Jonathan Boyarsky, fourth generation owner, has found himself a terrific niche on 39th by being one of the only menswear shops to remain on the ground floor. Over the years, he watched as companies moved upstairs into offices in the garment district, or even overseas, but he chose to remain where people could easily spot him. Although he feels that he has remained "under the radar," at times, when people come in they are "ecstatic" with what he has to offer. His family began their men's clothing business on the Lower East side back in 1919. Over the years, members of the family spread out and opened related businesses offering either custom made shirts, suits or fabrics. At No. 257, Jonathan has combined it all. He describes it as "double dipping." They used to sell only the fabric and then send people elsewhere to have their clothing made. Today, within the three floors of space at Fabric Czar, customers can select from some of the finest cloths, and then meet first class tailor, Steven Tabak, of Beckenstein Bespoke, where their clothing is designed...and, everything is constructed on the premises. "We are one stop shopping, whatever a customer needs, we can make it for them." And for Jonathan, it is only about quality craftsmanship.
Since 1947, Steinlauf and Stoller has been devoted to selling sewing notions. I stopped in and spoke with Dan Stoller, the grandson of the founder, who explained that as the years passed, the store's reputation and the charisma of the Stoller family kept the business afloat as the garment district around it largely struggled. Today, this store continues to sell the merchandise it has been peddling for over sixty years: thread, scissors, shoulder pads, bra cups, anything needed to make clothes other than fabric. The old-school approach is evident the minute I walked in the door.Equally apparent: the influential presence of Nancy, a wildly popular figure in the area who puts on snaps, grommets, rivets, and the like. Signs in the front window advertise her presence and the limits on times when folks can utilize her services. I was puzzled at first, but I quickly understood why: she is an amazing human being. From the first word we shared, she was familiar, benevolent and kind. Nancy began work in the garment district in the late 1960s and has been at Steinlauf & Stoller for sixteen years. She has perfected her craft beyond many others. Her longevity gives her some perspective on the changing times, and she chatted with me about the garment district as she sewed on snaps. The changes have disturbed her (as they have many, presumably): "I've never seen so many vacancies as in the past few years." Those vacancies, of course, are quickly filled by "banks and restaurants," and the district is losing a bit of its flavor. "It's dying out, it's scary to me," she reported, alongside tales of friends out of work whose jobs have flown elsewhere for the long winter. Of course, change happens, but it is poignant to see a fashion district lifer so affected. I must encourage others to find something that needs Nancy's attention, and come chat with this lovely personage.
I could not resist getting caught up in Clare's enthusiasm as this Manhattan Sideways team member spotted Mood Fabrics, a second floor shop on 37th Street. Having never watched "Project Runway", I was clueless about this business, but eager to share in her excitement as we ascended in the elevator. Walking the aisles with her, I decided that there was no one more appropriate to do a write up than this adorable college student from California:When I visited Manhattan with my mom a number of years ago, the hit TV show, "Project Runway", was our latest obsession, and we made visiting Mood a high priority on our to do list. Project Runway is a reality show for aspiring designers to compete for the chance to show a collection at New York Fashion Week. The series uses Mood as its source for all the fabrics and materials the designers need to create pieces for the various challenges over the course of the competition. My mom and I eagerly explored the countless aisles of Mood, admiring the gorgeous colored fabrics and vast assortment of buttons and ribbons.We certainly stood out as tourists among the many knowledgeable people strolling the floors asking for "ten yards of this" and "eight yards of that," but we made an attempt to blend in by buying a yard of what we thought was the prettiest ribbon in the store. We also could not resist buying a T-shirt printed with Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn's famous phrase "Thank you, Mood," and I am guilty of taking a photo with Swatch the dog, who has many guest appearances on the show.Visiting the store again a few years later, I still had just as much fun getting lost in the maze of roll after roll of fabric stacked up to the ceiling. Watching fashionable design students measure out just the right amount of material made me wish I could make lovely clothes to show off on the runways at New York Fashion Week! My second time around at Mood, I was also thrilled to learn a bit of the history behind the famous fabric store.Much more than just a business whose popularity expanded outside of the fashion world with the airing of Project Runway, Mood Designer Fabrics began with designer Jack Sauma in 1991. He grew up in Lebanon and Sweden, and moved his family to New York, opening Mood originally as a fabric wholesaler. It was not until 1993 that Mood started to do retail sales, and once it did business grew so quickly that by 2001, they had to move into their current space of 40,000 square feet.Mood has another location in Los Angeles, however the Manhattan location remains the flagship of the business, drawing a constant flow of customers - from students in fashion school to designers, to people who simply love to sew. Currently, Mr. Sauma's two sons oversee Mood and its online retail site. I could not help picturing the Project Runway competitors running frantically up and down the stairs of Mood in search of the perfect material as I wandered through the store, and I felt compelled to imitate Tim Gunn as we headed towards the elevators with a wave and an approving "Thank you, Mood!"
After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Neon lights, on the back wall, greeted us as we entered Trademark Grind, the “boutique coffee bar” serving Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn. In this quaint space, we were treated to excellent cups of hot chocolate, perfect on this winter day. A few minutes later, the PR manager, Matt, greeted us and invited the Manhattan Sideways team to follow him through a small entryway where we discovered Trademark Taste, a cozy, dimly lit restaurant... a safe little hideaway in the middle of bustling Midtown Manhattan.Opened in the spring of 2016, by In Good Company Hospitality, Trademark Taste & Grind serves a mixed clientele, from guests at the attached hotel and the pre-show crowd from Madison Square Garden to those looking for a unique weekend bar scene. The menu is impeccably curated by culinary director, Jeff Haskell, to featured favorites like Burrata and Knots and Tuna Poke. However, with its dark, mellow colors, graffiti motifs and hints of industrial flair, Trademark is all about the space. The walls are white and black with accents of red. Intimate hidden booths circle a large center bar, the anchor of the room. As soon as I took a look around, I wanted to settle into one of these booths for the evening. When I repeated this to Matt, he replied, “People tend to not want to leave.”
Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
The prevailing theme of Staypineapple hotels is barely surprising: pineapples. What might come as a shock to some, however, is just how seriously the hotel takes the pineapple motif: the fruit is prominent in the décor, stitched into the shirts of the employees, and even emblazoned on a rentable bike out front. The lobby offers complimentary pineapple-infused water and pineapple-flavored mini cupcakes amid modern, yet eclectic, furnishings. Covering one wall in the lobby is the following haiku: “Pineapples are sweetYellow makes people happyAnd everyone loves dogs - especially Michelle” Michelle is Michelle Barnet, the founder of the small hotel chain which has locations in a handful of cities across the country. Her passion for dogs informed the last line of the haiku - the hotel is extremely dog-friendly, even offering a “Pup Package” to make traveling with furry friends as relaxing as possible. Each room comes equipped with a plush dog that guests are welcome to purchase at the end of their stay, with a portion of the proceeds going towards animal rescue organizations. “The significance of pineapples is that they are a universal symbol of hospitality,” manager James Bryant explained when Manhattan Sideways inquired about the unique theme of the hotel chain. He said that the symbolic meaning of the pineapple dates back to the 1700s, when the fruit was rare and difficult to acquire. It became a coveted gift, and when placed in front of travelers, it let them know that they were welcome in an unfamiliar place. “It’s this international sign of ‘You are welcome here. Come in and stay with us.’” We explored two rooms. While smaller than a typical hotel room, the first was full of surprises. In a building that is only twenty-four feet wide, Staypineapple creatively utilizes their space. The television was hidden away at the foot of the bed, revealing itself with the press of a button. A coffee machine was tucked away in a similar automated compartment. An entire wall of the room was windowed, offering views of the city that more than offset the small size of the room. Staypineapple prides itself on “The Naked Experience,” a title they have applied to their unique bedding situation (which is so luxurious, "they won’t blame you for wanting to sleep naked"). Two exceptionally soft, twin-sized duvets give guests extreme freedom with their sleeping experience - and diffuse any fighting over covers. In the second, larger room we met Pineapple: a virtual assistant and Staypineapple’s answer to the traditional bedside telephone. James explained that the device “acts as a smart speaker, a telephone, and a way to communicate with the front desk.” Similar to an Amazon Echo or a Google Dot, an automated voice will answer at the cue of “Okay Pineapple.” The device is also loaded with staff-curated dining recommendations, and can answer just about any question a guest might have, from the best sushi restaurants in the area to the day’s weather. Staypineapple is a hotel full of surprises and, in many ways, it is just plain fun. Manhattan Sideways found it refreshing to see a business lean into a theme so unabashedly, and we believe that the commitment pays off. The hotel creates an extremely inviting environment that does not take itself too seriously, prioritizing comfort and hospitality alongside their innovative technology and highly-Instagramable décor.
At times, living in Manhattan can become a bit chaotic – and it is at this moment when Muji feels like a breath of fresh air. So different from our busy and cluttered apartments, Muji is the epitome of minimalist class. There is no rhyme or reason to what items are carried and yet while there are a million trinkets to browse through, the atmosphere remains effortlessly crisp and clean. Everything is made in neutral colors and simple materials, and labeled with clear descriptions. After wandering around, I suddenly had the urge to go home and clean everything out of my closet and start fresh. The store has a calming and almost meditative effect on people. The vast variety of items includes furniture, clothing, home goods – and yet everything feels unified. Some of the hidden treasures can be found within the office supplies – pens that glide beautifully across the page and notebooks that rival moleskin for utility and sophistication, but at a fraction of the price. Even the clothes are in soft, soothing colors, but made from fine fabrics and sold at very reasonable prices. Step inside to escape the bustle of the city, and do not be surprised if you leave with a new toothbrush or a pair of slippers.
I have discovered many fascinating places while walking on the side streets of Manhattan. I am sorry to say that I did not look up to see Belly Dance America when I initially walked on West 37th Street. It was not until a few years later that I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Hanna and Jehan, the wonderful couple behind the place that has been hailed as the center for all belly dance needs. As it is the first and only store of its kind in New York City, located on the second floor, it has definitely cornered the market. For anyone passionate about the art of belly dance, or for those who are only getting started, there is just about anything that one could want in this shop. It is more than just a belly dance store. Belly Dance America is a love letter to the passion and culture of the Middle East, paying homage to the richness of history and music that so often gets overlooked these days. As I walked into their shop, I was greeted by the sound of a breeze sneaking its way through an open window to rustle the costumes within, announcing its entrance with the soft jingling of the coins on the bottoms of the skirts.Every costume is made with a unique attention to detail. Some are imported and some are made right there in the shop, designed and assembled by Jehan’s husband and co-owner, Hanna. The costumes that are imported are made especially with the diverseness of the human body in mind, made by designers who know how to fit it perfectly. Even still, Jehan and Hanna take an honest approach to the sale of each item. “If something doesn’t look good, I’m going to tell you,” said Hanna, “It’s not about making a sale. I’d rather have a loyal customer who comes back and is always happy.”I found there to be a strong sense of community among the dancers and instructors. Everyone is welcome, whether they are a professional dancer or a hobbyist who is just starting out. It is never about competition, just the mutual enjoyment of a beautiful art. “The good thing about belly dance is that it welcomes all sizes, all body types, and all ages.” In the studio, I watched a group of dancers go through a routine as the instructor, Layla, led. While standing there, I listened to the coins jingling in time with the music and the sound of beads swinging side to side. The ghazal of the singer’s voice wailed from the stereo system in the corner of the studio and the dancers looked very much at peace, some of them smiling, some staring at themselves in the mirror, all feeling the passion and richness of the music down to their very core.Returning to the shop, down the hallway, where Hanna and Jehan were, I commented on what an incredible experience it was for me to witness these women dancing. They smiled and responded, “It makes people happy,” “the music, the colors, the dance.”
Nora’s story begins in the same way as some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs: she encountered a problem and decided to fix it herself, instead of waiting for someone else. Nora worked on Wall Street for nearly six years, during which time she discovered how uncomfortable and unflattering women’s business-wear could be. She decided to leave Morgan Stanley and develop the skills needed to manufacture functional, appropriate business attire for women.Fortunately, she already had a lot of the training needed to make her dreams a reality. Though Nora had majored in economics at Georgetown, she had minored in Studio Art. “I love drawing,” she said simply, and added that she has always been able to sketch. She had a very clear idea of what she wanted in her clothes, so she took some draping and sewing classes in Williamsburg, attended fabric seminars, and visited factories in the garment district. In addition to this hands-on education, Nora went to bookstores to find literature on garment-building and “learned everything under the sun.” When I asked her if she ever considered simply hiring a secondary designer, she explained that she considered it very important that the primary designer understand the business lifestyle, and that that quality was more important than being highly skilled in fashion. Therefore, this determined young woman learned enough in an effort to do it all.Nora spent the first year or so perfecting the stitches and the design. “The first season was very different from what we are now,” she explained. She began working with five or so factories and got her website off the ground. She believed it was very important, however, to have a physical presence in order to introduce the brand in person, so Nora started traveling the east coast, setting up pop-ups. Through these “little bursts all over the place,” she was able to gain followers, including some notable TV personalities and news anchors.After residing inside a community space on West 38th Street for a short while, Nora is excited to now have her own boutique. Women can take a break from their day by stopping in during the afternoon for a cocktail and browse through Nora's creative clothing line. "I now have a women's workwear oasis."I asked Nora about the other businesses cropping up throughout the city that are similarly trying to solve the dilemma of business clothes for women. I learned that she does not consider them competition. “We support each other – we are all trying to do something that is really hard.” Just like with lifestyle clothing brands, women will either choose the company that best fits their style or buy bits and pieces from each label. “There are so many women on this small island and in the world that need work clothes," Nora said, judiciously.Though Nora currently wears a lot of blacks, since she is constantly running through the streets of New York to the Garment District, she is proud of the vibrant colors in her collection. “During my hard, routine days at Morgan Stanley, wearing colors made me really happy,” Nora admitted. “Color can do a lot for your mood.” Another source of pride is the fact that everything is made in New York. Above all, however, Nora is very happy to say that, so far, she has proved herself “resilient to all obstacles to creating a business.”