Walking into Lisa Eskenazi’s studio, Simply Fit Astoria, can feel like a transformative experience. Her Dance Cardio class hardly feels like a workout, aside from the profuse sweating. Old friends greet each other with hugs followed by fifty-five minutes of feeling like your best self while dancing to hip hop beats and current pop hits. Eskenazi keeps everyone pumped, squealing with whoooos. Her classes are so captivating that attendees have been known to come from other boroughs to experience some of the magic.
Eskenazi is a petite woman with a lot of energy. These days, she is carrying some extra weight. Her first baby, a girl, is due in August. And she is determined to keep teaching as long as she can.
She developed a following in the neighborhood, having been a local fitness instructor since 2006 with a start in Pilates and Dance Cardio classes. She recognized the increasing demand for an elevated level of experience and attention to detail.
“I wanted to offer a variety of classes on the schedule and really create a community-based atmosphere, which is how I came up with the concept for Simply Fit Astoria,” she said.
Since opening their doors in early 2011, Simply Fit Astoria has continued to flourish. After just one year, they outgrew their original space and moved down the road to Astoria Boulevard near the busy Steinway Street stretch. The studio expanded again in 2014 with Simply Cycle (and Chrono power spin bikes). Eskenazi oversees the 4000 square foot facility and twenty staff members. She also teaches many of the classes, such as PiYo, a fusion of Pilates and Yoga.
Also on offer are Rhythm Cycle (similar to Soul Cycle) and Sculpt Cycle, which incorporates light weight training for an upper body workout. Cycle classes include complimentary use of spin shoes and a towel. The locker room is co-ed. Studios are dimly lit. There is a strict no lateness policy. They offer private personal training and small group training.
This weekend, we ventured to The Royal Underground on 30th Ave (between 36th and 37th St) which opened in the former William Hallet location back in November. We initially contacted the restaurant via Facebook to get the brunch menu and inquire about making a reservation. We were pleasantly surprised to receive an immediate, helpful response, and looked forward to our visit all week.
Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by one of the owners, Jimmy, who gave us a choice of seating and happily told us about his involvement in opening this new restaurant. Making our way inside, we noticed ornamental lamps, an intricately detailed ceiling, royal blue accent walls, and a beautiful hand-painted mural in the back (there’s also one in the bathroom). We were getting a French bistro-esque vibe, which is also reflected in some of the items on the menu.
We were soon introduced to another owner, Gary. Both Jimmy and Gary are from Astoria and have previous ties to other Astoria restaurants. Jimmy explained that this time around, his goal was to open a restaurant serving “Manhattan dishes with Astoria prices.” Jimmy, a former fireman, says he feels at home in his local digs and treats his restaurant and customers like family, just as he did at his old fire station. Looking around the restaurant, you will find Jimmy introducing himself to every customer. He is just that friendly guy you want to pal around with.
We ordered brunch entrees ($17) which each included a choice of coffee/tea and juice/alcoholic beverage. We opted for a glass of pineapple juice, a traditional orange juice mimosa, and a pineapple juice mimosa. You could also choose a cranberry juice mimosa, a Bloody Mary, and a MAN-Mosa, which we learned is beer (instead of champagne) mixed in orange juice. We really enjoyed all of our food choices: Vegetable Frittata (mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, red bell peppers), Grits & Eggs (two fried eggs sunny side up, cheese grits, shitake mushrooms, asparagus), Old Fashioned French Toast (bread pudding, orange zest and bourbon whipped cream), and The Queen’s Burger (beef short rib, aged white cheddar, fried egg, pomme frites). The frittata and burger were accompanied with a side salad topped with very tasty dressing. The Queen’s Burger was a definite standout—really juicy and delicious. The sunny side up egg on top was a perfect addition, and we were grateful for Jimmy’s advice: break the egg before taking a bite, to avoid making a mess. The grits of the Grits & Eggs were fluffy and different from southern style grits you may already be family with. Combined with the vegetables and dripping yolk from the egg, it was definitely an overall win for a brunch dish. Lastly, The French Toast was light, airy, flavorful and definitely one of the best tasting French Toasts we’ve ever had.
As we made our way through our tasty brunch, the place was getting more crowded, but it was still never too noisy, which was nice. We left feeling satisfied and not too overstuffed which goes to show the food was delicious without being too heavy! Before leaving, Jimmy showed us the dinner menu, pics of some of the dinner items, and their cocktail menu with creative drinks named after songs (Grounds for Divorce, Some Like It Hot), so needless to say, we can’t wait to return for an evening visit sometime soon!
The Bitch Seat 5th Anniversary Show is Sunday, March 24, 8:30pm at QED, and you can read all about it here on the Happening page. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door, but if you comment by Sunday, March 17, you will be entered into a raffle to win two tickets to the show!
If you would like to have all the BOAST: Best of Astoria 2018 winners together in one graphic, see below, and you can download the PDF (great for printing) here. The size is half-letter (5.5″W x 8.5″H).
Come to Oliver’s Astoria (37-19 Broadway) TODAY Sunday, March 3rd from 4–7pm to celebrate the BOAST: Best of Astoria 2018 winners! (Oliver’s Astoria is a winner for Best Bar for Sports.) Some snacks will be provided, and there will be a cash bar. We’ll have a raffle with great prizes, and live music by Dan Rauchwerk Music and Courtney on cello! It’s $20 at the door.
“An Evening with the Dalmatian Tenor” performances at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, will be on March 14, 15, 16 and 17, 2019. Vladimir Garic is one of the leading tenors in Croatia and the surrounding region. He has curated an intimate, unique musical experience, that introduces his musicianship as an operatic tenor, a traditional Dalmatian Klapa (a cappella) tenor and a rock guitar player.
Showtimes are 8:30 PM, doors open 7:30 PM. Tickets are $25 advance/$30 door.
Rachel Rhodes-Devey and Mahima Saigal in Queen. Photo by Michael Dekker.
Queen, the current production of the Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC), written by Madhuri Shekar, is a story particularly relevant to today’s political climate. Performed at the Boys and Girls Club black box theater, the intimacy of the setting allows the audience to completely immerse themselves in the story of two female graduate students (Ariel Speigel and Sanam Shah played by Rachel Rhodes-Devey and Mahima Saigal) grappling with the concepts of ethics, friendship, romance, and respect. Both characters push personal and professional boundaries throughout the play. When their adviser and mentor encourages unethical behavior in the interest of “the greater good,” both of these independent women hash through the greater implications that eventually leads them both to the same conclusion.
As someone with a great deal of experience in academia, I found the story both relatable and realistic in its approach to scientific research and the pitfalls of long-term data collection and analysis. Upon leaving the show, the general themes and the ending in particular sparked a spirited debate with my show guest. Any play that leaves you talking, thinking and discussing for days afterwards is, in my opinion, one worth pursuing.
Queen runs through February 16 You can buy tickets here
Black Box Theater at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens
21-12 30th Rd
Astoria, NY 11102
Come to Oliver’s Astoria (37-19 Broadway, Astoria) on Sunday, March 3rd from 4–7pm to celebrate the BOAST: Best of Astoria 2018 winners! (Oliver’s Astoria is a winner for Best Bar for Sports.) We’ll have some snacks for you, and there will be a cash bar. ALSO, we will have live music. ALSO ALSO we will have a raffle. If you sign up by Friday, February 22, you will be automatically entered into the raffle. It’s $15 (+ fee) in advance, and $20 day of the event at the door. If you have any questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can go to boast.nyc/party to reserve your ticket, and you can RSVP on the Facebook event with this link.
Astoria Performing Arts Center’s 2019 season is upon us, as the play Queen runs January 31 through February 16 at The Black Box at the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens. To give some insight into the play, the new season, and the new (old) location, we did a Q&A with Jesse Marchese, Executive Director at APAC.
What is your role at APAC? I work closely with APAC’s Artistic Director, Dev Bondarin, to program and facilitate our season of mainstage productions as well as our free community arts programs for local youth and senior citizens.
Can you tell us about APAC’s new location? Last year, after ten years of producing at our longtime performance space at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, we were forced to relocate as the church did not renew our lease. Our final mainstage production at the church was our NYIT Award-winning production of Follies by Stephen Sondheim, which we produced in May of 2018. We also produced our free spring and summer community programs—Senior Stars and Summer Stars—at the church, and we moved out of the space and into the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens at the end of August 2018.
We’re now settled at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens, where we will be producing our 2019 mainstage season. Our return to the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens is a bit of a homecoming, as we produced here from 2006 to 2008. The Black Box is one of two performance spaces at the club, and this season we will adventurously take advantage of them both.
What is in store for APAC’s new season? First up, we will produce the New York premiere of Queen by Madhuri Shekar in the club’s flexible 75-seat Black Box theater from January 31 to February 16. Then, from May 2 to May 25, we will produce the beloved Tony-nominated musical Caroline, or Change in the club’s 99-seat Broccoli Drama Theater. The club is exciting as we have two different flexible and intimate spaces to make theater in. Plus, like APAC, it is a beloved community organization that serves local youth with their free after-school programs. We’re hoping the new space will expose our work to folks who are familiar with the club, but not yet APAC—and will help us to grow our audience!
Can you say a little about the current winter and upcoming spring productions? Our winter play, Queen by Madhuri Shekar tells the story of two female scientists, Sanam and Ariel, who have spent the past seven years researching vanishing bee populations across the globe. Just as they are about to publish a career-defining paper, Sanam stumbles upon an error which could cause catastrophic damage to their reputations, careers, and friendship. Now, both women are confronted with an impossible choice: look the other way and save the bees—or tell the truth and face the consequences? J. Mehr Kaur directs APAC’s production which is the play’s New York Premiere!
Set in one of the most turbulent decades in America’s history, the Tony-nominated Caroline, or Change (our spring musical) tells the riveting story of a remarkable but uneasy friendship between a young Jewish boy and his family’s Black maid in 1963 Louisiana. The virtuosic score by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home), which blends blues, gospel and traditional Jewish melodies, creates a breathtaking tapestry for Tony Kushner’s (Angels in America) provocative and deeply moving libretto, which tells the story of a country on the brink of change. APAC’s Artistic Director Dev Bondarin will direct the production.
Why did APAC choose to do Queen and what about the story did APAC find interesting or compelling? APAC chose to produce Queen because it is both urgent and topical—but also compelling, personal and deeply human. We’re thrilled to be giving the play its New York Premiere. The play centers on a real and immediate ecological problem, which is colony collapse disorder, the dying honeybee population due to the use of pesticides (among other causes). This is just one small part of the overwhelming problem of climate change that we are currently facing. Plus the play explores the lives and friendships of two female scientists, posing questions about what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated field. Furthermore, the play brings together so many diverse voices. Two of the play’s characters are Indian-American—one character is from India and the other is of Indian descent but was born and raised in the United States. This leads to fascinating dynamics between the characters and reflects the remarkable diversity of this great country (and particularly our wonderful neighborhood of Astoria, Queens!). Finally, the ethical problem at the center of the play regarding truth and certainty is a fascinating one: Should the characters publish their study, even if the data doesn’t support their conclusion, if it will save the lives of honey bees? Or should they stick to their principles, not publish, and watch 7 years of hard work go down the drain as pesticides continue to kill the colonies? Do the ends justify the means? It is not an easy decision for our characters to make—but a riveting one for audiences to watch as they struggle with it.
Why should people come see this show? For all of those reasons, people should come see the show. I hope audiences walk away knowing more about the immediate dangers of colony collapse disorder and the amazing, heroic female scientists who are working to solve the problem. Plus it is a well-written yarn and a delightful evening of theater. It should leave folks with plenty to think and talk about!