While ascending a few flights of stairs, I was entertained by the photos and artwork on the walls, care of Red Rocket. Once inside I was welcomed by a large studio with ten stations where artists and clients were chatting and creativity was happening.
"I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not drawing," owner Adam Hays shared with me. He went on to tell me that as a child, he was always drawing on his body. He had a particular fondness for washable tattoos and his mom was kind enough to do this with him. "It wasn't until I went to a water park and there was a big guy with tattoos on his body and I asked him how come his tattoos didn't come off in the water, that I realized there was more to tattooing." This was Adam's first exposure to the "real thing" and as they say, he never looked back.
The studio does not use traditional stencil to do their work. Rather, they cater to people who prefer custom designs. "Men and women come in with drawings or a concept and we work with them." The day I was there, Adam, and the guy he was working on, chatted with me about what they were doing on his arms. Over a period of time, Adam has been creating a mural on his skin. It is depicting a piece of Aztec history and includes a Mexican Indian princess. As the guy having his arm tattooed said to me, "There isn't anyone else that I would allow to be putting needles in me while giving an interview to you besides Adam." The level of concentration is intense, but Adam is able to keep that going while speaking to me. I was mesmerized watching as he dipped the needle into organic vegetable pigment based paints and then did his magic. Prior to beginning this lengthy project, Adam explained to me that working on a blank canvas, this time being arms, he drew with markers, free-hand, to ensure that his customer was pleased with the design. Only then did he begin the permanent tattoo process. Thus far, he has been working on both arms for almost a year, with two sessions a month.
Adam proudly informed me that he has made a name for himself - internationally, as he has been invited to practice his craft in Japan, South Africa and Europe. "You name it, I have probably tattooed there," he continued. I found a shelf filled with trophies awarded to Adam and his studio including a recent one for best black and white tattoo at the NYC Tattoo convention. Red Rocket has been on 36th Street since 1998, when tattooing was legalized in the city. Adam deliberately chose a midtown location, upstairs, because he did not want to attract the walk in traffic that is customary in the East Village. He prefers people who seek him out, admiring and recognizing the talent and quality of his work and that of the other artists in his studio.
Read more about tattoo shops of the Side Streets.
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.