Annick and Emmanuel LeDouaron, originally from Brittany, France, opened La Mirabelle, named for a French plum, on the Upper West Side in 1984. It was initially located farther west on 86th Street, but it moved to its current location in 1998. Sadly, Annick LeDouaron passed away in 2015, but now her daughter, Nathalie, runs the restaurant with her husband, Loic Cadou. In speaking with Loic, I learned that he and his wife grew up playing together, as their moms had been friends in Brittany, long before Nathalie and Loic were born.
On one occasion, I met Loic's son-in-law, Adam. He had just graduated from law school and decided to work in the family business while searching for a legal position. I also met Danielle Rupert. Danielle is a longtime friend and waitress of the restaurant, but perhaps even more impressive is that she is the artist of the colorful paintings that hang on the restaurant's walls. Each striking scene is one taken from the small village of Pignan, Danielle's hometown in the magnificent area of Provence.
While Danielle is known as one of the "golden girls," since she has been with the restaurant for some twenty years, Crystal is part of the "petite ones" - a group of eight cousins in their twenties who are first generation Americans. Everyone connected to the restaurant is a part of the family, from the coat check girl to Chef Andre, who has been cooking at La Mirabelle for over thirty years. Today, at age eighty, he still comes in early to do the prep work and the baking. Jose, who has also been with La Mirabelle for some twenty plus years, is the main chef, and, according to Crystal, "He is the Spanish guy with the French soul."
The employees are not the only ones who have been around for a long time: there are items on the menu that have been there since the beginning. "We get creative sometimes with the appetizers, but otherwise we pretty much leave the recipes alone," Loic told me. The staff's big, happy family aura extends to the customers too. "We know almost every one of our customers," Loic and the girls announced proudly.
When Susan Weber, an American historian, came across the six-story townhouse at 18 West 86th, she knew that she had to do something extraordinary with it. Though Susan received an art history degree from Barnard College, in 1993, she chose to establish the Bard Graduate Center, where advanced students can study humanity's past through the materials it leaves behind. The Center, which is affiliated with Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is one of only three schools where someone can receive an advanced degree in decorative arts. The degree also focuses on Design History and Material Culture. The program has an excellent reputation for students who wish to pursue a career in a museum. Hollis Barnhart, the Communications Manager for the Center and Gallery spoke to me about the Gallery as "a way of opening something to the public. " The gallery had its first exhibit in October of 1993, called Along the Royal Road: Berlin and Potsdam in KPM Porcelain and Painting, 1815-1848. Since then, the gallery has hosted countless exhibits that, in Hollis' words, "study the things that people have used from antiquity to now. " The exhibits have spanned a wide range of topics from Central European cast iron and English silver to Swedish glass and Indian jewelry. Hollis was proud that the gallery exhibitions can feature everything from “caveman spoons to gold pieces. ”The gallery does not have a permanent collection, and so items are often borrowed from museums and collections from around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Gallery displays have included many exhibits in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. One of the gallery’s most popular shows was a collection of hats curated by Stephen Jones, a famous British milliner. Since 1996, the gallery has worked with Yale University Press to print beautiful catalogues that accompany each exhibition. Though graduate students occasionally have a hand in designing the main exhibitions, they are very hands-on when it comes to the smaller exhibits, called "Focus Projects. " These are curated displays that mark the culmination of a workshop or seminar. They function both as final projects for students and additional learning opportunities for guests. When I visited the gallery, the graduate students were preparing a collection of materials that demonstrated how the indigenous people of Oceania in the Pacific displayed and adapted their identity in the face of colonial powers. The main exhibition fascinated me: it was an in-depth look at the history of wooden toys from Sweden. The toys dated back to the 1600s and included everything from little planes to detailed doll-houses. The show explored how the toys underscored Sweden's reliance on their expansive forests and how wooden toys are respected throughout the world. As Hollis explained, many of the exhibits tend to have "An international flavor. "
City Swiggers, which opened in 2011, is where casual and professional overlap. The atmosphere of the beer shop / tasting room is neighborly and homey, but each staff member is an encyclopedia of beer information and each bottle has been chosen with the utmost care. The eclectic space, which contains both bar stools and tables, can seat a few dozen people, while the shop experiences the majority of its business from clients grabbing beer to-go. We heard an all too familiar story from owner, Alan Rice, who left the world of finance in order to further explore his passion for beer. Alan said simply, "I loved beer" and then corrected himself: "I still love beer. A little too much, maybe. " The shop, which carries over 900 beers, always has samples of new varieties. Regulars often come in and try the new brews with the staff. Alan believes that he may have the largest selection in the city. The taps are constantly being swapped out, to the point where after two weeks, the beers provided at City Swiggers have completely changed over. In addition to selling bottles, cans, flights, and pints, Alan mentioned that City Swiggers will fill any growler, even those that are not their own. Alan's wife, Pam, has a lot to do with the cozy atmosphere at City Swiggers. She has created most of the artwork - often made from recycled items - that adorns the store. When Manhattan Sideways visited during the winter, we noticed the snowflakes made from six-pack plastic on the front doors, as well as the beer can mobile in the back. Though there is a set of prints on one wall that Pam designed, the larger paintings lining the walls were created by a friend. Pam is also the inspiration behind the small bites offered at the bar. She is the leader of the Veggie Pride Parade and the head of a Vegan newsletter, so City Swiggers offers vegan empanadas from V-Spot. In addition, there are soft pretzels from Schaller and Weber, a German cafe. And for those of us who are not fond of drinking beer, City Swiggers offers wine by the glass and a large array of ciders. Samantha, the extremely knowledgeable bartender who began working at City Swiggers in 2014, was discovered by Alan while she was working at a nearby cafe. He was impressed with all the facts that she was able to rattle off about beer. He invited her to join him and she started that week. Samantha began educating us as she explained that to "tap" a beer is to attach a hose to a keg, but to "pour" a beer is to fill a glass from the tap. She went on to say that one of the most important things to think about in choosing a beer is the freshness of the hops, and that the definition of "cider" differs not only from country to country but from region to region. She also informed us that she had just taken her test to become a cicerone, which is essentially a sommelier for beer. The first master cicerone, we learned, was a woman from the UK. Whereas Samantha admitted that she liked sour beers and super fresh IPAs, Alan stated that he has "always liked variety, " which explains why his store contains such a diverse array. Samantha poured a flight for us so that the team could see just how varied the stock could be. They tried a light melon Gose (a German beer that was cooling and fruity), a tart Wild Ale with red-currents, a red double IPA that was especially hoppy, and an imperial stout with a chocolaty finish. The Manhattan Sideways Team left City Swiggers with their bellies warmed, their thirst quenched, and their heads bursting with beer knowledge.
When I sat down in the minister's office at West Park Presbyterian Church, the first thing I asked was his name. He responded, "I am going to give you the whole thing, and you decide how much you would like to include. " It is a name to be proud of - Reverend Doctor Robert Brashear. Though originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robert has been at the church since 1995. He first came to New York for an internship from 1982-83, and enjoyed his time in the city so much that he leapt at the opportunity to return when it was presented to him years later. The church has a fascinating history. It was originally formed under the name "North Presbyterian Church" on Bleecker Street in 1829 in response to the growing population of people moving north to escape the Yellow Fever. The congregation soon split and one group became the West Presbyterian Church, moving to a building on Carmine Street. In the meantime, the Park Presbyterian Church was formed on 84th Street thanks to the efforts of A. Phelps Atterbury in 1887. In 1890, Park Presbyterian moved into the red sandstone structure on 86th Street and the two congregations, West and Park, merged in 1911. The church received landmark status in 2000. West Park Presbyterian has always been at the forefront of a lot of political and social issues. In 1978, the church was one of the first to jump into the LGBT movement - the Reverend believes that the shift towards the religious embrace of homosexuality actually started in this church. He explained that the church was the first to perform gay marriages and "acknowledge them as just that. " In terms of other social movements, the Reverend also declared that Senior Housing had its birth on 86th Street. Additionally, during Occupy Wall Street when the people were pushed out of Zuccotti Park, activists were invited to take up housing in the church. Some remained for close to a year. Robert is proud that although the church's membership only consists of a few dozen families, they are continuously written up and receive excellent reviews for the cultural events that they hold. According to the Reverend, the tightly knit community at West Park Presbyterian will always be on the "cutting edge" - where things happen.