By Tanya Silverman
Additional contributors: Veronica Chavez, Molly Freeman, Samantha Spoto
Our concept of reality is shaped by various components. Some of them include our memories, our interactions, and our experiences. As humans, we are capable of engaging in first-hand experiences, such as visiting places in person, or experiencing things vicariously, such as by watching scenes on a television screen.
At times, we can do both. We at BTR have made the effort to experience locations like the Jersey shore’s Shore Store to New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde, both on screen and off.
Here’s what we thought.
Photo by Veronica Chavez.
It was the summer of 2014 and my boyfriend and I had already spent the month of June and half of July scouring New York City for cool spots that also hosted open mic nights. Discouraged from poor sound quality, strange regulars, and long waiting lists, we were a hair away from giving up when we stumbled upon Pete’s Candy Store.
Nestled between two humble-looking apartments, Pete’s Candy Store isn’t very eye-catching at all. From the outside it looks like any typical Brooklyn dive bar. Inside, however, the place has an undeniable character.
The bar is low-lit but not too dark, the music is good but not too loud, and the bartenders don’t put on a sour face when you ask them to list every beer on tap. What more could you really ask for?
The stage for the open mic is small but the warm reds of the wall and dim lighting makes the room a perfectly cozy and intimate area for acoustic music. My boyfriend and I spent quite a few Sunday nights there that summer.
After a few months of not visiting Pete’s, the last place I thought I’d see the familiar stage was during the season four finale of HBO’s Girls. But there it was–Marnie, singing on the very stage that my boyfriend had performed on. The place looked more illuminated than it does in real life but other than that, it looked just like any other regular open mic night. It’s nice to see that Pete’s is getting some well-deserved attention.
It was a steamy, sunny day in July of 2008 when I sat perched on the brim of a gushing fountain across from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The imposing cultural institute sat above the iconic 72 steps ascended by the athletic, heroic character, Rocky Balboa.
The single fictional boxer thus became a trendsetter for various real-life individuals. Tourists clad in causal khaki shorts and cotton tops capriciously ran up the steps. Several wedding groups did not let their high heels or formal shoes discourage them from climbing the dozens of stone stairs. Stray individuals–I could not tell whether they were tourists or members of any discernible group–sauntered up to the top platform and spread their arms proudly.
The hot and humid conditions discouraged none of these willing visitors.
Did I climb the steps? No. I’m not that into Rocky as a film series or stairs as a cardio exercise. Remaining a lazy voyeur on the fountain seemed better.
That was quite a while ago, but last summer, when I was en route to the Philadelphia Zoo, I made it a point to command my driver to loop past the Philadelphia Museum of Art to prove the real-life existence of the famous steps to the other passengers.
Photo by Molly Freeman.
For the past two summers I have vacationed in Seaside Heights, NJ. Since I was born and bred in the Garden State, I felt the need to check out the house and boardwalk store featured on MTV’s Jersey Shore (which, it needs to be noted, primarily featured people from other states).
The house was rather underwhelming–tours cost actual money, which was more than I was willing to pay–but it is available to rent for mega-fans of Jersey Shore. The Shore Store, on the other hand, was a fun experience. Many of the people who work at the Shore Store didn’t share the counter with Snooki, Pauly D, or JWoww, but the staff is friendly and always willing to talk about the spot’s famous past. Plus, of all the t-shirt shops on the Seaside Heights boardwalk, the Shore Store is probably the least sketchy.
Photo by Molly Freeman.
I’ve also been to two of the many bars featured on Jersey Shore: Club Karma and Bamboo Bar, neither of which were as fun or drama-filled as the MTV reality series made them out to be–but that’s to be expected.
In the summer of 2013, I embarked on a month-long stay in New Orleans, Louisiana. I traveled south to volunteer in the Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood gravely impacted nearly a decade prior by Hurricane Katrina. After long and intense days rebuilding houses in the sweltering sun, I would take a short bus ride to the French Quarter.
The French Quarter stretches along the Mississippi River and is a haven for tourists. Restaurants and jazz clubs line Canal Street and Bourbon Street. Cafe du Monde, a legendary New Orleans coffeehouse serving its renowned beignets with cafe au lait, is also located in the French Quarter.
A few years after I returned from my trip, I watched the movie Chef. In the film, actor Jon Favreau plays a professional chef who leaves the competitive restaurant business and travels throughout the south in a food truck. The French Quarter, particularly Cafe du Monde, is among the many stops the chef makes with his partner and young son.
As Favreau walks through the cafe, I noticed one glaring inaccuracy: there was no line. No matter the time of day, a hectic swarm of people flock inside of Cafe du Monde; however, this did not prove to be the case in Chef. I understand that a director cannot waste time having actors wait in line, yet providing a brief indication of the overflow of patrons would have captured the true essence of this famous New Orleans spot.
Aside from the scene in Cafe du Monde, the French Quarter appeared as colorful and as vibrant in Chef as it did when I first laid eyes on it.
Although some images in Chef tested the authentic nature of New Orleans, I still found myself feeling nostalgic as I watched the actors dig into their pastries and walk among the historic architecture on Frenchmen Street.