In 1902, many major companies in Manhattan - such as JP Morgan and Tiffany – had collections of exotic plants and intricate gardens. They formed the Horticultural Society of New York as a forum to exchange information and trade practices in the science of horticulture and the care of these botanical treasures. By 1914, the organization began hosting what might be considered the equivalent of today’s film festivals or fashion weeks: flower shows, where the most modern and extravagant plants could be displayed. “Every state had a flower show at their horticultural society, ” explained Executive Director Sara Hobel. “There were competitions at the shows and all the ladies in the suburbs led their own flower clubs. ” In addition to the flower exhibitions, the society took on bigger projects, namely the reforestation of French land after World War I. With time, the original aims of horticultural societies lost their appeal; flower shows became less popular, and as people farmed or gardened less and less on their own, their need for information declined too. The times were changing, but the HSNY was determined to change with them. In the 1990s the organization began centering its efforts around social service and urban issues. Their employees work in the field as teachers, therapists and builders – some visit schools to educate the younger generations on urban blight and the role plants and gardens play in society, others use therapeutic gardens to help inmates at Rikers Island or struggling ex-offenders, and some build gardens for places that cannot afford it themselves. Although the Horticultural Society operates mostly in the field, the headquarters on 37th Street still houses a library and organizes workshops and lectures to educate the public on the imperative role of nature and gardens to the community. “Especially for the less well off, who may not be able to afford to plant or eat greens, it is important for us to bridge that gap. We all need to help heal nature, ” Hobel says.
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.
Neon lights, on the back wall, greeted us as we entered Trademark Grind, the “boutique coffee bar” serving Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn. In this quaint space, we were treated to excellent cups of hot chocolate, perfect on this winter day. A few minutes later, the PR manager, Matt, greeted us and invited the Manhattan Sideways team to follow him through a small entryway where we discovered Trademark Taste, a cozy, dimly lit restaurant... a safe little hideaway in the middle of bustling Midtown Manhattan. Opened in the spring of 2016, by In Good Company Hospitality, Trademark Taste & Grind serves a mixed clientele, from guests at the attached hotel and the pre-show crowd from Madison Square Garden to those looking for a unique weekend bar scene. The menu is impeccably curated by culinary director, Jeff Haskell, to featured favorites like Burrata and Knots and Tuna Poke. However, with its dark, mellow colors, graffiti motifs and hints of industrial flair, Trademark is all about the space. The walls are white and black with accents of red. Intimate hidden booths circle a large center bar, the anchor of the room. As soon as I took a look around, I wanted to settle into one of these booths for the evening. When I repeated this to Matt, he replied, “People tend to not want to leave. ”
Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.