It was Christmas Eve of 1989 when Ali Reza Farahnakian, founder and owner of the People’s Improv Theater, had what he calls an epiphany while watching Saturday Night Live. Ali was about to graduate college, and realized that while he had been planning on becoming a doctor, he didn’t want that-what he really wanted was to play a doctor on TV. Growing up in a small town, Ali had always enjoyed playing pretend, and so the move to a career in improvisational acting felt natural. With this goal in mind, he moved to Chicago to work with the iconic Second City Theater. It took many years of hard work and cleaning toilets at Blockbuster, but he did eventually carve a space for himself in the improv world. Ten years after his Christmas epiphany Ali moved to Manhattan to be a part of the show that started it all-Saturday Night Live. He worked on the 25th Anniversary Show of SNL, and also helped to open up the now famous Upright Citizens Brigade with several other comedians. After some time at Upright Citizens Brigade, Ali decided to found his own improv theater, the PIT, which now sits in the beautiful century-old space on 24th Street. Although Ali is the owner of the PIT, he wears many hats and continues to both perform and teach classes every week along with the rest of the staff. When asked if it was scary to get up on stage Ali replied, “it’s just a little less scary than not doing it.” In fact, Ali sees improv more as a philosophy and way of life than just a performance art. The first rule of improv at The PIT is never to say “no,” but instead to say “yes, and…,” always willing to engage and add something new. Aside from moving things along onstage, Ali claims that applying this attitude to life can change the way we interact with the world. For this reason, Ali claims taking an improv class can be a therapeutic exercise just like yoga or meditation. At the PIT, they see the ultimate goal of improv not to be pretending, but to learn how to truly be yourself on stage. Aside from classes (for every level of experience) and numerous daily improv comedy shows, The PIT also functions as a full service bar. The bar features a hydration station with self-service cold water-something missing in most Manhattan bars! It’s also a wonderful place to hang out before or after a show, and is almost always populated by various comedians throwing around jokes for free. Perhaps the most important role of The PIT though, is as a community. While Ali is clearly central to the goings on of The PIT, he assures us that even if he were to disappear the machine would continue on rolling because of the wonderful community that has sprung up around it. Looking at the many performers, learners, and friends who view The PIT as a second home-we believe it. Even the decoration reflects this eclectic sense of a cobbled together, tight-knit community-hand-made posters and installations fill the walls of the bar and even the theater. Ali explained that whenever someone tells him they have a skill at art he says “great, let’s hang it up,” just like a proud father putting his children’s art on the fridge. Ali feels that The PIT is fairly successful in its current location on 24th Street, but only as a destination spot. He thinks that it would be incredibly difficult to survive on the side street as only a bar, but with the community of comedians and comedy enthusiasts he’s built, The PIT is able to attract enough business. However, Ali doesn’t really think of what he’s doing as business. He admits that he is selling something, but he feels so good about what he’s selling and so sure of the positive influence it will have on people’s lives that he can’t help but feel good about it. And we agree, whether its laughter in the theater, learning how to comfortably be ourselves in the classroom, or a sense of community at the bar-what The PIT sells is unlike most other businesses, and we want some.
As of March 2022, Eataly's rooftop bar Birreria has been turned into the pop-up SERRA.The rooftop of Eataly changes its concept each season. In 2016, for example, the sky-high spot transitioned from the beer-centric Birreria to a sea-side-themed rooftop bar called Sabbia. Each reincarnation of the bar is equally impressive, which comes as no surprise after visiting Eataly downstairs.Birreria was a sky-high brewery where Fred Avila, the head brewer, created beer in-house for three or four days out of every week. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fred and talking to him about his experience brewing above Eataly’s impressive food palace.Fred has been working for Eataly since 2011, but he started home-brewing in 2007. He has become a master at blending different flavors together and was proud to tell me about Birreria’s two seasonal beers. Vera is a summery beer with hints of lavender and blood orange, whereas the Wanda is a dark, mild beer for the fall and winter, with a lightly roasted flavor. Fred is very attuned to the weather when he drinks beer. When I asked if he has a favorite, he said that it changes with the seasons and the forecast, though he did admit, “I love to drink Oktoberfest beers.” He featured obscure sours and saisons (pale ales specifically brewed for warm weather) in the summertime and interesting stouts in the fall. “People used to just drink IPAs or Pilsners,” he explained to me. It is clear that working in the beer world has become considerably more exciting.Birreria collaborated with a collection of external breweries, including Dogfish Head, a microbrewery based out of Delaware. Because Birreria was part of Eataly, the list of collaborators also included two Italian companies, Birra del Borgo and Baladin. The founder of Baladin, Teo Musso, is considered the “godfather of the Italian brewing movement,” Fred informed me. He also let me know that he always liked to have one or two New York beers available.The food menu was no less impressive, especially since it was made entirely using produce from downstairs. Unlike other parts of Eataly, however, Birreria often strayed from Italian cuisine. For example, Fred told me about a mozzarella-stuffed quail, which sounds more Northern European than Italian. Everything on the menu was designed to pair well with the bar’s unique selection of beers, creating a perfect culinary balance.I visited Sabbia shortly after it opened in 2016. It was like a taste of the tropical seaside in the middle of Manhattan: Imagine listening to the Beach Boys and sipping on one of their signature summer cocktails while lounging on a beach chair in the cabanas. The menu is filled with seafood specials that continue the seaside resort theme. It is the perfect summer spot for those who cannot leave town, and there is a retractable roof for rainy nights.
Perhaps the attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” works well at Society Billiards. They seem to know that sometimes a classic pool hall is just what people need. Extremely spacious and stocked with countless pool tables, anyone looking to get lost in the game will be sure to love this dimly lit, relaxed, yet classy spot.
When Ashley Van Goehring, Hotel Giraffe’s director of sales and marketing, led me up to the rooftop bar as part of a tour of the entire building, I did not expect to find such a quiet nook. Despite being in the middle of the busy Flatiron district, the patio’s height and warm red brick border meant that the sky-high courtyard is reasonably silent. It is also beautiful: every inch appeared to be carefully designed with hanging plants, potted shrubs, and striped deck furniture that hinted at the hotel’s name. There is even a metallic giraffe statue in the corner, named after owner, Henry Kallan's granddaughter, Jesse.The seasonal rooftop does not remain quiet at night. Though the garden is only open to guests during the day, at night it turns into a cocktail bar, run by Bread and Tulips, the restaurant attached to Hotel Giraffe. The tucked-away space is also attached to the hotel’s private event room, which has a little roof terrace of its own. Ashley told us that the room had been used as Big’s apartment in the Sex and the City movie, and pointed out the little details that can be seen in some of the film scenes. The small attached patio shows just as much care and attention to detail as the larger rooftop bar, with potted flowers and warm, giraffe-inspired colors. Staring out at the sunny view, Ashley turned to me and said, “It’s nice to be reminded that this city is not just the place where I live. It’s a magical place.”
Many months ago, I gathered a group of friends and family to celebrate my husband's birthday. No one had ever been to Spin, so it was the perfect opportunity for everyone to have a terrific night taking turns playing a sport most of us adore, and sharing in conversation, drinks and appetizers. As we walked down the steps into the dimly lit lobby we were greeted by a friendly hostess in a chic black outfit, and it felt as though we had entered any other swanky Manhattan club. And yet, as we turned the corner we saw immediately that this was not the case. Instead of the usual dance-filled floor, at this club we were presented with rows of ping-pong tables and couples in heated competition. The diversity of the crowd was vast and only became more so as the night went on. Businessmen off from work, their white collared shirts glowing in the black light, rallied next to serious athletes there for a workout in gym shorts and sweatbands. Young couples looking for a quirky date played next to groups of older friends there to enjoy the nostalgia of this classic game. Everyone is welcome at Spin. Serious ping pong players make the circuits, challenging worthy opponents to games while casual paddlers compete in a more leisurely game. It has never been easier to enjoy ping pong, as Spin has eliminated the frustrating need for constantly picking up stray balls - staff with fascinating contraptions collect all the balls and reload the buckets regularly. Perhaps even more exciting, servers come by to the tables with what could be described as high-class bar food - some of our favorites were the alcoholic mango slushies, the fried rice balls, and the truffle mac and cheese. The delicious food and drink are honestly worth a visit on their own, and as the club often hosts championship ping pong games, even those who do not want to grab a paddle themselves can fill up a plate and watch the action. Originally opened by ping pong enthusiasts Franck Raharinosy, Andrew Gordon, Jonathan Bricklin and Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, Spin has quickly become a hot spot both in other parts of the US and abroad.
Amid a sea of skyscrapers, this old townhouse has been made into a bar in three parts. The bottom floor sits amid darkly polished wood, sporting large TVs with the night’s games turned on. Above, a room of unfinished reclaimed wood from Pennsylvania sets a more rustic, rugged tone. And upstairs on the third floor, voila! A long-tabled, compact biergarten nestles between towering edifices to either side, creates a chasm in which to drink beer and be merry all year round. Opened in 2012, this bar is now playing a part in the transformation of the midtown area towards a more "hospitable atmosphere." As manager, Cara, told us, "With so many hotels in the district, we draw from a "super dynamic" crowd of people." In addition to the vast selection of beer, there is an excellent cocktail menu that changes by the season to stay up-to-date and fresh, and the American-style eats follow suit. A tale of three different worlds in one, it is a great place to come for a drink and to mingle.
On a perfect summer day, the Sideways team sat down for lunch at Tacombi, a relatively new and thriving addition to Manhattan’s Mexican food scene. Sitting at one of the higher tables near the front of the restaurant, with a breeze blowing in from 24th street, one can’t help but notice that the restaurant practically gleams (at the time of writing, it is just about seven weeks old). Even the painted sign advertising “Frutos Naturales” above the juice bar looks as if it was finished that morning.We sampled a variety of tacos and other Mexican staples (including their remarkably flavorful rice and beans), as well as some of their fresh-squeezed juices. Although all of it was delicious and satisfying, we were particularly taken with a few of the dishes we tried. Their El Pastor tacos, prepared with pork roasted and marinated with pineapple for two days before serving, were tender and savory. For our vegetarian readers, the Quesadilla Maiz Azul, prepared with dried chili sauce, Chihuahua cheese, and corn on a blue tortilla, and the Black Ben Y Sweet Potatoes taco, are must-haves. And, for the scorching summer days to come, their pineapple juice with ginger and mint takes refreshment to another level. Our food came with sides of salsa verde, salsa roja, escabeche (a mix of pickled vegetables), and radish and mint, as well as an optional extra-hot habanero sauce for the adventurous — all fresh and prepared in-house.Fresh, in-house, and local is the name of the game for Tacombi’s executive chef Jason DeBriere. Everything from the tortillas — which, if you come at the right time of day, you can watch them make in their tortilleria — to the guacamole, to the meat used in their tacos, is prepared fresh every day. DeBriere even goes personally to markets around New York City to select the vegetables for the escabeche. Alan, a chef at Tacombi with whom we had the privilege of speaking, described DeBriere as a mago de comer, which roughly translates to “food wizard.” “He never cuts corners,” he added. He also emphasized the dedication of every chef in the kitchen to making everything fresh every day, as well as making locally sourced ingredients a major priority.“We’re just trying to produce traditional Mexican food,” Alan told us. “We’re not trying to do a fusion with American food.” This philosophy extends to their breakfast menu, which is full of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes like their huevos rancheros and fresh-baked breakfast pastries, like their fruit-filled empanadas. With its open, relaxing atmosphere and exceptional Mexican cuisine, Tacombi is a great place to stop by for any meal. “We want to create a space that does more than welcomes you,” Alan said. “It transports you.”
While 24th Street contains several world-renowned galleries, C24 is a less recognizable, but no less amazing art gallery. It was opened in September of 2011 by four partners: Emre and Maide Kurttepeli, Mel Dogan, and Ali Soyak. Though none were working directly in the art industry, all were united by a passion for art. “They thought, ‘Where’s the best place to open a gallery? New York!” explained Michelle Maigret, the director. “’Where’s the best place in New York? Chelsea! Where’s the best street in Chelsea? 24th Street!” In 2015, C24’s building was purchased, so the owners found a new space down the block. This time, however, C24 will not be pushed out. In keeping with a block norm, C24 is the owner of its building, and with the new location came a new vision. “I think we have more of a direction now,” Michelle said. “When we moved out of our old space, we went through the artists and moved out the ones who weren’t going with the direction the directors wanted to take.” It was not just a move, as Meghan Schaetzle, the gallery manager, clarified, but “a rebirth of the gallery.” The new C24 is more spacious than most of the surrounding galleries. There is an atrium as well as a large main room, featuring windows and glass doors, to create a naturally lit and generally welcoming environment. “Often, artists get restricted by gallery space,” explained Amanda Uribe, director of sales. “But here, they’re inspired by the possibilities.” The unique space allows C24 to step outside of what one might typically see on 24th Street - exhibiting all media, from miniature sculptures to monumental paintings to video art - and, recently, they have been moving towards multimedia or, as Michelle put it, “different media” displays. Rather than follow in the footsteps of more established galleries and try to feature the “big hits,” C24 aims to represent contemporary, mid-career artists who are pushing the boundaries of their craft. As Michelle told me, “The big name artists are great and it’s always good to see their shows, but we have something different, fun, and interactive - and people always respond to it. There’s a different attitude, different feel, something fresh here.” In keeping with that theme, C24’s curation attempts to push boundaries with an international focus and is proud to feature a geographically diverse roster of artists. Additionally, C24 brings in an outside curator each year to organize a show in their space. When it comes to the art world, keep an eye on C24: For the young gallery, things are only looking up. “We’ve been applying to some of the more prestigious art fairs and getting wait-listed, rather than flat-out rejected,” Michelle said. “We’re about to hit it.” Meghan concurred: “Stay tuned and see how we grow!”
To his knowledge, David Klass is Manhattan's last sculptor. At least, the last sculptor to have a large private studio in New York’s most expensive borough. His work space is fabulously cluttered with tools, busts, tables, drawers, dust, and splattered plaster. Horses, humans, and Judaica abound. David showed me the brass menorah he was working on, saying, “I’m having trouble with these pits and holes." Rubbing his finger over a pock mark, he continued, “I think I’ll have to do this again.” I was prepared to poke around the studio but David had other plans. He led me around the corner to a large room with couches, book shelves, and an open kitchen. “Welcome to my home.” I discovered over the course of my visit that David Klass is the sort of man who is far more mischievous than he appears. He walks slowly, speaks softly, and gives the impression that he would rather be alone, smoothing the imperfections out of his latest creation, so one would never guess that he has a penchant for fast cars, blow torches, and dissecting human bodies. David’s reputation for crafting objects pertaining to the Jewish faith is well known, and he takes commissions from temples across the country. When I mentioned that he had entered into a long tradition, creating pieces that throughout history have been defaced and destroyed, he replied, “I don’t think too much about that stuff. What’s nice for me is shaping something like an abstract Sanctuary Lamp. That’s when the difference between making ‘things’ and making ‘art,’ or the difference between ‘applied art’ and ‘fine art,’ shrinks.”A moment later, a woman entered the apartment accompanied by three small dogs: Tank, Boo and Nuttley. C.C. the cat also joined us. “I’m Naomi,” the woman smiled, “I’m his third wife.” “C.C. stands for crazy cat,” David said. “No, it does not,” said Naomi, “It stands for Cecile.”Naomi, I learned, was a longtime friend of David’s. “I introduced him to his second wife. When that didn’t work out, well, I stepped in.” With Naomi's entrance, the conversation began to pick up. Naomi proved to be quite practiced at eliciting information from her husband, often prompting him to share interesting tidbits that he had forgotten. “I fell into sculpture because of my love of cars and motorcycles. When I went to college at the Pratt Institute, my father said I should be an architect because I was always building things like treehouses when I was little kid. Art was not on my mind. One semester I took a welding class on a whim, mostly so I could rebuild my Austin-Healey. I found that I loved shaping metal; I loved the heat. I liked it so much I switched to art school.” Klass would go on to apprentice with Theodore Roszak (the artist, not the theorist) before striking out on his own.I referenced the fact that in 1973, David studied anatomy at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. It turns out that this is not strictly true. “My friend Elliott and I wanted to study the human form, as artists, and we knew about the General Studies program at the med school. So we just crashed it. We would walk in, put on lab coats and greet everyone, saying 'Hello doctor, how are you doctor?' Then we would observe dissections, simple as that. After, we sometimes had the bodies to ourselves. They didn’t let us cut,” he assured me, “Just manipulate and probe. You could do those things back then.”Today, David teaches anatomy at the New York Academy of Art. “Tell him about the device you invented,” Naomi prompted. “Well,” David said, “I created this contraption that allows me to affix a head with a pin in each ear. This way the corpse can be hung and stabilized in a vertical manner. It makes for a more effective class demonstration.”In 1980, David moved to his current building. He and Naomi expressed multiple times how sad they were that artists could not afford to live in the neighborhood today: “Tadaaki Kuwayama lives upstairs, but there is hardly anyone left from the old days. Now it is mostly stock brokers and attorneys.” The “old days” refers to a time when the area was populated by war vets on meth. It refers to establishments like Billy’s Topless bar and people with names like “Crazy Norman.” Some of what David was up to during those days is off the record, but what I can say is that he started the Chelsea School of Fine Arts. Twenty-five years later people still gather at his studio to sketch and take lessons in what may be the longest running life-drawing group in the city. I heard about some of David’s apprentices, such as Lee Ranaldo of the band Sonic Youth, as well as “a young man who listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio every day and then just stopped showing up. He disappeared along with several bronzes.” As David eyes retirement, he would like to be “more art-focused versus 'making things'-focused,” but he is always happy to work whether it be a commission for a Synagogue in Texas or a project for someone down the block who needs the expertise of a master welder. As for future projects, David is currently working in pastels. He also has a massive piece of marble covered by a tarp in the back courtyard. “I may decide to chip away at it one day,” he said. When I made my exit, I looked over my shoulder to see David walking back to the solitude of his studio - or he may have been returning to the love and company of his cat, three dogs, and wife.
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center functions as a community center rather than simply a yoga studio, making for a very special experience. It is run entirely by volunteers, some of whom reside upstairs. Aside from regular yoga and meditation classes, there are often workshops, talks, vegetarian cooking classes and group meals. The aim is to teach the ways of yoga as a healthy lifestyle, not just an exercise routine. The followers of Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center live by five simple guidelines: proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, a vegetarian diet, meditation and positive thinking. Sivananda Yoga is a global movement with centers all over the United States and the world. We talked to a woman who had recently completed a certification program in California and returned home to New York to volunteer at the Sivananda Center. She went by the name Jayanti – a name given to her at the yoga school. Jayanti shared the history of the Sivananda Yoga movement, which began in India under Swami (meaning master) Sivananda, who then sent Swami Vishnu-Devananda to the United States to spread the knowledge of Yoga with the words “The West is waiting for us.” The Center has been in New York since 1959, and in this specific location since 1964. Simply listening to Jayanti calmly tell us the story of this community that she felt so attached to, and this way of life that she found so rewarding, we could not help but be drawn in by her air of content. Getting to know a bit about this niche community in Manhattan was certainly a highlight for us while walking 24th Street.