While traffic is streaming in and out from the Lincoln Tunnel and the Port Authority, a striking structure emerges on the west side of 41st between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. This imposing Roman Catholic church serves as New York's Croatian-American parish. It was built in 1902 to serve the Irish Catholics of Hell's Kitchen, and 1974 saw a merging of nearby parishes to create the current configuration. In this sparser side of the city, the church emerges as a breathtaking find, casting quite the shadow with its powerful twin spires and gray stone. It is a beauty to behold and an ideal way to end my walk.
In 1984, the Metro Baptist Church of Manhattan settled into a building on West 40th Street that had previously been St. Clemens Polish-Catholic Church and a drug rehabilitation center. At the time of purchase, the church pastor prayed, “Lord, don’t give us this building if we can’t put it to use for people who need it 24/7.” That call has been answered in many ways. “There is always so much going on,” explained Rev. Tiffany Triplett, pastor of the church and executive director to Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries, “but it is exactly the way we want it to be.”Stained glass windows and ceiling murals, both relics of the Polish-Catholic church, adorn the airy multiuse sanctuary. Without pews, this place of worship doubles as a space for the arts. Housed in what used to be the balcony, the educational space serves as a classroom and after school library. “We are blurring the lines between sacred and secular,” Tiffany clarified, “Dance is sacred, and tutoring is sacred.”The downstairs space is equally multi-functional. During the summer of 2015, it served as a cafeteria to the children of the day camp as well as a food pantry and clothing storage area for items to be divvied out during the harsh months of the winter. These efforts are largely aided by Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries, a nonprofit founded by the church in 1995 and named after the “father of social gospel,” a radical during his time who preached that the physical being should be emphasized alongside the spiritual being.And, up a long, steep staircase is one of the most innovative structures the church has to offer. Standing in the middle of the fairly flat roof, I was surrounded by fifty-two space-efficient, plant-filled kiddy pools, as well as several bags hanging on the rails with more vegetation. To my left was the bustling rumble of the Port Authority, presenting a dichotomy of progress that opened my eyes to the capabilities of urban agricultures: even in one of the most urban areas of Manhattan, rural growth could exist.The rooftop garden is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also practical, with vegetation like bush beans, rhubarb, tomatoes, and apples that are maintained by volunteers and distributed to those in need. Starting with only about sixty hands on deck in 2011, this previously unutilized rooftop has garnered a consistent supply of hundreds of working hands, and now also serves as an educational tool for the followers and children of the church, and the surrounding community.It does not stop there. “While we are proud of the amount we grow,” Tiffany informed me, “we are more importantly showing how people can grow a lot of food inexpensively. We want to be invited into the conversation on food security and food justice.” Considering how many vacant roofs exist in Manhattan, I understand how impactful this larger message can be.
New York has more than its fair share of yakitori houses and sushi bars, but this Japanese transplant is concerned with presenting Teishoku, or home-style cooking, to its American diners. Since 1958, Japan has been fortunate enough to have access to this chain's nourishing, traditional fare, where a "healthy body and mind" are top priority. Throughout Asia, there are over three hundred Ootoya restaurants, and as of 2012, New Yorkers can dine in the light, airy interior of their elegant US flagship restaurant on 18th Street or their latest addition on 41st.
When I mentioned to a friend that I was up to 33rd Street, she reacted immediately, "You know that this is the street that Wolfgang's is on, don't you?" I loved the description that she and her husband shared with me. "It is an old world man-cave that has incredible charm and certainly appeals to the serious eater." Situated in the former historic Vanderbilt Hotel with magnificently tiled low vaulted ceilings, my husband and I agree that this is a splendid restaurant to dine.Wolfgang's, located in the sleek New York Times building on West 41st Street, is equally pleasant, but offers an entirely different ambiance. During the daytime, the sunlight streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing the steaks to glisten even more as they are being brought to the tables. The businessmen in their suits still dominate during the lunch hour; however, theatergoers and tourists fill the restaurant in the evening.Wolfgang Zwiener spent some forty years digesting the world of steak by working in the iconic restaurant, Peter Luger's. Think of it this way, Wolfgang received a veritable master's degree in meats in Brooklyn, and now has earned his doctorate in his own restaurant, where he has written a top-notch thesis. When others might have chosen to slow down a bit or even to retire, he began opening his own restaurants.Over the years, I have been to the four in Manhattan, with the 33rd Street flagship location being the one where we have chosen to celebrate many special occasions. As noted, it is a favorite of friends of ours, and when I asked them to speak to me further about Wolfgang's, the immediate response was, "Personally, of all the steak houses in New York, this is the one to go to." They went on to describe the menu as not only having excellent steaks, but they also always look forward to ordering seafood, and then brace themselves as the kitchen presents them with a seafood platter appetizer that is "utterly outrageous." There are jumbo shrimp (my number one oxymoron) and lobster with huge pieces to devour, and thrown in for good measure, some oysters and clams. "Even if you leave the steak out of the equation, it makes for an incredible meal." But, who can leave the steak out? According to my husband, a man who is passionate about his meat, Wolfgang gets it right every time whether he decides on a filet or a porterhouse. And I, of course, am all about the side dishes and salads, which Wolfgang continues to deliver.
In a city where cultural fads and neighborhoods change frequently, one necessity has remained the same - men continue to be in need of a haircut. That simple fact has kept Olde Tyme Barbers in business since 1929. Or at least that is how Joe “the Boss” Magnetico explains being successful, despite the way midtown has changed since his grandfather opened his doors.Joe is the third generation of barbers, and his daughter Anne-Marie is the fourth and first female barber in the family. Joe’s grandfather, the original “Joe the Barber,” first opened his shop at the Statler Hilton Hotel. In 1945, his son, Frank Magnetico, moved the barbershop to the current location on 41st Street underneath the Chanin building, a New York City national landmark. This makes Olde Tyme Barbers the oldest retail establishment currently in business on 41st from the East River to the New York Public Library.It is easy to tell that Joe, his family, and his staff take pride in the work that they do and the history they have created. Joe still uses the original chairs from the barbershop his grandfather opened. Sitting behind the cash register, Joe stated, “We’re not a business you can do on the internet.” By this he means that despite the way business and the neighborhood has changed in the past years, Joe and his family have survived for so long by remaining true to their trade. He charges what is fair and treats everyone who comes in with respect. Joe told me, “you have to be able to make relationships in business: it’s how you survive.” This is why Joe’s regulars are so loyal. Generations of men in the same family continue to come from all over the Metropolitan area to get their hair cut by his staff. They have been able to do something special in midtown - to create a neighborhood environment in an area of Manhattan that is not considered a neighborhood anymore.Joe ended our conversation by mentioning that he does not believe that he could open a barber shop in today’s market for the price that he charges on this block. "We are a dying breed in the sense that there is not much room in midtown for small owned businesses." In his opinion, all the chains in midtown do not bring the same sense of community or character to the area like the businesses that use to be there.
A boutique luxury hotel, run by the Spanish company, Eurostars, Dylan brings a European flair to midtown hospitality. The connected Benjamin's Steakhouse, one of the finest in the city, offers breakfast and room service for hotel guests. The building that the hotel occupies was once the Chemists' Club, which played host to a group of chemists meeting for reasons professional and social but ultimately moved further north. The building still bears the Chemists' Club name outside, which adds an air of alchemy to the facade.