Before having any idea who I was and why I was stopping by, Andy Tarshis greeted me with a giant smile and a warm hello. I immediately realized that this colorful workshop in the basement of West 29th Street, was going to be one of the best kept secrets on the side streets of Manhattan. Tiecrafters, which has been in business over sixty years, is the quintessential hidden gem.
Tiecrafters performs many different services, all centered solely on ties. They clean ties, tailor ties, and create custom ties. Andy says that these days, a lot of his business is narrowing ties, as fashions are evolving from wider to skinny styles. “Fat ties now look like grandpa’s ties,” Andy quipped. No problem for Andy and his team, as they are easily able to alter this garment to fit changing trends. While I assumed that all the ties that came through Tiecrafters were high end, Andy assured me that that is not always the case. Though a fair number of pieces from Hermes and Ferragamo have passed through his doors, young professionals, who often do not have much money to spend on ties, will bring Andy their favorite accessories to mend or clean rather than buy a new one. Though Andy has many men from Wall Street drop in, as well as numerous celebrities (there are several framed photos on the wall), I could tell from just a few minutes of speaking to him that Andy treats each of his customers and their ties with the same level of respect and attention.
Andy was working at Bloomingdale’s while in his twenties when he spotted an ad in the paper that said, “Owner looking to semi-retire from a service business.” Having no idea what the business was, Andy found that his interest was piqued, and thought it would be a wonderful thing to be a business-owner at such a young age. He bought the business in 1980 and has since become the master of everything having to do with neckwear. Andy explained that the business used to be on ground level a few blocks away until the late nineties. Now, he said, “Its not as critical to have a storefront,” since he has many loyal customers and because over half of his business is shipped to him.
I was amazed when Andy took me to the back of his workshop where he showed me his equipment, much of which is not even made anymore. His faithful ironing board, which has a bungee cord attached to the iron in order to take stress off the arm of the operator, is made by Cissell, a company that has gone out of business. When I inquired about some of the ties hanging throughout the workshop, Andy indicated that they are custom made by Tiecrafters. Many of them were from schools and corporations that wanted their logo put on the ties. He even opened a box while we were there that had fifty ties from a university that wanted them refurbished to then share with their staff.
Andy laughed as he pointed to one of the ties that he made for the Viagra product launch in 1998. It was covered in little blue pills. “I had no idea what they were!” He also attracts clients from the theater world who need neckties that fit a specific time period. In addition, Andy is continuously contacted by a variety of men who are not of average size, such as very short and tall men, who need custom ties. I also thought it quite clever that Tiecrafters has created a strong wedding business, matching groomsmen neckwear to bridesmaid dresses. “Not many other people do one-offs," Andy informed me. Another fun story involved the lion statues outside the New York Public Library: he was commissioned to make them giant, waterproof bow ties for a special event.
Andy taught me fascinating tidbits about ties, including the fact that the decorative fabric on the inside of the end of the tie only extends a few inches from the bottom, while showing me the soft inner lining of the tie. He demonstrated how ties with frayed bottoms can be cut and re-sewn to eliminate the damage. I learned that the edges of ties should be rounded instead of pressed flat, and that when they are cleaned, ties often need to be opened up, reshaped, and then sewn back together. I now understood why many men did not entrust their neckwear to general cleaners. Andy’s knowledge seemed bottomless, and so I was not surprised when he shared that The Daily Show had chosen him to be a member of a humorous panel of professionals to judge presidential candidate’s ties.
When I asked Andy what thrills him the most, he immediately responded by stating, "I am still in business." He pointed out an ad for Tiecrafters framed on the wall from a 1956 edition of The New Yorker. As for his own ties, Andy treats them with as much care and seriousness as those of his customers. “I’m superstitious on ties,” he told me, after our enlightening, lively, and informative talk. “Because of this interview, I’ll wear this tie tomorrow!”
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School, owned by Joseph Bruno, has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Joseph contends that a bartender’s success is determined by conversation, “no matter how good the drink is. ” That being said, technical skill is far from lacking at this institution. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. After decades of experience bartending in and managing drinking establishments, Joseph has seen a new devotion to the craft of mixology. Up-and-coming bartenders have tested innovative flavors, homemade syrups, and the “farm-to-table” use of fresh ingredients. He has taken particular pleasure in the resurgence of drinks not popular since the Prohibition era. Perhaps it is a sign that we still have a chance to relive some of the best aspects of the Roaring Twenties.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me, ” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back. ”A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful. ” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill, ” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to. ” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.