It was the fairy lights strung outside of the outdoor dining area that drew me to Peque. They were a surprisingly quaint addition to an otherwise no-frills selection of businesses on 145th Street. The atmosphere inside was just as captivating, as the space is decorated in vintage 1940s and 1950s style. Chargers beneath the plates at each table are painted with Harlem divas like Josephine Baker and Nina Simone, old sheet music by Harlem artists are framed on the walls, classic books are propped up on the window ledges, and a curated collection of other vintage items - from Broadway paraphernalia to musical instruments - decorate the bar. It is a very intimate and undeniably elegant setting, with just an intimate handful of tables.
The Manhattan Sideways team had the chance to chat with Paul, one of the owners of Peque, during the summer of 2017. He walked us through the restaurant and explained, “Vintage to us means authentic. It’s what we think Harlem needs.” Aside from the overall vintage style, the theme for the restaurant is a road trip from Barcelona to Paris, a concept that was inspired by Paul's honeymoon in Spain, where he “fell in love with the food, the culture, and the lifestyle.” When planning the menu with his co-owner and chef Marla Rose, he drew heavily on the quintessential flavors of Mediterranean tapas. “The ingredients are simple, the flavors are balanced, and it makes the dishes fantastic.”
I was curious to learn why Paul chose Harlem as his ideal location for opening Peque in 2015. He revealed that both he and his partner are Harlemites and that they both identified a void in the neighborhood for high quality comfort food. Surprisingly, neither of the two had previous experience running a restaurant. Paul was a fashion photographer who operated a photography studio on 148th Street, while Marla is a former NYPD lieutenant who served for twenty years before pursuing a passion for cooking at culinary school. It seemed like quite the unconventional partnership, and when asked how they started working together, Marla jokingly replied, “My wife blackmailed me.” Their respective spouses, aware of their desire to bring something new to the neighborhood, conspired to have them work together to open the restaurant.
This was clearly a good call, since Peque attracts a real neighborhood crowd that comes for tapas that are perfect for sharing with friends, such as the exceptional Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic). Paul told us that the restaurant always draws a crowd for Sunday night live jazz sessions, as well as for Tuesday performances where younger musicians are invited to showcase their talents. Every other evening, the restaurant plays old-school Latin music - another nod to Spanish culture that enhances the classy ambiance.
When the Manhattan Sideways team entered Mia’s Bathhouse during the summer of 2017, we were greeted by the enthusiastic barking of Bella, the five-month-old German Shepherd mix who was watching over the shop alongside her owner, Melody, the manager of Mia’s. She very kindly offered to chat with us about the business while Bella acted as a model for our photographer. LaChena, who also owns the adjacent laundromat, Sudsy Water, opened Mia’s Bathhouse in November 2014. Not only does Mia's offer full service grooming, but also the unique service of self-washing. In fact, Melody told us that they are the only groomers in Harlem with self-serve dog washing available. This has made Mia's a popular option in the neighborhood, since, as Melody pointed out, “It beats doing it in a bathtub at home. ” For those who prefer to leave the pampering to the attendants, the store also has chairs available so “our pet parents can sit and watch their baby get groomed. ”Mia’s also does its best to give back to their community. “We love rescues here, ” Melody exclaimed, adding that there is a ten percent discount on services and merchandise for all rescue dogs. There are also “breed months, ” where certain dogs are selected each month to receive discounted services.
From the outside, there might not seem to be anything particularly remarkable about Joe Eady’s Fashion City. However, when the Manhattan Sideways team ventured inside during the summer of 2017, we met the person who makes the store special: Joe, a warm, wonderful man who told us that he has been on 145th Street for over fifty years. A born and bred Harlemite, Joe was exposed to tailoring at a young age by his mother. Despite not being a seamstress, she was thrifty and knew her way around a sewing machine, and she enlisted Joe as an assistant in operating the foot pedal. After this early introduction to the field, Joe went on to attend Central-Needle Trades High School, where he graduated at the top of his class in men’s tailoring in 1953. His achievement is made even more impressive by the fact that he was the first high school graduate in his family. “College was never an option in my family, ” he went on to say, which is why he sought a job right out of school. Laughing, he told us that he wound up in the Garment District “doing anything but men’s tailoring, ” which prompted him to try for higher education. Joe enrolled in the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he completed his teacher training in 1958. But before he could make use of his degree, Joe was drafted into the army and did two years of service. When he eventually returned to New York in December of 1960, he said teaching jobs were scarce and he had to pick up odd jobs. “The landlord doesn’t ask you where you got the money from; you have to do whatever it takes to pay the rent, ” he remarked. It was not until 1964 that Joe was able to open a tailoring shop on 145th street. We were fascinated to learn that when he started out, many of his clients were local hustlers who needed custom suits. Custom tailoring, and trousers in particular, was his main enterprise. As a result, the rise in popularity of blue jeans in the ‘70s put a substantial dent in his business. Joe was undeterred, however. “I’ve been thinking outside the box all my life, ” he declared - a mindset that spurred him to add leather and fur to his offered services. Fur refurbishing and restyling was especially in demand at the time, since it was impractical for the average consumer to purchase new or real fur frequently. Joe added, “People are fine with wearing old fashions as long as I can bring them back to life. ” Nowadays, the popularity of fur is dying down due to the efforts of organizations like PETA, but Joe is confident in his ability to keep evolving, simply saying, “I’m an optimistic person. You have to be optimistic in business. ” This philosophy has obviously paid off, as he continues to thrive so many decades later. He has served three generations of customers and has weathered the many historical events that have struck Harlem, including the riots and a slew of break-ins that took place following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Joe insisted that the only secret to his longevity is his devotion to customer service. “This is my neighborhood; you have to have a good reputation. ”As for his plans for the future, he revealed that he eventually hopes to combine his knowledge of teaching and tailoring by opening a training school to instruct others in the basics of his craft. “I’ve got all kinds of crazy plans, ” he finished, cheerfully.