Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake.As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.
After a few hours of walking, we just needed a place to sit, relax and refuel. Rai Rai Ken could not have been a better choice for us. Our light meal included a bowl of edamame, kimchee (pickled cabbage), and menma (marinated bamboo shoots tossed with scallions and seaweed). The steaming tureens - I say tureens because these bowls were huge - of ramen noodles and miso soup looked absolutely marvelous. We had to send some of our team back to sample them a few days later, and they reported, as we suspected, that both the ramen and rice dishes that they ordered were excellent.
We had the pleasure of spending time at Joe's Bar in 2011 before Joe passed away and it closed down. Continuously operated for over one hundred years, Joe's even had a bowling alley down stairs in the early 1900's. Now, renamed to Josies, the bar is owned by the guy who also runs Sophie's. This was his favorite place to hang out years ago, and he has every intention of keeping the bar's "small town" feeling exactly the same. "The theme of this bar will be just that - a bar where people can play pool and listen to the juke box," the contractor of Josies told us. Hopefully, the bar still remains as the neighborhood hangout that it was before Joe passed away - a place where moms came in the late afternoon for coffee with friends and babies and the locals drank at night.
Masami Hosono’s mother worked in fashion. Growing up in Tokyo, she always knew that she wanted to work in fashion herself, but something was missing: socializing. “I love to talk and meet people,” she explained to me with an amicable smile. In a white, modern space with a rack of clothing on her left, Masami shared her story. When she turned eighteen, Masami met a “very great hairstylist,” with whom she would work and learn for the next four years. Her passion for hair, style, music, and socializing ultimately led her to quit her job in Tokyo and board her very first plane to New York in 2012. “I was like, I don’t speak English, but I can cut hair,” she recounted. “Maybe I can do it.”The New York Masami had heard about back home could not compare to the one she arrived in. She told me, “Japanese people love New York City, but they only know cool fashion, cool hair, cool music. But there’s more good stuff, personality, freedom.” One of the biggest surprises, but also most appealing aspects of the city, was its dynamic queer scene. “Being gay in Japan is very hard,” Masami recalled. “I’m from Tokyo, and it’s a very conservative place. But in New York City, everything is mixed. The queer culture is amazing.”Life in New York was, understandably, a big adjustment. With no place to live, Masami spent her first nights in a hotel, and her first days exploring the streets. But she took the challenges of a new country in stride by doing what she does best: cutting hair and meeting people. While Masami made a living by cutting hair in Williamsburg, she also offered free haircuts to make friends. “I just found people on the street,” she said with a nostalgic laugh. “Like, ‘oh, they look cool.' And I asked them, ‘Can I cut your hair?’” Little by little, through about 400 free cuts a year, Masami began to learn English, and build a community of friends. “Musician clients would say, ‘I’m playing tonight, you should come.’ So I go, and they introduce me to more musician friends. I met one designer because I cut his girlfriend’s hair, and he makes music videos, so he asked if I could do the hair for the music video. I’ve met so many very cool people who are musicians, artists, skateboarders...all these artists who can hang and make creative stuff together.”In 2015, Masami moved from Williamsburg to the East Village to work at Assort International Hair Salon. There, she took the final leap: She told her boss she wanted to open her own store. In April of 2016, Masami and her boss went into business together as Creative Director and Founder, respectively, of Vacancy. Masami stressed the importance of collaboration in small business work: “I’m really happy to have the founder because I really can focus only on the creative side. It’s really important to have the creator and financial person separate.”Vacancy is more than a just a hair salon; it is also a pop-up retail shop (with items designed by friends of Masami) and artist hang-out. While Masami’s hair clients come from far and wide (“Do you know the singer Rachel Trachtenburg? Yeah, I chopped off her hair”), Vacancy still maintains the vibe of a small, local business, while serving a massive and ever-expanding web of Masami’s friends.Masami’s haircut services have a very specific appeal. “My haircut style is not super fancy,” she told me, “because when I came here, I met a lot of people on the street. They always have amazing hair, and I ask ‘Where did you get a haircut?' and they say ‘Oh, I cut it myself.’ So I do kind of DIY, very grungy, choppy, messy.” Her cuts are still customizable: Vacancy offers hair designs in “a lot of crazy colors,” from pink to blue and everything in between.Masami and her army of artistic friends will not be confined to the shop. In addition to haircuts, Masami collaborates with her friends to produce a number of visual and literary creative projects, to bring their art and vision to the general public. She edits and produces a blog (or “web journal”), which features interviews and photographs of all sorts of artists, from painters to sculptors to Instagrammers, whom she has met through cutting hair. She also produces a monthly radio show, Vacancy Radio, through which she introduces listeners to her musical friends (“People are at work like ‘What am I gonna listen to today? Vacancy Radio!’”). Most recently, Masami has produced a zine (a self-published, miniature magazine) featuring her own hair and makeup designs and pictures by her friends in photography. She is currently working on a second zine. To bring everyone together, Masami often hosts “book and zine events” in the Vacancy space, where her friends can gather and share their work. “People can come and hang out and, well, drink,” she added with a laugh.With so many friends and projects in her repertoire, one might think she would be ready to call it a day, but this is only the beginning of Masami’s vision for Vacancy. While she will always be cutting hair, Masami dreams of an entire Vacancy building just for artists. “I want a full coffee shop, and maybe a bar. I want shared studios where the artists can make art. We can have an exhibition. We can have a music studio downstairs and live shows. Like an art house.”As she moves into the future, Masami Hosono makes sure never to lose sight of her roots. As she guided me on her journey from newcomer to centerpiece of New York’s artistic community, what became increasingly clear to me was her awareness of the potential that her prominence in a new country gave her to make change back home. No matter how well-known Masami’s work becomes, her queer identity has always been, and will continue to be, the center of her narrative. Masami has made the decision to return to Japan this summer, and potentially begin a regular practice of working in both countries. She has already booked an interview with a Japanese magazine and looks forward to bringing New York’s culture of openness back to her homeland in whatever ways she can. “When I have a magazine interview or work in Tokyo, I want to talk about it more, little by little,” she said. “I will change the culture if I can.”
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.
“I’m not a chef. I am a scholar of nutrition and an idealist who loves health and happiness,” proclaimed Angel Moreno, who left his home in Spain in the 1980s to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and to set up a chiringuito — the Spanish term for a cafe or juice kiosk — in the U.S.Before finding what he calls his “true purpose,” Angel was a pilot. “But this was killing my heart,” Angel said. He reevaluated his life and chose to pursue his aptitude for music. Though untrained, Angel had a good ear, a passion for playing the drums, and a desire to share music, poetry readings, and photography exhibits with the public. He came to open a handful of cafes and bars throughout Spain that were akin to laidback performance venues.Just as Angel planned to start a new venture in London, he met a master of Sufi (a form of Islamic mysticism). “This man was doing everything I wanted to do: yoga, traveling, and music. He was a fun guy.” The guru made such a powerful impression that Angel followed him to the States, where he spent the next decade doing odd jobs, learning to practice Sufism, and waiting for the right time to start his chiringuito.As Angel puts it, the universe eventually led him to the ideal place. It had two rooms — one that would serveas the dining area and a second space that was used to educate others about nutrition, health, and assortedimportant subjects. At first, “I didn’t even know what kind of cuisine I was going to offer.” But the teachingsof Sufi, which focus on purity and wellness, inspired him to avoid anchoring himself to any specific type of cuisine. “Instead, I did international dishes and used my knowledge to adjust any recipe to incorporate organic ingredients and to be vegan or vegetarian."Caravan of Dreams retains some of the elements of Angel’s first Spanish cafes, with daily live music andbright colors on the walls to spark joy in its guests. Yet the key component is the wholesome meals it serves.“Without health, we cannot be happy.”
The folks at Spot Dessert Bar are mavericks of dessert. With desserts specially created by the Iron Chef of Thailand, Ian Kittichai, and Mark Lee, the managing partner, the eatery offers each of its customers an astounding tour of taste. The dessert tapas themselves are a blend of eastern and western flavors inspired by Chef Kittichai’s travels around the world. While speaking with Mark, we learned that the little desserts are called “tapas,” not because of the size, but because the idea is to order a few and share. Along with dessert tapas, Spot serves cupcakes, macarons, cookies, and bubble tea. They truly have something for everyone especially with the addition of new dairy-free and gluten-free options.The desserts change based on the seasons and we were lucky to be able to try the new fall menu as well as their signature dishes, and each one was a delightful surprise. Their two best sellers are the Golden Toast, with honey butter, condensed milk ice cream, and strawberries, and the Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake, a soft dark chocolate cake with green tea ganache and green tea ice cream. The Golden Toast was warm with a flaky, soft interior, while the Chocolate Lava Cake was one of the best the Manhattan Sideways team had ever tasted, perfectly heated and well paired with the strong matcha flavor. Mark told us that it is also one of the top 10 most Instagrammed foods in NYC, which we did not find surprising, since each dish is a piece of art.The fall desserts were all equally tasty and creative—The gluten-free matcha cremeux with its toasted rice ice cream was unexpected and simply delicious. The vegan Coconut Monkey bread was light, fluffy, and topped with coconut ice cream with basil seeds. The real stand out was the Black Truffle savory dessert. None of the Manhattan Sideways team had ever had anything like it. It consists of black truffle, hazelnut dacquoise, and apricot sauce, and was the clear winner, especially for those without a strong sweet tooth. We drifted between different desserts as Mark told us more about Spot’s future plans and his experience with the company.Mark started as a server at Spot, which opened five years ago, and now is part-owner. He originally worked in magazine design and now puts his aesthetic eye to good use on the culinary design of Spot. He is inspired by everything—restaurant uniforms, menus, interior décor, and other aspects. Mark informed us that Spot is planning on expanding a few stores down. At first, the company used the space as a take-out café, but wanted to stay true to the dine-in nature of the original. Mark wants “customers to feel cozy when they come to Spot,” and so will decorate the addition in a very similar way. We agreed that the wood-panelling and warm interior is very homey, creating a perfect atmosphere in which to fill up on dessert.
Biking with my husband on a beautiful August day, I stopped short when I noticed something new and picturesque on 5th Street. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, but I had been holding out until I discovered the perfect place to grab a bite to eat, and I certainly landed in an ideal spot. The rustic charm indoors, with replicas of the farm equipment used in Italy hanging from the ceiling, captured our hearts immediately, but it was the food – the outstanding rice dishes – that solidified Risotteria Melotti indefinitely on my list of top restaurants to recommend. Since the restaurant was quiet at this odd hour, we were able to chat casually with the staff throughout our meal, and we learned not only about the history of the restaurant, but also about the world of rice. Back in 1986, a couple began producing rice on one acre of land in Verona, Italy. Almost three decades later, together with their three sons, Rosetta and Giuseppe now farm 544 acres of land, all devoted to growing award-winning rice that is sold the world over.There are basically two different textures of the grain that they produce. Vialone, the more traditional rice, is rich in proteins and vitamins and, because it absorbs liquid better, is used for their delicious risottos. Carnaroli rice, “considered one of the best in the world,” is more readily used in salads because it remains al dente when cooked, adding a chewiness to the superb insalata di riso that we shared. We both marveled at the combination of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red and yellow peppers, capers, fresh mozzarella and, of course, brown rice. When we first sat down, a bread basket was placed on the table. Their take on focaccia was very good, but I could not stop sampling their rice cakes throughout our meal – the basic recipe is made in Italy and then flown here to be tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and then baked for fourteen minutes. I cannot say enough about how amazing the second dish that we tried tasted. We never knew that you could make polenta from anything but cornmeal, but we had our eyes opened to something new and wondrous when we had our first taste of polenta fritta con caciottina – a fried rice polenta with mushrooms and cheese that was perfectly moist in the middle with an added crunch on the outside. Every mouthful was rich and heavenly.This brand new restaurant – the first outside of Italy – serves about thirty people, making for an intimate setting, especially when evening falls, the lights are dimmed and the candles are lit. Up front there is a little “shop” that sells many of their rice products. The staff explained that the family has made an across-the-board decision to only offer Melotti’s gluten-free rice merchandise in the States. Thus, anyone eating gluten-free can come to their restaurant and be served a carefree, excellent meal. Anyone fortunate enough to live in the area can either have their food delivered to them in their home or office, or stop by, browse the menu, and take it to go. I have no doubt that we would be eating a lot more rice if we lived in the East Village, but we will visit as often as we can.