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Meet 72nd Street

It was difficult to imagine when I first began my journey of walking the side streets in 2011 that I would wend my way north and reach 72nd Street, where I had recently moved. Fast forward to the fall of 2015, and here I am, writing about the street that has been my home for the past four years.

There are over 150 businesses on the West Side alone. Although massive to walk and document, I found it exhilarating to visit each business and to speak with the owners. It enabled me to gain a different perspective and allowed me the incredible opportunity to listen to the personal stories and histories behind the shops that I have frequented for so long. I can now say, without hesitation, that I have an even stronger respect for and pride in this neighborhood, which is not only full of culture, but also longevity, families, and community. What a marvelous street I live on. It is a village unto itself.

It was thrilling to be able to introduce the Manhattan Sideways team to every shop, restaurant and business on this street, which has absolutely everything I could possibly need or want between Central Park West and West End Avenue. Before we could make it to my home turf on the West Side, however, I had us begin my usual walk across town from the East, where a host of galleries awaited. Blumka, for example, specializes in Medieval and Renaissance works in all media. Art was also represented in the stunning architecture that inundates the neighborhood, thanks to the early nineteenth century habit of displaying one’s wealth on the two-way streets. The Carrere and Hastings building between Madison and Fifth and the romanesque columns of the Provident Loan Society of New York are only two examples of the many artistic structures. I also could not pass by the gilded mansion that houses Ralph Lauren without giving it a nod.

As I continued west through Central Park, I discovered that the Loeb Boathouse is arbitrarily considered part of 72nd Street, despite being situated far from a side street. It is the only lakeside restaurant in the city, attracting both visitors and locals with its tranquil beauty. After strolling through Strawberry Fields and the Imagine mosaic – where inevitably there is someone with a guitar singing Beatles songs in any number of languages – I landed in front of The Dakota, a palatial residence. I pass by this imposing edifice numerous times each week, but never tire of gazing up at it. I am also constantly flabbergasted by the busloads of people who drive by, stretching their necks out to get a glimpse of the spot where John Lennon was shot in 1980. Believe it or not, this is considered one of the top ten tourist attractions in the city.

It was not until I began documenting this street for Manhattan Sideways that I really paid attention to how much was packed between Central Park West and Riverside Drive. It starts out calmly with numerous doctors’ offices, one of the most expensive parking garages in the city, and a few other businesses and restaurants. My first stop for an interview was with Teresa, the owner of Central Park Taekwondo, who shared with me how she worked for a year to create a respectful martial arts community. While speaking with a server at Ribbon – the latest venture from the Bromberg brothers – I was educated about the colorful history of the Franconia building, where the American restaurant resides. Riposo 72 (Lost Gem), a wine bar that I have been frequenting for quite some time, was built on the owner’s respect and love for his Italian family’s cooking, and features his grandmother’s secret marinara sauce in many of the dishes.

There are countless other places at which to grab a bite while continuing west. Box Kite and Aroma Espresso (Lost Gem) both provide passersby with a caffeine kick. Simit and Smith (Lost Gem) has quickly gained its own following with its Turkish interpretation of the perfect bread. Hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya are a mainstay of 72nd Street, but vegetarian and juice options abound, including Juice Generation. 72nd is also known for the several excellent kosher dining options, like Fine & Schapiro, a deli that has been in the same location for close to ninety years, the kosher butcher Fischer Bros & Leslie, which opened its doors in 1949, and My Most Favorite Food a bit farther west, a bakery and restaurant that caters to the Jewish community.

I have been in and out of Stationery and Toy World dozens of times as they always seem to have whatever it is that I need. My grandchildren have benefitted from the fashionable shoes at Tip Top Kids and I have bought myself plenty of footwear at Tip Top Shoes. Many people I know sleep on mattresses purchased from Long’s Bedding, which opened its doors in 1911. I was unaware that all of these establishments are family businesses that have been around since the neighborhood was considered seedy and dangerous.

I was fascinated to learn Alexander’s story of how he came to own Frames For You and the lovely tale of Elias and his wife’s journey from Greece to New York. Elias’s Shoe Repair has been on 72nd for over twenty years. Little did I realize that Groundfloor Exercise, where I have been doing Pilates for the past few years, began back in 1976. It is Acker Merrall & Condit Company, however, who wins the longevity competition in Manhattan, having supplied the wine on board the Titanic.

Other places might not have the same history on the street, but they are equally beloved and play an important role in my daily wellbeing. It was great fun to speak with Michelle, the owner of Bonnie’s Nails – the salon that I have been going to for a mani pedi since the day I moved onto the street – and learn of her journey to New York from China. Yveline, at Y Semeria Medical Massage LMT, is the one person whom I trust to help me when my back goes out. In terms of friendly faces that have made their way onto the street, Brandi and Tanya, at Scott J Aveda, are my go-to women when I need my hair done, and Imbert, at Master Bike, was an extraordinary find for my husband and me, as we are avid riders. In fact, as I sit here typing, my husband is participating in the 100 mile MS Bike Ride NYC 2015. Together, we have ridden in the five borough bike tour, and just a few weeks ago, my husband also completed the NYC Century Tour run by Transportation Alternatives.

As a former independent book store owner, I am forever dropping by Westsider Books, where customers can buy not just books but old postcards, sheet music, and records. Speaking of music, a smile was on all of our faces as we stood outside a room, watching toddlers handle their miniature instruments as they took lessons upstairs at Silver Music.

Unsurprisingly, 72nd Street also provides opportunities for nightlife. A highlight was Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar, a well-known and respected music venue. It features a bar with a grass roof and walls decorated with African art. Emerald Inn, a four generation pub, recently found a new home on this street after being forced to move from Columbus Avenue and Malachy’s Donegal Inn, which has been on the street since 1989, gave another perspective on leisure on the Upper West Side. The newest addition, Dakota Bar, is a high energy bar on the corner of Columbus Avenue.

One of my favorite moments while walking the street, however, was being given the opportunity to go to the rooftop of my own building with Tom, our photographer, and stare down at the businesses that I have visited. Seeing 72nd from a bird’s eye view and looking north to what is yet to come gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction and eagerness to get back down to ground level and continue walking and discovering.

Read more about every place on 72nd Street!