“It has the vibe of being lived in,” Nicole Hudson, the Associate Director of Mnuchin Gallery said as she guided me around the townhouse that houses the gallery. The building dates back to the early 1900s and has been landmarked, thereby retaining its grand yet domestic design. It is not hard to imagine a time when the space was occupied by a well-to-do family who might have decorated their walls and floors with the kind of art that the gallery has on display. As Nicole pointed out, the unique location makes it easier for clients to picture the work in their own homes and see how the pieces could add to their lives. “Art has to enrich the day to day,” she said with a smile.
Nicole expanded on the origins of the gallery, explaining how the founder, Robert Mnuchin, became an art dealer after leaving the world of finance in the mid 1990s. He had been an art collector during his career in economics, and so he smoothly transitioned to owning a gallery. He began by forming partnerships with James Corcoran and Dominique Levy. The resulting galleries, C&M Arts and L&M Arts, both resided in the Upper East Side townhouse in turn. Robert then went solo and changed the name to Mnuchin Gallery in 2013. He deals primarily in the secondary market and uses multiple floors of his magnificent building.
Nicole went on to show me the exhibition that was on display, called “Carl Andre in his Time.” Originally, the gallery wanted to solely feature Carl Andre, a minimalist artist from the 1960s-1970s, but decided to open up the exhibit to his contemporaries as well. I was intrigued by how many sculptures were installed on the ground in geometric square patterns. Nicole noted that in the late 1960s, the pieces were created to be walked on (“It was part of the experience”), but because of their historical significance, Mnuchin preferred that visitors refrain from walking on the sculptures. One corner of the gallery that caught my eye featured two pieces of art juxtaposed - one was a series of stacked shelves by Donald Judd where each shelf had to be nine inches away from its neighbor. On the floor next to it was “32-Part Reciprocal Invention” by Carl Andre, made of found steel rebar, in which the distance between each bar in one row was designated by the length of the bar in the row above it. Both were interesting examples of how the world of math and measurements influences art.
Another intriguing piece taking up a full wall was “Wall Drawing #69,” designed by Sol LeWitt in 1971, which was previously on display in the Guggenheim. I would have missed it if Nicole had not pointed it out, since the swirling colored pencil designs that covered the flat white space were so delicate and light. Nicole explained that if the piece is purchased, the new owner gets a certificate of authenticity and then draftspeople come to their house to recreate it on their wall. Sol DeWitt provided loose, organic instructions, so each iteration of the piece is slightly different. It takes two people about ten days to replicate the design. After it is completed, Mnuchin’s own version will be painted over. Nicole then smiled and said how she loves seeing the faces of visitors who realize that there is a piece of art hidden on Mnuchin’s walls.
The first ground hall we visited at L'Antiquaire & The Connoisseur, a gallery that celebrates art from the eighteenth century and earlier, is the only section that features art from the twenty-first century. Helen Fioratti, the owner of the gallery, has put her daughter, Arianna Loreto's work on display. The modern, familial pieces leading to the elevator provided a perfect complement to the gilded and dazzling older antiques that we were about to visit. I was taken by Arianna's whimsical drafts and sketches that decorated the elevator, appreciating that visitors are surrounded by art at every turn. Upon stepping out onto the second floor landing, I noticed a collection of chandeliers with candle fixtures instead of bulbs. Helen promptly informed me that each one is from the eighteenth century. With a slight smile, she went on to say, "I was told by a chandelier gallery that there are very few eighteenth century chandeliers on the market. I have ten, which I think is more than anybody else. " As we wandered around the gallery, Helen pointed out treasures and told us about her life. Along with owning the shop, she is an interior designer who has worked with members of the Kennedy family and the Royal Family of Kuwait. She grew up in the art world, since her mother was Countess Ruth Constantino, the first female fine art dealer in the United States. Her mother started collecting art at a young age. The countess's uncle would pay her money to go to bed on time, which she would then spend on antiques when she went to Europe with her family. When Ruth grew up, she worked for a German art dealer as an unpaid intern, because her father claimed that well-bred girls did not have jobs. She eventually persuaded her father to let her open a gallery, but soon married an Italian diplomat whom she met at the New York World's Fair in 1939. As Helen paraphrased her father, "Wives of Italian diplomats didn't work. " Ruth opened a new gallery, but did not use her name, instead calling it "The Connoisseur Inc. " This is the gallery that Helen would merge with her own in 1982. I asked Helen about her earliest memory having to do with art and antiques, and she responded with a story from when she was five years old: she picked the paint off of the antique Venetian commode in her bedroom and colored it back in with crayons. Helen added that when she first got married and opened her gallery, she already had a furniture collection put aside and needed no more to furnish their apartment. Helen has the magic ability of breathing life into each of her pieces through suggestive storytelling. She showed me a cabinet that had belonged to the King of Portugal. There are twenty-eight secret compartments and a mirror on the top, which Helen said, "is where the king would model his crowns. " I could immediately picture the regal purposes of the piece of furniture. Similarly, Helen said that a clock that caught my eye had been made by an Englishman for the se de Medici's in Florence. The clockmaker then decided to stay in Florence. His son became the greatest Scagliola master - meaning he was an expert in a specific form of decorative work. Since she seems to know the story behind all of her inventory, I asked Helen if it is ever difficult for her to have to sell a piece and part with it. "It's like having a marriageable daughter, " she responded. "You don't want someone to take her, but it would also be sad if no one wanted her. "Some of the most interesting pieces in the store were the games tables. Helen has written many books in her life, including one on old games and the antiques that teach us how they used to be played. She then brought out a little bag that Louis XV would have given to one of his courtesans. It has carved ivory "fiches" that function as game pieces and have little fortunes wrapped inside. "It's a very rare thing, " Helen said with a sparkle in her eye. There was also a collection of inlaid wood game tables, complete with clear outlines showing where to put cards, players, or pieces. Pointing to one that was signed with the artist's name, "RENOLDI, " on an arch in the wooden landscape design, Helen told us that she looks for authenticity in her entire collection. "What I care about is that things are real all the way through, " she said. "I even want the tips of feet to still be original. "Despite being in her antique business for thirty-five years, Helen is surprisingly spry and still does in-depth appraisals herself. "I may have to turn it over and crawl on the floor, but I can tell you if something is authentic, " she stated. "In this gallery, if it's painted, the paint is original and if it's gilded, the gold is real. " After exploring more of the multi-floor antique wonderland, with treasures like sixteenth century Italian ceramics, a fourteenth century illuminated manuscript leaf, and rare globes made of wood and paper mache, I returned to the first floor and Arianna's drawings. In a little corner of the room, Helen pointed out a picture of a cat that Arianna had drawn when she was twelve years old.
Ed and his wife Heidi know that being small has its advantages and disadvantages. Their reputation has been growing, which is wonderful, but on many evenings this can also mean up to an hour wait for people hoping to get into the tiny restaurant. Based on its popularity, there is no doubt that the cozy eatery has filled a void uptown. Unlike the East Village, for instance, where every nook and cranny is filled with enticing bars and restaurants, Heidi’s House is the only one of its kind in the immediate area. Ed emphasized that he would not want it any other way - he loves being “part of the fabric of the neighborhood” and interacting with the steady, loyal crowd. Ed and Heidi are both former teachers. The full name of the restaurant is “Heidi’s House by the Side of the Road, ” a reference to a poem of the same name by Sam Walter Foss. While Heidi is presently studying for a masters degree, Ed has been taking on more of the responsibilities in running the restaurant, though Heidi is still the master of the wine list, which has a wide, interesting selection and rotates with the seasons. Ed is the beer man and has steered away from draught, preferring craft and bottled beers. He is also in charge of the space. He put his skills as a former carpenter to use in building the restaurant, finding salvaged wood from the building itself, some of which is over 100 years old. Ed brought out a couple signature dishes for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph. Cipriano and his sous-chef Heleo Aviles whipped up a plate of bruschetta as well as the seared sirloin steak special, served with fingerling potatoes, red pepper puree, and fresh horseradish sauce. Though it was early, the small space was already bustling, and bartender Rosendo Hernandez had his work cut out for him. When Ed and Heidi first began planning their restaurant, they wanted to create a place where they, themselves, would like to go. They designed an intimate, TV-free zone with great jazz and good food where customers could meet and enjoy a conversation while dining on an eclectic mix of comfort food. For the latter, they found Cipriano Pita, who has been with Heidi and Ed since they first opened Heidi’s House in 2010. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, he is a “natural born cook, ” smart and intuitive. Because of the limited space in Cipriano's "workshop, " Ed said that the produce, meat, and fish are delivered daily. "We have nowhere to store it, so it has to be fresh. " Everything is hands-on, without any corporate elements. The atmosphere is similarly guided by what Ed and Heidi want to see in their space. They brought decorations from home, including framed post cards, quirky sculptures, and a Nepalese window frame. There are board games at the front of the restaurant including checkers, chess, Scrabble, dominoes, and Trivial Pursuit. I was struck by a poem on the wall behind the bar written by a child who came to dine with her family, detailing her experience at Heidi’s. “Everyone wants to be around things that they like, ” Ed pointed out. It was refreshing to experience a place where every detail is decided by what the owners like, not what they assume the customers prefers - in the end, it appears that they are one in the same.
Pil Pil, named for a specific kind of sauce originating in the Basque region of Spain, fills an important role on the Upper East Side. It is a neighborhood watering hole, upscale and with enough ambience for a perfect date or friendly hangout, but still casual enough to lure locals back multiple times each week. I spoke with Nikola Romic, the owner and general manager, who explained that this is exactly the environment he wanted to create when he opened Pil Pil in 2010: a “homey atmosphere” where locals could have good food and wine. Nikola, originally from Serbia, spent a lot of time in Spain. He gained a true appreciation for the cuisine there and now owns vineyards in the Spanish countryside. Most of the wines at Pil Pil come from either his own grapes or family-owned vineyards. Nik told me that he personally travels to each of the vineyards to speak with the vintners and try the wine. Despite being so selective, Pil Pil features wine from over eighty different kinds of grapes. Considering the breadth of his experience, the property he owns, and his education, I was even more impressed with Nik when he revealed his age - when we met in early 2016, he was only twenty-seven! Pil Pil's home on 78th Street had previously been occupied by a sake bar where Nik actually worked. When it became obvious that the space would have to shutter, Nik turned it into a Spanish restaurant, decorating the interior with wine bottles and twining tree branches to make the intimate ambience for which Pil Pil is known. His initial plan was to serve traditional Spanish food, but he has added many American classics with key Spanish ingredients to the menu to appeal to his New York audience. For instance, there is a mac and cheese with chorizo and sliders made with manchego cheese. On the day we visited, Nik was offering a special mulled wine. He handed each member of the Manhattan Sideways team a glass, seasoned with citrus and cloves, which warmed us from the inside out. He showed us to the recently redesigned wine cellar before beckoning us into the kitchen where he casually added shrimp to a pan filled with butter and spices with one hand and stirred the pot of mulling wine with the other. Everything Nik and his sous chef Pedji did seemed effortless, like a well-timed culinary dance. He brought out a few dishes for us to try on the hightop tables, including the shrimp, called gambas al ajillo, which had just the right amount of spice and left enough sauce for the perfect buttery bread dip. We also tried the freshly baked flaky mushroom flatbread, seasoned with truffle oil. The last to arrive were the macaroni and cheese croquettes. These light balls of noodles and cheese, with a dash of paprika, were sensational. Nik is proud of what Pil Pil has become, both in terms of the food and the staff, many of whom speak both Spanish and English. There is no hierarchy of waiters and food runners. Casually dressed, they all work seamlessly together, emphasizing the relaxed atmosphere that Pil Pil has fostered. On Wednesdays, Nik occasionally brings in a Spanish acoustic guitar player from Barcelona…and sometimes Nik himself even plays.
The James B. Duke house is the first building one encounters on a block known as "Millionaire's Row. " It was built for James Buchanan Duke, one of the founders of the American Tobacco Company, in 1912. It is now an academic building used by New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.
Stores like Martine’s Antiques are exactly the kind of businesses I look for on the side streets. Though small, every inch of the shop has some new treasure to discover. There are watches, jewelry, glassware, and various knick knacks decorating the room. Though she has been in New York since 1992, Martine Leventer's lilting French accent added music to her descriptions of each of the pieces that she has hand-selected for her shop. Martine began her career as a journalist in Paris, writing about business and the economy. She occasionally wrote about art, but usually only in terms of auctions and its financial role in society. She told me, however, that she had always had a great love for antiques, “ever since I can remember, in fact. ” She recalled the very first antique she bought as a teenager – a bronze candle holder. Since then, she admits, “I’ve been buying way too much in my life. ” She spent some time between the United States and France, collecting antiques from each location, but when she first went into business in New York, it was as a chocolatier. She had two chocolate shops: one on the Upper East Side, where she lives, and a small shop in Bloomingdale’s. Chocolate, however, was not where her true passion lay: “Having an antique store has been a dream of mine since I was very young, ” she told me. She began selling little pieces at her Bloomingdale’s location, mostly costume jewelry. She then opened an antique store on 82nd Street in 1997, while continuing to operate her chocolate shops. The current location opened in 2012 and she closed her chocolate business a year later. Martine is proud of the fact that her store is a specially curated selection of antiques. “Everyone tells me I have a good eye, ” she said humbly. She does not work in bulk or in estate sales: everything is something that caught her eye. Martine is especially drawn to costume jewelry, old watches - “Old watches have a heart that beats, ” she said poetically - and vintage American glassware. She used to use colorful glass plates and bowls to show off her chocolates. “I look for something that is either beautiful or funny, something that makes my day. It is important to have things in your house that give you happy feelings. ”Though she still has a couple customers who have been with her from the very beginning, many of her original clients have moved away. She has realized that that is a pattern in New York: things are constantly shifting and changing. Though some change may be good, for the most part it means higher rents. “So many small businesses have disappeared. It’s so heartbreaking. ” She elaborated, “Being from France, I don’t like seeing little old buildings being demolished. ” In Martine's view, the city is starting to become too angular, as harsh modern architecture starts to take over from the old world. When she first came to the United States, she was surprised by the variety of antiques. In France, most of the antiques are French, with perhaps a few English or German pieces if you look hard. The United States, on the other hand, is a source of antiques from around the world. Martine had never come in contact with American Vintage before, and immediately took a liking to it. Additionally, costume jewelry was cheaper and more accessible in the U. S. She discovered, however, that New Yorkers were often more interested in European pieces. She explained her frustration to me: In terms of antiques, architecture, and art, Americans will travel hundreds of miles to view masterpieces but will not show any respect towards the beautiful works of art on their own shores. “I hope people wake up soon, ” she said, “and learn to not throw away the beauty of their own heritage. ”