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.
How is this for an architect’s resume: The Dakota (known today as the apartment building where John Lennon was shot), the original Waldorf and Astoria hotels, (subsequently torn down to make room for the Empire State Building), the Plaza Hotel, the Willard Hotel in DC and the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Henry Janeway Hardenbergh designed the Hotel Martinique in two phases: the first part opened in 1898, and was then completed in 1910, with 600 rooms in total. The intricate mosaic flooring remains intact, as does the winding staircase that climbs eighteen stories.
Originally the Aberdeen Hotel when it was built in 1902, this grand Beaux-arts edifice continues to stand out as it sits in the middle of Korea Town. Perhaps its best claim to fame was that, back in the 1920s, it allowed women to book a room without a gentleman on their arm. The Hotel at Fifth Avenue, formerly known as La Quinta, also boasts its own rooftop bar, Vu.
Completed in 1854, and housing a congregation that dates back to the 1600s, Marble Collegiate Church is one of the most prominent and stunning churches in New York. Its exterior stands out among the glimmering towers of Fifth Avenue – a breathtaking reminder of a smaller-scale New York of the nineteenth century. Several of us had the privilege of receiving a tour of Marble's magnificent space. Ashley Johnson, Marketing and Communications Manager, and our tour guide for the day, impressed us with her vast knowledge of the historic landmark. Pausing first at the exterior, Ashley explained the imposing iron fence surrounding the building – “It was originally to keep out cows, ” she laughed. “Our nearest neighbor was a dairy farmer. Back in the 1800s, this was considered the sticks! You would’ve taken a carriage up Fifth Avenue (then a dirt path) to get here. ” The blue and yellow ribbons hanging on the fence, she went on to say, are tributes to the soldiers and civilians injured or killed in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moving to the interior, we were struck by the lavishness of the sanctuary. One Manhattan Sideways team member exclaimed: “I’ve never seen a church with wallpaper before! ” Ashley clarified, “It’s actually not wallpaper – it’s stencil. ” The walls are painted a lush red, decorated with gold stencils of the fleur-de-lis. Complementing the deep color of the walls is the matching red upholstery covering the pews. After we had stared in awe for a considerable period of time, Ashley said: “The way you see this space now is how you would have seen it in 1891. This is High Victorian – not how it was originally conceived. ” The church’s sanctuary, then, is a living record of the aesthetic changes to Marble Church. “When it was originally built, it was very stark – true to its Calvinistic roots. ” There was clear glass in the windows at that time, she told us, and the interior was white and dominated by a central pulpit on the chancel. These features were later upgraded when Dr. David James Burrell became the senior minister of the church in the late 1800s. He removed the pulpit, “wanting to be closer to his congregation, ” and oversaw extensive renovations of the sanctuary, including replacing the clear glass windows with stained glass, which can still be seen in the front hall narthex of the church. In 1900 and 1901, the church began what was to become a century-long project of replacing all the plain stained glass windows with the multi-colored pictorial scenes you can view today. The first two pictorial stained glass windows, installed at the turn of the nineteenth century, were fabricated by the world-renowned Tiffany Studios, headed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Depicting Biblical stories, the church’s oldest windows are breathtakingly detailed, featuring hand-painted, colorful glass of diverse textures and thicknesses. It is certainly easy to get lost in their storytelling. After the windows were installed, there was a long hiatus before the next window was commissioned. Ashley suggested a number of reasons for the wait: the Great Depression, WWII, and stained glass falling out of vogue. “The church had all of these Victorian style stained glass windows without pictures, and then there were these two Tiffany windows sitting right in the middle; it was a beautiful oddity. ” In 1998, thanks to the generosity of church patrons Robert and Maria Ryneveld, Marble Collegiate Church set out to complete the vision that had begun 98 years earlier. As other patrons stepped forward, Marble began commissioning new windows, designed by talented artisans and created by some of the oldest, great stained glass fabricators in America: Rambusch, Lamb and Willet-Hauser. Today, the sanctuary window project is complete and houses 10 stunning stained glass windows, one after another. Standing close to many of them, we were able to observe each composition in dizzying detail. Continuing on our walk through the church, Ashley showed us the smaller, though no less beautiful, spaces Marble Church houses. Behind the sanctuary the children’s chapel is nestled. Decorated with beautiful frescos of scenery, it is a place for children and adults to find quiet. “It would be great for people to know about these spaces, ” Ashley pointed out, adding that the children’s chapel is also ideal for intimate weddings and other ceremonies. Moving on, we visited a smaller prayer chapel, as well as a parlor decorated with photos of Marble Collegiate Church at its various states of construction and renovation. Then we were led downstairs, to a large labyrinth in the basement. “This is one of the only inlaid labyrinths in the city, ” Ashley informed us. “It’s open to the public on Wednesday evenings and the first Sunday of the month. It’s a very relaxing place, ” she said. “Many people confuse this with a maze, but it's not – it’s a labyrinth, so there’s no way to get lost. ” As we were contemplating the winding pathways, the staff at Marble was preparing for one of their frequent walking events, lining the labyrinth with tea lights. We all agreed that it is rare for one to be able to have this kind of meditative experience in Manhattan. After visiting the basement chapel – a small, contemporary room outfitted with hardwood – we moved into the peaceful columbarium. “It’s very unusual to find places to put loved ones to rest in New York, ” Ashley mentioned. A somber note to end on, but we certainly appreciated the time spent inside Marble Collegiate Church.
At the gravitational center of Manhattan stands the Empire State Building, built in 1931 to be the tallest structure in the world and retaining that title for forty years. While other buildings may scrape higher skies, few can capture the imagination as does this towering symbol of our favorite metropolis. A few fun facts: a virtual tour of New York City, Skyride, is available inside, as is a trip to the celestial observation deck. After the tragic fall of the World Trade Centers, the Empire State Building was again, briefly, the tallest building in New York before recently being surpassed by the Freedom Tower - One World Trade Center. It is, however, currently the tallest LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) building in the United States, to which we tip our hats.
Having made his comeback as the namesake of electric cars, Nikola Tesla accomplished quite a bit in his lifetime, much of it while living in New York City. Living and working out of this very building, the father of alternating current electrical systems pioneered radio wave communication in 1896 - giving the building its current name. During Tesla’s time, it was known as the Gerlach Hotel, built in 1883. Now, it houses businesses rather than travelers, but it has not forgotten its past: Broadway Wireless Center (an intellectual descendant) occupies the first floor and decorates its windows with neon and fluorescent tubes - also inventions of Tesla. A plaque hangs on the front of the building, honoring the great inventor. Drury Event Group, where our very own Creative Director works his day job, is also a tenant.
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.