A members-only club for artists and creative professionals, the Norwood aims at a salon-like atmosphere within a converted townhouse. Open from early in the morning until late at night every day, the sumptuously decorated and richly historic building offers meeting rooms, a restaurant, two bars, a small theater and assorted gallery spaces. The club does more than simply provide a space to socialize and probe the intricacies of the modern art world, though. Pictures from a disposable camera tacked on the wall as we entered showed young adults riotously enjoying themselves while dressed in period costumes from the 1920s. Furthermore, we learned that the Norwood encourages and supports its members in their artistic ventures. While we were not brought upstairs when visiting the club, we were invited to apply for membership and the space truly beckoned to us. An elevated sense of style is wedded beautifully with its intimacy (the intimacy is thanks in part to the decor, which has been mostly untouched since the building's life as a residence). Constructed from 1845-7 for Andrew S. Norwood, owner of a fleet of merchant ships, the quality of construction was in keeping with the practically suburban nature of West 14th street at that time. Between 1870 and the middle of the twentieth century, the building served as an on-again, off-again boarding house. Somehow the building avoided being bought up and torn down to make way for light industry, a fate that befell most of the residential buildings on the edge of the Meatpacking District. After a stint as a funeral parlor, it served as a private residence from 1976 until 2005, when the club snapped it up, delighted to find that the inside was as well preserved as the outside. We can only say that we wish we were members.
Claude-Noelle Toly came to the United States in 1982 after having received her master's degree in political science. Her original goal was to improve her English, but she could not help but fall in love with Manhattan. "Much to my mother's disappointment, I became a waitress in a tiny restaurant in the Village, ” Claude-Noelle confided. It was there, one day, that she met William Nuckel. They became fast friends and together shared a dream of traveling to the South of France on a regular basis to purchase items for a French shop. Shortly afterwards, a tiny little corner space in the West Village became available... that was also affordable. In 1987, they agreed that it was the perfect location and decided to give it a try. Built in the 1800s with three levels, the building is a perfect fit for the charming French boutique that houses antiques and collectibles. From traditional pottery and earthenware to folk art and colorful crystal chandeliers, everything about the shop is enchanting - and this includes the delightful partners. Over the years, during their trips abroad, the two have discovered many talented artisans who constantly remind Claude-Noelle of French farmers. She explained that "they are in their own little world working and producing special pieces, having very little communication with the outside world. " But, she continued, "They absolutely appreciate the fact that there is a shop in Manhattan that is selling their work. " I then learned that there is nowhere else in the States that carries their pottery. For that matter, the only other place in the world that does so is in France. In addition to the new pottery for which Le Fanion is known, the store also has a limited collection of both pottery and furniture that date back to the early and mid-1700s, alongside a larger number of items from the nineteenth century. When I revisited Claude-Noelle in 2016, she was still gushing about her longevity in the West Village and how she continues to love every minute of being on her special, quiet corner. She disclosed that there are two wonderful aspects of owning Le Fanion - traveling to the south of France several times a year, where she and William are able to interact with so many fascinating people "who have unexploited lifestyles, " and returning with new inventory to share with their customers. Claude-Noelle added that she finds it "kind of funny to think that we are a genuine organic store - we only sell wood and clay. " Who knew that they were so ahead of their time in the 1980s? "Today, everyone either tries or pretends to be organic... but we were doing it before many others, " Claude Noelle commented. After a pause, she said, "Wow, thirty years later, and we are still here - How can that be? " Claude-Noelle answered her own question: "What we sell attracts people who appreciate the quality and the stories behind the pieces. And, it continues to always be a nice moment. "
This handsome example of art deco serves as a reminder of the grand and militant vision of vanquishing evil for which the Salvation Army used to be known. Set into the recessed archway, an enormous metal sigil trumpets the organization's motto: “blood and fire. ” Fitting then that this outpost of the institution houses a small army of office workers in charge of managing the logistics of providing social services to the greater New York area. Commissioned in 1930 by Eva Booth, granddaughter of Salvation Army founder William Booth, it actually served as the national headquarters until 1982. While the organization is most often associated with the sale of used goods for incredibly cheap prices at their family stores, this outpost offers disaster services, social services, and transitional or emergency housing for the homeless.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.