Just off of Ninth Avenue is a small cookie shop called Schmackary's, and wow, what a crowd it continues to attract at almost any hour or day of the week. Stepping inside feels like being transported into a Norman Rockwell painting – familiarly and authentically American. The shop is neatly decorated with baby blue pinstripes and a wall of colored glass that separates the kitchen from the eating area. The vibe is calm, warm, and welcoming, just as owner Zachary Schmall intended it to be when he opened his first brick-and-mortar in 2012.Zach came to the city as an aspiring Broadway actor but began his career in marketing. In order to de-stress, Zach would come home to his apartment and bake cookies, often experimenting with different flavor combinations. His friends would try his creations and after a while, they began encouraging him to sell them. Zach took a risk, and eventually, what he had seen as a modest pipe dream became his livelihood.Hailing from the Midwest, when it came time to start his own business, Zach made sure that customers were his top priority. While I was chatting with him, he told me that his approach was first and foremost based on providing the customer with warm and personable service. On a daily basis, he makes certain that his staff is not "anonymous and apathetic, but rather people who others strolling in might want to have as friends." Since his success stems from word of mouth and social media, Zach has shown that prioritizing the customer pays off.Zach credits part of Schmackary's reputation as a "hidden gem in the heart of Broadway" to the store's location a couple of steps away from the main drag. He loves his 45th Street address, especially because of his strong connection to the theater community, and wants to keep that same side street feeling as he makes plans to expand. He further explained, "Being slightly removed from the avenue bustle gives Schmackary's a more intimate vibe, whereas a main street location would feel more exposed and less familial."Schmackary's, called "the unofficial cookie of Broadway," offers a rotating menu of 45 different flavors of cookies. On one visit, I bit into the moist, but crunchy around the edges, Caramel Apple Crisp and was hooked. A coffee-crazy friend of mine, who had tagged along with me that day, said their coffee was top-notch – yet another reason to come back to visit Schmackary's. On a subsequent visit with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, they sampled several other amazing cookies, including The Monster filled with peanut butter, M&Ms, and raisins.And on yet another day when we were stopping by to take photos, it happened to be when Broadway Bakes was taking place - the annual fundraiser that Schmackary's holds for Broadway Cares, the nation's top AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. During this week, some of the theater district's biggest stars volunteer their time to stand behind the counter and serve customers. When we showed up, the line was down the block. Little did we know that everyone was waiting to have their picture taken with Audra McDonald in exchange for a donation. A serendipitous moment as Zach brought us to the front of the line to meet her. Needless to say, everyone was quite pleased that I had taken them to this sweet oasis.
Walking past the window of what was once an ice cream shop, I spotted a gentleman atop a ladder and decided to step inside to find out what was happening next. As Murat Yimaz descended the steps to greet me, he revealed that he was readying the space for the imminent unveiling of what was now going to be The Jolly Goat, a coffee shop that would also still be serving ice cream.Though he was born in Germany, Murat has been stateside for a good part of his life. He originally worked in a PR firm, but when the recession hit in 2008, the company closed and he took on freelance jobs. Since he no longer had an office, Murat often found himself camping out at coffee shops while he worked. After countless hours spent sitting at various cafés and sipping on cups of coffee, he decided to drop his PR work altogether and open his own place. Encouraged and advised by a friend who has a coffee spot in Brooklyn, Murat traveled throughout the city talking to vendors and becoming well-educated in the world of the coffee business.When the time came to name his store, Murat decided to embrace the genesis of coffee – the story of Kaldi, the Ethiopian goat herder. "As the legend goes," Murat explained in a short version, "Kaldi realized that his goats would often become very excited and jolly after eating the coffee beans. The goat herder then decided to try and make a drink from the beans and, thus, coffee was born."Now open - in the summer of 2014 - The Jolly Goat is serving Stumptown Coffee, Melt and Blue Marble's ice creams, freshly baked pastries and Davidovich's artisan bagels. On a Sunday afternoon, there was a line out the door with enthusiastic neighbors who told me that they are thrilled to have Murat and his excellent coffee shop nearby. When I was able to grab a moment to speak to Murat, he told me that the most popular item that he offers has been his cold-brewed coffee. He explained to me that this method uses cold water instead of hot and that the coffee is allowed to brew for up to eighteen hours. He went on to say that cold-brewing yields a highly caffeinated beverage, and at the Jolly Goat, they like to serve it on tap.
After so many theaters, food chains and restaurants, it was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon a terrific coffee shop owned by a gentleman from Columbia with a strong passion for coffee. He sat down, determined to educate me about the beans that his farmers grow in his home country, solely for his shops. There is no middleman between the farmer and his 42nd Street shop, Carlos explained to me. He has one hundred percent control over the process by having his own facility in South America. And when his supply is running low, he contacts his men and places another order that arrives express just two days later. Thus, the beans are guaranteed to be fresh. In a raw, industrial setting, there are communal tables and metal stools that sit on the concrete floor inviting coffee lovers to sip their drinks and to grab a sandwich, or to indulge in some of their home-baked goods. In addition, there are specialty teas from Canada, with interesting flavors including strawberry, guava, mango, blackberry and almond.
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant.” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back.” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will,” Manuel declared.Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe,” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine.Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
Known as the "Center for Social Change," the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression." Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.
The multiple theaters inside this center are stunning and the list of performances impressive. Mikhail Baryshnikov had his dream become a reality in 2005 when he was able to provide a state of the art space for people in the dance, music and theater world to rehearse and perform.
The Maravel Arts Center is the home for Rosie O'Donnell's arts education organization, dedicated to providing as many underprivileged children as possible with a theater experience. Rosie's Theater Kids (RTK) also provides mentoring and academic guidance for its students, in an effort to help them to succeed on the stage and in the classroom. Offering both in-school and on-location programs, RTK serves approximately 1,900 attendees each year.We felt fortunate to be able to tour the Maravel Arts Center that had been built in 2007 after gutting the decrepit building that stood there before. Today, this updated space is filled with studios and study rooms to accommodate the specially chosen 165 students who come each day. They head here after school to take tap classes, vocal lessons, and do homework with an on-site tutor. The building has a performance studio, two dance studios, a music studio, practice rooms, dressing rooms, a study room, a cafe and, to top it all off, a rooftop garden.Rosie's Theater Kids flourish because of the community that they form at Maravel. Throughout their years at the Center, kids take classes together, foster friendships, as well as develop a passion for the arts. Regardless of what they choose to pursue in the future, RTK prepares its students for life beyond Maravel's doors, providing them with SAT tutoring and help with the entire college process. In addition, each graduate is presented with a new computer. Located a couple of blocks from some of Broadway's most famous theaters, Rosie's Theater Kids do not have to look far to find inspiration for their artistic endeavors.