Walking into Le Labo, I was hit with a beguiling bouquet of scents. As someone who has never been fond of overly floral, fruity perfumes, I fell in love with the woodsy, sometimes spicy smells wafting around the simply set up store that seemed straight out of a Wes Anderson film. Cali, the salesperson who greeted me, explained that all the scents are unisex and vegan, made with no sulphates. She also explained that everything is made in the store in small batches so that the aging process starts upon purchase rather than on the shelf. Listening to her proudly tell me about their high standards of quality control and emphasis on craftsmanship, I became even more impressed with the small, rustic shop.
As she showed me the newly-launched roll-on perfumes based in safflower oil (rather than alcohol), Cali told me more about the brand. Le Labo’s founders, Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi, created the company in Grasse, a town on the French Riviera, but “raised the brand in New York.” They wanted to "start a revolution," choosing not to advertise or keep any of their stock on the shelf, preferring the laboratory approach of bottling each scent personally for every shopper in the workshop at the back of their boutiques. I saw the beautiful individualized labels, each with a space to mark the day the perfume was bought. Cali also showed me the beautiful old machine that is used to engrave metal packaging. “These are all tools, not machines,” Cali pointed out. “It is all about craftsmanship.”
She finished her tour of the wares, including candles, jars full of classic perfume ingredients, solid perfumes based in coconut oil and beeswax, and a collection of her favorite scents (since she discovered that we were both “woodsy gals”). Each scent is marked with its base ingredient, and I learned that the number one seller is Santal 33 (made with Sandalwood). Cali was kind enough to make me a little sachet of samples to try. With such a personal touch given to each little bottle, it is hard for me to decide which scent I like best.
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. We left wondering whether phantom customers are good tippers.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me, ” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back. ” A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful. ” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill, ” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to. ” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.