Meet 21st Street
In Manhattan, while we often expect to be excluded from elite clubs and celebrity parties, we tend to expect entrance into New York’s parks. Gramercy Park, a city landmark, reserves access for only the residents who live in the buildings surrounding it. For an annual fee, these fortunate members are provided with the infamous key. Peering through the iron bars onto the peaceful, manicured garden, it is certainly a gorgeous setting to relax in, with its lush greenery and the blooming flowers. There is also a majestic statue of the Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth, who founded and resided at the Players Club, across the way, towards the end of the nineteenth century. We found the square block area surrounding the park to be exquisite and, strolling alongside in the shade of the trees, we were perfectly content.
The most prevalent unifying factor of 21st Street is its intimate relationship with the world of art. The biggest artistic presence on 21st belongs to the School of Visual Arts Westside Gallery, where students from all over come to build their craft and exhibit their work. Radiating out from the school, DaVinci Artist Supply has a vast array of paints. The artistic spirit has also attracted so many tile stores that the street has been dubbed “Tile Row.” One example of this came at Amethyst Artisan, where a little taste of Morocco has been brought to Manhattan. A bit further west, we were intrigued to learn that Art House 21 is a building where artists are able to rent space to work. And then there are the numerous impressive galleries gathered between Tenth and Eleventh Avenue.
Something else that we found interesting when walking 21st Street was the way that the officially sanctioned art spaces give way to street art. The echoes of this artistic spirit can be witnessed throughout the street – and we challenge walkers to search for some of these unofficial art installations. For example, next door to Bounce, the sports bar, a small passageway beckoned, covered throughout from floor to ceiling in bright graffiti. A surprisingly captivating mural covers the back wall of PS11, and there is a small pair of carved lips attached to a seemingly random brick at the nearby galleries. At Tenth Avenue, an adorable gnome sits perched inside a red box attached to a lamppost.
Beyond the artist’s palette, 21st Street offers several other ways to work on our hobbies and skills. At Scuba Network, one can become certified in as little as two weeks and join in on tropical dives as far away as the Galapagos Islands. At Abracadabra, there are racks of costumes, and Tricky Henry stands behind his counter filled with magic, demonstrating how to do the seemingly impossible. The Natural Gourmet Institute was an absolute highlight for the Manhattan Sideways team as we spent hours observing cooking classes and speaking with founder, Annemarie Colbin.
And for those of us who prefer someone else to prepare the meal, 21st Street offers many enticing choices: Green Square Tavern, and Hardings emphasize locally sourced American food; at Grill 21 we tried Filipino cuisine while seated outdoors; at Koa, we were pleasantly surprised by the avant-garde decor; and a group of us gathered at Almayass one afternoon to experience the flavorful Lebanese/Armenian dishes. There has yet to be a shortage of Italian restaurants on the side streets and 21st is no exception: Giorgio’s was a perfect place to stop for a bite on a hot summer afternoon; and Zero Otto Nove, with their thin crust pizza and solid Italian fare, continues to be a favorite since they opened in 2011.