Lifshitz Gallery is the sort of authentic hole-in-the wall that I love to discover in Manhattan. In between ordinary glass storefronts, it stands alone as a long, thin corridor of goods, overflowing onto the pavement with old paintings, tools, and watches. Watches are Elias Lifshitz’s specialty. While speaking to him, I learned that he taught himself how to repair them. “I broke plenty,” he laughed, but persevered until he could confidently fix the high-end watches that his customers brought to him, as well as the broken watches and time pieces that he found while visiting yard sales, flea markets, and estate sales. Watches now make up a large percentage of his business.
First and foremost, however, Elias is an artist. He pointed out the impressive sculptures that he has set up around his store, including “The Slave,” which took two years to mold. Another spectacular piece showed the face of Yiddish author, Sholem Aleichem, best known for Fiddler on the Roof. From one angle, the bronze face appears happy and from the other, sad. Elias did most of his sculpture work in Mexico, where he lived before coming to New York in 1968. Hoping to sell more of his art, Elias said that he decided to make the trip north. “I drove my bronzes all the way from Mexico in a little fiat,” he told me. In addition to selling his bronzes, Elias worked as an architect, drafting projects here in New York before delving into the antiques business. Elias continues to make frequent trips to Mexico and is always curious about the different markets in each country. He pointed out that one of his bronzes, ”The Cello Player” has sold many times over in Mexico, but people show little interest for it in Manhattan. On the other hand, many pieces that are popular in New York are barely given a second glance in Mexico.
Elias showed me the ribbons and prizes that he has won in different art fairs around the city, including the New York Village Art Show in Washington Square. There are no ribbons, however, to indicate Elias’ obvious skill in selecting antiques. He told me stories of going to estate sales and flea markets and finding a truly valuable piece that later sold for over ten times the original price. “You have to have an eye,” he slyly admitted. Sadly, Elias revealed that he has fewer customers than in the past, blaming it on the fact that “the area is becoming electronic,” but he still loves his job, working as an artistic jack-of-all-trades. “I always eat okay,” he said, content in his pocket of success.
Kate Rheinstein Brodsky, the creator of KRB, was immersed in the world of design and retail from a young age. Her mother, Suzanne Rheinstein, is an internationally recognized designer. Ever since Kate was a child, her mom has run Hollyhock, a Los Angeles furniture boutique. "I really loved retail," Kate shared, telling me how she would go to Hollyhock after school and work there over summer breaks. As a teenager, she wanted to open a bookstore, but realized that this might be difficult in the digital age. As a "homebody" and frequent hostess, Kate knew that she enjoyed creating beautiful homes, both for herself and others. As she described it, "I loved the feeling of home, of having a nice place to live in." Ultimately, her passion for retail manifested itself in a career in the design world.Upon graduating from New York University with a degree in art history, Kate worked for Jeffrey Bilhuber, the interior designer. "I love interior design...but I'm not an interior designer," she said. Working for Jeffrey, however, she learned a lot of things that would help her later on in the world of retail. She realized the importance of customer service and doing things "correctly, in a thoughtful manner." Following her time with Jeffrey, she worked at Elle Decor, which taught her discipline and introduced her to new looks. "I was exposed to so many different styles," she explains. "Sometimes you don't know you like something until you see it." Kate has maintained a good relationship with Elle Decor – they recently featured her Upper East Side apartment as part of their "House Tour," which brought a collection of readers, impressed by her style, to Kate's boutique.When I visited KRB, I was taken by the variety of colors, as opposed to the usual browns and golds that dominate antique shops. The salesperson, Fiona, said that adding bold colors to antique pieces is one of Kate's trademarks. She showed me some traditional chairs with bright olive green seats as an example, saying, "Green's a big color for her," before pointing out Kate's love for French opaline. Fiona went on to say that Kate could be inspired by anything. She spoke of a box of old cameos that Kate found. When Fiona inquired, "What are you going to do with those?" Kate answered matter of factly, "I don't know, but I'll figure it out." Kate elaborated, "I like to reinterpret old things." By this, she means both in the pieces, as with the chairs, and in the way they are used. She told me that there are many beautiful finger bowls out there that are no longer used - or at least not as finger bowls. Kate encourages customers to use them in new ways, by putting votive candles in them or a small scoop of strawberry ice cream. "I like taking things out of their original context," she admitted. As another example, she told me about the tric trac tables, tables used to play a precursor to backgammon. The board is so similar to backgammon that the tables have been able to be repurposed."I get very attached to furniture," Kate admitted, likening different pieces to rescue animals. "I want them to have good homes." She realizes, however, that people have different styles and that she may have to wait a while for the right person to come along. She added that although her mother heavily influenced her, the two women do not always see eye to eye on design. "We have our own taste," she said. Despite their differences, the store is still inspired by her mother's extraordinary career. "I always love watching her, how she explains to people how to incorporate beauty into their life."There is the possibility that a third generation of Rheinstein women might enter the world of design. In 2015, Kate was the proud mom of new daughter number three. "I love that my children comprehend what I do," she told me. When they ask her where she is going, she can answer "to the store" and they know exactly where she will be. Owning the boutique means she has a flexible work schedule and can easily spend a lot of time with her children. She specifically opened on the Upper East Side to be near her family – and other families. She wanted to be in a place where people could stumble upon her and buy a housewarming present, rather than in a design-industry-heavy neighborhood. "I just hope I'm on people's path. I encourage them to come look....browsers welcome." As for her daughters and what they think of her boutique, Kate told me that her five-year-old recently told her teacher that when she grows up, she wants to be "a mommy and a shopkeeper."
Stores like Martine’s Antiques are exactly the kind of businesses I look for on the side streets. Though small, every inch of the shop has some new treasure to discover. There are watches, jewelry, glassware, and various knick knacks decorating the room. Though she has been in New York since 1992, Martine Leventer's lilting French accent added music to her descriptions of each of the pieces that she has hand-selected for her shop.Martine began her career as a journalist in Paris, writing about business and the economy. She occasionally wrote about art, but usually only in terms of auctions and its financial role in society. She told me, however, that she had always had a great love for antiques, “ever since I can remember, in fact.” She recalled the very first antique she bought as a teenager – a bronze candle holder. Since then, she admits, “I’ve been buying way too much in my life.” She spent some time between the United States and France, collecting antiques from each location, but when she first went into business in New York, it was as a chocolatier. She had two chocolate shops: one on the Upper East Side, where she lives, and a small shop in Bloomingdale’s. Chocolate, however, was not where her true passion lay: “Having an antique store has been a dream of mine since I was very young,” she told me. She began selling little pieces at her Bloomingdale’s location, mostly costume jewelry. She then opened an antique store on 82nd Street in 1997, while continuing to operate her chocolate shops. The current location opened in 2012 and she closed her chocolate business a year later.Martine is proud of the fact that her store is a specially curated selection of antiques. “Everyone tells me I have a good eye,” she said humbly. She does not work in bulk or in estate sales: everything is something that caught her eye. Martine is especially drawn to costume jewelry, old watches - “Old watches have a heart that beats,” she said poetically - and vintage American glassware. She used to use colorful glass plates and bowls to show off her chocolates. “I look for something that is either beautiful or funny, something that makes my day. It is important to have things in your house that give you happy feelings.”Though she still has a couple customers who have been with her from the very beginning, many of her original clients have moved away. She has realized that that is a pattern in New York: things are constantly shifting and changing. Though some change may be good, for the most part it means higher rents. “So many small businesses have disappeared. It’s so heartbreaking.” She elaborated, “Being from France, I don’t like seeing little old buildings being demolished.” In Martine's view, the city is starting to become too angular, as harsh modern architecture starts to take over from the old world.When she first came to the United States, she was surprised by the variety of antiques. In France, most of the antiques are French, with perhaps a few English or German pieces if you look hard. The United States, on the other hand, is a source of antiques from around the world. Martine had never come in contact with American Vintage before, and immediately took a liking to it. Additionally, costume jewelry was cheaper and more accessible in the U.S. She discovered, however, that New Yorkers were often more interested in European pieces. She explained her frustration to me: In terms of antiques, architecture, and art, Americans will travel hundreds of miles to view masterpieces but will not show any respect towards the beautiful works of art on their own shores. “I hope people wake up soon,” she said, “and learn to not throw away the beauty of their own heritage.”
Angus Wilkie, who describes the location of his semi-hidden gallery, Cove Landing, as "squirreled away on 74th Street," is no newcomer to the art world. His career had an unexpected beginning: whereas many people hope to one day have a gallery of their own, Angus started with an eponymous gallery on Grand Street. He showed me an artistic photograph of himself as a younger man, gazing out from behind the windows of his gallery with a large dog on the doorstep. During this time, he wrote a book on Biedermeier furniture. This book was part of the reason why he then got a job at Christie's for ten years in the European Furniture Department. Angus told me that his time at the famous auction house allowed him to "sharpen [his] teeth and work on other things." He continued writing, penning a number of articles on decorative art. He knew, however, that he would one day return to having his own gallery. "I always wanted to be a dealer," he shared. "Being a dealer is in my blood, somehow."In 1997, Angus and his partner, architect Len Morgan, bought a building in Lyme, CT, and began renovating it. The town called the old building "Cove Landing," which Angus decided was a perfect name for a gallery. In 2000, he opened Cove Landing (the art gallery) on Lexington Avenue. In 2013, he moved to 74th Street.Angus claims that most of his knowledge of furniture was learned through osmosis. "It's like learning a language," he explained. It takes years of looking at different pieces to discover what they are saying - the little signs that furniture shows and the signals that the trained eye can pick up - and then share with a customer. In the anthropomorphic world of furniture, Angus is a true anthropologist. "I have a weird dialogue with objects...they reveal a real character and story to me." Despite crediting his knowledge to his experience, it quickly became apparent that Angus was an avid reader, and seemed to have the learning of a true academic in addition to the skills gained through many years in the field. He told me stories of exhaustively researching different topics, both for his business and his own curiosity. "I love to know the history of materials," he said with a smile. For example, he showed me a 1920s box made of shagreen, a material that comes from stingray skin. He was eager to know "What's the story of shagreen?" By reading everything he could get his hands on, Angus discovered that the first mention of shagreen came from the eighteenth century, when Turks would use it on weaponry. It then reached its heyday in the 1920s when Jean Michel Frank, the French interior designer, brought it into style - hence the origin of the box. Angus then wrote an article on the substance.His love of materials is obvious in his collections. Angus showed me around his October 2015 exhibition, called "Treen," an old English word that means "made of tree." The gallery was filled with utilitarian items such as snuff boxes, butter tubs, and other functional tools, all made from one piece of wood with no joinery. Some objects' purposes were obvious, while others were more enigmatic. There was an eighteenth century "priest," a wooden mallet used for hitting fish on the head in order to kill them swiftly. My eye was caught by a beautiful piece that Angus informed me was an Anglo-Indian turban stand, as well as a clever folding swift for winding wool. "I like things that are slightly mechanical," he commented. The last show at Cove Landing had been cheekily titled "Stoned," and included work in marble, hard stones, and other geological materials.Although Angus does not get as much footfall on a side street, he relishes the opportunity that the space gives him to create more curated shows. He sends out beautiful cards to his followers for each new exhibit, which then leads to a "captive audience" of Treen collectors, or people who are simply curious about what the gallery is displaying in the next exhibit. Angus appreciates the fact that since the space is truly a little apartment, clients can see how the pieces look in a home setting. The main objective, however, is to sell the furniture underneath the decorative objects. He assured me that the way his gallery was currently set up, with curious Treen covering most surfaces, was not usual. "It is incredibly crowded in here," he said with a slight frown. "I usually like a very spare, edited look. It is purposefully zen and open." Despite Angus' disclaimers, I felt a sense of calm. Everything was arranged in a way that best displayed Angus' love, in his own words, of "silhouette of form."
Sutton Clocks is what we at Manhattan Sideways refer to as a true hidden gem. The low shop was lined on both sides with clocks dating back to the eighteenth century, set to different times. I understood why they all displayed different hours when the first one chimed and I imagined the deafening roar that would result if the thousands of clocks went off at once. Sebastian Laws, the youngest son of the original owner, met me at the door. His father, Knud Christenson, came to the United States from Denmark in the 1940s. He initially partnered with Kay Yeager, who owned Sutton Trading, a pawn shop. Knud was a Renaissance man and worked at many things, including importing fish and building furniture, but he quickly found his niche fixing clocks. He began working from a small loft on 61st Street. Sebastian told me how his father recognized a passion for fixing things and working with small parts in his youngest child and took Sebastian on as an apprentice. Sebastian took over the business in the 1990s, and when he lost his lease in 2012, he found this quaint space on 82nd Street. He is excited to have his first store front and to live in a relatively quiet neighborhood again after witnessing 61st Street turn into an extension of midtown.The clocks on display, which are all for sale, come from a variety of sources, including having been abandoned by previous owners. Sebastian pointed to a deep green one that resembled a portal on a submarine, saying that it dated back to 1780. His favorite clock on the wall, however, was a sturdy American clock with early twentieth century lettering, which he called a “strong workhorse.” Though he now has the space to put clocks on the wall for retail purposes, his main occupation is repairing clocks. People bring him clocks of all shapes and sizes, from mantle clocks to fantastic grandfather clocks. When I asked him if there was a particular kind of clock that was most difficult to fix, he responded without hesitation: “cuckoo clocks.” He then went on to explain that the Swiss souvenirs are often built as tourist traps rather than trusty timepieces. When I thought that I had seen all that there was to appreciate in this minute space, Sebastian guided me to his worktable in the back, which was surrounded by gears, pendulums, various tools of the trade, and hundreds more time pieces.For the most part, Sebastian’s siblings have not been involved in their father’s business, beyond doing some sweeping in the store and other odd jobs as children. Sebastian’s brother James, however, recently joined him to help with the administrative side of things, in an effort to allow Sebastian to focus on the hands-on work.“I enjoy solving puzzles,” Sebastian told me. Though he learned a lot from his father, he admitted that his most valuable training came from the job itself, since each clock is different and must be examined as its own unique puzzle. At a certain point, he started repairing barometers along with clocks. He informed me that though the mechanisms are completely different, barometers are often lumped into the same pile as timepieces.Sebastian went on to tell me that his customers come not only from every part of the city, but from all over the country and around the world. He mentioned that quite a few regulars were also his father’s clients. He has a fascinating outlook on his career. He loves that the clocks that he handles each have a special tactile history. By looking at the markings on a clock, he can get into the head of the original horologist who made it and can track the life of the timepiece. He pointed out that a man who built a clock in London in the 1800s probably did not imagine that it would end up in Sebastian’s hands in New York in the twenty-first century. Similarly, one day in the future, horologists will trace clocks back to Sebastian and know when they passed through Manhattan.
New York City is chock full of phenomenal museums - cultural centers that appeal to a variety of interests. For my family, however, it is West 77th Street where we find ourselves returning over and over again. Founded in 1804, the New York Historical Society is the oldest American History museum and research library in New York City. Its holdings include paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts as well as three million books and pamphlets. Of particular note among their art holdings is the John James Audubon collection of Birds of America watercolors and their Hudson River School paintings.The Dimenna Children’s History Museum is a treasure not to be missed. It is a wonderful way to engage children in the history of both New York and the rest of the country. During the holiday season, the amazing train exhibit is a must-see for children of all ages.As a biographer/historian of American history for young adults, my mom has been attending their Tuesday evening programs for as long as I can remember. She has had the pleasure of meeting and listening to speakers such as Joseph Ellis, Richard Brookhiser, Stacy Schiff, and Harold Holzer, among others. The Patricia Klingenstein Research Library, in which she has done extensive research on Abigail Adams, is particularly important to her. She has remarked on many occasions that, for those who frequented the old facility, it is remarkable how superior it is to what it was some twenty years ago.With Caffe Storico attached for a spectacular dining experience, The New York Historical Society continues to be a favorite place that we recommend to everyone from individuals to families, New Yorkers to tourists, and historians to art lovers.
Through the double glass doors connecting Caffe Storico to the New York Historical Society, I pointed out the Holiday Express trains, circling round and round to Olivia and Tom. I had been a frequent guest in both the museum and the restaurant for several years, but was eager for these two members of the Manhattan Sideways team to have an equally special experience. In keeping with its name (translated from Italian, Storico means "historic"), the decor is chock full of towering shelves stacked with antique china plates. Standing in awe, Tom and Olivia noticed the other touches, including the chandeliers hanging from the incredibly high ceiling.Despite the fact that the restaurant is operated separately from the museum, they have a mutually beneficial relationship. Manager Edward Krebser and Gabriel, the assistant manager, told us that the nineteenth century plate ware behind glass is from the museum's collection, and that every other element of the design was carefully chosen. The wood floors, marble tabletops, and Italian pipe chairs were all specifically selected to form a cohesive whole. The restaurant space used to be the Lawrence and Eris Field Gallery, and so the room is accustomed to displaying works of art.Caffe Storico’s interior design is not the only work of art – the food is beautifully and deliciously crafted. The three of us were treated to a sampling of dishes. Tom and Olivia tasted the pork belly, while I had one of my favorite dishes, a Burrata with fall vegetables. When Caffe Storico first opened, it had a more northern Italian style. Now, the menu has swayed in a more local, sustainable direction. Ed Crochet, who worked at Craft before going in search of an opportunity to cook Italian food, is now the chef. With a specialty in handmade pastas, Ed told us that he is "trying as best as possible to be seasonal.” He focuses not so much on what is Italian as what is available locally and tastes the best. “I’m not using the old recipes as gospel and I’m trying to be creative with what the notion of Italian food is.” I must confess that one of the most amazing dishes that I have tried on my journey walking the side streets has to be the spinach and ricotta strozzapreti. These small balls filled with goodness have a soft texture and buttery flavor like nothing I have eaten before. They were so incredible that only a few days later, I made a reservation to dine at Storico with my husband and friends. I needed others to experience this remarkable creation. When Chef Crochet realized that I was a vegetarian, he presented us with several other noteworthy plates of food: The mushroom triangole with swiss chard was delectable, as was the squash with pear puree and pumpkin seeds, presented like a little fairy feast gathered around the roots of a tree.Gabriel sat down and chatted with us while we were consuming our spectacular meal and shared that after opening in 2009, there are still people in the neighborhood who wander by, suddenly see the tops of liquor bottles from the bar through the window, and wonder what is inside. Locals are still discovering the restaurant each day. As Edward phrased it, “They live three doors down, but they didn’t know we were here for years." He added, “I just want people to know about the restaurant.” And so do I, because it is what I would describe as an Upper West Side hidden gem.
As Master Teresa Throckmorton guided me through Central Park Taekwondo and invited me to take off my shoes, I was struck by how immaculate everything was. "I make sure it's very clean," Teresa told me, and took me past a group of women practicing the martial art to a smaller studio separated from her office by a glass wall. There were toys on the floor from the camp program that had just left, as I was visiting during the summer months. "It's a real community," Teresa said, telling me about the different options for all ages. "People come and they don't want to leave."Teresa is a typical New Yorker in her impressive use of space. Along with the smaller studio in front of her office, the main room has partitions that can be dragged across to create smaller spaces. She has seven full-time instructors who have been doing taekwondo for most of their lives. She proudly told me that she offers each of them benefits, vacation, and sick leave.The glass that separates her office is covered with words in red: "courtesy," "integrity," "perseverance," "self-control," and "indomitable spirit." These are the central tenets of taekwondo, a word that means "the way of the hand and foot" in Korean. Teresa explained to me that taekwondo is not just a physical practice, but also a mental one. As a fifth level black belt, she is a well-qualified teacher (Any degree above fourth indicates someone who has dedicated his or her life to teaching martial arts). She grew up with brothers in an active family on a farm in Virginia, and so she was introduced to a series of sports before landing on taekwondo as her passion. She has also introduced the martial art to her children. I met eleven-year-old Caden, a black belt who has been studying taekwondo since he was two years old, though he now splits his time between martial arts and baseball. Teresa's eight-year-old son is also a black belt and her little girl is a third degree red belt. "It was never a choice for them," Teresa said with a grin. As for Teresa, she is still training. A certain number of years must pass before you can increase your belt degree, but Teresa proudly told me, "By the time I am seventy-six years old, I will be ninth degree black belt grandmaster."Teresa makes sure that everyone in Central Park Taekwondo - and in her family - is certified through the Kukkiwon Taekwondo World Headquarters, so that their belt status is recognized everywhere. She also follows the rules of the World Taekwondo Federation School whenever her students compete. However, taekwondo is not just about gaining belts and competing. Teresa believes that taekwondo can be beneficial to anyone, even those who have never participated in sports. "What I love about this place," she told me, "is that you can come with no experience and end up a black belt one day." She also told me that taekwondo helps people with challenges such as ADD or ADHD, since it can build mental discipline and self-confidence. "A lot of therapists suggest taekwondo," Teresa informed me. Teresa especially suggests the martial art for children, since taekwondo helps teach principles of respect and builds a foundation of physical concentration.Teresa is very pleased with the fact that she has gained so many students in such a short amount of time. She opened Central Park Taekwondo in August of 2011 after training and working at another school in the area for seventeen years. The studio has been expanding ever since, with students traveling from Harlem and Brooklyn. "We're hoping to buy a new building, since we have grown really quickly in four years," Teresa said. She wants to remain on the Upper West Side, where people can find her. The only advertising she uses is word of mouth and the sandwich board outside, which reads "They say you kick like a girl, you say thank you!" When I expressed my approval, she let me know that the school is split evenly between men and women, which is unusual for a martial arts studio. "I think it's because I'm a female owner, so people feel connected to me," she said. She is very proud to have created such a tight-knit community. As I was leaving, she told me, "Our intention is to make anyone who walks in feel welcome, empowered, and strong."