Il Vagabondo is secretly four spaces in one. There is a bar at the front, a dining room lined with photographs of famous faces, a private event space, and finally a back room filled with tables and chairs for diners, with the pièce de résistance being the long bocce court. Over the years, I have observed many veterans of the sand-filled pit, including my husband, roll their ball towards the elusive ring, accounting for every quirky curve of this particular venue.
While directing me through to the four quadrants of the restaurant, and the open kitchen in the center where a cook was chopping aromatic onions and carrots, Ernie, the owner for the past half century, spoke about Il Vagabondo. He is a refreshingly straight-forward man, who defined the atmosphere of the restaurant as "good food, nice place, and easy people." My husband and I have been coming here for thirty years and heartily agree – special note: the veal parmesan is not to be missed.
Descending down Scalinatella's ("little stairway") steps felt like traveling back in time as we entered a magical, underground grotto. Although it was a late winter afternoon, there was a perfect shaft of light shining down from the street onto the glistening display of luscious-looking grapes, blueberries, and strawberries. The sweet scent of the berries was a winning welcome to a stunning discovery below 61st Street. The decor was classic, as we were surrounded by a three dimensional still life that Cezanne would have loved to have painted: baskets of impossibly red tomatoes, bouquets of orchids, pussy willows, and, of course, bottles of wine. The feeling of entering a timeless wine cellar was made easier to comprehend when we learned that the building is 145 years old. Apparently, some twenty years ago when Luigi Ruso was first building his restaurant, he watched as the workers chipped away at the cement and glass walls until they hit the original brick. He knew he had something special and chose to leave the raw beginnings down below in tact. In front of the kitchen, bricks have been removed, putting the chefs partly on display, as if the diners were peeking at them through a secret chink in a wall, while the bar seems to be chiseled out of the side of the cave. The food is as classic as the ambience, with Scalinatella's specialties being pasta and fresh fish. Diego, our server told us that he has been working along side Luigi for decades, as the two met at Il Mulino on West 3rd Street. While preparing and plating the food, he told us that he cooks much of his pasta dishes right in front of diners. "We do everything – any pasta you want. " Some of us sampled a soft and buttery dish of amorini pasta blackened with squid ink and liberally decorated with shrimp and lobster. Diego also paraded a feast of fish past us, including Branzino, Dover Sole, and more lobster. While listening to stories from several members of the restaurant's team, we learned that every night the dining room is filled with clientele that have been frequenting this hidden romantic gem for years and years.
Pino Luongo sat down at the table to join us. "Did you enjoy the pasta? " he began. Our immediate response was, "Absolutely. " The kitchen had prepared a few of Morso's staple dishes for members of the Manhattan Sideways team: the Pollo Martini, the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, the Carciofi, and the Carciofi Fritti. Pino pointed between the latter two, explaining how, in focusing on using fresh, seasonal ingredients, he is constantly inspired to build several dishes around a single ingredient. In this case, both salads featured artichokes, though one dish was prepared with them raw, circled by orange slices, while the other offered crispy artichokes decorated by olives, pickled fennel and a citrus dressing. Our bucatini was prepared before our very eyes in the kitchen, where the sous-chef spoke of a camaraderie driven by ideals set with Pino's presence. It is no anomaly to find Pino in the kitchen most nights, getting his hands dirty and making sure each dish comes out the best it can be - which, we learned, of course means "always cooking the pasta in with the sauce. " The restaurant's manager, Irene, added, "He takes great pride in his food. Each dish he prepares is like he is cooking for his own family. "Our conversation with Pino lasted through a clear, winter afternoon, with the sunshine slowly reaching across our dining table. His comfortable cadence matched the overall ambiance of the restaurant: casual but bright, embellished by modest, decorations, including antique rolling pins and pop art prints. Pino shared stories of growing up in Tuscany, and arriving in Manhattan to open his first restaurant in the 1980s. Reflecting on the past decades, Pino spoke despondently on how the character of Manhattan has been slowly edged out by ever-growing real estate rents, and how many stores and restaurants that have been home for generations of families now have to shutter. "Soon, " he stated, "we are not going to have anything worthwhile left. " Pino segued back thirty years, reminiscing about the restaurant scene being built. "I was a part of the old guard, " and he is quite proud to have remained friends with some of the great restaurateurs, most notably Jean Georges and Keith McNally, of whom he has only admiration and kind words.
Who would have thought that one could find a golf club so far from a green? One of the most elite golf clubs in the world, the Links is where die-hard golf players go to eat and socialize. Charles Blair Macdonald, a golf champion and founder of the United States Golf Association, started the Links in 1917 as a place where powerful members of the golf world could keep the true spirit of the game alive. The magnificent Georgian townhouse that is home to the club was built in 1890 and features four floors and a mansard roof. There is no sign: it is only recognizable by the flags waving outside.
No one knows if there is a key to the door of the Animal Medical Center. The veterinary hospital has never needed one: it has been running for twenty-four hours each day ever since it opened in 1962. The history of AMC, however, runs deeper; Ellin Prince Speyer, the founder of the Women’s Auxiliary to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, planted the seeds of the Center in 1909 when the Auxiliary established a clinic for animals whose owners were not financially able to go to existing veterinary hospitals. The Center was a success, thus allowing the organization to begin raising funds for a permanent animal care facility. This goal was seen to fruition in 1914 when a hospital opened on the Lower East Side. In 1960, construction began on the current grounds, which is now one of the few teaching veterinary hospitals in the world. Over one thousand veterinarians from around the globe have come through training at the AMC. Upon entering the eight-floor building and seeing the tiled animal mural decorating the elevators, I was met by the Center's enthusiastic public relations person, Barbara Ross. She was eager to give me a guided tour of the facilities. As she led me through the first hallway, I met Matt, sitting in his scrubs with one hand on his computer and the other holding a small dog. This was the perfect image to set the stage for my walk. The building mirrored a human hospital, but with a more relaxed atmosphere and animals of all shapes and sizes being attended to and comforted by staff members. It was a special moment for me when I stepped into Dr. Stephen Riback's dental office, where he agreed with my initial impression: "It's more like a people hospital than an animal hospital. " I was proud to watch this warm and gentle man, whom I have known my entire life, taking care of a dog that had just been through major dental surgery. Stephen explained that he had removed some teeth from the King Charles Spaniel who had periodontal disease - which causes the bone in the dog's gums to recede from the teeth. Stephen assured me that the dog would be much happier now, and that the other organs would be saved from the ailments that often follow from progressive periodontal symptoms. The dog's adorable little tongue was clamped in a permanent lolling position, and the woman assisting in the operation made sure that his open eyes were moistened while he was sedated. Stephen went on to tell me about some of the other dental operations he has handled: he has performed root canal procedures on police dogs that break their teeth during "bite" work, and he once utilized his dental expertise on a Bengal Tiger at the Bronx Zoo. As a rule, doctors from AMC do not work at the zoos, since both Central Park and the Bronx have their own medical team. Dentistry, however, is not taught at most veterinary schools, so Stephen is often called upon for his unique skills. After saying good-bye to Stephen, I stepped back into the hallway with Barbara, where she told me about a recent case of a dog who arrived on 62nd Street blind and left being able to see after the removal of its cataracts. Clearly medical miracles are performed at AMC. On the subject of blindness, Barbara mentioned that every guide dog is treated without charge. Though animals occasionally come in for general wellness visits, for the most part they are admitted for problems that regular vets cannot handle. As Barbara said, "The animals are primarily the sickest of the sick. "Continuing on, Barbara proudly pointed out the imposing CT scan and MRI machines, and commented that "some human hospitals do not own anything close to this level of equipment. " I was then shown a series of astonishing photographs of a young horse receiving a CAT scan. Following this, Barbara led me to a hybrid operating room for interventional endoscopy and radiology, which she said is the only one of its kind in the world. And, if I had not been impressed enough, I was then made aware of the hospital's underwater treadmill that aides animals with arthritis and hip dysplasia. When I looked at Barbara in amazement, she explained that staff members entice their patients with peanut butter, thereby encouraging them to swim forward to lick this treat. This allows them to participate in physical therapy. Brilliant! Barbara shared with me that there have often been times over the decades that human physicians have collaborated with veterinarians, including teaming up with Sloan Kettering where, together, they came up with the first canine vaccine for cancer. From what I witnessed, opening their medical center in the same vicinity as what is termed Hospital Row was the perfect decision back in the 1960s. And there is no doubt that these animals are treated with the same care and professional expertise as the human patients surrounding them.
The first fully certified “green” building in Lincoln Center, the atrium features lush vertical gardens with a spectacular fountain, where visitors and local residents are invited to sit and relax in a wide open space. Additionally, there are informative wall screens, a booth to purchase Lincoln Center discounted tickets, the ‘wichcraft eatery, and the starting point for guided tours of the Lincoln Center. The David Rubenstein Atrium, formerly known as the “Harmony Atrium, ” was created through a New York program that provides designated spaces for accessible public use. David Rubenstein, in whose honor the space is named, was the Vice Chairman of Lincoln Center, as well as a philanthropist and financier.
Established in 1958, the Fifth Avenue Synagogue has been home to many Jewish spiritual leaders both from New York and Israel. It was first formed as a place of worship where the values of Orthodox Judaism would take center stage while also catering to contemporary American lifestyles. The building was designed by Percival Goodman, who called himself "an agnostic who was converted by Hitler. " The synagogue is designed in the traditional Sephardic way, with a bimah and ark in a central area and separate sections for men and women.