This week, get to know Untapped Cities contributor Shervin Abdolhamidi, a recent graduate of NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, and an avid traveler, who has just embarked on a one-year backpacking trip around the world.
What’s your favorite Untapped spot in your city?
There’s this Greek Cafe in my neighborhood of Astoria, called Omonia Cafe. After passing by it numerous late nights coming home from work, I opted to go get myself a treat. It was in that moment that I set eyes on what I would vehemently argue to be the most delicious and savory treat in the city: Cheesecake Baklava. The scrumptious treat consists of a layer of fluffy cheesecake, sandwiched between two savory, nut-laden layers of Baklava, with the cheesecake in the middle mellowing the syrupy, rich sweetness of the baklava. But aside from that exotic, tasty fusion, the cafe has a terrific assortment of other pastries, cookies, cakes, and more. There’s also an outdoor sitting area in the back which is open during the warm spring and summer nights.
Favorite piece you’ve written for Untapped:
That’s a question with no definitive answer. Every piece I’ve written has been been truly unique and enlightening. Every time, the overarching sentiment is: “Wow! I had no idea, this is incredible.” Therefore, I’ll give my top three in no particular order: First, a warehouse party that also served as a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. It was truly an “Untapped” story. Second, around the time of the Muslim Ban, I covered the Yemenis bodega deli strike. Bodega delis—which predominantly have ethnically Yemenis owners—are an intricate part of our city’s culture, and it was a very satisfying feeling to be a voice for them. And finally, I went to a place called the Wrecking Club where my work entailed bashing a printer with a sledgehammer for fun!
What’s the most memorable thing that happened while writing for Untapped Cities?
One day in the middle of winter Michelle Young, Untapped Cities founder, emailed me asking if I wanted to cover a secret concert “somewhere” in Brooklyn. Of course I said yes, and so the next night I proceed to walk to some obscure address in Bushwick in search of a loft apartment building. With no prior knowledge of what could lie ahead, I punched in the combinations given in the email, walked down a spartan hallway, and entered—a very intimate gathering with incredible artist and a terrific crowd in the basement of someone’s loft! The event was SoFar Sounds and the venue was Secret Loft. It was just such an eccentric, scintillating, and simply “Untapped” moment.
What’s the most surprising and/or valuable thing you’ve learned while at Untapped Cities?
I think before writing for Untapped Cities I thought of New York City, and New Yorkers more specifically, as a multitude of densely packed tiny atoms that scurry around in close proximity to each other, but rarely coalesce. I used to think the city, with all its people and diversity, is too large for small-scale, grass root activities that instill a sense of community.
I’m glad to say I realized just how wrong I was. Through all the stories I covered or read about I realized that despite the sheer size of the city, it’s very much possible to start your own business, make an art gallery, or start a movement; almost anyone is capable of doing something they are passionate about, and those who share your passion will gather around you.
What’s your favorite Untapped place you’ve visited while traveling?
While backpacking in Iran, I visited an ancient city by the name of Yazd. Nestled between two of the largest deserts in the world, the indigenous people of the past had engineered ingenious methods to contend with the arid land and harsh climate. From underground channels that would carry fresh water from up in the mountains, to windcatchers that use temperature gradients to cool dwellings, the city is abundant in history, culture, and untapped spots to uncover.
Where do you want to visit next?
Paris! There’s so many secrets and so much history to learn about. I hope I can just break the surface of it.
What’s your favorite obscure fact about your city?
So much of the city is landfill. Amid some research I realized just how much of the city is built on landfill! In fact, while on the Ellis Island Hard Hat tour it didn’t even come as a surprise that what we know today as Ellis Island was originally three islands, which were adjoined with landfill.
Craziest thing you’ve ever done?
One of my friend’s high school buddies would tell me anecdotes about exploring Forest Park at night and the first thing that came to mind was: this would be a great Untapped Cities piece. So one Friday night a group of us went into the park to explore. Between trekking across abandoned railways, walking the rail across the park engulfed in pitch silence, sneaking around a cemetery, and finally entering a mysteriously open mausoleum while knowing that someone is inside, that was the craziest thing I’ve done.
Best Celebrity Sighting:
Roger Federer! Anyone who knows me for more than a couple of hours will realize just how obsessed I am with the tennis legend. When I was fifteen, I went to the U.S. Open and stood at the fence where players practice for eight and a half hours (no bathroom breaks, lest I lose my spot!) until he came and signed my cap! I was awestruck and stunned with adoration coming within inches of him.
Later that month, I met Selena Gomez too at a meet and greet. Sadly, I was once again too dumbstruck to say anything, and I merely stammered out a hello.