Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was in a state of fevered anticipation when she realized we were inching closer to 64th Street, where the southernmost Alice's Tea Cup is located. The whimsical tea shop has three different "Chapters, " and this is the second in the series. Unlike the original location, which sits on the ground floor, this chapter has two floors, decorated with Wonderland characters and Lewis Carroll's cryptic text. The tearoom is owned by Lauren and Haley Fox, sisters who have loved tea for as long as they can remember. And, they have always been passionate about everything Alice in Wonderland: they grew up on the Upper West Side, just a short distance from the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, and both adored Lewis Carroll's books. It made perfect sense, therefore, to open an Alice in Wonderland-themed teahouse in 2001. The eatery has become an enormous success, and has attracted many different groups of people: like the book, the tea house, though full of curlicues, bright purple hues, and fairy dust, is not geared towards children. Children are frequent and enthusiastic visitors, but it is just as likely that one might see a business meeting between two creative types, an exuberant reunion between friends, or a solitary adult diner nursing a pot of tea. The tea list is extensive and scrumptious. "List" is a misnomer – it is more of a booklet. Olivia has tried at least fifteen of their teas so far and has not made even a dent in their selection. Each tea is brought out in a personal pastel pot, to be poured into one of the eclectic mismatched cups and saucers that decorate the repurposed sewing machine tables. The tea also makes its way into the food menu: Olivia raves about the smoky Lapsang Souchong chicken breast, made using a Chinese black tea that smells and tastes like a bonfire. Despite the brilliant concept, the adorable decor and the excellent selection of teas, it is the afternoon tea service that steals the show. Diners can choose between "The Nibble, " "The Mad Hatter, " and "The Jabberwocky, " depending on how hungry they are, and servers will bring them a heavenly three-tiered stand layered with finger sandwiches, desserts, and scones - without a doubt, the most popular being the pumpkin scone, drizzled with caramel syrup. So as to have the full Alice in Wonderland experience, there is a mini shop up front where Haley and Lauren's cookbook, Alice's Tea Cup, is on display alongside many other trinkets such as fairy wings, picture books, and anything one might need to reproduce their own magical tea party at home.
"You are now in Bedford Falls, " a sign read in this 67th Street bar, named after a location referenced in the classic movie, "It's a Wonderful Life. " With a bounty of liquor, an arcade golf game, and sports on all the televisions, this bar is the ultimate man cave. A food menu is also offered, including the ever-popular Bedford burger and a nice brunch assortment for the weekend. When I ventured in on a Wednesday night, men in good spirits, many of whom were regulars, occupied the main bar. A more private room featured cushy leather for quieter comfort, and the backroom was complete with high-legged seating and a wooden-booth. Tables appeared to be repurposed beer boxes, and the place was otherwise furnished with whiskey barrels, brick walls, and light alternative music. And through an intriguing walkway, I found myself in the splendid beer garden.
If it were not for the diners sunning themselves in the outdoor seats, I might have walked straight past this restaurant. The townhouse is completely unmarked, I learned, because businesses in historic buildings are not allowed to add outdoor signage. I settled down inside with a few of the Manhattan Sideways team and we treated ourselves to a relaxing hour, thoroughly enjoying a fresh, light meal that was as delicious as it was beautifully presented. An interesting take on the traditional bread and butter was put down before us - radishes with olive tapenade on a freshly cut loaf. I was in cheese heaven as I cut into the oozing, warm, perfect burrata with beets, and Olivia ordered the house-made falafel salad with yoghurt sauce, which she said was "marvelous. " Erika was pleased with her choice of the Kale Caesar salad. Everything tasted like a fresh spring day, and left us feeling energized. The atmosphere also added to the sense of rejuvenation, with simple whitewashed tables, cherry blossom bouquets, and a perfectly placed skylight. The restaurant is a big player in the farm-to-table movement. We spoke with Chef Sammy Diaz, who explained that he goes to the farmer's market four times a week in order to find the freshest ingredients for the menu. He works closely with executive chef Joseph Capozzi as they establish relationships with local foragers. The restaurant tries to get most of its ingredients from no farther than Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Sammy entertained us for quite some time with his stories, and his commitment to the food he cooks with every day, but I believe the best was when he elaborated on "Goatober. " Each week for the entire month of October, a whole goat is delivered to East Pole, and Sammy gets to be creative with as many dishes as he can for 31 days. Sammy showed us the impressive upstairs room, which can be used for private parties. It has a second bar, and a long wooden table with fresh sprigs of herbs for decoration. The feel is more of a lovely cottage, rather than a metropolitan New York restaurant. The walls are decorated in maps and sea charts, in keeping with the vague nautical and travel theme suggested by the restaurant's name. Everything about the eatery offered a sunny, fresh escape from city life into a culinary garden.
EJ's Luncheonette has mastered the art of American comfort food... and beyond. This was the go-to spot for my kids in the morning, whenever they spent time with us in our East 73rd Street apartment. The eatery churns out perfectly toasted bagels, omelets, homefries, French toast and pancakes. When in the mood, my family members also appreciated their greasy hamburgers (meant in the most loving way), and my husband was a huge fan of the milkshakes.... while I always appreciated their healthy, vegetarian choices. Sadly, I now live on the Upper West Side, so we do not get here as often, but visiting EJ's with the Manhattan Sideways crew was a real treat. On one visit we met Eric J. Levine, also known as EJ. Despite the fact that his initials are “EJ, ” the restaurant name is also a combination of his plus that of his partner, Jay Silver. While sitting at the counter, he talked about his background, which is also partly his father’s story. Eric explained that his father wanted to open a restaurant/bar in his later life “like every other Jewish businessman with a mid-life crisis. ” Unlike many other men, however, he went through with it. He left his job in the garment district and fell into the restaurant business at fifty-five years old with Dock’s Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill. Growing up, Eric worked in various restaurants, but when he reached adulthood, he tested out a series of different paths. He dropped out of college and became a stockbroker for four years, during which time he “worked 100 hour weeks. ” He then went back to college at NYU. When he dropped out, he told me, “The only business I knew was the restaurant business. ” He opened EJ’s on the Upper West Side in 1990 and became one of the pioneers in resurrecting Amsterdam Avenue. “We were busy day one, ” he said, and the business kept accelerating from there until they sadly closed in 2013 after the lease expired. Although the luncheonette appears to come straight out of the 1950's, Eric opened his second EJ's on the East Side in 1991. His team was comprised of people he had met while spending time at Dock’s. Jay, for example, was the chef at Dock’s and their other partner, Robert Eby, was the General Manager. Eric admitted, “My father was always involved by extension. ” Eric was also inspired by his father, who helped open the restaurant Carmine’s and Angelo & Maxie's Steakhouse. “That’s the whole tree of life, ” Eric said with a smile, reflecting on the two intertwined careers. Eric has branched out to other restaurants throughout the years. He and his partner started a consulting company and owned a few pizzerias that he has since sold. EJ’s on East 73rd, however, is at the core of everything he does. “I guess this is my baby, ” Eric admitted. He is proud to be an independent business, despite how difficult it is. “Being the mom and pop guy... it’s a different environment, ” he said soberly. This is especially the case for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurant. “You always have to be on your toes, ” Eric stated. “People gotta eat! ” He is open every single day of the year. He is often busiest on holidays including Thanksgiving and Christmas, since EJ’s is “the only game in town. ” Eric confessed, however, that he enjoys being at EJ's on the holidays. “It’s the best day to work – people are in great moods. ”EJ’s also has a healthy delivery and catering business, though Eric much prefers it when people come in to eat. He also admitted that while EJ’s is lauded for its breakfast, he would like more people to know about his dinner specials. “All our food’s home cooking, ” he said proudly, adding that EJ’s is the closest thing the Upper East Side has to a casual seafood restaurant – it is one of the few places where a customer can get a fresh piece of fish for $20. EJ's menu continues to evolve in an effort to suit people’s taste. Eric sited an example of having recently removed the egg cream from the menu, since no one was ordering it anymore. He has now added a power smoothie with flax seed and greek yogurt. The cooking staff presented us with their latest endeavor - gluten-free pancakes, along with their classic spaghetti and meatballs. “There’s a lot of love and attention put into it... We make food to make people happy. ” When I questioned Eric about his continued passion for running the restaurant, he reigned in the emotion like a true New Yorker and quipped, “It’s better than being in a dentist’s office! ”
Sweet aromas lure one into this tiny coffee and tea shop on west 70th. Originally founded in 1976 across the street, the Sensuous Bean moved to its current location in 1990 and is now co-owned by partners in life and in business, Lucretia La Mora and Tom Wilson. "People follow their noses, " explained Tom of the cafe's success. And even horses cannot resist - he recalled one peeking its head through the door as an officer grabbed a cup. "We blend to taste, " Tom added. Each day, beans are grinded on site and brewed in three roasters for a hot cup. And although small, the place is stocked with a large selection of coffees and teas sourced from a variety of regions. The chai spice tea comes from India and the Mexican Vienna brew from Zimbabwe. The assortment of flavorful tisanes includes intriguing names like red velvet cupcake or bella coola lemon lime.
Amber Upper West relocated from Columbus Avenue to this dimly lit, intimate side street enclave in 2015. A wood-beamed ceiling and whitewashed walls are organically accented with well-illuminated hanging plants and a graphic, black and white tree painting. With a menu featuring a large selection of rolls, grilled dishes and sushi to be shared in either the conventional dining space or well-stocked bar, this side street gem offers more than just lovely decor.
When Henry Clay Frick passed away in 1919, he had placed in his will that his residence be turned into a museum forever open to public access, featuring the impressive collection he had assembled over a span of forty years. In addition, his will provided a fifteen million dollar endowment for maintenance. In 1935, the Frick Collection was opened in the expanded Gilded Age mansion originally designed by Thomas Hastings for residence, and initially transformed into the museum by John Russel Pope. The interior features spectacular selections of Old Master paintings and European sculptures in sixteen permanent collections that integrate Italian, French and Spanish works, allowing cohesive interactions from multiple regions and time periods - the way Henry enjoyed viewing art. In the center, the Garden Court, which had been Henry's driveway, is considered the museum's heart, ornamented by rushing water, a bounty of plant life, impressive sculptures, and an intriguing skylight. Today, it is the only room in which one is permitted to take photographs. I remember visiting the Frick for the first time as a teenager and declaring it my favorite museum in Manhattan. I can easily state that it remains so to this day. I never tire of introducing visitors from out of town to The Frick and I continue to appreciate each new exhibit. For me, it remains a tranquil setting to walk, contemplate and unwind as I am surrounded by art and beauty.
Established in 1904, The Explorers Club is centered on scientific discovery in all realms - land, sea, air and space. Its original headquarters were located at the Studio Building on West 67th Street, and it moved to this location in 1965. In 1918, a signature flag was introduced, capitalizing on historic routes and unabated curiosity. Since then, the flag has been proudly carried on hundreds of expeditions as members of the club were the first to make it to the North and South Poles, the summit of Mt. Everest, the deepest point in the ocean, and the surface of the moon. The club first allowed women in 1981. To this day, it is a meeting spot for all kinds of explorers, scientists and students.
With woven wicker chairs, plush red booths, tiled walls, a bar backed by an antique mirror, and many years as a topnotch restaurant, Cafe Luxembourg resounds with familiarity. And, as portrayed in the signature postcard of three naked ladies photographed by Cheryl Koralik in 1988, playfulness and boldness are always present. Customers loosen their ties, let their hair down and engage in easy conversation — "fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. "Lynn Wagenknecht and her then husband, Keath McNally, opened the place in 1983 as a French neighborhood bistro. Now the sole proprietor, Lynn has maintained a rare level of comfort within the realm of fine dining, fully investing herself in Cafe Luxembourg as well as its sister restaurants, Cafe Cluny and The Odeon. Constantly finding inspiration from her trips to France, Lynn's warm attentiveness permeates the restaurant. "Lynn nurtures from within, " said General Manager Morgan Nevans, who has been with the company since 2008. Staff members are invited and encouraged to dine in the restaurant. "We have a lot of aspiring professors, artists, actors and doctors, " explained Morgan. A performance artist, Manager Krystel Lucas started at Cafe Luxembourg because of its proximity to her school, finding it easy to work around her wavering show schedule. "I was proud to stand at the door, " Krystel informed me, having worked her way up from hostess, server, and bartender. Customers also have an inclination to return with many coming since the restaurants' opening — regulars or not, "everyone is treated as a VIP. " The food may also have a little something to do with their loyalty. A graduate of New England Culinary Institute, Executive Chef Michael Navarette acknowledges, "food is a gateway to culture. " Everyone eats, and dishes have their own history, prepared in a variety of ways throughout all regions. His breakfast specialty, an omelet with mixed greens, exudes comforting familiarity, while his Faroe Island salmon over a salad of lentils, potatoes, onion and a curry aioli, is a more innovative concoction that breeds its own memories. "A chef is a journeyman position, " Michael smiled, "The training never ends. I learn as I go. " It seems the staff and restaurant both have a knack for refining while retaining their roots. A bistro that only gets better with age, this side street gem will always be something to look forward to.