Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here. Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989. The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors, ” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. ” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass. ”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in. ”
The National Arts Club has been promoting American artists and educating the public about the arts and art criticism since its founding in 1898. Located across from Gramercy Square Park, the Club is housed in the Tilden Mansion, a stunning, double-wide sandstone rowhouse built in the 1840s that was redesigned and re-ornamented by Calvert Vaux in the 1870s. The National Arts Club was a pioneer in showing multiple types of art in the same space and for bringing artistic mediums other than painting and sculpture to the cultural forefront. Throughout the years, a long list of highly acclaimed painters, photographers, musicians, architects, and actors have worked extensively with the National Arts Club, including Robert Henri, William Merritt Chase, Alfred Stieglitz, Stanford White, Walter Damrosch, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, and Uma Thurman. Members of the Club have also included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Dwight Eisenhower. While the public is invited to view various art shows throughout the year in the galleries down below, members have access to the upstairs dining room, and to the exclusive Gramercy Square Park.
This site, that now houses Starbucks, was the American novelist Edith Wharton's childhood home. 2012 was the 150th anniversary of her birth. Edith Wharton was one of the few New York writers whose feelings for the city were almost unambiguously negative. The author of classics such as The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth far preferred Paris, where she spent much of her adult life. However, her early years were spent here in a brownstone her family built.
It is impossible to miss Engine Co. 14 on a sunny afternoon. The ornate Beaux Arts design is simply eye-catching. Engine Co. 14 was erected in 1895 by architect Napoleon LeBrun, who was known for his decoratively designed fire stations. This style is typical of the earliest New York City firehouses. Today, Engine Co. 14 has been recognized as a historic landmark. For more than a century, firefighters have been working out of this building. When my intern, Emily, walked past the fire station, the garage doors were wide open, and locals were wandering in and out to greet the friendly firefighters. One older veteran was smoking a cigar and chatting with a new member who had finished his training just six weeks ago. The two firefighters showed an eager little boy and his father into the front seat of their largest firetruck. The boy honked the loud horn, which all the firefighters exclaimed was “quite impressive” for someone his age.
Though we did not see anyone entering or leaving this mysterious, magnificent marble building, something about its high-columned entrance and grand, stone stairs made me walk up to the entrance and open the high front door. I could not have made a better decision – this is the New York State Appellate Division Courthouse, a historic landmark, architectural wonder, and site of many important rulings and government decisions. The limestone Beaux-Arts building was designed by James Brown Lord in 1896, and its exterior is surrounded by white marble sculptures, while the inside is painted with absolutely stunning allegorical murals by multiple American artists. All of the artwork and original furniture in the building have been restored to excellent condition. Equally stunning are the twenty-seven stained glass windows, including a massive ceiling dome consisting of sixteen radiating panels – the building resembles a sort of temple to the American justice system. This is the building where Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt cracked down on city corruption; where the development of New York’s railroads, subways, and famous libraries were decided; and where every graduating class of the New York Bar Association is sworn in. This building is bursting with history and beauty.
While the digital age has allowed us to streamline many services, there are some art forms that must remain analog. One trip to Best Shoe and Bag Original Repair on W21st Street in Chelsea and you’ll be convinced that the time honored art of cobbling is one that can’t be replaced. It’s an art that has been passed down to owner Marcia Sailema from her father, who ran the shop for decades until he retired in 2015. Marcia said that in addition to helping her dad run the family business, she took classes at FIT to sharpen her skills in repairing luxury shoes and bags, which are the businesses specialty. “I learned so much industry vocabulary that I never knew before – like the way that the first part of a shoe design is called the last — and ‘the last comes first! ’” she laughed. She quickly acclimated to the delicate art of making much-loved, long-worn bags and shoes look like new by making delicate leather, paint and stitching matches to designers from Dior to Chanel and in fragile vintage pieces. The intricate work — which Marcia proudly showed us can make a nearly unusable bag or shoe look fresh off the shelf – has led to a loyal customer base. For Marcia, it’s a labor of love. “I really like working on the bags, ” she said, admiring a classic Louis Vuitton monogram bag that she’d recently completed repairs on. “Look at these zippers! ”
Merakia occupies the space that housed Kat & Theo from 2015-2017 - and while the restaurant maintains the same ownership as before, it also has a different mission. The modern Greek steakhouse prides itself on its meats and classic seafood items, while maintaining a classy, hip atmosphere in its cavernous space on 21st Street. “We built a new team… and a new vision, ” managing partner James Paloumbis shared with the Manhattan Sideways team when he spoke of the switch from Kat & Theo. He then went on to highlight Merakia’s differences from other Greek restaurants. “It’s not white and blue like every other place in New York City. Our menu is not the copy paste of any other place. ” The menu is heavy on steaks and seafood, boasting their signature lamb on the spit ("the only restaurant in the city to do so") while, surprisingly, offering some robust meat-free options as well. “Everything is farm to table, we use fresh ingredients, [and] we make everything from scratch on a daily basis. ” James told us that part of his mission is to bring back the adventure of going out to eat, a phenomenon he has noticed declining over the years. “People don’t like to go out anymore just to eat. You can eat at home, you can eat down the street, you can order your meal online. But to get an experience of nice service, some nice flavors, nice music, nice drinks - it’s worth your while to go out again. ” Husband and wife team behind Kat & Theo - Renee and Andreas Typaldos - seem to have orchestrated a smooth transition from their previous restaurant. As their past executive chef, Paras Shah, believed, "there should be a movie written about the couple's romantic backstory and that he “couldn’t have worked for better folks. ” Andy is originally from Greece, and the restaurant was named after his parents, Katerina and Theodosios. Andy came to New York on a scholarship from Columbia and met Renee, who is from the Bronx. He took her out on a first date “with holes in his shoes and with no winter jacket, ” according to Renee. She added, “The romantic, poetic way people get together. ” Today, they are paying homage to Andy's Greek heritage and according to James, “People have to trust their stomachs and their palates with a restaurant, so that’s what we’re trying to do here. Trust us - our food is fresh, our food is made with care, and we love what we do. ”
Perhaps the attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ” works well at Society Billiards. They seem to know that sometimes a classic pool hall is just what people need. Extremely spacious and stocked with countless pool tables, anyone looking to get lost in the game will be sure to love this dimly lit, relaxed, yet classy spot.
As we peered behind the counter at Joe, we saw what looked like a machinist’s shop or a technological artist’s studio, and yet the rich aroma of coffee was unmistakable. Joe is a place for serious coffee, and they hope to make serious coffee-drinkers out of their customers. The front of the shop holds a regular coffee bar, with three stools, and a display with some useful coffee tools for at home brewing. The majority of the space, however, is filled by the coffee studio in back where customers can watch the machines whir and the experts work their magic. For those of us not as knowledgeable in the coffee arena, Joe offers regular classes on topics ranging from brewing technique to what they call “coffee theory. ” While they have several locations throughout Manhattan, Joe's on 21st street serves as the “pro shop” and headquarters.
In the way that so many Flatiron restaurants are, Hardings is situated in a large and imposing building, yet manages to appear out of nowhere providing a perfectly comfortable oasis for dining. A large, impressive bar dominates front and center, creating a comfortable area to grab a drink or wait for friends. We ate here on a Sunday evening, but have stopped by at various hours during the day to discover Hardings to be a popular lunch or after-work spot for Flatiron professionals. One cannot help but feel patriotic when walking through the doors. Rather than naming this American-themed restaurant after Washington or Lincoln, the owners chose the 29th president of the United States, Warren G. Harding. The entire space -- bathrooms included -- are a tribute to American history. An American flag, that dates back to the late 1800s, hangs impressively from the exposed white brick side wall, and a trip to the restroom leaves one lost in old, authentic newspaper clippings. The entire cocktail, bar, and restaurant menu is domestically sourced, and it showcases a variety of cuisines. The fluke crudo was delicate with citrus, the house salad of mesclun greens, shaved raw artichokes, fennel, radishes, lemon and olive oil dressing was unique and the grilled romaine was perfectly crusted with lemon, garlic, and shaved grana. A vegetarian dish of sauteed baby artichokes, peas, shallots, chickpeas was presented in a simple white wine broth and slices of grilled bread to dip. The flourless chocolate cake was good, but it was the Griddle Cake that was the show stopper. We all agreed that it was reminiscent of a heavenly breakfast. A warm pancake was served with raw maple syrup, lemon and vanilla ice cream melting on top. For creative American food and the ability to brush up on American history at the same time, we found Hardings to provide an entertaining evening.