Growing up in Queens, Dan Courtenay became enamored with music when he attended a performance by Albert King — a renowned blues guitarist — in 1968. The sounds were so gripping to his fourteen-year-old self that Dan recalls the feeling vividly decades later. In 1972, aged eighteen, his taste transitioned away from rock to blues, jazz, and more esoteric music. A chance meeting with the great Tal Fallow, a sign painter from New Jersey who be-came one of the world's most acclaimed jazz guitarists, sent Dan on a quest to hear “real” rather than “contrived” music — a journey many young men of Dan's age embarked on as music “became more corporate and theatrical.”
Though he strayed from his pursuit of music for a time, Dan was forced to reevaluate what made him happiest after an elevator accident in the 1980s. In 1989, he opened Chelsea Guitars in the historic Chelsea Hotel. Built in 1885, the hotel once hosted musicians including Janis Joplin, Leonard Co-hen, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Bette Middler, and Madonna.
Dan has made full use of the quaint space, where new and old instruments jut out from the walls, creating a warm community for musicians and music enthusiasts to congregate. This has allowed him to indulge in his nostalgia for “a little taste of what New York City used to be — and should continue to be — all about.”
Nestled up on the eighth floor and without any sign to indicate its existence to passersby on the street, the Jazz Record Shop is certainly not easy to find. But Fred Cohen’s collection of music and memorabilia has a cult of clientele who come from around the world to see it with their own eyes. During my visit, Fred’s wife, Bobbie, helped customers navigate the CDs,DVDs, posters, books, and records while he led me to a quiet corner for our “heart to heart.”While growing up in Boston (Dorchester, West Roxbury, then Jamaica Plain), music was a peripheral part of Fred’s life. “My mother had a lovely voice, she sang in a chorus in Pittsburgh and there were records of show-tunes around the house,” he reminisced. “We did have a piano but my sister was always the pianist. It wasn’t until my aunt took me to the Boston Jazz Festival that I was exposed to music that really blew me away.”Still, Fred never expected that jazz would become his life’s passion. After college, he took a job with Odyssey House in New York as a drug rehabilitation counselor. “This was 1969 through 1982, and after eleven years I was burned out. I didn’t know what to do. I figured I could live for a year off of my savings, and it helped that Bobbie was making good money as a textile designer at the time. That’s when I got the call from Jolly Roger.”Jolly Roger was a jazz record store on Columbus Avenue that Fred often frequented. The owner was looking for a new person to take over the business and offered the opportunity to Fred. “I really didn’t think it was a good idea,” he recalled. “In my previous job, I was traveling to conferences and centers across the United States. The idea of sitting at a desk waiting on people - that did not sound like me. But Bobbie said we should at least take a look. The shop was incredibly narrow, like a railroad flat, and you could barely turn around with all the record racks in there.” Fred paused a moment and shook his head before picking up the story once more. “But at the back there was this window and you could see this tree. And on this tree were two crooning morning doves. Bobbie took it as a sign. We opened on April 1st 1983, moved to the West 26th location in 1992, and, well, we are still here today.” As the years went by, Fred broadened his musical interests, schmoozed with fellow collectors, and listened carefully to his customers. Today, Fred is the one who does most of the teaching, and by all accounts he is an expert in identifying and appraising jazz memorabilia. He literally wrote the book on collecting Blue Note records to help fellow enthusiasts identify original pressings. And it turns out, according to Fred, that sitting behind a desk is not so bad. “Selling CDs is a boring experience but LPs are a different story. Each one has such a vast technical, social, musical, and cultural history that I could spend a day talking about each aspect.” Fred led me over to a closet called the “vault” to show me some of his personal items that are not for sale. Perhaps the most impressive was a Charlie Parker LP “Bird Blows the Blues” that Dial records offered exclusively via a mail-in order coupon in the June 3, 1949 issue of Downbeat Magazine. Fred has not only the record (of which only about fifty were sold), but the magazine issue and the coupon, too. When I inquired about the value of the Charlie Parker material, he told me they are worth five to ten thousand dollars, but he doesn’t plan to part with them any time soon, if ever. To Fred they are priceless.Eventually, Fred and Bobbie plan to step away from their business. What that will mean for The Jazz Record Center, they are not sure. “To be honest, it’s a little scary to think about,” Fred said. “I do want it to live on. In one form or another, I’d love for it to survive.”
As a kid, Matt loved to tear guitars apart and rebuild them. He is one of the lucky few that never had to grow up; now he does so professionally, at his own shop, and calls it "repair." 30th Street Guitars sells used and vintage guitars, from beginner level to upper-echelon. Most are electric, but a few are acoustic, and there are a few basses hoping to find new owners, as well. Matt's expertise means that he repairs and "does a lot of fretwork" with guitars, banjos, and basses. But recently it also led him to design his own line of guitars. "Basically," he told us, "I took everything I know about old guitars - playability, what goes into them - and put that into a guitar. The result is guitars that look old, and sound old, but play like new." The customers meandering through the store seemed to agree. Asked what he likes most about his job, Matt responded that his store is "like a bar without the alcohol. People come in, talk, commiserate."In November of 2015, 30th Street Guitars moved from West 30th to its current location. With his loyal clientele and recognizable branding, Matt decided not to change the name of his shop, though he realizes it can be confusing. He loves his friendly new neighborhood. “It is the safest street in Manhattan,” he explained, mainly due to the high security provided by FIT.
A luthier is someone who makes or repairs lutes and other string instruments, a fitting name for the legendary guitar shop that moved from West 44th to 24th in 2015. Though Luthier Music has one of the largest selections of Classical and Flamenco guitars as well as other requisite guitar accessories, and related musical instruments, they are, perhaps, most well known for their high quality nylon strings. For almost thirty years now, these strings have garnered an international reputation gracing the guitars of legendary artists like Jorge Morel and Gerardo Nunez.
The rooftop of Eataly changes its concept each season. In 2016, for example, the sky-high spot transitioned from the beer-centric Birreria to a sea-side-themed rooftop bar called Sabbia. Each reincarnation of the bar is equally impressive, which comes as no surprise after visiting Eataly downstairs.Birreria was a sky-high brewery where Fred Avila, the head brewer, created beer in-house for three or four days out of every week. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fred and talking to him about his experience brewing above Eataly’s impressive food palace.Fred has been working for Eataly since 2011, but he started home-brewing in 2007. He has become a master at blending different flavors together and was proud to tell me about Birreria’s two seasonal beers. Vera is a summery beer with hints of lavender and blood orange, whereas the Wanda is a dark, mild beer for the fall and winter, with a lightly roasted flavor. Fred is very attuned to the weather when he drinks beer. When I asked if he has a favorite, he said that it changes with the seasons and the forecast, though he did admit, “I love to drink Oktoberfest beers.” He featured obscure sours and saisons (pale ales specifically brewed for warm weather) in the summertime and interesting stouts in the fall. “People used to just drink IPAs or Pilsners,” he explained to me. It is clear that working in the beer world has become considerably more exciting.Birreria collaborated with a collection of external breweries, including Dogfish Head, a microbrewery based out of Delaware. Because Birreria was part of Eataly, the list of collaborators also included two Italian companies, Birra del Borgo and Baladin. The founder of Baladin, Teo Musso, is considered the “godfather of the Italian brewing movement,” Fred informed me. He also let me know that he always liked to have one or two New York beers available.The food menu was no less impressive, especially since it was made entirely using produce from downstairs. Unlike other parts of Eataly, however, Birreria often strayed from Italian cuisine. For example, Fred told me about a mozzarella-stuffed quail, which sounds more Northern European than Italian. Everything on the menu was designed to pair well with the bar’s unique selection of beers, creating a perfect culinary balance.I visited Sabbia shortly after it opened in 2016. It was like a taste of the tropical seaside in the middle of Manhattan: Imagine listening to the Beach Boys and sipping on one of their signature summer cocktails while lounging on a beach chair in the cabanas. The menu is filled with seafood specials that continue the seaside resort theme. It is the perfect summer spot for those who cannot leave town, and there is a retractable roof for rainy nights.
Stepping out of the culinary carnival in the main Eataly building through the side street entrance of the calm, cool wine shop next door was a soothing experience. The space is primarily filled with Italian wines, though there is a selection of local New York varieties upstairs. Also on the second floor is the “Riserva Room,” a temperature-controlled chamber with rare wines, mainly acquired through auctions. What surprised me about the Riserva Room, however, is that the bottles are not very expensive. Despite feeling the need to whisper inside the elegant space, I noticed that many tags quoted prices under $100. We learned from Brianna Buford, the PR Assistant, that this is so that customers do not feel intimidated to try new wines.As with the rest of Eataly, Vino is dedicated to educating the public about the quality, origin, and uses of its products. There are helpful signs in the area and tastings every week. “Staff Pick” signs give shoppers individual recommendations and there are often fun promotions whose goal is to introduce customers to new labels. For example, in 2015, the wine store hid golden corks all over Eataly, offering anyone who found one a special bottle of Vino Libero. “Vino Libero” means “free the wine,” a motto which seems to ring true throughout the store, where wine is freed from any pretension or intimidation and presented in a playful, educational way.
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.
Visions provides services for the blind and visually impaired; it is located in Selis Manor, a twelve-story apartment building dedicated to housing and assisting blind and otherwise handicapped New Yorkers of all types. Visions holds braille courses, exercise and rehabilitation classes, music programs, and various events and lectures.