Meet 53rd Street
Walking across 53rd Street is a journey from one oasis of quiet to another. On the eastern end, by the FDR Drive and overlooking the East River, is a portion of Sutton Place Park. On the western end is DeWitt Clinton Park, where a somber WWI memorial stands side-by-side with baseball fields and a dog park abuzz with play. In between is a street packed with restaurants and entertainment options, as well as a few pieces of American Modernist history.
Newel was a fascinating first indoor stop on 53rd. It has a treasure-trove of original furniture from the Renaissance to the Modernist era. In addition to selling period pieces, Newel rents them out to movie productions, television shows, and fashion displays. After making my way past the cacophony of Birdcamp, a lively bird shop, I immersed myself in conversation with Elias Ghafary, the owner of Al Bustan, an enduring and endearing Lebanese restaurant. Completely satiated from the array of food that his kitchen delivered to our table, Elias accompanied me next door where I was enticed by the delectable Éclair Bakery.
Crossing over to Second Avenue, I zigzagged through a full block of a broad range of businesses including the expected hair and nail salons, barber shop and cleaners, but tucked between them found meditation centers, a fitness center, an adult shop and the tranquil Quest Bookshop. It was the incredible number of restaurants, sports and jazz bars, however, which I found to be astonishing. I had lively conversations with the owners and managers at Indian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Middle Eastern and American restaurants, all on one block. Although each had something tempting to offer, I spent the most time in the romantic Cello Wine Bar having a glass of wine from their ever-rotating selection, and then marveled at the stories that Doug Quinn shared about his years at P.J. Clark’s before opening his own New York saloon, Hudson Malone.
I could write about that one block alone, but I found so much more on 53rd. Standing at the corner of Third Avenue is the skyscraper known officially as Fifty-Third and Third, but more creatively named, the Lipstick Building. It is a landmark of postmodern architecture designed by famed architect Philip Johnson, a name that showed up again when I reached the Museum of Modern Art. Imposing and stately, the skyscraper’s lobby is home to an enlightening exhibit on the history of the building and Johnson’s body of work.
Getting closer to Lexington Avenue, the street is home to The Atrium, a part of the building once known as the Citicorp Center. With its white façade and slanted roof, this is one of the most recognizable and distinguished shapes in the New York City skyline. Passing numerous other striking buildings and shops, I arrived at the corner of Fifth Avenue where the imposing St. Thomas Episcopal Church has been standing for almost one hundred years. The interior with its shrine to Our Lady of Fifth Avenue is quiet, cool and cavernous, standing in stark contrast to the busy street outside. A bit farther down the block is one of the entrances to the Museum of Modern Art, where the aforementioned Philip Johnson served as the first Director of Architecture and Design and was the inspiration for the sculpture garden in the museum’s courtyard. Included on this same stretch are the MoMA’s two splendid gift shops.
Next, I enthusiastically entered Remi, where I have dined many times over the years, eager to relive the tale of this impressive Italian restaurant while speaking with their manager. Between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, I discovered a piano bar and restaurant that opened in the late summer of 2014. Room 53 offered a good meal and was entertained not only by the piano player, but also by random diners who took the mike and belted out incredible music. This was a refreshing way to end a walk across a side street.