Cathedrals abound throughout Europe, but it is a novelty to come upon one in the United States, not to mention in Manhattan. The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, which sits on a cliff overlooking Morningside Park, seems to be taken straight out of a fairytale. It is considered to be both the largest cathedral and one of the top five largest church buildings in the world. It was Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, who sat down and spoke with the Dean, the Very Reverend James A. Kowalski. He told her that people often ask, "Why in the world would you build it so big. " He explained that at the time the cathedral was being constructed in the 1890s, there were not many Episcopalians in the city, so it seemed odd to build an enormous center of Episcopalian worship. In truth, however, Saint John the Divine is much more than an Episcopalian church. The founders, mainly Bishops Hobart and Potter, wanted a "convening place" that would embrace all faiths and nations. Reverend Kowalski pointed out that an all-encompassing spiritual center was needed in New York, "A transnational city of a lot of different faiths and cultures. " The cathedral was meant to be a safe place, an American Cathedral that would produce "better informed world citizens. "Reverend Kowalski is very proud that the cathedral has fulfilled its founder's desires and more. He treats the church as a place where he can "put questions in front of people in a non-polarizing way, " whether they focus on liturgy, art, or other topics of discourse. "We bring people together in transcendental ways. " The members of Saint John the Divine have been able to intelligently converse about themes as varied as the death penalty, race, and gender. Though the cornerstone of the cathedral was laid down in 1892, the building as of 2016 is technically yet to be completed. Parts of the cathedral were steadily being built throughout the twentieth century, and in 2001, a six-alarm fire broke out, which forced their resources to go towards restoration. Some jokingly call it "Saint John the Unfinished" for this reason, but it is hard for a layperson to notice that it is a work in progress after stepping inside. The space is exquisitely detailed and cavernous - a cohesive whole rather than a century-long patchwork construction project. "We hope to create a visual, spiritual space, " Reverend Kowalski explained, pointing out that the church features images from many faiths. "The roof is meant to be a great tent. "Reverend Kowalski is delighted by the diverse groups that he meets under this "great tent. " Though there is a small core who call Saint John their home, he clarified that the church is "not a parish. " Most who come through are spiritual nomads or tourists. At any given time, there can be 200-1000 people inside the cathedral. He declared that there are often so many countries represented during services that he has to rigorously fact-check his sermons, since among such a varied group, it is likely that someone will be able to intelligently poke holes in any under-researched stories or asides. The Dean is pleased, however, that he makes more connections each day than he would in any other house of worship. For example, he spoke of one visitor who shared her story of growing up Hindu, becoming a Christian evangelical, and then being ordained as an Anglican priest. "We're truly international, " he stated, and went on to say how pleased he is of the work that he has done since he joined the church shortly after 9/11. Pausing for a moment of thought, he added, "I hope it's not presumptuous to say that I hope I've made God happy. " He joked that in the end, he would like God to say, "You got up to the plate and you tried to hit the ball. "In addition to being such a diverse cultural center and site for philosophical discourse, Saint John the Divine essentially functions as a museum and concert venue. In 2013, they received an award as one of the top ten art exhibits in New York for South African artist Jane Alexander's anti-apartheid vignettes. Reverend Kowalski also spoke of Xu Bing, a Chinese artist, asked to hang his birds made of trash after coming to the Blessing of the Animals service - another well-known event at the Cathedral. Since 1984, people have attended the St. Francis Assisi service where precious pets are celebrated and paraded down the Nave. The doors at St. John the Divine are truly open to everyone for in the words of Reverend Kowalski, "This is the city's cathedral. "
We visited The East Harlem Bottling Company — owned by the husband-and-wife team, Darcie Siciliano and Leo Lauer — when they were celebrating their seven-year anniversary in August 2023. The neighborhood bar is on the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 107th Street — and although the majority of customers are local, they are a popular drop-in for visitors to nearby attractions like the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, Museum of the City of New York and El Museo Del Barrio. We were attracted by the choice of outdoor dining, cozy tables and a sunny bar. We chose the bar! There’s a wide menu selection, with everything from fluffy Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes and Dos Waffles to the classic Bottling Co Burger and Buffalo-style Wings. They serve Schaller & Weber's pretzels and a selection of Mac & Cheese for those looking for comfort food. They’ve also found time to open a second venture, Perch — a cocktail and small bites bar, just a few doors down Lexington Avenue. The pandemic put the couple and their business to the test. In the midst of trying to open Perch in Spring of 2020, they were forced to adapt. "So everything got closed down, " Leo recalls. They innovatively sold growlers and worked tirelessly with organizations like Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, providing meals to those in need. "We spent a lot of time in the community, going to people that were having a tougher time than us, " Leo said. The Bottling Company is situated between major New York hospitals — Mount Sinai, Montefiore and Metropolitan. This connection with staff from those medical centers fostered a sense of camaraderie and support during the pandemic, as they provided meals and a place for healthcare workers to unwind. "It's been a roller coaster, but there was a lot of help from the community, " Leo said, expressing gratitude for the support from East Harlem. The couple not only adapted but thrived — from delivering meals to hospitals to turning their dishwashers into delivery guys and buying bikes for their staff, they navigated the storm. "We bought bikes for the dishwasher guys who had no work. We did family meals for all the staff. It was crazy, " Leo shared, reminiscing about the unexpected turns they faced. As Darcie Siciliano and Leo Lauer celebrate seven years in business, the East Harlem Bottling Co has become more than just a bar to the community… and their colorful draft beer chalkboard is cool too!
Not everyone is an expert in their field before they open a shop - Kostas Panagopoulos, the owner of Floralies, is the perfect example. He opened his flower shop with a partner in 1981 and came into the flower business by accident - looking to try something totally new, he decided that becoming a florist would be his next move. “I had no idea about flowers. I knew what carnations were, and that’s about it, ” Kostas said. Despite his relative lack of knowledge, over the years, Kostas has built a thriving business. Floralies is perhaps best known for its daily service, a feature they started in the New York flower industry many years ago. Kostas sells flowers to many corporations, and then replaces the flowers in the arrangement daily as they wither and die, ensuring that an arrangement looks beautiful for a longer period of time. Though this process was not profitable at first, Floralies made a name for itself, gaining various clients throughout Manhattan. As business grew, Kostas made sure to keep his values close to his heart. “Tell the truth always. It can be unpleasant at the time, but it creates trust with customers and employees, ” he advised. As evidence of their popularity, Kostas was proud to share with Manhattan Sideways that they do not advertise their products or services. “We have spent not one penny on marketing, yet continue to bring in 2, 000 customers a month, simply by word of mouth. ” Kostas then pointed out that this feat is especially amazing considering how long Floralies has been around - he has survived multiple stock market crashes and economic slowdowns, both of which heavily hit his corporate clients throughout the years. When we visited in 2017, we learned that Floralies had recently begun expanding into the event business. While they continue to service their corporate clients and meet with people planning parties, Floralies does not sell retail flowers, preferring to design their beautiful arrangements for larger clients. Kostas has been in the business for several decades but he is happy that is son is taking over in the near future. Looking back on his run, Kostas reminisced, “I’ve been successful because my customers have been satisfied, but more importantly, so have my employees. I look at them as human beings. When they are happy, I am happy, and the business is successful. ”
It was Olivia, a Manhattan Sideways team member, who out of the corner of her eye, noticed a simple banner for the Nicolas Roerich Museum located inside a beautiful townhouse. It is nestled far west on 107th Street, on a block that overlooks Riverside Drive. This was an unexpected, yet, thrilling, find. The museum, which offers free admission to the public, honors Nicholas Roerich, a Russian-born painter who spent a lot of time in the Himalayas. He is known for his sweeping landscapes, depicting faraway mountains. By walking through the museum, visitors can see the full scope of his work - from sketches of film sets to colorful painted visions from Tibetan folklore - there are close to 200 paintings from his collection of several thousand spread throughout the world. Nicholas Roerich lived on the Upper West Side for a short time in the 1920's. He was not just a painter, but also an activist interested in cultural preservation. He worked with legal experts to create the Roerich Pact, which was meant to protect cultural monuments and institutions in time of war. This pact led to the creation of the Banner of Peace, a white background with three joined red circles, which could be hung at cultural centers, declaring them neutral to combatants in war.