The New York Society Library is the oldest library in New York City. It was established in 1754 and was frequented by our founding fathers. Though there was technically no "Library of Congress" at that point in our nation's history, Carolyn Waters, the current head librarian, stated that the New York Society Library was the next best thing. It has had a vibrant history, having been looted by the Redcoats during the Revolution, moved among five different locations, and seen hoards of notable figures walk through its doors.
The building holds personal meaning to me, since my mother lived directly across from the library in the 1980s and used its reference room to do research for her biography of Thomas Jefferson. Spending time here with my mom in the children's room was where the initial spark developed for the two of us to open our bookstore, "Once Upon A Time." Coming back so many years later and having a personal tour with Carolyn was an absolute treat. I was thrilled to see that the old card catalogue in the reference room, containing drawers of titles and authors from 1989 and earlier, still remained. When I mentioned this to Carolyn, she quickly responded, "The librarians would chain themselves to it if you tried to remove it."
Though you must be a member to access the upper floors of the library, the gallery and certain events are open to visitors. Carolyn explained that membership has always been universal, even to women, dating back to the library's inception. As an example of female membership, Carolyn showed us the exhibit on Sarah Parker Goodhue who donated $600,000 to the library in 1917, along with pieces from her husband's family's estate. The donation allowed the library to buy the building in 1937. Prior to this, it was the private home of John Rogers. Among the pieces on display was a facsimile of a letter written by George Washington – the original is temperature controlled in the library's upper floors.
From the gallery, Carolyn led us into the Members' room where chairs were filled with readers. This room purposefully does not have WiFi, allowing members to experience an entirely analog environment. The whole back wall of the room is filled with exquisite china that was echoed in its detail by the walnut moldings on the walls and ceiling. Carolyn pointed out that the chairs and tables are the same furniture that was originally placed in the room in 1937.
We then explored the stacks, where I asked Carolyn about the library's collection strategy. She said that for a long time fiction was considered frivolous, but that they stocked some titles because "it brought people into the library." Because the library has limited space, the librarians continue to select their material very carefully, weeding out where necessary, but generally trying to hold onto the collection while still continuing to expand. I found it fascinating that there are records of what books have been taken out dating back to the library's beginning. As Carolyn said, "It's a study of the reading history of the city. We know what the founding fathers were reading."
Our next stop was the children's room, which was bright and airy and decorated with some of my favorite storybook characters. Meeting the children's librarian, I was pleased to hear that they continue to have children's authors and illustrators visit, and that many are members. While impressed by the carefully curated collection, it was when I discovered my mom's poetry anthology, Let's Pretend, Poems of Flight and Fancy on the shelf, that I became elated.
Our final stop was to the six private reading rooms. According to Carolyn they are almost always taken, and come with a row of lockers that can be reserved on a rotating six-month schedule. It was in these rooms that my mom did much of her research and writing. Around the corner, there is a larger group reading room, called the Hornblower Room. While showing us the rooms, Carolyn shared a fun story: Apparently, Wendy Wasserstein wrote about sitting in one of the smaller study rooms as a member of the library where she was soothed by the subtle dripping of an exposed pipe. Because of this, Carolyn told us that when they renovated the room a number of years ago, they chose to keep the exposed pipe. It seemed to me like a fitting detail of the library, which has kept a perfect balance of tradition and history versus technology and modernization.
The inside of Nice Matin is like a bright carnival ground with three central pillars decorated with lights, wide spaces between tables, and colorful art on the walls. Above the doorway, there is an arrangement of baskets and fruit with handwritten signs and prices in euros, emulating European markets. At any hour of the day or evening, the restaurant is filled with people both from the surrounding neighborhood as well as from the Lucerne, the connecting hotel. The chef and owner of Nice Matin is Andy D'Amico, who has since gone on to develop other restaurants around the city, including 5 Napkin Burger. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Andy worked at Parker House in Boston and at the Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side, where he was promoted to head chef. In 2003, he partnered with Simon Oren to open Nice Matin, a venture that earned him the title of "Best Chef 2003" from New York Magazine. I met with Danny, the General Manager, who shared their elaborate cocktail list that had classics with a twist. He brought out a San Tropez, Nice Matin's take on the mojito. It had summery passion fruit foam that complemented the mint and dark rum. The restaurant has seasonal cocktails, such as hot toddies in the winter and Campari cocktails in the spring. My favorite time to dine at Nice Matin, however, is on a warm weekend morning when their elaborate brunch menu is offered, and I can sit outside.
Sojourn calls itself the Upper East Side’s “sexiest restaurant, ” and it is hard to argue: the color scheme, in coppers browns and reds, gives the restaurant a warm, intimate feeling. The name, which means “a temporary stay, ” hints at the fact that visitors can expect a full dining experience. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was excited to return to Sojourn. She and her family had discovered the restaurant, tucked behind a residential-looking doorway, right before Thanksgiving and had visited two more times by the New Year. Along with the friendly staff, warm ambience, and delectable, seasonal food, what makes Sojourn stand out is its approach to courses: all menu items can be ordered as sharable tapas, with just the right number for the table. For example, when Olivia went with a group of seven family members and ordered the chorizo croquettes, the waiter said he would bring out two orders at three to a plate... plus one extra. Using this innovative way of ordering, each party can essentially create their own tasting menu. As for beverages, the cocktail menu is sophisticated and diverse. The restaurant not only has a large selection of wine, but also keeps some of their grapes in barrels rather than bottles, a more environmentally friendly method of storing and serving it. Among the many menu items that Olivia’s family tasted were the zesty arugula salad, crispy fish tacos, and Kobe beef sliders. Despite being thoroughly full, they made sure to have enough room for the warm, fluffy churros served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. We spoke to Johnny Musovic, who owns Sojourn with his father, Sami. They originally opened a Mexican restaurant called Santa Fe in the same location, but discovered that the neighborhood did not have a strong need for casual Mexican food. Instead, the father and son duo reopened with a higher-end concept which has been wholly embraced. Johnny proudly told me that his father is no newcomer to the restaurant world, having been the Head Maitre D’ at Sparks Steakhouse and Mr. Chow’s. He also has two other restaurants nearby. As for Johnny himself, he told me “In this industry, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, ” referencing his time spent as everything from dishwasher to delivery boy to co-owner. He is clearly very proud of Sojourn for a variety of reasons, beginning with the food. “Most chefs are into fresh, local ingredients, but these chefs really are. ” He is also happy to have cultivated a chic, relaxing space, which includes live music on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Though he proclaims that the Upper East Side is his favorite part of the city, Johnny’s dream is to open up a Sojourn in Midtown one day. Until then, his goal is to integrate his bar crowd and his dining crowd. One night, he held a two hour open bar as his way of “giving back” to the neighborhood. Along with drinks, he offered his customers a series of hors d’oeuvres. He was surprised by how many of his bar regulars approached him and said, “I didn’t realize you had such great food! ”
Shaaray Tefila has a very special place in my heart. For well over twenty years, beginning in the early 1970's, this was a home away from home for my grandparents. Reaching 79th Street and having the opportunity to write about this synagogue has brought tears to my eyes again and again. Rabbi Tattelbaum played an important role not only in my grandparent's lives, but in mine as well, when I was a young, impressionable teenager. It was Chip Schrager, the Communications Coordinator for the temple in 2015, who kindly guided the Manhattan Sideways team through the space, beginning with the main sanctuary. The room is expansive, seating 400 people downstairs and 200 in the balcony, and Chip was proud to say that it was filled to the rafters during the recent Hanukkah services. Something that I did not know was that the building used to be a movie theater until the temple took over in 1958. The old projector room is now used as an office for the parenting programs. Founded in 1845 as a strict Orthodox temple, Shaaray Tefila has shifted locations throughout the city, becoming Reform along the way. Stepping into the chapel, where smaller services are held, I saw bold stained glass ornaments on one side of the room with the names and symbols of characters from Jewish lore. In the meeting room nearby, well-polished Judaic pieces, along with artifacts dating back to the temple's founding were displayed. In addition, we took note of photographs of the old temple on West 82nd Street, the Seal of the Congregation, and even the trowel that the rabbi used to lay the cornerstone of the Temple. Leaving the room, Chip gestured to photographs of six men who were senior rabbis at Temple Shaaray Tefila. The temple has a strong children's program, including a nursery school, kindergarten, and religious school that extends through high school. We appreciated getting to observe the room used for art class. A giant paint pallet decorated the wall and colorful supplies lined the room. We then ventured up to the roof where the playground is located, surrounded by a fence that still allowed for a beautiful view of the winter sunset. It was here that Chip continued to speak of the various programs offered to every age group, including senior citizens. This is what my grandparents took advantage of so many years ago, and it warmed my heart to know that people are still participating in the various classes that Shaaray Tefila has to offer. As Chip beautifully stated, "Whatever your Jewish journey is, we want to be a part of it. "