Book Club isn’t just for the suburbs anymore — as a new bookshop, bar and coffeehouse gives East Village denizens and beyond a new place to pore over and pour over their favorite reads.
Married proprietors Erin Neary and Nat Esten, East Village residents themselves, had longed for an independent bookstore to serve the Alphabet City area, they told the Manhattan Sideways team when we popped in to see dozens of happy customers enjoying a read and a latte one sunny Friday morning. “We always thought that the neighborhood needed another bookstore,” said Erin, “and we also kept wondering, ‘Wouldn't it be so cool if you could drink wine while you were shopping for books?’” They decided not only to open a bookstore and bar, but to additionally add in the day-to-night-element of coffee into the mix.
While both Erin and Nat had worked in hospitality before, bookselling was new to them. “I started doing research in 2017 and worked with the American Booksellers Association’s consulting program to help new bookstores get off the ground,” said Erin. “I met with them as well as other bar owners and bookstore owners in the neighborhood and did as much research as I could without actually doing it.” The duo launched Book Club in November 2019, enjoying an enthusiastic community reception until COVID-19 forced them to pivot.
“Nate started doing bike deliveries — as many as 20 miles a day!” Erin told us. “He’d go out to Harlem to drop off books and then all the way out to Bushwick — so a lot of people learned about the store that way.”
Once they were able to reopen to the public, Book Club forged full steam ahead in engaging the community in “book club”-esque events — from author talks to poetry readings to creative writing workshops, with additional unique offerings like an adult spelling bee and a “drink and draw” sketching class. They’ve also recently received their full liquor license, and plan to roll out literary-themed cocktails like an In Cold Bloody Mary or the Murder on the Orient Espresso Martini, Erin told us.
More than anything, she added, she enjoyed having customers back in the store to guide them toward their next favorite book. “Our staff are not just really good baristas, but they’re avid readers as well. So between myself and the rest of the team, we have a really good handle on the books here — it’s fun to be able to curate not just what we stock, but to get the right book into someone’s hands.”
Strolling on 7th Street in the East Village, it is quite easy to miss the narrow Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table. Doing so would be a shame, however, considering the unique wine-drinking experience that owner Patrick Cournot, a Greenwich Village native, presents to the customers that pass through its Moroccan-style arches. For starters, Patrick’s “dynamic groups of wines” - mostly from southern France - go beyond the usual red or white. Here, the red wines offered range from translucid to inky black, and the white wines from pale with hints of green to deep amber. Customers can enjoy their wine while looking at contemporary art by Alberto Burri and Patrick’s wife, Elena Hall, who also designed the space. Everything from the wine bar’s organic design to the intriguing dishes prepared by chefs Josh Ochoa and Andy Alexandre “puts you in the right frame of mind to enjoy the wine, ” according to Patrick. The polished 3, 000-pound concrete bar and colored ceramic patterns on the wall create a contrast with the colors of the wine, which Patrick thinks often get lost in the dark wood and dim lighted décor of most wine bars. The kitchen is located behind the bar, so customers can be reminded that Ruffian Wine Bar puts as much care into its food as its wine. As for the dishes, it is difficult to describe the menu as a whole because, according to Patrick, a vast percentage of it changes every week. The dynamic quality of the food selection, though, allows Patrick to “incorporate flavors as they come out” seasonally. Yet whatever the menu of the day is, Patrick wants to ensure that the dishes have an intense flavor, which often translates into doing a contemporary twist on familiar ingredients. Two members of the Manhattan Sideways team were able to sample Josh’s culinary inventiveness with a dynamic dish made of lentils cooked in salt water, dressed with yogurt spiced with curry leaf, mustard and cumin seed, and topped with beet sprouts, crunchy noodles, Thai basil, and lemon juice. The result was a perfect appetizer with many levels of texture that, Patrick assured us, “brings up and shows the vibrant elements of the wine” that accompanies it. More than that, it shows Patrick has reached his goal for his wine bar: “to do ambitious things in a small space. ”
Few things are more relaxing than sitting in a cozy cafe, sipping a mug of tea. With art from local artists, Diane and David Green, hanging on the walls, a plethora of delicious herbal smells hanging in the air, and the soothing conversation of the owner, Ilana, Physical Graffitea is the perfect spot to do just that. Ilana told some of us from Manhattan Sideways that she used to own a vintage clothing store, but always wanted to open a tea shop. In 2011, she swapped out her vintage clothing for jars of loose tea and Physical Graffitea was born. The store is named after the Led Zeppelin album Physical Graffiti and is located in the building featured on that famous cover. In 2012, Ilana and her daughter took a picture with Robert Plant when he came by to check out the store. Ilana explained with a big grin how her daughter called to the customers in the shop, “Come out, Led Zeppelin is here! ”The menus are lovingly made with pressed oolong and lavender flowers. In addition to the teas, there are homemade cookies and kombucha on tap. Ilana has over 200 kinds of tea by the cup or pot, as well as a full online store. While teaching us about the origin and uses of her teas and herbs, she made us a cup of her super strong matcha. We could smell it from our table as she blended the ground green tea powder with soy milk and honey. She explained that there are different kinds of matcha and that she only uses the premium grade. A cup of this strong green tea, which comes both iced and hot, clears the mind and leaves one alert and calm. If matcha gives the brain energy, maca, a Peruvian superfood, gives the body energy. Ilana told us that the bartenders on St. Marks come to her to get matcha with some added maca right before their shifts so that they are ready for the night ahead of them. Ilana has gained her extensive knowledge of teas through constant reading. She explained that herbs quickly lose their medicinal power, and “you can tell that herbs are fresh when they’re more bitter. ” It has to do with the oil that is present on the leaves themselves. She informed us that flowers and leaves dry out in six months and roots and bark in three. All the teas are carefully sourced for flavor and freshness. The chamomile is from Egypt, the lavender from Tibet, and the hibiscus from Mexico. We learned so many interesting facts from Ilana: The Sweet Oblivion tea has been known to wean people off sleeping pills, nettle leaf is good for pregnant women, and Pu-erh is a tea that is purposefully aged, passed down from father to son. There are teas for allergies, hangovers, fertility, pregnancy, menstruation, digestion, and the list goes on and on. Ilana was excited to tell us that doctors have started to refer their patients to her, since they have found the medical teas so effective. Whether for taste, energy, or medicinal purposes, Ilana has clearly demonstrated that she has the knowledge to choose the right tea for the right customer.
Journey along St Mark's Place and discover David's Cafe, a cozy neighborhood spot serving up classic French-American fare. With large windows overlooking the street, David's is a cheerful respite from the hustle and bustle of the East Village. The minimalist decor and relaxed vibe contrast with the meticulous execution coming from the kitchen. What catches the eye from outside are the colorful murals flanking the cafe — one a vibrant wall proclaiming "Punk is Not Dead, " the other a triumphant boxer celebrating victory. At the helm is chef David Malbequi, a Daniel and BLT Market alum renowned for his precise technique. Dishes like the steak frites spotlight Malbequi's mastery, with a flawlessly seared hanger steak and crispy frites, joined by velvety shallot confit and fresh watercress. Even humble dishes like the burger are elevated under Malbequi's watch. The double patty stack with American cheese and special sauce achieves the perfect balance of flavors and textures. Ultimately, David's Cafe triumphs in delivering sophistication without pretense. Diners can enjoy fab renditions of bistro classics in a warm, unfussy environment. It's the kind of neighborhood jewel that makes the East Village such a captivating place to explore. Whether you opt for the eggs benedict or pancakes, a meal at David's is sure to satisfy.
Reed Adelson, owner of the American restaurant Virginia’s, was trained by the best in the industry. He learned about wine at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, interned at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, then returned to his Manhattan roots to work under Jean-Georges to open the Mark Hotel, and finally worked at Locanda Verde. Riding in a car with industry legends Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, he was presented with the answer to his doubts about working in the restaurant business, "If this is what you’re passionate about, there is nothing else you can do. It’s more of a vocation than a job choice. "Reed brought all of this expertise to open his first restaurant in 2015. Named for his mom, Virginia’s has become known for its burger, with bone marrow aioli, cabot cheddar, and house-made pickles, but there are more sophisticated dishes that deserve equal praise including the wild king salmon with red cabbage slaw and golden beet puree. Reed focuses on consistency for his menu, with a few seasonal dishes, such as the corn ravioli with fontina cheese and crispy shallots. With his eye on the future, Reed is contemplating moving a little closer to the city’s center, while admitting, "there’s something romantic about the side streets. "
Kenkeleba Garden, named for an African healing plant, is simply magical. We followed the densely forested greenery around to the back, arriving at a clearing that transported us to another world far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. We were completely surprised when we landed in front of the sculpture garden, which is only visible from 3rd Street. From large African sculptures to collections of scraps or bricolage, a specialty of the Lower East Side art scene, we could not help but linger before doubling back and re-emerging onto the concrete sidewalks of 2nd Street. It was not until many months later, when we had the pleasure of meeting Joe Overstreet and his wife, Corinne Jennings, that we learned that this is affiliated with their gallery next door, Kenkeleba House. It is their life-long dream to someday use these grounds to build a museum that would house their massive collection of African-American art. It has an entrance on both 2nd Street and 3rd,