To Taras Strachnyi, the East Village is home. He has lived in the neighborhood since he moved from Ukraine when he was nine years old and he describes it as his “favorite place in all the boroughs.” It is not surprising, therefore, that he chose the East Village as the new location for BeQu, his Brooklyn-transplant juice store that stands for “Beyond Quality.”
Taras got an early start in the world of juices. In 2000, when he was fifteen years old, he started a summer job at Lucky’s Juice Joint, which would soon become Liquiteria. Even as a teenager, Taras recognized that “Liquiteria was at the top.” There were not many juice places in the city at that time, but even so, Taras recognized that Liquiteria’s consistency, cleanliness, and attention to detail put it above the rest. The summer job turned into an after-school job and Taras became a manager at the tender age of seventeen. He explained how he was exposed to a “whole new world of juicing, cleansing, and detoxing.” While his friends went off to college, Taras remained, learning the ins and outs of running a juice business and taking classes on the side. He says he had a great teacher: “The owner was an amazing leader,” he told me. “He didn’t like to be called the boss….he was just an amazing person.”
In 2008, Taras achieved his dream of opening up his own cafe in Brooklyn with his brother, Peter. He had no desire to compete with Liquiteria, so he opened in a different borough and split his focus between food and juice. After Liquiteria was sold to new management, however, Taras moved juice to the forefront and started looking at real estate in the East Village. In 2012, he moved to 9th Street. He holds true to the tenets of quality and service that he learned in his early juicing days, and it clearly pays off. He proudly informed me, “Many familiar faces from fifteen years ago at Liquiteria come to visit.”
What makes BeQu different from the many other juice shops in the city, in Taras’ mind, is the fact that they work in micro-batches. Where many companies mass-produce, BeQu makes four to five bottles at a time, so that they can pay attention to detail and prevent heat and light from getting into the juice. They also do cold-pressed juice on the spot and have close relationships with the twenty-five local farms that provide them with apples, celery, spinach, kale, ginger and other produce from Long Island and Upstate. “We still use the traditional method of making juice. It is that process that originally made these juices popular,” Taras proudly stated.
What I found most impressive is that Taras makes sure that every customer knows exactly what they are consuming. There is a story behind each product. “Every item I sell out of here has to be special,” Taras assured me. He told me that when the shop is not busy, he will take customers into the back to see how the juices are made. “We have nothing to hide,” Taras explained. He gives each customer a personal experience. “I’m very proud of that,” he said.
The first time Amelia stepped inside Kavasutra, New York City’s first Kava bar, it was well after midnight. Although I had described it to her as best I could, she was unsure what to expect. Despite the hour, it was crowded, with a few patrons hanging out on the benches in front of the shop. The bartender welcomed her as she came in, as did many of the people that were already laughing and singing along to the music playing loudly from an overhead speaker. He explained that it was just about time for the “one a. m. slam, ” the time of night at Kavasutra when single Kava shots are only one dollar. Amelia ordered one and watched as everyone else scrambled to get in their orders before the clock struck one. The Kava shell came to her, a small black bowl filled with what looks like murky water and garnished with a slice of pineapple. At one a. m., the bartender lifted his hand in the air. “Everyone ready? ” he said as the crowd joined him in raising up their Kava shells. Amelia followed suit and the bartender began to count down from three. As Amelia described the event to me, "We all raised the shells to our mouths and downed our kava shots, and then a loud cheer rose up from the bar. "Kava is a root, ground and mixed with water, that is traditionally drunk on the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Over the years, it has grown in popularity in the Western World. In addition to its first location in Manhattan on 10th Street, Kavasutra has multiple bars in Florida and one in Denver, Colorado. According to Kavasutra’s website, Kava is a safe alternative to alcohol, which gives one a calming feeling without the mentally incapacitating effects of other substances. I first discovered the cafe/bar on a Saturday afternoon. My husband was eager to give Kava a try. I had a quick taste, but, like many, did not find it appealing. However, my husband persevered. Both the guys behind the bar and those sitting around it said that it does not go down easily, but is well worth the effort. A seasoned veteran at the bar explained what to expect from our first experience. “It’ll just mellow you out, ” he said. Exactly how it was described to us is how my husband felt. "It definitely gave me a bit of a high sensation, " he said. When I asked Amelia how it was for her, she told me, "I had a slight tingling numbness on my lips and throat, then a feeling of calm and clarity pervaded my senses. " Both concurred that this lasted for several hours.
The warmly painted walls inside Veselka envelop the room in folky florals and traditional Ukrainian symbols. Hanging from the ceiling are glowing milk glass globes that seem to replace the sun or moon depending on the time of day — and it could be any time at all, as Veselka is open for twenty-four hours, seven days a week, serving a smorgasbord of pierogis, bowls of borscht, and other expertly prepared comfort foods — Ukrainian and otherwise. Wlodymyr Darmochwal planted roots for Veselka when, as one of the founders of the neighborhood Plast organization (akin to the Ukrainian boy scouts, teaching survival skills and Ukrainian language), he was asked to create a weekend study program for the boys. In response, he opened a five-and-dime style counter at the corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue where the boys could buy paper clips, cigarettes, lighters, and, notably, bowls of borscht and other basic Ukrainian foods. The business expanded into another storefront on East 9th Street a decade later. After Wlodymyr’s passing in 1972, it was taken over by his stepson, Tom Birchard, who was later joined by his son, Jason. Today, having worked at the restaurant since he was a teenager, Jason has “done every single job possible here except cook the borscht. ”When Jason joined the team, one of his first projects was to find out, “How late can we stay open? ” It turns out the answer was “all night. ” As Tom and Jason once again prepare to expand the restaurant into an adjoining storefront on 9th Street, they are eager to continue serving the next generation the kind of traditional Ukrainian food that Wlodymyr would have had at his counter more than sixty years ago.
Shahrzad Ghajar, founder of the gift shop Spooksvilla + friends, takes curation to another level. She meets with each of the artists represented in the store and personally chooses every piece showcased on the walls and shelves. Shahrzad, herself, is a talented artist, and many of her designs are featured in the shop. By focusing on the artists, Spooksvilla ensures that everything for sale - from apparel to wall art - is one-of-a-kind. “We like to be representative of original people doing original things— be it art, products, charms or any other kind of cool item, " said Ethan Velez, manager of Spooksvilla. Despite the fact that multiple artists contribute to Spooksvilla, the store is not a hodgepodge of styles. Rather, the art is united in its bold, whimsical designs. A favorite is the label on the bottle of the rose bath salts - a piece of art in itself. A woman with purple skin and purple hair rides a pink dragon, holding, of course, roses.
Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake. As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.
The essence of Duo is in its name; it is two things at once. It is dulled colors and clean lines, minimalist in feel but simultaneously filled with warmth and softness. Both young and old, vibrant and calm, it is modern and fresh but brings to mind memories of simpler times: of handwritten letters, cozy Sunday afternoons and soft breezes over the wide open fields of northern Minnesota, the owners’ home state. Conflicting and complementing all at once, Duo is the product of two minds at work. Sisters Wendy and LaRae Kangas have created a perfect little fashion oasis that fits right in with the small town vibes of Manhattan’s East Village. Growing up, Wendy and LaRae pestered each other and fought over clothes, as siblings will do, but in 2008 they decided to open up a shop together. Today, they work with dealers and emerging independent designers throughout the country and pick all their clothing, accessories and home goods by hand, combining masculine and feminine styles with modern silhouettes and vintage traces to curate a timeless collection of quality, classic pieces. “It’s a very personal process, ” they told me, “and we put a lot of love into our shop and our collections. ” Nothing at Duo is mass-produced, and most of their merchandise is recycled. The sisters pour their hearts into the shop and work hard to stay true to themselves while keeping an eye toward the future, expanding their business into the world of e-commerce and social media. “It’s important to stay current and give the customers what they want, ” they said. They love what they do, and working with family makes it even more fun, according to the sisters. “It makes work smooth when you don’t have to verbalize what you’re thinking, ” they told me, “We just know what each other is thinking and it makes choosing products and daily operations much easier. ”Duo is a celebration of creative spirit. It is clear that the sisters revel in the one-of-a-kind individuality of each and every one of their customers who come to them looking for pieces that will express their own unique style. When explaining what they love about their work, they said, “It’s great to make a customer feel better when they walk out the door. ”