When people think of neighborhood hangouts, they probably think of cafes, bars, and perhaps barbershops. Denizens of 86th Street, however, have a friendly watering hole that also happens to be a pharmacy.
Inna Shafir and Yelena Yosse are both from St. Petersburg. They met at pharmaceutical school in Russia and then both happened to move to New York within a year of each other to "try a different life." After Inna and Yelena had been living in New York for several decades and had opened their own pharmacies in New Jersey and Washington Heights respectively, they began to imagine a pharmacy that would be completely different from anything else in New York. Though their idea was unique, it was not entirely "new." They planned to open a place with a counter where people could get snacks and beverages, just like in the mid-twentieth century when drug stores also functioned as soda fountains. Tisane, a combination of a 1950s American shop and a modern European-style pharmacy, opened in 2011.
I spoke with Yelena, who admitted that the two women had no cafe experience. All they knew is that they both loved tea and wanted a diverse selection of medicinal herbal teas (tisanes). They were not alone in their lack of knowledge: the person who was building the space had designed many pharmacies, but never a beverage shop. They spent a lot of time getting the counter just right and then stocked it with an expansive collection of tea and coffee. They get most of the teas from an organic company in California. Some of the more popular flavors are Cranberry Orange, Ginger Peach, and Immortalitea, a mixture of green tea and rose petals. While sipping the Crimson Berry, I admired the colorful tubes filled with syrups for the organic sodas.
As for the pharmacy side of things, Yelena asserted, "We have a personal touch that you definitely can't get at Duane Reade across the street." The independent pharmacy offers other perks, especially for those without insurance. Yelena says that she is able to give uninsured customers medication for thirty percent cheaper than chain pharmacies, since she does not have to deal with a middleman and knows exactly how much it will cost her. Yelena always tries to listen to her customers and help them when she can, which includes their recommendations for Tisane. For example, the pharmacy only began selling toys after a customer urged the two women to add products for children.
When I visited in 2016, a New York law was about to come into effect that would require all prescriptions to be filled online. I asked if Yelena was worried that the law would hurt her business, since fewer people would be coming in with paper slips and grabbing a cup of tea while waiting for the prescription to be filled. She did not seem concerned. She gestured to a woman who was sitting by the window, explaining that she came in every day with her book for a drink and a pastry. Parents and kids also drop by from the school across the street. Tisane clearly has a devoted following, and has even been featured in the book 111 Shops in New York That You Must Not Miss.
When Susan Weber, an American historian, came across the six-story townhouse at 18 West 86th, she knew that she had to do something extraordinary with it. Though Susan received an art history degree from Barnard College, in 1993, she chose to establish the Bard Graduate Center, where advanced students can study humanity's past through the materials it leaves behind. The Center, which is affiliated with Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is one of only three schools where someone can receive an advanced degree in decorative arts. The degree also focuses on Design History and Material Culture. The program has an excellent reputation for students who wish to pursue a career in a museum.Hollis Barnhart, the Communications Manager for the Center and Gallery spoke to me about the Gallery as "a way of opening something to the public." The gallery had its first exhibit in October of 1993, called Along the Royal Road: Berlin and Potsdam in KPM Porcelain and Painting, 1815-1848. Since then, the gallery has hosted countless exhibits that, in Hollis' words, "study the things that people have used from antiquity to now." The exhibits have spanned a wide range of topics from Central European cast iron and English silver to Swedish glass and Indian jewelry. Hollis was proud that the gallery exhibitions can feature everything from “caveman spoons to gold pieces.”The gallery does not have a permanent collection, and so items are often borrowed from museums and collections from around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Gallery displays have included many exhibits in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. One of the gallery’s most popular shows was a collection of hats curated by Stephen Jones, a famous British milliner. Since 1996, the gallery has worked with Yale University Press to print beautiful catalogues that accompany each exhibition.Though graduate students occasionally have a hand in designing the main exhibitions, they are very hands-on when it comes to the smaller exhibits, called "Focus Projects." These are curated displays that mark the culmination of a workshop or seminar. They function both as final projects for students and additional learning opportunities for guests. When I visited the gallery, the graduate students were preparing a collection of materials that demonstrated how the indigenous people of Oceania in the Pacific displayed and adapted their identity in the face of colonial powers.The main exhibition fascinated me: it was an in-depth look at the history of wooden toys from Sweden. The toys dated back to the 1600s and included everything from little planes to detailed doll-houses. The show explored how the toys underscored Sweden's reliance on their expansive forests and how wooden toys are respected throughout the world. As Hollis explained, many of the exhibits tend to have "An international flavor."
City Swiggers, which opened in 2011, is where casual and professional overlap. The atmosphere of the beer shop / tasting room is neighborly and homey, but each staff member is an encyclopedia of beer information and each bottle has been chosen with the utmost care. The eclectic space, which contains both bar stools and tables, can seat a few dozen people, while the shop experiences the majority of its business from clients grabbing beer to-go.We heard an all too familiar story from owner, Alan Rice, who left the world of finance in order to further explore his passion for beer. Alan said simply, "I loved beer" and then corrected himself: "I still love beer. A little too much, maybe." The shop, which carries over 900 beers, always has samples of new varieties. Regulars often come in and try the new brews with the staff. Alan believes that he may have the largest selection in the city. The taps are constantly being swapped out, to the point where after two weeks, the beers provided at City Swiggers have completely changed over. In addition to selling bottles, cans, flights, and pints, Alan mentioned that City Swiggers will fill any growler, even those that are not their own.Alan's wife, Pam, has a lot to do with the cozy atmosphere at City Swiggers. She has created most of the artwork - often made from recycled items - that adorns the store. When Manhattan Sideways visited during the winter, we noticed the snowflakes made from six-pack plastic on the front doors, as well as the beer can mobile in the back. Though there is a set of prints on one wall that Pam designed, the larger paintings lining the walls were created by a friend. Pam is also the inspiration behind the small bites offered at the bar. She is the leader of the Veggie Pride Parade and the head of a Vegan newsletter, so City Swiggers offers vegan empanadas from V-Spot. In addition, there are soft pretzels from Schaller and Weber, a German cafe. And for those of us who are not fond of drinking beer, City Swiggers offers wine by the glass and a large array of ciders.Samantha, the extremely knowledgeable bartender who began working at City Swiggers in 2014, was discovered by Alan while she was working at a nearby cafe. He was impressed with all the facts that she was able to rattle off about beer. He invited her to join him and she started that week. Samantha began educating us as she explained that to "tap" a beer is to attach a hose to a keg, but to "pour" a beer is to fill a glass from the tap. She went on to say that one of the most important things to think about in choosing a beer is the freshness of the hops, and that the definition of "cider" differs not only from country to country but from region to region. She also informed us that she had just taken her test to become a cicerone, which is essentially a sommelier for beer. The first master cicerone, we learned, was a woman from the UK.Whereas Samantha admitted that she liked sour beers and super fresh IPAs, Alan stated that he has "always liked variety," which explains why his store contains such a diverse array. Samantha poured a flight for us so that the team could see just how varied the stock could be. They tried a light melon Gose (a German beer that was cooling and fruity), a tart Wild Ale with red-currents, a red double IPA that was especially hoppy, and an imperial stout with a chocolaty finish. The Manhattan Sideways Team left City Swiggers with their bellies warmed, their thirst quenched, and their heads bursting with beer knowledge.
When I sat down in the minister's office at West Park Presbyterian Church, the first thing I asked was his name. He responded, "I am going to give you the whole thing, and you decide how much you would like to include." It is a name to be proud of - Reverend Doctor Robert Brashear. Though originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robert has been at the church since 1995. He first came to New York for an internship from 1982-83, and enjoyed his time in the city so much that he leapt at the opportunity to return when it was presented to him years later.The church has a fascinating history. It was originally formed under the name "North Presbyterian Church" on Bleecker Street in 1829 in response to the growing population of people moving north to escape the Yellow Fever. The congregation soon split and one group became the West Presbyterian Church, moving to a building on Carmine Street. In the meantime, the Park Presbyterian Church was formed on 84th Street thanks to the efforts of A. Phelps Atterbury in 1887. In 1890, Park Presbyterian moved into the red sandstone structure on 86th Street and the two congregations, West and Park, merged in 1911. The church received landmark status in 2000.West Park Presbyterian has always been at the forefront of a lot of political and social issues. In 1978, the church was one of the first to jump into the LGBT movement - the Reverend believes that the shift towards the religious embrace of homosexuality actually started in this church. He explained that the church was the first to perform gay marriages and "acknowledge them as just that." In terms of other social movements, the Reverend also declared that Senior Housing had its birth on 86th Street. Additionally, during Occupy Wall Street when the people were pushed out of Zuccotti Park, activists were invited to take up housing in the church. Some remained for close to a year.Robert is proud that although the church's membership only consists of a few dozen families, they are continuously written up and receive excellent reviews for the cultural events that they hold. According to the Reverend, the tightly knit community at West Park Presbyterian will always be on the "cutting edge" - where things happen.