I was surprised to see, upon entering the Men’s Lounge, not only a full barbershop but also a jewelry counter. David Natanel, who owns the barbershop, jewelry store, and juice bar next door, was busy with a customer’s hair, while his cousin, Gabriel, stood behind the cases of gold, silver and diamonds. Gabriel explained that along with being a barber, he is in charge of anything that is connected to jewelry. He told me that he has been proud of the amount of business generated by his cousin’s shop, citing walk-ins and Yelp as his top sources for customers. While we watched David cut hair, Gabriel talked to me about being a jeweler, a practice he learned in his native Uzbekistan, saying, “You’ve got to understand a lot of details.”
When David completed the haircut, he spoke with me about the jewelry counter. He added it in 2013 to “keep the girls happy at home.” It was his thinking that when men came in to get their hair cut for special occasions, they would have a place to get presents for anniversaries and birthdays without having to make another stop on the way home. David is very practical – he also opened Green Life Juice Bar in order to serve his barbershop customers. He used to give free beers to men who would wait for their haircuts, but many men would not accept them, since they went straight from the barbershop to the gym. When the space became available right next door, he grabbed the opportunity to begin serving fresh squeezed juices. David gutted the former shoe repair shop, rebuilt the space from scratch, came up with his own recipes for the drinks, and even added an Espresso Bar. Always eager to have a delicious smoothie, I headed next door to meet the girls who were making a variety of healthy and appealing concoctions. They insisted that before I have a fruit drink, I needed to down a Fireball Shot, composed of ginger, cayenne, and lemon. I did as I was told, but definitely needed the ice cold drink to wash it down. No doubt I left feeling energized.
When I expressed to David how impressed I was that he built the juice bar from scratch, he told me that the entire barbershop was also rebuilt from the ground up, as it was once a real estate office. As the story goes, before that it was a secret mafia lounge where people would play cards and have drinks. That is why he named his business “The Men’s Lounge.” It certainly seemed like a place where men could come and relax. “It’s like hanging out with the boys,” the young man in David’s barber chair said. “I love the cast of characters that work here.” David smiled and responded, “Our customers are like family,” mentioning the times when well-known faces have walked by the store and waved at him. The man getting a haircut turned to me and said, “Ever since they moved to the neighborhood, they’ve brought life to the street.” He looked in the mirror and added, “It’s the Lounge, man.”
The West Side Institutional Synagogue, with its towering stone walls and ornamental turrets, is a building of religious importance, though the worshiping that takes place inside may not be clear from the outside. This is because the building was originally erected as a Methodist church in 1889, but then became the home to the synagogue in 1937. Chet Lipson, a member of the congregation, and the temple’s Rabbi, Daniel Sherman, offered to give us a tour of the magnificent structure.The annex, which was added to the main synagogue in 1958, as the stone plaque outside indicates, houses both a preschool and a senior center. Our two guides led us past small children and strollers into the room where the morning services take place. The space is primarily used by Tifereth Yisrael, the Yemenite group that rents the room from West Side Institutional. We then entered the main sanctuary, which, given that WSIS is orthodox, is split up into a men’s and a women’s section. Rabbi Sherman elaborated, however, that the gender separation is only enforced during prayer and that co-ed seating is allowed during lectures and speeches. I was amazed at the size of the room, which the men boasted seats some 600 people and is considered to be the second largest sanctuary on the West Side.On a separate occasion, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rabbi Aaron Reichel, a practicing attorney, whom the other two men referred to as the synagogue’s historian. He explained that the congregation was formed in 1917 and began holding events in theaters in Harlem. In the early twentieth century, Harlem had the third largest concentration of Jews in the world, after Warsaw, Poland and the Lower East Side. During its heyday, the Institutional Synagogue’s Hebrew School contained a thousand students and over three thousand people passed through the doors of the synagogue each day. When the Jewish population started shifting away from Harlem, the synagogue ultimately moved downtown, landing in its current location. The congregation changed the stained glass windows of the old church, covered the murals, and removed the organ, turning the structure into a new kind of religious home. In the 1960s, however, there was a fire that destroyed the interior. They managed to save the torahs, but the sanctuary had to be rebuilt.While sharing photos of the reconstruction with me, Aaron spoke of the highly regarded Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, who founded the synagogue and was an incredibly influential figure in Jewish-American history. Aaron's passion for this great man, which inspired him to write The Maverick Rabbi, is especially understandable, considering Rabbi Goldstein was Aaron’s grandfather. Aaron gave me the shortlist of the Rabbi’s accomplishments, including making kosher food available on a national scale, becoming president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and being one of the first American-born orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Goldstein’s goal for the synagogue was to make it both 100% orthodox and 100% American, with an equal emphasis on Judaism and patriotism. I was particularly touched when Aaron mentioned that the synagogue hosted monumental Thanksgiving parties and that many of its congregants joined the army to fight in both World Wars, with Rabbi Goldstein sending them rousing letters throughout their time in service.Aaron’s interest in the synagogue is both personal and academic. He has done an extraordinary amount of research on the building and its influential members, but he also has been an active member of the synagogue for a large portion of his life...it was his father who married Rabbi Goldstein’s daughter and took over in 1960. Aaron would sometimes unofficially fill in for his father when he was away, as he was the one who had his finger on the pulse of the temple. He noticed that after the fire, the synagogue took a while to return to its former glory. He thanks Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, however, for reinvigorating WSIS in the 2000s. He credits the rabbi with “building up the synagogue again.” He also believes the synagogue is fortunate to have the dynamic Rabbi Sherman as its spiritual leader today, "to lead it into a future that will hopefully not just match but exceed the synagogue’s glorious past."
There are very few items that the husband and wife team, Carlisle and Daphne, have not monogrammed at some point in their shop. Filled to the brim with hats, robes, sweaters, lunch boxes, and even stuffed animals and piggy banks, Monogram Cottage has a plethora of clothing and other gifts that are begging to have initials or names put on them. The pair, originally from Jamaica, can add lettering to a variety of materials, including plastic. Their creative juices appear to always be flowing, especially when they monogrammed hospital slippers to bring to patients. Though the Cottage functions mainly as a gift shop, Carlisle was quick to tell me that he and his wife are always happy to monogram pieces that people bring to him. In addition, they create custom designs and fonts for their customers.Going down to the basement with Carlisle, where most of the stock is kept, I was surprised to learn how high-tech the monogramming art is: Carlisle creates a design using a specific computer program that converts the lettering into a stitching pattern. That pattern is then sent upstairs to Daphne’s computer next to her sewing machine, where she sews the design onto the chosen item. Apparently, it was Daphne who piqued his interested in monogramming – she was trained to do this through her former job, ultimately allowing the couple to enthusiastically open up Monogram Cottage outside of Manhattan, in Dobbs Ferry, NY. From the moment they opened their store in 2004, the pair had many New York City clients, ultimately causing them to decide to open another shop in Manhattan. Their first one, in 2013, was on 78th Street, but two years later they were forced to move (the building was being demolished), thus landing them on 76th. Today, they are content to focus their energy solely on the Upper East Side, having given up their Dobbs Ferry location.In the basement, in addition to shelves full of labeled gift items and Carlisle’s massive computer, there is a small cot. Carlisle told me that the bed is a very important part of the business. Sometimes, Daphne has so much work to complete that she is at her sewing machine long into the night and has to have a place to lie down for a little bit. Sure enough, during my visit, Daphne was sewing the entire time. The couple works hard to earn the second half of their store’s name: “Best Personalized Gifts.”
Though I spent a year and a half living in London in my younger years, I did not become nearly as attached to English cuisine as Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, did when she lived there. I realized this when her eyes lit up as Arjuna, the executive chef of Jones Wood Foundry, brought out plates of English pies and fish and chips for us to sample. With a huge smile, she dug into the mushy peas, made with fresh peas instead of the traditional canned, and the flaky battered cod. She and Sideways photographer Tom then tackled the meat pie of the day, made in a rosemary crust. I tried the accompanying mashed potatoes, which were impossibly soft and fluffy – I later learned that the kitchen goes through twenty pounds of potatoes and four pounds of butter to make them. We were in taste-heaven.We dined outside in the charming backyard garden as we spoke to Arjuna who told us about his Indian heritage and his time traveling through Europe. He began by saying that food is deeply tied to love and happiness in Indian culture. “If the mother’s in a bad mood, Indian families eat nothing....So the moral of that is: make your mom happy.” Though Arjuna is a dual citizen, British and American, he has always chosen to stay in the States. He pointed out, “All the kinds of cuisine you could ask for are right here in New York.” He explained that though he had spent a little time in Cornwall in St. Ives, he had not cooked very much traditional English food until joining the Jones Wood team. He learned a lot from Jason Hicks, the owner and former executive chef, who designed the menu and has since taken on more of a consulting role. Jason wanted Jones Wood to be a “food-driven pub,” where people can come in with no expectations and then be wowed. As Arjuna stated, “There’s something for everyone” on the menu, pointing out that they had changed the recipe of the French fries to use canola oil instead of beef fat, so that they would be vegetarian-friendly. Moreover, they are triple cooked and slow fried so that they are extra crispy.It is not just the food at Jones Wood Foundry that is authentically British – the interior of the restaurant, designed by Yves Jadot, is filled with touches of English culture. There are pint mugs, hunting horns, photos of the English military and Winston Churchill, cricket bats, British bus stop signs, and the obligatory “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. I expected Arjuna to tell me that the restaurant is home to numerous ex-pats yearning for well-made English food, but instead he said that there are actually a lot of locals who come four to five times a week. “They give me a big hug,” he said with a smile.The name, despite being Anglican, is possibly the most American thing about the pub. In the nineteenth Century and earlier, the pub's current neighborhood was a forest known as “Jones’s Wood.” It almost became the main parkland for Manhattanites, but lost the bid to Central Park. Shortly afterwards, the building that now houses the restaurant was constructed and occupied by a foundry that produced railings, weather vanes, manhole covers, and many other metal works. When Jason Hicks opened his restaurant in 2009, he chose to name it after the original business that was housed in the space.After we told him how fun we find it to explore the kitchens of the restaurants that we visit, Arjuna invited us downstairs to watch him make Sticky Toffee Pudding, a traditional English dessert composed of fluffy cake, often with currants, with molten toffee sauce poured on top. Though he appeared to be at ease with us while sitting in the courtyard, it was when he entered these quarters that we noticed he came into his own, like a fish in water. It makes sense: a large part of Arjuna’s life is connected to the culinary world. He even met his wife, now a successful playwright, in a restaurant.At Arjuna's urging, we ascended the steps back to the garden, where he served us his masterpiece. The dessert, smelling of rich molasses with a scoop of ice cream on the side, was positively scrumptious. Beautiful weather, a lovely setting and a terrific, dedicated chef made for a perfect afternoon.