All parents throughout New York, locals and tourists alike, should know about the educational and transformative experience of the Children's Museum of Manhattan. The 83rd Street institution, although it opened in 1973, has been at its current location since 1989. It is an extraordinary (not to mention really fun! ) resource for both kids and adults. I happened to visit during the week that constitutes winter break for New York schools, and so I witnessed an incredible amount of excitement and enthusiasm on each of the floors. Children as young as a few weeks old were in their mother's arms or being pushed in a stroller while their siblings were running around, checking out the interactive exhibits. Almost every aspect of the museum had something to push, touch, or listen to, giving children a tactile way of learning and remembering. I received an eye-opening tour from David Rios, the Director of Public Programs, who guided me from the fifth floor back to ground level. An exhibit called Playworks, designed for early learning, is located upstairs. For more than ten years, the museum's team worked side by side with child development experts to create a space where little ones can enhance their motor skills and problem-solving abilities. I enjoyed standing on the sidelines and observing children climbing in and out of a large wooden FDNY truck, a NYC bus, and a deli with plastic foods. As David explained, "Some museums have a supermarket, but we're in New York, so we have a deli. "I was amazed by how often the museum catered to varying age levels within the same space. For example, in the Movers and Shakers section, older children could learn math and physics by building mini roller coasters while younger siblings could crawl through tunnels and slide down slides. I was delighted to see parents participating with their children: this is definitely a museum where entire families can enjoy themselves, and children's learning is enhanced by parental guidance. Though there are plenty of buttons that encourage children to learn on their own, there is also signage so that parents can provide a further explanation to their kids. The museum is designed so that parents and older children do not feel intimidated or shy about trying out the different exhibits. As David stated so nicely, "This is a fun, non-judgmental environment for all ages to learn. "Continuing on, I entered The Lab, where children can read stories, sing songs, and learn more about art and science. All of the writing and sound bites are bilingual, since Spanish-speaking families make up such a significant portion of New York City's population. David told me that The Lab sometimes holds special events, such as a visit from members of Alvin Ailey, who danced with the children in an effort to teach them about movement. The next room took Peek-a-Boo to a whole new level with a digital version of the game and in the following room, I had to laugh out loud as I explored the digestive system, complete with a talking toilet. The grand finale of the tour was the America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far special exhibit that is running from February 2016 - February 2017. The visually compelling exhibit is a multimedia exploration of the diversity of Muslim cultures within the United States and abroad. It is a collaboration between the museum's staff and members of the Muslim community and is an ingenious way of introducing children to topical cultural differences in an age-appropriate way. For example, there is a section where kids can press buttons to smell a variety of fruits and spices, as well as a collection of "Objects and Stories from American Muslim Homes. " Some other highlights included a life-size camel, musical instruments, and a virtual reality room that allows visitors to explore the architectural styles of different mosques. I was pleased to find out Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the exhibit. He has stated, "With America to Zanzibar, children will have the chance to learn about Muslim cultures in an engaging and thoughtful way. We only grow stronger when we embrace and celebrate the multitude of cultural backgrounds that make up New York. "
Coach Jellybean, a man who was only introduced to us by his universally-used nickname, has endless good humor. He told us, "I am world famous on the Upper West Side among kids aged nine to twelve. " He added with a cheeky smile, "I'm a big deal. " He is often spotted on the street or at the zoo by gaping mouthed kids who are shocked to see their coach outside his natural habitat. It is not surprising that he is recognized so frequently, since two to three hundred kids go through the batting cages each week. It is, after all, the only place in Manhattan with an indoor facility. Jellybean took us past the large bank vaults that are a permanent part of the Apple Bank basement and into the Green and Blue rooms chatting enthusiastically. The Center can host six different classes at the same time, thanks to its size and equipment. It has every kind of pitching mechanism one can imagine, from a big ancient beast that is still "one of the best machines in the business" despite its age, to an LED display that lights up to resemble an actual pitcher. There are even simulators that can show where the ball would end up going in Yankee Stadium (with handicaps for younger batters). Not only does it motivate kids with a little firework display for home runs, but it also serves as a helpful statistical tool for older players hoping to improve their technique. One of the most impressive machines was the "pro-hitter" which can shoot out balls at 100mph and can basically mimic any kind of major league pitch. Jellybean also showed us the party room, which was decorated on one side for the Mets and on the other for the Yankees, in an effort to appeal to fans of both teams. As I was admiring the countless photographs of kids that lined the hallways, Jellybean pointed out that the center is not just for children. Far from it: the facilities have been used for bachelor parties, special needs adults, and even "big league guys" who want a place to practice in between seasons. The Center is also popular among foreign tour groups who want to try out America's pastime while visiting New York. Jellybean was particularly proud of the charity events that the Center hosts, where people pledge money for hitting pitches at a certain speed. After our tour, I took the time to speak with Jason, who told me more about the programs that the Center offers. There are tournament teams, after school programs, summer camps, and birthday parties, weekly classes, and, during the warmer months, outdoor leagues. He explained that the space's main purpose is to "Promote the experience of baseball. " When I asked how the Baseball Center accomplishes its mission, he replied without hesitating: "the coaches. " Some of the coaches played in college, some are former professionals, and some are still playing, but what binds them all together is their love of the game and their ability as teachers. "A good player doesn't always make a good coach, " Jason admitted, and assured me that each of his coaches is thoroughly trained as a teacher. With a grin, he told me that a mother had recently said to him, "I don't think I've ever seen so many men who are good with children. " With pride, Jason pointed out the sign that marked the Baseball Center as a designated New York City "safe house. "Though Jason has seen some real baseball stars come through the Center's programs - including Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers - he was pleased to tell me of a child who had been coming for years, and had recently been offered a full ride to Stanford via baseball. He went on to say that he enjoys seeing every child thrive, no matter what level they ultimately achieve. He told me that his favorite part about working at the Baseball Center are those happy moments when he witnesses a child get their very first hit. "It's magic, " he gushed. It is a personal victory not just for the child, but for everyone at the Center. "We are a part of each child's team. "
Mario Guerrero, a black belt, has made a name for himself in the martial arts world for helping at-risk kids by giving them training in discipline, fitness, and hand-eye coordination. He now has studios scattered throughout the city, from Tribeca to the Upper East Side, where children and adults alike can learn kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Mixed Martial Arts. Recently, Krav Maga, a form of Israeli street fighting, has been added to the roster. Modern Martial Arts advertises classes for everyone from "casual fitness seekers to trained, professional fighters. " The studio does more than offer classes; however: they also create a community. Mario and his trained teachers offer karate birthday parties, fitness-centered movie nights, and "Parent's Night Out" evening classes for kids. We met with Adam, who was teaching an adult mixed martial arts class. He greeted each of the students who walked in with warmth and humor. Once the class began, the group transitioned from generic fitness exercises to work with punching bags and finally horizontal punching bags where the studio members practiced their "ground pounds. " Watching Adam encourage his students to let out a "pshhh" sound each time they hit, I realized that the class was a terrific way to let off steam.
As Master Teresa Throckmorton guided me through Central Park Taekwondo and invited me to take off my shoes, I was struck by how immaculate everything was. "I make sure it's very clean, " Teresa told me, and took me past a group of women practicing the martial art to a smaller studio separated from her office by a glass wall. There were toys on the floor from the camp program that had just left, as I was visiting during the summer months. "It's a real community, " Teresa said, telling me about the different options for all ages. "People come and they don't want to leave. "Teresa is a typical New Yorker in her impressive use of space. Along with the smaller studio in front of her office, the main room has partitions that can be dragged across to create smaller spaces. She has seven full-time instructors who have been doing taekwondo for most of their lives. She proudly told me that she offers each of them benefits, vacation, and sick leave. The glass that separates her office is covered with words in red: "courtesy, " "integrity, " "perseverance, " "self-control, " and "indomitable spirit. " These are the central tenets of taekwondo, a word that means "the way of the hand and foot" in Korean. Teresa explained to me that taekwondo is not just a physical practice, but also a mental one. As a fifth level black belt, she is a well-qualified teacher (Any degree above fourth indicates someone who has dedicated his or her life to teaching martial arts). She grew up with brothers in an active family on a farm in Virginia, and so she was introduced to a series of sports before landing on taekwondo as her passion. She has also introduced the martial art to her children. I met eleven-year-old Caden, a black belt who has been studying taekwondo since he was two years old, though he now splits his time between martial arts and baseball. Teresa's eight-year-old son is also a black belt and her little girl is a third degree red belt. "It was never a choice for them, " Teresa said with a grin. As for Teresa, she is still training. A certain number of years must pass before you can increase your belt degree, but Teresa proudly told me, "By the time I am seventy-six years old, I will be ninth degree black belt grandmaster. "Teresa makes sure that everyone in Central Park Taekwondo - and in her family - is certified through the Kukkiwon Taekwondo World Headquarters, so that their belt status is recognized everywhere. She also follows the rules of the World Taekwondo Federation School whenever her students compete. However, taekwondo is not just about gaining belts and competing. Teresa believes that taekwondo can be beneficial to anyone, even those who have never participated in sports. "What I love about this place, " she told me, "is that you can come with no experience and end up a black belt one day. " She also told me that taekwondo helps people with challenges such as ADD or ADHD, since it can build mental discipline and self-confidence. "A lot of therapists suggest taekwondo, " Teresa informed me. Teresa especially suggests the martial art for children, since taekwondo helps teach principles of respect and builds a foundation of physical concentration. Teresa is very pleased with the fact that she has gained so many students in such a short amount of time. She opened Central Park Taekwondo in August of 2011 after training and working at another school in the area for seventeen years. The studio has been expanding ever since, with students traveling from Harlem and Brooklyn. "We're hoping to buy a new building, since we have grown really quickly in four years, " Teresa said. She wants to remain on the Upper West Side, where people can find her. The only advertising she uses is word of mouth and the sandwich board outside, which reads "They say you kick like a girl, you say thank you! " When I expressed my approval, she let me know that the school is split evenly between men and women, which is unusual for a martial arts studio. "I think it's because I'm a female owner, so people feel connected to me, " she said. She is very proud to have created such a tight-knit community. As I was leaving, she told me, "Our intention is to make anyone who walks in feel welcome, empowered, and strong. "
It does not matter what I am looking for, I always stop by Stationery and Toys first, certain that I will find what I need. Sometimes I find myself laughing out loud when I ask either of the owners of this fantastic old world shop, a father and daughter, for the item that I am in search of that day, and they answer "of course we have it. " With its simple name and treasure trove of items for children and adults alike, it is one of the last of its kind, and it makes me happy simply to wander the aisles. "I used to sell wholesale to Hallmark stores, " Larry Gomez, the founder, shared with me one day. "Now there aren't places like this anymore. " On the day that I visited with the Manhattan Sideways team, Larry took the time, in between ringing customers up for paper, pens, puzzles and party supplies, to tell us how the store began. He said that his daughter, Donna Schofield, came home from college to help him in the wholesale business. As Larry tells it, Donna said, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, I don't want to sit in a warehouse anymore. I want to work in retail. " Donna, when I spoke to her, tells it a little differently. She says, "I was talking to the same people every day with very little sight of daylight. I wanted to work in a store. "Either way, the outcome was a positive one. Larry gave Donna her wish in 1988 by opening Stationery and Toys. One day, I asked her what it was like having children while working around toys. She said, "My son thought the warehouse was Santa Claus's section. " The boy, who is now fully grown, knew to stay away. His younger sister, though, needed more convincing not to play with the toys. Donna gave the keys to the store to her brother-in-law for a while in order to spend more time with her family, but in 2009, she returned. "She's the big cheese, now, " Larry declared. Today, during the week, when a customer walks into the store, they will see Donna behind the counter and on the weekends it is Larry who is there, allowing his daughter to remain at home. "I'm the Saturday Sunday man! " he said with a grin. Donna's son, however, has started coming in on weekends to work with his grandfather, while he studies to become an electrician. It is this sense of family that Larry believes has saved their store. Donna and Larry form a friendly pair of faces for neighbors to recognize from year to year. He says that they still see many regulars from when the store first opened, though as Larry put it sadly, "there are many that we've lost. " He brightened, however, when he told me about the men and women who come in with their children. Larry recognizes many as having been frequent shoppers when they were kids themselves. He considers himself quite fortunate to have stayed in business through the years. When he first started, he explained, the area was known as "Needle Park" and in order to stay out of danger, people got out of the neighborhood by six in the evening. Now, Larry embraces the fact that the street is a place where families can safely thrive. When speaking with Gary - a sales assistant who has been with the store "for a long time" - I asked him how they decide what to stock, since the inventory seems to be infinite. He replied, "Donna gets it word of mouth, through the kids. The best thing to do is to listen to them. " Donna agreed, saying "If I get asked for an item three times, I get it. " Just before we were leaving, we witnessed a beautiful yet typical moment when Donna noticed a little boy eying a batman figurine on the counter while his mother was making a purchase. Donna sweetly handed the toy to him and told him that it was now his. Neighborhood kindness and generosity is alive and well at Stationery and Toys.
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. ”