Hanamizuki had an unexpected beginning in 2014: it grew out of a laser hair removal business. Jumi Fujiwara, who originally hails from Osaka, Japan, desired to combine beauty and health and open a healthy Japanese café adjacent to her hair-removal studio. Most things on the menu are traditional food items from her homeland, but with a twist. As she explained, “Rice balls are simple, but can have a lot of ingredients.”
Part of what lures the customers (and myself) in is the décor. Jumi shared that she teamed up with a “Green artist” from Japan who has expertly made the café look like the inside of someone’s lofty garden shed. Ivy and other plant life frame the space while dried herb and flower displays are nestled next to rusted accessories. The café is a little rustic watering hole in the center of the bustling city.
At Paris Baguette, the Manhattan Sideways team grabbed a tray and a set of tongs and indulged. We found each baked bread to be more desirable than the next, from the simple white loaf to the peanut crumb to the chocolate cream bread. The cakes are magnificent pieces of art. We were particularly drawn to the strawberry and fresh cream, and the chocolate and banana. A chain that originated in Korea, Paris Baguette now provides baked goods to almost three thousand stores. Although not everything is prepared in-house, the aroma alone makes it worth a visit, as does the show of people who come through Paris Baguette each day.
In the frenetic center of Korea Town on 32nd, Grace Street is a quiet haven. Couches line one wall, and there are plenty of tables for folks who want a more upright experience. Smoky charcoal sketches and colorful photos enliven the walls. Wi-Fi is not in the usual coffee house mix, as people come to Grace Street to relax and chat. But enough about the space – what is style without content? The coffee is nice, and my Americano treated me exquisitely. But the homerun is the Ho-dduk, a traditional Korean filled pancake—reminiscent of a donut—that is a perfect companion to a cup of coffee.
Somehow I can never get over the fact that on almost every side street of Manhattan, there is yet another fabulous coffee bar. Gregory's measures up to all of the rest. Located on the corner of Sixth Avenue, but with a side entrance, everyone raves about their cup of coffee. Like so many others, the environment is friendly, relaxed and filled with people on their laptops and just hanging out chatting. Upstairs I learned about "coffee cuppings." Set up in the "traditional" way to taste coffee, five different coffees are lined up on the table with three bowls that have the same beans in each. Customers are invited to sample first by smelling, and then with a spoon once it is steeped and the grounds have moved to the bottom of the cup. According to one of the baristas who chimed in on my conversation with a fellow worker, Gregory Zamfotis first went down the road as an attorney before deciding that he wanted to open a coffee bar. His parents owned restaurants around the city, so he had grown up in this world and knew that he was ready to be a part of it, in his own way. He opened his first shop on Park and 23rd in 2006, and then several more followed. The home-baked goods are prepared for each of the locations at their shop on 46th Street and is overseen by Gregory's dad, George. And, in the not too distant future, there are several more coffee shops coming to the financial district.
A young, hip crowd filled the house on a Wednesday at 4pm, and not just for the incredible baked goods. There are numerous bakeries sprinkled throughout Korea Town, but I, like many others, was particularly drawn to Tous Les Jours for its vast seating area and the music videos playing on a huge screen.
Naturopathica is a one-stop shop for healing and wellness. The modern, uncluttered storefront on 26th Street contains a vitality bar where customers can purchase tonics, elixirs, tinctures, teas, and cold-pressed juices – as well as simple coffee and specialty hot drinks including spiced hot chocolate, matcha lattes, and coconut kava lattes. Each blend serves a purpose, whether it is to aid with healthy, clear skin, balance natural immunity, or ease stress or joint pain. And there is a lot of room for customization: for instance, kombucha, coconut water, and any juice can be combined with a herbal tincture and a vitality shot.On the other side of the store, there are shelves of Naturopathica’s various skin care products and remedies. The back wall, the “Remedy Bar,” has jars of loose tea for visitors who wish to continue their road to wellness at home. As Heather Neufeld, the spa director of the Chelsea location, pointed out, Naturopathica has a “360 degree approach to wellness.”As we were walking through the space, Heather shared a bit of background on Barbara Close, the founder and CEO. After being trained in aromatherapy, Barbara decided to create skincare and herbal remedies to reduce inflammation in the body and skin. She got her start in the mid-1990s and has since gained a reputation in the wellness and lifestyle world, thanks in part to attention from celebrities, notably Martha Stewart. Her methods involve products that work with the body’s natural processes rather than against them. She opened her first Healing Arts Center in East Hampton and has had her products carried in over 450 renowned resort and day spas in North America. Heather spoke about the East Hampton center, mentioning that it “speaks to the heritage of the brand.” Enter the Manhattan store, which opened in December 2015: the new, twenty-first century base for Naturopathica.The Vitality Bar is one of their new features, and Heather says that it has been a wonder for introducing people to the brand. “There’s a discovery point for everyone, no matter where you are on your wellness journey.” Even those who just come in for a coffee and decide to try dandelion root tea instead have been aided by Naturopathica. After all, “Your gut has so much to do with your overall health.” What many people do not realize upon their initial visit, myself included, is that Naturopathica is much larger than it appears. Walking through a door in the back, I discovered numerous treatment rooms. Each one was decorated with their signature blue, with some rooms containing "seperatory funnels" filled with colorful oils. In addition to the six rooms, there is a consultation area where therapists can have private conversations and share their thoughtful cards that give clients a step-by-step list of instructions. Around the corner, a calming meditation center was situated, with a peaceful projection of a night sky in the woods. The projected photography evolves, but the softly glowing candles and variety of mats and low seats remain constant.As Heather led me back to the front, she assured me, “We practice what we preach.” Her enthusiasm for the culture that Barbara has created was apparent. “Everything is mindfully created.”
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. We left wondering whether phantom customers are good tippers.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me,” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back.” A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful.” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill,” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to.” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.
Today, NoMad – short for North of Madison Square Park – is one of Manhattan’s hottest neighborhoods, but Moku, co-owner of Izakaya NoMad, could not have foreseen that when location-scouting for his New York variation of a classic Japanese izakaya (a casual bar serving small plates that pair well with alcohol). Having owned an izakaya in Korea Town, Moku wanted to bring Japanese food to a region where it was sparse.Averi, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, had an exceptional experience at Izakaya NoMad. Upon her arrival, she was greeted warmly by Moku and his team and quickly shown around the restaurant before the dinner crowd poured in. They started at the front of the house, where Moku pointed out the first section of a three-part custom mural painted by an illustrator from the School for Visual Arts, depicting NoMad infused with elements of Japanese pop culture like Godzilla and Astro Boy. From there, they moved into a long, narrow hall lined with cozy geometric booths, a long bar and open kitchen. Moku admitted that it would have been easier to have the kitchen stationed in the rear like most eateries, but he and co-founder Jay desired to be transparent about their high quality ingredients and also wanted guests to be able to interact with their culinarily well-versed yakitori chef (who coincidentally, bares the nickname Godzilla).Passing by the bar, Averi and her hosts drifted to the back of the dining room, where on an elevated platform, reconfigurable chairs rested under cubed light fixtures. Behind them, modern counters hid in an exposed brick cove with a graffiti reptilian tail tagged on the wall. Back at the front, Averi took a seat at a grand communal table wrapped in cool light from the descending sun and decorative paper lanterns overhead. Sliding doors reminiscent of shōji separate the area from the restaurant upon request, creating an ideal space for company dinners and birthday parties. Moku noted that Izakaya Nomad's design established five “unique spaces… like a maze.” The bar was intimate and mature, the tables on the platform familial and familiar, the urban grotto youthful and hip, and the front room airy and conversation invoking.Once settled, Moku shared the novel-like menu with Averi, consisting of yakitori, sashimi, sushi, tataki, tempura, hot pots, wine, beer, and sake with informative descriptions for those who may be unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine. A waiter then brought three varieties of sake, and Moku gave Averi a brief lesson in the fermented rice alcohol. She learned that the intensity of flavor stems from how much the outer layer of each grain of rice is stripped away. For example, the harder junmai sake polishes less of the grain – only about thirty percent - so it had a strong rice taste, which Moku claims is popular with young people these days. The junmai ginjo sake takes away about forty percent of the grain, resulting in a subtle sweetness, while the junmai daiginjo removes fifty percent, leaving a “smooth” creamy texture and “less hangover.” The junmai daiginjo was Averi's favorite of the three, crisp and refreshing with just enough punch. Moku assured her that if sake is not a guest’s "cup of tea," an impressive list of both beer and wine are available.After drinks, Moku reviewed the custom tasting menu that had been prepared for Averi's visit. With lobster tail, soft fried tofu, sizzling butamoyasi (bacon, beansprouts onions, and chives), uni (sea urchin), and sushi, the menu was reflective of the izakaya’s overall project: to apply the best parts of the Japanese izakaya experience to a “New York market.” In fact, Izakaya NoMad was the first izakaya around to call themselves a Japanese gastropub. For this reason, the fare served at NoMad is not exactly conventional, as it includes items like sushi and ramen to meet the demand of its clientele. Additionally, the restaurant finds creative ways to incorporate less common snacks like chicken gizzard, battered, fried, and seasoned to be accessible to the average New Yorker.When the colorful, steaming plates began to arrive at the table, it seemed like they would never stop. What a feast. The enoki mushrooms wrapped in smoked bacon, grilled chicken skewers, and the fatty tuna sushi were all delightful; though the sweet “rocket tsukune” (free range chicken meatball), juicy beef short rib yakitori, and the smoky hamachi tataki (seared yellow tail) really stole the show. Averi was surprised when Moku revealed that many of the elements do not require intense seasoning: at izakaya NoMad, they “don’t overdo things” and like to let the fresh ingredients speak for themselves. Despite the quantity of dishes, nothing was repetitive. Each item showcased its own distinct medley of delicious flavors.Incredibly humble and hospitable, Moku and Jay are adamant about focusing on the food, not themselves. While they aim to rival the product of a five-star celebrity establishment, they seek to leave pretention behind, insisting they would never judge customers for how they use chopsticks or eat sushi. “As long as you enjoy, that’s the main point,” said Moku, “that’s our philosophy.” Providing “an alternative to any traditional beer experience in Manhattan” with an “upscale look but casual environment,” Izakaya NoMad has set out to be a safe, social gathering place where food, company, and alcohol can all be enjoyed without inhibition. From Averi's experience, we can verify that is certainly the case.