“We’re a space for organizing and connection,” is how Communications Director Helen Buse described the LGBT Community Center. Though the seeds of The Center were planted following the 1969 Stonewall riots, it took nearly fifteen years for it to be founded at the site of a former trade high school on 13th Street. Since then, it has been the birthplace of a bevy of key advocacy organizations that went on to gain national prominence, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Queer Nation, and the ACT UP coalition to fight AIDS. It is now home to hundreds of groups that run the gamut from drawing classes to political associations to twelve-step programs. The Center’s own resources are equally as wide-ranging, including substance abuse recovery and wellness services, mental health support, economic advancement initiatives, career guidance, and an abundance of arts activities such as film screenings and in-house exhibitions.
The Center has long been a locus for artists, activists, and academics to discuss and create work that celebrates the queer community and addresses the relevant issues it faces. Its first cultural event, known as Second Tuesday, has been running uninterrupted since 1985. It serves as an opportunity for those in academia, politics, and a myriad of other fields to read their work and converse with the LGBTQ+ community. Speakers from Black writer Audre Lorde to AIDS historian Sarah Schulman have lectured under this series, which is a Center favorite. Helen is proud to say that these direct resources are continually growing to respond to the needs of all who flock to the organization. “It makes me excited for what the future holds because the Center has a track record of expansion and evolution that is part of what makes it so special.”
The Center’s significance is not merely limited to what it provides, but also the building where it is housed. In the 1980s, a host of artists were invited to paint murals across the walls, many of which are still visible today. A piece by Keith Haring located in the second-floor bathroom is especially popular, and Helen always urges visitors to take a look. “They are a great part of history.”
Unbeknownst to most New Yorkers, the area around West 14th (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) was once “Little Spain. ” The Spanish Benevolent Society was once the heart of this thriving community, and is today one of the last remaining relics of this period. The club, founded in 1868, was created as a place to bring together Spanish and Hispanic-American citizens of New York. Early on, the club provided Spanish immigrants with essential support and services. It later became more of a cultural hub for Spanish avant-garde artists and writers, and a meeting place for political revolutionaries during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. It has played host to such greats as the artists Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, the director Luis Buñuel, and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. The society, housed in a beautiful brownstone so discreet that most pedestrians simply walk right by, now serves as a repository for the rich cultural history of “Little Spain. ” The archives contain hundreds of photographs and documents relating to the history of the area, as well as a documentary made in 2010 by Spanish filmmaker Artur Balder telling the story of the society (he spent a year living there, researching and working as a resident artist). For those interested in Spanish art, literature, or culture, or the immigrant history of Manhattan, in general, the Spanish Benevolent Society is a lesser-known gem to be discovered.
Although there are many around the country, the New York branch of this enrichment center operates independently, inviting people in their 20's and 30's to engage in Jewish enrichment programs. By celebrating the Jewish holidays, participating in education classes, sharing in a Shabbat dinner, learning Hebrew, becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or just allowing young people to "increase their love of Judaism, " the JEC is a welcoming environment to many, including the Birthright Israel Alumni Community.
Our senses all perked up as we experienced the exotic scents in this Mediterranean café where the Arabic name translates to welcome and peace. Bassam Omary came to New York thirty-five years ago as a student and worked at his cousin’s Greenwich Avenue Syrian restaurant. With his wife Joan, he bought and moved the restaurant to 13th street, where they have been cooking traditional Middle Eastern dishes and satisfying culinary cravings for fifteen years. The food is superb. After a long day of interviews, we stopped back at Salam for a late lunch. We were served a platter with an array of food: hummus with a lemon flair, babaganouj with fresh pita, grape leaves stuffed with cheese, crispy falafel, a filo dough spinach pie, and a cup of sweet Arabic coffee to perk us up. Bassam, Joan explained, has a stake in the restaurant both as owner and chef. He is constantly experimenting, returning to the traditional dishes his mother taught him how to cook, and using the freedom he has as owner to explore the spices, ingredients, and flavors he is passionate about. Thank you, Joan and Bassam, for genuinely welcoming us into this lovely restaurant.
When we first visited the Walker Hotel, it was known as the Jade. The 1920's speakeasy theme became obvious to us immediately as we entered the hotel and walked through the lobby, but it was quite fun to see that it was carried through to the guest rooms with their antique-looking rotary telephones by the side of the bed. The comment from the young people with me that day was that it immediately reminded them of "Boardwalk Empire. " This pleased the woman showing us around tremendously. Built from the ground up - the land was a vacant lot when Gemini Hospitality bought it in the early 2010s - the goal for the hotel is for guests to feel welcomed from the moment they step inside. There is a warm and embracing atmosphere with a fireplace and library as the focal points. We appreciated that the collection of books on the shelves will be by well-known favorite authors who once lived in the vicinity. This boutique hotel has 113 rooms on eighteen floors. We had the pleasure of previewing some of them all the way up. Besides the standard queen being perfectly lovely with all of the amenities one would need, it also sports an amazing view - with no obstructions. From the north, we could see the Empire State Building, and from the South we looked downtown to the Freedom Towers. Just spectacular. We certainly applaud the concept of the hotel, which is to introduce guests to the wonderful places, people and atmosphere that surrounds 13th Street. Rather than encouraging visitors to leave the area to explore the popular tourist spots around the city, they are providing guests with lists of things to do right in Greenwich Village and Union Square. A philosophy that matches ours completely. In 2016, the Jade became the Walker Hotel Greenwich Village. We were happy to hear that it is still spearheaded by the same management.
Originally, an offshoot of David Chang’s award-winning restaurant group Momofuku, 13th is one of the fortunate streets to have one of his well-loved milk bars open. Today, acclaimed pastry chef Christina Tosi takes the combination of baked goods and milk to a whole new level at each of her locations – yes, I have had many a treat. Soft serve “cereal milk” or jugs of this tasty milk to go, the infamous crack pie, cornflake or compost cookies... and then there are the packages of cake truffles – these are slices of cake that are condensed into supremely dense balls of sugary goodness. Definitely worth a bite or two... or three. Milk Bar also donates a portion of every dairy sale to various independent and family dairy farmers in need. All in all, Milk Bar is a dessert lover’s heaven.
Peridance Capezio Center is a mecca for dance in NYC, fostering the arts in the local and international dance communities, for over 30 years. Peridance offers multiple platforms for dancers and non-dancers alike, including more than 250 weekly open classes, a Professional Training Programs, an F-1 Visa Program for International Students, and The School at Peridance - a comprehensive children and teen program. Their adult open classes are offered in all styles and levels, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. Peridance Capezio Center is also home to the professional dance company, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company and its affiliated Peridance Youth Ensemble. In conjunction with their renowned faculty and partners (Capezio, Djoniba Dance Centre, Limón Dance Company, Baila Society, and Dance Informa), Peridance has gained an international reputation for the programs it offers. The Center is housed in a beautiful landmark building featuring six spacious studios, The Salvatore Capezio Theater, the Peridance Coffee Shop, and the Capezio dance-wear Boutique. One afternoon, I had the privilege of stopping by the Peridance Capezio Center to observe their students training. I witnessed the explosive athleticism and technical discipline at play in Shannon Gillen’s Advanced Contemporary class, as students tested the strength of their bodies in an array of conditioning and floor exercises. Later, in the large upstairs Studio 1, bathed in the sun’s rays from the skylights above, I watched as dancers chasséd and pirouetted across the room in Breton Tyner-Bryan’s Advanced-Intermediate Ballet class. I would not be surprised to find any one of these talented performers on stage someday.
Operated by the Salvation Army, this large pre-war apartment complex offers housing to women - ages 18 through 50 - who are either enrolled in school or are employed. There is someone at the desk 24/7, two meals a day are offered, and each simply furnished apartment has its own bathroom.