Roy Badal’s small shop in the heart of Chelsea is everything one could hope for in a wellness store. The shelves are chock-full of healthy products, and customers are expertly advised by Roy and his business partner, Mariana. They have dedicated themselves to gently encouraging others towards a better lifestyle.
Roy came to the United States from India in the early 1980s. Having been raised on a nutrition-focused diet, he wanted to share his approach to eating with people in New York and opened three health stores over the years. Health Food & Vitamin City, which came to West 23rd Street in 1986, is the last remaining location.
Roy was eventually joined by Mariana Niculescu, who emigrated from Romania in 1990 and met him while shopping at his original store on Broadway. Through the years, a warm relationship developed. “Today, we are like family,” Mariana said.
Roy and Mariana stock an abundance of products in their modest space. As Mariana pointed out, “everything is on top of each other,” but that’s okay, because she is always there to advise and direct people. The key word at the shop is “natural,” with plenty of recognizable items as well as a plethora of new ones. There are natural cosmetic and body products, herbs, grains, nut butters, an assortment of honey, teas from A to Z, protein shakes and powders, extracts, vitamins, cleanses, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free and wheat-free products, and, of course, vegan options.
Mariana described her devoted clientele, who have been visiting for decades, as “lovely people.” “We are survivors, thanks to our customers. They love us and we love them.”
Roy has gained a reputation for being quite knowledgeable about the items that he sells in his store. According to Mariana, “He knows everything about herbs. He is like our doctor in the neighborhood. I have followed him for many years — I have listened and learned from him. He is my guru.”
The rooftop of Eataly changes its concept each season. In 2016, for example, the sky-high spot transitioned from the beer-centric Birreria to a sea-side-themed rooftop bar called Sabbia. Each reincarnation of the bar is equally impressive, which comes as no surprise after visiting Eataly downstairs.Birreria was a sky-high brewery where Fred Avila, the head brewer, created beer in-house for three or four days out of every week. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fred and talking to him about his experience brewing above Eataly’s impressive food palace.Fred has been working for Eataly since 2011, but he started home-brewing in 2007. He has become a master at blending different flavors together and was proud to tell me about Birreria’s two seasonal beers. Vera is a summery beer with hints of lavender and blood orange, whereas the Wanda is a dark, mild beer for the fall and winter, with a lightly roasted flavor. Fred is very attuned to the weather when he drinks beer. When I asked if he has a favorite, he said that it changes with the seasons and the forecast, though he did admit, “I love to drink Oktoberfest beers.” He featured obscure sours and saisons (pale ales specifically brewed for warm weather) in the summertime and interesting stouts in the fall. “People used to just drink IPAs or Pilsners,” he explained to me. It is clear that working in the beer world has become considerably more exciting.Birreria collaborated with a collection of external breweries, including Dogfish Head, a microbrewery based out of Delaware. Because Birreria was part of Eataly, the list of collaborators also included two Italian companies, Birra del Borgo and Baladin. The founder of Baladin, Teo Musso, is considered the “godfather of the Italian brewing movement,” Fred informed me. He also let me know that he always liked to have one or two New York beers available.The food menu was no less impressive, especially since it was made entirely using produce from downstairs. Unlike other parts of Eataly, however, Birreria often strayed from Italian cuisine. For example, Fred told me about a mozzarella-stuffed quail, which sounds more Northern European than Italian. Everything on the menu was designed to pair well with the bar’s unique selection of beers, creating a perfect culinary balance.I visited Sabbia shortly after it opened in 2016. It was like a taste of the tropical seaside in the middle of Manhattan: Imagine listening to the Beach Boys and sipping on one of their signature summer cocktails while lounging on a beach chair in the cabanas. The menu is filled with seafood specials that continue the seaside resort theme. It is the perfect summer spot for those who cannot leave town, and there is a retractable roof for rainy nights.
Stepping out of the culinary carnival in the main Eataly building through the side street entrance of the calm, cool wine shop next door was a soothing experience. The space is primarily filled with Italian wines, though there is a selection of local New York varieties upstairs. Also on the second floor is the “Riserva Room,” a temperature-controlled chamber with rare wines, mainly acquired through auctions. What surprised me about the Riserva Room, however, is that the bottles are not very expensive. Despite feeling the need to whisper inside the elegant space, I noticed that many tags quoted prices under $100. We learned from Brianna Buford, the PR Assistant, that this is so that customers do not feel intimidated to try new wines.As with the rest of Eataly, Vino is dedicated to educating the public about the quality, origin, and uses of its products. There are helpful signs in the area and tastings every week. “Staff Pick” signs give shoppers individual recommendations and there are often fun promotions whose goal is to introduce customers to new labels. For example, in 2015, the wine store hid golden corks all over Eataly, offering anyone who found one a special bottle of Vino Libero. “Vino Libero” means “free the wine,” a motto which seems to ring true throughout the store, where wine is freed from any pretension or intimidation and presented in a playful, educational way.
Many months ago, I gathered a group of friends and family to celebrate my husband's birthday. No one had ever been to Spin, so it was the perfect opportunity for everyone to have a terrific night taking turns playing a sport most of us adore, and sharing in conversation, drinks and appetizers. As we walked down the steps into the dimly lit lobby we were greeted by a friendly hostess in a chic black outfit, and it felt as though we had entered any other swanky Manhattan club. And yet, as we turned the corner we saw immediately that this was not the case. Instead of the usual dance-filled floor, at this club we were presented with rows of ping-pong tables and couples in heated competition. The diversity of the crowd was vast and only became more so as the night went on. Businessmen off from work, their white collared shirts glowing in the black light, rallied next to serious athletes there for a workout in gym shorts and sweatbands. Young couples looking for a quirky date played next to groups of older friends there to enjoy the nostalgia of this classic game. Everyone is welcome at Spin. Serious ping pong players make the circuits, challenging worthy opponents to games while casual paddlers compete in a more leisurely game. It has never been easier to enjoy ping pong, as Spin has eliminated the frustrating need for constantly picking up stray balls - staff with fascinating contraptions collect all the balls and reload the buckets regularly. Perhaps even more exciting, servers come by to the tables with what could be described as high-class bar food - some of our favorites were the alcoholic mango slushies, the fried rice balls, and the truffle mac and cheese. The delicious food and drink are honestly worth a visit on their own, and as the club often hosts championship ping pong games, even those who do not want to grab a paddle themselves can fill up a plate and watch the action. Originally opened by ping pong enthusiasts Franck Raharinosy, Andrew Gordon, Jonathan Bricklin and Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, Spin has quickly become a hot spot both in other parts of the US and abroad.
Visions provides services for the blind and visually impaired; it is located in Selis Manor, a twelve-story apartment building dedicated to housing and assisting blind and otherwise handicapped New Yorkers of all types. Visions holds braille courses, exercise and rehabilitation classes, music programs, and various events and lectures.