How nice to see birch trees, weeping willows and turtles sunning themselves in the pond in this garden of paradise. In El Jardin del Paraiso, a great big willow tree shades this space. While this tree is magnificent on its own, it is highlighted by an octagonal tree house that encircles its trunk. The wooden structure's design was donated by tree house architect Roderick Romero, who resides in the East Village. His work for this 4th street garden, in 2003, was his first community project and we were delighted to see him featured in a July 15, 2012 segment of the CBS Morning Show. We learned that he is known for his tree houses both in the US and abroad including those that he designed for Julianne Moore, Val Klimer, Donna Karan and Sting. Climb a few rungs of the ladder and you will be several feet above the ground, taking in the lush greenery and appreciating the talents of this esteemed architect.
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,
Without a doubt, one of our favorite gardens, this "self contained eco-system" has been offering a serene environment for people in the neighborhood since 1982. Unlike other gardens we have visited, Creative Little Garden allows each member gardener to work the entire land, rather than just their own individual plot. We encourage all to wander down the birch-chip path to appreciate the waterfall, the flowers and greenery, or to just relax on the iron swing and watch the birds peeking in one of the many birdhouses. We know that everyone will appreciate how creative the people have been who have contributed to this special place.
Strolling along 5th Street, I was immediately drawn to a row of old-fashioned light bulbs hanging in the window of a small hair salon. Alexandra, the owner, invited me in while announcing that today, June 3, 2015, was Filament’s first day open! As I admired the salon’s hardwood floors and simple, appealing interior design, Alexandra told me that she and her co-owner, Seiji, had recently decided to leave the nearby hair salon where they both worked. A native Puerto Rican, Alexandra specializes in curly hair, while Seiji, originally from Japan, mostly works with straight hair and extensions. The pairing is perfect, Alexandra explained, because “there’s something for everyone here. ” And while she and Seiji have different styles, they both believe in a natural approach to hairdressing: instead of trying to change their clients’ hair, they embrace and enhance its natural beauty. The salon’s name reflects this philosophy. Alexandra and Seiji spent hours trying to decide what to call their new endeavor, but it did not click until they bought their signature light bulbs. When they saw the glowing filaments inside the shop, Filament Hair Salon was born - a place where "the light inside you shines through the strands of your hair. ”
By the time I arrived at Fish Bar on a Friday afternoon, a few regulars had already settled in. They chatted quietly as I explored the bar, which - true to its name - is decorated with fish and undersea creatures of all kinds. As I checked out Fish Bar’s reasonably priced drinks, which attract a diverse group of young people and locals, I wondered why the owner had decided on a nautical theme… and why there were so many dollar bills stuck to the ceiling. Fortunately, John, the owner, was happy to answer my questions. In the mid-nineties, he said, he frequented a bar called the Castro Lounge, which was unofficially known as “Fish Bar. ” When the owner put the bar on the market, John bought it and made the unofficial name official. Fish Bar opened on January 1st, 2000, and regulars immediately began bringing fish back from vacations to decorate the ocean-blue walls. “It escalated quickly, ” John said with a sigh. That explained Fish Bar’s origins, but not the money on the ceiling. According to John, it is a game invented by the regulars, who have a special technique to get the dollar bills to stick. But he refused to tell me anything else. “I guess you’ll just have to come by and check it out, ” he said, and I assured him that I would visit Fish Bar soon - with a wallet full of dollar bills.
When I first walked into Doggie Dearest, I had no idea that it was one of the oldest businesses on 5th Street. The reception area was decorated with leafy green plants and painted a cheerful shade of “dog’s ear pink, ” and the owner, Evelyn, took a break from grooming to share her story. Now a fixture on 5th, Doggie Dearest started out as a hobby. “I was bartending and working as a personal assistant, ” Evelyn said, “and I decided to take a grooming class. ” She discovered that she had a talent for the work and in 1993, Doggie Dearest was born. Though the business has grown over the years, Evelyn has not hired a large staff. She and her assistant do all of the grooming work, and she prides herself on the individualized care she gives to each pet. While other groomers often keep cats and dogs waiting for hours, Doggie Dearest is structured like a human hair salon, so that each animal gets a personal appointment. Evelyn also describes herself as the “first line of defense” against diseases: she has often alerted pet owners to symptoms they would never have noticed themselves. Between rising rents and her own battle with cancer, it has been difficult for Evelyn to keep the business afloat, but she keeps going, because she loves the work. “I even love the crazy dog people, ” she added, laughing.
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.