Harkening back to centuries gone by, I was totally drawn into The William's bar, The Peacock, and the Shakespeare restaurant downstairs. Having lived in England for a time, I am always happy when stumbling upon anything British. An added bonus one day when we stopped by was meeting the graceful owners, Yves Jadot and Jason Hicks, the same team that opened Jones Wood Foundry further uptown. Jason also stands behind Raines Law Room, another chic, hidden gem on 17th Street. It made perfect sense as Yves explained their concept of sharing a quiet drink away from the rest of the city, however, in this part of town, they are trying to capture the "best of the British." The Peacock matches this upscale yet comfortable feel. Taking center stage, a taxidermized peacock stares down patrons in the dining room, while a beautiful crystal chandelier hangs above in the garden room, fireplaces abound, and there is classical music playing throughout.
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.
A giant rhomboid patterned installation hovers just below the ceiling, slithering enormously down the back wall and giving the impression of being inside a dimly lit, atmospheric basilisk. Browns, oranges, and tans, along with natural greens of bamboo lining the walls, make for an incredibly pleasant dining experience. The sushi and the crispy rice are well-regarded, and deservedly so. The chic restaurant first opened its doors in Los Angeles, and then found its way eastward into the Bryant Park Hotel with its latest location being Abu Dhabi.
It’s not every day you’re greeted at the gym by a man wearing teeny tiny swim trunks and plastic lei. And it’s not a regular gym where the boss arrives for a meeting resplendent in chicken hat. Which stays on for the duration, despite the rising temperatures. But then, Mark Fisher Fitness is not any old gym. In fact, it doesn’t even call itself a gym; it’s an “enchanted ninja clubhouse of glory and dreams”. It’s a place where clients are called ninjas and trainers are called unicorns and where mirrored balls, graffiti and disco lights take the place of the usual utilitarian gym furniture. “We like to keep things colorful, ” said Mark in understatement. “So there are lights. There’s a closet with costumes, so if the trainer feels like dressing up in Victorian era garb or an S& M unicorn, there’s a leash they can wear – whatever feels good. “But one thing that’s also important to us is just taking people where they’re at, so a lot of the ninjas who come here AREN’T insane, ” Mark added. “We say if someone wants to come to a dance party and someone wants to take off their pants and someone wants to cry quietly in a corner because they’re having a really bad day, everything’s perfect, you’re OK wherever you are. ”Mark describes himself as once that “classic skinny, awkward, Martian man, afraid-of-girls guy” who only properly found his place in this world when he started to work out in high school. “I was also a professional actor – which is partly how we’ve become such a fixture in the Broadway community – and throughout my twenties I fell more and more in love with the training. It was like the mistress I slowly left my wife for. ”A few years ago he quit acting completely and committed himself to training fellow New York misfits. “My own experience in the gym, starting as someone who didn’t feel very good about his body and didn’t feel like an athlete, it was very difficult for me, ” Mark said. “We like to say, in the most affectionate way, that the ninjas are like an isle of misfit toys – all manner of humanity, all ages and colors and backgrounds that are generally united in that we all have a feeling of being an outsider at times. I just wanted to celebrate that, and also to provide really good fitness information. I’m a huge fitness nerd, so it’s very important we provide a really good service with results. ”So if you want clear, no-nonsense weight loss and are willing to put in the hours, the intensive six-week Snatched program might be your bag. Alternatively, there are group classes, and semi-private training packages, Mark’s cheaper but just as effective version of a personal training program, where you train with two other ninjas and a dedicated unicorn. Unsurprisingly, many of the gym goers are from the Broadway community. Mark has worked with plenty of performers to get them ready for a specific role (such as a ninja playing a boxer in Kinky Boots) as well as backstage workers. “We train a lot of composers and directors and casting directors – and from their friends it’s trickled out to other professions; people who maybe work in white collar jobs but are a little bit weird, ” Mark shared. “The nature of their life means they perhaps don’t get to be as creative as they’d like so they can come in here and do whatever they want to do. ”The trainers, too, are a colorful bunch, counting among them one of the city’s best known drag queens, a gay porn star, a tattooed graphic artist who was a skate punk in a former life, and a professional clown who, at the last minute in med school, decided he wanted to be a clown not a doctor. “We need people to be really great coaches, but we also need them to be really authentic and comfortable with who they are. And a holistic approach means this crazy fitness family doesn’t just take care of your physical fitness; it offers life coaching workshops, classes on book keeping for financial fitness, advice on time management …“We hope to be a place where people come for general betterment, ” Mark explained. “Fitness is so transforming because you’re able to be more creative and stable and braver with your life. You’re feeling better about yourself, you’re eating well, you’re sleeping – we know your brain is going to work better. Additionally, it’s interesting to see how much of your life you can control. New York can be an isolating town – particularly for performers, who spend a lot of time getting rejected. So there’s a certain power one discovers when you know you can control what you eat and how you look. ”This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Mark Fisher Fitness — The Gym Where New York’s Misfits Go to Work Out. "
Jonathan Boyarsky, fourth generation owner, has found himself a terrific niche on 39th by being one of the only menswear shops to remain on the ground floor. Over the years, he watched as companies moved upstairs into offices in the garment district, or even overseas, but he chose to remain where people could easily spot him. Although he feels that he has remained "under the radar, " at times, when people come in they are "ecstatic" with what he has to offer. His family began their men's clothing business on the Lower East side back in 1919. Over the years, members of the family spread out and opened related businesses offering either custom made shirts, suits or fabrics. At No. 257, Jonathan has combined it all. He describes it as "double dipping. " They used to sell only the fabric and then send people elsewhere to have their clothing made. Today, within the three floors of space at Fabric Czar, customers can select from some of the finest cloths, and then meet first class tailor, Steven Tabak, of Beckenstein Bespoke, where their clothing is designed... and, everything is constructed on the premises. "We are one stop shopping, whatever a customer needs, we can make it for them. " And for Jonathan, it is only about quality craftsmanship.
There are intriguing spaces sprinkled throughout the city that invite corporations to utilize their facilities, but stepping inside Offsite is a unique experience designed specifically for the business meeting clientele. The brainchild of Patrick Everett and Shawn Kessler, they have created a stunning turnkey facility where all day conferences can be held. Companies are invited to bring their employees together for a productive 9am-5pm meeting in the three levels of fully equipped space, which can then be flipped effortlessly into an appropriate venue for an evening event. The rooms are configured so that some forty people are able to sit around one gigantic table or be rearranged into smaller units. Attendees never have to feel confined to one space, as they can move around freely on each floor, dividing up into smaller breakout sessions, when necessary. The rooms are versatile and technology oriented, fully outfitted with AV equipment - as Patrick referred to it, "plug and play. " Endless pens and pads, drinks and snacks, including large jars of enticing candy, are provided throughout the day. The partners have paid attention to every detail, taking into consideration exactly what they believe their clients will require, including a small executive office that allows for a private phone conversation and a myriad of white walls that are actually whiteboards. Offsite works with some of the terrific catering facilities in the area to provide top lunches and dinners for groups, and everything is served on their attractive dishes. While being given a tour, Patrick told me that he had been an event planner. When he discovered that there was something important missing in the corporate world, he found his niche. As he began to imagine the possibilities, he worked diligently on his concept with Shawn. Basically all one has to do is book the space, and the rock star team at Offsite will handle the rest.
Below the luxurious William Hotel sits the more meat-and-potatoes Shakespeare, an ode to English pubs. The focus is on the Brits beer and food. The owners, Yves Jadot and Jason Hicks of Jones Wood Foundry uptown, opened this space simultaneously with the more luxuriant library bar and Peacock Restaurant upstairs. Divided into two rooms, the Abingdon's low wood beamed ceilings make for a perfect setting to share a pint of Old Speckled Hen, a cask ale served at 55 degrees - obviously an unexpected surprise for those that have come across the pond. Although served warm, it is "quite popular even with the Americans, " according to Joelle, the bartender. The other favored beer is Wells Bombardier - a classic English bitter. As described by Joelle, it is a lighter flavor, but still has the bitter notes, just not as prominent as some of the others she, personally, has sampled. We had a real feast while sitting in The Snag, located across the hallway. This tiny room for two to four people is modeled after the time when British women were not allowed to drink with the men, and therefore snuck into this enclosed space and were able to order their drinks through a little window that opened up to the bar. It was inside this precious area that we photographed and devoured Bangers and Mash, a perfect butter lettuce salad, a hamburger dripping with melted cheese served with hand cut fries, and then a rich, decadent, incredible sticky toffee pudding.
Situated somewhere between Irish and American, straddling, too, the distinction between refinement and seaminess, Playwright offers food, drink, sports and a place to rest. The fare is traditional American with a few British accents thrown in - Shepherd's Pie and Fish & Chips to be exact. On the main floor, there are flatscreens aplenty above a long bar bursting with ales. American sports games are shown and, of course, Playwright is always showcasing European soccer games. On the second level, a more traditional dining area in the front gives way to a comfortable seating area in back. With its mixture of old regal furniture pieces collected over the years, in faded burgundies, beiges and browns, and an electric fireplace, Playwright has provided an inviting atmosphere for many to cozy up.
At 5th & Mad, a long curved bar snakes from the entrance to the back of the bar beneath TVs and New York sports paraphernalia. In a room off of the main area, we found a pool table and dart boards. Most of the beer on tap is American. A comfortable upstairs area opens to accommodate the expanded weekend crowd on Thursday (or as we at Manhattan Sideways like to call it "Friday's Friday"), through Saturday nights.
Despite the fact that the definition of a blaggard is a scoundrel, this Irish bar had none to be found. It is as relaxed and down-to-earth as one could hope, with the kindest owners and staff. The menu features Irish classics. In addition, for the American palette, there are eleven different burgers to choose from, and of course, lots of beer choices to wash it all down. When we asked owners Don and Liam to chat about their pub, they summed it up in a nutshell: it's a great place to "meet, eat, and certainly, to drink. "