It might come as a shock to find a shop full of expert scuba diving instructors and top-of-the-line equipment in the middle of New York. Yet to its owner, Jim Petersen, Pan Aqua is a perfect fit. “People forget that Manhattan is an island, and the Hudson River, the Long Island Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean are all prime places for studying marine biology.”
Jim, a lifelong lover of the ocean, learned to dive in Indiana as a teenager through the Boy Scouts — one of the first scuba certifying agencies in the country. This early fascination led him to study marine biology at Columbia University and travel to Saint Croix to immerse himself in the field. After becoming a certified scuba instructor and giving diving classes at the West Side YMCA, he found himself teaching hundreds of students a year, prompting him to open his own retail store with two partners who have since retired.
Pan Aqua has “a very extensive travel program,” with half a dozen group diving trips each year to exotic destinations including Indonesia, Cozumel, the Galapagos, and the Bahamas. “I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world,” Jim shared.
In 1996, Jim conveniently relocated his shop next to the Manhattan Plaza Health Club, where he conducts his classes at the pool. As his original lease on West 75th had not ended, he converted the space into a cleverly named bar, Dive 75.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic brought Pan Aqua’s business to a halt for months, Jim felt fortunate to be able to restart limited diving classes in late 2020 and start planning trips in 2021. “I love teaching new students and watching them appreciate the sport. It’s something I’ve been able to enjoy for decades now.”
Since its initiation in 1959, Tony's Di Napoli has thrived as a family-run Italian restaurant. The menu, more specifically, is inspired by Southern Neapolitan cuisine. Everything at Tony's is served family style. That is, one portion is large enough to feed two or three people. Over the years, many in the world of show business have come through their doors, thus inspiring Tony's to memorialize their visits with portraits lining the wall. Some subjects of these paintings include Antonio Banderas, Hugh Jackman, Bernadette Peters, Whoopi Goldberg, Alec Baldwin, and Christina Applegate. The food was good, but for added entertainment, it was fun for some members of the Manhattan Sideways team to stroll around the restaurant trying to name everyone on the walls.
When the City of New York acquired this lot to house Engine 65 in 1895, clubs and residents around the area feared it would disturb the peace. Having calls since their very first night on the job, and as the first responder to Times Square, it became clear that the service was needed and soon became wildly appreciated. One of the firemen, Chris, told me this was something he had always wanted to do. “I love the camaraderie between the guys, ” he said, a theme that seems to reoccur throughout all Manhattan fire stations.