Dorie Smith and Emelyn Northway, the owners of Of Mercer, met at Wharton Business School, where they both attended an event dressed in the same black dress. The coincidence sparked not only a strong friendship, but a business partnership. The two women began discussing how difficult it was to find clothes that were affordable, office-appropriate, and fashionable as a businesswoman. Neither of them could drop hundreds of dollars on a new dress, but the cheaper brands often did not offer good quality garments. Dorie and Emelyn decided to be the answer to their own problem.
In 2013, they opened Of Mercer, which is named after a thirteenth century English word referring to cloth specialists. They added the “Of” because they enjoyed the idea of themselves and their customers being part of a collective, of being “Women of Mercer.” Though they knew what they wanted in a work dress, neither woman had any sort of training in fashion, so they called on Aja Singer to join the team. Aja is a Parsons School of Design graduate with a specialty in tailoring. She was exactly what Of Mercer needed. As Dorie told me, “Tailored dresses are very tricky and not that sexy when it comes to design,” meaning it would be hard to find someone with the right skill and drive. Aja designed outfits based on Emelyn and Dorie’s knowledge of office life. Dorie pointed out, “That intel is something designers usually never have.” She joked that the first time Aja stepped into a proper office space after designing many dresses for Of Mercer, she exclaimed, “Oh, so this is what it’s like.”
When I spoke to Dorie, she was wearing a bright yellow wrap-dress that had been re-engineered for the work place. She demonstrated how the top of the dress produced a high neckline after it was secured in place, as opposed to the sloping V-neck that most wrap-dresses create. I was pleased to learn that the dresses are produced in New York City. I also appreciated that most of the designs are made of material that does not wrinkle and that many pieces are reversible or have multiple uses. On display when we stopped in was a new reversible “jardigan,” their word for an item of clothing that is both a jacket and a cardigan. In general, the patterns and colors tend to be on the muted side, since Dorie and Emelyn recognize that women often like to wear things twice a week to the office without people noticing, but there are a few brighter tones and stand-out fabrics. In the spring of 2016, the store was just about to put out pants in both straight-leg and cigarette styles for the first time.
The 21st Street store is Of Mercer’s first introduction to brick and mortar, and they are excited to use the space to its full potential. They have plans to host panels and dinner parties, since they can create one large room by opening the large, reflective sliding door at the back of the space that leads to their office. The space can hold up to sixty people seated or seventy-five standing. In addition to using the store for a variety of events, Dorie and Emelyn are looking to expand to other urban areas, including DC, Chicago, Atlanta, and LA. Their online business is already booming and Of Mercer designs have been shipped to thirty-eight states. As Dorie declared, “Working women can’t be ignored.”
I learned of Agnes B's clothing while in college and studying abroad back in the '70's. Somehow, even then, I knew to appreciate her simple French designs for women. It wasn't until I was much older, however, that I was able to purchase a few of her pieces for myself, and I truly treasure them. It seems that many of Agnes B's stores are closing around the country, but here's to hoping that she can continue here in New York.
At times, living in New York City can become a bit chaotic - and it is this moment when Muji feels like a breath of fresh air. So different from our busy and cluttered apartments, Muji is the epitome of minimalist class. There is no rhyme or reason to what items are carried, and yet, while there are a million trinkets to browse through, the atmosphere remains effortlessly crisp and clean. Everything is made in neutral colors and simple materials, and labeled with clear descriptions. After wandering around I suddenly had the urge to go home and clean everything out of my closet and start fresh. The store has a definite calming and almost meditative effect on people. The vast variety of items includes furniture, clothing, home goods - and yet everything feels unified. Some of the hidden treasures can be found within the office supplies - pens that glide beautifully across the page and notebooks that rival Moleskine for utility and sophistication, but at a fraction of the price. Even the clothes are in soft, soothing colors, but made from fine fabrics and sold at very reasonable prices. Step inside to escape the bustle of the city, and do not be surprised if you leave with a new toothbrush or a pair of slippers.
While the digital age has allowed us to streamline many services, there are some art forms that must remain analog. One trip to Best Shoe and Bag Original Repair on W21st Street in Chelsea and you’ll be convinced that the time honored art of cobbling is one that can’t be replaced. It’s an art that has been passed down to owner Marcia Sailema from her father, who ran the shop for decades until he retired in 2015. Marcia said that in addition to helping her dad run the family business, she took classes at FIT to sharpen her skills in repairing luxury shoes and bags, which are the businesses specialty. “I learned so much industry vocabulary that I never knew before – like the way that the first part of a shoe design is called the last — and ‘the last comes first! ’” she laughed. She quickly acclimated to the delicate art of making much-loved, long-worn bags and shoes look like new by making delicate leather, paint and stitching matches to designers from Dior to Chanel and in fragile vintage pieces. The intricate work — which Marcia proudly showed us can make a nearly unusable bag or shoe look fresh off the shelf – has led to a loyal customer base. For Marcia, it’s a labor of love. “I really like working on the bags, ” she said, admiring a classic Louis Vuitton monogram bag that she’d recently completed repairs on. “Look at these zippers! ”
Merakia occupies the space that housed Kat & Theo from 2015-2017 - and while the restaurant maintains the same ownership as before, it also has a different mission. The modern Greek steakhouse prides itself on its meats and classic seafood items, while maintaining a classy, hip atmosphere in its cavernous space on 21st Street. “We built a new team… and a new vision, ” managing partner James Paloumbis shared with the Manhattan Sideways team when he spoke of the switch from Kat & Theo. He then went on to highlight Merakia’s differences from other Greek restaurants. “It’s not white and blue like every other place in New York City. Our menu is not the copy paste of any other place. ” The menu is heavy on steaks and seafood, boasting their signature lamb on the spit ("the only restaurant in the city to do so") while, surprisingly, offering some robust meat-free options as well. “Everything is farm to table, we use fresh ingredients, [and] we make everything from scratch on a daily basis. ” James told us that part of his mission is to bring back the adventure of going out to eat, a phenomenon he has noticed declining over the years. “People don’t like to go out anymore just to eat. You can eat at home, you can eat down the street, you can order your meal online. But to get an experience of nice service, some nice flavors, nice music, nice drinks - it’s worth your while to go out again. ” Husband and wife team behind Kat & Theo - Renee and Andreas Typaldos - seem to have orchestrated a smooth transition from their previous restaurant. As their past executive chef, Paras Shah, believed, "there should be a movie written about the couple's romantic backstory and that he “couldn’t have worked for better folks. ” Andy is originally from Greece, and the restaurant was named after his parents, Katerina and Theodosios. Andy came to New York on a scholarship from Columbia and met Renee, who is from the Bronx. He took her out on a first date “with holes in his shoes and with no winter jacket, ” according to Renee. She added, “The romantic, poetic way people get together. ” Today, they are paying homage to Andy's Greek heritage and according to James, “People have to trust their stomachs and their palates with a restaurant, so that’s what we’re trying to do here. Trust us - our food is fresh, our food is made with care, and we love what we do. ”
Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.
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.
As we peered behind the counter at Joe, we saw what looked like a machinist’s shop or a technological artist’s studio, and yet the rich aroma of coffee was unmistakable. Joe is a place for serious coffee, and they hope to make serious coffee-drinkers out of their customers. The front of the shop holds a regular coffee bar, with three stools, and a display with some useful coffee tools for at home brewing. The majority of the space, however, is filled by the coffee studio in back where customers can watch the machines whir and the experts work their magic. For those of us not as knowledgeable in the coffee arena, Joe offers regular classes on topics ranging from brewing technique to what they call “coffee theory. ” While they have several locations throughout Manhattan, Joe's on 21st street serves as the “pro shop” and headquarters.