Certainly it is a tiny cemetery that is easy to walk by, but watch for the wrought iron gates, and peer through them, as it holds a special piece of history. It was opened in 1829 in connection with Congregation Shearith Israel, an Orthodox Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and the oldest Jewish Congregation in the United States. It was founded in 1654 by Spanish and Portuguese Jewish refugees fleeing anti-Semitism in Europe, and until 1825 it was the only Jewish formal place of worship in New York City. The Synagogue now resides on the Upper West Side, and the cemetery has two other counterparts further downtown. The cemetery contains about 250 graves and was active until 1851 when a law was passed forbidding burial anywhere south of 86th Street. It is always fascinating to stumble upon a little relic of the past, tucked away peacefully between the side street businesses.
This site, that now houses Starbucks, was the American novelist Edith Wharton's childhood home. 2012 was the 150th anniversary of her birth. Edith Wharton was one of the few New York writers whose feelings for the city were almost unambiguously negative. The author of classics such as The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth far preferred Paris, where she spent much of her adult life. However, her early years were spent here in a brownstone her family built.
It is impossible to miss Engine Co. 14 on a sunny afternoon. The ornate Beaux Arts design is simply eye-catching. Engine Co. 14 was erected in 1895 by architect Napoleon LeBrun, who was known for his decoratively designed fire stations. This style is typical of the earliest New York City firehouses. Today, Engine Co. 14 has been recognized as a historic landmark. For more than a century, firefighters have been working out of this building. When my intern, Emily, walked past the fire station, the garage doors were wide open, and locals were wandering in and out to greet the friendly firefighters. One older veteran was smoking a cigar and chatting with a new member who had finished his training just six weeks ago. The two firefighters showed an eager little boy and his father into the front seat of their largest firetruck. The boy honked the loud horn, which all the firefighters exclaimed was “quite impressive” for someone his age.
Although privately owned today, this grand building at No. 17 has a rich history as a health clinic. Built in 1847 as a row of Greek Revival homes, this particular house had several residents until J. Noah Slee, Margaret Sanger's husband, purchased it in 1930 to house his wife's growing Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau. Over 10, 000 women were cared for in this clinic over the years, and contraceptive information was shared with all who entered. The clinic continued to function even after Ms. Sanger's death in 1966, and in 1993, under Bill Clinton's presidency, it was finally designated a National Historic Landmark.
While the digital age has allowed us to streamline many services, there are some art forms that must remain analog. One trip to Best Shoe and Bag Original Repair on W21st Street in Chelsea and you’ll be convinced that the time honored art of cobbling is one that can’t be replaced. It’s an art that has been passed down to owner Marcia Sailema from her father, who ran the shop for decades until he retired in 2015. Marcia said that in addition to helping her dad run the family business, she took classes at FIT to sharpen her skills in repairing luxury shoes and bags, which are the businesses specialty. “I learned so much industry vocabulary that I never knew before – like the way that the first part of a shoe design is called the last — and ‘the last comes first! ’” she laughed. She quickly acclimated to the delicate art of making much-loved, long-worn bags and shoes look like new by making delicate leather, paint and stitching matches to designers from Dior to Chanel and in fragile vintage pieces. The intricate work — which Marcia proudly showed us can make a nearly unusable bag or shoe look fresh off the shelf – has led to a loyal customer base. For Marcia, it’s a labor of love. “I really like working on the bags, ” she said, admiring a classic Louis Vuitton monogram bag that she’d recently completed repairs on. “Look at these zippers! ”
Merakia occupies the space that housed Kat & Theo from 2015-2017 - and while the restaurant maintains the same ownership as before, it also has a different mission. The modern Greek steakhouse prides itself on its meats and classic seafood items, while maintaining a classy, hip atmosphere in its cavernous space on 21st Street. “We built a new team… and a new vision, ” managing partner James Paloumbis shared with the Manhattan Sideways team when he spoke of the switch from Kat & Theo. He then went on to highlight Merakia’s differences from other Greek restaurants. “It’s not white and blue like every other place in New York City. Our menu is not the copy paste of any other place. ” The menu is heavy on steaks and seafood, boasting their signature lamb on the spit ("the only restaurant in the city to do so") while, surprisingly, offering some robust meat-free options as well. “Everything is farm to table, we use fresh ingredients, [and] we make everything from scratch on a daily basis. ” James told us that part of his mission is to bring back the adventure of going out to eat, a phenomenon he has noticed declining over the years. “People don’t like to go out anymore just to eat. You can eat at home, you can eat down the street, you can order your meal online. But to get an experience of nice service, some nice flavors, nice music, nice drinks - it’s worth your while to go out again. ” Husband and wife team behind Kat & Theo - Renee and Andreas Typaldos - seem to have orchestrated a smooth transition from their previous restaurant. As their past executive chef, Paras Shah, believed, "there should be a movie written about the couple's romantic backstory and that he “couldn’t have worked for better folks. ” Andy is originally from Greece, and the restaurant was named after his parents, Katerina and Theodosios. Andy came to New York on a scholarship from Columbia and met Renee, who is from the Bronx. He took her out on a first date “with holes in his shoes and with no winter jacket, ” according to Renee. She added, “The romantic, poetic way people get together. ” Today, they are paying homage to Andy's Greek heritage and according to James, “People have to trust their stomachs and their palates with a restaurant, so that’s what we’re trying to do here. Trust us - our food is fresh, our food is made with care, and we love what we do. ”
Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.
Perhaps the attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ” works well at Society Billiards. They seem to know that sometimes a classic pool hall is just what people need. Extremely spacious and stocked with countless pool tables, anyone looking to get lost in the game will be sure to love this dimly lit, relaxed, yet classy spot.
As we peered behind the counter at Joe, we saw what looked like a machinist’s shop or a technological artist’s studio, and yet the rich aroma of coffee was unmistakable. Joe is a place for serious coffee, and they hope to make serious coffee-drinkers out of their customers. The front of the shop holds a regular coffee bar, with three stools, and a display with some useful coffee tools for at home brewing. The majority of the space, however, is filled by the coffee studio in back where customers can watch the machines whir and the experts work their magic. For those of us not as knowledgeable in the coffee arena, Joe offers regular classes on topics ranging from brewing technique to what they call “coffee theory. ” While they have several locations throughout Manhattan, Joe's on 21st street serves as the “pro shop” and headquarters.