Meet 68th Street
Most New Yorkers, especially subway commuters, associate East 68th Street with Hunter College. It is true that numerous buildings are owned by the college, and that much of the rest of the street is residential, but I was able to find some hidden gems by searching just off the beaten path.
The Church of St. Catherine of Siena, which has been run by the Dominican Friars since 1897, was a charming way to begin my walk. There is also a back entrance to the Park East Synagogue, a temple that has helped define American Judaism. Bel Ami Café, which seems like a piece of Paris dropped into the middle of Manhattan, was the perfect stop for a grab-and-go sandwich, and then I had a bite of dessert at the newly opened Padoca Bakery.
I discovered several interesting galleries located off of street level, but it was both Antique Textiles Collections, specializing in old tapestries, brocades, and silks, as well as Michael Strauss Silversmiths that captured my attention and my heart. Since 1985, Michael Strauss has been traveling the world in search of magnificent Judaic pieces to line the shelves of his shop inside Park East Synagogue.
After my stroll through Central Park, I discovered an absolute treasure just below street level at David Segal Violins. Since the 1970s when he arrived from Israel, David has been building and repairing violins on the Upper West Side. I found it fascinating that he does not play the violin (only the cello – and as he offered – “poorly”), but he has an endless appreciation for classical music.
Although the West Side of 68th does not have as many restaurants to choose from as some of the other streets, the two that are here are absolute standouts. I had the pleasure of sitting down at Joanne Trattoria, where Chef Travis Jones shared his story. He told me that his love of cooking developed on his grandparents’ farm as a young boy; he then spent several years in the Navy, and now he finds himself in an executive chef position at this notable restaurant. Tucked away in a brownstone and down a few steps, La Boite en Bois is a classic example of a French bistro with its intimate setting and time-honored menu. I found the ambience of both restaurants to be a good representation for 68th Street – steeped in comfort, tradition, and warmth.