At times, living in Manhattan can become a bit chaotic – and it is at this moment when Muji feels like a breath of fresh air. So different from our busy and cluttered apartments, Muji is the epitome of minimalist class. There is no rhyme or reason to what items are carried and yet while there are a million trinkets to browse through, the atmosphere remains effortlessly crisp and clean. Everything is made in neutral colors and simple materials, and labeled with clear descriptions. After wandering around, I suddenly had the urge to go home and clean everything out of my closet and start fresh. The store has a calming and almost meditative effect on people. The vast variety of items includes furniture, clothing, home goods – and yet everything feels unified. Some of the hidden treasures can be found within the office supplies – pens that glide beautifully across the page and notebooks that rival moleskin for utility and sophistication, but at a fraction of the price. Even the clothes are in soft, soothing colors, but made from fine fabrics and sold at very reasonable prices. Step inside to escape the bustle of the city, and do not be surprised if you leave with a new toothbrush or a pair of slippers.
I have discovered many fascinating places while walking on the side streets of Manhattan. I am sorry to say that I did not look up to see Belly Dance America when I initially walked on West 37th Street. It was not until a few years later that I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Hanna and Jehan, the wonderful couple behind the place that has been hailed as the center for all belly dance needs. As it is the first and only store of its kind in New York City, located on the second floor, it has definitely cornered the market. For anyone passionate about the art of belly dance, or for those who are only getting started, there is just about anything that one could want in this shop. It is more than just a belly dance store. Belly Dance America is a love letter to the passion and culture of the Middle East, paying homage to the richness of history and music that so often gets overlooked these days. As I walked into their shop, I was greeted by the sound of a breeze sneaking its way through an open window to rustle the costumes within, announcing its entrance with the soft jingling of the coins on the bottoms of the skirts.Every costume is made with a unique attention to detail. Some are imported and some are made right there in the shop, designed and assembled by Jehan’s husband and co-owner, Hanna. The costumes that are imported are made especially with the diverseness of the human body in mind, made by designers who know how to fit it perfectly. Even still, Jehan and Hanna take an honest approach to the sale of each item. “If something doesn’t look good, I’m going to tell you,” said Hanna, “It’s not about making a sale. I’d rather have a loyal customer who comes back and is always happy.”I found there to be a strong sense of community among the dancers and instructors. Everyone is welcome, whether they are a professional dancer or a hobbyist who is just starting out. It is never about competition, just the mutual enjoyment of a beautiful art. “The good thing about belly dance is that it welcomes all sizes, all body types, and all ages.” In the studio, I watched a group of dancers go through a routine as the instructor, Layla, led. While standing there, I listened to the coins jingling in time with the music and the sound of beads swinging side to side. The ghazal of the singer’s voice wailed from the stereo system in the corner of the studio and the dancers looked very much at peace, some of them smiling, some staring at themselves in the mirror, all feeling the passion and richness of the music down to their very core.Returning to the shop, down the hallway, where Hanna and Jehan were, I commented on what an incredible experience it was for me to witness these women dancing. They smiled and responded, “It makes people happy,” “the music, the colors, the dance.”
After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Neon lights, on the back wall, greeted us as we entered Trademark Grind, the “boutique coffee bar” serving Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn. In this quaint space, we were treated to excellent cups of hot chocolate, perfect on this winter day. A few minutes later, the PR manager, Matt, greeted us and invited the Manhattan Sideways team to follow him through a small entryway where we discovered Trademark Taste, a cozy, dimly lit restaurant... a safe little hideaway in the middle of bustling Midtown Manhattan.Opened in the spring of 2016, by In Good Company Hospitality, Trademark Taste & Grind serves a mixed clientele, from guests at the attached hotel and the pre-show crowd from Madison Square Garden to those looking for a unique weekend bar scene. The menu is impeccably curated by culinary director, Jeff Haskell, to featured favorites like Burrata and Knots and Tuna Poke. However, with its dark, mellow colors, graffiti motifs and hints of industrial flair, Trademark is all about the space. The walls are white and black with accents of red. Intimate hidden booths circle a large center bar, the anchor of the room. As soon as I took a look around, I wanted to settle into one of these booths for the evening. When I repeated this to Matt, he replied, “People tend to not want to leave.”
Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
The prevailing theme of Staypineapple hotels is barely surprising: pineapples. What might come as a shock to some, however, is just how seriously the hotel takes the pineapple motif: the fruit is prominent in the décor, stitched into the shirts of the employees, and even emblazoned on a rentable bike out front. The lobby offers complimentary pineapple-infused water and pineapple-flavored mini cupcakes amid modern, yet eclectic, furnishings. Covering one wall in the lobby is the following haiku: “Pineapples are sweetYellow makes people happyAnd everyone loves dogs - especially Michelle” Michelle is Michelle Barnet, the founder of the small hotel chain which has locations in a handful of cities across the country. Her passion for dogs informed the last line of the haiku - the hotel is extremely dog-friendly, even offering a “Pup Package” to make traveling with furry friends as relaxing as possible. Each room comes equipped with a plush dog that guests are welcome to purchase at the end of their stay, with a portion of the proceeds going towards animal rescue organizations. “The significance of pineapples is that they are a universal symbol of hospitality,” manager James Bryant explained when Manhattan Sideways inquired about the unique theme of the hotel chain. He said that the symbolic meaning of the pineapple dates back to the 1700s, when the fruit was rare and difficult to acquire. It became a coveted gift, and when placed in front of travelers, it let them know that they were welcome in an unfamiliar place. “It’s this international sign of ‘You are welcome here. Come in and stay with us.’” We explored two rooms. While smaller than a typical hotel room, the first was full of surprises. In a building that is only twenty-four feet wide, Staypineapple creatively utilizes their space. The television was hidden away at the foot of the bed, revealing itself with the press of a button. A coffee machine was tucked away in a similar automated compartment. An entire wall of the room was windowed, offering views of the city that more than offset the small size of the room. Staypineapple prides itself on “The Naked Experience,” a title they have applied to their unique bedding situation (which is so luxurious, "they won’t blame you for wanting to sleep naked"). Two exceptionally soft, twin-sized duvets give guests extreme freedom with their sleeping experience - and diffuse any fighting over covers. In the second, larger room we met Pineapple: a virtual assistant and Staypineapple’s answer to the traditional bedside telephone. James explained that the device “acts as a smart speaker, a telephone, and a way to communicate with the front desk.” Similar to an Amazon Echo or a Google Dot, an automated voice will answer at the cue of “Okay Pineapple.” The device is also loaded with staff-curated dining recommendations, and can answer just about any question a guest might have, from the best sushi restaurants in the area to the day’s weather. Staypineapple is a hotel full of surprises and, in many ways, it is just plain fun. Manhattan Sideways found it refreshing to see a business lean into a theme so unabashedly, and we believe that the commitment pays off. The hotel creates an extremely inviting environment that does not take itself too seriously, prioritizing comfort and hospitality alongside their innovative technology and highly-Instagramable décor.