Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers. Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore, ” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business. Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding. Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations. ”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
It is odd to think that one of New York's most reputable restaurants made its start in the midst of a recession, though it is no wonder that another of Michael White's ventures has ascended the ranks of premier dining destinations in the city. Known by many as the kind of place that "people plan for a special night out, " the Sideways team enjoyed a quiet afternoon digging a little deeper to learn the nuances of the famed Italian seafood restaurant that is often host to celebrities and shares a street with Central Park. The original concept of Marea (translated from Italian to mean "tide") was to provide a fine dining experience, with a sense of casual - a "no jacket necessary sort of understanding, " is how social media and communications associate, Anthony Jackson, described it to us. Evidently, the decor skews formal, with Indonesian rosewood constituting the floors and walls, large silver coated seashells scattered about, and the iconic illuminated Egyptian Onyx wall made from the same stone as the stunning bar that sits in front of it. The giant slab for the wall was thinly sliced by craftsmen from Cairo who then came to New York to assemble it. Although captivated by the elegant ambiance, I was intrigued by the cork ceiling, which due to its porousness, absorbs the noise of approximately 130 patrons when filled to capacity. Anthony reported that diners constantly remark at the ability to carry on a proper conversation, despite the numerous people surrounding them. Proud to be one of the first major kitchens in the city to highlight a female Chef di Cucina, Lauren DeSteno has been cooking at Marea since its opening days in 2009. Members of the Manhattan Sideways team were jubilant as they tasted the signature dish, fusilli with baby octopus and bone marrow. The menu at Marea is determined by what is seasonal around the world. Sometimes their products come from as far away as Japan, while at other times during the year, Nantucket supplies them with the best fish. Anthony did comment that they try to stay local as much as possible. The vast wine selection is primarily Italian with French and domestic bottles available as well. Marea stands as the flagship restaurant of Michael White's Altamarea group, which notably include Ai Fiori, Nicoletta, and Costata. According to Anthony, each one takes a different slant on Italian food. While it is no surprise to learn that White's presence in all of his restaurants is constant, we were delighted to learn of Altamarea's regular program of shuffling its employees into different roles between their restaurants - both in Manhattan and abroad. As Anthony explained, "We have lots of talent, and we like to showcase everyone. " He went on to say that they have found that this concept empowers each person to be innovative in their leadership role, while it is simultaneously building teams at the restaurants.