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308 East 6th Street
Confessional 1 Bars Latin American East Village

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Puerto Rico, Confessional co-founder Erika Fisher is no stranger to immigrant stories. When I asked her how she came up with the concept for her restaurant, where customers write their confessions on the chalkboard walls, she smiled and said it did not happen overnight.

After moving to New York as a young adult, Erika worked in retail, but knew it was not where she wanted to build her career. Instead, she dreamed of starting a business and, everyday for seven years, brainstormed and researched how to go about founding an eatery in the East Village. Knowledgeable of the statistics declaring tens of thousands of New York City bars and restaurants to be her potential competition, she knew her establishment would have to be different.

It struck her that most inhabitants of New York are nonnatives, either from bordering states or countries far away. Because of this, it can at times be difficult for city dwellers to simply call home and speak with their loved ones, yet everyone needs someone to engage in conversation. Erika noted that many people confide in their local bartenders, but if the bartender is busy working, at times even they may be unavailable to lend an ear. So she figured, what if confessions could be divulged on the walls of the bar itself? From that query, Confessional was born.

As I walked around the intimate bar area, illuminated with dazzling chandeliers and glowing candles, I was humored by the anecdotes written on the wall. Erika disclosed they often range from sentimental to sexual; on any given day, one never knows what their eyes may read. Erika assured me that although some visitors are at first hesitant to scrawl their private meditations for all to see, “after two drinks, everyone’s writing.”

The cocktail menu is the masterwork of mixologist Nelson Lemus, a reputable bar consultant whose skills have carried him all the way to Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 World Cup. Popular drinks at Confessional include the “Hot Scandal,” “Love Affair,” and “Blame Them Not Me.” While alcohol is a big draw, Erika was quick to let me know that Confessional has a full menu of seasonal tapas and Latin American entrees. The “Lamb Chop a la Plancha” with vegetable ratatouille and mint chimichurri smothered in wine sauce was voted one of the top five lamb chop dishes in New York City by CBS. The “Confessional Paellita” and the “Signature Sliders,” which use fried platanos in place of bread, are also crowd favorites.

Erika specifically wanted to open Confessional in the East Village, knowing that the “bohemian, young professional crowd” would appreciate both the quality of the food and the unique concept, but she has quickly found that even those from outside the neighborhood love the restaurant. Lucky for everyone, the chalk is frequently erased, but as the saying goes, if these walls could talk…

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Lost Gem
The Vacancy Project 1 Hair Salons Art and Photography Galleries undefined

The Vacancy Project

Masami Hosono’s mother worked in fashion. Growing up in Tokyo, she always knew that she wanted to work in fashion herself, but something was missing: socializing. “I love to talk and meet people, ” she explained to me with an amicable smile. In a white, modern space with a rack of clothing on her left, Masami shared her story. When she turned eighteen, Masami met a “very great hairstylist, ” with whom she would work and learn for the next four years. Her passion for hair, style, music, and socializing ultimately led her to quit her job in Tokyo and board her very first plane to New York in 2012. “I was like, I don’t speak English, but I can cut hair, ” she recounted. “Maybe I can do it. ”The New York Masami had heard about back home could not compare to the one she arrived in. She told me, “Japanese people love New York City, but they only know cool fashion, cool hair, cool music. But there’s more good stuff, personality, freedom. ” One of the biggest surprises, but also most appealing aspects of the city, was its dynamic queer scene. “Being gay in Japan is very hard, ” Masami recalled. “I’m from Tokyo, and it’s a very conservative place. But in New York City, everything is mixed. The queer culture is amazing. ”Life in New York was, understandably, a big adjustment. With no place to live, Masami spent her first nights in a hotel, and her first days exploring the streets. But she took the challenges of a new country in stride by doing what she does best: cutting hair and meeting people. While Masami made a living by cutting hair in Williamsburg, she also offered free haircuts to make friends. “I just found people on the street, ” she said with a nostalgic laugh. “Like, ‘oh, they look cool. ' And I asked them, ‘Can I cut your hair? ’” Little by little, through about 400 free cuts a year, Masami began to learn English, and build a community of friends. “Musician clients would say, ‘I’m playing tonight, you should come. ’ So I go, and they introduce me to more musician friends. I met one designer because I cut his girlfriend’s hair, and he makes music videos, so he asked if I could do the hair for the music video. I’ve met so many very cool people who are musicians, artists, skateboarders... all these artists who can hang and make creative stuff together. ”In 2015, Masami moved from Williamsburg to the East Village to work at Assort International Hair Salon. There, she took the final leap: She told her boss she wanted to open her own store. In April of 2016, Masami and her boss went into business together as Creative Director and Founder, respectively, of Vacancy. Masami stressed the importance of collaboration in small business work: “I’m really happy to have the founder because I really can focus only on the creative side. It’s really important to have the creator and financial person separate. ”Vacancy is more than a just a hair salon; it is also a pop-up retail shop (with items designed by friends of Masami) and artist hang-out. While Masami’s hair clients come from far and wide (“Do you know the singer Rachel Trachtenburg? Yeah, I chopped off her hair”), Vacancy still maintains the vibe of a small, local business, while serving a massive and ever-expanding web of Masami’s friends. Masami’s haircut services have a very specific appeal. “My haircut style is not super fancy, ” she told me, “because when I came here, I met a lot of people on the street. They always have amazing hair, and I ask ‘Where did you get a haircut? ' and they say ‘Oh, I cut it myself. ’ So I do kind of DIY, very grungy, choppy, messy. ” Her cuts are still customizable: Vacancy offers hair designs in “a lot of crazy colors, ” from pink to blue and everything in between. Masami and her army of artistic friends will not be confined to the shop. In addition to haircuts, Masami collaborates with her friends to produce a number of visual and literary creative projects, to bring their art and vision to the general public. She edits and produces a blog (or “web journal”), which features interviews and photographs of all sorts of artists, from painters to sculptors to Instagrammers, whom she has met through cutting hair. She also produces a monthly radio show, Vacancy Radio, through which she introduces listeners to her musical friends (“People are at work like ‘What am I gonna listen to today? Vacancy Radio! ’”). Most recently, Masami has produced a zine (a self-published, miniature magazine) featuring her own hair and makeup designs and pictures by her friends in photography. She is currently working on a second zine. To bring everyone together, Masami often hosts “book and zine events” in the Vacancy space, where her friends can gather and share their work. “People can come and hang out and, well, drink, ” she added with a laugh. With so many friends and projects in her repertoire, one might think she would be ready to call it a day, but this is only the beginning of Masami’s vision for Vacancy. While she will always be cutting hair, Masami dreams of an entire Vacancy building just for artists. “I want a full coffee shop, and maybe a bar. I want shared studios where the artists can make art. We can have an exhibition. We can have a music studio downstairs and live shows. Like an art house. ”As she moves into the future, Masami Hosono makes sure never to lose sight of her roots. As she guided me on her journey from newcomer to centerpiece of New York’s artistic community, what became increasingly clear to me was her awareness of the potential that her prominence in a new country gave her to make change back home. No matter how well-known Masami’s work becomes, her queer identity has always been, and will continue to be, the center of her narrative. Masami has made the decision to return to Japan this summer, and potentially begin a regular practice of working in both countries. She has already booked an interview with a Japanese magazine and looks forward to bringing New York’s culture of openness back to her homeland in whatever ways she can. “When I have a magazine interview or work in Tokyo, I want to talk about it more, little by little, ” she said. “I will change the culture if I can. ”

Lost Gem
Caravan of Dreams 1 Brunch Vegan undefined

Caravan of Dreams

“I’m not a chef. I am a scholar of nutrition and an idealist who loves health and happiness, ” proclaimed Angel Moreno, who left his home in Spain in the 1980s to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and to set up a chiringuito — the Spanish term for a cafe or juice kiosk — in the U. S. Before finding what he calls his “true purpose, ” Angel was a pilot. “But this was killing my heart, ” Angel said. He reevaluated his life and chose to pursue his aptitude for music. Though untrained, Angel had a good ear, a passion for playing the drums, and a desire to share music, poetry readings, and photography exhibits with the public. He came to open a handful of cafes and bars throughout Spain that were akin to laidback performance venues. Just as Angel planned to start a new venture in London, he met a master of Sufi (a form of Islamic mysticism). “This man was doing everything I wanted to do: yoga, traveling, and music. He was a fun guy. ” The guru made such a powerful impression that Angel followed him to the States, where he spent the next decade doing odd jobs, learning to practice Sufism, and waiting for the right time to start his chiringuito. As Angel puts it, the universe eventually led him to the ideal place. It had two rooms — one that would serve as the dining area and a second space that was used to educate others about nutrition, health, and assorted important subjects. At first, “I didn’t even know what kind of cuisine I was going to offer. ” But the teachings of Sufi, which focus on purity and wellness, inspired him to avoid anchoring himself to any specific type of cuisine. “Instead, I did international dishes and used my knowledge to adjust any recipe to incorporate organic ingredients and to be vegan or vegetarian. "Caravan of Dreams retains some of the elements of Angel’s first Spanish cafes, with daily live music and bright colors on the walls to spark joy in its guests. Yet the key component is the wholesome meals it serves. “Without health, we cannot be happy. ”