Just Like Jack and Rose: A Romantic Date on the Titanic

Taylor Gianotas

“Near, far, wherever you are, there’s no better way to break the ice on a first date than on the deck of Café Jack, a Titanic-themed restaurant in the heart of LA’s Koreatown. Café Jack is the perfect spot to take a new paramour who is nostalgic for late-Victorian era romance and/or has an excellent sense of humor.”

I interviewed Jack Shin, owner of Cafe Jack for The Culture Trip LA! I was touched by his genuine passion for the film Titanic and his commitment to the Koreatown community.

Read the full story here and check out the slideshow below courtesy of Sarah Eisenberg and Taylor Gianotas, my forever partners in crime.

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Brooklyn’s Biggest Hooker

Originally reported in 2009 by Sydney Parker

“I’m forty years old and I hooked a forty pound fish!” declared John Ruffino, hoisting the giant first prize Brooklyn Fishing Derby trophy over his head. The first annual derby held it’s closing celebration Sunday night at the Brooklyn Alehouse.

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An enormous striped bass hung by it’s lip from a tree branch at the entrance, marking the spot. The ceremony signified the end of the month long competition to catch the biggest fish anywhere along the East River from Red Hook to Long Island City, Queens.

Catching the big fish was a proud moment for Ruffino. A class room of Orthodox Jews had taken a field trip to the Gantry State Park pier that day and cheered as he reeled in the line for the massive fish. It took him over twenty minutes to pull the bass out of the water.

“When I stuck my hand in to pull out the hook, the fish bit me,” said Ruffino, unwrapping his hand from his beer to show the scar.

Back lit by a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline and flattered by the sparkling East River, Gantry State Park provides the ideal conditions for the fisherman’s reverie. The park was recently transformed from an industrial space into an award winning design. Two gantries, old Long Island Railroad shipping lifts, remind the public of the area’s industrial history.

“I come out here and fish every day after work,” boasted Ruffino, attempting to pull off his sweatshirt over a lit cigarette. “It doesn’t leave a lot of time to meet women.”

Ruffino began fishing when he was a little boy and quickly developed an obsession, leading him to spend extravagant amounts of money on new fishing equipment. He wishes that there was a local tackle shop in Long Island City but doesn’t mind making the trip to the Dream Tackle Shop in Brooklyn, a hangout for fisherman in the know.

Ben Sargent and James Potter, members of the Urban Anglers Association founded the competition almost as a joke to see if any New Yorkers would actually participate. To their surprise, 40 competitors signed up ranging from old-timer fisherman to skinny-jeaned Hipsters all striving to become New York’s “biggest hooker.”

“The fishing community is a tight, discrete network,” said Sargent, adjusting his Katz’s Delicatessen baseball hat. “We wanted to open it up to everyone.”

Sargent is notorious in the culinary community for his seafood chowder recipe featured on Food Network, his surfing club in Rockaway Parkway and his honorable work with I Fish NY, a program that introduces city kids to the world of fishing.

Sargent’s derby awards extended way beyond 1st and last. The awards for Most Jealous Fisherman, Most Time Spent in the Water, and Best Dressed Fisherman were also greeted with applause and laughter from friends and family. The award for Most Absent Fishermen went to Jason Lamb, a young man with a shaggy mop of hair who notoriously left his pole unattended. His prize: A $50 gift certificate to get a haircut.

Russell Dugan, a young shop regular sporting dirty vintage glasses and an unwashed mullet warmed beneath a red trucker hat enjoys Ruffino’s vast fishing knowledge and outlandish personality. Dugan rarely catches anything but appreciates the sport.

“It’s not about the catching, it’s about the fishing.” The Brooklyn Fishing Derby officially advocates a policy of catch and release. In spite of this, Ruffino plans to share his bounty of fish with good friends and neighbors.

Eating fish from the polluted East River is not advised by environmental experts, but fishermen swear by the safe and pleasurable experience of ingesting the fish you caught by way of your own patience and diligence.

Potter is proud of the derby’s popularity with people of all ages and backgrounds. “Fishing is a common language,” says Potter. He can’t wait to see who joins up next year.

His sister Clarissa Potter is happy for her brother’s success but is relieved that he will now be more available to spend time with loved ones. Mr. Potter won the Most Jealous Fisherman Award for his attitude of complete despair when he lost a fish and very vocally condemned his competitor’s big catch.

New York might seem like the last place a fisherman would go to relish in the tranquil art of casting and reeling, but for Micheal Louie, the Long Island City shore is pure paradise.

“When I’m waiting for the fish to come, I clear my head,” says Louie. “Water runs in, problems run out.”

Space Womb

space womb

Original reporting done in 2009 by Sydney Parker. 

Art is gestating in Long Island City’s Space Womb. The new gallery conceived by artist Jongwang Lee features installation art, interpretive dance and music inspired by the spirituality of the female uterus. Mr. Lee envisions his exhibition as a home for embryonic life, “where one can leave material reality behind and return to the Utopian world of the mother’s womb.” He hopes to promote his vision while fostering the growth of developing artists in the community.space womb gallery

“It’s a little weird, but it’s nice to look at,” said Patricia Toranovich, manager of Court Square Diner located across the street.

Diners enjoy cheese Danish and a full view of the gallery’s galactic “Space Womb” sign imposed on a jet-pack black exterior and swathed in tongue-pink swirls extending all the way onto the sidewalk.

“The name is so strange, nobody knows what it is,” said Tina O’Brien, a bartender at The Shannon Pot, an Irish pub a few doors down from the gallery, “everyone is afraid to go in.”

Mr. Lee credits much of the inspiration for his art to his grandmother who was a famous Shaman in Korea.“During my childhood I was deeply impacted by her performance and felt a strong contact with the spiritual world,” says Lee swooping back a mass of long, dark hair.

Upon completion of his studies at prestigious art Universities in Seoul, Korea and Tokyo, Japan, Mr. Lee moved to New York, New York. He missed the familiarity of his birth country, but wanted to be reborn in the culturally and politically free American climate. His womb-themed art has been featured in group and solo shows throughout museums in California, Washington D.C. and New York. In June 2009 he opened his own gallery at 22-48 Jackson Avenue, LIC.

Space Womb’s address has a reputation in the working-class neighborhood as a haunt for eccentric proprietors. The storefront church, Iglesia De Dios that previously occupied the space held raucous Wednesday night prayer meetings much to the displeasure of neighboring businesses.

“They were singing and screaming late at night. I couldn’t stand the noise,” says Kenny Kang a sign constructor at nearby Eden Signs & More. The owner of the church was later committed to an insane asylum and the church sold to current landlord, Gregory Wolkoff.

The businesses bounding 22-48 Jackson Avenue are relieved by the quietness of their new neighbor. Mr. Lee’s unusual gallery provokes more than a few eyebrow raises, but doesn’t disturb the ebb and flow of the hard working Long Island City citizens arriving off the 7 train zooming overhead.

“I hope that my work encourages people to look within themselves and realize the unbelievable power of life and the dormant potential within each of us,” says Lee.

Mr. Lee is pleased with his gallery’s relatively soothing presence and hopes to continue infiltrating the neighborhood with his artistic and spiritual revelations.

“I like the name Space Womb, it’s funny,” says Michael Stein, a dreadlocked, 6’ 5” elevator mechanic taking a cigarette break in front of Colonial Elevator Corporation. “What the hell do they do in there?”

Fishy Family Fun at Salmon Days! The Spawn is ON.


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If you’ve ever wanted to do an anthropological study on the relationship between old hippies and wild salmon (who hasn’t?), the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival is fertile ground for field work. I go each year with my family and enjoy “Fishy, Family, Fun,” that is “Spawnsored” by Overlake Medical Clinics with Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (F.I.S.H.) and run by a dedicated team of “OhFISHal” volunteers. It’s truly a dream come true.

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The festival is chock full of one-of-a-kind artisan goods and folk art that puts Portlandia to shame.  You can even get a cactus planter modeled after your favorite classic Super Nintendo game. What will they think of next?

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I think if one person could embody the soul of the Pacific Northwest it would probably be Harold Johnson. Harold Johnson is a wonderful painter who paints on site in a little tent at the festival. I hope that one day I can undergo a metaphysical, physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual transformation and become half the man he is. He’s worth checking out.


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Delicious culinary adventures abound across the festival. You’ve got your classic corn dogs, pizza, kettle corn, and elephant ears, along with samosas, ethiopian food, asian fusion burritos, and of course, salmon.

IMG_1681Salmon Days is the perfect place to stock up on gifts for your loved ones. Especially Moms. Need a hand-painted platter with a picture of a chicken riding in a truck on it? Your wish is Debbie Dean’s command.

PlatterIf you get tuckered out shopping and eating, you can always stop by the Magical Strings stand and take a breather with some soothing harp music. Now might be the time for you to finally by that harp you’ve always wanted.

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               Salmon Days only comes once a year, so don’t miss it this year Oct. 3rd – 4th.

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The Spawn is ON!!