I have lived on the Upper West Side for several years, but it was not until I walked on 70th Street one evening that I discovered Shalel. It is tucked away down a set of stairs with no signage during the daytime. Curious what this was, I descended the steps lined with rose petals and herbs, and entered what seemed like a magical cave, decked out in Moroccan décor and candles. There were secret nooks behind curtains and around corners filled with pillows, couches and tapestries. In the back, erupting from a mysterious darkness, was the fountain for which the restaurant is named - Shalel means “fountain” in Arabic. When I visited with the Manhattan Sideways team, I was able to learn the history of the restaurant from the owner.
Vasilis Katehis, who hails from Greece, bought the basement space in 2000. “It was terrible,” he said, describing an uninhabitable, dark piece of real estate that apparently had never been used for anything except storage. He began by lowering the floors by a foot and exposing the sheet rock, which he cleaned. The waterfall, he explained, used to be a pile of dirt. Despite the difficulty of the project, Vasilis greatly enjoyed the endeavor, since he considered it a labor of art. “I like anything having to do with design, décor, and poetry,” he lyrically stated. “I had a vision.”
By the time Vasilis was done with the renovation, the difference between the beginning and end product was “like night and day.” Even though the nooks and crannies had all existed before - and Vasilis's vision was to do “the unfinished thing,” - he succeeded in completely transforming a basement into a romantic restaurant. Shalel immediately attracted customers, drawn to the idea of an underground eatery. Initially, it used to be more of “a date place,” but in 2015, Vasilis told me that he tends to attract an older clientele. He also shared with me that he is the mastermind behind the entire menu, which is Mediterranean with an emphasis on Moroccan cuisine.
As for Vasilis’s own background, he recounted, “I grew up as a farmer and a fisherman,” and then added that he knows how to make both olive oil and wine, thanks to his upbringing on a tiny Greek island without a name. “For us, it was natural.” Though he had other restaurants scattered around New York, Vasilis has sold them, with the exception of Shalel. He casually mentioned that he hopes to drift into semi-retirement and spend more time in Greece restoring his olive groves. It is unclear what the neighborhood would do without him, though. As he declared, “They know me on the Upper West Side.” We had a long chat about the local businesses in the area, including those that have had to shutter over the years. After discussing raising rents, fallen culinary comrades, and the future of New York, Vasilis turned to me and added something rather poetic - If worse comes to worst, “We can all just go back to making olive oil.”
Sweet aromas lure one into this tiny coffee and tea shop on west 70th. Originally founded in 1976 across the street, the Sensuous Bean moved to its current location in 1990 and is now co-owned by partners in life and in business, Lucretia La Mora and Tom Wilson. "People follow their noses, " explained Tom of the cafe's success. And even horses cannot resist - he recalled one peeking its head through the door as an officer grabbed a cup. "We blend to taste, " Tom added. Each day, beans are grinded on site and brewed in three roasters for a hot cup. And although small, the place is stocked with a large selection of coffees and teas sourced from a variety of regions. The chai spice tea comes from India and the Mexican Vienna brew from Zimbabwe. The assortment of flavorful tisanes includes intriguing names like red velvet cupcake or bella coola lemon lime.
Amber Upper West relocated from Columbus Avenue to this dimly lit, intimate side street enclave in 2015. A wood-beamed ceiling and whitewashed walls are organically accented with well-illuminated hanging plants and a graphic, black and white tree painting. With a menu featuring a large selection of rolls, grilled dishes and sushi to be shared in either the conventional dining space or well-stocked bar, this side street gem offers more than just lovely decor.
When Henry Clay Frick passed away in 1919, he had placed in his will that his residence be turned into a museum forever open to public access, featuring the impressive collection he had assembled over a span of forty years. In addition, his will provided a fifteen million dollar endowment for maintenance. In 1935, the Frick Collection was opened in the expanded Gilded Age mansion originally designed by Thomas Hastings for residence, and initially transformed into the museum by John Russel Pope. The interior features spectacular selections of Old Master paintings and European sculptures in sixteen permanent collections that integrate Italian, French and Spanish works, allowing cohesive interactions from multiple regions and time periods - the way Henry enjoyed viewing art. In the center, the Garden Court, which had been Henry's driveway, is considered the museum's heart, ornamented by rushing water, a bounty of plant life, impressive sculptures, and an intriguing skylight. Today, it is the only room in which one is permitted to take photographs. I remember visiting the Frick for the first time as a teenager and declaring it my favorite museum in Manhattan. I can easily state that it remains so to this day. I never tire of introducing visitors from out of town to The Frick and I continue to appreciate each new exhibit. For me, it remains a tranquil setting to walk, contemplate and unwind as I am surrounded by art and beauty.
Established in 1904, The Explorers Club is centered on scientific discovery in all realms - land, sea, air and space. Its original headquarters were located at the Studio Building on West 67th Street, and it moved to this location in 1965. In 1918, a signature flag was introduced, capitalizing on historic routes and unabated curiosity. Since then, the flag has been proudly carried on hundreds of expeditions as members of the club were the first to make it to the North and South Poles, the summit of Mt. Everest, the deepest point in the ocean, and the surface of the moon. The club first allowed women in 1981. To this day, it is a meeting spot for all kinds of explorers, scientists and students.