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.