, it was time for my favorite concoction. The Uh-Oa! The Disfam closed our our time at Trader Sam's by sharing this delicious libation. ($39.50) The last video is our server presenting the Uh-Oa. 

After four hours in the Grog Grotto, we were happy campers. It will go down as one of our favorite memories together. 

Well, are you excited to visit Trader Sam's Grog Grotto? Which drink looks the most enticing to you? 

*This post contains a few amazon affiliate links. You know the gig-- same price to you, small commission to me, which tries to keep Dressing For Disney out of hobby status. :)