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Meet 27th Street

Walking 27th, it was impossible not to notice the street’s identity crisis: every couple blocks, the attitude and appearance of the neighborhood would change. A closer look, however, indicated the symmetry and patterns of the street.

I discovered a little known dirt street, Broadway Alley. Broadway Alley, as it was named in the 1800s, is one of the last remaining unpaved roads in the city. The alley is run down, and unimpressive when first peering in, but upon further investigation, I noticed the original wooden barn doors, and the address number etched in the stone. No one is certain how this short stretch between Third Avenue and Lexington got its name, but because it is privately owned, it has remained virtually untouched.

Contrary to what others have written, someone occupies this land, entering through the gates every day. Her name is Lillian and I had the serendipitous pleasure of meeting her on one of my walks. At the time, she was ninety years old, and absolutely fascinating. She told me that her husband, Arshag, had purchased the property over fifty years earlier and ran an upholstering business with his brothers. Forty years or so later, they finally decided to make this address their home.

Regarding the paved portion of the road, Lillian explained that when a restaurant opened up a few years back, they needed better access to the back of the building for deliveries, and the city needed to run some piping underground. Lillian allowed a portion of this private property to be paved. The thought that Lillian climbed up a set of stairs each day to her apartment at ninety years old is a small wonder in itself.

Far to the east, 27th Street begins quietly, buttressing medical facilities and weaving through playgrounds and residences. As restaurants and shops begin popping up, the Repertorio Español adds a bit of artistic flair to the area. The theater has been showcasing Latino and Hispanic performance to the city since 1968.  Just a few doors down, I met the charming owner of the brand new Pippali, an Indian restaurant, where the emphasis is on extraordinary vegetarian dishes.

Continuing west, I encountered one of the two Italian restaurants on 27th. After watching Dora, I Trulli‘s owner’s mother, as she twisted her freshly prepared dough into a variety of pasta shapes, and savoring the flavor of the fresh-from-the-oven focaccia, I was refueled and ready to continue my journey. The family also originally founded Vino across the way. Nearby, a popular dining spot for New Yorkers is Blue Smoke, where they have a reputation for their well-executed barbecued food and the jazz club downstairs.

The massive and impressive historic New York Life Insurance building towers on the entire next block, its iconic golden pyramid shining atop the edifice. The Prince George Ballroom, a glorious venue that is now used as an event space, was built in the early 1900s. What makes it of great interest to me is the fact that the owners of the Prince George building (entrance on 28th Street), restored the ballroom to its original beauty, and now host numerous affairs, using the revenue that they bring in to continue providing low income housing to the poor.

Birch Coffee, which is just West of its original location in the lobby of the Gershwin Hotel, now The Evelyn, gave us just the perk we needed as we set out to conquer over fifty shops in the wholesale district between Fifth and Seventh Avenues. T-shirts, handbags, hats, mobile accessories, health care products and food are only the beginning of the list of items that are hawked for bargain prices.

Strolling between the avenues was a bit of an eye-opener, as I had not previously encountered this density of stores. Looking around and speaking with some of the newly-emerging neighboring businesses, it became apparent to me that this sort of commerce is starting to fade and is being replaced with luxury apartment buildings, restaurants, and other, more up-scale, businesses. One of the more upscale businesses is the adorable D Pet Hotel, where dogs come to play or spend the night in the height of luxury. On the same block, I Love Kickboxing greets customers with unparalleled enthusiasm. The owner of Nobel Printing put it bluntly: “small businesses are being run out of the neighborhood.” I cannot help but wonder – and worry – what will happen to all of these shop owners who keep their doors open twelve hours a day in the hopes of attracting customers.

As I emerged from the wholesale area, I ran into perhaps the most defining feature of 27th Street: Fashion Institute of Technology, which looms in the west like an elegant fortress and is home to some 7,000 students studying everything fashion. The road is closed off from Seventh Avenue to Eighth, offering a peaceful central boulevard around which the school is centered. Students mosey in and out of the dorms, libraries, cafes and eateries, inspiring optimism in the way that college campuses always do. Matt, the owner of 30th Street Guitars, which moved from its namesake street to 27th in 2016, fully believes that the school’s high security makes this the safest part of Manhattan.

When I reached Tenth Avenue, the arts were thriving with studios and galleries galore, but unlike some of the previous streets in Chelsea, I found a lot more than just the art. A few of us indulged in our second tasty Italian meal at Ovest Pizzoteca. We spoke with the skilled bartender, Enzo, and shared in the unique flavors of his award-winning Ulan Bator Sling, a killer drink. Mirroring the Evelyn on the east side, West 27th has an impressive hotel of its own, with several restaurants and bars on the premises. Both the decor and its guests were impressively chic at Hotel Americano.

Near the end of our walk were a couple of personal favorites for the Sideways team. The McKittrick is a haunting place to visit, and houses a rooftop paradise in Gallow Green. The cocktails and seasonal foods are enough reason to come, but the lush garden environs and the cozy seating made us never want to leave. And we can personally attest to the intense and entertaining theatrical evening that awaits when purchasing tickets to “Sleep No More“.

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