I know how difficult it is for a family business to stay afloat in Midtown, and so I was deeply impressed and pleased to find Henry Cowit, Inc., a full-service furrier that has been owned by the same family for three generations. I met brothers Larry and Steve, the grandsons of the original owner, who gave me a tour of the whole space. Not only are the brothers very good at what they do, but they are also amazing New York characters who are experts on the pulse of the neighborhood. Their father moved into a building on 29th Street on 1973, where the company stayed until July of 2015, when the brothers relocated to 27th Street. From their new home, the brothers have continued serving the neighborhood by selling, finishing, lining, storing, and cleaning fur coats. Along with caring for skins and selling second-hand furs, Henry Cowit recycles fur coats, which I found fascinating. Larry and Steve showed me a set of throw pillows that they had made for a girl who wanted to keep her grandmother’s coat for sentimental reasons, but who had no cause to wear the coat herself. Larry and Steve told me that they get many similar requests, especially in the past two years. More and more young girls are getting fur items on Ebay or at flea markets, and bring them to Henry Cowit to be altered into new garments. The brothers love the new demographic and the fun recycling projects that it brings to their business. When a family works in the fur industry as long as the Cowits have, it is bound to encounter some interesting clients. When I asked Larry and Steve about their most interesting project, they said that one customer asked for the swish logo on his Nike sneakers to be covered in mink to match his blue-grey mink jacket. “We get a lot of musical artists, ” Larry and Steve explained. They also get clients from the film industry. For example, Cate Blanchett is wearing a Cowit coat in the movie Carol, which made the brothers very excited, since the costume designer is an Oscar winner. The coats are also featured in many TV shows. Their fur rentals are not only for the performing arts - the brothers also rent furs for special events, especially weddings. The furriers get their customers via word of mouth. “They know they can come to us, ” Larry proudly said. Larry also described to me a couple of the latest ideas that he is developing. One is a men’s line of normal-sized coats made of all types of fur. He explained that many masculine fur coats are enormous, to cater to the music and sports industries, but that he wants to reach a new demographic with this unique line. Larry is enthusiastic about an additional project that he is working on with an up-and-coming designer to turn old, used coats into new garments. “We take a used coat and make it look hip, ” he explained. “After all, I want to make sure my daughters still think their dad is fun! ”
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School, owned by Joseph Bruno, has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Joseph contends that a bartender’s success is determined by conversation, “no matter how good the drink is. ” That being said, technical skill is far from lacking at this institution. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. After decades of experience bartending in and managing drinking establishments, Joseph has seen a new devotion to the craft of mixology. Up-and-coming bartenders have tested innovative flavors, homemade syrups, and the “farm-to-table” use of fresh ingredients. He has taken particular pleasure in the resurgence of drinks not popular since the Prohibition era. Perhaps it is a sign that we still have a chance to relive some of the best aspects of the Roaring Twenties.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me, ” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back. ”A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful. ” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill, ” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to. ” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.