Book Club isn’t just for the suburbs anymore — as a new bookshop, bar and coffeehouse gives East Village denizens and beyond a new place to pore over and pour over their favorite reads. Married proprietors Erin Neary and Nat Esten, East Village residents themselves, had longed for an independent bookstore to serve the Alphabet City area, they told the Manhattan Sideways team when we popped in to see dozens of happy customers enjoying a read and a latte one sunny Friday morning. “We always thought that the neighborhood needed another bookstore, ” said Erin, “and we also kept wondering, ‘Wouldn't it be so cool if you could drink wine while you were shopping for books? ’” They decided not only to open a bookstore and bar, but to additionally add in the day-to-night-element of coffee into the mix. While both Erin and Nat had worked in hospitality before, bookselling was new to them. “I started doing research in 2017 and worked with the American Booksellers Association’s consulting program to help new bookstores get off the ground, ” said Erin. “I met with them as well as other bar owners and bookstore owners in the neighborhood and did as much research as I could without actually doing it. ” The duo launched Book Club in November 2019, enjoying an enthusiastic community reception until COVID-19 forced them to pivot. “Nate started doing bike deliveries — as many as 20 miles a day! ” Erin told us. “He’d go out to Harlem to drop off books and then all the way out to Bushwick — so a lot of people learned about the store that way. ”Once they were able to reopen to the public, Book Club forged full steam ahead in engaging the community in “book club”-esque events — from author talks to poetry readings to creative writing workshops, with additional unique offerings like an adult spelling bee and a “drink and draw” sketching class. They’ve also recently received their full liquor license, and plan to roll out literary-themed cocktails like an In Cold Bloody Mary or the Murder on the Orient Espresso Martini, Erin told us. More than anything, she added, she enjoyed having customers back in the store to guide them toward their next favorite book. “Our staff are not just really good baristas, but they’re avid readers as well. So between myself and the rest of the team, we have a really good handle on the books here — it’s fun to be able to curate not just what we stock, but to get the right book into someone’s hands. ”
Strolling on 7th Street in the East Village, it is quite easy to miss the narrow Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table. Doing so would be a shame, however, considering the unique wine-drinking experience that owner Patrick Cournot, a Greenwich Village native, presents to the customers that pass through its Moroccan-style arches. For starters, Patrick’s “dynamic groups of wines” - mostly from southern France - go beyond the usual red or white. Here, the red wines offered range from translucid to inky black, and the white wines from pale with hints of green to deep amber. Customers can enjoy their wine while looking at contemporary art by Alberto Burri and Patrick’s wife, Elena Hall, who also designed the space. Everything from the wine bar’s organic design to the intriguing dishes prepared by chefs Josh Ochoa and Andy Alexandre “puts you in the right frame of mind to enjoy the wine, ” according to Patrick. The polished 3, 000-pound concrete bar and colored ceramic patterns on the wall create a contrast with the colors of the wine, which Patrick thinks often get lost in the dark wood and dim lighted décor of most wine bars. The kitchen is located behind the bar, so customers can be reminded that Ruffian Wine Bar puts as much care into its food as its wine. As for the dishes, it is difficult to describe the menu as a whole because, according to Patrick, a vast percentage of it changes every week. The dynamic quality of the food selection, though, allows Patrick to “incorporate flavors as they come out” seasonally. Yet whatever the menu of the day is, Patrick wants to ensure that the dishes have an intense flavor, which often translates into doing a contemporary twist on familiar ingredients. Two members of the Manhattan Sideways team were able to sample Josh’s culinary inventiveness with a dynamic dish made of lentils cooked in salt water, dressed with yogurt spiced with curry leaf, mustard and cumin seed, and topped with beet sprouts, crunchy noodles, Thai basil, and lemon juice. The result was a perfect appetizer with many levels of texture that, Patrick assured us, “brings up and shows the vibrant elements of the wine” that accompanies it. More than that, it shows Patrick has reached his goal for his wine bar: “to do ambitious things in a small space. ”
Few things are more relaxing than sitting in a cozy cafe, sipping a mug of tea. With art from local artists, Diane and David Green, hanging on the walls, a plethora of delicious herbal smells hanging in the air, and the soothing conversation of the owner, Ilana, Physical Graffitea is the perfect spot to do just that. Ilana told some of us from Manhattan Sideways that she used to own a vintage clothing store, but always wanted to open a tea shop. In 2011, she swapped out her vintage clothing for jars of loose tea and Physical Graffitea was born. The store is named after the Led Zeppelin album Physical Graffiti and is located in the building featured on that famous cover. In 2012, Ilana and her daughter took a picture with Robert Plant when he came by to check out the store. Ilana explained with a big grin how her daughter called to the customers in the shop, “Come out, Led Zeppelin is here! ”The menus are lovingly made with pressed oolong and lavender flowers. In addition to the teas, there are homemade cookies and kombucha on tap. Ilana has over 200 kinds of tea by the cup or pot, as well as a full online store. While teaching us about the origin and uses of her teas and herbs, she made us a cup of her super strong matcha. We could smell it from our table as she blended the ground green tea powder with soy milk and honey. She explained that there are different kinds of matcha and that she only uses the premium grade. A cup of this strong green tea, which comes both iced and hot, clears the mind and leaves one alert and calm. If matcha gives the brain energy, maca, a Peruvian superfood, gives the body energy. Ilana told us that the bartenders on St. Marks come to her to get matcha with some added maca right before their shifts so that they are ready for the night ahead of them. Ilana has gained her extensive knowledge of teas through constant reading. She explained that herbs quickly lose their medicinal power, and “you can tell that herbs are fresh when they’re more bitter. ” It has to do with the oil that is present on the leaves themselves. She informed us that flowers and leaves dry out in six months and roots and bark in three. All the teas are carefully sourced for flavor and freshness. The chamomile is from Egypt, the lavender from Tibet, and the hibiscus from Mexico. We learned so many interesting facts from Ilana: The Sweet Oblivion tea has been known to wean people off sleeping pills, nettle leaf is good for pregnant women, and Pu-erh is a tea that is purposefully aged, passed down from father to son. There are teas for allergies, hangovers, fertility, pregnancy, menstruation, digestion, and the list goes on and on. Ilana was excited to tell us that doctors have started to refer their patients to her, since they have found the medical teas so effective. Whether for taste, energy, or medicinal purposes, Ilana has clearly demonstrated that she has the knowledge to choose the right tea for the right customer.
Had we not been personally escorted through the unmarked double doors that lead to Kenkeleba Gallery, Manhattan Sideways might not ever have known it was here. The only sign on the building reads Henington Hall, etched into the stone facade along with the year it was built, 1908. According to Joe Overstreet, in the 70’s the building was condemned until he and his wife, Corinne Jennings, were able to strike a deal with the city in 1978. Although 2nd Street was teeming with drug activity back then, the arrangement proved worthwhile for Overstreet, as it gave him, his wife, three children and the emerging Kenkeleba House a home in an area that eventually cleaned up its act and became one of the most important neighborhoods for the arts in New York City. Since its founding, Kenkeleba House has flown under the radar as a not-for-profit gallery space and artist workspace. Joe and Corinne were only interested in promoting new ideas, emerging artists, experimental work, and solo shows for those deserving of the recognition. They preferred to showcase artists whose works were not typically featured in commercial galleries, focusing primarily on African American art. Joe and Corinne’s vision of Kenkeleba House - as a space for artists to grow, to showcase African American that oftentimes would have been lost, and teaching African American history through gallery shows - was only possible due to their extensive background in art as well as their immense individual efforts. Corinne was born into a family of artists in an isolated part of Rhode Island, and until she was about twelve or thirteen, she thought “that’s what everyone did- I thought people made things. ” Her father, a talented printmaker who studied under Hale Woodruff, is widely known for his black and white wood engravings and costume jewelry. The Wilmer Jennings Gallery - across the street on 2nd Street - is named for him. Jennings’ mother was a Yale graduate and painter. Corinne came to New York in the 1960’s, originally wanting to be a scenic designer. Even though she was qualified, she was turned away by the head of the scenic designer’s union with the explanation that they did not want any women or black people. She instead started to do art projects, and eventually decided to “tackle some of issues that prevented African American artists from fully developing. ”Corinne and Joe spent a lot of time speaking with artists from different parts of West Africa and the Caribbean, eventually coming upon the realization that “they needed to find a different way for people to develop, for people to have space to work, [and] to find alternative educational routes for people. ” In 1978, Joe and Corinne purchased an abandoned building on second street, fixed it up, and opened up their first art exhibition in 1980. From then on, they began amassing their extensive and remarkable collection. The exhibits on display in this gallery recognize the rarely explored contributions that people of African descent have made to the art world. It is here, hanging on the walls and filed away in the deepest recesses of their private collection, we were showed a portrait of Dr. John DeGrasse painted by a largely forgotten African-American artist by the name of Edward Mitchell Banister (1828-1901). Banister won a national award for his most famous painting, “Under the Oaks. ” The magnificent framed picture of Dr. DeGrasse is easily worth more money than we could count, but the history lesson we received from Joe was priceless. Dr. DeGrasse was a native New Yorker and also one of the first African-Americans to receive a medical degree. He gained acceptance to the Boston Medical Society in 1854, making him the first African-American to belong to a medical association in that state. And to boot, he was also the first African-American medical officer in the U. S. Army serving as Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War. In addition, Manhattan Sideways viewed works dating back to 1773, by the late Hale Woodruff, an African-American abstract painter who lived in New York City from 1943 until his death in 1980. In addition to being an artist who aspired to express his heritage, Woodruff was also an art educator and member of the faculty at New York University. “We are African-American, so that is what we do, ” said Corinne, “but we are also interested in artists from the Lower East Side. ” Corinne’s personal art collection reflects much of her parent’s amazing work, as well as that of other African-American artists, both well-known and yet undiscovered. Kenkeleba Gallery aims to teach the younger generations about African-American history. “Every nationality walks by here on a daily basis, but they have no idea who we are as a people. ” Joe and Corinne were well aware of the contribution African-Americans have made to the arts that began right here in this community. Their private collection is made up of over 30, 000 paintings, artifacts, art books and jazz records that tell the rich history of African-Americans in this country.
The space is fabulous at Billy Reid, furnished with vintage southern pieces and housed in an amazing Bond Street building. Billy began his fashion business in Alabama and opened up his inviting menswear enclave here in 2008. Soft flannel shirts, great suede boots, woven skinny ties, colorful bow ties, well-made blazers, beautiful striped shirts and more…I love everything about this boutique, and each time I stop by, I am inspired to makeover the men in men in my family. Billy designs much of the clothing in the store (minus the Levi jeans). He has gorgeous fabrics to choose from for suits and sport jackets. And, there is a tasteful selection for women.