“It has the vibe of being lived in, ” Nicole Hudson, the Associate Director of Mnuchin Gallery said as she guided me around the townhouse that houses the gallery. The building dates back to the early 1900s and has been landmarked, thereby retaining its grand yet domestic design. It is not hard to imagine a time when the space was occupied by a well-to-do family who might have decorated their walls and floors with the kind of art that the gallery has on display. As Nicole pointed out, the unique location makes it easier for clients to picture the work in their own homes and see how the pieces could add to their lives. “Art has to enrich the day to day, ” she said with a smile. Nicole expanded on the origins of the gallery, explaining how the founder, Robert Mnuchin, became an art dealer after leaving the world of finance in the mid 1990s. He had been an art collector during his career in economics, and so he smoothly transitioned to owning a gallery. He began by forming partnerships with James Corcoran and Dominique Levy. The resulting galleries, C& M Arts and L& M Arts, both resided in the Upper East Side townhouse in turn. Robert then went solo and changed the name to Mnuchin Gallery in 2013. He deals primarily in the secondary market and uses multiple floors of his magnificent building. Nicole went on to show me the exhibition that was on display, called “Carl Andre in his Time. ” Originally, the gallery wanted to solely feature Carl Andre, a minimalist artist from the 1960s-1970s, but decided to open up the exhibit to his contemporaries as well. I was intrigued by how many sculptures were installed on the ground in geometric square patterns. Nicole noted that in the late 1960s, the pieces were created to be walked on (“It was part of the experience”), but because of their historical significance, Mnuchin preferred that visitors refrain from walking on the sculptures. One corner of the gallery that caught my eye featured two pieces of art juxtaposed - one was a series of stacked shelves by Donald Judd where each shelf had to be nine inches away from its neighbor. On the floor next to it was “32-Part Reciprocal Invention” by Carl Andre, made of found steel rebar, in which the distance between each bar in one row was designated by the length of the bar in the row above it. Both were interesting examples of how the world of math and measurements influences art. Another intriguing piece taking up a full wall was “Wall Drawing #69, ” designed by Sol LeWitt in 1971, which was previously on display in the Guggenheim. I would have missed it if Nicole had not pointed it out, since the swirling colored pencil designs that covered the flat white space were so delicate and light. Nicole explained that if the piece is purchased, the new owner gets a certificate of authenticity and then draftspeople come to their house to recreate it on their wall. Sol DeWitt provided loose, organic instructions, so each iteration of the piece is slightly different. It takes two people about ten days to replicate the design. After it is completed, Mnuchin’s own version will be painted over. Nicole then smiled and said how she loves seeing the faces of visitors who realize that there is a piece of art hidden on Mnuchin’s walls.
The first ground hall we visited at L'Antiquaire & The Connoisseur, a gallery that celebrates art from the eighteenth century and earlier, is the only section that features art from the twenty-first century. Helen Fioratti, the owner of the gallery, has put her daughter, Arianna Loreto's work on display. The modern, familial pieces leading to the elevator provided a perfect complement to the gilded and dazzling older antiques that we were about to visit. I was taken by Arianna's whimsical drafts and sketches that decorated the elevator, appreciating that visitors are surrounded by art at every turn. Upon stepping out onto the second floor landing, I noticed a collection of chandeliers with candle fixtures instead of bulbs. Helen promptly informed me that each one is from the eighteenth century. With a slight smile, she went on to say, "I was told by a chandelier gallery that there are very few eighteenth century chandeliers on the market. I have ten, which I think is more than anybody else. " As we wandered around the gallery, Helen pointed out treasures and told us about her life. Along with owning the shop, she is an interior designer who has worked with members of the Kennedy family and the Royal Family of Kuwait. She grew up in the art world, since her mother was Countess Ruth Constantino, the first female fine art dealer in the United States. Her mother started collecting art at a young age. The countess's uncle would pay her money to go to bed on time, which she would then spend on antiques when she went to Europe with her family. When Ruth grew up, she worked for a German art dealer as an unpaid intern, because her father claimed that well-bred girls did not have jobs. She eventually persuaded her father to let her open a gallery, but soon married an Italian diplomat whom she met at the New York World's Fair in 1939. As Helen paraphrased her father, "Wives of Italian diplomats didn't work. " Ruth opened a new gallery, but did not use her name, instead calling it "The Connoisseur Inc. " This is the gallery that Helen would merge with her own in 1982. I asked Helen about her earliest memory having to do with art and antiques, and she responded with a story from when she was five years old: she picked the paint off of the antique Venetian commode in her bedroom and colored it back in with crayons. Helen added that when she first got married and opened her gallery, she already had a furniture collection put aside and needed no more to furnish their apartment. Helen has the magic ability of breathing life into each of her pieces through suggestive storytelling. She showed me a cabinet that had belonged to the King of Portugal. There are twenty-eight secret compartments and a mirror on the top, which Helen said, "is where the king would model his crowns. " I could immediately picture the regal purposes of the piece of furniture. Similarly, Helen said that a clock that caught my eye had been made by an Englishman for the se de Medici's in Florence. The clockmaker then decided to stay in Florence. His son became the greatest Scagliola master - meaning he was an expert in a specific form of decorative work. Since she seems to know the story behind all of her inventory, I asked Helen if it is ever difficult for her to have to sell a piece and part with it. "It's like having a marriageable daughter, " she responded. "You don't want someone to take her, but it would also be sad if no one wanted her. "Some of the most interesting pieces in the store were the games tables. Helen has written many books in her life, including one on old games and the antiques that teach us how they used to be played. She then brought out a little bag that Louis XV would have given to one of his courtesans. It has carved ivory "fiches" that function as game pieces and have little fortunes wrapped inside. "It's a very rare thing, " Helen said with a sparkle in her eye. There was also a collection of inlaid wood game tables, complete with clear outlines showing where to put cards, players, or pieces. Pointing to one that was signed with the artist's name, "RENOLDI, " on an arch in the wooden landscape design, Helen told us that she looks for authenticity in her entire collection. "What I care about is that things are real all the way through, " she said. "I even want the tips of feet to still be original. "Despite being in her antique business for thirty-five years, Helen is surprisingly spry and still does in-depth appraisals herself. "I may have to turn it over and crawl on the floor, but I can tell you if something is authentic, " she stated. "In this gallery, if it's painted, the paint is original and if it's gilded, the gold is real. " After exploring more of the multi-floor antique wonderland, with treasures like sixteenth century Italian ceramics, a fourteenth century illuminated manuscript leaf, and rare globes made of wood and paper mache, I returned to the first floor and Arianna's drawings. In a little corner of the room, Helen pointed out a picture of a cat that Arianna had drawn when she was twelve years old.
The inside of Nice Matin is like a bright carnival ground with three central pillars decorated with lights, wide spaces between tables, and colorful art on the walls. Above the doorway, there is an arrangement of baskets and fruit with handwritten signs and prices in euros, emulating European markets. At any hour of the day or evening, the restaurant is filled with people both from the surrounding neighborhood as well as from the Lucerne, the connecting hotel. The chef and owner of Nice Matin is Andy D'Amico, who has since gone on to develop other restaurants around the city, including 5 Napkin Burger. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Andy worked at Parker House in Boston and at the Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side, where he was promoted to head chef. In 2003, he partnered with Simon Oren to open Nice Matin, a venture that earned him the title of "Best Chef 2003" from New York Magazine. I met with Danny, the General Manager, who shared their elaborate cocktail list that had classics with a twist. He brought out a San Tropez, Nice Matin's take on the mojito. It had summery passion fruit foam that complemented the mint and dark rum. The restaurant has seasonal cocktails, such as hot toddies in the winter and Campari cocktails in the spring. My favorite time to dine at Nice Matin, however, is on a warm weekend morning when their elaborate brunch menu is offered, and I can sit outside.
Sojourn calls itself the Upper East Side’s “sexiest restaurant, ” and it is hard to argue: the color scheme, in coppers browns and reds, gives the restaurant a warm, intimate feeling. The name, which means “a temporary stay, ” hints at the fact that visitors can expect a full dining experience. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was excited to return to Sojourn. She and her family had discovered the restaurant, tucked behind a residential-looking doorway, right before Thanksgiving and had visited two more times by the New Year. Along with the friendly staff, warm ambience, and delectable, seasonal food, what makes Sojourn stand out is its approach to courses: all menu items can be ordered as sharable tapas, with just the right number for the table. For example, when Olivia went with a group of seven family members and ordered the chorizo croquettes, the waiter said he would bring out two orders at three to a plate... plus one extra. Using this innovative way of ordering, each party can essentially create their own tasting menu. As for beverages, the cocktail menu is sophisticated and diverse. The restaurant not only has a large selection of wine, but also keeps some of their grapes in barrels rather than bottles, a more environmentally friendly method of storing and serving it. Among the many menu items that Olivia’s family tasted were the zesty arugula salad, crispy fish tacos, and Kobe beef sliders. Despite being thoroughly full, they made sure to have enough room for the warm, fluffy churros served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. We spoke to Johnny Musovic, who owns Sojourn with his father, Sami. They originally opened a Mexican restaurant called Santa Fe in the same location, but discovered that the neighborhood did not have a strong need for casual Mexican food. Instead, the father and son duo reopened with a higher-end concept which has been wholly embraced. Johnny proudly told me that his father is no newcomer to the restaurant world, having been the Head Maitre D’ at Sparks Steakhouse and Mr. Chow’s. He also has two other restaurants nearby. As for Johnny himself, he told me “In this industry, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, ” referencing his time spent as everything from dishwasher to delivery boy to co-owner. He is clearly very proud of Sojourn for a variety of reasons, beginning with the food. “Most chefs are into fresh, local ingredients, but these chefs really are. ” He is also happy to have cultivated a chic, relaxing space, which includes live music on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Though he proclaims that the Upper East Side is his favorite part of the city, Johnny’s dream is to open up a Sojourn in Midtown one day. Until then, his goal is to integrate his bar crowd and his dining crowd. One night, he held a two hour open bar as his way of “giving back” to the neighborhood. Along with drinks, he offered his customers a series of hors d’oeuvres. He was surprised by how many of his bar regulars approached him and said, “I didn’t realize you had such great food! ”
Shaaray Tefila has a very special place in my heart. For well over twenty years, beginning in the early 1970's, this was a home away from home for my grandparents. Reaching 79th Street and having the opportunity to write about this synagogue has brought tears to my eyes again and again. Rabbi Tattelbaum played an important role not only in my grandparent's lives, but in mine as well, when I was a young, impressionable teenager. It was Chip Schrager, the Communications Coordinator for the temple in 2015, who kindly guided the Manhattan Sideways team through the space, beginning with the main sanctuary. The room is expansive, seating 400 people downstairs and 200 in the balcony, and Chip was proud to say that it was filled to the rafters during the recent Hanukkah services. Something that I did not know was that the building used to be a movie theater until the temple took over in 1958. The old projector room is now used as an office for the parenting programs. Founded in 1845 as a strict Orthodox temple, Shaaray Tefila has shifted locations throughout the city, becoming Reform along the way. Stepping into the chapel, where smaller services are held, I saw bold stained glass ornaments on one side of the room with the names and symbols of characters from Jewish lore. In the meeting room nearby, well-polished Judaic pieces, along with artifacts dating back to the temple's founding were displayed. In addition, we took note of photographs of the old temple on West 82nd Street, the Seal of the Congregation, and even the trowel that the rabbi used to lay the cornerstone of the Temple. Leaving the room, Chip gestured to photographs of six men who were senior rabbis at Temple Shaaray Tefila. The temple has a strong children's program, including a nursery school, kindergarten, and religious school that extends through high school. We appreciated getting to observe the room used for art class. A giant paint pallet decorated the wall and colorful supplies lined the room. We then ventured up to the roof where the playground is located, surrounded by a fence that still allowed for a beautiful view of the winter sunset. It was here that Chip continued to speak of the various programs offered to every age group, including senior citizens. This is what my grandparents took advantage of so many years ago, and it warmed my heart to know that people are still participating in the various classes that Shaaray Tefila has to offer. As Chip beautifully stated, "Whatever your Jewish journey is, we want to be a part of it. "