Facing a dwindling congregation, increased costs, and an exterior in desperate need of renovation, Saint Peter's Church was razed in 1971. What rose from the ashes, however, was a structure that preserved all of the history and sanctity of the old church, built in 1905, while presenting an innovative, modern design. The new Saint Peter's is indeed a place of worship for the twenty-first century and beyond. The exterior looks nothing like a traditional church. In fact, if passers-by do not take the time to look closely at the lettering, they might not realize that St. Peter's houses one of New York's largest Lutheran congregations. The open, unadorned lobby gives few clues as to what lies beyond. The space is massive, beginning below ground and stretching up several stories to a soaring ceiling. It includes many rows of pews and even a full orchestra pit, where groups unaffiliated with the church are invited to practice and perform.
In addition to the larger sanctuary, Saint Peter's second iteration offers a smaller private chapel designed by Louise Nevelson, the first American artist in the United States to have been chosen for this honor. My mother, an award-winning biographer, had the pleasure of interviewing and getting to know this grand woman of the twentieth century as she was writing Breaking Tradition: The Story of Louise Nevelson, published in 1984. To quote from Natalie S. Bober's biography on the Good Shepherd chapel: "the sculptures that suggest grapes and grain, the Trinity and the Apostles, the striking white and gold crucifix, the benches for meditation, even the priests' vestments, were all designed by Louise Nevelson. In the Chapel of the Good Shepherd she showed her tremendous versatility....in the almost blindingly beautiful all-white chapel, an oasis of calm within the huge and bustling Citicorp Center. The tiny chapel, an oddly shaped five-sided room, seats only twenty-eight people in pews set herringbone fashion, instead of facing the altar. Each wall holds a typical Nevelson sculpture that manages to strike a delicate balance between religion and art. 'Why had a Russian-born Jewish artist been selected to design a Lutheran chapel in New York?' the pastor of St. Peter's was asked. 'Because she's the greatest living American sculptor,' was his reply."
A huge admirer of Dale Chihuly, I was exuberant when I discovered that St. Peter's also proudly displays original work by Mr. Chihuly, the American artist best known for his startling, brilliant glasswork. On permanent loan are two "Macchia" bowls safely placed in the senior pastor's office, as well as a striking painting that hangs in the outer office of the church for all to appreciate. The painting, done on the premises by Chihuly in 1994, is a study in vibrant reds and yellows. Apparently, he arranged a series of bowls ascending vertically in the church so that he could refer to them while sketching.
Today, the only visual trace of the old St. Peter's is a large black and white photograph depicting the church as it stood in the early 1900s. The entire space, however, is suffused with its history. Though completely modern on the outside, its deep roots allow a continuity between New York's past and its present. The church has been in existence for over 150 years, and, no doubt, will continue to grow and adapt in the years to come.
As a proud New Yorker for many years, I would always stop by St. Patrick's Cathedral while showing visitors the city. After walking all of the side streets on the Manhattan grid, I have discovered many magnificent churches in New York. I am still incredibly moved, however, every time I step inside St. Pat's. For me, it possesses all the grandeur of a Western European cathedral, yet it is right here in the heart of Midtown. Home to the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, St. Patrick's Cathedral was built between 1858 and 1878 (construction was halted during the Civil War). A National Landmark, it was designed by James Renwick Jr. in the image of a thirteenth-century-style Gothic church with flying buttresses snaking up the walls, supporting the almost 340-foot structure, it boasts beautiful stained glass windows that softly diffuse the afternoon light. In the fall of 2014, the church is halfway through their multi-year renovation and cleaning. Although the interior and exterior are currently covered in scaffolding, the church maintains its majestic appearance and generates exhilaration as its restored marble facing is meticulously unveiled from the spires downward.
St. Bartholomew's, affectionately nicknamed St. Bart's, was built between 1916 and 1930 in the simplified Byzantine style. Sitting on an entire block amidst 50th and 51st Streets, the dramatic exterior has always caught my attention while traveling on Park Avenue. It was not until recently, while I was walking on the side streets, that I finally ventured indoors to appreciate the limestone walls, the magnificent stained glass windows, and the intricately designed dome. Designated as a landmark in 1967, St. Bart's is home to the largest organ in New York - and one of the ten largest in the world.
The history of Saint-Esprit dates back to the 1600s when French Huguenots fled persecution in France and sought religious tolerance in New York. This makes it the second oldest French Huguenot church in North America. The church moved several times due to a variable following and property value changes. There were even periods of time when worship ceased altogether. In 1941, however, Saint-Esprit finally settled at 109 East 60th Street, expanding next door three years later. When I visited the small chapel one afternoon, a staff member enthusiastically pointed out various historical relics to me, telling the stories of the crests that lined the walls and the works donated by French artists. Though weekly services are entirely in French, I was still warmly invited to attend and experience the heritage of the French Huguenots for myself.
The beautiful Victorian Gothic church is certain to catch the eye of anyone passing by. The original congregation was formed in 1808, moving into their present location on Fifth Avenue in 1875. With no right angles or biblical iconography, the interior architecture reflects Presbyterian tradition of the nineteenth century. Featuring large stained glass windows and intricate woodwork in the ceiling, the inside of the church is stunning. The church has a longstanding history of dedication to helping the homeless in New York. In 1986, they opened a shelter that now houses up to twelve men at a time, all year long.
It's her first venture in Manhattan and she's had to pick up some new skills along the way too, but hospitality veteran Nicola Campbell is feeling right at home in Hell's Kitchen as she opens brand-new Jamaican eatery Cafe 424 on W54th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. Currently in soft-launch mode and open from Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 7pm, the team at Cafe 424 are planning a grand opening September 15 to 17, after which they will operate from 8am to 10pm Wednesday through Saturday, serving Jamaican-themed pastries, coffee, lunch and dinner. Nicola, known as “Chef Mom” grew up in Willowdene Estates in the parish of St Catherine, Jamaica, where she learned to cook alongside her grandmother. “I used to be in the kitchen with my grandma all the time, ” said Nicola. “Back then I didn’t love it — it felt like punishment, but as I got older I realized that I had natural talent. ”She moved to New York City in 1999, opening several Caribbean restaurants in Queens and earning a degree from the prestigious Institute of Culinary Education. “I started using the skill sets that I got from my grandmother, ” said Nicola. “I decided to go to culinary school to sharpen those skills, and the rest is history. ” Her professional nickname “came from culinary school and when I was graduated — my kids said, ‘What should we call you now? ’” All of her children have helped with the business through the years, including daughter Zhana Clacken, who works as her partner and technology expert at Cafe 424. After closing one restaurant in Long Island City due to damage from Hurricane Sandy and selling another establishment in Jamaica, Queens in 2016, “I swore that I would never do this again, ” said Nicola. But when she got the chance to collaborate with non-profit co-op Prime Produce, an organization dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and artists with their multi-use space on W54th Street, Nicola decided to take the leap. “I met these fabulous people from Prime Produce who want to do good in the world, ” said Nicola. “Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of it? ”After signing on as the organization’s in-house concession provider and operator of the public-facing café, the next challenge for Nicola was to build the kind of environment that she hoped would attract regular neighborhood patrons. “We wanted to create a homey, relaxed vibe, ” she said. “We want you to stay — we offer free WiFi so that you can come on down and chill with us. ”Used to commercial kitchens, she was happy to find a convection oven to fit the smaller space, allowing her to develop a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner options cooked onsite. “I'm used to a full kitchen, ” said Nicola. “But from experience working in colleges and hotels, restaurants and catering, I've had to pull all those things together. ”Nicola and her team are happy to be able to offer freshly-baked, in-house seasonal pastries, including treats like apple pies, bread pudding and, come holiday time, a rum raisin fruit cake featuring raisins that Nicola has been lovingly tending to and soaking for five years. For lunch and dinner, she’s developed a small, constantly rotating seasonal menu with Jamaican classics like jerk chicken, oxtails, curry goat, seafood and jerk fried rice. Everything is cooked to order and they offer vegan options in their lunch, dinner and dessert menus. The process has allowed Nicola to experiment with Jamaican fusion cuisine, she added. “I try to mix up my Jamaican side and my culinary-training side and bring a little bit of French and a little bit of Italian-style to different dishes — oxtail cooked French-style and combinations like that. ” But when it came to creating the café’s beverage program, Nicola had a lot to learn. “I was challenged because I've never actually done a coffee shop before, ” she said. She got to work researching the coffee brewing process, and landed on using premium Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee for the café’s offerings. “I wanted specifically to stay true to my heritage, and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is what I was raised on — growing up back home in Jamaica with my grandmother, that's all we used to have, ” she said. “I wanted to go back to that tradition, so I went to a company called Jamrock Coffee to work with them and try different roasts. We’re offering dark roast because that's where the flavors were the most intense. ” Working with head barista Dovi Akouete, Nicola trained herself on the art of brewing, and proudly declares that while “it used to just be coffee to me, I learned so much about the beans and the roasting process and making these drinks that now I really know the difference between a Macchiato and a Cappuccino. ”Nicola is so well-versed that she’s proud to offer fully-customizable drinks (and dishes) based on a customer’s needs. “If you’re hungry or thirsty for something, we’ll make you a drink or dish especially for you, ” she added. “We don’t want to be cookie-cutter and we consider ourselves a boutique, niche café. ” Keeping in the spirit of experimentation, Nicola hopes to implement a private chef’s table tasting menu every Sunday starting in October, featuring a four-course, prix fixe menu perfect for group gatherings and special events. Nicola is excited for the road ahead, and bolstered by the amount of community support already shown to the café. “People are super excited we’re here, ” she said, just as several Hell’s Kitchen residents walked by and shouted “We can’t wait to come by! Welcome! ”. Reception from the local business community has also been warm, added Nicola — they’ve already connected with the owners of Jaz Indian Cuisine and Mamasita. “It’s on our list to circle all of the nearby businesses, ” she added. “It’s all about unity — we can’t do this alone, and that’s our model with Prime Produce too. We are a strong team, not just as a café, but as a community and a co-op. It’s all about team members. ” For now, Chef Mom is focusing on the lead up to their official opening weekend, and taking in the joyful, fast-paced energy of all it entails. “It’s a lovely space, with great people and a great mission, ” she said. “I’ve never operated in Manhattan, and this is a lovely neighborhood, so I was open to taking on the challenge, and as they would say, ‘jumping off the cliff! ’” This story originally appeared on W42ST. nyc as "Enjoy a Flavor of Jamaican Cuisine and Hospitality as Cafe 424 Opens in Hell's Kitchen" in August 2022.
The building that houses Flute Bar & Lounge was once home to a speakeasy called Club Intime, run by the notorious chorus girl Texas Guinan. Today, Flute's owners pay homage to their predecessors with 1920's music and drinks served in mugs, as was the custom during Prohibition. The underground champagne bar has no windows and dim lighting, and its seating - plush sofas and ottomans clustered around low tables - give it a far more intimate feel than a traditional lounge. With countless brands from which to choose, champagne may be the focus, but Flute also serves a wide variety of cocktails - many of which feature champagne - and small accompanying food plates. Texas Guinan once called the speakeasy business an "essential and basic industry. " Though her Club Intime was shut down after only six months in business, she would certainly be heartened that its spirit lives on in Flute today - especially on the last Saturday of each month when Wit's End celebrates jazz music and dancing with an assortment of talent.
The Neighborhood Playhouse is both a great community resource and an old-fashioned reminder of the timelessness of great theater. Virtually invisible from the street, the only clue to its existence is a red, unmarked door and a modest sign. Once inside, however, I discovered that this almost one hundred year old building holds within it a proscenium theater, a full-size dance studio, and plenty of dressing rooms and classrooms. What a fascinating tour I was treated to by Emily Duncan, the admissions administrator, where I learned about their history and mission. The lobby, with its shabby elegance, features photos of famous graduates, as well as scenes from plays over the course of the school's history. The top two floors of the building are devoted to a beautiful dance studio with wood floors and soaring ceilings. A lover of dance, I was particularly moved when Emily announced that I was standing in the former domain of dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse alongside actor and teacher, Sanford Meisner. I was also enrapt by Christine Cirker, the librarian, who proudly discussed their vast collection of plays and theatre criticism. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the world of theater, she told me that she also teaches classes on script interpretation. Christine went on to explain the playhouse's claim to fame: the Meisner Technique, a method of acting that emphasizes that one should "live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances. " Sanford Meisner developed his famous improvisation-based technique at the Playhouse in the mid-1940s, which continues to train actors to this day. It counts among its list of prominent alumni names: Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen; and more recently, it has added to its roster, Allison Janney and Chris Noth. The playhouse trains about one hundred students at any given time, seventy-five first-years and twenty-five second-years who have been invited back as a result of a unanimous faculty vote. According to Emily, graduates have an easier time finding work than most aspiring actors due to their alma mater's extensive network of influential writers, directors, and actors. Much of the faculty is closely involved in the theater world, and as Pamela Moller Kareman, the playhouse's executive director, shared, "It's a big leap to become a professional actor; we want people to know that you can do this with your life. " And from the time that I spent here, it became apparent that the staff at Neighborhood Playhouse is there to guide and support students every step of the way.