Our first date was at Attaboy, a dimly lit speakeasy in the Lower East Side. 

I wore a flirty red dress and he wore a blue button-up. We sipped drinks made with ingredients like elderflower and persimmon, mixed based on our moods instead of a menu. We spent hours talking about our favorite Potter book and the best music venues in New York. As cliche as it sounds, we didn’t want the night to end — and what better place to be then NY? We moved from Attaboy to Spitzer’s to La Caverna. The stench of sweaty college boys couldn’t even ruin the night, it was magical. 

He kissed me on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow, in front of a nondescript bar with a bright neon sign. I went home excited but cautious all the same — as New Yorkers we’re always suspicious of a good thing. 

It surprised me that there was no hesitation on his part. He reached out right away and we set a second date. Then a third. And a fourth. We continued to see each other and I was a goner – swept away by him and the city I saw through his eyes. He took me to a coffee shop called Norma’s in Ridgewood (with the best egg sandwich I’d ever had) and the dive bar,  Aunt Ginny’s, the quintessential neighborhood bar. 

As New Yorkers we’re always suspicious of a good thing. 

We zig-zagged across the city for nearly 3 years. In that time, places themselves took on a new meaning. That nameless bar in the East Village became that bar where he beat me at Big Buck Hunter for the first time. Il Bambino became our go-to panini spot. Milkflower became the place we celebrated with brick oven pizza and red wine after he proposed. The cocktail bar, Diamond Lil became the place where we celebrated our engagement with family and friends. The city became a map of our relationship, each new spot a landmark of some sort. I fell in love with a boy and a city at the same time.

Looking back over those years, I think that Sundays were my favorite. We kept the day just busy enough to enjoy the city while mentally preparing for the work week ahead. We’d often pack a bag (and our dog) and trek to Greenpoint for the day. We walked down Franklin and Manhattan, pausing to scope out vintage stores like Walk the West or stop for treats at Van Leeuwen or Peter Pan. A slice of Screamers on the way home was never out of the question.  I was committing every second to memory because I didn’t want to forget how I was feeling in those moments, with the person that I’d decided to spend my life with right beside me.

I didn’t know it at the time, but all those memories would turn on me in the worst way. What could I do in a city like this one, with all the memories we’d made, when I was suddenly alone? 

I fell in love with a boy and a city at the same time.

We broke up on a Sunday at Madame Sousou’s in Astoria. I found myself in a daze in the days after. Wandering the same streets that we’d wandered together, triggered by every place we shared together. I placed imaginary caution tape around some of them, marked them as the scene of the crime. 

It’s been 6 months and I’m still trying to find my way back to those spaces. 

I made it to Roberta’s a few weeks ago (our favorite spot when we were in the mood to hike to Bushwick), I can’t lie and say it was easy. I told myself the whole day that I had nothing to stress about. He didn’t own this space in my memory. You know when you try and repeat something to yourself in the hopes that it’ll sink in? That’s what I was doing. From the memorable Brokeback Mountain pizza art on the wall to the very smell of the place, it was like being right back there with him. I sat at a table in front and yet I could still feel the weight of our past selves, laughing with each other over brunch in the back.

I walk around with the ghost of him next to me. I can feel his shoulder leaning next to mine on the subway, feel his hand nudging mine to the side while I make dinner, hear his laugh echoing in quiet rooms. 

I don’t know how to properly describe the headspace I’m in now. The shock of the pain has faded into a dull ache that ebbs and flows. If this was a ten-step process, I’d probably be somewhere around step five. Able to go to work in the morning and laugh with friends over wine, but still not completely comfortable revisiting those places that were ours.

I don’t have all the answers. If you’re going through your own kind of hell right now I wish I could say that after 3 months you’ll feel better, or that by month 5 you’ll be able to drive past that wedding venue without pressing your eyes closed.  I can’t tell you that. 

What I can say is that I’m ready to start trying. I don’t want to hide anymore. It may take me weeks or months before I’m able to make it to the cocktail bar where we first met or to the dozens of other places that are a part of our story. Loving him wasn’t easy – unloving him is going to be just as hard. But for the first time since we broke up in that coffee shop, I have hope. I walked into that coffee shop last week and sat down for a chai. I didn’t fall apart.

Kiran Josen

Kiran's a project manager by day and an aspiring writer at heart. She currently calls Astoria home, where she lives with, arguably, the best dog in the entire world. She loves Italian reds (sauce and wine), soup dumplings (Flushing if you please) and Mike's Hot Honey on everything (seriously, everything).

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One day, 40 years down the line, you’ll be telling your grandchildren the romantic story about how you met your partner because you swiped right on their picture with a dog. The kids will say, “Wow Grandpa/ma. That’s so much work. Nowadays, we just 3D print our romantic partners using only organic, ethically sourced nut milk and Apple iPhone XXV parts”. But I digress.

While there is nothing wrong with being on the apps (duh, everyone’s on them), EVERYTHING is wrong with modern dating. People swipe right and left faster than they can blink. Witty text banter that never amounts to a real date. Ghosting! The flakiness of dates. Catfishing of pictures. It seems that the more people are on the apps, the less they are meeting (connecting) in real life.

A few months ago, after hearing so many of our friends complain about dating online, we decided to write an article about the black hole of dating in NYC. If you missed it, the article was called “The All-Encompassing Guide to Love, Sex and Dating in NYC”.

We also decided to throw our own party. “A Friend of a Friend party aka A Party for Single People Who Hate Online Dating But Love to Party” where we’d invite all of our single friends, and have them invite their single friends and meet together in real life, without any pressure. No ghosting, no flaking, no catfishing in a place where everyone could meet organically, with their friends. Throughout the party, we had a blast connecting everyone. Several dates, sparks, and corner make out sessions took place. It was a great time and we’re doing it again October 24th. Take a look at the pics below and tag yourselves.

DJ De Lunarr

Chau Mui

Chau is the original New York City stoop kid who cut her teeth hanging out in Union Square, ate soup dumplings in Chinatown and explored this great city by train, foot and everything in between.

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New York City has historically been known for its fast-paced, no bullshit personality, from the workplace to the city streets, and unfortunately, the dating world. As the world of online dating gets more and more perplexing (apparently there’s a thing called ZOMBIE-ing now), it seems the world of meeting people IN-REAL-LIFE is fewer and far between.

We decided to take the reins in our hands and showcase our top single friends in NYC. Here are our picks, you can meet them and other hot singles at our Party for Single People Who Hate Online Dating But Love to Party Tonight, Friday 20th at 730PM. RSVP HERE.

1. Ali Panken

She’s the type you take out for dinner and spontaneously bar hop across town till 3 AM laughing your ass off with and then take home for Sunday brunch with your mom. Bubbly and quite possibly one of the most popular people you’ll meet, she gets along with everyone, and you’ll have a much more fun life because of her.

2. Adam Defrin

We promise he’s not as douchey as he looks. His words, not ours. A super talented photographer/videographer/rapper/creator whose special skill is reciting any word backward immediately, you will NEVER be bored. Ever. Ever. Ever. Plus, if you’re a model/influencer we can guarantee he’ll be the photographer boyfriend catching the dopest shots (though he’d probably be getting himself in those shots as well). #couplegoals

3. Sandy Hsieh

“Cute Face, Tiny Waist, Big Ass Personality”. If you’re a fan of The Office, Parks and Rec or anything comedy related, Sandy is your girl. She is the queen of witty banter and sass, so make sure you’re able to keep up with her quips. An adventurous soul who’s incredibly loyal, once you’re in her inner circle you’ll be spoiled with one of the most thoughtful people in the world. As a beauty guru, stylist, and gorgeous queen you guys better holler quick before she gets taken off the market.

4. Anish Mitra

This full-time comedian and former investment banker (don’t worry, he’ll still take you on some nice dinners) is all of the fun minus the Sperry wearing frat personality of typical finance bros. Best of all, he’s a family man (his mom comes to his comedy shows and is beloved by the whole audience <3) is sweet, woke and fun to boot. You’ll spend your nights laughing over stand up bits and probably exploring some new restaurant in Queens somewhere.

5. Tiwanna Hamilton

Just a year into NYC, this West Coast native is easily mistaken for a native New Yorker. She’s sassy and quick, but she’s got a heart of gold once you’re in her circle. Most nights will be spent trying to discover the best Ramen in town and fawning over puppies in the street. Regardless, you’ll spend your nights with bellyaches of laughter and Ramen.

6. Jimmy Lowery Jr

This Southern gent is only a few months into NYC, so ladies you better sink your claws into him before he gets jaded like the rest of us. He says things like, “thanks” and holds the door open for you, so you know how rare that is in this city. In any case, Jimmy is a former startup founder who made the leap to NYC earlier this summer and is on the hunt to explore the city as much as possible. Who’s looking to show him around?

7. Sachin Shaan

Sachin on the right

You know that cooler friend that skydives, vacations in Positano and seems to have their life together MUCH more than you? That’s Sachin. A full-time lawyer and comedian, he’s the type that will charm your parents with jokes at the dinner table, and then impress them with his big-time adult job where he once even helped to exonerate an innocent man who was jailed for 10+ years (we think Kim Kardashian was inspired by him). He’s fun, charming and over 6 feet tall. Woo!

8. Doug Harrison

This thirst trap, sorry, we mean MODEL is probably the only good thing to come out of New Jersey (except for MTV’s Jersey Shore but we’re not trying to put the two in the same boat). A producer, model, and amateur photographer, Doug is super cultured and loves to travel and meet new people (even one time playing a game of Leapfrog in Salamanca, Spain). This arm candy is one that you’ll be dying to show off.

Chau Mui

Chau is the original New York City stoop kid who cut her teeth hanging out in Union Square, ate soup dumplings in Chinatown and explored this great city by train, foot and everything in between.

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The first thing 28-year-old fashion photographer Lenne Chai wants you to know about Singapore is that “Crazy Rich Asians” was wayyyy off. 

“Don’t get me wrong, the film was fantastic and will go into history books as phenomenal, but when you’re thinking about how Singaporean people look…well, we’re a bit more colorful than that”.

She is New York City’s latest crop of talented creatives who’ve risked it all to “make it” here. She’s a soft-spoken, cutesy Singaporean with a trendier than thou style and an equally exuberant portfolio of fashion, beauty, and style photography. Her photos are the stuff that teen girls model their gram’s after and big brands emulate when they’re trying to “relate” to the modern woman.

Photo by Marisse Caine

At the ripe age of 28, Lenne’s dreamy photography has already graced the covers of Allure, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, InStyle, H&M and Shiseido. Despite a spirited success story in Singapore and Japan, Lenne still left it all behind for a chance to live and work in New York City where she’s starting again from scratch. We sat down with Lenne to learn exactly how she got her start, and what it is that makes New York City the center of creativity for the world.

STARTED FROM THE TOP, NOW WE HERE 

Lenne may be new to the New York scene (she moved here about a year ago), but chances are you may have seen her work. Most recently, her shoot with Gen Z’s latest phenomena—CG created “influencers” posing as real, people for Instagram, Lil Miquela (1.5 million followers) made the cover of L’officiel Magazine. By the way, when asked about how she was able to photograph a digital avatar…Lenne’s lips were ostentatiously sealed.

Lil Miquela the “digital avatar Instagram Influencer”

But before Lenne was the effervescent photographer sitting in front of me, she was a young intern at a newspaper with a humble fashion blog in Singapore with only dreams of visiting New York. “I was young, naive and had no idea what I was doing,” Lenne says. “I was fired almost three times from my internship and fashion felt so far away and unattainable”. 

Her flair for capturing dreamy landscapes and women

At the age of 22, right on the heels of a photo internship with The Straits Times (Singapore’s largest English speaking newspaper), she had a meeting with the editor of a large magazine to discuss some content for her fashion blog, which she had been writing about trends and photographing herself. Being the opportunistic person that she was, she brought her portfolio. 

The editor loved her work and asked her if she wanted to shoot a couture spread. It would be the first real shoot that she had ever done, with a studio, crew, and budget. After reflecting on the realities of the shoot, and how outrageously unprepared she was, she wrote back to the editor saying how wrong she was for the shoot and how green she was, politely declining his offer in a 4 paragraph, way too long, essay. 

Clearly, he didn’t read the email because he wrote, “Ok great, I’ll link you with my editor”. 

The dress she photographed eventually ended up being worn by Beyoncé on her album cover, and thus, her career began to grow. Not too long after, she was asked by another contact from the newspaper for a 3-day shoot in Bintan with supermodel Lily Cole for a resort.

A hop, skip and an all-expense-paid flight later, Lenne was on a paradise resort in Bintan with supermodel Lily Cole for a three-day photo shoot. While the concept sounded incredible, an inexperienced 22-year-old being flown out to a resort to shoot a supermodel could only be described as “objectively horrible” by Lenne.

Model Lily Cole right before falling into the water

The weather was overcast, and Lenne was too inexperienced to know how to deal with the weather, how to run a shoot or how to communicate with a supermodel. At one point, the client pointed to a rock in the middle of the ocean and said, “Let’s shoot there”. Reticent to go into the water with her equipment, but eager to please, she walked in with the team. I’m sure you can guess what happens when a rock and slippery moss in the middle of the ocean meshes with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment. 

Suffice to say, Lenne, camera, and dignity went under. 

“TALK ABOUT HITTING ROCK BOTTOM…LITERALLY”

“I felt that I needed to eat chi ku (吃苦). It means to eat bitter in Mandarin. I needed to go through hardship, to learn and suffer. So I took all of the savings from my next shoot – $5,000 and moved to Japan for three months.”

She made the move to Japan where, while on a night out, she met the talent manager of Universal Music Group and showed him her portfolio at Karaoke. That chance encounter turned into a shoot for Bang and Olufsen. Another random encounter took place when she ran into an editor for Elle Japan at a Tommy Hilfiger party, and the editor set up a few shoots at Elle Girl Japan. And so it seems like the roundabouts of success that made up her future are anything but linear; chance encounters, random parties, always having a portfolio on her, and staying outside of her comfort zone. 

“Youth is courage. 90 percent of the things I’m telling you, ignorance and youth got me so far.”

“I realized that if I wanted to make it in this industry, I needed to grow the fuck up. I needed to be more worldly, learn to talk to people.” Today, her approach to photography is undeniably militant. The story of her success becomes apparent not because of a series of lucky events, but because she has consistently put herself in challenging positions. For much of her early career, she was working for free for photo studios and magazines, photographing musicians and celebrities with no budget until she was able to build up relationships with the editors. “Editorial shoots are very rarely paid. Hustle for a bit until they NEED you.”

Nikolaj Coster Waldau for Esquire Singapore

The work she does is daring, engaging and refreshingly millennial, in the best sense of the word. One of her last projects was a photo piece standing up to the anti-LGBT movement in Singapore featuring a lesbian wedding which both taboo and illegal in the country. I asked Lenne what is her advice for anyone who would want to pursue photography and she said,  “I spend more time outside of my comfort zone than inside”. But in order to really feel successful in the fashion world, she had to put herself with the best, and so she set her eyes on NYC.

The transition took over 75 cold emails to New York photo agencies for representation and over a dozen in-person meetings over a four day period. On the final day, Lenne was signed by ADB agency, where she was signed on the spot. It was another full year before she could get her visa to come and work in New York City. 

“New York City has always been the fashion capital of the world. I knew that if I wanted to really make it, I had to come here”.

With a portfolio of work that has only expanded, we’re excited to see where Lenne will go. While most of her work is still based in Asia, she’s beginning to get her name out in NYC. Long gone are the stories of up and coming starving artists in NYC. The next generation is a budding pool of creatives and tastemakers, generating opportunities out of nothing and creating their own futures.

These are exciting times, indeed. 


Chau Mui

Chau is the original New York City stoop kid who cut her teeth hanging out in Union Square, ate soup dumplings in Chinatown and explored this great city by train, foot and everything in between.

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Ah, the Wednesday hangover. 

You know, that thing that happens when you go out on a Tuesday for “just a drink” after work with friends and wind up down a black hole of KGB, Solas and other nefarious dive bars in the East Village like you’re an 18-year-old NYU student with a solid fake ID again? Just me? 20 pierogis from Veselka and 4 hours of drunken sleep later, you’re waking up bleary-eyed from the sound of your alarm for work. You mosey out of bed and question your life decisions. 

While most people in America might call this borderline alcoholism, we New Yorkers call it a regular Tuesday night. 

My close friends know that I can throw back about 13 well Vodka Tonics and still run a marathon. While I have always considered it a deeply honed skill — my doctor isn’t amused. 

What can I say, I love drinking! I love the taste of a good Negroni, the temporary bathroom friendships, having a weekly bartender to swap stories with. But as I get older, those 13 vodka tonics have turned into 10 and a mandatory Bacon Egg and Cheese in the morning. 

I’m a little older, the wear and tear has gotten to me physically, but my party spirit lives on. So I wondered, how would it feel like – to explore a place that might not give me the shakes? 

Whether you’ve given up alcohol forever or just for the night, you might be interested in Manhattan’s first alcohol-free bar. Listen Bar is a completely booze-free bar with solid drinks, nightlife vibes, and great music.

Bar founder, Lorelei Bandrovisch got the inspiration from a dry month challenge from one of her friends. The experience stayed with her as she returned to the “normal nightlife.”

“There are ten thousand bars in NYC, yet there were no nightlife options for nondrinkers,” Bandrovisch recalled during our interview. 

She’s right — Let’s face it, drinking is default in New York City. I tell all my transplant friends “We don’t have backyards, we have bars.”  It’s the standard place to meet up with friends, a date, or even your sister. Even if you don’t drink, your friends probably drink, and you’re stuck as the odd one out.

Of course, ordering a soda while out on the town is an option, but Bandrovisch didn’t think that option was enough. After months of reflection, her lightbulb-moment happened in a mentoring session.

“I want to open a non-alcoholic bar.” Bandrovisch proclaimed. When the room was floored – she knew she had something great on her hands.

She wanted Listen Bar to have three key ingredients:

– An alcohol-free environment

– A bar that actually had bar vibes

– A space where musicians could thrive

She envisioned a spot where her musically-inclined friends could bartend and promote their work. A place where bartending and music could nurture each other.

“Working as a bartender seems like a perfect gig when you’re a musician, but I’ve seen so many friends get drained. Why should bartending be at odds with your music?”

Music replaces alcohol as the main social lubricant. 

CBD BGB, photographed by Sasha Charoensub @sashabphoto

She replaced the question of “What are you drinking?” to “What are we listening to?” Don’t bother pulling up Shazam, ask the bartender! Every bartender is a musician with their own curated playlist. You might be jammin’ out to a track written by the guy who just poured you a Coco-Matcha! It’s a brand new way to interact with your favorite artist and humanize the person across the bar. Bandrovisch noted the dehumanization bartenders in NYC experience. “Bartenders aren’t just providing you a service. They’re humans and we’re equal. The music offers a connecting point for that.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen frat boys be massive douchebags to bartenders. Often, people forget the guy giving you your beer isn’t some Pilsner dispensing robot, they’re real human beings who don’t appreciate getting called, “Bro” for the 17th time.

Listen Bar isn’t just mixing great tunes and vibes, they serve up drinks with a creative kick. Often, flavor falls to the wayside with mocktails, but not at Listen Bar. “We’re working with a great team that’s working at a high level of creativity. It’s not just the taste, it’s the experience, the texture, the mouthfeel. We wanted to create a menu that created the craving for more than just one.”

“Instead of saying let’s pop in for a drink or two – I want people to think, let’s pop in for a song or two.”

It’s the first bar to combine the strengths of mixologists, herbalists, and nutritionists to develop a detailed menu with notations such as gluten-free, vegan, paleo, and even refined sugar-free mocktails. There’s something for everyone on what Lorelei describes as their “Greatest Hits Menu.” You can grab drinks named – “Me, A Houseplant” or “Ghost Me, Maybe”, both of which are gluten-Free, vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, caffeine-free but unfortunately, not money free. Try grabbing my personal favourite — Spicy Titties (Lime, Cilantro, jalapeno, Grapefruit and Jarritos) , which channels Lizzo in a glass. 

Listen Bar is a bar that has everything but alcohol.  “I wanted to create a place that felt like a bar, something with a sexy and fun vibe,” says Lorelei with a giggle in her voice. “Oftentimes, not drinking makes you feel like the odd one out, but here we’re all having fun in a community-centric space.” An occasional drinker herself, Bandrovisch is adamant about the space being open to everyone no matter their drinking status.

While the idea of not drinking might be scary to some, it’s worth a challenge. Being surrounded in a nightlife environment makes the venture a lot easier.

“You’d be shocked how many people come up to me and say, ‘I can’t do karaoke sober.’ Then ten minutes later, we’re belting their lungs out!!” Bandrovschi recalled their karaoke blitz a few months ago. The bar has a myriad of theme nights from, Modern Wellness, Cocktail Contest, and even Speed Dating (a night that sold out in less than 24 hours).

The bar is currently open once a month at 3 Bleecker St, NYC.  Located under VON bar, occasionally upstairs patrons will wander in with alcoholic drinks. “Sometimes people get defensive,” Bandrovchsi answered when asked if drinkers will sometimes attempt to smuggle in booze. Wanderers are always greeted and welcomed, just asked to leave the booze upstairs. “You’re not banished… but maybe don’t do that. They’re so many places for drinkers, by being ‘that guy’ you’re taking something away from the community we all formed together.”

And it is a community. Listen Bar opened in October 2018 and already has thousands of followers, both online and offline. Their campaign funding goal for a permanent location has nearly been reached. 

Bandrovisch won’t give us a hint on the location reveal just yet, she did reveal that the crowd campaign will be releasing a poll for locations on her shortlist.

“There have been so many surprises, and I’m happy people are receptive to the idea. Especially when people are willing to change their minds. I love after a night of partying when people walk out like “Oh, I get it now.’ It makes it worth it!” 

Listen Bar’s next event is on October 30th, 2019 with the theme “Costume Karoake.” You can get your tickets HERE.

Tessie Viola

Tessie Viola is a native New Yorker from Queens. When she's not writing for ciaooo!, she can be caught eating dirty water dogs near Lincoln Center.

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