Before Lilia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, discovered ALT for Living, she said to me that she had never considered that shopping could be an “experience.” In fact, she revealed, that "For me, life is life and shopping is shopping, quick and painless - I go in, find what I need, and get out. But as I walked into ALT for Living, I felt as though I had entered a time warp."ALT contains two little worlds - a coffee bar and a showroom - and they work with miraculous synchronicity. The cozy coffee bar, A Little Taste, serves as the storefront, and it instantly recalled to Lilia the old-fashioned cafes of Paris and Rome. The coffee beans are one-of-a-kind, hand-roasted by ALT Roasting CO.“You have to try the iced coffee,” suggested Victoria, ALT’s Marketing Coordinator. She was right. It was rich, full, and flavorful, with frozen coffee cubes instead of regular ice cubes. What a treat. With coffee in hand, we were ready to take in the pièce de résistance of ALT for Living, the showroom, which caters to high-end interior designers, design firms, and architects. The space is an aesthetic feast, somehow both immaculate and inviting, pristine and meditative. Sitting down with Analisse Taft-Gersten, ALT’s creator and owner, we learned that she would like her customers to view ALT for Living as a full-fledged lifestyle experience. “It’s a one stop shop to help amplify your home and get a great cup of coffee along the way.”Analisse started out as a model at age seventeen, which provided her with the opportunity to travel all over the world. She fell in love with Europe, particularly Paris. “I think I was an old Frenchman in a past life,” she said with a laugh. Analisse went on to say that she developed a passion for interior design, and left her native California to seek out a new challenge in Manhattan. While working for an interior design company, she found her calling in sales, and took a leap of faith. She began ALT as a small venture in a temporary office space, then a small showroom in Soho, and finally ALT’s current home in the Flower District.Since every item is unique, the shop attracts a vast array of customers, from hip up-and-comers to the most established designers in the industry. In an effort to maintain a stimulating space, Analisse constantly changes elements of the shop's layout. She loves repurposing old pieces and making them her own. Her current favorite piece at ALT is a vintage rosewood desk by furniture designer Joaquim Tenreiro.What sets ALT for Living apart from other businesses that cater to interior designers is that one can truly lose oneself in the shopping experience. Within the coffee bar-showroom, shopping is no longer just shopping, but also an opportunity to visit Europe without leaving Manhattan.
At times, living in New York City can become a bit chaotic - and it is 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 definite 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 Moleskine 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.
For those of us who sometimes miss the warmth of wood amid the concrete of our beloved city, From the Source is a wonderful place to become reacquainted with this life-affirming material. Just upon walking in, we were pleasantly surprised by the strong earthy smell of the wood. It is the base material for all the pieces of furniture in this shop, and is generally left in its rough form as much as possible to highlight the natural beauty and grace of the trees from which it was cut. If wood can be described as stunning, then that is what this is. We marveled at the tables, the chairs, the cabinets, the benches, the vases, and the rocking horse. One day soon, we would love to visit their 35,000 square foot warehouse and store in Greenpoint, but for now, we just enjoyed hearing their history. Over a decade ago, two guys joined forces to create designs made from wood…one went to arts school and the other was a “furniture guru” who had been in the business for many years. The designs are done here and the creations are made in Indonesia.
Walking into Mantiques Modern is the equivalent of walking into a treasure chest. Full of antiques that grace the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this store offers not only an incredible buying experience, but an extraordinary viewing experience. While the largely pop culture-referential items, such as old Wrigley’s sculptures, handmade bicycles, carved skulls and massive seashells, were intended to cater to a primarily male, nostalgic clientele, there were plenty of women browsing on the days that we stopped by. In addition to the impressive selection of fun memorabilia, there is an array of photography, clocks, small tables and other furniture pieces. On a second visit, we were given a personal tour of the different century pieces that were particularly unique. A nineteenth century sterling silver Japanese flask from the Samurai era, a bronze clock that drips downward by Salvador Dali, a giant leather, classic Hermes handbag in perfect condition were only a few of the items that we gazed at in awe. While the store has rested on 22nd Street for just ten years, the owners of Mantiques have been in the business for forty, accumulating a broad knowledge that spans centuries, and a certain sort of intuition for choosing pieces that are “gutsy, cool” and one of a kind. We found that we could look up at a shelf for several minutes, walk away, come back and see something equally intriguing staring back at us that we had missed only a moment before.
France and Son is a delightful maze stocked with mid-century, modern furniture pieces with a contemporary twist. A bold array of light fixtures hang from the ceiling while a mixed assortment of modern and classic couches and chairs fill the space. I spoke with Brad, one of the founders of France and Sons, who sat in his favorite item in the store, a brown leather modern wing chair. Brad has been responsible for building the company's retail brand and online presence.Brad and his partner, Kevin Wu, named their furniture store after a pre-existing Danish manufacturer from the 1950s. They settled on the name France and Son because it was recognizable among designers and others interested in furniture. Today, France and Son specializes in reproducing pieces designed in the 1950s and 1960s. Similar to the original manufacturer, their store has a mid-century feel.France and Son is in the midst of expanding their work to include more contemporary, high-end leather couches. As Brad explained, “it’s all an experiment.” They are constantly trying out new designs to find what people want. Most of their customers are young professionals who are buying their first nice pieces of furniture, so they try to offer everyone a personal shopping experience. The two men pride themselves on their ability to allow customers the opportunity to rent anything on the floor and to purchase floor samples. As Brad said, “We don’t mind catering to the customers and doing whatever makes them happy.”
Renowned Alsatian Chef Antoine Westermann opened his first restaurant, Le Buerehiesel, at twenty-three years old. For several years, the self-taught chef continued to prepare memorable cuisine, earning the restaurant an illustrious three Michelin stars. In 2006, he had those stars recalled in order to escape the creative constriction that accompanied them, and in 2007, he ceded the restaurant to his son. Chef Westermann’s more recent restaurant endeavors offer sophisticated cuisine sans pomp. In Paris, he is the proud chef and owner of four such restaurants - Mon Vieil Ami, The Durant, La Dégustation, and Le Coq Rico.Translating to “Rico the Chicken,” the first Le Coq Rico opened in 2011 as a restaurant entirely devoted to poultry. After all, the refined chef’s cuisine of choice is fried chicken and French fries. Before bringing Le Coq Rico to Manhattan in 2016, Westermann spent a couple of months sourcing poultry and establishing connections with farmers across the US that adhered to his standards of quality as part of his exploration of “American terroir.” Unbeknownst to the chef at the time, the space he chose in Gramercy resides next to Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, which houses a collection of taxidermy birds. “This one just felt right,” the staff joked.As to be expected from a chef of Westermann’s caliber, the menu at Le Coq Rico in New York is anything but ordinary. The minimum slaughtering age of the specialty whole birds served is ninety days, more than double the forty-day standard, and Catskill Gunea Fowl are given one-hundred and thirty days. “After that they become a rooster,” I was informed. Another specialty dish, the “baeckeoffe,” originates from an Alsatian laundry day tradition. When the women were busy with laundry and did not have the time to cook, they would drop off a marinade of potatoes, beef and sauces to a baker, who would seal the casserole dish with dough and let it cook slowly. Westermann’s version employs chicken, truffles, and white wine.Watching some of the other dishes come out, I would have never guessed that they were all the same species. The playful giblets platter veiled the bird’s offal with elegant skewers, spiced croquettes, glossy wings, and horseradish toast. A foamy butter bath with micro greens overlay the slow-cooked guinea fowl egg, and I was relieved to find out that the tomato and poultry tartare was not raw, but instead similar to an elevated chicken salad encircled by caper sauce.Birds play a role in other parts of the restaurant, too. In addition to French and American wines displayed in a pristine wine cave, the bar offers a bird-themed cocktail program. One of the most popular, The Elvis in the Sky, is an alcoholic take on the singer’s famed peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. The “Duck Fitch,” a mix of gin, turmeric, ginger, and mint, is named for the celebrated polymath artist, Doug Fitch. Having lived with a bird for a month after a live performance piece, Doug was deemed the perfect candidate to design the cheerful rooster that has become Le Coq Rico’s emblem. His backlit, blue-and-white painting is on view for guests seated in the main dining area or at the bar that faces the open kitchen.Serving simple food expertly prepared, Chef Westermann is not only a master in the kitchen, but an excellent mentor as well. Floor Manager and Sommelier Adrien Boulouque could not be more thankful for his fifteen years of experience working with the humble and soft spoken chef. “I met him in Washington D.C. and now I am here,” he mused. “It is all about sharing and respect.” This respect is geared towards the staff, the guests, and, of course, the birds.
Nemo Tile’s beginnings date back to 1921 in Jamaica, Queens. Nemo Tile is responsible for lining and decorating many of New York’s most famed and frequently traveled spaces and landmarks: The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the original World Trade Center, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the W Hotels, and “countless residences,” according to their staff, all bear their unique tiles. The company specializes in usable, heavily trafficked tiles, of all colors, shapes, materials, and sizes, but Nemo also works on smaller, more decorative or intimate architectural and interior projects.I spoke to Charlotte Barnard, the head of marketing, who told me a bit about the the company’s history and the changes that Nemo has undergone since its inception. Jerry Karlin partnered with, and subsequently took over from, the original owner in the 1950s and since then, the company has been in the hands of three generations of this family run business. I think what struck me most, though, was when I put the pieces together and realized that I grew up in the same town as the Karlin's. One of their daughters was a childhood friend, and our parents were also very close. I even have fond memories of a trip that I took with the Karlins to Florida when I was about fifteen. All of a sudden, Nemo Tiles took on a whole new meaning for me.As I continued my conversation with Charlotte, she informed me that many things have not changed since 1921 - the original location is still operating in Queens and the Karlin family is still involved with MTA projects, including the new Fulton Street station, which features Nemo glass tiles. There have, however, been revolutionary inventions in the tile industry, especially thanks to advances in technology. 3D printing has made it possible to make porcelain look like stone, wood, and even metal.Charlotte proudly stated that Nemo Tile sees some of the most traffic of surrounding showrooms. She pointed out that they have a great location, and that similar companies have followed their lead in moving to the Gramercy area. The company finds most of their products at two major tile shows in Bologna and Florida, but they have wares from all over the world, from China to North America. They have an especially large Italian selection, and Charlotte told us that Nemo had been named “Distributor of the Year” by Confindustria Ceramica, the trade organization for Italian tile.I was deeply impressed with the showroom itself and the constant flow of people stopping by to browse and make purchases: the floor was a clever patchwork of different styles of tile, sliding pull-out displays were tucked into the walls, allowing the space to remain uncluttered, and props like shower heads and mirrors decorated the walls. Charlotte explained, “We are more than a typical tile store. We show tiles within the context of lifestyle. It is a new way to see space, and we are constantly updating the displays.”
The massive, open interior, high ceilings, white columns, and rows of long, pillow-strewn banquettes at this corner Mediterranean restaurant pay extensive, dramatic homage to what is really a tiny, unremarkable fish found in Greece. Since the restaurant opened in 2005, the barbounia has been elevated to what is most likely unprecedented fame. The sardine, for example, has yet to be honored with a white-feathered chandelier and twenty-foot long, soft cream-colored curtains. The airy space, which also comprises a large, inviting bar, semi-outdoor seating on 20th Street, and an open kitchen, is consistently packed and filled with raucous, lively conversation. Barbounia is certainly a scene worth partaking in, both socially and with its mostly Greek cuisine, especially the fresh, simply prepared fish and seafood. They also offer amazing bread and small pizzas and pasta.
The Players Club, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players Club today serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here.Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989.The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors,” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath.” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass.”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865.When we visited in late 2012, The Players Club was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in.”