Leo Mavrovitis has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1974 when he was the first business to open in this residential building and remains the only commercial tenant after so many decades. When I walked into this dark, cool grotto of antiques just steps from Lincoln Center, I met the warm and friendly owner. It became clear to me quickly that Leo is a master in his field. "This is all I have ever done and I love what I do," Leo expressed to me. Although his parents wanted him to do "something practical," Leo chose to get a degree in fine arts from Columbia University, and a masters from New York University. Having always been fascinated by antiques, he followed his passion, and purchased an existing business around the corner on Columbus Avenue, before moving to 64th five years later.
In this treasure trove of goods, I admired the vintage jewelry, pill boxes, a chest of mother of pearl silver, crystal stemware, coins, china, and paperweights, but it was the beautiful chandeliers that continued to capture my attention as I wandered around looking up. Leo shared that some of these 1940s fixtures are his favorites, too. Scattered throughout the small space, Leo pointed out a Paul Evans ultra-modern piece from 1969 alongside Indian art and rare Asian pieces from the seventeenth century.
Over the years, Leo has traveled throughout Europe and attended antique shows in an effort to amass his impressive collection of items. Today, however, he said that he enjoys going to the Miami, Baltimore and New York shows equally as much. He has formed a "brotherhood" with fellow dealers and they look forward to seeing one another each year. "We are a traveling circus," Leo stated, and smiled with approval. It is at these shows that he is able to buy and sell his wares, but it is when he is home in Manhattan that he is best known for his unusual array of items. He tries to sell pieces that are rare and affordable. "I like the unusual," Leo told me, "I am not interested in having what everyone else collects."
And, as for his customers, Leo noted that he is continuously invited into people's homes who are interested in selling personal items, or have inherited pieces. Each time he develops a remarkable rapport with them that is long lasting. He told me that he knows most of the people that enter his shop by name and is quite friendly with his local regulars. Not only that, but he strikes up conversations with those who simply pass by the store on a daily basis, making him a true neighborhood character.
Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was in a state of fevered anticipation when she realized we were inching closer to 64th Street, where the southernmost Alice's Tea Cup is located. The whimsical tea shop has three different "Chapters," and this is the second in the series. Unlike the original location, which sits on the ground floor, this chapter has two floors, decorated with Wonderland characters and Lewis Carroll's cryptic text.The tearoom is owned by Lauren and Haley Fox, sisters who have loved tea for as long as they can remember. And, they have always been passionate about everything Alice in Wonderland: they grew up on the Upper West Side, just a short distance from the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, and both adored Lewis Carroll's books. It made perfect sense, therefore, to open an Alice in Wonderland-themed teahouse in 2001. The eatery has become an enormous success, and has attracted many different groups of people: like the book, the tea house, though full of curlicues, bright purple hues, and fairy dust, is not geared towards children. Children are frequent and enthusiastic visitors, but it is just as likely that one might see a business meeting between two creative types, an exuberant reunion between friends, or a solitary adult diner nursing a pot of tea.The tea list is extensive and scrumptious. "List" is a misnomer – it is more of a booklet. Olivia has tried at least fifteen of their teas so far and has not made even a dent in their selection. Each tea is brought out in a personal pastel pot, to be poured into one of the eclectic mismatched cups and saucers that decorate the repurposed sewing machine tables. The tea also makes its way into the food menu: Olivia raves about the smoky Lapsang Souchong chicken breast, made using a Chinese black tea that smells and tastes like a bonfire.Despite the brilliant concept, the adorable decor and the excellent selection of teas, it is the afternoon tea service that steals the show. Diners can choose between "The Nibble," "The Mad Hatter," and "The Jabberwocky," depending on how hungry they are, and servers will bring them a heavenly three-tiered stand layered with finger sandwiches, desserts, and scones - without a doubt, the most popular being the pumpkin scone, drizzled with caramel syrup.So as to have the full Alice in Wonderland experience, there is a mini shop up front where Haley and Lauren's cookbook, Alice's Tea Cup, is on display alongside many other trinkets such as fairy wings, picture books, and anything one might need to reproduce their own magical tea party at home.
Nicolo Melissa Antiques & Art is a story that combines a personal relationship with a passion for the arts. Melissa Magid met Nicolo Camisa, originally from Italy, when he was studying English in the United States, and the two fell in love. Nicolo had been trained in the family's antique business since he was sixteen, and so it made perfect sense for Nicolo to open a small antique store in Manhattan with his new bride. Melissa admits that she did not know much about antiques before Nicolo, but when she traveled to Italy to meet his family, and found his home filled with treasured pieces spanning the ages, she recognized the importance of this world that Nicolo had grown up in. And it did not take her long to decide that she wanted to join him as a partner. Though their gallery is completely separate from Nicolo’s family’s business, Melissa told me that they frequently keep in touch with his Italian kin in order to trade secrets and discuss their acquisitions.A favorite story that Melissa enjoys sharing is when her older son, at the age of two, already seemed to have an eye for fine art: When they took him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he was staring up at some of the paintings on the wall, he gestured to his father saying, “Papa, bring this one home!” Because the young child was so accustomed to accompanying his parents on buying trips, he did not understand the difference between viewing art in a museum and their vast collection that his parents have amassed. Both in their home and at the gallery, Nicolo and Melissa’s two boys are surrounded by Renaissance bronzes, classical sculptures, and micro mosaics. Nicolo quickly added that despite the variety, their collection is carefully curated, and forms a cohesive whole that he hand selects both from travels around the United States and abroad. The gallery specializes in artwork, furniture, and decor from the 19th century and earlier. Melissa showed us some of her favorite pieces, including a Florentine 19th Century ebony cabinet and a pair of Cesare Lapini white marble angels. It became clear rather quickly that Melissa is quite proud to run a local, family-owned gallery. As she so sweetly described the first venture that they embarked on as a couple, "This is our first child.”
"If I won the lottery, I would continue to do the same thing every day," Dennis Remorca told me as I stepped off the elevator and introduced myself to him. Clearly passionate about his fitness centers on the Upper East Side, Dennis went on to tell me that he has been training children from the age of seven up to a woman who is ninety-six. He emphasized the importance of the relationship that he and his fellow trainers have developed with each of their clients. Laughing, Dennis said, "I have like fifty moms always making sure that I eat." Trained in physical therapy, Dennis shared with me that he comes from a family who practice medicine, and they did not understand how he could make a career in PT. I believe that he has shown them that it is possible, for after four years owning his gym on 74th Street, he decided it was time to open yet another facility on 64th.Upstairs in the newly converted Weston House - a building that was completed in 1881 by architect Theodore Weston, founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art - the space is perfect for private training sessions. Filled with state-of-the-art equipment and a friendly staff - one was a principal dancer for American Ballet while another was a trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers - I have no doubt that this is a terrific environment for workouts. And, I learned from Antonia, the owner of Altesi downstairs, that in the warmer months, Dennis will be offering yoga classes outside in the garden of the restaurant followed by a healthy breakfast.
"A shoe is not an accessory, but a necessity," Vanessa Noel declared as I sat with the woman who has been a top shoe designer since the 1980s. I went on to learn that making a shoe requires equal parts design and engineering, because the success of a shoe depends on balance and form. As Vanessa explained, anyone can decorate a shoe, but to actually form a piece of footwear to fit a woman's feet is a truly difficult task. Vanessa is very conscious of comfort – "I can't stand when I see women who are unable to walk because of their shoes," she told me. "It is a sign that their shoes are not well made." Vanessa, who claims to often walk around the city in six inch heels, makes shoes that will not cause women to need to call a cab after two blocks. She is very proud of the fact that just the other day she "put a congresswoman back in high heels." Vanessa describes her shoes as "comfy, sexy, elegant, and beautiful." She designs the entire line herself, and has everything handmade in Italy. She loves discovering and playing with exotic materials. I was able to get a glimpse of her stretch alligator skin that she created herself, and which has become her trademark. It had twenty-four carat gold embedded in the high-quality Louisiana skin, allowing the brilliant shine and color to permeate through the entire material. Vanessa continued to walk me through her workshop as she shared a prototype of translucent alligator, which was streaked neon pink. While gazing at her treasure trove of shoes, she told me about an extraordinary order that she once produced: over-the-knee flat stretch orange python boots. Although customer service is a key element of Vanessa's business model, she is not solely concerned with the needs of her clients; Vanessa also tries to look out for the people producing her shoes. When she became aware that some of the ancient Italian tannery families were developing cancer because of the chromium used in their processing techniques, she commenced researching better methods. She then discussed her interest in being chemical-free more generally - and that passion drove her to open the ecologically friendly Hotel Green in Nantucket.Vanessa's most recent addition to the shop is a new line of handbags. She had been making them for herself for years, but was encouraged to design some for her customers after being spotted with one on a fashion runway. They come in a wide variety of bright, fun colors and are made with high-quality Italian leather, similar to her shoes. At this moment, while sitting and chatting, in strolled Emma, Vanessa's mother, the delightful inspiration behind some of the bags. I watched as Emma headed straight for these new additions and joked about taking one, before being told that the design was actually called the "Emma bag." Smiling, her daughter said, "you are welcome to take one." After looking very pleased, Emma turned to me and began sharing stories from her daughter's childhood, as Vanessa looked on with an amused grimace. Although difficult to believe, Emma said that Vanessa was "a monster" as a child, who once, at the age of four, with her little bit of cash, convinced a Greek herder to allow her to ride his donkey halfway up the mountain. I continued to be fascinated as Emma described their visit to the Emilio Pucci palace with her sister and Emma, and had dresses made for all three of them. Vanessa’s latest creative endeavor is the Noel Shoe Museum, which will be the first of its kind in the United States. It will display shoes from around the world, spanning several centuries, with an aim of showcasing their creativity and the history of their design and manufacturing. Nevertheless, Vanessa’s greatest mission remains to repair women’s relationships with luxury footwear. In her words, “I try to make glamorous shoes that essentially become an extension of a woman’s leg.”