Jean-Paul Picot came to New York in 1969 and worked at what used to be La Crepe. When the woman who owned the restaurant decided to sell, Jean-Paul managed to scrape together the funds to purchase it. After a short amount of time, he reimagined the French restaurant and named it La Bonne Soupe, inspired by the French avant-garde movie with the same title. Most believe this translates to the “good soup,” but for Mr. Picot — as he was affectionately referred to by his staff — it means “the good life.” He was known to say, “Please come in, sit down, relax, and enjoy the ambiance and a bowl of soup.” A few years later, in 1976, Jean-Paul was able to purchase the building.
After his death in 2013, Jean-Paul’s son, Yves, continued his father's legacy until 2019 when he sold the building to Gehad Hadidi, who, according to members of the longtime staff, has made a smooth transition. “No one skipped a beat.”
Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, which opened in the late summer of 2014, pairs ease with elegance as a welcome addition to 51st Street. “We live in a very fast-paced world.” In midtown Manhattan, these words resonate. But spoken by Aldo Sohm, seated at a table in his eponymous wine bar, they seem incongruous. “The idea is basically that when you walk in here, you walk into my living room. To me, it’s always important that you be in a place where you feel comfortable.”Sohm continues his role as wine director at Le Bernardin, the four-star restaurant located across the 6½ Avenue pedestrian plaza. At the wine bar, however, he and Le Bernardin’s co-owners, Maguy Le Coze and Eric Ripert, have created a setting distinct from the formal restaurants in Manhattan, in its simplicity and lack of pretense. To be clear, it shares the elegance and attention to quality of its neighbors. But upon entering, an open arrangement of sofas beckons patrons to sit down. Sohm has noticed guests who arrived separately conversing across tables - sometimes even discussing their choice in wine.And wine is the focus at Aldo Sohm. Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin’s acclaimed chef, oversees the food menu; so, whether wine accompanies lunch, dinner, or a snack, it promises to impress. Guests can order bites to complement a glass of wine, like a grilled foie gras “lollipop” or a warm skewer of baby beets. Shareables include a whole baked cauliflower and a plate of Murray’s cheese with a Maison Kayser baguette. Sohm emphasizes the flexibility of the experience.If not in the lounge area, there are tall square tables for seating. The thick oak “sommelier table” incorporated into the bar seats guests on both sides, ensuring that no one is excluded from conversation. Sohm chose these arrangements intentionally. The wine bar endeavors to be unpretentious, relaxing and fun. Evoking this sensation, the architectural firm Bentel & Bentel incorporated clean lines and bold color in designing the interior.Sohm and his co-owners deliberated considerably in choosing the art in their “living room.” Ample shelves extend to the double height ceiling, featuring artifacts meaningful to Sohm. Having grown up in Austria, Sohm points out, “I like things very very clean, very European. I like colors on top of it.” A stack of Interior Design magazines becomes a design object itself as a cube of rainbow spines. The curves of miniature Panton S-chairs, each a different color, mirror the charred wood molds of the delicately hand-blown Zalto glasses in which each wine is served. Sohm is the brand ambassador for Zalto, an Austrian-based glassware manufacturer.To learn more about the varied wine offerings, visitors can reserve the tasting room. Aerial photographs of wine growing regions flank the eight-person table, allowing the sommelier to incorporate a visual element and story of provenance to the tasting. Sohm - once designated the “Best World Sommelier” by the Worldwide Sommelier Association - maintains humility despite his accomplishments. He wants the wine bar to be just as down to earth; an antidote to a demanding day, it exudes precision and sophistication.
Le Bernardin's three Michelin stars - the food world's highest honor, as well as every other accolade, has been given to this magnificent French restaurant. Opened in Paris in 1972 by siblings Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze, the restaurant has been highly praised ever since its arrival in New York in 1986. It gained its fame in Paris and then New York for its simple and impeccable preparation of only the best fish. Since Gilbert's death in 1994, the restaurant maintains its tradition of excellence under the joint direction of Maguy and Executive Chef Eric Ripert, who has been with Le Bernardin for some twenty years. We were given a tour of Le Bernardin in the morning, when the restaurant was not yet open, so we were able to peruse the dining room at leisure. The interior was completely redesigned in 2011; today, it is spacious and elegant, with high ceilings and a huge display of white orchids and calla lilies at the room's center. Smaller flowers sit atop every table where each place was set beautifully in anticipation of the coming lunch guests.Le Bernardin's focus on seafood is reflected in the decor. The restaurant's far wall features an immense close-up scene: rolling green waves tinged with sea foam and no horizon in sight. At first glance, I thought the seascape to be a photograph - closer inspection revealed it to be a highly realistic painting by artist, Ran Ortner. Over the well-stocked bar hangs the only other painting in the restaurant, a portrait of founder Maguy LeCoze's grandfather. He was a fisherman in the small French seaside town where she grew up, one of her first inspirations for the restaurant.Le Bernardin is not only Michelin-rated, it has been awarded four stars by The New York Times ever since it opened. Le Bernardin has also been given the distinction of the number one restaurant in New York by Zagat.
Benoit strives to embody the quintessential French bistro. A descendent of the original Benoit, which opened in Paris in 1912, restaurateur, Alaine Ducasse has preserved the traditional French dishes as well as a taste of early twentieth century French decor. Extensive mirrors on the walls, a chandelier from the ceiling, and red velvet banquettes against the light-colored wood meet together in a conscientiously elegant design.
The story of La Grenouille begins with “il était une fois,” once upon a time. Gisèle Collas and Charles Masson first crossed paths in Paris after World War II, during which Charles enlisted in the American army while Gisèle cared for her younger sister in Nazi-occupied France. When the two met again in New York, Gisèle had just moved to the city with only forty dollars “but a lot of passion.” The couple married in 1949, destined to open a door to bygone Paris in Manhattan.Gisèle was sipping on a Triple Manhattan when she signed the lease to what had once been the Copenhagen restaurant. At the time, Charles had found work on independent cruises and Gisèle was eager to put an end to his long departures. It was through a wire message that Gisèle informed her voyaging husband that they were the proud owners of a building they would transform into their dream restaurant. Charles named it after his pet name for Gisèle, “ma petite grenouille.”“It’s a fairytale story,” expressed current owner Philippe Masson, who carries on his parents’ legacy. He developed his culinary passion early in his childhood by “burning meringues to find out the right temperature of the oven” late into the night with his father. Today, he is able to design new dishes seasonally and deliver menu classics such as the Grand Marnier Soufflé — always perfectly sugared and fluffed in its small white ramekin. His work is fueled by “a lot of joy, a lot of Cuban cigars, and a lot of good music.”On Mondays, however, all of Philippe’s energy is devoted to creating the floral arrangements for which the restau-rant is known. The exquisite arrangements began when Charles bought a “big, beautiful Baccarat vase” to temper the light shooting through the windows. The arrangements have since become one of the most renowned qualities of the restaurant, intermingling with the lush red banquets, original chandeliers, and a center-hung portrait of the stunning “grande dame” Gisèle. Upstairs, artwork pays homage to French painter Bernard LaMotte who once lived and hosted guests there including Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and Antoine de Saint-Ex-upéry, who wrote parts of Le Petit Prince in that same space.
The Manhattan Sideways team is always excited when they discover a shop that specializes in chocolate. On this particular day, we were also delighted to spend some time chatting with owner, Kamila Myzel. We learned that this heavenly little store has resided on 55th for over two decades, and has an old-fashioned candy shop charm to it. Kamila makes every effort to be sure that anyone who steps inside her door feels welcome, and she went on to say that she uses her grandma's recipes for the many different sweets she sells. She bakes all the cookies herself, right on the premises, with her signature being the "Ultimate Cookie," a chocolate chip cookie that is then dipped in chocolate.Like many of the store's confectionary delights, Kamila is from Europe; she moved from Poland in 1981, and worked in a few other shops with sweet treats before opening this one. Licorice is a specialty at Myzel's, and Kamila explained to us that she carries over 130 different types of licorice made from licorice root that their loyal customers adore. On one of my visits, Myzel's was decked out for Halloween, with candied skulls, pumpkins, and a number of other appropriate decorations squeezed into every nook and cranny. Apparently, Kamila decorates extensively for each major holiday, but she said her personal favorite is Thanksgiving, as it has the "most sincere meaning."Myzel's even makes chocolate turkeys for the occasion!Until recently, Kamila had a partner with whom she decorated, baked, and ran the store: her mother, Lucy. The mother/daughter team worked together in the sweet shop until the summer of 2015, when Lucy sadly passed away. We had the pleasure of meeting Lucy and seeing the love and devotion that the two women had both for the store and each other. What we derived from our conversations with Kamila was the joy the store brought to her and her mom over the years. Together they have put so much thought and love into Myzel’s Chocolate, and it is clear that her mother lives on in the warmth, color, and happiness that the store evokes. “It’s what’s inside that matters,” Kamila insisted as she spoke about how much she loves connecting with people through sharing candies and sweet treats with them.
Named after a gangster-turned-reformist, a Robin Hood-like figure who redistributed wealth from the rich to the poor, Tanner Smith’s Bar espouses the message that even those most seemingly set in their ways, as the old-school Irish, can reform. And Tanner Smith’s is certainly far from the stereotypical old-school Irish bars that saturate the city streets.The upper floor of Tanner Smith’s is light and laid back, serving mostly craft beers. There is a mix of wooden structures, shiny surfaces, and weathered brick walls. Downstairs, Winona bar, named after a former nightclub under the same ownership, is an entirely different venue with a separate sound system and dimmer lighting. A mix of whim and history, the accents throughout the bar play on an Alice-and-Wonderland-meets-prohibition aesthetic with cute teacups, an intriguing gin bathtub structure, old New York maps, mounted farm animal heads, and alcoholic paraphernalia like whiskey barrels protruding from the wall.The drinks, too, are spectacular, from classic mixes to standard beer brands to unique specialty drinks, and everything in-between. Guests can order them any way they want to without pretension - a Bud Light at the cocktail bar goes unquestioned. And the food menu, featuring a craze-inducing battered-and-fried eggplant chip with a honey drizzle, is more than sufficient on its own. Any eggplant-averted soul will discover a newfound appreciation for the underrated veggie in these crispy bites.But it is not the decorations, inventive drinks, nor impressive layout of this grand Midtown West speakeasy that make Tanner Smith’s a happening spot. While all of these factors, primed and cohesive, greatly compliment the magnificence of the bar, its finest attribute are the dynamic people who work here, committed to making each night a special one.The bar consultant to Tanner Smith’s, Kevin, started out collecting glasses for a nightclub in Ireland at the ripe age of thirteen, and has never left the bar scene. He ventured to America to promote a whiskey brand, Glendalough, which has since taken off. Kevin had also been to every New York City bar we threw at him, so when he told us why this spot stood out, we listened.“We are an entertainment-based bar,” he explained, “I serve booze - that is literally living the dream. I give people a fun night.” Sitting bar side on a Thursday afternoon-turned-evening as the space gradually filled up, these words rang more and more true for the fellow Manhattan Sideways members and me. This bar is not about being high-end, but about fun, about “lighting things on fire.” Literally. Watching Kevin smoke a barrel-aged stevedore cocktail by using a “smoking gun” filled with bourbon-soaked oak chips was a mesmerizing sight. The effect took out some of the drink’s sweetness, and the longer the smoking goes on, the bitterer the drink becomes.The key lime pie martini I tried - citrus vodka mixed with lemon syrup, lemon preserve, and passion fruit, and topped with a smoked meringue - was superb, but the contagious vibes Kevin and the rest of the playful staff gave off made it memorable. “If you want a great drink, you can have a great drink,” Kevin shared with me, “but, in addition to the alcoholic beverages, this is a place where all the employees are always happy.”There is no doubt that Tanner Smith's is helping to redefine the city’s standards of bar service, and, therefore, no small wonder that they already have regulars after only being open for a few short months.
Toni Cohen first opened up her shop in 1990, but has been selling antiques for most of her life. She described it as “the ideal thing to do.” Toni shared that she loves being able to collect interesting items and tell people about them, especially those who stop by from the neighborhood. “Antiques are a picture into the past. You can learn all about a time period or country from antiques,” she explained.Since opening her shop, Toni has become a fixture on East 55th. She even keeps the lights on all night so passersby can peer inside at her collection. In addition to selling antiques, Toni is a certified appraiser. Her loyal clientele often ask her to visit their homes to evaluate pieces that they have acquired, which she then occasionally puts on sale in the store.Toni's shop is full of decorative, eclectic, and unusual items. She highlighted several unique pieces of furniture and Chinese vases that were her favorite, and her eyes lit up when she talked to Jon, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, about these cherished items. She makes it her mission to learn about the background of every object she purchases, and even takes an occasional history class to brush up on certain time periods.While we were visiting in 2017, Toni’s daughter stopped by, and began chatting with us about her mother’s amazing run on 55th Street. She believes that the reason the store has thrived is due to the relationships her mom has formed with her clientele over the years. Despite the fact that the internet has taken away much of the in-store antique business, Tony finds that customers continue to be drawn to her, for they are eager to hear the history behind the pieces firsthand. “In New York, small businesses can cater closely to their clientele. That’s the thread that connects them, that’s why she’s still here.”
Engaging in conversation with Barbara Gerber-Krasner, the president of Or Olam, I learned that they have not always been on 55th Street. The synagogue, founded in 1906, started out in a storefront on Second Avenue. The congregation, known then as B'nei Leive, came to its current site in 1916. The building dates from the 1870s, and was originally a Baptist church. Barbara explained that, though the ceiling is now "acoustical," if one were to remove it they would see "the normal structure of a church ceiling." Originally an Orthodox congregation, in 1966 it became Conservative, followed by the hiring of long time Rabbi Reuven Siegel, who served for over forty years. Upon his arrival, he brought the stain glass windows - representing the twelve tribes of Israel and other Jewish symbols - from the Bronx synagogue where he had been.The congregation remains Conservative and was renamed to Or Olam (Everlasting Light) in 2012. Today, the synagogue's focus is on their older congregants, "empty-nesters" in their 50s or 60s, and suburban transplants. "They want to be able to listen to an adult sermon," Barbara explained. Though Rabbi Ephraim Pelcovits leads weekly study classes on Torah and Jewish law where "everyone is welcome to attend," Or Olam does not offer a children's education program. Instead, they encourage families to enroll in the courses offered through the 92nd Street Y.Generally speaking, Barbara characterized Or Olam as "a very open congregation." A number of members are married to non-Jewish spouses who attend services with them, and Or Olam is home to an active LGBT community. Barbara told me, in no uncertain terms, that at Or Olam, "we don't have cliques." New members are welcomed with open arms, and are often given aliyot - the opportunity to read from a Torah scroll in front of the congregation - their first time in the synagogue.Or Olam also offers financial assistance to younger congregants through a program called The Legacy Campaign, another way in which they hope to not have to turn anyone away. "So far we've been managing," Barbara said. "We hope we can continue."