When most folks think of start-ups, they think of San Francisco. New York, however, has quite the thriving start-up scene in its own right, and it is not all about Cornell University's upcoming tech school on Roosevelt Island. Black Ocean nurtures young media start-ups through the crucial early stages of their development. They invest strategically, provide open office spaces for the companies and create an environment of cooperation and (hopefully) synergistic growth...and this all takes place in a very attractive building that dates back to 1874, but on the inside is filled with contemporary art.
Originally known as the Manhattan Opera House, 311 West has had an interesting history. Oscar Hammerstein built the theater in 1906, but after a few short years, the Metropolitan Opera House came to him requesting that he not compete with them, and made him an offer that he could not refuse. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hammerstein sold the building to the Shubert brothers where they continued to feature a variety of shows and concerts. In 1922, it was sold again, and this time a Grand Ballroom was added. Unbeknownst to the builders, they had created an outstanding acoustic setup where musicians from Harry Belafonte to the Grateful Dead have performed and recorded. Over the past twenty plus years, construction has been on-going as more multimedia studios have been added and a refurbishing done to the Hammerstein Ballroom to accommodate large private events.
The concept for a synagogue dedicated to the LBGT community was born in 1973. It has had a long and rich history since then, culminating in the opening of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in April 2016. After forty-three years of wandering in Manhattan - and gathering thousands of supporters along the way - the congregation has finally found its home on the ground floor of a beautiful 1928 landmarked building, the Cass Gilbert. Having visited a multitude of magnificent old world synagogues on the side streets, it was refreshing to enter a brand new, contemporary sanctuary. There is no stained glass, ornate decorations, or elaborate arks. The color scheme is a simple burgundy and dark blue with light, natural wood benches for seating. Every detail and accent was carefully thought out by a group of congregants together with the architect, Aari Ludvigsen. I repeatedly heard stories from the staff about what each piece represented and the history behind it. The ark is a true piece of art: There is a skylight above it, allowing the sun to shine down. Upon opening the doors, an iridescent braided piece of fabric is revealed. Behind that, a magnificent Moroccan brocade curtain opens to display the five Torahs, including one that survived the Holocaust. As Chaz Macrina, our tour guide, said, "Everything in the temple has a meaningful reason for being here. "Tom, the photographer for Manhattan Sideways, and I were shown every nook and cranny. The two men leading us around were very proud of their newly created environment. The small, elegant chapel downstairs gave me a tremendous sense of calm. I appreciated the amount of space that was dedicated to the kitchen, as most synagogues complain about how difficult it is to maneuver in this area. The children's room was impressive, with toys, games, puzzles, and books, neatly organized in cubbies. In addition to being a Green Building, the level of technology in place is incredible. There is an LED behind each name on the memorial walls; former members are upstairs and friends and family are downstairs. Even the brightly-colored orange and magenta bathrooms have a story behind them, told through the brilliantly conceived wallpaper. I noticed the rainbow flag when we first entered the building, but it was not until we were standing by the doorway, getting ready to say our good-byes, that I inquired about it. Hanging from the wall is the original gay rights flag that was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. This has eight stripes, whereas today, we are more familiar with the simplified, six-color version. What an experience, what a story, and what a stunning synagogue - and the best part is that absolutely anyone and everyone is welcome.
The James A. Farley Post Office Building is now a mixed-use building. It includes Meta offices, the Moynihan Train Hall, and the USPS. In memory of the post office general James A. Farley's public service (who held this position in 1934), the main post office of New York City was renamed in 1982. Taking up two square blocks of Manhattan with one of its entrances on 31st Street, this massive building is absolutely grand. Famously inscribed on the outside of the structure, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, " but I find the interior to be equally intriguing. There is even a small gallery housing some original postal boxes from the U. S. and abroad. Presently, while renderings continue to be drawn up for the expansion of Amtrak, it is evident that some work has begun, and, ultimately, this location will be renamed the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Station.
The Jeanne D’Arc Home, originally founded in 1896 as a refuge for French girls separated from their families, has remained to this day a safe and welcoming place for women in Manhattan. Run by the Congregation of Divine Providence, the home accepts women from all religions and cultures - often women from other countries who have come to New York temporarily to study or to work. On any given day, the home houses 140 women, and the staff work to create a safe and warm community for all of its members. While it is a home, and visitors must respect that, it is also a wonderful historic site, representative of the hospitable spirit of New York.
Hailing from a family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu royalty, Renzo Gracie is not a good man with whom to make trouble. He is, however, a good man to train with, carrying several blackbelts and fight records, including bouts against past world champions. In 1995, while still an active (young) fighter, Gracie moved to New York and opened Renzo Gracie in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks north of its current location. Since then, the gym has moved south, added Muay Thai to its training acumen (as well as comprehensive MMA and boxing programs), and seen more than one world champion come to train.
Arriving from South Africa, Albertus Swanepoel attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, which led him to an apprenticeship and ultimately his own glove-making business. The appeal of gloves, however, was “incredibly limited, ” as most people wear them only seasonally. So, renaissance man that he is, Albertus switched gears and slid seamlessly into the world of hats. Now he is firmly entrenched in his new niche, and has been producing haute couture headwear since the 1990s. Grounding his practice in old-fashioned millinery traditions, but using techniques from multiple fashion disciplines, he is able to approach hats creatively and expertly. This is a must for a bold garment that can fall flat if not done stylishly. “I try to make things that people wear everyday and look cool but not nostalgic, ” Swanepoel explained. And New Yorkers are wearing his high-end hats across the city. Albertus has a very optimistic take on his environment: “I think that’s the great thing about Manhattan. There are so many people living here that you can almost do anything and people will want it. ”
“We wanted to be that diamond in the rough, ” explained Ashley, the co-owner of Blank Slate. When Ashley and Zach, spouses and co-owners, were searching for a location for their restaurant, they wanted to find a neighborhood with a large crowd but not a lot of quality spots to eat. Blank Slate is successfully that hidden gem located in NoMad, one of Manhattan’s up and coming neighborhoods. Blank Slate attracts a crowd full of young, creative professionals who are quickly changing the area. Ashley and Zach established Blank Slate, which opened in November of 2015, in an effort to create the first coffee-shop-restaurant hybrid in New York City. Ashley explains that they were tired of going to places that provided quality coffee but low quality food. She wanted a place that offered superb grab-n-go coffee as well as more formal dining where friends could meet for a long meal. Ashley and Zach’s vision has been realized. Blank Slate serves killer coffee as well as an impressive assortment of salads, sandwiches and even gourmet desserts. Their coffee is proudly served from farm to cup in close to 20 days. They have a sign at the cash register indicating the green date and roast date of the coffee being served that day. My intern, Emily, hesitantly tried their brussels sprout Caesar salad and only had positive things to say about it, even though she usually does not enjoy Brussels sprouts. Blank Slate also has a small but wonderfully curated market located inside the restaurant, which offers primarily locally sourced products such as cookie dough, yoghurts, pickles and a host of beverages. In addition to serving excellent coffee and food, Blank Slate has a fun, creative atmosphere. Ashley and Zach chose Blank Slate’s name because they wanted to convey the idea that people can make or create everything here. While customers wait in line for coffee, for example, there are etch-a-sketches on which to play. They even have Instagram competitions that reward one talented etch-a-sketcher with a free meal. Ashley hopes that Blank Slate can be a space for people to create. She explained that the etch-a-sketch sends a message: the “possibility of everything. "
In the race among Manhattan restaurants to attract customers, simplicity is sometimes lost. But not so in the Mason Jar, a restaurant and bar that keeps it old school with good vibes and great tastes. The southern, barbecue-heavy menu and extensive list of craft beers and bourbons speak for themselves, complete with suggested pairings. Each month, a new craft beer is featured in an effort to support small breweries. If these beers attract a following, they are added to the full-time roster. While visiting with some Sideways members, I had a lively conversation with chef about the different styles of barbecue - our North Carolinian team member swears by vinegar sauce and appreciated Mason Jar’s variety. The food is fresh and not overdone, but at the same time the Chef “puts love into it. ” The high quality meat is treated seriously - specialty ribs are coated with a dry rub, smoked using apple and hickory wood, braised, and mopped with a tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce. Then grilled. The brisket and boneless pork butts are given no less attention. Replete with wood, American Flags, and comfortable seating, Mason Jar also achieves a homey feel to match its Southern style. Many of the University of South Carolina alumni in Manhattan choose this spot as the venue to catch the Cocks football games, and Villanova basketball fans flock here for their games, as well. With the hearty food, good beers, and down-home feel, it is easy to understand why. To put it plainly and simply, Mason Jar was a good find.