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.
A line out the door at lunchtime certainly caught my attention. When I inquired, I was told that the food is fresh, the sandwiches are terrific, and that their Mediterranean menu is worth the wait. Thus, the Manhattan Sideways team queued up along side everyone else, as who would not trust the word on the street? Meeting the two animated Israeli owners, David and Yariv, was an added bonus, as we secured one of the few tables to sit and eat our freshly made dishes. We eagerly delved into the bowl of hummus, the hot pressed mozzarella sandwich and the strips of zucchini with lemon, olive oil and toasted almonds. We left with a full understanding of why people are willing to stand on line. Although, we also learned that Picnic Basket is expanding their kitchen in an effort to accommodate more people at a faster pace.
The stretch between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on 44th has something fascinating, historic and delicious at almost every address. Stepping inside Kellari, however, allowed me to remove myself from the fray for a little while, as I immediately felt transplanted into a Mediterranean setting. From the charming people who greeted me at the door to the far back of the restaurant, Kellari was an exquisite experience. There are high ceilings, ethereal drapes, an abundance of wood, foliage, and candles hanging in chandelier-style candelabras all adding to the je ne sais quoi of the scene. But what is a restaurant without good food? The manager we spoke with, Dimitrios, walked us to the middle of the restaurant where there is an impressive display of fresh fish laid out across a bed of crushed ice for diners to select. The array of fish changes on a daily basis, depending on what is happening in the market, and priced accordingly. A fish can be small enough for one person to enjoy, or at times there are large fish able to serve a party of fifteen. Organic salmon is served simply on a disc of beets with steamed wild grains, alongside potatoes and finished off with a dollop of saffron yogurt. Baked lemon sole came with a cauliflower puree and mixed grilled peppers. The whole grilled branzino was seasoned with just a bit of olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs, thrown on the grill and cooked to perfection, each step visible from the dining area through to the open kitchen. While we waited for Chef Gregory to prepare these few dishes for us to photograph, I observed the endless international business crowd coming in for lunch. By the time we left, the entire restaurant was filled with sophisticated patrons. Kellari means "wine cellar" in Greek, and they live up to the name, with wines stocked like a mosaic piece in the back of the restaurant. There are over 450 varieties carried here, half of which are Greek. The vibes are friendly, the food delicious, and we would be remiss not to mention the well-documented health benefits of a Mediterranean diet!
It’s not every day you’re greeted at the gym by a man wearing teeny tiny swim trunks and plastic lei. And it’s not a regular gym where the boss arrives for a meeting resplendent in chicken hat. Which stays on for the duration, despite the rising temperatures. But then, Mark Fisher Fitness is not any old gym. In fact, it doesn’t even call itself a gym; it’s an “enchanted ninja clubhouse of glory and dreams”. It’s a place where clients are called ninjas and trainers are called unicorns and where mirrored balls, graffiti and disco lights take the place of the usual utilitarian gym furniture. “We like to keep things colorful, ” said Mark in understatement. “So there are lights. There’s a closet with costumes, so if the trainer feels like dressing up in Victorian era garb or an S& M unicorn, there’s a leash they can wear – whatever feels good. “But one thing that’s also important to us is just taking people where they’re at, so a lot of the ninjas who come here AREN’T insane, ” Mark added. “We say if someone wants to come to a dance party and someone wants to take off their pants and someone wants to cry quietly in a corner because they’re having a really bad day, everything’s perfect, you’re OK wherever you are. ”Mark describes himself as once that “classic skinny, awkward, Martian man, afraid-of-girls guy” who only properly found his place in this world when he started to work out in high school. “I was also a professional actor – which is partly how we’ve become such a fixture in the Broadway community – and throughout my twenties I fell more and more in love with the training. It was like the mistress I slowly left my wife for. ”A few years ago he quit acting completely and committed himself to training fellow New York misfits. “My own experience in the gym, starting as someone who didn’t feel very good about his body and didn’t feel like an athlete, it was very difficult for me, ” Mark said. “We like to say, in the most affectionate way, that the ninjas are like an isle of misfit toys – all manner of humanity, all ages and colors and backgrounds that are generally united in that we all have a feeling of being an outsider at times. I just wanted to celebrate that, and also to provide really good fitness information. I’m a huge fitness nerd, so it’s very important we provide a really good service with results. ”So if you want clear, no-nonsense weight loss and are willing to put in the hours, the intensive six-week Snatched program might be your bag. Alternatively, there are group classes, and semi-private training packages, Mark’s cheaper but just as effective version of a personal training program, where you train with two other ninjas and a dedicated unicorn. Unsurprisingly, many of the gym goers are from the Broadway community. Mark has worked with plenty of performers to get them ready for a specific role (such as a ninja playing a boxer in Kinky Boots) as well as backstage workers. “We train a lot of composers and directors and casting directors – and from their friends it’s trickled out to other professions; people who maybe work in white collar jobs but are a little bit weird, ” Mark shared. “The nature of their life means they perhaps don’t get to be as creative as they’d like so they can come in here and do whatever they want to do. ”The trainers, too, are a colorful bunch, counting among them one of the city’s best known drag queens, a gay porn star, a tattooed graphic artist who was a skate punk in a former life, and a professional clown who, at the last minute in med school, decided he wanted to be a clown not a doctor. “We need people to be really great coaches, but we also need them to be really authentic and comfortable with who they are. And a holistic approach means this crazy fitness family doesn’t just take care of your physical fitness; it offers life coaching workshops, classes on book keeping for financial fitness, advice on time management …“We hope to be a place where people come for general betterment, ” Mark explained. “Fitness is so transforming because you’re able to be more creative and stable and braver with your life. You’re feeling better about yourself, you’re eating well, you’re sleeping – we know your brain is going to work better. Additionally, it’s interesting to see how much of your life you can control. New York can be an isolating town – particularly for performers, who spend a lot of time getting rejected. So there’s a certain power one discovers when you know you can control what you eat and how you look. ”This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Mark Fisher Fitness — The Gym Where New York’s Misfits Go to Work Out. "
Jonathan Boyarsky, fourth generation owner, has found himself a terrific niche on 39th by being one of the only menswear shops to remain on the ground floor. Over the years, he watched as companies moved upstairs into offices in the garment district, or even overseas, but he chose to remain where people could easily spot him. Although he feels that he has remained "under the radar, " at times, when people come in they are "ecstatic" with what he has to offer. His family began their men's clothing business on the Lower East side back in 1919. Over the years, members of the family spread out and opened related businesses offering either custom made shirts, suits or fabrics. At No. 257, Jonathan has combined it all. He describes it as "double dipping. " They used to sell only the fabric and then send people elsewhere to have their clothing made. Today, within the three floors of space at Fabric Czar, customers can select from some of the finest cloths, and then meet first class tailor, Steven Tabak, of Beckenstein Bespoke, where their clothing is designed... and, everything is constructed on the premises. "We are one stop shopping, whatever a customer needs, we can make it for them. " And for Jonathan, it is only about quality craftsmanship.
There are intriguing spaces sprinkled throughout the city that invite corporations to utilize their facilities, but stepping inside Offsite is a unique experience designed specifically for the business meeting clientele. The brainchild of Patrick Everett and Shawn Kessler, they have created a stunning turnkey facility where all day conferences can be held. Companies are invited to bring their employees together for a productive 9am-5pm meeting in the three levels of fully equipped space, which can then be flipped effortlessly into an appropriate venue for an evening event. The rooms are configured so that some forty people are able to sit around one gigantic table or be rearranged into smaller units. Attendees never have to feel confined to one space, as they can move around freely on each floor, dividing up into smaller breakout sessions, when necessary. The rooms are versatile and technology oriented, fully outfitted with AV equipment - as Patrick referred to it, "plug and play. " Endless pens and pads, drinks and snacks, including large jars of enticing candy, are provided throughout the day. The partners have paid attention to every detail, taking into consideration exactly what they believe their clients will require, including a small executive office that allows for a private phone conversation and a myriad of white walls that are actually whiteboards. Offsite works with some of the terrific catering facilities in the area to provide top lunches and dinners for groups, and everything is served on their attractive dishes. While being given a tour, Patrick told me that he had been an event planner. When he discovered that there was something important missing in the corporate world, he found his niche. As he began to imagine the possibilities, he worked diligently on his concept with Shawn. Basically all one has to do is book the space, and the rock star team at Offsite will handle the rest.