I have to admit, when I first learned about Foods of New York Tours, I was most excited about the food. I am not one to take the extensive historical tours when I travel, partly because I like exploring on my own but mostly because I don’t like feeling like I’m being herded. So I didn’t think that the historical aspects of the tour would interest me very much.

I was, of course, wrong. I found myself riveted on my very first tour, learning things about the streets I had been walking for more than six years that I never would have known otherwise. Apparently, food and history make for a compelling combination. Someone should tell my boring eighth grade social studies teacher.

Now, I’m not going to share all of the cool stuff I’ve learned on the tours and subsequently used to impress people. (If you want to be as cool as I am, you’ll just have to take the tours for yourself.) But I wanted to share a couple times when I felt supremely knowledgeable and interesting for having these little bits of trivia under my belt.

1. Food: Olive Oil Selection

You know when you go the grocery store, and there are 1,200 different types of olive oil? Or maybe you’ve been to one of those fancy cooking stores, and there are less types, but they have even more confusing classifications on them? If you’re like me a few years ago, you probably choose your olive oil based on price and how fancy the bottle looks. Apparently, this is not a very scientific way of choosing olive oil.

The olive oil purveyors at O&Co gave us a “taste” of their expertise (see what I did there?) on the Original Greenwich Village Tour. While eating a piece of fresh Amy’s bread topped with some of the best olive oil I’d ever tasted, I learned about what cold-pressed, virgin, and other mystifying terms on the bottles meant.

So when I recently found myself in one of those fancy cooking stores with a friend, I knew just what to do. This friend, who takes cooking seriously and can actually create foods other than baked ziti and curry (about the limits of my cooking abilities), admitted to me that she “had no idea” how to buy olive oil. She knew that the process could be as complex as choosing a good wine, and while I couldn’t claim to be an expert, I steered us toward a cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil that turned out to be delicious.

2. Culture: The Poet’s Clap

I attended an arts camp as a teen where, instead of applauding with regular clapping, we would applaud each other by snapping (also known as the “poet’s clap”). It was a fun camp tradition that I never really questioned. For some reason, I accepted that, while the rest of the world claps to show appreciation, poets snap instead.

A few months ago, though, I was at a party when someone asked something to the effect of, “Why do poets snap instead of clap, anyway?” Having taken the Central Village Tour, I actually knew the answer: it’s because of the Beats in New York City poetry clubs in the 1950s. These clubs had very low ceilings and hard surfaces, so the sound of regular applause garnered noise complaints. In an attempt to avoid being labeled a public nuisance, the clubs adopted a new, less noisy tradition: snapping for poets after their performances.

3. Architecture: New York City Boot Scrapers

Photo from Curator of Shit.

A detail of older New York City architecture you probably never noticed (because I certainly didn’t) is the boot scrapers on old balustrades (a balustrade, for the architecture layperson, is an ornamental railing).

Somewhat vestigial in the days of cement and sidewalks, these gaps where one could scrape off the dirt from one’s shoes were once a regular addition to any stoop’s railing. After all, the streets have not always been paved, and after walking around on dirt roads all day, I imagine you wouldn’t want to walk right into your house without some serious scraping first.

After taking the Original Greenwich Village Tour, I started to notice this small detail of architecture all over the city, anywhere there are still the original fixtures on old brow