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Meet 26th Street

What will become apparent to readers while scrolling through the write-ups of 26th is not only the abundance of rare finds that the Manhattan Sideways team uncovered, but the passion behind so many of the incredibly warm and interesting people that we encountered while walking. Of course, there were stunning restaurants with fantastic food and multiple outstanding bars, but this time, it was also about numerous fascinating shops with skilled laborers who can do magical things with their hands.

Way east, hidden behind an unremarkable storefront is the Holographic Studios. Artist Jason Sapon has resided here since the 1970s and has attracted an international following. Heading west, we found La Mano Pottery, one of our most exciting encounters. Besides being captivated by the concept of a studio where people can throw clay and create beautiful pieces of art on a side street in Manhattan, it was spending time with the friendly and passionate trio of women who own La Mano that made it come to life for us.

There are many excellent bike shops around the city, but meeting Rafael, at Chelsea Bicycles, was different. He was raised in Mexico, where his initial interest in bikes began, but then went to a bike-making school in Italy to become fully educated on the techniques, before settling in New York to open his own shop.

It was a pleasant surprise to discover the Tusk flagship store on 26th. Their handbags, wallets and other leather pieces are buttery soft, and this season they come in an array of beautiful colors. For fun, sustainable fashion, the street offers two large used clothing outposts: Crossroads and Buffalo Exchange.

A number of destinations held deep personal connections. I met Nic Faitos, who started out on Wall Street. When he fell out of love with the financial world, he turned to flowers, opening the beautiful Starbright Floral. A little farther along 26th, I met Uriel, who came to New York from Uzbekistan with his father, and opened a shoe repair shop. When Uriel’s own son, Gabriele, was old enough, his son convinced Uriel to allow him to use the front of the space to house a barber shop, thus the family-run Uriel’s Shoe Repair and Chelsea Park Barbers.

The middle of 26th Street skirts the top of Madison Square Park, and is marked, most notably, by The Museum of Mathematics – an intriguing discovery on a side street and one that is sure to capture the imagination of both children and adults. Heading farther west, I took the elevator to the eighth floor of a building on 26th, as I had been told by another shop owner that I must check out the Jazz Record Center. What a discovery this was! Fred Cohen is a gentle soul, who is passionate about his music and the history of jazz. His collection is enormous and his knowledge matches it. Standing on line outside the Upright Citizens Brigade allowed me to meet an entirely new mix of people, ready to put the day’s anxieties behind them and have more than a few laughs at this well-established comedy club.

There are several hotels on 26th, some with fabulous roof decks, but it is the Flatiron Hotel, where Toshi’s unique concept of hospitality has enticed visitors from around the world. Stopping by for a drink one evening will, inevitably, be a rare treat. Speaking of rare, I had a terrific vegetarian sandwich at Rare View in the Hilton Hotel one summer afternoon, while my husband ordered from their extensive meat menu. After, we took the elevator up to find a 360-degree view waiting for us outside at the roof deck bar.

Unexpectedly, one day when I was ready to take a break, I discovered an urban plaza. It is run by the city and located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, providing interesting, modern-style seating options under the tall trees and offering a pleasant respite from city living. Needing a bite to eat, I was also able to order a scrumptious grilled cheese sandwich from Melt, which is located in the corner of the plaza.

As I mentioned, there are numerous bars along 26th, attracting hordes of people, with a slightly different crowd in each. Maysville beckons with bourbon and delectable southern cooking, while Flatiron Room attracts a crowd of whiskey drinkers and jazz enthusiasts. Flatiron Hall is a beer sanctuary, and Ainsworth and Grey Bar are the sports bars. Each of these spots come alive immediately following the workday and continue buzzing into the wee hours of the evening. Black Door is a bit more sedate with an excellent cocktail menu. Although well-noted for their drinks, every bar listed can easily seduce a non-drinker with their appealing menus.

What is a side street without memorable restaurants? And there are quite a few on 26th: A Voce for excellent Italian dining; Hanjan for fresh, amazing Japanese plates; and for good southern cooking without any of the fuss, Hill Country and Hog Pit. And for those who appreciate the art of cooking at home, Manhattan Kitchen Supply offers an impressive array of tools.

At its western end, 26th Street enters the Chelsea Gallery District, which includes an architectural masterpiece – the iconic Starrett-Lehigh Building.

Never one to miss an opportunity to spend time on the Highline, later in the afternoon, I ascended the stairs at the entrance on 26th Street at Tenth Avenue and sat on the benches where there is a large glass window, allowing me to pause for a moment and take in the living art of the city. Looking back down the street I had just walked, I was reminded how much life pulses through each of Manhattan’s arteries.

Read more about every place on 26th Street!