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July 13, 2012

Perception of choice

"If you are given a choice, you believe you have acted freely. This is one of the darkest of all psychological secrets."

-- " said Teller, of the duo Penn and Teller, to Smithsonian magazine.

Another dark psychological secret magicians routinely take advantage of is known as change blindness -- the failure to detect changes in consecutive scenes. One of the most beautiful demonstrations is an experiment conducted by the psychologist Daniel Simons in which he had an experimenter stop random strangers on the street and ask for directions.

Midway through the conversation, a pair of confederates walked between them and blocked the stranger's view, and the experimenter switched places with one of the stooges. Moments later, the stranger was talking to a completely different person -- yet strange as it may sound, most didn't notice.

July 7, 2012

To contemplate and to chug

Mr. Meyer (*) was touring the alley and talking about how three years ago, when Goldman pitched him, he had no interest. "It was a part of the city I had zero experience with," he said. "I said, Are we just going to be flapping in the wind down here?"

The pitch convinced him. He proposed putting in a Shake Shack and a Blue Smoke barbecue outpost. Goldman said that wouldn't be enough. It insisted on a new restaurant, too. And so Mr. Meyer conceived North End Grill, an upscale seafood place.

His belief is that restaurants do better with company. So he called up some fellow restaurant owners to see if they would come down, too. Nope.

Over at Blue Smoke, which sits on Vesey Street, Mr. Meyer pointed out how the blue illuminated barbecue sign was positioned so it could be visible from all floors of the new World Trade Center rising down the street.

"I love watching that go up," he said. He knelt down and snapped a picture of it with his phone.

He said he had learned that workers at their desks after-hours at Goldman and the various towers typically got a meal voucher of $25. So Blue Smoke offers a $25 takeout dinner.

After the markets close, the Blue Smoke bar is flush with traders. "At 5:02, you have to literally chisel people off the wall," Mr. Meyer said. The North End bar gets crowded, too, but with higher-grade clientele. "There, it's a cocktail to contemplate, and here it's a cocktail to chug," Mr. Meyer said.

(*) Danny Meyer, the prolific New York restaurateur who heads Union Square Hospitality Group, and he opened three restaurants, with his latest outpost of the Shake Shack