Venturing into El Quijote, we were informed by the bar tender that this is “the oldest Hispanic restaurant in NYC. ” It is difficult to ascertain if this statement is completely accurate, but regardless, El Quijote has rested on 23rd, next door to the infamous Hotel Chelsea since 1930. The many colors and textures of the space – black and white checkered floors, muraled walls, leather banquettes, and golden lighting – provide a fitting backdrop for the authentic Spanish food that is served. We have stopped by on several different occasions, always finding a jovial crowd of people gathered at the bar, sangria being poured and people dining on, what looks to be, huge portions of paella, steak and an ocean full of seafood.
A placard marking the Chelsea Hotel's landmark status reads, “The Chelsea was opened in 1884 as one of the city’s earliest cooperative apartment houses. It became a hotel about 1905... Artists and writers who have lived here include Arthur B. Davies, James T. Farrell, Robert Flaherty, O. Henry, John Sloan, Dylan Thomas and Thomas Wolfe. " One of the most important buildings in all of New York in the last Century, The Chelsea, with its bright red exterior and ornate iron balconies, still stands tall today. The past may never come back, but the new owners of this incredible landmark have told all of the long-time current residents of the hotel that he wants to restore the feel that the hotel had in the 1960s, just without all of the drugs and drama. The original owner, Stanley Bard, should take full credit for making it famous, gave musicians and other artists a place to live when no one else would. He “trusted everyone, ” and “understood all of the artists that lived and stayed here, ” according to Dan Courtenay, a resident of the hotel and owner of Chelsea Guitars on the ground floor - Bard appreciated what Manhattan was all about, he “was the heart of the place. ” The Chelsea hotel is where Andy Warhol threw an assassination party after the death of JFK -- where many Titanic survivors took refuge in 1912 -- where Betsy Johnson created the mini skirt -- Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Mark Rothko, James Schuyler, Arthur C. Clarke, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen all spent time at this hotel, walking its hallways and working on their art. Today, the ghosts of former tenants are said to roam the halls, and the hotel gives off an air of mystery and fame.
The General Theological Seminary’s West Building is the second-oldest building in Chelsea. Founded in 1817, it is the oldest seminary of the Episcopal Church. The grounds originally included a church, school buildings, housing, a massive interior, a planted central quadrangle, and fifteen bell towers. In 2007, the seminary converted one of its buildings into a luxury condominium building, the Chelsea Enclave. Subsequently, it sold several of its other properties on the three-square-block premises, which have become condominiums, a conference center, and The Highline Hotel. The West Building of the seminary is the most recent structure to be currently undergoing a conversion to twenty-three luxury condos. Still, despite the deconsecration of much of the school, the General Theological Seminary is an extraordinarily beautiful, quiet, green oasis in Western Chelsea.
Renowned Alsatian Chef Antoine Westermann opened his first restaurant, Le Buerehiesel, at twenty-three years old. For several years, the self-taught chef continued to prepare memorable cuisine, earning the restaurant an illustrious three Michelin stars. In 2006, he had those stars recalled in order to escape the creative constriction that accompanied them, and in 2007, he ceded the restaurant to his son. Chef Westermann’s more recent restaurant endeavors offer sophisticated cuisine sans pomp. In Paris, he is the proud chef and owner of four such restaurants - Mon Vieil Ami, The Durant, La Dégustation, and Le Coq Rico. Translating to “Rico the Chicken, ” the first Le Coq Rico opened in 2011 as a restaurant entirely devoted to poultry. After all, the refined chef’s cuisine of choice is fried chicken and French fries. Before bringing Le Coq Rico to Manhattan in 2016, Westermann spent a couple of months sourcing poultry and establishing connections with farmers across the US that adhered to his standards of quality as part of his exploration of “American terroir. ” Unbeknownst to the chef at the time, the space he chose in Gramercy resides next to Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, which houses a collection of taxidermy birds. “This one just felt right, ” the staff joked. As to be expected from a chef of Westermann’s caliber, the menu at Le Coq Rico in New York is anything but ordinary. The minimum slaughtering age of the specialty whole birds served is ninety days, more than double the forty-day standard, and Catskill Gunea Fowl are given one-hundred and thirty days. “After that they become a rooster, ” I was informed. Another specialty dish, the “baeckeoffe, ” originates from an Alsatian laundry day tradition. When the women were busy with laundry and did not have the time to cook, they would drop off a marinade of potatoes, beef and sauces to a baker, who would seal the casserole dish with dough and let it cook slowly. Westermann’s version employs chicken, truffles, and white wine. Watching some of the other dishes come out, I would have never guessed that they were all the same species. The playful giblets platter veiled the bird’s offal with elegant skewers, spiced croquettes, glossy wings, and horseradish toast. A foamy butter bath with micro greens overlay the slow-cooked guinea fowl egg, and I was relieved to find out that the tomato and poultry tartare was not raw, but instead similar to an elevated chicken salad encircled by caper sauce. Birds play a role in other parts of the restaurant, too. In addition to French and American wines displayed in a pristine wine cave, the bar offers a bird-themed cocktail program. One of the most popular, The Elvis in the Sky, is an alcoholic take on the singer’s famed peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. The “Duck Fitch, ” a mix of gin, turmeric, ginger, and mint, is named for the celebrated polymath artist, Doug Fitch. Having lived with a bird for a month after a live performance piece, Doug was deemed the perfect candidate to design the cheerful rooster that has become Le Coq Rico’s emblem. His backlit, blue-and-white painting is on view for guests seated in the main dining area or at the bar that faces the open kitchen. Serving simple food expertly prepared, Chef Westermann is not only a master in the kitchen, but an excellent mentor as well. Floor Manager and Sommelier Adrien Boulouque could not be more thankful for his fifteen years of experience working with the humble and soft spoken chef. “I met him in Washington D. C. and now I am here, ” he mused. “It is all about sharing and respect. ” This respect is geared towards the staff, the guests, and, of course, the birds.
Nemo Tile’s beginnings date back to 1921 in Jamaica, Queens. Nemo Tile is responsible for lining and decorating many of New York’s most famed and frequently traveled spaces and landmarks: The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the original World Trade Center, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the W Hotels, and “countless residences, ” according to their staff, all bear their unique tiles. The company specializes in usable, heavily trafficked tiles, of all colors, shapes, materials, and sizes, but Nemo also works on smaller, more decorative or intimate architectural and interior projects. I spoke to Charlotte Barnard, the head of marketing, who told me a bit about the the company’s history and the changes that Nemo has undergone since its inception. Jerry Karlin partnered with, and subsequently took over from, the original owner in the 1950s and since then, the company has been in the hands of three generations of this family run business. I think what struck me most, though, was when I put the pieces together and realized that I grew up in the same town as the Karlin's. One of their daughters was a childhood friend, and our parents were also very close. I even have fond memories of a trip that I took with the Karlins to Florida when I was about fifteen. All of a sudden, Nemo Tiles took on a whole new meaning for me. As I continued my conversation with Charlotte, she informed me that many things have not changed since 1921 - the original location is still operating in Queens and the Karlin family is still involved with MTA projects, including the new Fulton Street station, which features Nemo glass tiles. There have, however, been revolutionary inventions in the tile industry, especially thanks to advances in technology. 3D printing has made it possible to make porcelain look like stone, wood, and even metal. Charlotte proudly stated that Nemo Tile sees some of the most traffic of surrounding showrooms. She pointed out that they have a great location, and that similar companies have followed their lead in moving to the Gramercy area. The company finds most of their products at two major tile shows in Bologna and Florida, but they have wares from all over the world, from China to North America. They have an especially large Italian selection, and Charlotte told us that Nemo had been named “Distributor of the Year” by Confindustria Ceramica, the trade organization for Italian tile. I was deeply impressed with the showroom itself and the constant flow of people stopping by to browse and make purchases: the floor was a clever patchwork of different styles of tile, sliding pull-out displays were tucked into the walls, allowing the space to remain uncluttered, and props like shower heads and mirrors decorated the walls. Charlotte explained, “We are more than a typical tile store. We show tiles within the context of lifestyle. It is a new way to see space, and we are constantly updating the displays. ”
The massive, open interior, high ceilings, white columns, and rows of long, pillow-strewn banquettes at this corner Mediterranean restaurant pay extensive, dramatic homage to what is really a tiny, unremarkable fish found in Greece. Since the restaurant opened in 2005, the barbounia has been elevated to what is most likely unprecedented fame. The sardine, for example, has yet to be honored with a white-feathered chandelier and twenty-foot long, soft cream-colored curtains. The airy space, which also comprises a large, inviting bar, semi-outdoor seating on 20th Street, and an open kitchen, is consistently packed and filled with raucous, lively conversation. Barbounia is certainly a scene worth partaking in, both socially and with its mostly Greek cuisine, especially the fresh, simply prepared fish and seafood. They also offer amazing bread and small pizzas and pasta.
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here. Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989. The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors, ” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. ” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass. ”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in. ”
New York Live Arts, a contemporary dance and theater venue, opened in 2011, but has already become internationally recognized as an exciting cultural destination. The space, with its 184-seat theater and two massive studios, serves as a home base for the Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company. This space is used for the company’s rehearsals and performances, and also serves as a home for workshop programs that engage adults and young people in the arts. The performances at NY Live Arts are global in scope and political in theme, lending the space a fresh and intellectually engaging feel.
“Most of my dolls I find in the streets. ”Sound is the first thing I notice upon entering Mikel Glass’s new installation on the second floor of The Cell, a performance theater and experimental exhibition space on West 23rd Street. The dense murmur of whirs, whizzes, and running water that comes from mechanical contrivances made of dolls, toys, garbage, and hardwiring gives the impression that I have wandered into a mad tinkerer’s workshop. The dolls gyrate, jump, wave, urinate; in one, a glowing read heart pumps blood through rubber arteries. And that’s to say nothing of the second room of the installation. Glass lurches around the room, shutting off the automatons one by one with crude switches. “I grew up in a small town where if you needed something done, you kind of had to do it yourself, ” he says, a modest explanation for the array of technical skills on display in his installation at The Cell: painting, graphic design, sculpture, carpentry, circuitry. An art-world dissident with decades of academic study behind him, Glass prizes free creativity in contrast to what he sees as a calcified Chelsea art-market machine. As a place for an experiment in what he calls “non-commercialism, ” The Cell is more than a gracious host - for Glass, it is “a little utopian entity on [Chelsea’s] doorstep, in direct opposition to it. ”Having spent decades in the New York art world, he seems only to have gained momentum in the fourth decade of his career, putting on three solo shows in the city in the past eight years, and appearing in a number of other exhibitions around the world. Glass’s easy manner, as well as his choice of materials and relatable themes, conceal to an unsuspecting eye the hours of arduous effort he spends constructing the objects on display. A painted wooden pizza box in one corner of the second room of the installation bears, for example, in faux grease-stain silhouette, a subtle billowy Renaissance head - a reference to Jan Van Eyck’s Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini, perhaps - and a greasy “Napoleon Crossing the Alps”; On the mantel, a fabricated exhibition catalogue describes bogus art historical lineages of each object in the room, such as the supposed link between a box of aluminum foil and the scene of Kurt Cobain’s death - a falsified link as, in this case, the object is not the original but was, in fact, constructed by Glass. On the surface The Cardboard Project is self-consciously Warholian, even Dadaist, in its commentary on materialism and the art world as a whole, and it is no coincidence that direct references to Warhol feature prominently in this section of the installation. Everything Glass does seems to beg the same response from his audiences: one has to look three times, and then again, to start to construct a personal understanding of the work. It is exactly such individual interrogation and reflection that Glass wishes to encourage with his work. He wants people to think for themselves: “I want people to look at [the work], and then have this reckoning. ”These days, Glass throws himself at his work with as much energy as ever, but as for Chelsea, it seems familiarity has bred increasing contempt. “That whole [Chelsea] gallery experience has become very antiseptic, ” he says, “The edges of the New York art world are starting to get very soft. There used to be a lot of grit, a lot of things you could see and do that were very experimental. With fee structures being the way they are, and […] the general appetite for culture going in the way it is, those places are starting to dry up. The idea of a place dedicated to culture is becoming outdated. The most pure artists who are making the most intrepid work are being pushed out. ”Glass defiantly positions himself, and his work at The Cell, in contrast to the sanitized galleries and mercenary tastemakers. “It’s a fashion show, it’s a popularity contest. Me, I’d rather die in obscurity than compromise, ” he says. Forays into the lucrative curatorial world - namely, a stint at a Basel art fair that he said felt like being “a vegan at a sausage festival” - have convinced Glass of the need to promote the “liberalism and open-mindedness” which he believes to be the highest virtue of art. Along those lines, the installation will feature “expeditors, or emcees, I don’t even know what to call it, ” says Glass, who will both lead guests and reinterpret the experience. Guests are likely in for a wild evening: “We’ve talked to witches and mediums and psychiatrists, and a child and woman who is like a human doll. ” Although the installation will remain largely unchanged over the course of Glass’s residency, the different "expeditors" will offer guests fresh, ephemeral takes on the artwork. Indeed, Glass seems to have entered the most ambitious phase of his career: the exhibit at The Cell will combine his artworks with augmented reality and live performance. Aiming at nothing less than a gesamkunstwerk with this experiment, Glass nonetheless has a sense of humor about the reckless abandon of his endeavors. “An artist is a portal to the zeitgeist, ” he says, then quickly: “Oh my God, that sounds so ridiculous. We’re trying to be as experimental as possible, with the risk of failing. We might fail; I just don’t give a shit. ”
Originally begun by David Mamet and William Macy, while attending NYU in 1985, the Atlantic Theater has had a huge presence on 16th Street. Serving multiple purposes, the theater continues to produce some of Off-Broadway's biggest awarding-winning hits, as it continues to train hundreds of actors for the stage both in conjunction with NYU's undergraduate program and as a private conservatory.