Asphalt Green is a non-profit organization that provides facilities and programs to all ages in the hopes of promoting health and fitness. The Upper East Side campus is composed of an entire city block between York Avenue and the FDR Drive.
The organization was founded in 1972 by Dr. George E. Murphy, a Cornell professor of pathology, and his wife, Annette. Asphalt Green got its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the abandoned Municipal Asphalt Plant, which was declared a city landmark in 1976, thanks to the couple’s efforts. In 1984, the Upper East Side campus officially opened. Today, facilities include an enormous outdoor turf field, an Olympic-size pool, and a 15,000 square foot fitness center. In 2013, a second location opened in Battery Park City.
I have often commented on how I wish there were more places to write about for children on the side streets of Manhattan. Each business that I have discovered has been fantastic; I just always want to come upon another. That is why I was so excited to find this fascinating indoor petting zoo and activity center. The Art Farm has been on the Upper East Side since 2002. Valentina Van Hise, the director, visited the Art Farm that Mari Linnman formed in the Hamptons in 1999. She worked and trained there as a teacher before deciding to open a location in Manhattan. When the Art Farm in the City first began, it catered to Mommy and Me classes. Today, the center offers activities for children up to eight years old, although everyone must be accompanied by an adult. Everywhere I looked I saw animals: examples of children’s art projects hung on the walls, depicting different creatures; murals of underwater scenes covered the bathrooms; and illustrations from animal-centric books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar decorated the first floor. In addition to a cozy playroom with a green carpet that imitates grass, the ground floor has a full kitchen, which is used both for baking and arts and crafts. Art Farm has what it calls “Friend Fridays, ” where children can come and do projects in the kitchen each week. “There’s no craft we don’t know, ” one of the staff members said with a smile. “The Farm, ” located downstairs, was the most remarkable feature. Impossibly fuzzy chinchillas rested in cages while bunnies hopped around a large central pen across from a chicken coop. We met Fluffy (a chinchilla who is “in a kind of retirement home to herself"), Maggie the guinea pig, and Russian tortoises named Boris, Natasha, and Yeltsin. In the back of the room, we found creatures without fur, including insects, amphibians and reptiles. I gazed in awe at the large orange Halloween Moon Crab and the walking stick insect. Farther back, there is a large birdcage and a fish tank. The Manhattan Sideways team was overcome, petting everything in sight and gazing into tanks at hissing insects, bearded lizards, and salamanders. The piece de resistance for us, however, was when one of the staff members quietly brought out a few baby chicks that had recently hatched. Happily, every class and activity involves the animals in some way. Even during baking activities, as soon as the treats are in the oven, the children are escorted down the steps to play with the creatures.
My visit to the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel came only a year after it merged with the Church of St. Thomas More in 2015. Though the two buildings remain open, the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel is considered the parish church. The reasons for the merger were spiritual, financial, and community-based. It is the hope of the combined parishes that they continue to grow stronger under one pastor. As for the history of the Our Lady of Good Counsel, the church had its beginnings in 1886 and moved into its current home in 1892. Though its origins were Irish and German, the Roman Catholic Church now embraces a diverse community and offers Spanish masses every week. Louisa, a member of the staff, led me into the beautifully ornate sanctuary. The altar was decorated with cherry blossoms for springtime, an attractive addition to the stained glass and marble. The vast, two-tiered space is blindingly colorful and features an enormous working organ. Music, Louisa informed me, plays a central role in the congregation. Louisa spoke to me about an event called Catholic Underground that happens on the first Saturday of every month from September through May. Hundreds of people, often young people in their teens or twenties, fill the sanctuary for an hour of “Eucharistic adoration. ” After the ceremony, everyone goes downstairs to the lower church where singers, bands, or individual musicians play. The musical groups come from around the world. As Louisa explained, the event began as a way of “bringing culture to the people. ” This did not originate in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, but has taken place there since the early 2000s. Though everyone is invited to attend, Catholic Underground’s primary goal is to connect with young people in the community... and it appears to be working nicely.
In Yorktown on E90th Street, the scents of burekas, rugelach, babka, and challah fill the air. Since opening in March 2022, Michaeli Bakery has been a welcome addition to New York's Upper East Side, bringing authentic Israeli flavors to the neighborhood. Founded by Adir Michaeli, a baker who honed his expertise under the guidance of celebrated pastry chef Roni Fredy Mordechai, Michaeli Bakery's first brick-and-mortar location was on the Lower East Side. The E 90th Street location marks an expansion for Adir, who made a name for himself leading the pastry department at Tel Aviv's famed Lehamim Bakery. His pastry credentials include leading the opening team at Bread's Bakery in New York in 2013. When we stepped into the E 90th Street bakery, Adir told us about the early years. "We started out on Division Street in 2019, on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Still, 80 percent of the production comes from there. We make everything by hand. This is basically an Israeli-style bakery, " he said. "We have the traditional Israeli items alongside our takes on the classics, like croissants (our most popular is the pistachio and cherry croissant), " added Adir. "My favorite is a Mediterranean pastry with halva. It has a sesame cream flavor. "With its authentic flavors, Michaeli Bakery is connecting the streets of New York with Tel Aviv — one bite at a time!
Bluestone Lane Coffee has proven itself adept at nestling into existing places around the city. I first encountered the Australian-style brand on 43rd Street, where they have made a home in Grace Plaza Pavilion. Their Upper East Side café has a unique design, since it is part of the Church of the Heavenly Rest building and has been crafted from an old chapel. The gothic architecture is a fascinating juxtaposition to the quinoa salads, avocado mash, and other healthy, modern items on the progressive café’s menu. The spot also offers table service, both for its indoor customers and those who choose to gaze out at Central Park from the sunny seating outdoors.