I discovered this small pocket of nature many years before reaching 71st Street on my journey across the side streets of Manhattan. It has always been a joy to surprise my friends with this tiny bit of greenery within the urban city side streets. Septuagesimo Uno (Latin for seventy-one) is considered the smallest park in Manhattan. It was acquired by the city parks department in 1969 and officially opened in May of 1981 with restoration in 2000. Situated between two brownstone buildings, the little gem features multiple benches and lovely greenery.
Helen Clay Frick, always an art enthusiast, founded the Frick Art Reference Gallery in 1920 as a public reserve and in loving memory of her father, Henry Clay Frick. Originally housed in the basement bowling alley of the Frick Collection, the library moved to its current location in 1935, transformed from its previously residential identity by Russell Pope. To date, the library offers access to comprehensive collections of photographs with complementing texts as well as other resources to better understand Western Art, adhering to the intentions of both Helen and Henry.
Raised by parents from Sicily and Naples, Nick Mormando grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, exposed to authentic Italian food in a comfortable setting. "We were the house on the block that was always cooking something," Nick explained. And he still is, having stayed true to his family recipes since opening the neighborhood-centric Polpette 71 restaurant in November of 1994.The front room is set up with white tablecloths, bottles of Pellegrino and photographs of "The Gates" by Christo and Jean-Claude, which decorated Central Park in 2005. On my first visit to Polpette 71, when it was still operating under its original name, Bello Giardino, Nick asked if I would like to sit outside in the garden. I looked up in surprise and eagerly replied, "Yes please." Truly a hidden gem on West 71st, this quiet respite has become a favorite of mine over the last several years. The red-and-white checkered tablecloths, small bottles of olive oil, and a massive mural by Hans de Castellane - depicting an Italian landscape with ocean views and coastal dwellings - brings a smile to my face every time I stroll in. Overhead, a weaving grape vine, grown out of a tiny root planted years ago from Nick's childhood garden, opens to pockets of natural light.The star of the culinary show has been the "Nicky" meatball. Voted the best in the boroughs by Dish du Jour Magazine in 2009, it has since made guest appearances on television shows, and inspired Nick's latest restaurant, Polpette, on Amsterdam Avenue. Other favorites include the penne alla vodka, the linguini and clams, which Nick fondly remembers his mother serving twice a month as he was growing up, and my personal favorite, the eggplant parmigiana.In addition to the food and décor, the ambiance is set by the strong relationships the restaurant has established. Without a doubt, this is a neighborhood haunt. Special occasions are commonly celebrated, guests are unafraid to dine alone, often engaging in comfortable conversations with the servers, and diners are referenced by names. "We are that kind of place," Nick smiled, recalling a couple who had met in his restaurant, moved outside of New York, but returned to Polpette 71 for their son's first birthday.
In 1887, Father Matthew A. Taylor founded the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, and in 1919, in an effort to accommodate an impressive following, the Roman Catholic Church was moved to its current residence just in front of the School of the Blessed Sacrament.Designed by architect Gustave E. Steinback, the building draws on Gothic Revival styles. The exterior stone facade stands proudly with arched stone ridges, detailed carvings, and heavy wooden doors, but it is the immaculate rose window that presents the most marvels. On the inside, the window is even more awe-inspiring, glowing in a spectrum of soft hues that fill the space with natural light complemented by more stain glass panels on the sidewalls and a beautifully designed tile floor.
“Restaurants are a funny thing — I think most of us fall in and then some of us never leave,” said Laura Bird, who spent decades working in and out of her uncle’s Southwestern eatery, Santa Fe, before taking over as the owner. Laura’s uncle, John Bird, initially set out to be a musician. However, “like most creatives in New York, he spent a lot of time working in restaurants in between gigs.” He was a busboy at the casual Mexican joint, Cantina, on 70th Street for many years. Putting his dreams of stardom aside, John and a crew of coworkers he had befriended at Cantina chose to open a new place mere blocks away that would “elevate Southwestern cuisine.” John later became the sole proprietor, and under his management, the business was able to straddle the line between attracting hotshot celebrities and serving as a warm, family restaurant. “So many people began bringing their kids to dinner and started a long-lasting tradition of dining at Santa Fe together,” Laura shared. She fondly recalls her own early visits to her uncle’s restaurant. “It seemed like a game then. I remember the excitement of being allowed to use the soda gun for the first time.” Little did she know that she would be a fixture at Santa Fe.Similar to her uncle before her, Laura graduated college with a theater major and the knowledge that she would need a side job to pay her rent. She went from working the coat check, to waitressing, to suddenly managing the entire restaurant. Though it may not be for everyone, Laura admitted that she loved the “vampire lifestyle — I could do what I loved during the day and then come here at night to do a different kind of show business.”The family ties at Santa Fe do not stop at Laura and John. The chef of over a decade, José Gonzalez, appointed his son, Danny, as his second-in-command. Together, they dish up traditional Mexican foods as well as American staples and do their best to abide by John’s cardinal rule: consistency. “It’s easy to make something once, but the real goal is to keep cooking it the same way every time. We try to ensure that when people order a dish, it is the same flavor that they fell in love with when they first tried it a week or even ten years ago.” Just as notable are Santa Fe’s margaritas, which have “a reputation of their own as our shining superstar.”As for John, after devoting decades of his life to Santa Fe, he “took a bow from his restaurant journey” during the COVID-19 pandemic and entrusted Laura and her husband, Alex Fresqued, to keep running the show. In a heartwarming twist of fate, Santa Fe’s landlord turned out to be equally as fond of this neighborhood gem as its patrons, and he came on as a partner to help keep it alive.
Originally designed by architect Stephen D. Hatch for a Methodist church in 1880, this building was taken over by the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church ten years later. In 1939, the German-founded congregation merged with that of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran to become Grace & St. Paul's Church. Today the church retains its beautiful brownstone facade, a mixture of Gothic and Victorian expression.