When we visited Irving Farm late one morning, almost every seat was taken and there was a constant stream of people ordering cappuccinos and breakfast sandwiches. "This is one of our busiest locations," Liz Dean, the manager, said, explaining that it functions as a flagship store. There was a wide demographic, from mothers and young children to groups of out of towners. "This neighborhood is very interesting - we get a nice mix of regulars and tourists," Liz pointed out. Liz was a regular for a while before becoming a member of the team. Now that she does the hiring, she looks out for people like herself, people who understand what Irving Farms is about and are already invested in its product. "I prefer to hire people who love our coffee," she admitted.
Two former college friends, David Elwell and Steve Leven, founded the company in 1996. The roasting is done in a carriage house in Millerton, New York, and there are now five cafes scattered throughout the city, as well as a training "Loft" in Chelsea. Though the cafe on Irving Place is the original, as the name would imply, it was recently renovated to look more like the Upper West Side spot, which opened in 2012, making the 79th street store the model for future expansion. In addition, Irving Farms has wholesale clients throughout the country and there are two more cafes set to open - one on the Upper East Side and another at the Fulton Street station. Liz is particularly excited for the Upper East Side location, since many of her customers live or work on the other side of the park.While the coffee menu is the same at each of the Irving Farms locations, the food offerings change slightly. 79th offers a wide range of food, thanks to the size of its kitchen.
Demba, the barista, appeared to be both a master of foam art and a friendly face to many. He greeted people by name, effortlessly remembering their regular orders. My daughter, Joelle, who was visiting on the day that we were walking on 79th, declared that her decaf latte was "Rich and oh so good," and elaborated by saying it was a "real cup of coffee," not what she was use to being served in the Boston area. She was also thrilled with her scrambled eggs on a homemade flaky cheddar cheese biscuit with avocado. Liz was pleased with Joelle's reaction, commenting, "The breakfast sandwiches are huge here." Liz went on to say that the lattes and pour overs are also popular, but that coffee lovers equally enjoy trying the single origin coffees, which are rotated throughout the year.
Irving Farm is part of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, but they try to go above and beyond the definition of "specialty" by not buying coffee that is graded less than 85 in the 100-point system. They consistently try to give back to the farmers as much as possible, including featuring profiles of the farmers on their website. "In the city, it's so easy for there to be a disconnect between you and what you consume," Liz said after speaking to us about her trip to El Salvador, where the ethics behind coffee were really driven home. People often ask Liz if she feels threatened by Starbucks, and her simple answer is "Absolutely not." Liz and her co-workers know that Irving Farms is targeting customers who can taste and appreciate the difference. "We are, after all, a coffee roasting company first and foremost."
Yes, they are known for their coffee, and people are constantly stopping in for a fresh cup. However, I also appreciate that later in the afternoon, Irving Farm has a different vibe. Wine and beer alongside cheese boards are brought out, and people are given the opportunity to relax and participate in pleasant, quiet conversation while unwinding from the day.
From the conversations that I have had with others on the Upper West Side over the last few years, I have determined that almost anyone who lives or works nearby can tell you about Dive 75. It has been the neighborhood watering hole since 1998 when Lee Seinfeld and Jim Peterson first opened it. Prior to going into business together, they were both bartenders at Broadway Dive on 101st Street and had been friends for many years before that. As Lee puts it, “Our relationship is longer than either of our marriages.” Each of their three Dive Bars has a subtle, aquatic theme, with fish tanks occupying a central location in the room. Though this feature is primarily a play on words, Lee did mention to me that Jim is a diver and owns a successful diving store.Despite the name, the bar is very clean. Despite the oxymoron, it truly is an “upscale” dive bar. “I can’t keep it as dive-y as I want to,” Lee laughed. He keeps the venue in top shape and offers an extensive scotch, wine, and craft beer list that drinkers usually would not see in a true dive bar, since that seems to be what his customers prefer. He also pointed out that he has an impressive selection of ciders. “I love ciders,” he said simply, telling me about a reasonably new cider provider called Aaron Burr from the Hudson Valley that uses foragers to collect their apples. Lee was then pleased to share that his son, Nicholas, now does a lot of the buying, having recently joined the business.When I stopped in late one afternoon, Shira Levine, one of the bartenders, was getting ready to open for the evening. Originally from Israel, Shira told me that she moved to New York in 2011 and essentially got a job at Dive 75 the very next day. She enjoys letting friends at home know where she works: “I tell them, ‘You know Cheers?’ That’s where I work.” She then added, “It’s Halloween here every day,” since the bar always has candy on hand. When I asked what customers usually come in for, she answered, “The beer selection, the board games...basically, the great ambience. They just come to have fun.” She added that people also come to be part of a group.In my conversations with Lee, he elaborated on this group vibe, saying that he did not realize how important the bar was to the community until 9/11. Shortly after the tragedy, people started showing up to the bar in droves, not to drink so much as to simply be together. “The bar became a hub where people went to console each other.” Similarly, after Hurricane Sandy, when many were left without power, men and women visited Dive 75 so that they could eat a hot meal. Lee was happy to provide a service to those in need. “I’m proud to be able to serve the neighborhood.” And it is evident that the neighborhood is happy to have him.
The inside of Nice Matin is like a bright carnival ground with three central pillars decorated with lights, wide spaces between tables, and colorful art on the walls. Above the doorway, there is an arrangement of baskets and fruit with handwritten signs and prices in euros, emulating European markets. At any hour of the day or evening, the restaurant is filled with people both from the surrounding neighborhood as well as from the Lucerne, the connecting hotel.The chef and owner of Nice Matin is Andy D'Amico, who has since gone on to develop other restaurants around the city, including 5 Napkin Burger. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Andy worked at Parker House in Boston and at the Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side, where he was promoted to head chef. In 2003, he partnered with Simon Oren to open Nice Matin, a venture that earned him the title of "Best Chef 2003" from New York Magazine.I met with Danny, the General Manager, who shared their elaborate cocktail list that had classics with a twist. He brought out a San Tropez, Nice Matin's take on the mojito. It had summery passion fruit foam that complemented the mint and dark rum. The restaurant has seasonal cocktails, such as hot toddies in the winter and Campari cocktails in the spring. My favorite time to dine at Nice Matin, however, is on a warm weekend morning when their elaborate brunch menu is offered, and I can sit outside.
Sojourn calls itself the Upper East Side’s “sexiest restaurant,” and it is hard to argue: the color scheme, in coppers browns and reds, gives the restaurant a warm, intimate feeling. The name, which means “a temporary stay,” hints at the fact that visitors can expect a full dining experience. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was excited to return to Sojourn. She and her family had discovered the restaurant, tucked behind a residential-looking doorway, right before Thanksgiving and had visited two more times by the New Year. Along with the friendly staff, warm ambience, and delectable, seasonal food, what makes Sojourn stand out is its approach to courses: all menu items can be ordered as sharable tapas, with just the right number for the table. For example, when Olivia went with a group of seven family members and ordered the chorizo croquettes, the waiter said he would bring out two orders at three to a plate...plus one extra. Using this innovative way of ordering, each party can essentially create their own tasting menu. As for beverages, the cocktail menu is sophisticated and diverse. The restaurant not only has a large selection of wine, but also keeps some of their grapes in barrels rather than bottles, a more environmentally friendly method of storing and serving it. Among the many menu items that Olivia’s family tasted were the zesty arugula salad, crispy fish tacos, and Kobe beef sliders. Despite being thoroughly full, they made sure to have enough room for the warm, fluffy churros served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. We spoke to Johnny Musovic, who owns Sojourn with his father, Sami. They originally opened a Mexican restaurant called Santa Fe in the same location, but discovered that the neighborhood did not have a strong need for casual Mexican food. Instead, the father and son duo reopened with a higher-end concept which has been wholly embraced. Johnny proudly told me that his father is no newcomer to the restaurant world, having been the Head Maitre D’ at Sparks Steakhouse and Mr. Chow’s. He also has two other restaurants nearby. As for Johnny himself, he told me “In this industry, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty,” referencing his time spent as everything from dishwasher to delivery boy to co-owner. He is clearly very proud of Sojourn for a variety of reasons, beginning with the food. “Most chefs are into fresh, local ingredients, but these chefs really are.” He is also happy to have cultivated a chic, relaxing space, which includes live music on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Though he proclaims that the Upper East Side is his favorite part of the city, Johnny’s dream is to open up a Sojourn in Midtown one day. Until then, his goal is to integrate his bar crowd and his dining crowd. One night, he held a two hour open bar as his way of “giving back” to the neighborhood. Along with drinks, he offered his customers a series of hors d’oeuvres. He was surprised by how many of his bar regulars approached him and said, “I didn’t realize you had such great food!”
Shaaray Tefila has a very special place in my heart. For well over twenty years, beginning in the early 1970's, this was a home away from home for my grandparents. Reaching 79th Street and having the opportunity to write about this synagogue has brought tears to my eyes again and again. Rabbi Tattelbaum played an important role not only in my grandparent's lives, but in mine as well, when I was a young, impressionable teenager.It was Chip Schrager, the Communications Coordinator for the temple in 2015, who kindly guided the Manhattan Sideways team through the space, beginning with the main sanctuary. The room is expansive, seating 400 people downstairs and 200 in the balcony, and Chip was proud to say that it was filled to the rafters during the recent Hanukkah services.Something that I did not know was that the building used to be a movie theater until the temple took over in 1958. The old projector room is now used as an office for the parenting programs. Founded in 1845 as a strict Orthodox temple, Shaaray Tefila has shifted locations throughout the city, becoming Reform along the way. Stepping into the chapel, where smaller services are held, I saw bold stained glass ornaments on one side of the room with the names and symbols of characters from Jewish lore. In the meeting room nearby, well-polished Judaic pieces, along with artifacts dating back to the temple's founding were displayed. In addition, we took note of photographs of the old temple on West 82nd Street, the Seal of the Congregation, and even the trowel that the rabbi used to lay the cornerstone of the Temple. Leaving the room, Chip gestured to photographs of six men who were senior rabbis at Temple Shaaray Tefila.The temple has a strong children's program, including a nursery school, kindergarten, and religious school that extends through high school. We appreciated getting to observe the room used for art class. A giant paint pallet decorated the wall and colorful supplies lined the room. We then ventured up to the roof where the playground is located, surrounded by a fence that still allowed for a beautiful view of the winter sunset. It was here that Chip continued to speak of the various programs offered to every age group, including senior citizens. This is what my grandparents took advantage of so many years ago, and it warmed my heart to know that people are still participating in the various classes that Shaaray Tefila has to offer. As Chip beautifully stated, "Whatever your Jewish journey is, we want to be a part of it."