As a proud New Yorker for many years, I would always stop by St. Patrick's Cathedral while showing visitors the city. After walking all of the side streets on the Manhattan grid, I have discovered many magnificent churches in New York. I am still incredibly moved, however, every time I step inside St. Pat's. For me, it possesses all the grandeur of a Western European cathedral, yet it is right here in the heart of Midtown.
Home to the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, St. Patrick's Cathedral was built between 1858 and 1878 (construction was halted during the Civil War). A National Landmark, it was designed by James Renwick Jr. in the image of a thirteenth-century-style Gothic church with flying buttresses snaking up the walls, supporting the almost 340-foot structure, it boasts beautiful stained glass windows that softly diffuse the afternoon light. In the fall of 2014, the church is halfway through their multi-year renovation and cleaning. Although the interior and exterior are currently covered in scaffolding, the church maintains its majestic appearance and generates exhilaration as its restored marble facing is meticulously unveiled from the spires downward.
Initially serving as a resting stop for Scandinavian sailors when they disembarked in lower Manhattan, the Swedish Seaman's Church opened its doors on Water Street in 1873. The neo-Gothic building in which the Church currently resides was constructed in 1921 for "The Bible House" before being sold to the Church of Sweden in 1978. The Church's nautical past is evidenced in the model boats placed among the large collection of Swedish books. With a chapel, a library, and a coffee shop, the Church's doors are always open to Swedes. While tasting their delicious Swedish buns, I chatted with the staff who spoke enthusiastically about the function that the center plays in people's lives. For families, it provides a "wind" of Sweden whenever they miss their homeland. There are also multiple weddings conducted in the chapel each week, and people come from all over to celebrate holidays and shop at their Christmas Bazaar.
St. Bartholomew's, affectionately nicknamed St. Bart's, was built between 1916 and 1930 in the simplified Byzantine style. Sitting on an entire block amidst 50th and 51st Streets, the dramatic exterior has always caught my attention while traveling on Park Avenue. It was not until recently, while I was walking on the side streets, that I finally ventured indoors to appreciate the limestone walls, the magnificent stained glass windows, and the intricately designed dome. Designated as a landmark in 1967, St. Bart's is home to the largest organ in New York - and one of the ten largest in the world.
Facing a dwindling congregation, increased costs, and an exterior in desperate need of renovation, Saint Peter's Church was razed in 1971. What rose from the ashes, however, was a structure that preserved all of the history and sanctity of the old church, built in 1905, while presenting an innovative, modern design. The new Saint Peter's is indeed a place of worship for the twenty-first century and beyond. The exterior looks nothing like a traditional church. In fact, if passers-by do not take the time to look closely at the lettering, they might not realize that St. Peter's houses one of New York's largest Lutheran congregations. The open, unadorned lobby gives few clues as to what lies beyond. The space is massive, beginning below ground and stretching up several stories to a soaring ceiling. It includes many rows of pews and even a full orchestra pit, where groups unaffiliated with the church are invited to practice and perform. In addition to the larger sanctuary, Saint Peter's second iteration offers a smaller private chapel designed by Louise Nevelson, the first American artist in the United States to have been chosen for this honor. My mother, an award-winning biographer, had the pleasure of interviewing and getting to know this grand woman of the twentieth century as she was writing Breaking Tradition: The Story of Louise Nevelson, published in 1984. To quote from Natalie S. Bober's biography on the Good Shepherd chapel: "the sculptures that suggest grapes and grain, the Trinity and the Apostles, the striking white and gold crucifix, the benches for meditation, even the priests' vestments, were all designed by Louise Nevelson. In the Chapel of the Good Shepherd she showed her tremendous versatility.... in the almost blindingly beautiful all-white chapel, an oasis of calm within the huge and bustling Citicorp Center. The tiny chapel, an oddly shaped five-sided room, seats only twenty-eight people in pews set herringbone fashion, instead of facing the altar. Each wall holds a typical Nevelson sculpture that manages to strike a delicate balance between religion and art. 'Why had a Russian-born Jewish artist been selected to design a Lutheran chapel in New York? ' the pastor of St. Peter's was asked. 'Because she's the greatest living American sculptor, ' was his reply. "A huge admirer of Dale Chihuly, I was exuberant when I discovered that St. Peter's also proudly displays original work by Mr. Chihuly, the American artist best known for his startling, brilliant glasswork. On permanent loan are two "Macchia" bowls safely placed in the senior pastor's office, as well as a striking painting that hangs in the outer office of the church for all to appreciate. The painting, done on the premises by Chihuly in 1994, is a study in vibrant reds and yellows. Apparently, he arranged a series of bowls ascending vertically in the church so that he could refer to them while sketching. Today, the only visual trace of the old St. Peter's is a large black and white photograph depicting the church as it stood in the early 1900s. The entire space, however, is suffused with its history. Though completely modern on the outside, its deep roots allow a continuity between New York's past and its present. The church has been in existence for over 150 years, and, no doubt, will continue to grow and adapt in the years to come.
The beautiful Victorian Gothic church is certain to catch the eye of anyone passing by. The original congregation was formed in 1808, moving into their present location on Fifth Avenue in 1875. With no right angles or biblical iconography, the interior architecture reflects Presbyterian tradition of the nineteenth century. Featuring large stained glass windows and intricate woodwork in the ceiling, the inside of the church is stunning. The church has a longstanding history of dedication to helping the homeless in New York. In 1986, they opened a shelter that now houses up to twelve men at a time, all year long.
In 1823, a group of prominent men joined together to form a new Episcopal church in New York. St. Thomas had a troubling history of fire and destruction until the consecration of its current building on 53rd and Fifth Avenue in 1913. Designed by Lee Lawrie and Bertram Goodhue - the same architecture team that is responsible for Saint Bartholomew on 50th Street and Park Avenue - St. Thomas is as magnificent as many English cathedrals. An avid fan of its limestone exterior, sandstone interior, French High Gothic Style, and stained glass windows, I have never missed an opportunity to step indoors to admire and appreciate this incredible work of art.
This three-tiered observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center offers an unobstructed 360-degree panoramic view of New York and beyond. Its view is somewhat different from that of the Empire State Building as one is at eye-level with surrounding skyscrapers, rather than gazing down upon them. Opened in 1933, it was designed to resemble the upper decks of a 1930s ocean liner. When Top of the Rock reopened in 2005 – after having been closed since 1986 – my family was one of the first to ascend to the 70th floor, as it held special memories for my parents when they were dating back in the 1940s. It has since become a favorite tourist stop for me when out-of-town guests are visiting. With its mezzanine photo exhibit and other items of interest on the way to the top, what a phenomenal place to wow people of any age and to begin their journey through the side streets of Manhattan.
Toloache, a bustling Mexican bistro on 50th street, shares its name with the legendary Toloache flower. According to a myth in Mexican culture, the flower can be brewed into a love potion - if someone tastes the drink once, he or she will always return for another sip. The restaurant’s food and drinks have the same effect: Many people who eat there once return time and time again. General Manager Jorge shared a story about his friend from Japan who visited Toloache on the first night of a weeklong vacation in Manhattan. He ended up returning every day that week and then again every year during his annual visit to the city. Toloache on 50th is the first of many restaurants opened in New York by chef-owner Julian Medina. Chef Julian grew up in Mexico City, where he was inspired by the home cooking of his father and grandfather. He was originally brought to New York by Chef Richard Sandoval, who appointed him as Chef de Cuisine at Sandoval’s Maya. He went on to gain experience at distinguished restaurants and graduated from the French Culinary Institute with recognition. Today, Chef Julian owns seven of his own restaurants in the city and has been featured in several publications, including Men’s Journal, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. He has appeared on shows such as "Iron Chef" and "Beat Bobby Flay. " His impressive background is reflected in the success and distinctive menu of his “first child, ” Toloache. Julian designed Toloache’s extraordinary menu to have something for everyone – the wide range of dishes include both vegetarian and gluten free options. He prides himself on using only the freshest of ingredients, whether it is white truffles or chapulines (dried grasshoppers imported from Oaxaca). These crunchy critters have gained quite a bit of media attention, including a feature on "The Today Show. " The kitchen brought out the Tacos Chapulines for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph, and we had to admit that the insects were made to look very appetizing. We were also presented with the diverse Trio de Guacamoles, which allowed us to sample three varieties of the dip: the familiar traditional guacamole; the Frutas Guacamole, which incorporates fruit instead of typical ingredients (pomegranate, mango, and apple instead of tomato and Thai Basil instead of cilantro); and the Rojo guacamole, made with chipotle. Several of us went on to sample the Quesadilla de Huitlacoche y Trufas (made with fresh truffles), The Baja Tilapia Pescado, and the braised short rib, served with quinoa and carrots. Each dish exemplified Chef Julian’s inventiveness and ability to put small, flavor-enhancing twists on typical Mexican cuisine. The drinks were equally impressive, including Julian’s favorite “Chef’s Selection Margarita, ” made with his hand-picked bottle of Herradura Tequila. The bartender mixed a few cocktails for us to photograph and taste, including the refreshing “De la Calle, ” made with cucumber and jalapeno; the spicy “Mezcalita de Pina”; and the signature “Toloache, ” made with hibiscus and blueberries. The food is amazing and the drinks are fantastic, but what really keeps so many guests coming back is Toloache’s dedication to quality service. As Jorge informed us, “Our goal is to make every guest feel at home. They are our friends. ” Each of the servers have their own style, creating unique, yet equally enjoyable dining experiences. Guests are able to experience Toloache in a completely new light from one day to the next just by sitting at a different server’s table. It was event manager Temple who summed the restaurant up perfectly: "Toloache feels like a family – like you’re walking into Little Mexico. ”