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East Harlem’s favorite “culinary speakeasy” Lexington Pizza Parlour has a new trick up its sleeve — the beloved East 101st Street cafe is now serving up a slew of single-serve, jarred desserts, courtesy of its in-house operation, the Harlem Baking Company.
The exhibition — Give Me a Sign: The Language of Symbols — at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum offers a fascinating look into the world of symbols. As we move through our daily lives, symbols constantly instruct, protect, empower, and connect us in ways we often take for granted. This exhibition explores the history and evolution of symbols from early written languages to modern digital communication.
New York is littered with businesses bearing the name “ ____ & Son” — but if you look closely enough, you’ll also find a more forward-looking trend — shops that have been passed down from father to daughter. Luda Mirzakandova cuts customer Steve Elvin's hair as father Boris looks on. Photo: Sarah BelingAt E49th Street's The Midtown Shave co-owner Boris is a skilled barber originally hailing from Uzbekistan who has been practicing his craft for over 50 years. After moving to New York in 1992, he soared to the top of his industry, being hired as the first Master Barber for The Art of Shaving. His tenure there led to significant press, including lines of celebrities eagerly awaiting a shave by Boris. Daughter Luda began her barber career sweeping the floor of her father’s shop back in Uzbekistan, where watching him work inspired her to join the ranks. She worked alongside her father at the Art of Shaving until its Midtown location closed and the duo got the chance to open their own shop in 2022. “People come in and say, ‘your father has the lightest touch — like a feather, ” she told us. “Clients are very loyal to him because once they’re found him, they stay — men don’t like change! ” Luda and Boris are just two in a now-long legacy of New York businesses passed from father to daughter. The first was the popular (and still-standing! ) Russ & Daughters appetizing store, that originally opened on the Lower East Side in 1914 and has since expanded to multiple cafes (including a new outpost in Hudson Yards) and a popular nationwide shipping business. The traditional Jewish business's success would have been hard to predict when founder Joel Russ opened his first store, boldly choosing to name it after his daughters. “I remember my great-aunt Hattie talking about when he changed the name to Russ & Daughters, ” Nikki Russ Federman, the fourth generation owner of the franchise told Inside Hook in 2019. “People would stop him to offer him a piece of advice. You know, ‘Mr. Russ, why would you do this? Why would you ruin your good business? ’ It was very controversial. ” But the bet paid off — and Russ & Daughters, now a favorite for everyone from longtime locals to celebrities, forged the way for other Big Apple businesses to follow suit. McSorley’s Old Ale House — an East Village institution on E7th Street and once infamously known as one of the last “men only” bars in the city — was eventually purchased by its night manager Matthew Maher, who passed the business down to his daughter Teresa, making history as the first woman to work behind the bar at the sawdust-filled stalwart. Teresa Maher of McSorley's Ale House. Not far from McSorley’s is Pageant Print Shop on E4th Street, where co-founder Sidney Solomon — who opened the store as a secondhand bookshop in 1946 — went on to pass the baton to his daughters Shirley and Rebecca. The duo transformed their focus to curating antique prints, as well as deconstructed books useful for artistic projects. Further uptown on W21st Street is Best Shoe and Handbag Original Repair, where owner Marcia Sailema learned the art of working on fine leather goods from her father until he retired in 2015. Marcia bolstered her own skill set with classes at FIT and now proudly takes the lead on repairing everything from Chanel handbags to vintage pumps. Marcia Sailema of Best Shoe and Handbag Original Repair. Photo: Naty CaezThose wondering whether the “& Daughters” legacy will live on are in luck. Over in Little Italy, butcher Jennifer Prezioso runs Albanese Meats & Poultry originally opened in 1923 by her great-grandparents and passed on by her grandfather, Moe. Jennifer, an actor who initially had no intention of going into the butcher business, initially stepped in to help her aging grandfather — driving him to work, observing his time-honored butcher techniques, taking up a butcher’s apprenticeship and eventually declaring an interest in keeping the shop in the family. When Jennifer and Moe discussed the possibility of her taking over the store, she told CBS, he urged her to follow her passion. “My grandfather said, ‘Well, I thought you wanted to act? That’s what you love to do! ’” Jennifer told CBS Sunday Morning. “And I said, ‘I do, but I also love to be here and tell our story every day. ’” After Moe passed away from COVID-19 just shy of 96 in April 2020, Jennifer took over the store to keep her grandfather’s legacy alive. She posited that he was still watching over her, adding: “I feel him excited for what’s to come — we have a new lease on the store and we’re going to be here for a few more years, and I look forward to that too. ”
A New York City fixture for “the best, the only, and the unexpected” for more than 170 years, Hammacher Schlemmer has decided not to renew the lease on its landmark E57th Street store, closing the chapter on the brand’s brick-and-mortar legacy. Hammacher Schlemmer's flagship E57th Street store in 1926. Photo: Hammacher Schlemmer websiteHammacher Schlemmer’s retail space officially closed in February — just shy of a century in the building at 147 E57th Street. Originally opened on the Bowery in 1848 and moved uptown in 1926, Hammacher Schlemmer was one of the original “catch-all” stores where one could expect to find everything from a seven-person tricycle to a pop-up toaster (Hammacher Schlemmer was the first to sell one! ). “It’s certainly the end of an era, or at least a pause, ” Hammacher’s VP of Marketing Ann Marie Resnick told Manhattan Sideways. “With 175 years in New York — almost the last 100 at our 57th Street location — we’ve served our customers through the Civil War, the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Apollo missions to the moon and the 9/11 terrorist attack. While the products we’ve offered over this time have evolved to keep up with our customers’ changing needs, our dedication to providing outstanding customer service is just as big a reason for our longevity. Ultimately, our decision to close our retail location is another response to a shift in our customers’ needs, as we found during the pandemic when people became much more comfortable ordering online. ” The department store was innovative in more ways than one. While the catalog branch of the brand is still America’s longest-running, Hammacher Schlemmer was also one of New York City’s first stores to have electric lights in its showroom and to install a telephone in its store. Hammacher is also known for its “rather unusual” lifetime product guarantee in which it offered customers a full refund as long as the product was operated for “standard non commercial use. ” This guarantee, a Chicago Magazine article noted, was put to the test when a Hammacher Schlemmer customer returned his $400 Roomba vacuum after it tracked his dog’s excrement all over the house. The Chicago Magazine article also highlights one of Hammacher’s quirkier long-standing traditions: a lack of brand names or product logos in its catalogs. Director of merchandising Stephen Farrell explained that the strategy, while initially designed to steer the customer towards the highest quality product over brand loyalty, had evolved into a defense mechanism against consumers looking to replicate the products more cheaply on Amazon. Hammacher Schlemmer's E57th Street store in recent years. But decades before e-commerce, there was the New York City flagship store. Opened in 1898 as a hardware store specializing in hard-to-find tools by proprietor Charles Tollner, it quickly gained a reputation as “the place to go when an item simply could not be found anywhere else. ” Tollner was known for his thorough business mentorship to employees — among them, a young German immigrant named William Schlemmer, employed by Tollner for a generous $2 a week in 1853. In 1857, Tollner decided to expand the operation, partnering with businessman Albert Hammacher to open a larger retail space renamed Hammacher & Tollner on the Bowery. The store’s hardware tools were an essential supplier for Northern manufacturers throughout the Civil War and business continued to grow. William Schlemmer, still an employee, began to buy out Charles Tollner’s stake in the brand, and when Tollner passed away in 1867 Schlemmer entered a partnership with Hammacher. In 1881, the team published its first catalog — “six years before Sears and Roebuck”. In 1883, William Schlemmer became a full partner in the business and the store was renamed Hammacher Schlemmer & Co. Schlemmer’s son, William F Schlemmer, at this point active in the business for several years, joined his father in taking over operations after Albert Hammacher resigned in 1892. Albert Hammacher and William Schlemmer. Photo: Hammacher Schlemmer WebsiteAs the city moved into the 20th century, Hammacher Schlemmer maintained its position as a cutting-edge retailer, incorporating a new Auto Parts department and purchasing its own automobile for a new home delivery parcel service that predates Amazon Prime by nearly a century. The store also moved uptown to 13th Street and 4th Avenue — remaining there after the deaths of Albert Hammacher and William Schlemmer Senior and through World War I, during which the company was awarded a citation from the War Department of the United States for “distinguished service the loyalty, energy and efficiency in the performance of the war work by which Hammacher Schlemmer Co. added materially in obtaining victory for the arms of the United States of America in the war with the Imperial German Government and the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government. ” In 1926, the company relocated to its landmark space on E57th Street in a 12-story building designed specifically for Hammacher Schlemmer’s merchandise. The Hammacher Schlemmer shopping experience gained such notoriety as to inspire a Broadway song by composer Howard Dietz entitled Hammacher Schlemmer, I Love You, and further made history in 1934 when they hired their first female salesperson. When World War II broke out, Hammacher protested the Nazis by boycotting German products until armistice. In 1945, William F Schlemmer passed away at just 67, leaving his wife Else to run the company. In 1955, Else died — but not before leaving $473, 000 (the equivalent of $5. 3 million in today’s currency) to her employees. Else Schlemmer at the store's 100th birthday celebration. Photo: Hammacher Schlemmer websiteThe latter half of the 20th century brought more prosperity for Hammacher Schlemmer — from retaining clientele like First Lady Claudia “Ladybird” Johnson, who hired the company to redecorate the White House closets, to carrying the first answering machine and microwave oven in 1968. “Our employees treasured the personal relationships they cultivated with our customers over the years, ” said Ann Marie Resnick. “Many times they would phone a customer when something new arrived in the store that they thought would be of interest to them. They also enjoyed assisting the occasional celebrity who would shop at the store, though they could sometimes be challenging. The staff welcomed the opportunity to assist any customer who shopped at Hammacher Schlemmer. ”The store’s commitment to “the best, the only, and the unexpected” reached new levels in 1983 when CEO J Roderick MacArthur founded the Hammacher Schlemmer Institute, a lab dedicated to quality test and rate consumer products. Three years later, the retailer became one of the first department stores to build an online outpost, while maintaining stores in Chicago, Beverly Hills and New York. First Lady and Hammacher client Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson at the White House. Photo: Hammacher Schlemmer website. But the first years of the e-commerce boom would have its own effect on the retailer. In 2005, Hammacher Schlemmer closed its Chicago and Beverly Hills stores, although the New York flagship remained strong. In 2013, the Midtown space even got a makeover to further showcase its unique merchandise, including displays for a submarine and hovercraft. Hammacher Schlemmer managed to survive through the COVID-19 pandemic — pivoting to offer masks, sanitizing products and air purifiers — but three years later, the closure of its most well-known landmark marked the end of one of the city’s oldest department stores. The brand lives on and continues to break barriers, existing as an entirely employee owned company, but its long legacy as a store where you could find almost anything has ended. “There will never be another store like Hammacher Schlemmer, ” said Ann Marie. “It was the one place where consumers could come to get a glimpse into the not-to-distant future, with a touch of the outlandish and whimsical. ”
As the sun sets over the horizon of the Lincoln Center, a rich tapestry of emotions, drama and music unfurls before the eager audience. From Shakespearean tragedies to contemporary adaptations, the Met Opera Summer HD Festival promises an eclectic offering for opera aficionados and novices alike. Set against the picturesque backdrop of one of New York City’s most iconic cultural hubs, this annual festival marks a moment where art, community and the simple joy of a summer evening coalesce. The sun sets over Lincoln Center as the Met Opera Summer HD Festival 2023 gets underway. Photo: Phil O'BrienThis event has everything you’d want for a summer evening. Free seating available, a small bar for libations and ice cream. Bring a chair if you want to seat yourself Here's the lineup for this week: MONDAY 8/28 @ 8 pm — The Hours Yes, it’s the same The Hours as the book and the film that starred Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman. TUESDAY 8/29 @ 8 pm — Falstaff A comedy about a Knight who gets his comeuppance, thanks to a trio of clever women. WEDNESDAY 8/30 @ 7: 30 pm — Hamlet The classic story about the Dane with parental unit issues. THURSDAY 8/31 @ 7: 30 pm — Cosi Fan Tutte This is an oldie but goodie by Mozart, updated to 1950s Coney Island. FRIDAY 9/1 @ 8 pm — FedoraSee what happens when a Russian princess falls in love with her fiance’s murderer. SATURDAY 9/2 @ 8 pm — ChampionOne moment can change your entire life is the headline here. It’s about boxing, but it’s not. SUNDAY 9/3 @ 8 pm — RigolettoA hunchback court jester makes a joke that in hindsight wasn’t that funny. MONDAY 9/4 @ 8pm — La BohèmeParis, young love, disease. What could possibly go wrong? There are more details of the performances on the Met Opera website. Not an Opera Expert? No WorriesIf the world of opera feels like a labyrinthine maze, have no fear. Each night includes an introduction from experts who provide crucial information on the plot, context and history of the opera. Add to that the luxury of on-screen subtitles, and you have a week’s worth of entertainment that’s both intellectually stimulating and emotionally fulfilling. So, for those looking to dip their toes in the opera pond or those well-versed in its dramatic currents, pick a night. The Met Opera Summer HD Festival promises a week of unforgettable performances.
Hollywood is on a precarious pause — amid ongoing contract disputes with studio executives, performing union SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America are on strike. But in addition to the millions of actors and writers now out of work, there are myriad Manhattan-based film and TV design professionals also scrambling to survive, citing the long shutdown as deeply detrimental to their businesses. Cheryl Kilbourne-Kimpton and Tommy Boyer of Manhattan Wardrobe supply say that 60% of their business comes from the film and TV industry. Photo: Sarah Beling“60 percent of our business is film and TV, ” said Tommy Boyer, co-owner of Manhattan Wardrobe Supply — a W 29th Street standard for specialty hair, makeup, craft and costume supplies that has served New York’s movie industry for 25 years. “We do have Fashion Week, Comic Con, and other projects, but our main business is film, television and theater, ” he added. “When everything is shut down, it affects all the other people who work in the unit — hair, makeup, wardrobe, catering, everything. A lot of our customers are wardrobe people and hair and makeup people — they’re all union members. They're not working, and they don't have any money to come and support us. And believe me, they all want to support us. ” Many people “don't really understand the effects of the strike, ” said Tommy — who, along with co-owner Cheryl Kilbourne-Kimpton, is a member of the Local 764 wardrobe union. “I constantly see comments that say, ‘Oh, all these actors and writers get paid so much money, ’” he added, as we discussed that many performers — including those the public would consider “successful” — make minuscule amounts of money under new streaming agreements. “We fully support them, because we’re union members too, ” Tommy told Manhattan Sideways. “As a business owner, the strike affects me because there are fewer working makeup artists and wardrobe people buying fewer hangers, garment bags, makeup — it’s a huge trickle-down effect, and the general public doesn’t understand that. ” Manhattan Wardrobe Supply carries hard-to-find products for film, TV and theater. Photo: Sarah BelingFor shop owners like Evan Blum at The Demolition Depot and Irreplaceable Artifacts — a Harlem institution on E 126th Street that supplies thousands of set pieces and props to film and television production teams — the strike creates an excess of inventory. Blum, who stores thousands of items between the New York City storefront as well as warehouses in Norwich and Ivoryton, Connecticut, has over 23 acres and 500, 000 square feet of stock. “We’re the silent giant of prop houses, ” said Evan, whose business has provided pieces for everyone from the likes of Sex and the City to Saturday Night Live. “We buy, sell, and deconstruct historic buildings all over the country, and that’s where our unique materials come from. We were encouraged by [film and TV] industry leaders to expand — and we’ve been doing that. The loss of revenue from the strike places a strain on our core business of reclaiming pieces from deconstruction of buying and selling. ” Evan Blum of Demolition Depot, which provides thousands of sets and props to film and TV productions. Photo: Sarah BelingSome of Demolition Depot's many set and prop pieces. Photo: Sarah BelingOther design shops are relying on their live entertainment accounts to keep afloat. “Though the ongoing SAG/AFTRA/WGA strike has temporarily halted film and TV production, it's worth noting that Broadway and Fashion (and mega-concerts! ) continue to thrive and keep the wheels of work turning for numerous costume shops in NYC that cater to the entire entertainment ecosystem, ” said Katie Sue Nicklos of Wing & Weft Gloves, a made-to-order glove studio on W 37th Street that’s outfitted film, TV and live performance for 50 years, despite the mounting challenges of surviving in the Garment District. “The strike is not only a call for fair compensation for actors and writers, but also a platform to raise awareness about the importance of wage equity throughout the entertainment industry, ” she aded. “As creators and artisans, we frequently find ourselves on the receiving end of unequal compensation structures. This moment of collective action really serves as a spotlight that advocates for fairness and elevates us all, ultimately enhancing the sustainability of the entire industry. ” Katie Sue Nicklos of Wing & Weft. Photo: Naty Caez“Thankfully, our portfolio is diverse enough that we haven’t felt too much of an impact to date, but certainly the longer the strikes go on the higher the possibility that they could negatively impact us, ” added John Kristiansen, owner of John Kristiansen New York, Inc, a fellow garment District resident on W 38th Street and a full-service costume shop for stage and screen. Like Katie, John emphasized that the strike highlighted a need for producers to properly compensate the irreplaceable artistry of actors, designers, writers and all creatives. “Many in the costume industry have recognized the lack of pay parity within the entertainment industry, ” he said, “and we endorse and encourage any efforts to properly compensate and support those who are the true content creators for large corporate entertainment enterprises. ” Even for those design businesses who aren’t as reliant on film and TV — like Jon Coles of W 37th Street’s Dersh Feather & Trading Company, the last bespoke feather shop of its kind in Manhattan — the strike has made an impact. “The feather business, my business, doesn't rely heavily on screen and stage orders for our income — but — and this is a big but — those are some of the most fun people and projects that pass through my shop, ” Jon said. ”I would miss them dearly — they make my day, my month, my year. ” Jon Coles of Dersh Feather. Photo: Naty CaezJon told Manhattan Sideways that after having worked with many actors and writers over his 14 years at Dersh, he appreciated their value and hoped that studio executives would do the same. “I love the writers — they make me laugh! ” said Jon. “I love the actors, and not just the ones who wear my feathers. If the higher ups have the money — and I feel that they do — they should give the strikers what they want. If that doesn't happen, there will be a trickle-down effect. No, make that a waterfall, or a ‘Look out! The dam has busted! ’ effect, ” he added. “A multi billion dollar industry will suffer…along with the folks who make everything from coffee to costumes for that industry. ” For now, like many Manhattan design shops, he is showing his support. “When I'm driving up 10th Avenue in the morning, I pass the picket line at 32nd Street, ” said Jon. “I give them two honks, and two more honks, and two more — and we raise fists at each other. ”
There's no need to haul it to Brooklyn for dinner and a movie — LOOK Dine-In Cinemas, set to open this week, is a one-stop luxury theater on W57th Street where you can snag a snack, cocktail or full meal while enjoying the latest new blockbuster in the award-winning, Bjarke Ingels-designed VIA 57 building (yes, it's the pyramid near the West Side Highway! ). The red carpet is out at LOOK Dine-In Cinemas on W57th Street. Photo: Phil O'BrienLOOK Dine-In Cinemas — which officially opens to the public Thursday May 4 — is a new state-of-the art movie house offering laser-projected flicks on eight screens shown in surround sound (with heated leather reclining seats, no less! ) — and a neighborhood bar and lounge serving up everything from crispy, savory flatbread pizzas to beef and Impossible cheese burgers, pretzel bites and cocktails. The movie theater will kick off its inaugural weekend with showings of the much-anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Super Mario Bros Movie, Evil Dead Rise, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and Polite Society. LOOK takes the place of the long-shuttered Landmark Cinemas, which closed at the height of the pandemic and left landlords The Durst Organization with $48 million in damages and owed rent. Durst ultimately sued Landmark, alleging that the cinema brand also stole at least $1. 6 million in property, including the building’s movie seats, upon their departure. The new dine-in cinema is one of just a handful of similarly structured movie houses in the city (others include the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn, Staten Island and lower Manhattan) and the only one of its kind near Midtown — something that LOOK Dine-In CMO James Meredith hopes will fill the need for an all-in-one entertainment spot easily accessible to Manhattanites. The new LOOK is the Dallas-based brand’s second New York state location. “It was designed so that it's a great place to get craft and specialty cocktails before a movie, but also as a neighborhood bar, ” James said as we walked through the seating area known as Mirabella’s Lounge. They plan to rotate seasonal menu items with offerings like street tacos and signature cocktails to appeal to local palates. "The new cocktails and craft beers are going to be very different here than you might see, for example, in Los Angeles. " The Mirabella lounge at LOOK Dine-In Cinemas. Photo: Naty CaezPart of catering to New York audiences is LOOK’s innovative ordering and payment technology, coordinated to create a viewer experience that doesn’t involve fumbling for the check while the Titanic sinks onscreen, said James. “We have special technology where you can order and pay from a QR code on your phone. Our staff, who we call our 'Ninja Servers', wear all black and pop in really quietly to bring you whatever you need, ” he added. “We’ve done so much research on this experience — and the thing that came up over and over again was that people don’t want to disrupt the end of the movie with paying the check. ” In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, movie theater industry vets want to ensure that customers feel a night out at the cinema is worth the time and investment. “I think the biggest thing we found coming out of the pandemic is that because people were spoiled at home, with all of their favorite drinks and snacks, they are looking for an experience that is different from what they had before, " said James. "We want to give them a moviegoing experience that is at least on the level, if not significantly higher than at home. ” In addition to showing a wide range of titles — “We want to have something for everyone, from action to horror to independent film, ” added James – LOOK Dine-In Cinemas is in talks to become the next New York venue for many of the city’s annual festivals. “We’ve been in conversation with close to 10 film festivals in the area — everything from Tribeca to the Latin American film festival, and there’s a lot going on in Hell’s Kitchen as well, ” he said. They plan to regularly host filmmaker talkback sessions too. “There are so many creatives already here on the West Side, that it’s the perfect location for people to pop in and put their movie up for an audience, ” James added. One of eight screens at LOOK Dine-In Cinemas. Photo: Naty CaezAnd as the newly minted movie house prepared for the busy summer movie season, they were confident that New Yorkers would embrace the cool, air-conditioned bliss of dinner and a movie at LOOK. “For movie theaters, our summer actually begins the first weekend of May, ” said James, who is most looking forward to catching the new Indiana Jones movie in July. “I’m very curious about that film. I want to see how Harrison Ford can still do it! ” A full spread of snacks at LOOK Dine-In Cinemas. Photo: Naty CaezLOOK Dine-In Cinemas is located at 657 W57th Street (corner of 12th Ave) and tickets are now on sale. Have you a great Manhattan story — or know a side street store we should feature? Email us at hello@sideways. nyc
TJ English knows how to summon the spirits of Midtown’s once intoxicating, infamous jazz scene. The New York-based author, known for his many works examining the sordid underbelly of the American experience (including the seminal Hell’s Kitchen history The Westies) has just released his newest book, Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld. Author TJ English at Birdland on W44th Street. Photo: Phil O'BrienIn it, he resurrects the souls of the mobsters and musicians — strange bedfellows whose collaboration led to decades of flourishing jazz clubs and whose legacies have faded with the passage of time and an unspoken code of silence. “It was more fun than any book I've researched or written, ” said English. “The fact that I was able to put on Duke Ellington as I was writing about him — to play some of those records live from Birdland in the 1950s, it was more possible to evoke the subject matter than anything else I've written. ” He was even inspired to make an accompanying playlist for readers: “I got to walk hand-in-hand with the spirits of Louis Armstrong and all these wonderful characters. When you do this kind of history book, at some point, you merge spiritually with the subject matter and intermingle with the spirits of the history that you're writing about. ”Count Basie in New York in the late 1940s. Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of CongressEnglish added, “I've been a lover of jazz since I was a teenager. When I first fell in love with the music, I would go to record stores and purchase used vinyl of all the great music from the 1930s and 1940s. "Part of the process of loving and taking in the music was also a process of educating yourself about the culture and the history of the music — to bring those records home, filled with liner notes and information about the musicians. ” Louis Armstrong in the dressing room at the Aquarium Club on 52nd Street in July 1946. Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of CongressIntrigued by the history, English dove deep into researching his favorite musicians, finding that “many of them made reference to this relationship between the underworld and the musicians that had existed, going all the way back to the beginning of jazz. I was aware of this aspect of the story of jazz and I also was aware that there had to be a lot more to it because for the longest time the musicians didn't talk openly about this. The old-timers like Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Louis Armstrong wrote memoirs later in life where they reflected back on this relationship after the underworld figures were dead and gone, ” he said. Years later and having researched the criminal underbelly of many facets of American life, English decided to look into the unspoken connection between many of his favorite musicians and the mobsters who made their careers. “It was a hidden history for a long time, so it was hard to gather information, ” said English. “In fact, I kind of wish somebody had written this book decades ago when some of these musicians were still alive and could have done first hand interviews with them. ” To further his research, he explored oral histories recorded by institutions like The Smithsonian, the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University and the memoirs of jazz musicians who outlived their mobster handlers. For the author, the next challenge was to thread the many stories of mobsters and musicians into a historical through-line, where Louis Armstrong and the mob-run clubs of New Orleans were the key. “You have to go back to New Orleans to get at the roots of this relationship between Sicilians and African Americans and how that was so central to the establishment of the clubs, ” English explained. By starting with Armstrong in the (now-defunct) “Storyville” clubs of New Orleans and passing through Chicago, Kansas City, New York and eventually, Las Vegas, “it explains so much about the relationship between African Americans and the Mafia, ” he added. Fats Waller was kidnapped so he could play at Al Capone's birthday party. Photo: Alan Fisher/World Telegram & Sun/Library of CongressIn a world where marginalized communities like Italian, Irish and Jewish immigrants and African Americans created their own, albeit often unevenly distributed, power structures at a time where the White Anglo Saxon Protestant ruled supreme. English dives head first into the alternative social structures particular to the jazz club business model. “It’s the story of the formation of the underworld in the United States, and it involves the sons and daughters of slaves and the immigrant class, ” he said. “The clubs were a reflection of a capitalist structure —and in the United States of America, capitalism in the early 20th century in particular has a racial cast to it. So the owners were white and the labor, in the case of the music, was mostly by African American musicians, and that became the overriding principle. ”Examining an underworld where notorious gangsters would simultaneously protect, promote and torment the Black musicians at their clubs — one story in the book details the time that the infamous Al Capone’s goons kidnapped Fats Waller at gunpoint so that he could play at the mobster’s birthday party — English was curious as to why so many jazz musicians were willing to align themselves with such clearly dangerous public figures. “I looked at the history leading up to the onset of jazz, and how the underworld and the upper-world were these parallel universes —the upper-world being the White Anglo Saxon Protestant economic and social structure, and then there's this underworld black-market economy of immigrants striving to achieve some version of the American Dream, ” he said. Nightlife on 52nd Street in 1948. Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress“The way that is all tangled up with violence and race is a big theme that is endlessly fascinating to me, ” he added. “It's like taking the blinders off — it sheds a lot of light on a lot of things about the United States’ particular kind of dysfunction, and the way that the United States is wrapped up in violence and racial conflict in ways that we don't even seem to understand a lot of the time, so many of these issues still remain unsolved. ” Taking a close look at the “plantation mentality” of many early jazz clubs — Black employees and musicians serving a segregated patronage in clubs owned by white men, along with disturbing imagery of servitude even present in the decor — English realized that despite the racist power structures inside the clubs, many Black musicians chose to remain involved as an alternative to what was going on outside. “In researching this, what jumps out at you is this 30-year reign of lynching from the time of the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction all the way through the latter part of the 19th century into the 20th century, ” said English. “It started to become clear to me why musicians would be willing and in some cases, more than willing to partner with people who were considered to be violent criminals — the truth is, the average jazz musician had less to fear from a mafioso than he did from a white cracker out on the street or a policeman. Given the way American society was, the clubs that were controlled by the underworld became almost a source of refuge for African Americans. It explained why they would be willing to partake of this sort of relationship — because the alternative was even worse. ” Sarah Vaughan singing in New York in August 1946. Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of CongressThe dynamic would continue on for many of the greatest jazz musicians, from legendary Black jazz performers Sarah Vaughan and Duke Ellington and Count Basie to Italian crooners like Louis Prima and Frank Sinatra, who was widely known for his association with the mob. “Sinatra didn't invent this relationship between the musician and the mobsters, ” said English. “He certainly utilized it, probably as much or more than anyone in this history did, but in many ways he was born into it. His relationship with the Mafia was sort of an outgrowth of what had been laid down as the parameters of this relationship going back to the early part of the century, before Frank was even born. ” Sinatra and many of the characters memorialized in English’s book made their way in New York’s jazz clubs, many of them on Manhattan’s West Side. Already a Hell’s Kitchen expert from his time working on The Westies, English noted the connection between the underworld of Hell’s Kitchen and the mobbed-up jazz scene. “So much of Prohibition and activity related to illegal booze was centered on the West Side around Midtown, ” he said. Sinatra and the boys, circa 1988 at the Westchester Premier Theater with mobsters including Paul Castellano (far left), Carlo Gambino (third from right), and Jimmy “the Weasel" Fratianno (second from right). Photo: FBI“The largest brewery in town, which was owned and run by Owney Madden, was in Chelsea. The warehouses where so much of the illegal product was stored was in the Hell's Kitchen area. There probably were more speakeasies within Hell's Kitchen than anywhere else in the United States, ” he added, although there’s no official way to quantify the statistic. “There was so much underworld activity related to the West Side. When I did the book The Westies, I would often walk around the neighborhood and go to the locations and unleash the ghosts of the spirits of this history and get a sense of what was once there. ” When it came to revisiting Midtown’s jazzy past, English had significantly more difficulty — W52nd Street and the surrounding blocks, once the center of the scene and home to legendary venues like the Hotsy Totsy Club and the original Birdland — show no trace of their nightlife legacy, save for a few restaurants on the block that Mayor Eric Adams enjoys frequenting. The Hotsy Totsy Club at 1721 Broadway, site of an infamous triple shooting in 1929, now appears to be a Dunkin’ Donuts. “I went up to 52nd Street for the first time decades ago and there was not a single trace of anything other than the 21 Club — which is now no longer there. That was the only remnant that was left. I mean, not a single building, ” he said. “The fact that something that vibrant could be papered over and forgotten, it’s one of those things that makes you feel worthless — If something like that could be born and rise and now there's no trace of it at all, what's going to be left of you? We're all just little specks of sand in the universe if that scene can be papered over completely as if it never existed. ” The scene on 52nd Street looking east from 6th Avenue in July 1948. Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of CongressEnglish explored what is left of the past by visiting Midtown’s current iteration of Birdland (after closing in 1965 and briefly opening uptown, the iconic club returned to Hell’s Kitchen and settled on W44th Street). “I cherish the opportunity to go to Birdland, even though it's not in the same location where it was originally, ” he said. The club is the setting for a story featuring one of his most cinematic characters — Morris “Mo” Levy, owner and operator of the original Birdland. A lifelong entrepreneur-turned-criminal, Levy simultaneously managed to promote a more progressive racial environment at his club and cheat many musicians of color out of their fair share of the proceeds. “Mo Levy is an interesting, and in some way, central character to the telling of this tale, ” said English. Morris "Mo" Levy at the offices of Roulette Records. He was a pivotal part of TJ English's story. Photo: Richard Carlin/Wikimedia Commons“By 1949, segregated clubs were no longer the norm, but they still de facto existed. What distinguishes Birdland was Mo Levy's deep understanding of jazz — I mean, no bones about it, he was a crook and a hoodlum and he proudly took advantage of musicians — he provided them with musical opportunities and then screwed them on the money. But what we appreciate about Levy was his progressive appreciation of the music. What Levy understood as the secret of running a jazz business in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was that the true aficionados of jazz wanted integrity and authenticity in the music, ” added English. “They didn't want watered down forms of jazz, ” or an all-white patronage, he said. “The true jazz fans needed to know that there was a place to go hear the music in its authenticity, not some marginalized version of it and so Birdland became known for that — Birdland became associated with jazz in its purest form. ” Another Midtown legacy venue that gets a mention in Dangerous Rhythms is the infamous Copacabana, then known “not just as mob friendly but as Mafia friendly, ” said English. It had a reputation for treating Black performers poorly in its earliest years (Sammy Davis Jr among them), “It's very curious to me, because there was a certain camaraderie to the relationship between the Italian Americans and African Americans in the early part of the 20th Century. They were simpatico to a certain extent with African music and culture. And so Sicilians in the United States sort of naturally formed this relationship with African American musicians, ” said English. “But somewhere along the line, this went off on a different trajectory for Italian Americans, so that by the time you got to the 1960s, the Copacabana becomes kind of self-identified with racism. ” Eventually, the power of the civil rights movement broke down the racist power structures at the Copa and made it a more welcoming place — and Sammy Davis Jr even went on to perform headlining sets. The Copacabana is just one many musical, sometimes mythical stories in Dangerous Rhythms that fascinated English throughout his research. But which ones have stayed with him? Duke Ellington — "The music that he was creating at The Cotton Club in the late 1920s, to me, is the greatest distillation of the relationship between jazz and the underworld. " Photo: Charlotte Brooks/LOOK Magazine/Library of Congress“To me, Duke Ellington is of God, ” said English. “The music that he was creating at The Cotton Club in the late 1920s, to me, is the greatest distillation of the relationship between jazz and the underworld. I think more than any other composer, he was willfully and knowingly creating music that was the fruition of this relationship. I don't think he would've written those songs in the way that he wrote them if it had not been for the fact that here he was playing in a club owned by gangsters in front of an audience of white people who had come to Harlem to sort of slum in Black culture in a sense — he was hyper-aware of all of this as he composed. ” English added: “I also loved having the opportunity to tell the story of Mary Lou Williams in this context. I knew about her as a piano player and an artist, but I didn't really know the full sweep of her career. She pops up in all the jazz eras along the way. I didn't realize how disgusted she became by the whole business. "To learn her story where she converted to Catholicism and she returns to music to write a mass — it was a relief to have a narrative that ended on a positive note. She was one of the musicians who rose above the underworld. ” Mary Lou Williams at the piano in the CBS studio, New York in April 1947. Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of CongressEnglish hasn’t given up on the underworld, however, as his next project focuses on another criminal industry — the birth of the cocaine industry in the United States as seen through 1980s Miami in The Last Kilo. “It’s from the point of view of a guy named Willy Falcon and his partner Sal Magluta, who pioneered cocaine, importation and distribution in the United States, starting in the late 1970s all through the 1980 and who created the whole Miami scene. ” Will his next adventure summoning the ghosts’ of Miami’s cocaine-fueled decades take as much research as this deep dive into the underbelly of jazz? “I often start out with an idea thinking, ‘Oh, this is great. I can do a 300-page book, this will be nice and manageable, ’” said English. “And then I get into it and I guess I tend to see things in the big picture, in the large context — providing all the research, putting the story in the broadest context possible so that you have what is almost the definitive version of that material of that story. And I always wind up back at the big mountain of research. I wish I wrote short books! ”Birdland in the early 1950s when Ella Fitzgerald was headlining. Photo Public DomainDangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld is available at all good bookstores and on Amazon. This story originally appeared on W42ST as "TJ English Summons the Ghosts of Midtown's Jazz Scene in "Dangerous Rhythms" in August 2022.
New York isn’t just a place where many Great American Novels are set — it’s a place where many Great American Novels are devoured! New Yorkers looking for additional bragging rights can add one more championship title to the list — a recent study from research firm Lawn Love named the Big Apple as the #1 best city for book lovers. The stacks at Book Club on E3rd Street. Photo: Naty CaezThe City That Never Sleeps (because as the study puts it, Everyone is Reading! ) also came out on top in having the greatest number of literary landmarks, public libraries, antique and rare bookstores, as well as the most book clubs. New York is additionally 4th in US rankings for bookstores per square mile — many of which we’ve had the pleasure of visiting in our adventures through Manhattan's side streets. “I had worked in new bookstores since I was 15 — and at the age of 20 I decided I wanted to open my own bookstore, ” Peter Glassman of children’s book shop Books of Wonder told Manhattan Sideways on a recent trip through E17th Street’s whimsical stacks. “Having spent a quarter of my life working with new books, I decided I was tired of it. I wanted to work with old and rare books only — as only a 20-year-old can think! ” he laughed. “But when I filled the bookcases my late husband had built for my store, it turned out that we had four empty shelves. I went over the local New York City area distributor, which at the time was in Manhattan, four blocks from my store. I picked out four shelves of my favorite children's books to put on the shelves and people just responded, ” he added. “And then we added more bookcases for the new books and it just grew from there. ” The store still carries antique and rare books, but most of its collection has migrated to children and YA genres. Through Peter’s careful curation, Books of Wonder not only specializes in children’s books but also in a vast collection of the evergreen Wizard of Oz series. “I always loved the Oz books, ” said Peter. “I had grown up on the film. At the age of 12, I was home sick from school and had finished my library book — and as an only child in a house full of books, I had nothing to read. I decided to read my mother’s copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz because I had never read the book. I knew the movie and I was astonished to find out how different the book was. It turned out my public library in West Caldwell, New Jersey had all the other Oz books by L Frank Baum — I plowed through them all very quickly and loved them. ” Years later, he credits his love of rare books to the Oz series. “It’s what got me involved in all the rare books — I became interested in learning and identifying first editions, and was amazed to discover the original editions that had color plates and all these beautiful editions that had been dropped during the Depression, ” he added. “From there, I became enamored with the history of books. ” Peter Glassman at Books of Wonder. Photo: Phil O'BrienIf you’re looking for literary history nearby, there’s also the legendary Strand Book Store in Union Square on E12th Street. Filled with curated stacks across every genre imaginable, visiting the Strand is akin to Disney World for literary fans. Book Culture — a stronghold on the Upper West Side for decades — is a favorite with Columbia students and locals alike, known for offering textbooks and quirky “blind-date” book recommendations selected by its discerning staff. Theater aficionados flock to the newest revival of The Drama Book Shop, on W39th Street where everything from new-release plays to Broadway scores are available to performers and creators. Just around the corner from The Drama Book Shop is its own extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — Midtown Comics on W40th Street, where superhero-stacked graphic novels fly off the shelves, eagerly purchased by diehard fans. Read the newest Broadway hit at the Drama Book Shop. There’s a niche for every book lover in Manhattan — and two of our new favorite East Village finds, Pillow-Cat Books on E9th Street and Book Club on E3rd Street bring unique concepts to the indie bookstore landscape. Pillow-Cat, named after its friendly in-store mascot, specializes in animal-themed books shop-able by species, all curated by author Cleo Le-Tan, herself an archivist of the city’s best shops in her book, A Book Lover’s Guide to New York. Over at Book Club, coffee hour becomes cocktail hour as the stylish, living room-esque reading room is equipped for all-day sip-and-read. Erin Neary of Book Club. Photo: Naty CaezFor those who want to know more about the process of book binding, you’re also in luck — New York is home to The Center for Book Arts, an exhaustive, educational tribute to the process of book-making. If you’ve been sitting on your own Great American Novel, you can learn how to bind it yourself in one of their many workshops! Much like the pile of “To-Be-Reads” on your nightstand, there is such a rich tapestry of independent bookstores to try that we’ve got even more recommendations over on our editor’s picks list! Happy reading!! Pillow cat of Pillow-Cat. Photo: Naty Caez
Coronation Day is tomorrow! There’s only one problem — the ceremony begins at 6am local time and oh, it’s 3, 000 miles away. But if you’re an expat, royal watcher or just a curious New Yorker, fear not — there are a host of places to enjoy your own celebration without booking a flight. The Empire State Building lit in the colors of Great Britain for the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in New York, December 7, 2014. Photo: Gary HershornFor those ready to celebrate early (or perhaps are on BST! ) the Empire State Building will be lit up with Union Jack colors in honor of the coronation and will hold an official lighting ceremony at 3pm on May 5. British Consul General & HM Trade Commissioner Emma Wade-Smith will preside over a model of the festive lighting ahead of the evening’s display. On Saturday May 6 — the day of King Charles III’s coronation — there are many places to sip a cuppa and wave a Union Jack. The Churchill Tavern, a traditional English pub on E28th Street, will hold a live viewing of the ceremony and a Coronation Day breakfast of quiche, Victoria sponge and scones. “We host all of the British events — weddings, funerals, births of royal children, ” said Churchill’s Sinead Naughton. “It would be foolish not to continue the tradition by opening for the coronation, even if it is 5: 30am! ” After nearly 12 years in business, The Churchill has amassed a large following of royal fans eagerly looking forward to the festivities. “We have had an awful lot of calls asking us about our plans, ” she said, “and we are expecting a large turnout. We don't take reservations so people can wander in and wander out! ” More than anything, she is looking forward to the feeling of unity that The Churchill’s celebration will bring: “There is a sense that we are very much part of this British community and we are a center base for people to come and meet and experience these things together. ” The Churchill Tavern getting ready for the Coronation on E28th Street today. Photo: Phil O'BrienIf you’re headed downtown, why not stop in and order an Earl Grey at Tea and Sympathy in honor of Sean Kavanaugh-Dowsett, the beloved owner of the popular West Village shop who died last month. “His absence leaves a hole in all our hearts, ” said City Council Member Erik Bottcher. “Upon meeting him for the first time, Sean would treat you with the same jocularity, kindness and familiarity as someone he had known for decades. ”Further uptown, you could enjoy a leisurely brunch or afternoon tea at Alice’s Tea Cup on W73rd Street or E64th Street, known for cheerful, “Wonderland”-themed decor and afternoon tea packages. The tea shop recently hosted the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson for an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Ferguson is without an invitation to the Coronation Day festivities. “I was thinking that I’d open a little tea room at the bottom of the drive, ” she joked to EXTRA’s Billy Bush when asked about her Coronation Day plans. And if you’re firmly on EST but still want to ring in the moment, there’s a coronation-themed high tea over at Kings' Carriage House on E82d Street, featuring classic dishes like Coronation Chicken Salad, English Cucumber Sandwiches, Victoria Sponge and Strawberries and Cream. Kings’ Carriage, who describe their afternoon tea as “traditional but homey” plan to dial things up a bit in honor of the occasion, said owner Elizabeth King. “We’re trying to stay as true as we can to a traditional afternoon tea, and we’ll be serving more traditional coronation elements like Darjeeling Tea — which is King Charles’ favorite, ” she added. The event has proved so popular that there are just a few tables left, warned owner Paul Farrell, who expects to see a global turnout at their celebration. “We’ll get people from all over the world! ” he said. Elizabeth King and Paul Farrell of the Kings' Carriage House. Photo: Heather Gillich