Previously the home of Nice Guy Eddie’s, Boulton and Watt is one of the latest additions to the bar scene in the East Village. Several of the young people on the Manhattan Sideways team needed a place to host a casual after-hours business meeting, so they decided to kick things off by going back to 1st Street. They were pleased to find an eclectic array of specialty cocktails on the menu (including a new favorite, the Mexican Revolver) along with several wines and beers. They did not originally intend to dive into the food menu, but as they sat and held their meeting over drinks, a waiter came by and brought them a complimentary Scotch Egg! "Fried and delicious," was how they described it - the perfect addition to their first time experience at this fun and energetic establishment. I have no doubt that they will become frequent visitors in the future.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal." Can't wait to try it!
We had the pleasure of spending time at Joe's Bar in 2011 before Joe passed away and it closed down. Continuously operated for over one hundred years, Joe's even had a bowling alley down stairs in the early 1900's. Now, renamed to Josies, the bar is owned by the guy who also runs Sophie's. This was his favorite place to hang out years ago, and he has every intention of keeping the bar's "small town" feeling exactly the same. "The theme of this bar will be just that - a bar where people can play pool and listen to the juke box," the contractor of Josies told us. Hopefully, the bar still remains as the neighborhood hangout that it was before Joe passed away - a place where moms came in the late afternoon for coffee with friends and babies and the locals drank at night.
Sophie’s is a classic East Village dive bar that has retained its undeniably sassy charm and old-timer crowd decade after decade. Rich Corton and his business partner, Kirk Marcoe, currently own three long-standing bars in the East Village — Sophie’s, Mona’s, and Josie’s. The duo took over Sophie’s in 2008 and have worked hard to keep it “a neighborhood place for liberal-minded people,” as Rich described. This same philosophy was practiced by Sophie’s previous owner, Rich’s brother, Robert. He was living on the fifth floor of an apartment building while the eponymous owner, Eastern European immigrant Sophie Polney, resided on the fourth. Robert became her bartender in the 1980s, and when Sophie fell ill, he naturally took over.Sophie moved the bar only once, from Avenue A and 5th Street to its current location, which had previously been another bar owned by Virginia Chicorelli. The name, Chic Choc, is still visible on the doorstep, and it is believed that the space has been a bar since the building went up in the early 1900s. Other than some minor fine-tuning, the original interior and business model of a pool table and jukebox have remained virtually unchanged since Sophie’s era.Although the East Village crowd of the 1980s — artists, musicians, and writers together with the population of older Eastern Europeans — continues to dwindle, old-timers still gather at Sophie’s alongside its newer following. “A good place to stop time. Is there any place left in New York where an old guy can go in the afternoon to have a drink?” remarked the late Anthony Bourdain about Sophie’s. “It has always been about the people in the neighborhood. We behind the bar work for the people in the East Village,” mused Rich.Also, check out Josies, which is under the same ownership.
The vintage games and décor at Ace add a nostalgic twist to what might otherwise be a run-of-the-mill bar, and it is a great place to spend the night with a group of friends. When entering the bar’s two spacious rooms, you cannot miss the notable collection of old-school lunch boxes and thermoses that are displayed in a glass case by the bar (if you are from my generation, take a moment and try to remember what character was on your lunchbox!) Further inside, there are plenty of activities to choose from, including darts, pool tables, pinball machines, Big Buck Hunter, arcade games and, of course, the skee ball machine. I just had to duck my head, hoping people would not pay attention to someone my age playing skee ball, and go for it. I love this game! I have been back on several occasions and spent time with the owner, who says that many people outside of Manhattan frequent the bar and that he considers his regulars a “part of a big happy family.”
Transformed from a building lot to a beautiful space to showcase art, the First Street Garden Art Park adds culture to 1st street. Beginning in the spring of 2012, a variety of cultural events have taken place in this art park which, in 2011, was home to the first BMW/Guggenheim project. There are scheduled weekend programs showcasing music, dance and collaborative art for adults and children. Stop by anytime and see the newly unveiled artwork constantly changing.
A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products.”On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J.V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S.J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute.Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay.Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill.” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze.Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower,” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright.”Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space.The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort.”Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low,” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here.”
René Henricks, a longtime inhabitant of the East Village, feels fortunate to have spent decades being able to walk to work. After spending time as a bartender at a Latin American restaurant on East 1st Street, she eventually took over the small space across the way to give her something to do between shifts. The kiosk had undergone many transformations since the 1930s, first as a shoeshine stand, then a newspaper stall, a flower shop, and even a front for a marijuana dealer, before it became Juicy Lucy Juice Bar. Three years later, René opened a second location on the avenue to attract more customers.All of the drinks and açaí bowls are made in small batches on the spot using produce that is delivered daily. “You can’t get fresher juice anywhere else unless you make it yourself,” René asserted. As such, her regulars continue to return for both the delicious juices and the relaxed, friendly atmosphere that pervades Juicy Lucy. “I have been lucky to watch the progression of families here.” The kiosk holds sentimental value for many who are accustomed to visiting Juicy Lucy or passing by its corner spot every day. “The East Village has afforded me a nice lifestyle. I’m really grateful to it.”
“My parents were definitely not thrilled when I opened the restaurant,” said Thomas Chen, executive chef and founder of Tuome. It didn’t matter that he had taken classes at the International Culinary Center or worked at restaurants as renowned as Jean-Georges, Commerce, and Eleven Madison Park. His parents, Chinese immigrants who had opened a restaurant to survive, believed that working as a chef was not the way to a better life.Since Tuome opened in 2014 to great critical acclaim, Thomas’ parents have started to come around. But no matter what they think of the restaurant, there is no denying the huge influence they have had on Tuome. According to Thomas, many of the menu items—including his personal favorite, chicken with gem lettuce—are modeled on the foods he ate as a child. Even the restaurant’s name is a tribute to his mother, who called him “Tommy” as a child, but pronounced it “Toe-me.”Thomas has also taken culinary cues from the high-end New York restaurants where he started his career, and he describes Tuome as “American with Asian influences.” A trip to Asia played an important role in his cooking style as well—he was especially inspired by the made-to-order dim sum in Hong Kong and the unique flavors of Thai food.I was eager to ask Thomas about his entrees, many of which require hours of preparation. The “Pig Out for Two,” one of Tuome’s best-selling dishes, is cooked for fifteen hours in duck fat, while the veal and the egg tartare both take three hours to prepare. “We do sell out at a certain point,” Thomas explained, “because we only have one convection oven and the amount of food we can produce is limited.” But the restaurant has never had any catastrophes; a former accountant, Thomas has a system in place to predict how much food he will need on any given night.With its hip décor and intimate atmosphere, Tuome is perfect for a weekend date night. But Tuesdays may, in fact, be the best day to stop by, as Thomas tends to showcase off-menu dinner and dessert items at the beginning of the week. I asked him for a few examples and immediately regretted it—for the rest of the afternoon, I daydreamed about duck dumplings, summer sundaes, and Chinese beignets with goat’s milk caramel, fig jam, and red bean glazed ice cream.When I asked Thomas what he cooks at home, he smiled sheepishly. “I don’t really cook at home,” he said. “Water bottles are the only thing in my fridge.” Instead, he often goes out to eat at restaurants near his house, finding inspiration in their unique flavors and ingredients. Though he doesn’t live in the East Village, he decided to open a restaurant there because he was attracted to the atmosphere. “It’s a melting pot for different cuisines,” he told me, “and the locals really appreciate good food in a casual setting.” Tuome is also a favorite among foreigners—particularly tourists from France, Switzerland, and Hong Kong—who discover the restaurant online.On my way out the door, I asked Thomas about the challenges of owning a restaurant. The hardest part, he told me, is the lack of sleep—on a normal day, he arrives at Tuome around 1pm and doesn’t leave until 1am. But he loves experimenting with new ingredients and creating his own menu, and he is constantly searching for ways to improve the restaurant. And that is what he plans on doing in the near future: changing Tuome’s menu seasonally, mixing things up, evolving.
Blue Ribbon was off to a terrific start when I visited the first weekend after it opened in 2013. There was good music and a lively crowd enjoying the offerings in this brightly lit space with large picture windows. The manager stopped by our table and remarked that the “young cool people” frequenting Blue Ribbon seemed to have perpetual smiles on their faces as they indulged themselves at the tables furnished with an array of honeys (mustard, wildflower, and chipotle) and habanero hot sauces.Whether people are munching on the menu staple of crisp-skinned moist chicken breast or the “chicken on the edge” choice of Beak to Butt (crispy necks and backs with hot sauce and pickled peppers), the chicken is cooked to perfection. Any chicken dish paired with a side of potato wedges dusted with chilli powder certainly makes for an excellent quick meal – and all of this can be washed down with a beer. The restaurant is a venture of the Bromberg brothers who have been exciting New Yorkers with their excellent food since 1992. This is their first “fast food” endeavor, and it appears to already be flying high.