Amongst the tattoo parlors and smoke shops of St Marks, I came across a warm little hideaway, tucked away up a flight of stairs and behind a red curtain. The moment I pushed the red curtain aside and stepped into the dimly lit room, the sweet smell of matcha and vanilla greeted me. The shop itself could probably fit no more than four people at once, allowing for a truly intimate tea experience.
“Ichi-go ichi-e means that each moment is unique,” said Nanako Mizutani, the owner of this small East Village tearoom, as she explained to me the delicate balance of tranquility and care that makes up the Japanese tea culture.
Nanako grew up in Yokohama, Japan but later moved to Canada to begin her foray into the tea business. In Toronto, she had a bubble tea shop that served primarily high school students. She became disheartened with this business after a while, however, uncomfortable with the unwholesome ingredients that went into making bubble tea. “I felt guilty for serving my customers something unhealthy,” she said.
When Nanako learned from a friend that a space had opened up on St Marks Place in New York City, she decided to open Nohohon. The shop would make use of only healthy ingredients and would bring the beauty and tranquility of Japanese tea culture to the busy streets of Manhattan. The word nohohon, Nanako pointed out, actually means tranquility and is a concept that she makes central to everything she does inside her tea house.
Nanako poured a cup of "Tokyo Fog,” her favorite mixture. "It’s named after London Fog, but this is made with real matcha.” "Real matcha?" I asked. I learned that most of the matcha in the United States is not actually matcha, but something called cooking green tea powder, which is much more suitable to cooking than to drinking. She went on to explain, “They come from the same plant, but the process to make matcha is stricter. We get all our tea from a tea farmer in Japan."
Many believe that a cup of green tea a day will ward off a plethora of diseases. Whether this is true or not, sipping on a cup of Tokyo Fog can certainly help to melt away any stress that one is experiencing - at least for the moment. In a hurried, bustling city like New York, where coffee reigns supreme, it was refreshing to slow down, cherish the moment in true ichi-go ichi-e style, and wrap my hands around a fresh cup of tranquility.
Few things are more relaxing than sitting in a cozy cafe, sipping a mug of tea. With art from local artists, Diane and David Green, hanging on the walls, a plethora of delicious herbal smells hanging in the air, and the soothing conversation of the owner, Ilana, Physical Graffitea is the perfect spot to do just that.Ilana told some of us from Manhattan Sideways that she used to own a vintage clothing store, but always wanted to open a tea shop. In 2011, she swapped out her vintage clothing for jars of loose tea and Physical Graffitea was born. The store is named after the Led Zeppelin album Physical Graffiti and is located in the building featured on that famous cover. In 2012, Ilana and her daughter took a picture with Robert Plant when he came by to check out the store. Ilana explained with a big grin how her daughter called to the customers in the shop, “Come out, Led Zeppelin is here!”The menus are lovingly made with pressed oolong and lavender flowers. In addition to the teas, there are homemade cookies and kombucha on tap. Ilana has over 200 kinds of tea by the cup or pot, as well as a full online store. While teaching us about the origin and uses of her teas and herbs, she made us a cup of her super strong matcha. We could smell it from our table as she blended the ground green tea powder with soy milk and honey. She explained that there are different kinds of matcha and that she only uses the premium grade. A cup of this strong green tea, which comes both iced and hot, clears the mind and leaves one alert and calm. If matcha gives the brain energy, maca, a Peruvian superfood, gives the body energy. Ilana told us that the bartenders on St. Marks come to her to get matcha with some added maca right before their shifts so that they are ready for the night ahead of them.Ilana has gained her extensive knowledge of teas through constant reading. She explained that herbs quickly lose their medicinal power, and “you can tell that herbs are fresh when they’re more bitter.” It has to do with the oil that is present on the leaves themselves. She informed us that flowers and leaves dry out in six months and roots and bark in three.All the teas are carefully sourced for flavor and freshness. The chamomile is from Egypt, the lavender from Tibet, and the hibiscus from Mexico. We learned so many interesting facts from Ilana: The Sweet Oblivion tea has been known to wean people off sleeping pills, nettle leaf is good for pregnant women, and Pu-erh is a tea that is purposefully aged, passed down from father to son. There are teas for allergies, hangovers, fertility, pregnancy, menstruation, digestion, and the list goes on and on. Ilana was excited to tell us that doctors have started to refer their patients to her, since they have found the medical teas so effective. Whether for taste, energy, or medicinal purposes, Ilana has clearly demonstrated that she has the knowledge to choose the right tea for the right customer.
What a find...down a flight of stairs from street level on 8th Street, Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor is the "antithesis of a sports bar." Artisan and craft beer are brought together in a friendly environment that certainly had us feeling like we were right at home. The Parlor is also named for the Arts and Crafts movement, “a cultural revolt against the ideals of industrialization.”When we visited, we spoke to Robert, one of the two owners, with whom we thoroughly enjoyed chatting. Robert is an internationally recognized speaker and writer on dining out and traveling with special diets (he co-authored the series Let’s Eat Out!), and he also has a background in acting and producing on Broadway. He told us that the other owner, Don, has an impressive resume working with the FBI and counterterrorism efforts both in New York and around the world - which left us wondering what brought this dynamic duo together as friends and eventually co-owners. Robert informed us it was a love of American Craft Beer and the visual and performing arts...and that they actually met enjoying a pint of beer in Manhattan.Just as intriguing as its owners, the interior of Arts and Crafts is beautifully designed; the sophisticated wallpaper is custom made by Bradbury and Bradbury, and the soft green and beige pattern was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite, supposedly. The constantly changing art is displayed along the wall opposite the bar, and an exposed brick wall and fireplace give the parlor a true “extension of your living room” feel. Described by Robert, as the “Bugatti of beer systems,” the twenty plus beers the Parlor keeps on tap rotate monthly and are kept by this state of the art system at a refreshing 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Robert also astounded us with how small the carbon footprint of the Parlor is — he told us they are very conscious of keeping things compostable and earth-friendly. In addition to their rotating display of art from both established and up-and-coming artists, the Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor also hosts a monthly lecture series on the subjects of art as well as culinary topics. We could not get enough of how interesting this place is — both the concept of art and beer coming together and the two fascinating minds behind it.
Warhammer is the retail branch of an online British company that has been providing its unique gaming service for thirty years. The 8th Street location is New York's hotspot for miniature table-top war gaming. Eager workers will walk customers through every step - how to assemble the models, paint the pieces, and how to play the game itself. It takes a certain kind of patience and skill set to contract one's army and may appeal to a customer who enjoys strategy games such as chess. While it is recommended that kids begin learning the game at age twelve, we met a half a dozen men from ages eighteen to fifty who were sitting around the large table, chatting and toiling away on their magnificently detailed pieces.
Over many months, we had the pleasure of observing the construction of Amelie through each stage of its creation. To experience the ambience of this spectacular bar and restaurant alone is worth the visit...but then there is also the impressive wine list and a full French menu. The award-winning team behind Amelie in San Francisco opened their east coast wine bar in early 2012 and all we can say is tres delicieux.
Coffee tends to be a grab-and-go phenomenon here in Manhattan – the coffee break does not generally get its due respect. Here to change that completely, Stumptown’s 8th Street location elevates the coffee shop experience to a level unseen by most caffeine-addicted New Yorkers. I only know this because Jared, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, is one of them. The double-height ceilings, large windows, and carved wood façade of the corner store actually used to house the historic 8th Street Books. The interior of the building has been meticulously and beautifully renovated to include an enormous wooden bar, coffered ceiling, warm herringbone floors, exposed brick walls and numerous small clusters of tables, chairs and benches. The store is divided between the intimate café area and a brew bar - a coffee exposition/educational space where baristas can engage customers in learning about different methods of making coffee and the various types of coffee beans. The brew bar has at least five different types of machines and manual brewers running at the same time with a lovely, knowledgable staff orchestrating all of it. Stumptown endeavors to build a community out of our many, rushed coffee drinkers, creating a perfect setting for relaxing and reading, or for someone to simply become better educated about coffee.