Through an archway and into a nook of greenery, known as the Amster Yard, the grounds of Instituto Cervantes is hidden in a secret garden. A celebration of Spanish culture, the Institute is the home of the Jorge Luis Borges library, which is comprised of over 85,000 items. Spanish classes are given and convertible spaces are used for a range of cultural activities. This serene retreat is open to the public and the Institute welcomes anyone to explore its library and other facilities.
The Neighborhood Playhouse is both a great community resource and an old-fashioned reminder of the timelessness of great theater. Virtually invisible from the street, the only clue to its existence is a red, unmarked door and a modest sign. Once inside, however, I discovered that this almost one hundred year old building holds within it a proscenium theater, a full-size dance studio, and plenty of dressing rooms and classrooms. What a fascinating tour I was treated to by Emily Duncan, the admissions administrator, where I learned about their history and mission. The lobby, with its shabby elegance, features photos of famous graduates, as well as scenes from plays over the course of the school's history. The top two floors of the building are devoted to a beautiful dance studio with wood floors and soaring ceilings. A lover of dance, I was particularly moved when Emily announced that I was standing in the former domain of dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse alongside actor and teacher, Sanford Meisner. I was also enrapt by Christine Cirker, the librarian, who proudly discussed their vast collection of plays and theatre criticism. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the world of theater, she told me that she also teaches classes on script interpretation. Christine went on to explain the playhouse's claim to fame: the Meisner Technique, a method of acting that emphasizes that one should "live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances. " Sanford Meisner developed his famous improvisation-based technique at the Playhouse in the mid-1940s, which continues to train actors to this day. It counts among its list of prominent alumni names: Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen; and more recently, it has added to its roster, Allison Janney and Chris Noth. The playhouse trains about one hundred students at any given time, seventy-five first-years and twenty-five second-years who have been invited back as a result of a unanimous faculty vote. According to Emily, graduates have an easier time finding work than most aspiring actors due to their alma mater's extensive network of influential writers, directors, and actors. Much of the faculty is closely involved in the theater world, and as Pamela Moller Kareman, the playhouse's executive director, shared, "It's a big leap to become a professional actor; we want people to know that you can do this with your life. " And from the time that I spent here, it became apparent that the staff at Neighborhood Playhouse is there to guide and support students every step of the way.
Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.
If the sight of a regular lunch rush doesn’t convince you to try La Bellezza Pizzeria, then their pitch-perfect, classic New York slices will. After a trip in to try their signature pepperoni and tomato slices (a well-seasoned combination of cheesy, crunchy and savory, the Bellezza team has mastered the elusive sauce-to-cheese ratio), we got a chance to check in with the Dedvukaj family who have operated the East Midtown pizza joint for the past 23 years. Founded by Bronx-based Marko Dedvukaj, son Frank Dedvukaj — who started slinging slices in the shop at just 20 years old — took over the business so that, as Marko put it, “I can focus on the most important job of all — spoiling my grandkids, ” he told us, surrounded by visiting family members, some of whom also used to work at La Bellezza. As groups of grateful office workers filed in and out of the intimate storefront for a slice of pizza or La Bellezza’s famous chicken parmigiano hero — “at one point we were voted the #1 Chicken Parm on Yelp” Frank told us, he added that the biggest change he’s seen in business is a post-COVID slowdown of daytime visitors to the block. “The area is quieter, ” said Frank, noting that they still maintain a set of loyal regulars. “We’re still here! ”
Located in a quiet section of East 52nd Street, I found the Norwegian Seamen's Church, which was originally a meeting place for Norwegian sailors. The Church is now a community space for any Norwegian living in, or visiting, the city. On the day that I looked in, I found musicians, students, and businesspeople gathered in this quiet sanctuary to chatter with their fellow citizens and indulge in Norwegian food and entertainment. The Church also houses the Trygve Lie Gallery.