Meet 39th Street
Every few steps, there were enchanting discoveries that lured me in as I walked on 39th. With almost thirty Side Picks, I might have found the most gems on one side street thus far.
Just opening in the first days of spring 2014, Chicken Provence is serving the surrounding community a bit of French cooking, takeout style. The Pod 39 Hotel has borrowed from a Japanese approach to hospitality to create a practical, yet comfortable spot to sleep in Midtown. A colorful feast for the eyes that goes well with the food can be found at the adjoining Salvation Taco, another one of April Bloomfield and partner, Ken Friedman’s, culinary ventures.
It is not only about food and lodging on 39th. A few addresses are home to some inspiring institutions. The English-Speaking Union, founded in 1920, focuses on aiding immigrants to assimilate in the United States through the arts, language, and a national Shakespeare competition for high school students. The Pajama Program won my heart as they have taken on the essential task of finding clothing, books, and literary instruction for Manhattan’s underprivileged youth. Continuing, I entered into the C.G. Jung Center, a home of learning, psychoanalysis, and seemingly great mystery.
In addition to the two stunning boutique hotels, The Court and The Tuscany, located between Lexington and Park Avenues, the St. Giles Group opened Beer & Buns, where mini sliders and a $250 Kobe beef hamburger take center stage.
A couple of doors down, the mystery begets history as the converted brownstones of the Williams Club have now been transformed into an upscale extended stay for guests inside the William Hotel. Its lobby houses the elegant Peacock restaurant and Library Bar, and then down another level, the Shakespeare, where each successfully brings to life “the best of the British.”
I had never had a chance to dine at Kajitsu when they were on 9th Street, but here on 39th street, I had the pleasure of eating in their vegetarian restaurant one afternoon. Never one to miss an Italian dining experience, I met Massimo Bollini, of Sam’s Place, and learned that he has been on 39th for over three decades.
The only way to manage what I refer to as the “lunch district,” was to return on a few occasions. There were simply too many tempting spots vying for my culinary affections. Upon each visit, Untamed Sandwiches, Kati Roll Company and Enfes all delivered a cornucopia of flavorful sandwiches.
Offsite was an intriguing find. Different from most event spaces, the owners cater to businesses looking for an independent location to house their meetings. And never one to miss gazing down at our magnificent city from on high, I was ecstatic when I got off the elevator on the 30th floor of a building between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and entered the Skylark, perhaps the most spectacular rooftop bar I have encountered.
The Garment District itself, if a bit diminished from its heyday in decades past, is still home to some captivating businesses. Vibrant colors beckon through windows, and old-timers offer some amazing stories of how the District’s history has unfolded. For more than a half a century, the energy at Steinlauf & Stoller has been contagious as the staff enthusiastically helps every customer with their sewing notions needs. I received a fashion education as I observed the knitting machinery at Stoll Fashion and toured the three floors at Jonathan Boyarsky’s combined Fabric Czar and Beckenstein Bespoke.
Having made it to the western end of 39th late one afternoon, I was elated to find another exceptional Italian restaurant, Mercato, where I was able to put my vegetarian preferences into the chef’s capable hands. I delved into some great pasta while listening to the inspirations behind this traditional trattoria. I walked 39th many times, but I never missed ending it at Kee’s, an absolute standout in the world of chocolate shops. Speaking with Kee, herself, I quickly recognized that she is an artisan of the highest order in her medium.
Rich in food, history and rare finds, 39th street was an unexpected and unparalleled encounter.