Meet 11th Street
11th Street is an eclectic stretch of blocks that manages to capture the serenity of the residential neighborhoods that wind through the tangled west side as well as the low-key vibe of the East Village. Sprinkled throughout, in what seems like little clusters, are fascinating finds in the way of one-of-a-kind shops, clothing boutiques, furniture and antique stores and, of course, restaurants.
What better way to start than with the culinary bookends of 11th Street? All the way east on Avenue C is I Coppi Di Matilda where the sisters who owned I Coppi and Matilda have combined their Tuscan-Mexican and Italian menus. Walking to the extreme west, the last entry for 11th Street is Wallse, where Austrian fare is served in a corner restaurant on Washington Street. And in between there are several others well worth a visit.
The French play an important role on West 11th with French Roast, a twenty-four hour bistro, situated on the corner of Sixth Avenue; Tartine, a popular Parisian cafe; and Vin Sur Vingt, a wine bar that has an endless list of fine French bottles.
The Spotted Pig has earned itself a tremendous reputation with New Yorkers – so much so that people, including us, are willing to wait several hours for a table as they do not take reservations…but that’s okay, because just a few steps away are several options to visit in the meantime. Choose from Osam Cakir’s adjacent bars Turks and Frogs for a glass of wine or Orient Express for a selection of European cocktails and beer, or do what we did, and stop in at both for a drink and some appetizers while still waiting for that coveted table at the Spotted Pig. Depending on the time of day, tucked neatly in between these restaurants and bars is Robin Rice Gallery – soaking up their photography is a soothing diversion. Just a few doors down is the pink and bubbly Savor Spa, a small spot that also serves as a boutique for a line of OM Aroma all-natural creams and skin products.
Moving further east, there are a few late-night haunts worthy of a visit. Amsterdam Billiards & Bar is filled to the brim with pool tables, the Village Pourhouse has over one hundred beers to choose from, and nestled between Avenue A and B, for a more low-key night-cap, is 11th Street Bar, where they stay open until 4am every night of the week.
There was one surprise after another for me on 11th Street in the way of novelty shops – each more intriguing than the next. For the baseball enthusiast, Bergino’s has a wealth of memorabilia and other unique items related to America’s pastime. I stopped dead in my tracks when I discovered Casey Rubber Stamps. Wow, who knew that there was a store hidden here on 11th Street where the Irish owner and his staff hand-make every stamp in this vast collection? Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery is an allergy-sufferer’s dream. Fair Folks & A Goat sells an intriguingly eclectic collection of things, from clothes and coasters to lattes. And for those who can indulge in any sweet they wish, Veniero’s Pasticceria has more sugar in one space than any shop I believe I have visited thus far. Russo’s Imported Cheeses got my vote for excellent pastas and cheeses. I also discovered Ten Thousand Steps, a Hungarian-inspired arts center and bookstore.
But wait, I have saved, what was for me, the best for last. I cannot begin to describe what an awesome afternoon my son and some of our crew spent at Fleurs Bella filming owner Bella Meyer in her magnificent shop. Her indoor garden filled with flora and the collection of pieces from her childhood home in France are all here, but it is Bella, herself, who steals the show. The granddaughter of artist Marc Chagall, she clearly shares his joy for all things beautiful and has inherited his artistic talent, which becomes evident when one watches her create a simple bouquet or observes her in action as she moves about her shop. Please take the time to watch the video and listen to the stories that Bella shares with us and feel her passion for flowers, art, and her beloved Marc Chagall.
The history contained along this street is diverse. The house where, in 1970, the revolutionary group the Weathermen caused an explosion in their bomb-making workshop, killing three, sits at 18 West 11th. Eleanor Roosevelt maintained a New York apartment on West 11th during her husband’s presidency (from 1933 to 1942). The venerable and bohemian nightclub and lounge Webster Hall resides just off Fourth Avenue, where 11th is bisected by Grace Church. The Second Cemetery of the Spanish Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel was cut in half and buried between tenements when 11th street was extended toward the East River in 1830. Today it remains as Manhattan’s smallest cemetery and another of 11th’s historic gems.
Much of St. Vincent’s Hospital, which closed its doors not too long ago, is being torn down as I write, while other parts are being renovated getting ready for some two hundred apartments…but right now, a large stretch of 11th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue is completely dominated by construction. In contrast, however, on the other side of the street are beautiful row houses built in the 1800’s. There are some who believe that the prettiest block in the city is 11th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. We agree that the Lockwood-style homes are beautiful, but we dispute their claim that it is the finest – 10th Street between these same avenues can hold its own.
On the eastern most part of 11th Street, at No. 538, is a building that was constructed in the early 1900’s to serve as a public bathhouse for those living in the nearby tenements. There is a plaque on the building commemorating the 1980 filming of the movie Ragtime. Then in 1995, Eddie Adams, the photographer who took the infamous shot of the killing of a Vietcong prisoner by a police chief during the war, bought the building and today it remains a photo studio with the original Free Public Baths of the City of New York written across the top.
Kathy Kemp, owner of the stunning clothing boutique, Anna, commented to me that having moved her shop after twenty plus years from East 3rd Street to 11th, she noted that this street definitely brings more traffic on a day-to-day basis. She loved 3rd Street, but is incredibly happy in her new location where she is meeting many interesting people, gathering lots more customers, and just delighting in the vibe. I do believe that many others on 11th Street – both east and west – would certainly agree with her assessment of the street.