“There are no luchadores or mariachi here, and I’m not wearing a sombrero,” Guillaume Guevara stated when describing the atmosphere of his one-stop Mexican store. “G,” as he is known to his friends, designed Miscelanea in 2015 to have a “modern Mexican vibe.”
G is Mexican, but he has traveled the world working and exploring. He has experience not only in the marketing and food and beverage industries, but also in hospitality. After studying in Switzerland, he worked in hotel management at the Savoy in London and at the Carlyle in Manhattan. There is no doubt that at this point he is well-versed in running a successful business. “I’m the guy who’s done a few things,” he said with a smile. Despite his travels, it is clear that G is Mexican to the core. It is his love for his homeland that caused him to open Miscelanea. At first he planned it to be a restaurant or bar, but then he realized that the East Village was populated with Mexican eateries. When chatting with his fellow Mexican ex-pats and asking questions including “Where do you get your cheese, your candy, etc.?” he learned that people were visiting multiple specialty stores, scattered throughout the city, in order to purchase the food that was reminiscent of home. It was then that he decided to make it easier and created a “lifestyle store” for the Mexican community in Manhattan.
G treads a fine line between authentic and modern. He runs the store exactly as he would in Mexico, without any kitsch pandering to the non-Mexican New York locals. He does, however, list his food items in English, and many of the products have English ingredient labels. He wants New Yorkers who do not speak Spanish to be comfortable shopping at Miscelanea. Even though he had only been open a couple of months when I stopped by, G told me that he already had a steady client base made up of three main groups - the people who work and live in the area, the visitors who have read about Miscelanea and treat it as a destination, and the Mexicans who want food from home.
One thing that surprised G as his business began to grow is that Miscelanea had quickly become a place to get prepared food. Originally, he wanted the store to be mainly about produce, with some hot food on the side. Now, the business is a sandwich/coffee place that happens to be a shop. “Opening a business is like having a baby,” he explained. “You want him to grow up and play soccer, but he wants to play guitar.” Like a loving father, G is not disappointed that Miscelanea does not fit his original dream for the store. “I’ve been very lucky,” he said, talking about the number of loyal customers that he has already accrued. He is, however, amused that his tiny kitchen is churning out so many dishes. “It’s like an airplane kitchen in there, or like what you would find in an RV.”
Browsing through the different products on the shelves, it reminded me of the time that my husband and I lived in Mexico City. I quickly discovered that G really does cover the basics that a New Yorker might desire including Mexican mole, agua fresca, perfume, mugs, kitchen rags, aprons, whisks, magazines and much more, all arranged in uncluttered, colorful rows. A special moment came when G sweetly shared that some of his favorite times running the store have been when young people from the neighborhood stop by and then bring their families back a few days later, pointing out the goods that remind them of their home. As G so nicely put it, Miscelanea is “a free trip to Mexico.”
Sitting on the bench right outside, Olivia and I sampled the Chilaquiles with green salsa, guacamole, refried beans and cheese. “It’s great hangover food,” G offered as he handed us our meal, which also comes with perfectly salted tortilla chips and homemade spicy pickled vegetables. For us, it was a perfect pick me up to send us on our way walking across East 4th Street.
Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake. As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.
Abraco Espresso started in a little nook on the other side of the street before it moved to its current larger space in 2016. The shop invites coffee lovers to stop by and enjoy a fresh brewed cup - according to many it might be one of the best you will ever experience. The space is perfect for those who wish to gather round and chat or just to savor their sweet homemade treats along with the exceptional coffee.
Do not be deterred by the bottleneck entrance, just continue walking toward the back where there is a welcoming outdoor courtyard that is always open, and heated in winter. The coat of warm, red paint on the walls, the rock and jazz music playing in the background, and the fireplace make this a cozy place to settle in with friends. The steaming cup of coffee, heaping with frothed milk, is smooth and light, exceeding all expectations. If you are as taken with their blend as we are, they package and sell their own beans. When we dined here our brunch was fresh and delicious, served with hearty bread, rice and beans.
The strong smell of coffee permeates the air in this specialty shop. Potato sacks line the shelves, filled to the brim with dark beans that can be scooped up and ground to order. Thirty years of coffee dust lingers and everything caffeinated fills this rustic shop – teabags, chocolate, coffee, more coffee. The original location, on Bleecker Street, has been providing java lovers with beans since 1907.
As Hamlet would say, “This is one of the places you come to the village for. ” Walking through the door, a small white pooch runs up to greet you, then leads you back through the racks of coats, pants, hats, and other accessories. As the owner, Hamlet, emphasizes, the inventory here is vintage clothing (not a second-hand shop), that dates from the 1940s to the 80s. The selection is sourced through various vintage collectors from all over the world. Hamlet credits his eye for fashion to his mother, who, he says, was a fashion designer in his home country of Dominican Republic. He is very proud of his collection and iterates that the store is not for “80s party” accoutrement, rather it is a resource for historic elegance and style. And if you stop in, you may even get your picture taken, as Hamlet will often have his customers model his new acquisitions.
Every nook and cranny of this tiny storefront's space is full of an extensive and eclectic collection of musical instruments from around the world. Instruments hang from the ceiling just as haphazardly as they are stacked on top of one another from the floor. Located at this same address for over fifty years, Music Inn has an impressive sitar selection from the 1960's, a rare 100 year old sarinda from Afghanistan, as well as adorable little child guitars and mini pianos. I had a quick throwback moment when I spied an autoharp. Do you remember music class in elementary school back in the 60's?
62 East 4th Street has had a fascinating history. At its inception in 1889, it served as a social hall housing a musician's union known as Astoria Hall, as well as hosting meetings of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In the 1930's, the ballroom was revamped as a theater and television studio and renamed Fortune Theater until Andy Warhol discovered it and left his legendary stamp here. In 1969, he rented it out to showcase a series of infamous porn films and called it Andy Warhol's Theater: Boys to Adore Galore. Over the years, the Yiddish theater had performances here, and many well known television shows used the space to film. Since 1987, the Duo Center has been here having raised the funds for renovations, and then remaining throughout construction to become home to what is now Duo Multicultural Arts Center and Rod Rogers Dance Company and Studio. Today the building is part of Fourth Arts Block (FAB) and operates as a center for film, dance, art, theater and music and is among New York's designated cultural districts.
Pageant Print Shop’s entirely glass storefront bordered by light blue is instantly eye-catching and proudly displays the treasure within. Inside its bright, buttercream interior, an immense assortment of old prints and maps line every wall and fill neatly-labeled display racks. This sanctuary of beautiful historical pieces was created by Sidney Solomon and Henry Chafetz in 1946. It was originally one of the many second-hand book stores on Fourth Avenue, an area that was then known as “Book Row. ” Now under the leadership of Sidney’s daughters, Shirley and Rebecca, Pageant Print Shop primarily sells old prints and is thriving at its current 4th Street location. Having worked with historic pieces her whole life, Shirley knows how to get the best prints. She has amassed her impressive collection from antique book auctions as well as other various sources that she has built up over the years. Roger, who has been working at Pageant Print Shop for over a decade, told Manhattan Sideways that “what we are looking for are old books with the bindings broken that are really not in very good shape on the outside, but still have good quality prints, maps, or illustrations on the inside. ” Although they search for old books based on the contents within, the shop also sells the old bindings for creatives looking to make decoupage and other fun art projects. Pageant Print Shop is definitely a fixture in the East Village, and in the words of Roger, is “one of those neighborhood jams. ” They enjoy “a loyal group of people that have been coming here for eons, " tourists looking for something authentically New York City, and neighborhood people walking by. He told us that newcomers are often “surprised that they are able to buy a piece of history, ” and return for more of their authentic, beautiful, and historic prints. Pageant Print Shop is unique in its extensive, high quality, and affordable selection. Roger affirmed that “It’s going to be hard for you to find someone who has this kind of a collection at these kinds of prices — it’s just true. ”
After moving to her current location from East 7th Street, Lalita Kumut is pleased with her new address for selling aromatherapy products. On one of our recent visits, we stood by while a delighted group of girls were creating their own fragrances. From the variety of custom blends, soaps, oils and other smell-good body products, to the lovely women who have been in this business for over twenty years, the Fragrance Shop offers a memorable experience for the senses.
There is no over-the-top, Tex-Mex red and green here. Instead, string lighting and wire deck chairs give the entire restaurant a patio feel, and the nods to Mexico are subtle and tasteful: tables set with blue-rimmed glasses like the ones I have seen on trips to the country, and a bar at the back with row upon row of tequila and mezcal. Rosie’s is the latest from restaurateurs Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman, known for their other ventures like Cookshop and Vic’s. When I stopped by in July of 2015, Rosie’s had been open just over three months, though Anna Marie, the General Manager, said “strangely, we feel like we’ve been here longer. It’s a comfortable feeling. ” I asked her to tell me about her experience with the new restaurant so far, and she told me how lucky she felt to be in the area. “I love the neighborhood, ” she explained, “one of our goals coming here was to become part of the community. ”“We’ve really tried to bring Mexico to New York, ” Anna Marie continued. Owner Marc Meyer had been travelling to Mexico for years, and so opening Rosie’s was a dream come true for the chef. “He just has such a respect for the cuisine, ” Anna Marie added. Of course, in order to bring authentic Mexican to Manhattan, a great deal of research was required. “We all went to Veracruz last August to do more research on the seafood side, ” Anna Marie recalled. The research certainly paid off. Members of the Sideways Team were blown away by the Cangrejo al Ajillo, a pan roasted blue crab served with guajillo chile, garlic, lime, and olive oil. Besides such astonishingly fresh seafood, another tradition that Rosie’s brings straight from Mexico is the Comal – the centerpiece of the dining area is a circular, tiled bar where women prepare tortillas by hand. “Our Comal Bar is a tribute to the ladies on the streets in Mexico, ” Anna Marie told me. There, the women grind their own corn to make the masa needed for corn tortillas. At Rosie’s, the corn is imported directly from Mexico, and ground downstairs, so that the first thing customers smell when they enter the restaurant is the fresh cornmeal. The women who make the masa into tortillas wear traditional comal aprons sewn from fabric that Marc Meyer and his team brought back from one of their trips. It is just one more touch of authenticity to accompany the restaurant’s delicious food. While the menu at Rosie’s does not focus on a particular region of Mexico, it acts as a travelogue of sorts, a collection of recipes inspired by Marc’s journeys there, and the culinary experiences that the country holds. The enchiladas are served in traditional style, with an aromatic mole sauce, and of course, everything comes with freshly-made tortillas. “The chefs – you get an air of such pride from them, ” Anna Marie exclaimed. “They feel celebrated, and that makes me happy. ”
After making frequent trips to Mexico and being unable to stay there as she wished, Dina Leor decided to do the next best thing: She brought Mexico to New York. Her success is evident upon walking into the store: Everything is covered in paper flowers and bright colors, enough to lift the spirits of any New Yorker wandering in on a gray day. A Lilliputian party of skeletal characters dance on a shelf for Día de los Muertos and little metal charms called “Milagros” or “miracles” cover many of the pieces. Dina carries everything from simple keychains and children’s toys to elaborate folk art, but each piece has a special meaning, often explained by little handwritten cards on the shelves. Dina is an artist herself: she used to make colorful boxes. When she opened La Sirena in 1999, she was essentially creating a bigger box: A box housing art and culture. She calls it her “evolving assemblage, ” a “living altar. ”La Sirena attracts all sorts of people. While I was visiting, there was a Swiss family browsing, straight from the airport. Since Dina’s was the first store they had found, they gave her a little box of Swiss chocolates. Many of Dina’s customers, however, are regulars, and Mexicans themselves. While spending time with Dina, she told me how a Mexican man had walked in and started weeping, because the store reminded him of his grandmother and he had not been able to go home to visit her. The store is “an umbrella of the republic, ” Dina says, and many regions of Mexico are represented. Dina went on to tell me another story, while explaining that she carries items from $2 to $500. One day she had a Mexican mother come in and gush over the merchandise. The woman wanted to get something for her four children, but only had a twenty-dollar bill. Dina helped her find four hand-made items and felt very proud when the cash register read “$19. 60. ” Some of the pricier pieces in the store come from the expatriate New Yorker Sue Kreitzman, a cookbook writer-turned-artist, whose work is celebrated in England, where she now resides. She uses echoes of Mexican folk art in her work. La Sirena provides her with many materials and is proud to feature her art. The history and familial meaning behind all the art is fascinating: Dina explained to me that in Mexico, life and art are not clearly separated. Artistic items are often family efforts, and children will frequently come home from school in the afternoon and help paint or sculpt or craft. The art is “handmade by beautiful people: ” when she travels around Mexico, people welcome her into their home and give her tortillas to represent reciprocal warmth. One of the most beautiful sights that she has seen on her travels was a woman breast-feeding while making clay pieces at the home of Josefina Aguilar, now well-known in the folk art community. “It’s part of the circle of life, ” Dina says: making art among nature, raising children, and teaching them the same artistic passions. Dina herself is part of this circle of life: As the adopted daughter of Mexico, she is continuing its artistic traditions and teaching them, in turn, to New Yorkers.