There are many hidden gems to be discovered on the side streets of Manhattan, but the beginning of my walk on 61st might trump any that I have had thus far. For it was here that I was suddenly convinced that I had stepped into a time portal. Nestled between the skyscrapers that perch along the East River is a stone house dating back to the eighteenth century with a glorious garden (even in the middle of winter) tucked behind it. "Eighteenth Century" may be a bit misleading, since the building, which was built as a carriage house to go with a central mansion, was constructed in 1799. Originally named the Abigail Adams Smith Museum, as this is where she and her husband owned the land on which it was built, it was turned into a "day hotel" in 1826. This was a popular kind of institution that possibly resembled a country club more than an inn. With the rise of the middle class, centers for leisure were popping up all over the island. The city proper mainly existed below 14th Street, causing 61st to be considered a vacation getaway. Though the Mount Vernon Hotel is the only day hotel left standing, at one point in time there were numerous similar ones dotting both rivers. In 1833, the building returned to being a private residence. During the following century, it changed hands multiple times, once even being used as a soup kitchen, until it officially opened as a museum in 1939 in the capable hands of the Colonial Dames of America. To this day, their overall mission continues to be to preserve and teach America's history. The Museum also hosts guests and events of many different kinds: One of their largest affairs is Washington's Birthday Ball, but they also host pie-making workshops, school programs (which are often booked solid for three months at a time), and public events in the auditorium next door.
The Society of Illustrators leaves anyone who enters with a yearning to create. At its core, the Society seeks to “promote the art of illustration through education and exhibitions, ” as described by Executive Director Anelle Miller. This mission takes many forms. Visitors can attend a regular Sketch Night, where novice and advanced artists alike can gather to draw nude and costumed models or still-life pieces. As the only illustration society in the world that also houses a museum in its space, those seeking inspiration may meander through the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, peruse the illustrated exhibits on display, and watch video shorts in the screening room as they wait for the muse to strike. Under Anelle’s tenure, the Society has reached out beyond its doors to offer art programs for underserved and incarcerated youth and a wealth of online work-shops and lecture series. “We embrace everyone, and that’s what art is supposed to do. ”Even those who have not personally visited the Society may be familiar with its reputation for hosting four of the biggest illustration competitions in the world, including the Illustrators Annual, a student scholarship competition, and a children’s book illustration competition — which Anelle referred to as the “Academy Awards for children’s illustrators. ”In 2014, one of the best children’s books selected, Papa Is A Poet, was written by Manhattan Sideways founder Betsy Bober Polivy's mother, Natalie S. Bober, and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon.
It is a thrill to be able to be writing about the Argosy Bookstore. As a former owner of a children's book shop, I could not wait to get to 59th Street so that I could delve deeply into this family history, which began in 1925, and share the story of the three extraordinary sisters that have carried on their father's legacy. Despite being on 59th Street since the 1930s, the bookstore remains a 'hidden gem' to many New Yorkers who will regularly walk by and miss its presence amidst the ever-growing retail buildings. Naomi, one of the sisters, who maintains her post at a desk by the door, says, "About fifteen times a day, I have someone walk in the store, stop in their tracks and say, 'Oh my goodness, I never knew that this existed. '" And what a wonderful discovery this six-story curiosity is. Argosy feels as much like a museum as it does a bookstore. With its specialty being rare and out-of-print books, along with a score of historic maps, prints and autographs, it is a treasure trove with a vast selection that has something for everyone. It brought me great pleasure to introduce members of the Manhattan Sideways team to this remarkable shop that I had been scouring for decades. From the moment we walked through their doors, and they commented at the "book smell" that invaded their senses, I knew that I had them hooked. But then their eyes wandered across the shelves of books that dominated the room, catching the paintings hung above them and the green library lamps suspended at every interval, they simply stood in amazement. And then Naomi greeted us and took us on what would become a remarkable tour of the entire building. We began on the main level, where some of the store's most beautiful books are showcased, in genres from historical fiction to children's books. We were amused as Naomi pointed out her special shelves appropriately named "the oh-I-should-have-read-this" - a sort of "un-Barnes and Noble section" that does not necessarily include Hemingway or Faulkner, but certainly exhibits a great awareness and taste in fine literature. From there, we ventured down to the basement, a general browsing room, and then up to the sixth floor, which Naomi calls the 'oh my God room, ' as it is filled with autographs from Teddy Roosevelt to Elton John. As one of three sisters who inherited the bookstore from their father, Lou, Naomi explained that each of the siblings maintains an individual pride in a certain collection in the store. For Naomi, it is the autograph collection. As we continued down, we stopped on a floor dedicated to American History, where there was a fascinating collection of rare books on topics that included American Architecture, the Cold War, and the American Revolution. I was particularly attracted, however, to the map room. As I was wandering through, I discovered an actual first edition map of Manhattan - drawn sideways in 1865. Argosy Bookstore remains one of the largest, family-run independent bookstores in New York City. Despite impressive offers for its real estate, the store has continued its business through generations and maintains a genuine character matched by only a handful of other businesses in Manhattan.
Although filled to the brim inside, the adventure begins simply by gazing through the impressive windows of John Salibello's three antique lighting shops on East 60th. The dazzling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling at No. 211 were only the beginning, for upon entering, I learned that the excitement extends back into an even more inspiring gilded maze where every inch of space is utilized to display the carefully curated collection, both upstairs and down a flight. Lori Gray, the store's manager, spoke to me about John Salibello's origins. It turns out that she is one of the best people to do so, as she has been by John's side for years - ever since he was working in the fashion industry. Lori followed John when he left Benetton, as he had become a close friend and she "deeply respected his taste. " I learned from Lori that John was one of the first people to deal in Mid-Century Modern design, "probably because he opened his business just as it was becoming temporarily distant enough to be desirable. " Breaking new ground, he found his stride and has stayed true to it ever since. John's knowledge of the period is extensive, but he makes a point of not being driven by a particular designer, despite their fame. As Lori explained, "He can "talk that talk, " but in the end, John travels the world searching for beautiful pieces, no matter what their origin. "This is why he has been so successful as a trend-setter, " Lori proudly stated. Most items are vintage, but there are some custom-made objects, such as a row or colorful glass boxes made by an artist from Murano. The employees chimed in during a conversation one day, sharing with me how they enjoyed having input into the color combinations for each one. The staff is a crucial part of this well-oiled machine. As one woman put it, they are in charge of the "visualization of the store - John does the buying and we set it up and then sell it. " They are also meticulous about maintaining the inventory, as every piece is always gleaming, a hard outcome to achieve in a store filled with so much glass. John Salibello's triumph in the furniture world also has a lot to do with its location. Because the store is in the design district, everything is in one place, making it easy for interior designers and their clients. When engaging in conversation with John, himself, one day, he expanded on his concept of three boutiques on one street. "We have a tremendous amount of inventory, as that is what our customers prefer. " He said that he loves 60th, but because he cannot house everything in one location, he has chosen to take over additional retail space, while remaining in the same neighborhood. John explained that just the shear size of the pieces he finds requires more room, and then went on to say that he is pleased that his shops are in demand, as people like what he carries and he is forever finding new things to add. As John expressed, "if you want to be spectacular, this is the only way to do it. "
In 1852, six men with similar interests formed a club and called themselves "Gesellschaft, " a word that means "community and society" in German. This group would grow and solidify into the Harmonie Club, the second oldest private club in New York after the Union Club. All six of them were German Jews, and therefore were denied access to the Union Club because of religious discrimination. Much has changed since the Club's founding: at the beginning, a qualification for membership was German ancestry, and communal singing and declamatory contests were popular. Today, one must still be invited to join; however, the emphasis on musical interests has been lost. The building is also different - in 1905, the Club moved from its original 42nd Street location to its current Beaux Arts residence, complete with a grand, elegant dining room that is still in service. Despite all these changes, the Harmonie Club remains a place where the leaders and achievers of the world can find companionship. The above is the history of Harmonie; however, it is not often that I get to offer my own personal note to places of such distinction. Therefore, I must mention that I was married at the Harmonie Club in 1979. From the moment I became engaged, there was no question in my mind, that this was where I wanted my wedding to be held. My father had been a member of the club for a number of years and I had grown up having the most elaborate Sunday brunches in their exquisite dining room. My husband and I chose not to have the traditional Saturday night affair and, instead, opted for a morning wedding with a brunch motif. Having everyone we adored gathered in this private sanctuary was sheer perfection.
Having been raised in New York, and involved in the performing arts since childhood, Rose Caiola went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and fantasized about establishing her own pre-professional ballet program. It was always her desire to provide top-tier instruction in a nurturing environment that discouraged unhealthy competition. In 1994, Rose's dream became a reality when she opened Studio Maestro on 68th Street as a non-profit organization and began Manhattan Youth Ballet. Her program has been recognized the world over with students moving on to dance professionally here in New York with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as well as companies around the country and abroad. While spending time with Rose, she recounted that when the program outgrew its studio on 68th, she had difficulty finding a new space. She turned to her Italian immigrant, real estate mogul father, in the hopes that he could help her secure an appropriate location. After much negotiation, Rose and her father eventually found a beautiful space on 60th Street, and following three years of construction, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center opened in 2008. Today, it is a multi-functional facility with bright dance studios streaming with sunlight and a 199 seat off-Broadway theater that efficiently transforms into two studios when not in use. Rose proudly told me that with enrollment reaching over 200 students, the center not only houses Ellison Ballet and Rose's Manhattan Youth Ballet, but that many consider MMAC as "home away from home. "Throughout the year, MMAC offers a number of workshops for adults including yoga classes, dance intensives by the Jerome Robbins Foundation, and martial arts training. The center also hosts an alternative preschool and offers children's dance classes. Rose told me that after a chance meeting with actress and author Julianne Moore, Rose wrote and workshopped a production of "Freckleface Strawberry the Musical" in one of the MMAC children's summer camps. The musical went on to premier off-Broadway at New World Stages and has now been performed around the world, launching Rose into a career as a Broadway producer. (Four shows that she recently produced, including "The Elephant Man" and "You Can't Take it With You, " are 2015 Tony Award hopefuls. )As new residential buildings are rising at an incredibly fast pace and surrounding the Center, Rose is looking forward to families and other artistic people finding a haven in MMAC. Rose's ultimate goal is to have more dance companies and Broadway productions utilize the space, which in turn could provide more scholarships to Manhattan Youth Ballet. Already there are organizations recognizing this oasis as Rose told me that Dodgers Theatrical, Alvin Ailey and Cirque du Soleil have been taking advantage of their remarkable facilities for auditions, castings, readings, and rehearsals.
As we walked into Christ Church, one of the members of the Sideways team commented, "Sometimes it's good to feel small, and that's exactly how I feel right now. " The United Methodist congregation has called Park Avenue home since 1929. In shades of gold and deep blues, the stunning metallic, mosaicked ceiling supported by towering marble columns glistened over our heads. The tiled patterns, however, were not completed until 1949, due to World War II. High on the walls, larger-than-life icons stared down upon us as we sat in the rows of traditional wooden pews for prayer and meditation. Despite the sheer size of the sanctuary, we did not feel intimidated or unwelcome; rather, a sense of peace and calm came over each of us, making this the perfect haven for rest in the midst of the bustling streets of the Upper East Side.
Sopra, located above Amali and owned by the same restaurant group, is a communal dining concept that creates the feeling of an upscale dinner party. In this elegant, high-ceilinged former apartment, up to twenty people can sit at a long table next to the open kitchen and eat a family-style meal. It allows Rachel Goulet, the chef for both Amali and Sopra, to serve up dishes that are impractical to prepare in single portions for a traditional restaurant. What has quickly become most popular are the porchetta (a classic Italian roast pig) and the Roman lamb, a recipe typically made during the Easter season using the whole animal. Sopra not only provides an unconventional style of dining where strangers are encouraged to socialize both with each other and with the chef, but it also provides an education in sustainable food. The meals served at Sopra are "super local and hyper-seasonal, " Steve Breslawski, the events coordinator for both restaurants, explained. Guests receive an interactive and informative lesson in how food can taste if you pay attention to what is available at different times of the year. The patrons that dine at Sopra are often more adventurous eaters, Steve said, than those who frequent Amali - they are eager to taste the unusual meats that are presented, such as wild boar, beef heart and sweet meats. (Note that vegetarians are welcome to order from Amali's menu if Sopra's offerings are too carnivorous)Sopra is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, but it is also available for private events. Large rolling bars separate the space from the "Fireplace Room, " a cozy smaller area that can be rented out separately or as part of Sopra. As I was admiring the photographs that line Sopra's walls, Steve told me that they are pictures of the staff's family, which indeed add to the warmth and comfort of this venue.
"The Gem of Swimwear" is the tag line for Pesca, and as I discovered quickly, an absolute "hidden gem" on the side streets of Manhattan. Imagine stepping indoors from the gray shades of winter into a petite, yet beautifully filled boutique, where one is greeted by the aquamarines, corals, and creams of the tropics. The contrast was a welcome reprieve, but more important to me, was to discover the rare professional, yet loving relationship between the mother and daughter, Shahlla and Teresa Azizian. Their familial affection for each other is obvious, and seems to only have been strengthened by running a business together. Not only are they the lifeblood of Pesca - the only all-year-round swimsuit boutique in the area - but there is no doubt that both of them could model their wares on any runway. Shahlla came to the States by way of Iran, and originally opened her boutique in 1979 to sell swimsuits and fur coats. After a few run-ins with theft, however, she decided to focus solely on swimwear. The store services women from age sixteen to seventy, and stocks suits from around the world. Teresa enjoys her frequent travels to France for the swimsuit shows, but mother and daughter sell suits from South America, Israel, the United States, and other parts of Europe. Shahlla admitted to having a particular fondness for Karla Coletto, an American designer, whereas Teresa revealed that she prefers the European and South American fashions. The secret to the two women's success is their personal touch. "We don't sell to sell, " Shahlla said. Their goal is to find the perfect suit for each woman, so that they can gain the trust of regular clients. Both mother and daughter have a magnificent eye, and can pick suits that are perfect for a woman's body type and taste. Their personalized service extends to keeping a record of past purchases, and if a repeat customer orders a swimsuit on-line, they will send two or three more possibilities in the mail for them to try. "Our business is based on trust, the women shared with me, "If the extra swimwear does not work, we know that the client will send it back. "Pesca is not just about the swimsuit. "We pack your suitcase for you, " Teresa explained. Amidst the rainbow of swimwear, Pesca sells cover ups, beach dresses, hats, bags, sandals, jewelry, and belts. We provide "the full story. " When I asked what their favorite aspect of the business continues to be after so many years, both women commented that with their extensive experience and knowledge in their field, the two are often invited to sit with designers and recommend color combinations, or alterations to a style so that it would best flatter a woman's body.