In 2005, when Anna Castellani realized that there was no place to purchase food in her DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn, she decided to do something about it. “It was very simple. There was no business plan. It was pure desperation,” she told me.
As we chatted in the intimate, dark steel and wood-lined restaurant space in her newer location in Chelsea, Anna elaborated on her philosophy about food. Forager’s has now expanded beyond being just a grocery store. The location in Chelsea perfectly combines a small, sustainable produce market, a buffet of high quality takeout items, artisanal cooked and baked goods, an espresso station, and a restaurant serving local, organic salads, roasted and grilled meats, and desserts.
“Local” and “organic” were the operative words behind Anna’s decision-making process for the quality of food that she wanted Forager’s to carry. “I thought if I wanted to eat this kind of food, maybe others did, too.”
In 2005, during the inception of the store, she was thinking mainly about “perimeter products” – industry lingo for perishables, such as meat, dairy and cheeses, which in the food world are not always very clean. She decided to source meat and dairy from local farms in the Hudson Valley. Until recently, there was no infrastructure to get produce into the city, and farmers did not grow organically for stores. Anna’s solution? To have her own egg and vegetable farm upstate and run their Forager’s food delivery truck back and forth to the city.
Anna proudly told me that she started her own farm “out of need, more than anything else.” She went on to say, “We picked up dairy from co-ops upstate, which have been instrumental in saving farmland and keeping people in the dairy business.” While organic is all the rage these days, Anna believes that labels can be very misleading – people will buy anything that is labeled organic, and they often are not aware of the hidden ingredients in their food. "It goes down to the sugar in cookies: it’s bleached, it has bone meal in it,” Anna informed me. Forager’s is committed to food that is “clean,” above all else - the produce may not all be ‘certified’ organic, but it is grown using the most organic and healthy methods. “What I like about this business is that you get to learn what the industry sneaks into the food system, and I find it fun to try and work around that.”
Anna’s goal is to provide these products at an affordable price, but the efforts that go into sourcing locally and ensuring high quality are not cheap. She acknowledged that Forager’s is known as an expensive store, but she dislikes labels such as “bougie,” explaining, “Yes, it’s more expensive to have pasture-raised meat than industrial, but I think we should fight to eat better, because it keeps you healthy and living longer. It’s important.”
No matter what time of day we have stopped by Grey Dog, the restaurant is pulsing, but in a quiet, relaxed sort of way. Despite the lines to order food from the menu on the chalkboard and the crowded tables, everyone is calm and content. Apparently, this has been the vibe since two brothers opened their first restaurant back in 1996 on Carmine Street. Today they have expanded to four different locations, each one incredibly successful. The formula seems to be quite simple – a chill atmosphere, easy-going but efficient staff, a menu that covers all of the basics with a bit of a flair, hefty portions and, most importantly, everything tastes great. Beginning early in the morning, there are pancakes, French toast, eggs, homemade granola and coffee being served. As the day progresses, lots of sandwiches, salads and other creative dishes are available for lunch and dinner. Without a doubt, if I lived nearby, I would also become a regular.
Four generations of the McManus clan have operated this jovial Irish tavern, making it among the oldest family-run bars in the city. Its originator, Peter McManus, left his quaint Irish hometown and disembarked in Ellis Island with “basically five dollars and a potato in his pocket, ” as the story goes. He opened the first McManus as a longshoreman’s bar in 1911 on West 55th Street, which he then converted into a thriving general store during Prohibition while migrating his liquor business into a number of speakeasies. Once the restrictions ended in 1933, the shop was so successful that Peter kept it going and found a new spot on 19th Street in which to revive his bar. Peter’s son, James Sr., spent close to fifty years working in and later running the pub. It then passed into the hands of James Jr., who now stands beside his own son, Justin, serving beer and cracking jokes over a century later. Knowing that they will find pleasant conversation and an intriguing cast of characters at McManus, people often come alone to see what the night holds for them. The atmosphere at McManus is merry, but patrons still respect the history and charm that suffuse every corner of the space. Much of the bar is original, including the stunning Tiffany stained glass windows, the hand carved woodwork and crown molding, and the terrazzo floor that can no longer be made today. “We try to preserve it and are pretty protective of it. This bar was built to last, ” Justin said.
Trendy and filled with beautiful people, the Dream Hotel has created quite an aura around it. Sitting in the lobby is certainly entertaining at any hour of the day, but in the evening the action really kicks in. There is a DJ in the lounge area right off the lobby and not far from the entrance is Bodega Negra, with a Mexican menu. Also attached to the hotel is a restaurant called Fishbowl, with a 5000 gallon fish tank behind the bar. On the rooftop, the PHD Club tends to play top 40's music, and downstairs is the Electric Room, which is described as a rock club.
Smithfield first opened on 28th Street in 2012, but has since moved to this 25th Street location. When I stopped by to check out the new spot, I was greeted by the owner Kieron, who had been chatting with other customers at the bar. He told me that meeting people was his favorite part of the job, and as he greeted yet another regular by name, I felt right at home at the friendly sports bar. It is the perfect place to watch a soccer game, with television screens visible from every angle, and an FC Barcelona flag proudly displayed on the wall. Kieron was quick to point out, however, that one wall is free of screens, so that drinkers and diners can choose to turn away from the constant flurry of color and activity. Many of the patrons were dressed appropriately in team jerseys, enjoying a drink or a bite to eat from the pub-style menu. Kieron told me that they only serve Pat LaFrieda beef, and I noted that they also have an intriguing vegetarian option on their burger list: a miso-glazed tofu creation. Kieron and his partners are all from Ireland, and so it seems appropriate that the bar is named after an old market in Dublin that was also home to the Jameson Distillery. Whiskey is not the only thing Smithfield's is known for – when I stopped by, they had 29 craft beers on tap, soon to be 39. Besides expanding their beer list, Kieron told me that Smithfield Hall will be expanding their square footage soon, adding a private room for special events. Having met many Irishmen who came from a long line of pub-owners, I asked Kieron if running a bar was in his blood. He answered with a sly grin, "No - but I've spent plenty of time inside one. " The research has clearly paid off.
This Swedish Lutheran church is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2015. The church, organized by two missionaries, was named for Gustavus II Adolphus, who was King of Sweden from 1611-1632. Though the church opened in 1865, it was not until the early 1900s that English services began on a regular basis and electricity was installed in the building. The membership fluctuated over the years that followed, as the church introduced attractions such as the Sewing Club, Help Our Neighbors Eat Year-Round, and the Basement Coffeehouse Program for college students and young adults. In 1961, the church had the honor of hosting a memorial service for the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld. In celebration of this milestone anniversary, Gustavus Adolphus is renovating its interior, and replacing the chandeliers and stained glass windows in preparation for a festival in the fall of 2015.
“We come together on the common ground of arts, letters, and women owning their own destinies, ” stated Executive Director Dawn Delikat. For well over a century, Pen and Brush has been dedicated to supporting women in the visual arts and literature. The organization was founded by two sisters and painters, Janet and Mimi Lewis, who were frustrated with being barred from art societies solely on the basis of their gender. Knowing of so many talented women suffering a similar fate, the siblings decided to create Pen and Brush to “stop asking for permission and forge their own way in the city. ”Though the group was nomadic for thirty years, it was able to purchase its first location in 1923. Decades later in the early 1960s, the ladies celebrated paying off their mortgage by dressing in their finest ballgowns and burning the contract in the fireplace. “Women persevering is as much of our understory as anything else. ” The organization carries the torch passed down by these remarkable women, whose members include First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and a number of Nobel laureates. Today, Pen and Brush’s goal remains the same, albeit adapted to twenty-first-century circumstances. As such, it makes space for both women and non-binary voices — better reflecting our evolving conceptions of the gender spectrum — and works to bring in the diversity that has been kept out of the canon “not for lack of talent, but for lack of access. ” To this end, Pen and Brush functions as an art gallery and a book publisher, where visual artists and writers from across the world can submit their work. The group evaluates submissions, seeking pieces “that need to be supported, ” either for expressing something that has not been said before or for demonstrating an incredibly high skill level. This has meant giving career-making opportunities to veteran artists looking to break the glass ceiling of their field, gifted students just out of an MFA program, and self-taught artists who received no formal introduction to the art world. Achieving true equality in the arts and letters may seem a daunting task, but Pen and Brush is tireless in its mission to give a platform to brilliant women and non-binary creators. “We can’t give up on them. We have to build into the future so that we can keep passing that torch, so maybe someday, it won’t be needed. ”
Living Fresh Men’s Spa was the first men-only spa in New York when it opened in the early 2000s. Here, men can relax and enjoy luxurious spa treatments in the privacy of this serene, dark wood and stone-paneled space. The store’s entrance is small, so most people are unaware of its existence. Once we walked inside, we were both enchanted and impressed by how extensive and comprehensive it is – a contemporary, warmly lit seating area leads back to a well-appointed bar, manicure and pedicure room, and a long hallway of private spa rooms dedicated separately to facial, body, and hair removal treatments and services. Living Fresh Men’s Spa also works with botox and filler treatments, laser hair removal, ReFirm skin tightening, and acne laser therapy. Each thoughtfully-appointed treatment room has its own sauna and shower. We found Living Fresh to be a luxurious setting for busy, stressed, or simply hygiene-obsessed men to take care of their bodies and release some of the tensions brought on by the daily cacophony of New York. From Tuesday through Saturday, after 6pm, men can enjoy 20% off single service massages.
We stumbled into BXL on a blisteringly hot day and were met by their refreshing air conditioning -- reason enough to stay. But even more, BXL is a splendid space, with warm wooden floors, banquette seating indoors and tables set up outside when the weather cooperates... and a very kind European owner. We spoke to Klaas about his restaurant and learned that having grown up in Belgium, and completing his training, he became the private chef for their ambassador. He was disarmingly charismatic and kind as he told us about BXL’s menu – he emphasized the "all you can eat" mussel pots that come with a cold Stella for $22. 00 and the array of different sauces to choose from: white wine shallot broth, white wine and cream, endive and cream, wheat beer, cream with bacon and onions, coconut milk with lemon grass and curry. Mussels are not the only food choice. There are other great Belgian dishes, plus simple burgers, pasta and salads. Without a doubt, stopping by BXL for a cold beer and some friendly conversation was exactly what our team needed.