Tucked away on the second floor is a cooking school that I have known about for years. Reaching 21st Street and being able to introduce myself to the people at Natural Gourmet was a highlight of walking this side street. And, perhaps, even more exciting was the welcoming and positive response that our team received when we shared our Manhattan Sideways story. In turn, we learned about the wonderful history behind Natural Gourmet. Annemarie Colbin came to New York in the early 1960s to "become a movie star." After being cast as one of the hundreds of young, female extras in George Sidney’s 1963 film, Bye Bye Birdie, however, Annemarie decided that she preferred to pursue a career in the culinary arts. She explained to us that while growing up in Argentina, her mother took the family to a vegetarian health spa, to help heal her ailing father, and instill in her siblings the knowledge and wisdom that what you put into your body directly affects your well-being. “It seemed so obvious to me, even at age eleven, but I was living in Argentina, the land of meat....And then when I came to America, I immediately realized that no one thought about food and health.” Annemarie taught herself how to properly cook vegetarian cuisine, and put herself through culinary school. Quite the intellectual, and an extraordinary student, she went on, years later, to write her Ph.D. dissertation on Food and Physics. With her movie dreams behind her, Annemarie Colbin taught cooking classes out of her Upper West Side apartment for a decade, until she was kicked out for, essentially, running a business in a residential building. In 1977, Annemarie officially established The Natural Gourmet Institute on 21st Street. Thirty-six years later, the school continues its unique mission to teach cooking and food theory as it relates to bodily health. Susan Baldassano, director of the Chef’s Training Program, and a 1987 graduate of the Apprenticeship program, commented “back then we were looked at as the vegetarian weirdos." Although the Institute has never been completely vegan, it has always placed great emphasis on vegetarian and macrobiotic cooking. Today, Annemarie is thrilled to see the tremendous legacies of her former students, and the current mainstream food trends towards organic, local and sustainable food practices. She has written four books, The Book of Whole Meals, Food and Healing, The Natural Gourmet, and The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones, all of which have been selling for over two decades, and have been translated into six languages. Her students have gone on to write prominent cookbooks, start their own businesses, work with food-related charities and serve as executive chefs at top-tier restaurants around the country. The Institute strives in every way to teach within the framework of healthy and natural. Not only do they educate the next generation of organic chefs through their professional Chef’s Training Program, but they also offer extensive programs for people who want to expand their knowledge of cooking and food by taking one course at a time. A tradition that has been taking place for many years is the Friday night dinners prepared by the students and delivered in a relaxed, community-style banquet. I relished this experience a year or so ago when I dined here with friends. What fun not only to taste the food that the students prepared, but also to be able to engage in conversation with several of them. All the people we met who are connected with Natural Gourmet were visibly excited and passionate about their work, the skills they teach, and the mindsets they instill in their students. Rich LaMarita, a chef who was instructing a group of students on how to make authentic Indian dosas stuffed with spiced potatoes, told us “I have the best job ever. I love food and I love my students - in one way or another, they all to want to change the world.” Perhaps, initially, Annemarie was ahead of her time, but now New York has definitely caught up, as organic and vegan have become some of the most popular food words in city dining.
“I really want families to play together. That’s my goal in the store, ” said Christina Clark, who has been wowing parents, grandparents, and, most importantly, children for decades with her wonderland of toys and games. Christina worked in a toy store as a young mother and realized she had found her calling. She opened Kidding Around on Bleecker Street, followed by several other locations. Today, it is the 15th Street shop that has survived throughout the years. “I love going to work every day, so it was a good choice for me. ”In the shop’s beginnings, its selection of toys and games leaned toward the traditional — “no batteries, no remote controls, and everything that just uses your imagination. ” Over the years, however, Christina chose to grow with the times and introduce more modern, automated items into her inventory. Her own children later helped her bring new options into the store. Today, Christina feels lucky to work with her daughter, Kasey Coyle, who uses her background in applied behavioral analysis to stock plenty of books and toys for younger children and those with special needs. Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Christina found that her clientele went back to the basics — the demand for puzzles and classic board games was revived. “I hope that trend continues, ” she said earnestly. “I hope that people remember how much fun they had playing games with their family so it brings us together and off our devices. ”
Many months ago, I gathered a group of friends and family to celebrate my husband's birthday. No one had ever been to Spin, so it was the perfect opportunity for everyone to have a terrific night taking turns playing a sport most of us adore, and sharing in conversation, drinks and appetizers. As we walked down the steps into the dimly lit lobby we were greeted by a friendly hostess in a chic black outfit, and it felt as though we had entered any other swanky Manhattan club. And yet, as we turned the corner we saw immediately that this was not the case. Instead of the usual dance-filled floor, at this club we were presented with rows of ping-pong tables and couples in heated competition. The diversity of the crowd was vast and only became more so as the night went on. Businessmen off from work, their white collared shirts glowing in the black light, rallied next to serious athletes there for a workout in gym shorts and sweatbands. Young couples looking for a quirky date played next to groups of older friends there to enjoy the nostalgia of this classic game. Everyone is welcome at Spin. Serious ping pong players make the circuits, challenging worthy opponents to games while casual paddlers compete in a more leisurely game. It has never been easier to enjoy ping pong, as Spin has eliminated the frustrating need for constantly picking up stray balls - staff with fascinating contraptions collect all the balls and reload the buckets regularly. Perhaps even more exciting, servers come by to the tables with what could be described as high-class bar food - some of our favorites were the alcoholic mango slushies, the fried rice balls, and the truffle mac and cheese. The delicious food and drink are honestly worth a visit on their own, and as the club often hosts championship ping pong games, even those who do not want to grab a paddle themselves can fill up a plate and watch the action. Originally opened by ping pong enthusiasts Franck Raharinosy, Andrew Gordon, Jonathan Bricklin and Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, Spin has quickly become a hot spot both in other parts of the US and abroad.
Peter Glassman was the kind of child who would move books back into their rightful places while browsing bookstores. Hooked on reading before the second grade, by age twelve he had “read his parents’ home dry. ” Pegged as a bookworm by his friends and family, for his Bar Mitzvah he received over a dozen bookstore gift certificates. Aged fourteen, he applied for a position at a local bookshop but was turned away for being too young. A year later, he was finally able to land a job at a different bookstore, quickly becoming the buyer for its science fiction section. After spending just a year at Brown University, Peter moved to New York and began taking acting lessons. One day, his acting coach said, “If you're going to be an actor, it should be the only thing in life that makes you happy. If anything else in life brings you more joy, then you should do that. ” It was at this moment that Peter realized, “Books are my greatest joy. ”Soon after this epiphany, Peter began collecting antiquarian books, acquiring enough stock to sell. Originally, he thought he would rent space in a basement and have a mail-order business, but then he discovered a humble 200-square-foot location at 444 Hudson Street. With the help of a few friends, Peter cleaned it up, built some book-cases, and went to a wholesale book company to fill the last four shelves with a selection of his favorite titles, including The Cricket in Times Square, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Snowy Day, and Where the Wild Things Are. The fervent reader was only twenty years old when he opened Books of Wonder. In 1982, Books of Wonder opened a second store nearby, tripling in size. Stocked with mostly new books, he also offered a selection of old and rare titles. In 1986, he relocated to an even larger space on 18th Street and Seventh Avenue after he learned that Barney's was opening a “fancy” store nearby. He believed that this would attract more families to the neighborhood. He was correct. Peter soon decided that it was not necessary to pay avenue prices. Instead, he could open on a side street. In 1996, Books of Wonder settled on 18th Street, where he hosted readings by J. K. Rowling, Maurice Sendak, and every other larger-than-life name in children's literature. In 2017, Peter enriched the Upper West Side with his second location on West 84th Street. Of the many attractions at Books of Wonder, Peter is most known for his selection of The Wizard of Oz. He was mesmerized as a preteen when he first devoured L. Frank Baum’s series, and it was a copy of The Magic of Oz spotted at the Strand bookstore — with its beautiful colored plates — that inspired him to restore the series to its former glory. Together with Harper Collins, he printed all fifteen Oz books with their original illustrations under Books of Wonder Classics, something never done before. For some forty years, Books of Wonder has been a space where many children have become avid readers, and Peter is always touched when parents remind him that his store also turned them into devoted readers a generation before.
Twelve years ago, Peggy Clarke, one of the owners at La Mano Pottery, was working down south and decided to leave her job and move back to New York. Once settled, she picked up pottery as a hobby. Having become friendly with her partners to be, Julie Hadley and Diane Waller, while taking classes at La Mano (then on 18th Street), they made the decision to purchase the business together. Shortly after, they moved the pottery center to its current beautiful, airy location. The three have each brought their passion and individual skills to La Mano, allowing them to attract people from all over the city to their studio. Artists rent space to work, and at all hours you can see them peacefully in the corner "throwing clay" with their headphones on. Beginners take classes in pottery and jewelry making, and are given an equal amount of respect. The gorgeous work of resident artists is sold up front, and in back, people sit, either alone or clustered together, working the clay. La Mano Pottery feels like a peaceful haven, but most importantly, it feels like a community. Peggy stresses the importance of this, and her desire to create a perfect environment for artists - both professional and amateur - to work together and hang out. She told us how many people have become friends with one another through La Mano. "Creating a community has become a part of our craft, " she said with a smile. When La Mano Pottery moved into the building on 26th Street, it was an abandoned electrical company, impossibly dingy. It is now the largest independent pottery studio in the city, with six kilns and a burgeoning following. They have turned the space into an elegant, tranquil place where curious novices learn and play alongside expert crafts people.
Upon entering the front room of Beads of Paradise, we were greeted by long strings of brightly colored beads, boldly patterned fabrics, and African art filling every inch of space. While this certainly makes for fun exploring, the magic really happens further back in the store, which is replete with thousands of beads and endless jewelry-making materials. Welcoming anyone from novices to experts, the shop holds regular beading classes on Sundays. What sets this store apart from others where beading materials, pre-made jewelry, or textiles are sold, is that they are serious about beads. Really serious. Glass cases throughout the shop are filled with beads from all over the world and all periods of history. We noticed a bowl of small bead fragments labeled with the location and date of Djenne (a town in Mali), 700 AD. We became quite curious and had to investigate further. After talking to Joe, one of the managers, not only were we convinced of the validity of the labels, but as people with no previous interest in beads, we were now hooked on this store. Joe knows everything about beads, and his passion is so clear that we could not help but get excited with him. He gave us the history of several of the oldest beads in the shop - the very oldest being warring state beads from China dating to 300 AD. He then proceeded to pull out his favorite books on beads and show us how they go about dating and validating the beads. Finally, we were whisked away with a fascinating discussion on early bead-making techniques and early man’s impulse for self-ornamentation. In the end, Molly purchased one of the original Djenne beads that had caught her attention - for a mere $3. 00. It was a tiny broken fragment, but still, the fact that a piece of history was made so accessible to her was extraordinary. Of course, for those able to spend more, there is a vast selection of much larger historical beads in beautiful condition. Beads of Paradise is sure to delight anyone with an appreciation for history, jewelry, or craft-making - and if Joe is around, we recommend engaging him in a conversation on ancient cultures.
While the digital age has allowed us to streamline many services, there are some art forms that must remain analog. One trip to Best Shoe and Bag Original Repair on W21st Street in Chelsea and you’ll be convinced that the time honored art of cobbling is one that can’t be replaced. It’s an art that has been passed down to owner Marcia Sailema from her father, who ran the shop for decades until he retired in 2015. Marcia said that in addition to helping her dad run the family business, she took classes at FIT to sharpen her skills in repairing luxury shoes and bags, which are the businesses specialty. “I learned so much industry vocabulary that I never knew before – like the way that the first part of a shoe design is called the last — and ‘the last comes first! ’” she laughed. She quickly acclimated to the delicate art of making much-loved, long-worn bags and shoes look like new by making delicate leather, paint and stitching matches to designers from Dior to Chanel and in fragile vintage pieces. The intricate work — which Marcia proudly showed us can make a nearly unusable bag or shoe look fresh off the shelf – has led to a loyal customer base. For Marcia, it’s a labor of love. “I really like working on the bags, ” she said, admiring a classic Louis Vuitton monogram bag that she’d recently completed repairs on. “Look at these zippers! ”
Merakia occupies the space that housed Kat & Theo from 2015-2017 - and while the restaurant maintains the same ownership as before, it also has a different mission. The modern Greek steakhouse prides itself on its meats and classic seafood items, while maintaining a classy, hip atmosphere in its cavernous space on 21st Street. “We built a new team… and a new vision, ” managing partner James Paloumbis shared with the Manhattan Sideways team when he spoke of the switch from Kat & Theo. He then went on to highlight Merakia’s differences from other Greek restaurants. “It’s not white and blue like every other place in New York City. Our menu is not the copy paste of any other place. ” The menu is heavy on steaks and seafood, boasting their signature lamb on the spit ("the only restaurant in the city to do so") while, surprisingly, offering some robust meat-free options as well. “Everything is farm to table, we use fresh ingredients, [and] we make everything from scratch on a daily basis. ” James told us that part of his mission is to bring back the adventure of going out to eat, a phenomenon he has noticed declining over the years. “People don’t like to go out anymore just to eat. You can eat at home, you can eat down the street, you can order your meal online. But to get an experience of nice service, some nice flavors, nice music, nice drinks - it’s worth your while to go out again. ” Husband and wife team behind Kat & Theo - Renee and Andreas Typaldos - seem to have orchestrated a smooth transition from their previous restaurant. As their past executive chef, Paras Shah, believed, "there should be a movie written about the couple's romantic backstory and that he “couldn’t have worked for better folks. ” Andy is originally from Greece, and the restaurant was named after his parents, Katerina and Theodosios. Andy came to New York on a scholarship from Columbia and met Renee, who is from the Bronx. He took her out on a first date “with holes in his shoes and with no winter jacket, ” according to Renee. She added, “The romantic, poetic way people get together. ” Today, they are paying homage to Andy's Greek heritage and according to James, “People have to trust their stomachs and their palates with a restaurant, so that’s what we’re trying to do here. Trust us - our food is fresh, our food is made with care, and we love what we do. ”
Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.
Perhaps the attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ” works well at Society Billiards. They seem to know that sometimes a classic pool hall is just what people need. Extremely spacious and stocked with countless pool tables, anyone looking to get lost in the game will be sure to love this dimly lit, relaxed, yet classy spot.
As we peered behind the counter at Joe, we saw what looked like a machinist’s shop or a technological artist’s studio, and yet the rich aroma of coffee was unmistakable. Joe is a place for serious coffee, and they hope to make serious coffee-drinkers out of their customers. The front of the shop holds a regular coffee bar, with three stools, and a display with some useful coffee tools for at home brewing. The majority of the space, however, is filled by the coffee studio in back where customers can watch the machines whir and the experts work their magic. For those of us not as knowledgeable in the coffee arena, Joe offers regular classes on topics ranging from brewing technique to what they call “coffee theory. ” While they have several locations throughout Manhattan, Joe's on 21st street serves as the “pro shop” and headquarters.