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Vedanta Society

Opening Hours
Today: 6–7pm
Tues:
6–7pm
Wed:
6–7pm
Thurs:
6–7pm
Fri:
6–7pm
Sat:
6–7pm
Sun:
6–7pm
Location
34 West 71st Street
Vedanta Society 1 Founded Before 1930 Prayer Centers Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side

"I was headed to the 72nd Street subway, and I walked down the wrong street," William Conrad related. The year was 1955, the "wrong street" was 71st, and what he came upon was the Vedanta Society, a universal religious organization with the philosophical essence of Hinduism. Now in his nineties, Mr. Conrad emphasized "I was never forced to convert; they simply encouraged me to find my own way." From that fateful day to almost forty years later, he has never left. In fact, he even moved his residence to an apartment in the same building.

In 1893, the chief disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, ventured to Chicago to speak at the World Parliament of Religions. Having inspired Americans interested in Vedanta and Hindu philosophy in 1894, he founded a center in New York City on 33rd Street - the first "expression" of Vedanta in the West. After moving to several other locations around the city, the Vedanta Society found its permanent residence on 71st Street in 1921.

"Our practice allows one to develop his or her own spirituality," William explained. The Swami warns others not to believe what he says, but to think about his words and draw their own conclusions. "There are four different yoga paths to get there," he continued, "Gyana is philosophical, Bhakti is devotional, karma is of the right path, and raja deals with mind control."

Adorned by candles, flowers, and photographs of Swamis past and present, this spiritual abode lives up to the strength of its roots. Scripted on one of the walls is the phrase, "truth is one; sages call it variously," meaning that the main truth of all religions is essentially the same. The peaceful intentions and William's sweet demeanor captured my interest and I appreciated the opportunity to spend time with him and to learn the history of this side street brownstone.

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Vedanta Society 1 Founded Before 1930 Prayer Centers Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side
Vedanta Society 2 Founded Before 1930 Prayer Centers Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side
Vedanta Society 3 Founded Before 1930 Prayer Centers Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side
Vedanta Society 4 Founded Before 1930 Prayer Centers Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side
Vedanta Society 5 Founded Before 1930 Prayer Centers Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side
Vedanta Society 6 Founded Before 1930 Prayer Centers Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side

More places on 71st Street

Lost Gem
Polpette 71 1 Italian undefined

Polpette 71

Raised by parents from Sicily and Naples, Nick Mormando grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, exposed to authentic Italian food in a comfortable setting. "We were the house on the block that was always cooking something, " Nick explained. And he still is, having stayed true to his family recipes since opening the neighborhood-centric Polpette 71 restaurant in November of 1994. The front room is set up with white tablecloths, bottles of Pellegrino and photographs of "The Gates" by Christo and Jean-Claude, which decorated Central Park in 2005. On my first visit to Polpette 71, when it was still operating under its original name, Bello Giardino, Nick asked if I would like to sit outside in the garden. I looked up in surprise and eagerly replied, "Yes please. " Truly a hidden gem on West 71st, this quiet respite has become a favorite of mine over the last several years. The red-and-white checkered tablecloths, small bottles of olive oil, and a massive mural by Hans de Castellane - depicting an Italian landscape with ocean views and coastal dwellings - brings a smile to my face every time I stroll in. Overhead, a weaving grape vine, grown out of a tiny root planted years ago from Nick's childhood garden, opens to pockets of natural light. The star of the culinary show has been the "Nicky" meatball. Voted the best in the boroughs by Dish du Jour Magazine in 2009, it has since made guest appearances on television shows, and inspired Nick's latest restaurant, Polpette, on Amsterdam Avenue. Other favorites include the penne alla vodka, the linguini and clams, which Nick fondly remembers his mother serving twice a month as he was growing up, and my personal favorite, the eggplant parmigiana. In addition to the food and décor, the ambiance is set by the strong relationships the restaurant has established. Without a doubt, this is a neighborhood haunt. Special occasions are commonly celebrated, guests are unafraid to dine alone, often engaging in comfortable conversations with the servers, and diners are referenced by names. "We are that kind of place, " Nick smiled, recalling a couple who had met in his restaurant, moved outside of New York, but returned to Polpette 71 for their son's first birthday.

Lost Gem
Santa Fe 1 Mexican Family Owned undefined

Santa Fe

“Restaurants are a funny thing — I think most of us fall in and then some of us never leave, ” said Laura Bird, who spent decades working in and out of her uncle’s Southwestern eatery, Santa Fe, before taking over as the owner. Laura’s uncle, John Bird, initially set out to be a musician. However, “like most creatives in New York, he spent a lot of time working in restaurants in between gigs. ” He was a busboy at the casual Mexican joint, Cantina, on 70th Street for many years. Putting his dreams of stardom aside, John and a crew of coworkers he had befriended at Cantina chose to open a new place mere blocks away that would “elevate Southwestern cuisine. ” John later became the sole proprietor, and under his management, the business was able to straddle the line between attracting hotshot celebrities and serving as a warm, family restaurant. “So many people began bringing their kids to dinner and started a long-lasting tradition of dining at Santa Fe together, ” Laura shared. She fondly recalls her own early visits to her uncle’s restaurant. “It seemed like a game then. I remember the excitement of being allowed to use the soda gun for the first time. ” Little did she know that she would be a fixture at Santa Fe. Similar to her uncle before her, Laura graduated college with a theater major and the knowledge that she would need a side job to pay her rent. She went from working the coat check, to waitressing, to suddenly managing the entire restaurant. Though it may not be for everyone, Laura admitted that she loved the “vampire lifestyle — I could do what I loved during the day and then come here at night to do a different kind of show business. ”The family ties at Santa Fe do not stop at Laura and John. The chef of over a decade, José Gonzalez, appointed his son, Danny, as his second-in-command. Together, they dish up traditional Mexican foods as well as American staples and do their best to abide by John’s cardinal rule: consistency. “It’s easy to make something once, but the real goal is to keep cooking it the same way every time. We try to ensure that when people order a dish, it is the same flavor that they fell in love with when they first tried it a week or even ten years ago. ” Just as notable are Santa Fe’s margaritas, which have “a reputation of their own as our shining superstar. ”As for John, after devoting decades of his life to Santa Fe, he “took a bow from his restaurant journey” during the COVID-19 pandemic and entrusted Laura and her husband, Alex Fresqued, to keep running the show. In a heartwarming twist of fate, Santa Fe’s landlord turned out to be equally as fond of this neighborhood gem as its patrons, and he came on as a partner to help keep it alive.