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.
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.
Known as Bryant Park Place today, this Renaissance Revival structure was originally built by Andrew Carnegie, in 1907, to house the Engineer's Club, a professional group of men who were creating an important niche for themselves in the world of business. It was Mr. Carnegie's strong desire to pay tribute to "ordinary men doing extraordinary things. " Members included President Herbert Hoover, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Today, No. 32 is completely residential, with Royce' Chocolate and Gotham Beauty Lounge located on either side of the stunning lobby. The exterior of the building remains almost the same, with its magnificent entryway and white stone facade.
A marriage of Mexican and barbecue, the bursting flavors of Mexicue set it apart from other mobile eats during its beginnings as a food truck in 2010. In 2011, the energy and vivacity of the original endeavor were carried over to a brick and mortar location on Seventh Avenue, and in 2014 Times Square became its third location, with continued plans for expansion. Great smells awaited me when I first stopped in one summer afternoon to find out what the buzz was about. Apart from the inviting wooden slab booths, the innovative menu, and the dynamic bar (which hosts weekday happy hours from 4pm to 6pm) what made me return for dinner that night was the charisma of the staff. From hostess to waiter, all members were devoted to ensuring a comfortable experience for their guests with bubbly smiles and relaxed attentiveness. Among other hits, the burnt ends brisket bowl has garnered quite a following with a base of award-winning chili, tortilla chips for crunch, and house-pickled jalapeños for a little kick. The empty bowl, after Manhattan Sideways members were done with it, assured me it was something special. What provoked my own interest, however, was the kale and quinoa bowl, an interesting listing on the menu that made sense at first bite, a perfect flavor combination of spicy Mexican and smoky barbecue.
At times, living in Manhattan can become a bit chaotic – and it is at 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 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 moleskin 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.