As our readers know, we love the term "hidden gem" at Manhattan Sideways, but it is rare that we find a place that fits the term as well as David Segal Violins. Some members of the Manhattan Sideways team and I were walking along 68th Street when one of the summer interns pointed out that a musician was playing a violin behind a semi-subterranean window. Glancing further, we noticed a man crafting a violin in the adjoining window. Always the inquisitive one, I attempted to find something to indicate what was happening inside this building, but it was not until we went to our cell phones and Googled "violin shop on West 68th," that we discovered the history of the half-hidden musical grotto. I then called the phone number that came up and introduced myself to David Segal, a violinmaker and dealer who has been servicing the musicians of Lincoln Center and the greater New York area since 1975. He kindly buzzed us in, and it was then that we were able to truly appreciate his magical workshop and showroom.While showing us around, David explained that he had been on 54th and 62nd Street before moving to his present location. "This is the last time: the next time they will move me," he said with a wry grin. He had an excellent sense of humor, as well as a clear sense of wonder and joy that came through in our time spent together.As I gazed in wonder at a young apprentice who was busy at his desk working with both wood and strings, I commented to the others that this was reminiscent of Geppetto's puppet shop. David laughed, and began to share his story. Originally from Israel, he left for Italy in 1969 to study the art of violin-making. The art is in his blood: his father also made violins, and David showed me the wall of photographs of musicians who use violins crafted either by himself or his dad. After completing his degree in 1972, David moved to New York. Since then, he has become firmly entrenched on the Upper West Side. "I don't have a visa to go to the East Side," he joked. Through his work, he met his wife, who played with the New York Philharmonic for forty years. She came in to buy a "bow," and left with a "beau."Turning to his studio door, I saw a picture of his adorable young grandson, and learned that he has a very artistic family, with his son working as a conductor and his daughter as a visual artist. David himself also dabbles in visual arts: He pointed out a mobile hanging above the front room, crafted from violin bows and bridges. He makes them for his grandchildren, he told us. When I asked David about the charming small violins, he explained that each size is for a different age group. Beaming, he held up the tiniest one in the room, and declared "I am taking this one home with me tonight. My two year old grandson will be arriving in New York shortly."Right before we left, David opened a vault in the front room and pulled out a true Stradivarius, crafted in 1737, which must have been worth a fortune. He says, however, that all that matters with a violin is the sound. Musicians, including his wife, have often traded antique, beautifully made violins for newer, cheaper ones with better sound. "We want to make a violin that sounds good," he stated simply. "If it sounds great, it doesn't matter if it is not so beautiful." As he spoke to us, a customer was testing violins in the front room. He said that clients can take an hour or two to test out the instruments, and may even take them home for a week's trial period. As I heard the strains of tunes come from the customer's test subject, I asked David if he still loves hearing the musicians play, or if it has become background noise to him after so many years. He smiled and said, "I listen to music with great pleasure all the time...but I only listen to classical!"
Two members of the Manhattan Sideways Team, Tom and Olivia, both commented on the nostalgic smell of shoe polish and leather that met them as they stepped into Riverside Shoe Repair. It is a comforting smell that has been around for centuries, and defines the best shoe repair shops. We had the privilege of talking with George, who recently took over the business after his brother retired and moved back to Colombia, where they are from originally. George explained that in Colombia, his father made shoes by hand, but that they do not have the necessary tools here in the United States to be able to do so.George's father opened Riverside Shoe Repair in 1969. It has always been on 72nd Street, and George remembers working in the store from a young age. Until recently, he had his own store in Orlando, Florida, but came back north to take over from his brother. When I asked him if he was excited about experiencing New York winters again, he said, "That's why I moved to Florida!"I was interested to learn that Beatrice Barbieri - who owned the iconic Louis Shoe Rebuilders, until is was forced to close to make way for brand new shops inside the Empire State Building - technically owns Riverside Shoes, and that George worked in her shop on 34th Street before moving to Florida. It is comforting to know that the New York shoe repair world is a small, tight-knit family, and that this particular shop on 72nd is determined to withstand the test of time, change and increasing rent.
An inviting gourmet deli for both to-go bites and sit-down fare, Cafe Fresco offers a salad bar, an omelet station, sandwich fixings, "legendary bagels," and many other options for all sorts of cravings. One of their featured dishes, the eggplant Milanese, is made with oven-roasted eggplants, pesto ricotta and fresh mozzarella. Open windows give each seat a full view of either First Avenue or St. Catherine's Park. When I stopped in with a fellow Sideways member on a brutally humid summer day, we watched the children swinging higher and higher outside at the park as we hid inside from the heat, refueled ourselves, and recharged our cell phones.
Tavern on the Green, a restaurant that opened in 1934, has not forgotten its origins as a home to the ewes and rams that grazed in Sheep Meadow. Images of sheep are everywhere - carved into the fireplace, decorating the menu, holding up the table in the lobby.In 2010, the building ceased to be a restaurant for a brief stint, serving instead as a visitor's center and gift shop. After being taken over by partners, Jim Caiola and David Salama, and a lengthy renovation, the Tavern made a culinary return with a rustic and seasonal menu. I have eaten here on a number of occasions since its debut in the spring of 2014, but strolling in and out of the various rooms with members of the Manhattan Sideways team was a whole different experience. None had ever been, and I was amused and pleased with their reactions to this iconic Central Park locale.The Tavern contains three main areas. In the front dining room, the vast space resembles a summer hunting lodge. A large, circular bar takes up the center with a rotating carousel of gilded horses above it, and mammoth roof beams run along the ceiling like an old mead hall. Separated from the outdoors by a large glass wall, the second dining area is far more modern with creams, ivories and a collection of glass chandeliers. And though it was a hot day, a few brave souls ate outside in the exterior dining space, under umbrellas and large, mid-century street-lamps.The other side of the building features a beer garden with its own menu of simple bar fare. Finally, for the thousands of people who jog, bike or are simply wandering in the park, there is now a delightful little take-away window called "Green-to-Go." It offers both a breakfast and lunch menu, and tables to sit down, relax and enjoy either a cup of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal, or a variety of wraps and salads in the afternoon. If nothing else, it is a terrific spot to watch both tourists and New Yorkers passing by.
Delle Celle features many respected brands of Italian-fabricated women's clothing, as well as its own line of garments. The pieces are full of color and pattern, with an abundance of styles - there are very few repeats. Walking in, one is greeted by a friendly salesperson, happy to answer any questions. Face-to-face shopping is a vital component of this business, void of an online site. And the integrity and authenticity of the pieces certainly warrants this tactile form of transaction.
"You are now in Bedford Falls," a sign read in this 67th Street bar, named after a location referenced in the classic movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." With a bounty of liquor, an arcade golf game, and sports on all the televisions, this bar is the ultimate man cave. A food menu is also offered, including the ever-popular Bedford burger and a nice brunch assortment for the weekend. When I ventured in on a Wednesday night, men in good spirits, many of whom were regulars, occupied the main bar. A more private room featured cushy leather for quieter comfort, and the backroom was complete with high-legged seating and a wooden-booth. Tables appeared to be repurposed beer boxes, and the place was otherwise furnished with whiskey barrels, brick walls, and light alternative music. And through an intriguing walkway, I found myself in the splendid beer garden.