Initially serving as a resting stop for Scandinavian sailors when they disembarked in lower Manhattan, the Swedish Seaman's Church opened its doors on Water Street in 1873. The neo-Gothic building in which the Church currently resides was constructed in 1921 for "The Bible House" before being sold to the Church of Sweden in 1978. The Church's nautical past is evidenced in the model boats placed among the large collection of Swedish books. With a chapel, a library, and a coffee shop, the Church's doors are always open to Swedes. While tasting their delicious Swedish buns, I chatted with the staff who spoke enthusiastically about the function that the center plays in people's lives. For families, it provides a "wind" of Sweden whenever they miss their homeland. There are also multiple weddings conducted in the chapel each week, and people come from all over to celebrate holidays and shop at their Christmas Bazaar.
As a proud New Yorker for many years, I would always stop by St. Patrick's Cathedral while showing visitors the city. After walking all of the side streets on the Manhattan grid, I have discovered many magnificent churches in New York. I am still incredibly moved, however, every time I step inside St. Pat's. For me, it possesses all the grandeur of a Western European cathedral, yet it is right here in the heart of Midtown. Home to the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, St. Patrick's Cathedral was built between 1858 and 1878 (construction was halted during the Civil War). A National Landmark, it was designed by James Renwick Jr. in the image of a thirteenth-century-style Gothic church with flying buttresses snaking up the walls, supporting the almost 340-foot structure, it boasts beautiful stained glass windows that softly diffuse the afternoon light. In the fall of 2014, the church is halfway through their multi-year renovation and cleaning. Although the interior and exterior are currently covered in scaffolding, the church maintains its majestic appearance and generates exhilaration as its restored marble facing is meticulously unveiled from the spires downward.
St. Bartholomew's, affectionately nicknamed St. Bart's, was built between 1916 and 1930 in the simplified Byzantine style. Sitting on an entire block amidst 50th and 51st Streets, the dramatic exterior has always caught my attention while traveling on Park Avenue. It was not until recently, while I was walking on the side streets, that I finally ventured indoors to appreciate the limestone walls, the magnificent stained glass windows, and the intricately designed dome. Designated as a landmark in 1967, St. Bart's is home to the largest organ in New York - and one of the ten largest in the world.
Facing a dwindling congregation, increased costs, and an exterior in desperate need of renovation, Saint Peter's Church was razed in 1971. What rose from the ashes, however, was a structure that preserved all of the history and sanctity of the old church, built in 1905, while presenting an innovative, modern design. The new Saint Peter's is indeed a place of worship for the twenty-first century and beyond. The exterior looks nothing like a traditional church. In fact, if passers-by do not take the time to look closely at the lettering, they might not realize that St. Peter's houses one of New York's largest Lutheran congregations. The open, unadorned lobby gives few clues as to what lies beyond. The space is massive, beginning below ground and stretching up several stories to a soaring ceiling. It includes many rows of pews and even a full orchestra pit, where groups unaffiliated with the church are invited to practice and perform. In addition to the larger sanctuary, Saint Peter's second iteration offers a smaller private chapel designed by Louise Nevelson, the first American artist in the United States to have been chosen for this honor. My mother, an award-winning biographer, had the pleasure of interviewing and getting to know this grand woman of the twentieth century as she was writing Breaking Tradition: The Story of Louise Nevelson, published in 1984. To quote from Natalie S. Bober's biography on the Good Shepherd chapel: "the sculptures that suggest grapes and grain, the Trinity and the Apostles, the striking white and gold crucifix, the benches for meditation, even the priests' vestments, were all designed by Louise Nevelson. In the Chapel of the Good Shepherd she showed her tremendous versatility.... in the almost blindingly beautiful all-white chapel, an oasis of calm within the huge and bustling Citicorp Center. The tiny chapel, an oddly shaped five-sided room, seats only twenty-eight people in pews set herringbone fashion, instead of facing the altar. Each wall holds a typical Nevelson sculpture that manages to strike a delicate balance between religion and art. 'Why had a Russian-born Jewish artist been selected to design a Lutheran chapel in New York? ' the pastor of St. Peter's was asked. 'Because she's the greatest living American sculptor, ' was his reply. "A huge admirer of Dale Chihuly, I was exuberant when I discovered that St. Peter's also proudly displays original work by Mr. Chihuly, the American artist best known for his startling, brilliant glasswork. On permanent loan are two "Macchia" bowls safely placed in the senior pastor's office, as well as a striking painting that hangs in the outer office of the church for all to appreciate. The painting, done on the premises by Chihuly in 1994, is a study in vibrant reds and yellows. Apparently, he arranged a series of bowls ascending vertically in the church so that he could refer to them while sketching. Today, the only visual trace of the old St. Peter's is a large black and white photograph depicting the church as it stood in the early 1900s. The entire space, however, is suffused with its history. Though completely modern on the outside, its deep roots allow a continuity between New York's past and its present. The church has been in existence for over 150 years, and, no doubt, will continue to grow and adapt in the years to come.
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.
While the lineups at Radio City Music Hall have changed dramatically over the years, the "Showplace of the Nation" has long been at the center of the city's entertainment scene. Opened to the public in 1932, the Art Deco building, with almost six thousand seats, was initially intended to "house high-class variety entertainment. " However, the space was later converted to a movie hall, with films accompanied by stage shows. This lasted until 1979 when, for a variety of reasons, Radio City began transitioning into a concert hall. Besides consistently booking some of music's hottest stars, Radio City has also hosted numerous award shows, including The Grammys and The Tony Awards and is the home to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes, a tradition that commenced in 1933.
Saar, which translates to “the essence of something, ” has a double meaning for Pastry Chef Surbhi Sahni. It represents the essence of Indian food, as well as the essence of her relationship with her husband, Chef Hemant Mathur. Although Surbhi has been in the industry with Hemant for years, the two have not worked together on a daily basis since their days at their Michelin-starred restaurants, Devi and Tulsi, both of which are now closed. Saar represents their fresh start while also staying true to their culture and roots. When Surbhi and Hemant met in 2000, Hemant was teaching Indian cooking classes at New York University as he was getting ready to open Tamarind on Park Avenue. Surbhi joined the opening team at Tamarind, designing the tearoom and promoting quick lunches. He went on to operate five different spaces, including Sahib, Haldi, Chote Nawab, Malai Marke, and Chola, while Surbhi helped manage events. During that time, she also launched Bittersweet NYC, a pastry business focusing on wedding cakes and Indian style desserts for larger corporate events. Surbhi’s relationship with cooking is unlike the typical love story of most chefs. Her experience in the kitchen started at the age of ten in New Delhi as more of a responsibility and chore when her mother’s health declined. She explained to members of the Manhattan Sideways team, “It was not something I could ever imagine myself doing for the rest of my life. I wanted to do art and write and paint or sing and dance - every other activity in the world but cook. ” Notwithstanding these sentiments, Surbhi was encouraged by her father to take a job in hotel management in New Delhi. She was part of the Sheraton Group’s revolutionary all-female kitchen and restaurant at a time when there were only approximately twenty female chefs in all of New Delhi. At age twenty-five, however, Surbhi chose to move to the United States to pursue her Masters in Anthropology and Food at New York University. Despite never getting to study writing and painting at university, these endeavors have always been an integral part of Surbhi’s life. Her father is an accomplished artist exhibiting in both India and the US. Today, she is proud of her own teenage daughter, Soumyaa. "She is the true artist of the family. " When entering the dining room on 51st Street, Surbhi’s artistic aptitude is obvious. The modern space is both clean and dramatic, with natural light and bright pops of color. Saar was a particularly exciting project for her, as she was given free rein in its design. In a mere five months, she turned what she described as a dingy, confused room into an open, tasteful dining space. Saar has also allowed Surbhi and Hemant to completely reinvent their menu. They focus on regional food, staying authentic to the specific flavors of each area. For example, Surbhi told us that the Turbuj Pachadi - a tomato and watermelon salad with a fennel and ginger dressing - is a Rajasthani staple, as watermelon is a fruit that is readily available there, and is usually consumed with freshly baked bread. She has also made an effort to challenge conventional conceptions of Indian cuisine. The Mango Coconut Soup is a light and sweet palate opener, proving that Indian food is not always too spicy or a combination of too many flavors. She believes that Indian food is actually very demarcated in the way flavors are put together. “Just how in Japanese food they have many different layers of flavors they add as they’re cooking, we do the same with Indian food. ” While cooking can serve as a creative outlet, Surbhi still tries to write and paint whenever she can. In ending our conversation, Surbhi emphasized the importance of food’s role in building a community - something she looks forward to creating on West 51st Street.