When Ace Bar originally opened in 1993, New York City was “pretty lawless,” according to its owner, Michael Hilf. As he and his business partner, Jim Abraham, built the bar over the course of a year, they would sell beers off of a makeshift scaffold and plywood counter at night and use the money to buy nails and paint to resume working on the space in the morning. Michael joked that this arrangement would not be possible in today’s era of strict inspections and safety codes.
To build his customer base, Michael would do what he called his “Pied Piper routine,” which involved approaching strangers on the street, offering to buy them a beer, and luring them back to Ace where his bartender was more than happy to fulfill the promise. “It was actually really effective marketing. Word spread pretty fast, and I didn’t have to do that after about the first three months.”
From the beginning, Ace Bar attracted “an incredible community of creative people. Black, white, Latino, gay, straight, punk, goth — everyone was accepted, as long as they weren’t corporate.” Comedians commingled with war veterans and artists. Many customers were drawn to Ace for its music selection, which was carefully curated by Michael himself. He recalled that the likes of Joey Ramone, dressed in all leather even in the high heat of August, would visit the bar to enjoy his playlist and nurse a drink.
Throughout the decades, Ace Bar has remained a neighborhood staple and a great place to spend the night with a group of friends. One of the bar's highlights is its vintage games and décor. When entering the bar’s two spacious rooms, you cannot miss the notable collection of old-school lunch boxes and thermoses that are displayed in a glass case. Further inside, there are plenty of activities to choose from, including darts, pool tables, pinball machines, Big Buck Hunter, arcade games and, of course, the skee ball machine.
Occasionally, Michael misses the early, lawless days, when pets were welcome in bars, smoking indoors was common, and business was sustained by word of mouth rather than online reviews. “I could keep going on and on like this. Maybe I should write a book.”
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
We had the pleasure of spending time at Joe's Bar in 2011 before Joe passed away and it closed down. Continuously operated for over one hundred years, Joe's even had a bowling alley down stairs in the early 1900's. Now, renamed to Josies, the bar is owned by the guy who also runs Sophie's. This was his favorite place to hang out years ago, and he has every intention of keeping the bar's "small town" feeling exactly the same. "The theme of this bar will be just that - a bar where people can play pool and listen to the juke box, " the contractor of Josies told us. Hopefully, the bar still remains as the neighborhood hangout that it was before Joe passed away - a place where moms came in the late afternoon for coffee with friends and babies and the locals drank at night.
Previously the home of Nice Guy Eddie’s, Boulton and Watt is one of the latest additions to the bar scene in the East Village. Several of the young people on the Manhattan Sideways team needed a place to host a casual after-hours business meeting, so they decided to kick things off by going back to 1st Street. They were pleased to find an eclectic array of specialty cocktails on the menu (including a new favorite, the Mexican Revolver) along with several wines and beers. They did not originally intend to dive into the food menu, but as they sat and held their meeting over drinks, a waiter came by and brought them a complimentary Scotch Egg! "Fried and delicious, " was how they described it - the perfect addition to their first time experience at this fun and energetic establishment. I have no doubt that they will become frequent visitors in the future.
The East Village has notoriously been New York’s counterculture epicenter. It has become synonymous with art, music, grit, and grunge: a good place to let your freak flag fly. It comes as no surprise, then, that this beloved East Village dive bar, built in 1835, was a haunt for people like Frank Sinatra, Allen Ginsberg, The Ramones, W. H. Auden, and legend has it, even Leon Trotsky. It closed its doors in 2012, but resurfaced in the spring of 2015, new and improved and ready to welcome a new generation of creatives over its dimly lit threshold. Pirate Booty’s founder Robert Ehrlich and La Palapa owner Barbara Sibley teamed up to restore the old neighborhood staple. They cleaned the place up, but still aimed to keep some of the grungy charm that kept people coming back; A mural dating back to the 1920s still remains, as well as a wooden phone booth and classic horseshoe bar. Holiday Cocktail Lounge has all the eccentricity of the East Village that people have come to expect from time-honored St Marks Place establishments with just a touch of contemporary chic.
How nice to see birch trees, weeping willows and turtles sunning themselves in the pond in this garden of paradise. In El Jardin del Paraiso, a great big willow tree shades this space. While this tree is magnificent on its own, it is highlighted by an octagonal tree house that encircles its trunk. The wooden structure's design was donated by tree house architect Roderick Romero, who resides in the East Village. His work for this 4th street garden, in 2003, was his first community project and we were delighted to see him featured in a July 15, 2012 segment of the CBS Morning Show. We learned that he is known for his tree houses both in the US and abroad including those that he designed for Julianne Moore, Val Klimer, Donna Karan and Sting. Climb a few rungs of the ladder and you will be several feet above the ground, taking in the lush greenery and appreciating the talents of this esteemed architect.
Strolling along 5th Street, I was immediately drawn to a row of old-fashioned light bulbs hanging in the window of a small hair salon. Alexandra, the owner, invited me in while announcing that today, June 3, 2015, was Filament’s first day open! As I admired the salon’s hardwood floors and simple, appealing interior design, Alexandra told me that she and her co-owner, Seiji, had recently decided to leave the nearby hair salon where they both worked. A native Puerto Rican, Alexandra specializes in curly hair, while Seiji, originally from Japan, mostly works with straight hair and extensions. The pairing is perfect, Alexandra explained, because “there’s something for everyone here. ” And while she and Seiji have different styles, they both believe in a natural approach to hairdressing: instead of trying to change their clients’ hair, they embrace and enhance its natural beauty. The salon’s name reflects this philosophy. Alexandra and Seiji spent hours trying to decide what to call their new endeavor, but it did not click until they bought their signature light bulbs. When they saw the glowing filaments inside the shop, Filament Hair Salon was born - a place where "the light inside you shines through the strands of your hair. ”
By the time I arrived at Fish Bar on a Friday afternoon, a few regulars had already settled in. They chatted quietly as I explored the bar, which - true to its name - is decorated with fish and undersea creatures of all kinds. As I checked out Fish Bar’s reasonably priced drinks, which attract a diverse group of young people and locals, I wondered why the owner had decided on a nautical theme… and why there were so many dollar bills stuck to the ceiling. Fortunately, John, the owner, was happy to answer my questions. In the mid-nineties, he said, he frequented a bar called the Castro Lounge, which was unofficially known as “Fish Bar. ” When the owner put the bar on the market, John bought it and made the unofficial name official. Fish Bar opened on January 1st, 2000, and regulars immediately began bringing fish back from vacations to decorate the ocean-blue walls. “It escalated quickly, ” John said with a sigh. That explained Fish Bar’s origins, but not the money on the ceiling. According to John, it is a game invented by the regulars, who have a special technique to get the dollar bills to stick. But he refused to tell me anything else. “I guess you’ll just have to come by and check it out, ” he said, and I assured him that I would visit Fish Bar soon - with a wallet full of dollar bills.
When I first walked into Doggie Dearest, I had no idea that it was one of the oldest businesses on 5th Street. The reception area was decorated with leafy green plants and painted a cheerful shade of “dog’s ear pink, ” and the owner, Evelyn, took a break from grooming to share her story. Now a fixture on 5th, Doggie Dearest started out as a hobby. “I was bartending and working as a personal assistant, ” Evelyn said, “and I decided to take a grooming class. ” She discovered that she had a talent for the work and in 1993, Doggie Dearest was born. Though the business has grown over the years, Evelyn has not hired a large staff. She and her assistant do all of the grooming work, and she prides herself on the individualized care she gives to each pet. While other groomers often keep cats and dogs waiting for hours, Doggie Dearest is structured like a human hair salon, so that each animal gets a personal appointment. Evelyn also describes herself as the “first line of defense” against diseases: she has often alerted pet owners to symptoms they would never have noticed themselves. Between rising rents and her own battle with cancer, it has been difficult for Evelyn to keep the business afloat, but she keeps going, because she loves the work. “I even love the crazy dog people, ” she added, laughing.