62 East 4th Street has had a fascinating history. At its inception in 1889, it served as a social hall housing a musician's union known as Astoria Hall, as well as hosting meetings of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In the 1930's, the ballroom was revamped as a theater and television studio and renamed Fortune Theater until Andy Warhol discovered it and left his legendary stamp here. In 1969, he rented it out to showcase a series of infamous porn films and called it Andy Warhol's Theater: Boys to Adore Galore. Over the years, the Yiddish theater had performances here, and many well known television shows used the space to film. Since 1987, the Duo Center has been here having raised the funds for renovations, and then remaining throughout construction to become home to what is now Duo Multicultural Arts Center and Rod Rogers Dance Company and Studio. Today the building is part of Fourth Arts Block (FAB) and operates as a center for film, dance, art, theater and music and is among New York's designated cultural districts.
Dating back to pre-Civil War days and formerly the St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran church, this stately red brick structure has been a synagogue since 1940. A devastating piece of New York history happened in 1904 when a boat filled with 1200 German immigrant women and children from the original church perished in a fire on the East River. Today, it has a modern Orthodox congregation that offers services every day of the year.
While strolling along Great Jones Street one day during the summer of 2016, I noticed the fire trucks pulling up to their house, getting ready to enter. I immediately quickened my pace and stood there, gazing inside. One of the firemen approached me and began chatting about the architecture and the history of Engine Company 33 and Ladder Company 9. I learned from this kind man, who has been with the department since 1983, that the building was designed by renowned architect Ernest Flagg. Pointing to the top of the firehouse, the fireman insisted that I go to my computer and have a look at old photos of the Beaux Arts Singer Building that once stood in lower Manhattan and compare the three-story arch and windows to his firehouse. He assured me that I would see the similarities, for Flagg chose to reuse these concepts when designing his skyscraper. For a short period in 1908, it was considered to be the tallest structure in the world. Sadly, it was knocked down in 1968. In 1899, the firehouse was originally conceived as a place where the chief of the department could work on a daily basis. Their main headquarters were uptown on 67th Street, but my friendly fireman proudly shared that this was where the highest uniformed person and his staff were housed. At the time, firemen were continuously on duty - "they only had an hour or two off a day until 1917 or 1918 and then it got a little bit better for them. " Thus, it was in this same building that the men ate their meals and slept whenever they could. I have not met a fireman while walking on the side streets who has not mentioned those who perished on September 11. Tragically, this firehouse lost ten of their fourteen heroic firefighters when the World Trade Center collapsed. At the conclusion of our conversation, this wonderful man told me that he would be "put out to pasture" in less than two years, as there is mandatory retirement at the young age of sixty-five in the fire department. There is no doubt that he will leave having had a full and meaningful career with his peers and that New York City is a better place because of him.
Not to be confused with New York Marble Cemetery just around the corner, this burial ground features custom gravestones and is the resting place of many prominent New Yorkers. Among them are James Lenox, founder of the New York Public Library, Stephen Allen, both governor and mayor of New York, the Kip family of Kips Bay; and several members of the Roosevelt family, including James Henry Roosevelt, founder of Roosevelt Hospital. Interestingly, we learned that President James Monroe was one of the first to be laid to rest here in 1831, but his body was later moved to Richmond, Virginia. New York City Marble Cemetery was designated as a landmark in the late 1960's. (The office is located at 72 East 1st Street)
Surrounded by high-rise condos, with another on the way, and graffiti tagged buildings, this landmark relic of the past made it to the top of my sidekick Brandhi's must-do lists just in time for her birthday. She knew that a large and very wealthy New York family and their four Irish servants once inhabited the house in the 1800's, and managed to keep it intact over the years, but she was fascinated by the idea that the ghost of Gertrude, the family's youngest daughter who was born and died in the house at the age of 93, might still reside there too. So she eagerly paid the $10 admission, chose the self-guided tour, and wholeheartedly entered the time capsule. For Brandhi, ascending the magnificent wood carved staircases and exploring the great rooms of this 19th century home decked with the Tredwell family's personal possessions was like stepping back into a time when this part of the city was alive with the comings and goings of millionaires and upholding the highest social conventions were the norm. She found a little something that almost every kind of aficionado would appreciate in this historic home. She learned all about the Victorian etiquette of "calling, " admired the white day dresses that still look pristine, and imagined what it must have been like for a servant to lug a bucket full of coal up four long flights of stairs several times a day. If you think history, architecture, interior design, cultural anthropology or the paranormal is fascinating, then a visit to this museum should make it to the top of your must-do list too. Guided tours start everyday at 2: 00. However, if you are like Brandhi and prefer to explore in private, arrive early and you will likely have the entire museum to yourself. The peaceful backyard garden, though surrounded by cookie-cutter condominiums, is the perfect place to reflect on what it must have been like to live in the Manhattan of two centuries ago. Happy Birthday, Brandhi.
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,
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. ”