Jonathan Boyarsky, fourth generation owner, has found himself a terrific niche on 39th by being one of the only menswear shops to remain on the ground floor. Over the years, he watched as companies moved upstairs into offices in the garment district, or even overseas, but he chose to remain where people could easily spot him. Although he feels that he has remained "under the radar," at times, when people come in they are "ecstatic" with what he has to offer. His family began their men's clothing business on the Lower East side back in 1919. Over the years, members of the family spread out and opened related businesses offering either custom made shirts, suits or fabrics. At No. 257, Jonathan has combined it all. He describes it as "double dipping." They used to sell only the fabric and then send people elsewhere to have their clothing made. Today, within the three floors of space at Fabric Czar, customers can select from some of the finest cloths, and then meet first class tailor, Steven Tabak, of Beckenstein Bespoke, where their clothing is designed...and, everything is constructed on the premises. "We are one stop shopping, whatever a customer needs, we can make it for them." And for Jonathan, it is only about quality craftsmanship.
Since 1947, Steinlauf and Stoller has been devoted to selling sewing notions. I stopped in and spoke with Dan Stoller, the grandson of the founder, who explained that as the years passed, the store's reputation and the charisma of the Stoller family kept the business afloat as the garment district around it largely struggled. Today, this store continues to sell the merchandise it has been peddling for over sixty years: thread, scissors, shoulder pads, bra cups, anything needed to make clothes other than fabric. The old-school approach is evident the minute I walked in the door.Equally apparent: the influential presence of Nancy, a wildly popular figure in the area who puts on snaps, grommets, rivets, and the like. Signs in the front window advertise her presence and the limits on times when folks can utilize her services. I was puzzled at first, but I quickly understood why: she is an amazing human being. From the first word we shared, she was familiar, benevolent and kind. Nancy began work in the garment district in the late 1960s and has been at Steinlauf & Stoller for sixteen years. She has perfected her craft beyond many others. Her longevity gives her some perspective on the changing times, and she chatted with me about the garment district as she sewed on snaps. The changes have disturbed her (as they have many, presumably): "I've never seen so many vacancies as in the past few years." Those vacancies, of course, are quickly filled by "banks and restaurants," and the district is losing a bit of its flavor. "It's dying out, it's scary to me," she reported, alongside tales of friends out of work whose jobs have flown elsewhere for the long winter. Of course, change happens, but it is poignant to see a fashion district lifer so affected. I must encourage others to find something that needs Nancy's attention, and come chat with this lovely personage.
I could not resist getting caught up in Clare's enthusiasm as this Manhattan Sideways team member spotted Mood Fabrics, a second floor shop on 37th Street. Having never watched "Project Runway", I was clueless about this business, but eager to share in her excitement as we ascended in the elevator. Walking the aisles with her, I decided that there was no one more appropriate to do a write up than this adorable college student from California:When I visited Manhattan with my mom a number of years ago, the hit TV show, "Project Runway", was our latest obsession, and we made visiting Mood a high priority on our to do list. Project Runway is a reality show for aspiring designers to compete for the chance to show a collection at New York Fashion Week. The series uses Mood as its source for all the fabrics and materials the designers need to create pieces for the various challenges over the course of the competition. My mom and I eagerly explored the countless aisles of Mood, admiring the gorgeous colored fabrics and vast assortment of buttons and ribbons.We certainly stood out as tourists among the many knowledgeable people strolling the floors asking for "ten yards of this" and "eight yards of that," but we made an attempt to blend in by buying a yard of what we thought was the prettiest ribbon in the store. We also could not resist buying a T-shirt printed with Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn's famous phrase "Thank you, Mood," and I am guilty of taking a photo with Swatch the dog, who has many guest appearances on the show.Visiting the store again a few years later, I still had just as much fun getting lost in the maze of roll after roll of fabric stacked up to the ceiling. Watching fashionable design students measure out just the right amount of material made me wish I could make lovely clothes to show off on the runways at New York Fashion Week! My second time around at Mood, I was also thrilled to learn a bit of the history behind the famous fabric store.Much more than just a business whose popularity expanded outside of the fashion world with the airing of Project Runway, Mood Designer Fabrics began with designer Jack Sauma in 1991. He grew up in Lebanon and Sweden, and moved his family to New York, opening Mood originally as a fabric wholesaler. It was not until 1993 that Mood started to do retail sales, and once it did business grew so quickly that by 2001, they had to move into their current space of 40,000 square feet.Mood has another location in Los Angeles, however the Manhattan location remains the flagship of the business, drawing a constant flow of customers - from students in fashion school to designers, to people who simply love to sew. Currently, Mr. Sauma's two sons oversee Mood and its online retail site. I could not help picturing the Project Runway competitors running frantically up and down the stairs of Mood in search of the perfect material as I wandered through the store, and I felt compelled to imitate Tim Gunn as we headed towards the elevators with a wave and an approving "Thank you, Mood!"
After visiting the newly opened Renwick, Olivia, Tom and I walked west to its sister hotel, the Gregory. Originally built in 1903 and known as “The Gregorian,” its purpose was to house spillover guests from the Waldorf Astoria. It was designed to be reminiscent of Upper West Side homes, with rooms that were double the height of normal hotels. In the mid-twentieth century, the Gregorian closed and the building passed through the hands of different hospitality groups. In 2015, however, the Gregory opened with the goal of recreating the hotel’s former glory. Susan Richardson, the Director of Marketing at the time, was pleased to give us a tour of the newly renovated hotel and to share some of the history, while also pointing out the various amenities and features. The overall design of the hotel is inspired by elements of the fashion world, as it is located in the garment district. Susan also mentioned that the Gregory is the only hotel that is a member of the Save the Garment Center movement and that they have recently formed a partnership with Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).Susan explained that the hotel was designed with the goal of feeling "homey." The lobby was built to have the comfort of a living room, complete with the bar, called “The Liquor Cabinet.” The whimsical idea behind the name is that guests can “raid the Liquor Cabinet” during happy hour. While chatting, the bartender made one of their signature drinks, the Ginger Bootlegger, made with Bootlegger vodka, Cointreau, and ginger beer. The cozy, home-away-from-home atmosphere is enhanced by the concierge desk, where guests are encouraged to sit down in an armchair as they check-in and to feel the warmth of the fireplace during the colder months of the year.Similar to the Renwick, the Gregory focuses on trying to manufacture many of the features of the hotel in New York City. The lobby’s wood floors were not only made in Manhattan, but cut right here in the building. The shelves, which held fashion books, sewing machines, and other relics of the design world, were also cut in the lobby. Adding to their strong link to its history, we observed the pictures of the original hotel on the wall, along with an old menu and various artworks from the early twentieth century.Before heading into the elevator, we stopped into Brendan’s, the lively Irish pub connected to the hotel. The restaurant used to be the Gregorian’s Palm Court. “They are a great neighbor,” Susan said. Upstairs, we stepped inside an impressive guest room. It was remarkable how different the Gregory and the Renwick are, but with the same careful attention to detail and emphasis on guest comfort. Where the Renwick has eclectic images and outside-the-box design, the Gregory has clean lines and simple patterns. As Susan so aptly described it, “The Renwick is the artist and the Gregory is the tailor.” There are hints of the fashion world everywhere, including Do Not Disturb signs made of ties and framed clothing patterns on the walls. Like the Renwick, each of the beds are custom made for the hotel. Although both hotels are designed for the transient traveler, Susan feels that the Gregory appeals to a slightly younger crowd - one that wants a warm, communal place to work and network. With that in mind, guests are encouraged to come down to the lobby for coffee in the morning and mingle with one another. The tech industry has started drifting into the neighborhood and Susan feels that members of the tech world appreciate the chance to meet people and work in the living room environment of the lobby. “We are creating a culture of offering guests an experience,” she said, smiling.
At Gallery 35, we were charmed, entertained and educated on the staff's commitment to their own work and the art community as a whole. Sharing space, one flight up, with others affiliated with the Community Church next door, Gallery 35 is only open on Saturday evenings. Each week they showcase the work of a collective of artists, using media and styles across the board – water colors, digital media, glass painting, quilts, wood cuts. Once a year, the gallery hosts shows featuring artists from around the world. The most recent rendition featured paintings and quilts from Cuban and Brazilian artists. I was particularly taken by the story behind the art that was exhibited in the winter of 2013. Vidho Lorville, a native of Haiti, who had been painting for over twenty years before the earthquake struck his country, was chosen to be the guest artist. His commitment to the people and the celebration of the rebirth of Haiti were not only displayed in his work, but he also chose to donate a portion of the proceeds from Gallery 35 towards programs in Haiti.
Stepping off the elevator on the 18th floor, we had the feeling that we might run into the Queen of Hearts lounging and looking out over the city. Our visit was not during peak hours, so we missed bumping elbows with the chic crowd that normally populates Monarch, but we did get a sense of the futurist atmosphere and the ever-lovely views afforded by a visit. The Empire State Building, long a favorite of our crew, towers majestically in unimpeded splendor to the south. Brick walls give way to geometric, angular wooden walls and ceilings. Lights hang down in mobile-like formations, while chandeliers drip aquatically nearby in a tented heated area that can be utilized throughout the year. The furniture is comfortable and swoopingly high-backed. When our friends want to feel like City royalty, we certainly know where to send them.
Situated somewhere between Irish and American, straddling, too, the distinction between refinement and seaminess, Playwright offers food, drink, sports and a place to rest. The fare is traditional American with a few British accents thrown in - Shepherd's Pie and Fish & Chips to be exact. On the main floor, there are flatscreens aplenty above a long bar bursting with ales. American sports games are shown and, of course, Playwright is always showcasing European soccer games. On the second level, a more traditional dining area in the front gives way to a comfortable seating area in back. With its mixture of old regal furniture pieces collected over the years, in faded burgundies, beiges and browns, and an electric fireplace, Playwright has provided an inviting atmosphere for many to cozy up.