Nov 8, 2019

Flatiron Faces: Nancy Hou and Josh de Sousa of Hou de Sousa, Winners of the 2019 Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition

Meet Nancy Hou and Josh de Sousa, cofounders of the award-winning architectural, art, and design studio Hou de Sousa. The pair is also this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition held by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute.

Hou de Sousa’s art installation, Ziggy, features 20,000 feet of iridescent cord that visually converge and dynamically filter the surrounding context with shifting patterns, color, and light. Ziggy will be on display on the Flatiron North Public Plaza as part of the Partnership’s “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” holiday programming from November 18th through January 1st. Check out Ziggy sneak peek photos

1. Congratulations on being selected as this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition for your art installation, Ziggy. What was your reaction upon hearing the news?

Nancy Hou: The opportunity to participate in this annual competition is an incredible honor. We had followed the results over the years, and really admire the quality and cleverness of the past pavilions. So, when the news arrived that we had actually won, we were ecstatic!  

2. Tell us about Ziggy. What was your inspiration for the installation and its name?

Josh de Sousa: We began by thinking about the footprint and form of the Flatiron Building and how its shape is a direct consequence of urban planning, and the consistency of the Manhattan grid thrown off kilter by Broadway’s diagonal route.

NH: Ziggy will be located on Flatiron North Plaza, but rather than attempt to occupy the entirety of the space, we thought of the site as a sort of pool table that limits the trajectory of the design. I don’t remember who it was, but one of us doodled a sketch of a ricocheting pool ball, and the rest of the design flowed from there.

JD: In terms of the name, we figured Ziggy was apropos given the zigzagging course of the project, plus, who doesn’t love David Bowie? 

3. What do you hope the public’s takeaway will be when experiencing the artwork?

NH: Nothing all that fancy or profound, just that it provides some joy and seating for those in need of a break. 

JD: Now that we’re pretty far along with the fabrication of the project, we’ve tested out the lighting and it’s clear that Ziggy must be experienced in person. While the project is 100% analog, its iridescent glow suggests that you’re observing and walking around a collage of the digital and the real or some form of augmented reality. 

4. Your firm Hou de Sousa “promotes innovative, culturally progressive and environmentally responsible solutions.” Please elaborate on this and briefly describe your roles at Hou de Sousa.

NH: Design is a process that takes time and involves lots of folks. We try to work with organizations that have a positive public impact, and we strive for solutions that are simultaneously novel, classic, and considerate of the environment. 

JD: We don't have fixed roles at the office and each person does a bit of everything. We've worked with each other since our school days, so our understanding of architecture is really intertwined. Nancy often finishes my sentences during design meetings and vice versa. 

5. What inspired you to create Hou de Sousa? Can you share with us some of the ways you keep your architectural practice fresh and creative?

JD: We worked on a couple of projects together in school, and quickly realized that we were coming up with better projects together than individually. When the first commission opportunity arrived years later, it didn’t seem so crazy to go after it. 

NH: For us, the start of each project is pretty informal. Architecture is the marathon of problem-solving. With each new project, there is a ton of information to parse through and a constellation of constraints to consider. Along the way, we tend to entertain every idea that pops up, even during the early stages. Sometimes these initial hunches have worked out really well or got us on the right track. 

6. Nancy and Josh, you both studied architecture in undergraduate and graduate school. What sparked your interest in architecture? 

NH: My interests growing up tended to always involved making something, whether it was art, origami, or cooking. 

JD: I can remember the specific moment. I was playing with my cousins in Portugal when we were all around 11 or 12 years old. We were at this rocky shore and started rolling large stones around in order to build the outline of a small swimming pool. It was surprisingly satisfying to piece together this simple wall and watch the water fill in. Imagining physical possibilities, and then executing the outcome, was tremendously addictive. 

7. Outside of New York City, which cities do you consider architecturally interesting or significant? Any favorites come to mind?  

JD: It’s tough to narrow down the list, and it would be lovely to visit many more places. Paris really stands out due its consistency, whereas Tokyo and Barcelona are compelling for the exact opposite reason. Rio’s topography and Hong Kong’s density are astounding. If Rome only had Borromini, it would already be incredible. I also love the quality of the light and enormous scale of Los Angeles.   

NH: The list of buildings is much longer, but some that always manage to come up in conversation include Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals in rural Switzerland, the Seattle Public Library, and the High Line [in New York City].

8. Your offices are located in nearby Union Square. However, when you’re in the Flatiron District and it’s time to grab a bite, where do you like to eat? Do you have a go-to dish?

NH: On special occasions, our favorite is Cosme. We visit Periyali, Scampi, and Eataly’s Il Pesce more regularly, as we both grew up eating lots of seafood. I’m getting hungry just thinking about Periyali’s octopus and Il Pesce’s flounder. 

JD: Oh, and Xi’an Famous Foods when we’re craving something spicy. 

9. What do each of you consider a "must-see” or “must-do" gem in the Flatiron community

NH: Of course the Flatiron Building. Its svelte tapered form factor cloaked with a rich texture of ornament is timelessly chic.

JD: Allied Works’ renovation of Eleven Madison Park is incredibly elegant as well. Love the way the molding details fold across between the walls and ceiling. 

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District. 

Abundant. Cheerful. Elegant.


Oct 4, 2019

Flatiron Faces: Christian Nimand Jansen, Director of Nutrition, Dr Smood

Meet Christian Nimand Jansen, Director of Nutrition at Dr Smood, an organic cuisine café located at 1151 Broadway, between 26th and 27th Streets, in the Flatiron District. “For people who have busy schedules and need healthy food on the go,” says Jansen, “Dr Smood can provide the fast casual experience with the healthiest food possible.” According to the recent health and wellness trends report At the (Healthy) Heart of New York City issued by the Flatiron Partnership, the health and wellness industry has grown significantly in the district. Here, Jansen shares his expertise on Dr Smood’s approach to nutrition, his favorite foods, and maintaining his work-life balance.

1. Briefly describe your position as Director of Nutrition at Dr Smood.

I’m involved in the R&D (research and development) and product creation from ideation to launch in our stores, which includes internal nutritional education and staying up-to-date with the latest research.

2. Dr Smood was founded by Danish businessman René Sindlev and his wife Patrizia, who wanted to create cafés with organic and healthful cuisine backed by real nutrition science. What led you to work with the Sindlevs? And can you share with us the meaning behind the company’s name?

I met René back in Denmark while finishing my studies in 2014. It was actually during the first tasting of our Performance Bread, where he also shared his vision of this new concept, of what was to become Dr Smood: Smart Food (Smood). It’s the dream of moving away from highly processed fast food and essentially create the healthy “fast food” of the future, which revolves around wholesome certified organic ingredients, all sourced from the best farms. 

3. Dr Smood’s food menu consists of health benefits linked to six moods: Power, Beauty, Immunity, Detox, Energy, and Health. Tell us more.

The moods are meant to guide and simplify what to choose, depending on what you’re “in the mood” for. For example, if you’re looking for higher protein content, you go for the Power mood. If you’re feeling under the weather or simply want to keep your immune system in high gear, you go for the anti-inflammatory foods from the Immunity mood. It’s important to note that nutrition is very complex and even though each mood has specific characteristics, there will always be many benefits since nutrients have multiple functions within the body.

4. What are some of your favorite Dr Smood items? Do you have any new items you’re working on that you’d like to share?

If I had to chose one item that I could eat every day, it would be our avocado toast with wild salmon, the matcha latte made with our cashew mylk and a ginger-lime booster. Without getting too nutritional, I feel those give me the best all-round protein, fat, and fiber for satiety, it’s easy to digest and the L-theanine found in matcha gives a mental focus boost. The ginger-lime also helps with digestion and to reduce any inflammation. And it doesn’t hurt that it tastes amazing too.

We’re currently working on some more hearty grain and salad bowls for our winter menu, which allows for more lunch and dinner options, along with Dr Smood-styled baked goods for those with a sweet tooth to compliment their coffee.

5. You've earned a college degree in global nutrition and health. What initially led you to consider a career in nutrition? What’s the best advice you can offer to those who are interested in pursuing a career in nutrition?

I grew up playing tennis and golf on a rather competitive level, which led me into a very active lifestyle in my late teens. I think it’s a natural process, that you start learning about the role food and nutrition plays in order to train and recover more efficiently. I quickly realized that just scratching the surface of nutrition and physiology wasn’t enough for me, and got very hooked on the science behind food.

My best advice for anyone wanting to study nutrition is staying up to date with relevant research and put ego or beliefs aside. It’s so easy to be biased and subjective, which can lead you to be very narrow-minded or force your own reality to fit the actual science or lack of science. I would recommend that you stay open and be prepared to be proven wrong on what you read or heard.

6. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about nutrition? Any wacky nutritional myths you’d like to clear up? What do you do to keep up to date with your profession?

The more I learned, the more I realized how much we still do not understand completely in the nutrition field. I see a lot of trends surfacing and many people giving in to such trends in order to stay relevant.To be honest, I think that people should be hesitant to follow anyone’s advice, whose blindly claims that they have the one true answer to all your lifestyle diseases or issues. I try to follow those that are considered expert researchers in each of their fields and more often than not, they stay humble and honest about the fact that we actually know very little about the full picture of nutrition and health.

In the end, it’s never a one size fits all and rather than trying to debunk a myth, my best advice is to find what works for you and then stay consistent and be patient. I’ve always had the best results when either having specific goals, short- or long-term or some kind of accountability partner in the form of a coach or friend to be part of my journey from point A to B.

If veganism, keto, fasting, bulletproof coffee, celery juice, Weight Watchers, etc. works for you and you can commit to it long term as a lifestyle, I don’t see anything that should prevent you from doing it. Obviously, some might be more overall effective than others, and simply adding butter to your coffee probably won’t make you reach a weight loss goal. Just don’t try to be a breatharian (living on air and light alone). I’m pretty confident that won’t go well for you.

7. Switching gears to your life outside of work–how do you like to spend your time away from Dr Smood?

When I lived in Denmark, I coached tennis while studying, which kept me pretty active. I had amazing colleagues and a great community, so most of my time was spent between the club and staying active. I lived in Miami for a couple years while we opened up the first Dr Smood there. It allowed me to have an active outdoor life with tennis, golf, scuba diving, and enjoy a bit of the Miami nightlife. I’m still adapting to New York City with the much faster pace, so my day pretty much starts with a CrossFit class at 6.30 a.m., which I feel is the best way to get a head start on the day. I’m not a morning person, but after a long day of NYC pace, I’m not sure that I’m an evening person anymore either. To unwind at home, I do binge some TV shows with my fiancée or spend time on my PS4.

8. When it’s time to grab a bite, where else do you like to dine in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish?

I mostly eat home-cooked meals and get orders from Thrive Market for shelf stable products like nut butters, almond/oat mylk and bars or Misfits Market for fresh veggies that were too “ugly” and didn’t fit the requirements for the “beautiful” supermarket veggie aisles.

My breakfast is usually eggs and a smoothie at home, lunch is an avocado toast or tuna wrap and dinner is grains, greens and wild salmon, chicken, or some kind of veggie patty. I pretty consistently eat the same things, but I’m not fanatic and must admit that Shake Shack does make a pretty good burger.

9. Outside of your venue, what's a "must-see” or “must-do" hidden gem in the community?

Giving credit to my Danish heritage, the bakery Ole & Steen recently opened up in the area and they do make a very good strawberry tart and bake great rye bread, which reminds me of home.

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Culinary. Innovative. Community.

Sep 25, 2019

Flatiron Faces: Michelle Larivee, Cofounder and CEO of WTHN

Meet Michelle Larivee, Cofounder and CEO of WTHN (pronounced “within”), an acupuncture studio and herbal shop, located at 20 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Notes Larivee about her Flatiron-based boutique business, “We believe in making acupuncture and herbs accessible in every sense of the word and aim to demystify and educate our clients around the benefits of natural healing.” Larivee shares her thoughts and opinions on acupuncture, wellness, and WTHN. 

1. Briefly tell us about WTHN’s mission, your role as its Cofounder and CEO, and the backstory behind its name.

WTHN’s mission is to help others heal their bodies and relax their minds in order to lead happier, healthier, and more fulfilled lives every day. Our name WTHN speaks to Chinese Medicine that works by stimulating and unlocking your body’s natural healing defenses, healing you from WTHN. It also references the mind-body connection that can be achieved through Chinese Medicine.

2. You’re a former investment banker who once raised funds for health care organizations. How did your professional and personal experiences inspire the launch of WTHN?

The inspiration from WTHN comes from my personal health transformation through acupuncture and herbal medicine. After a ski accident resulted in a dislocated vertebrae in my neck and chronic pain, I was left with few healing options. At the suggestion of my doctor, I tried acupuncture and felt immediate pain relief. Over time, I also experienced holistic benefits of Chinese Medicine including better sleep, less stress, and a stronger immune system/fewer sick days. Later, acupuncture and herbs helped me get pregnant with my son Sam. I became the biggest advocate for acupuncture, but realized there was no easy way for others to get started and to experience the deeply healing benefits. 

Acupuncture works by activating the fascial network of the body, our messenger system, and sending messages to the brain to stimulate the body’s natural defenses. In the case of pregnancy and fertility, it is about bringing hormones into balance and reducing stress, as well as increasing blood flow to the uterine area and preparing your body to conceive. For pain relief, acupuncture can release sore muscles, which especially results from too much screen time or being hunched over a desk, as well as reduce inflammation. I also love cupping to help with pain relief, and it has really great benefits for sore or tight muscles.

3. How would you describe acupuncture to someone who knows nothing about it? Are there any acupuncture misconceptions that you would like to clear up? While we’re at it, let’s address everyone’s favorite question: does it hurt? 

Acupuncture is the insertion of thin needles at various points in the body to send messages that alter brain chemistry and activate the body’s natural healing defenses. For example, for stress, acupuncture decreases the production of cortisol, our stress hormone, and stimulates an increase in the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine, our happy hormones. 

The biggest point to demystify is that needles don’t hurt! Acupuncture needles are tiny, the size of a single human hair, and most of the time you barely feel them when they are inserted. There can be sensations, for example, a tight muscle releasing or a dull ache to release tension. Most often people drift off and fall asleep on the table! Additionally, many people are not aware of how rigorous the education and training is to become a Licensed Acupuncturist. At WTHN, all of our expert Healers are New York State licensed with a Master's or Doctorate degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine with thousands of hours of clinical practice   

Modern research is shining a light on discoveries that validate the traditional use of acupuncture and herbs more than ever. New clinical studies show that acupuncture stimulates circulation and interacts with the fascial network, which alters brain chemistry and activates our natural healing mode. Don’t need to be a believer anymore! Exciting, cutting edge research is coming out that’s proving traditions that have been around for thousands of years.

4. Describe the sessions offered at WTHN. Do you have any favorites?

Acupuncture is proven to treat hundreds of conditions, so we designed a treatment menu targeting some of the most common that is customizable and easy to understand. Our menu offers three categories: Prevent, Heal, and Glow. The Prevent menu focuses on optimizing your health and includes key issues like stress, fatigue, and anxiety. The Heal menu includes some common health conditions for acupuncture like pain relief, women’s health, digestion, and sleep. Our Glow menu offers a facial rejuvenation treatment that leaves you looking younger by reducing wrinkles and firming the skin through increased production of collagen and elastin. We also offer add-ons of cupping, which is great for the release sore muscles, detox, and congestion.

Right now I’m working hard to keep the post-summer glow going. I am especially loving our signature facial rejuvenation with LED, which not only has decreased wrinkles but also increased my skin moisture and helps me feel less stressed because it treats the whole body.

5. The global wellness market is a growing one, now worth reportedly more than $4 trillion. What do you think are some of the reasons for the success of wellness-related businesses? What do you see next for this type of business in the Flatiron community and beyond?

We are in the next frontier of wellness and an era of preventative healthcare where there is a critical need for mind-body recovery, stress relief and pain relief. WTHN was created to make ancient healing with acupuncture and herbal medicine accessible for all. We aim for accessibility in every sense of the word, including a central location where people come to live, work and play. Our clients are coming from all five boroughs, so combined with Flatiron's demographics and psychographics that showed a high concentration of consumers craving aspirational wellness, the neighborhood's convenience and centrality made it an obvious choice for our first location. 

There’s also a broader cultural shift that supports the growth of wellness. We’ve seen the social use of wellness at WTHN from date nights to girls’ nights, bachelorette parties, birthdays, etc. There are many forward-thinking companies including those based in Flatiron, and we've been able to partner with them to offer innovative wellness perks and events for their employees–an acu-high is now better team bonding than a long night of drinking. We are in an unprecedented era of stress and anxiety and there’s a destigmatization of mental health issues, so treatments like acupuncture and herbal medicine are becoming increasingly popular.

6. What advice can you offer those pursuing a career in wellness? How did you strategize demystifying acupuncture and educating the public? Can you offer any advice for female entrepreneurs?

My biggest advice is to build an amazing team around you both in your company as well as friends, family, and advisors. It is really a journey and having the support you need along the way is critical. And then also, recognizing that the most important part is starting with accepting the fact that recovery is a really essential part of sustaining high levels of performance and staying healthy for yourself and your family. At the fast-paced life that we live, it’s really easy to get wrapped up and forget about it…what has been really important is actually taking the time to schedule the activities that keep me happy and healthy.

7. Switching gears to your life outside of work–how do you like to spend time away from WTHN?

I have a two-year-old and so the majority of my time outside of WTHN is dedicated to family. I try to plan a new activity or adventure every weekend to take advantage of this amazing city that we live in–whether it’s watching helicopters at the South Street Seaport or a trip to the Bronx Zoo. This special time, and seeing the world with more joy through my son’s eyes, helps me recharge and reset.

8. When it’s time to grab a bite, where do you like to dine in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish?

There are so many great places to eat in Flatiron! For lunch on the go, some local favorites are our neighbors (and brand BFFs) by CHOLE. and sweetgreen, and I also love Inday and Bite for a delicious on-the-go lunch. My favorite lunch is anything I can get quickly that is healthy, protein-packed, and keeps me energized for the rest of the day. And for a special occasion, our neighbor Cote has incredible Korean food! 

9. Outside of your venue, what's a "must-see” or “must-do" hidden gem in the neighborhood?

Flatiron is truly a mecca of great wellness brands. There are amazing retail concepts across Flatiron for fitness, shopping. and beauty. I'm thrilled that Heyday now has a 19th street location for a facial. Our team loves to do fitness outings, so between SoulCycle, SLT, and DanceBody–to name a few there is never a shortage of places to get in a good sweat. 

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Vibrant. Wellness-focused. Convenient.

 Photo Credit: Olga Brycht 

Aug 23, 2019

Flatiron Faces: Will Rivas, Mixologist, Bo’s Kitchen & Bar Room

Meet Will Rivas, a mixologist at Bo’s Kitchen & Bar Room, a New York and New Orleans-inspired restaurant and bar located at 6 West 24th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, in the Flatiron District. “I like to think I’m adventurous, which allows me to mix and experiment with different aesthetics and aromas,” says the Brooklyn-born Rivas. “Coming up with variations of drinks, pairing them with different garnishes and glassware makes use of my passions in the world of craft cocktails.”

1. Tell us more about your love for art, music, and the process of creating, and how that passion led you to a career crafting cocktails. How does being born and raised in Brooklyn influence your work behind the bar?

My process is pretty freestyle and spontaneous. I like to find the essence of my creations and just play around. My Brooklyn background pushes me to create an unforgettable contemporary trade since the craft of mixology wasn’t always seen. This pushes me to implement originality in every drink. I want to create a famed environment for people to relax and enjoy, whether it’s a drink after work or a drink after a long tour of the City. 

2. What sets Bo’s Kitchen & Bar Room apart from other spots? 

It’s definitely the menu and our staff. The menu includes delicious, out-there plates to match our unique drink choices. But what really continuously brings people in is the incredible passion that the staff has for hospitality, our product, and our vibe.

3. Walk us through your favorite drink–tell us why you love it. What drinks are trending this summer at Bo’s?

My favorite drink is my version of a New York Sour. It’s a perfect iconic New York drink with its classic whiskey sour structure mixed with a twist of red wine that captures what the City is: rough and fine. But perfect for this summer is Bo’s Kimi’s Cleanse because it’s a light vodka, citrus-forward drink where its sweetness comes from the muddled fruits within. Definitely, the drink to have during this hot summer.

4. Legend has it that the Manhattan was invented in the Flatiron District in the late 19th century. What’s a cocktail unique to Bo’s that you’d love to see become a classic? 

Just as the Flatiron Building is so iconic to New York City, the Black Sail could be the flagship of the Flatiron District. It’s refreshing hints of cucumber and it’s a playful twist on a gin margarita using black currant really captures what the area is: a cohesive mix of completely different cultures, lifestyles, and people.

5. Everyone should know how to make a few killer cocktails. Can you break down some easy staples we can keep in our back pocket? 

Anyone can make a delicious drink as long as they have quality ingredients and can follow recipes. A good example would be a Rum Daiquiri. It’s a three-part drink, including rum, sugar, and lime. It’s an easy drink to make and its recipe allows room for a personal twist. And of course, it’s enjoyable and tasteful.

6. You must interact with Flatiron District locals and visitors alike. Any interesting stories?

I have so many stories that I could write a whole book. Since this area is such an important staple of NYC, it attracts so many different people so things tend to get very interesting around here. A couple of nights ago, a group of corporate sharks came in dressed as sharks and danced all night. I appreciated that. NYC is the place for freedom of expression. If that’s not NYC, I don’t know what is. 

7. Can you offer any tips for the aspiring mixologists amongst us?

Be open and don’t be afraid to be creative. If you think it works, go for it. Believe in your creations and tastes. Don’t allow anyone to crush your ideas, but also learn how to take advice and criticism. There’s always someone out there who might have more experience or knowledge, but no one has the taste and ideas that you will have. So own it.

8. When you’re not dining or having a drink at Bo’s, where else do you like to eat and drink in Flatiron? Do you have a go-to dish or drink there?

I try to stay far away from work on my off days, but I love a good taco from Tacombi!

9. What do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” in the neighborhood?

Other than the Flatiron Building, of course, Madison Square Park is a must-see. It’s a perfect place for a break from the industrial business of the City. But a must-do is to visit Bo’s to try some of our fried alligator and, of course, our amazing cocktails. 

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Eclectic. Monumental. Vibrant.

Jul 12, 2019

Michael T. Cohen, President of the Tri-State Region at Colliers International & Chairman of the Board of The Flatiron Partnership

Meet Michael T. Cohen, President of the Tri-State Region at Colliers International and Chairman of the Board of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership. A native New Yorker and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Cohen became the Partnership's Board Chair in June. Says Cohen about the Flatiron District, “From tourism, job growth, retail, office, and residential, this part of town is as hot as a pistol!”

1. Congratulations on being named Chairman of the Board of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership. You’re also President of the Tri-State Region at Colliers International, a global commercial real estate firm. Briefly tell us about your role at Colliers.

At Colliers, my key roles are business development, servicing my clientele, and overseeing the three million-square-foot portfolio of properties my partners and I own in Manhattan. Essentially, I help run a company within a company.

2. As a third-generation member of a prominent New York City real estate family, which owns property in the Flatiron District, what drew you to also go into the real estate business? And, what do you continue to find rewarding about it?

I learned the real estate business from my father at the dinner table and on family vacations. What continues to excite me about real estate is that it’s always changing. I’m always facing new challenges and opportunities. In various ways, the real estate business is far different than when I started. You must continuously adapt.

3. How did you originally become involved with the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership?

Colliers manages numerous properties within the borders of the Partnership, and when our seat on the Board was vacated, I thought it was an excellent opportunity to re-engage with neighborhood politics, as I had first done in the 1980s when I served on Community Board No. 2.

4. How would you describe the Flatiron District’s current real estate climate and which trends do you see in the near future?

I’m lucky to be taking over as Chairman of the Board when the area’s good fortunes are on the ascent. Jeff Bezos just bought an apartment overlooking Madison Square Park, which unto itself speaks volumes. We have tremendous economic momentum, and I look forward to more of the same.

5. In addition to your involvement in the real estate industry, you’re a Tony Award-winning producer for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, which won Best Musical in 2014. You’ve also been an investor for a number of hit Broadway shows, including Hamilton and Wicked. Tell us more!

While real estate is my vocation, Broadway is my avocation. As a native Manhattanite, I have a half-century experience seeing what does and does not work on Broadway. The first time I saw Gentleman’s Guide, I thought it would win a Tony, so I agreed to be a co-producer on the show. And it did win me a Tony. I’ve also been successfully investing in other profitable productions thanks to my friends in the industry and fellow Board members at the Roundabout Theatre Company–which doesn’t mean I haven’t had a few clunkers. But far and away, Broadway has been both fun and profitable for me. 

6. What advice can you offer to those who are interested in pursuing a career in NYC real estate? And, on (or Off) Broadway?

Real estate is a term which subsumes a great many activities in a variety of industries. For example, real estate encompasses asset classes, including residential, hospitality, office, retail, and industrial. And within each asset class, there’s development, project management, financing, leasing, investment sales, and other service lines. My advice for anyone considering real estate as a career is to figure out which aspect of the business is going to take advantage of their skills and personality, and which will be the most interesting for them. 

For Broadway, proceed with caution. Broadway is one of the few industries that still raises money from people who consider themselves to be lucky just to get their investment back. The measure of a show’s success is whether you “recouped,” meaning, whether the producer was able to return your original investment. I don’t know of any other industry wherein breaking even is considered successful. There is a saying about Broadway, “You can’t make a living, but you can make a killing!” 

7. When you’re in the Flatiron District and it’s time to grab a bite, where do you like to dine in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish?

The owner of the Park Avenue Seasons is a dear friend of mine, a great operator, and the menu changes four times a year, so there’s always something new and delicious to try. And you can’t beat breakfast at The Smith.

8. What do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” here in the neighborhood?

One “can’t miss” for New Yorkers and visitors alike: dinner at Cosme. The restaurant was recently named best restaurant in the U.S. on the “2019 Worlds 50 Best Restaurants” list, and Cosme’s Chef Daniela Soto-Innes was named 2019’s “World’s Best Female Chef”.

9. What’s your favorite building or architectural element or detail in Flatiron? 

The Flatiron Building. There’s a reason it’s so famous and iconic. I love looking at the pie-shaped corner and thinking about how unusual and spectacular it is.

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District. 

 Exquisite. Vibrant. Sought-after.

Photo Credit: Commercial Observer

Jun 17, 2019

Flatiron Faces: Jamie Benson & Hannah Goldman, The Straight Man at The PIT

Meet Jamie Benson and Hannah Goldman, the producers and hosts of The Straight Man, a new variety show spotlighting femme and queer talent at The Peoples Improv Theater (The PIT) on Saturday, June 29th at 9:30 pm. The PIT is located at 123 East 24th Street, between Park Avenue South and Lexington Avenue.

1. You initially met during a sketch writing class. What led to your comedy partnership?

Jamie Benson: We share a sense of adventure, are both really game to take ideas too far. Besides being audacious, we play with social commentary and queer-centric themes. There’s some compatibility there.

Hannah Goldman: I always loved the sketches Jamie brought into class–they were smart, biting, and more than a little weird. After the class ended, he sent an email saying that he got a late-night slot at The PIT, so I thought, why not? I had sketch material and wanted to do stand up, so it seemed like a great opportunity to collaborate.

2. What do you enjoy most about working together?

JB: We can deftly navigate the paradox of taking comedy seriously while making fun at every step of the production process. 

HG: We have a great partnership because we’re both willing to take on the work and communicate with each other. My favorite thing about working with Jamie is his straightforward and concise manner. It’s refreshing to work with someone who’s not about the bulls—t.

3. What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you while performing improv?

JB: That’s tough, because improv for me is like a fever dream that I immediately forget upon waking up. That said, I recall giving serious therapeutic advice from a toilet and doing a full interpretive dance to orgasm noises.

HG: My favorite improv memory is going to a competition in high school where I had to perform a Shakespeare soliloquy as Miley Cyrus. I won a prize!

 4. You’re collaborating on The Straight Man, a production you’ve described as a “genre-busting and gender-bending variety show.” Tell us more about how this came to be at The PIT, and about your role in the show.

JB: As a dancer who does comedic, narrative work, I am a genre-buster. This show offers a fertile environment for others to challenge their own perception of themselves, including gender, genre, and more. After transitioning from dance to comedy, I propositioned The PIT to present a show of mine. They gave us a probational, “off-peak” late-night slot, liked it, and invited us to present seasonally.

HG: Our first show was called Gay Stuff because the sketches and stand up were all around queer themes. I wanted a snazzy title for our next show, and came up with The Straight Man: A Comedy Show Without One. I love that phrase because it takes the norm and subverts it. There’s this unspoken rule in comedy that straight men are the norm–“the straight man” is literally an archetype in comedy writing that means a normal person, the voice of reason. We wanted to do something a little less normcore and a little more fabulous!  Every season we select hilarious female and queer comedic talent across genres and celebrate and empower ourselves through laughter.

5. The Straight Man–a comedy show without one–celebrates gay pride. This year’s Pride March, on June 30th, begins in the Flatiron District and marks the 50 years since the Stonewall uprising. Can you share your thoughts on this important anniversary?

JB: There is a ton to celebrate this year, including same-sex marriage in Taiwan and the first openly gay U.S. governor. Unfortunately, there are opposing forces for some of the progress achieved. For instance, the rate of violence against transgender women, particularly those of color, continues to rise. Inclusive rhetoric tends to move faster than inclusive actions. This means that no matter how many affirming slogans we hear, it’s important to stay vigilant in our cultivation of empathy and pursuit of human decency.

HG: It’s so wild and wonderful that so much time has passed and there has been a huge shift toward acceptance of the LBGTQIA+ community in mainstream culture. But, as Jamie said, I think that this acceptance has also led to an erasure of queer and trans people of color–the folks who led the Stonewall riots 50 years ago. It’s our responsibility as cis white queer artists to work to make sure our spaces and culture are inclusive for all folks.

6. Aside from attending your show at The PIT, what do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” pride event here in Flatiron?

JB: Our city is bursting at the seams with historical significance. I know I’m usually in sunglasses/headphone mode and zooming right by it. I say stop and smell Flatiron’s gay pride walking tours. Once you have knowledge about the interesting stuff all around us, it can spread and pride can be something we celebrate every day.

HG: Honestly, the best thing I can recommend is to go to Madison Square Park during the Pride March on June 30th. Get a milkshake, stand on a concrete block, and watch all the floats go by! Mesh top optional.

7. Can you share some of your other upcoming productions at The PIT? Do you perform at other venues here in New York City?

JB: Oh sure, I’ve performed everywhere from the Park Avenue Armory, South Street Seaport, and Broadway Comedy Club. My first sketch, Avenue WTF, will be screening this summer with the NewFilmmakers series at Anthology Film Archives (Trivia: I wrote this sketch in the class where I met Hannah). Keep up with us via our webpage and @straightmancomedy on Instagram for the scoop on our next PIT show.

HG: I’ve performed at venues all over the city, from off-Broadway houses like HERE Arts Center to a living room in Greenpoint. Up next, I’ll be performing at a pop-up space at 198 Allen Street on the Lower East Side for a benefit for Period: The Menstrual Movement. Get ready for lots of vagina jokes!

8. When you’re here in Flatiron working, where do you like to grab a bite to eat? Do you have a go-to dish?

JB: I’m a variety junkie and there are a lot of great local places to grab food, so I alternate. If I feel like I’m making poor health-life choices, I may go to The Little Beet Table. If I’m in need of drinks and comfort food, I may hit up a place like Dog & Bone.

HG: If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to check out Lady M Confections on 28th Street and Broadway. They have the most insane cakes. I love anything chocolate–always super rich and delicious.

9. What advice can you offer for those who are interested in performing comedy?

JB: Don’t settle for anything that doesn’t surprise people. Most laughs seem to come from a surprise or left turn. It doesn’t have to be a shocking or shallow twist for the sake of doing it. Commit to a character or idea but challenge yourself to find new directions for that character or idea.

HG: Do the work. Go to lots of open mics and work on your material. Learn how to read an audience and refine your jokes until they hit just the right chord. Natural talent is only the entry point. The real secret to successful comics is putting in a lot of hard work.

10. Finally, choose three words that describe the Flatiron District.

JB: Bustling. Historic. Iconic.

HG: Fresh. Crisp. Bright.

Photo Credit: Benjamin Stone