“By accident, ” answered Olga Blanco when I asked her how she got her start in the printing business. Her husband started Nobel Printing in 1979, and Olga took over a short while later when he became ill. “I learned and I kept going, ” she smiled, remembering a time when the business was new to her. She, in turn, has taught her son, who works for a printing company in Florida. Olga shared with me that when her son's business decided to use the traditional printing press in an effort to distinguish themselves from others, his knowledge of the machine lead to a promotion. “No one else knows how to use these, ” she gushed, “so they increased his pay. ”Originally from Columbia, Olga journeyed to the States in 1969 at the age of seventeen. Since living here, she has seen a lot of changes, many of which have had an negative impact on her custom printing company. “Everything is digital these days, ” she rationalized, "And everyone thinks they are a designer. ” With so many people in possession of a computer and the means to make their own digital copies, her fears are not unwarranted. Topped off with rising rents, Olga is not sure her business will operate for longer than a few more years. Indeed, she has seen many others pushed out of the neighborhood for similar reasons. “The real estate business is hungry for money, ” she said, shaking her head. Despite the obstacles, Olga remains quite confident in the product, itself. She happily deals solely in custom printing, taking on any job no matter the size and “creating something beautiful. ” When I visited in the summer of 2016, Olga was working on a wedding order of 2000 invites and could not conceal her passion for the project. She showed me her early drafts, pulling out the quality card stock and brushing her fingertips over a soft design that depicted a tree just in bloom. There is no replacement for “that human touch. ”
Co-founded in 1994 by former number one middleweight boxer, Michael Olajide, and Leila Fazel, a former ballerina, Aerospace claims to offer “a revolutionary new fitness that engages body, mind, and spirit. ” Leila explained that the Aerospace workout is “revolutionary” in two ways: first, it does not involve any machines, and second, it has its foundation in athlete-level boxing to engage cardio, muscle endurance, and core strength. The company has its own boxing ring and jump rope line. We had the pleasure of seeing Michael, who lost vision in one of his eyes in the early 1990s, guide a student through some boxing combinations as part of the Aerospace workout. Although Michael and Leila intend to maintain the “authenticity of boxing” in their program, Aerospace is open to everyone, with or without boxing experience. While some learn to hit bags on the second floor, others in a more advanced program spar in the boxing ring on the first floor. Leila also runs a workout that combines shadow boxing with ballet.
Whenever Rebecca, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, asked her glamorous college roommate from Arizona where she had bought whatever fabulous item of clothing she was wearing, the answer was always the same... Buffalo Exchange. Founded in 1974 by Kerstin Block in Arizona, it was one of the first used clothing shops to open in the country. The store offers its patrons a place to buy, sell, or trade second-hand garments so that they can find a new life in someone else's wardrobe. Today, Kerstin continues to run her company with the help of her daughter, Rebecca, and they have expanded to forty-seven stores nationwide. The company has maintained its funky, fun vibe and reasonable prices even as it has grown so large.
I know how difficult it is for a family business to stay afloat in Midtown, and so I was deeply impressed and pleased to find Henry Cowit, Inc., a full-service furrier that has been owned by the same family for three generations. I met brothers Larry and Steve, the grandsons of the original owner, who gave me a tour of the whole space. Not only are the brothers very good at what they do, but they are also amazing New York characters who are experts on the pulse of the neighborhood. Their father moved into a building on 29th Street on 1973, where the company stayed until July of 2015, when the brothers relocated to 27th Street. From their new home, the brothers have continued serving the neighborhood by selling, finishing, lining, storing, and cleaning fur coats. Along with caring for skins and selling second-hand furs, Henry Cowit recycles fur coats, which I found fascinating. Larry and Steve showed me a set of throw pillows that they had made for a girl who wanted to keep her grandmother’s coat for sentimental reasons, but who had no cause to wear the coat herself. Larry and Steve told me that they get many similar requests, especially in the past two years. More and more young girls are getting fur items on Ebay or at flea markets, and bring them to Henry Cowit to be altered into new garments. The brothers love the new demographic and the fun recycling projects that it brings to their business. When a family works in the fur industry as long as the Cowits have, it is bound to encounter some interesting clients. When I asked Larry and Steve about their most interesting project, they said that one customer asked for the swish logo on his Nike sneakers to be covered in mink to match his blue-grey mink jacket. “We get a lot of musical artists, ” Larry and Steve explained. They also get clients from the film industry. For example, Cate Blanchett is wearing a Cowit coat in the movie Carol, which made the brothers very excited, since the costume designer is an Oscar winner. The coats are also featured in many TV shows. Their fur rentals are not only for the performing arts - the brothers also rent furs for special events, especially weddings. The furriers get their customers via word of mouth. “They know they can come to us, ” Larry proudly said. Larry also described to me a couple of the latest ideas that he is developing. One is a men’s line of normal-sized coats made of all types of fur. He explained that many masculine fur coats are enormous, to cater to the music and sports industries, but that he wants to reach a new demographic with this unique line. Larry is enthusiastic about an additional project that he is working on with an up-and-coming designer to turn old, used coats into new garments. “We take a used coat and make it look hip, ” he explained. “After all, I want to make sure my daughters still think their dad is fun! ”
Everyone on West 28th between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue has a story to tell about life on the garden block, but I found one of the workers at Foliage Garden's story to be the most inspiring. "I was raised in the Flower District. My entire life is wrapped up in this street, " she told me. "I invested my life here. " After 9/11, however, she made the decision to move upstate, where she felt safer raising her daughter. Not long after, she came running back to the city at the call of her dear childhood friend. Maryann Finnegan had recently lost her husband and needed help running Foliage Garden, a retail and wholesale market that sells magnificent orchids and a multitude of other plants. The part-time worker at Foliage proudly told me that the shop has been in the same location for over thirty-five years, having opened in 1981. Maryann added, "We are now the oldest plant store on the street. " She then said that what differentiates her from everyone else is, "we have our own greenhouses under glass on Long Island. "Maryann and her team have befriended many of the people who created the Flower District a long time ago. Sadly, her co-worker related that "so many of the old men have passed away. " There are still, however, a few remaining who have wonderful stories to share. "There is so much history on this block, " she continued. "We were once called the Times Square of Flowers. " She described a time when every single storefront was filled with flowers. Today, she is pleased that she came back to Manhattan. "I can put up with anything here because I still love it - it's my passion. "
“I’ve always been a fan of music, ” Paul Devitt told me as I sat down at the bar surrounding the piano in the back room of Sid Gold’s. He co-owns this amazing concept alongside Joe McGinty, a composer, arranger, and pianist, also known for having started the Loser’s Lounge, a group of talented performers who breathe new life into pop classics. Despite the fact that Joe is the more musical of the two, it was Paul’s idea to open Sid Gold’s Request Room, which is fittingly named after a Broadway talent agent. Paul is a lover of themed bars. He started in Philadelphia and opened his first bar, Silk City, in a vintage diner car where names such as the Roots and Diplo performed. Upon his move to New York, he opened Beauty Bar, which combines a classic bar with a retro salon. He has since opened Beauty Bars in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Denver, and Dallas. “I’ve never had the drive to open ‘just a bar, ’” Paul emphasized. There is something to delight and astonish in every bar that he imagines. For example, when he ran Coral Room in Chelsea, there was a ten thousand liter fish tank, complete with “mermaids” swimming behind the glass. Paul smiled and said, “I always want to do something interesting. ”Paul met Joe a few times through a karaoke night that Joe hosted. When he came up with the idea to open a piano bar centering around pop songs, he knew that Joe was the man to ask. When I visited in August of 2015, just four months after they first opened, it was clear that his latest brainchild was already a hit. As Paul explained, “The reaction Beauty Bar got twenty years ago is what Sid Gold’s has now – so I know it is a success. ” Sid Gold’s classy karaoke-esque request hour begins at 9pm every night, and even “Monday nights are mobbed, ” he explained, both shell-shocked and pleased. The bar already has amassed a faithful crew of regulars. Paul partially credits the location with Sid Gold’s success, since the Request Room is a unique gem among a row of sports bars. He also pointed out that Sid Gold’s is different from similar establishments because of the lack of Broadway songs being sung. “Joe doesn’t know a lot of show tunes. Occasionally people come in wanting them, and he’ll play a couple, but it’s not his thing. ” I asked Paul what his own go-to song was. He laughed and responded, “Righteous Brothers, Loving Feeling. It’s always good to do a sing-a-long, here. ”Joe is at the piano most nights, but when I visited, it was his night off and a young man named Julian was impressively mastering the keys. Some members of the Manhattan Sideways team stayed to witness the singing and to request their own tunes. The highlight of the night, however, was when Paul himself took the mic and started crooning.
The Crompton Ale House is the perfect example of a bar that has embraced its surroundings. Right in the middle of the fashion district, the bar is named for Samuel Crompton, the man who invented the sewing machine. The spacious bar is decorated with bobbins and gears to make it seem like visitors are socializing inside a giant sewing machine. Jimmy, one of the owners of the bar, explained that he and his partners brought in a designer to create the unique atmosphere. “We even had threads up on the spools, ” he said, pointing at the wall ornaments, “But they were gathering dust – perhaps we’ll put them back up for Halloween. ”I was speaking with him only a short time after the bar had opened in 2015. Jimmy, who also owns the bars O’Donoghue’s and Genesis, was not quite sure what the bar would become, but he was already excited by the crowds that had arrived. He sees the area as an up-and-coming neighborhood, and has been delighted to meet a lot of locals, which is a change from the tourist-heavy crowds that he experiences in Times Square. With a happy hour from 4pm-7pm on weekdays, the bar draws in a solid after-work crowd. It is not surprising that people are gravitating to the Ale House, with people like Jimmy at the helm. Like many other Irishmen, Jimmy grew up working in a bar. He had his first job filling pints at the age of seventeen. He went on to reminisce how “There were no cocktails – just pints, " but then stated, "It’s changing all the time. ” He told me how at Crompton he is serving local and seasonal beers, in order to keep up with what people are drinking. He was especially proud of the special beer of the house, Crompton Ale, an IPA from upstate New York. According to Jimmy, however, the real reason for the bar’s early success is “the standard of service and the quality of food. ”
Innside Hotel, a NoMad-based property by Melia Hotels International, effortlessly combines a minimalist, stylish, global sensibility with an artsy and innovative vibe that is firmly rooted in local New York culture. The Manhattan Sideways Team was impressed from the moment we walked through the airy, plant-lined, street-side terrace into the sleek, colorful lobby. Framed by the orange-and-silver paneled wall behind them, two receptionists beamed and waved at us from a desk that emanated a glowing, purple light. The manager of the hotel informed us that the reception staff double as concierges: they are savvy New Yorkers with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city that will serve any tourist extremely well. “We hire people not just for their experience, but for their passion, ” he said. As we went up to the seventeenth floor to check out the room facilities, we caught a beautiful view of the Empire State Building through the windows in the hallway. Location is one of Innside’s biggest draws: In addition to the iconic building, Innside is in walking distance from the High Line, Times Square, and Broadway - Perfect for any tourist. The room we visited had a German-inspired aesthetic that is elegant, modernist, and eminently functional. Everything was clean and white (barring a pair of funky yellow cushions) with ambient lighting, USB outlets, an espresso machine, a complimentary non-alcoholic minibar, and, of course, gorgeous views of the New York skyline. In addition to conference rooms, Innside boasts Google-style “creative rooms” for social or business gatherings geared towards ideas and innovation. These rooms feature fun and colorful décor, comfortable furniture, fitness balls, high tech SMART boards, built-in audio-visual equipment, and an all-inclusive mini-bar and coffee station. To top it all off, Innside manages the restaurant Impero Caffe, which is headed by award-winning celebrity chef Scott Conant and offers outstanding, rustic Italian cuisine.
As the name suggests, Burgundy Wine Company specializes in wines from this glorious region in France. Opening in 1988 in the West Village as a niche market before this concept became so trendy, their clientele has remained loyal and many over the years. Max, one of the knowledgeable staff members, explained to us that his dad got him into wine long before he was of legal age, and it has since become his passion. The shop seems like a perfect place to nurture a passion for wine - we can easily imagine ourselves curled up on their cozy couch with one of their books about wine, and a glass of red in hand.
Hometown pride is central to every city, whether the population is 84 or 8 million — and that is exactly the message that owner and artist Dave Ortiz strives to communicate through Our/New York Vodka. Our/Vodka is a global brand that has micro-distilleries in eight cities around the world: The “sister cities” include Berlin, Seattle, London, Detroit, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Miami, and, of course, New York. As Ortiz says, “you could sell vodka anywhere” — but the Our/Vodka project goes beyond this to build on the unique sense of community and pride in each of its locations, and New York is no exception. With Ortiz at the helm, Our/New York Vodka screams, “This is our city. I believe in that. ” Ortiz told the Manhattan Sideways team that it “could be vodka or women’s shoes — it’s a New York product that I’m standing behind. I’m not faking the funk. ”This isn’t Ortiz’s first New York-centered endeavor. He is a self-professed ‘true blue New Yorker, ’ born and raised in New York and schooled in Fine Arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology, right down the block from Our/New York Vodka in Chelsea. Zoo York, a skate brand centered on New York skate culture, was one of Ortiz’s first big projects as employee no. 1, followed by “Dave’s Quality Meat, ” which was New York’s first ever concept store, and most recently a bike shop, all before Ortiz received the call from Our/Vodka asking him to get involved and be the local partner in Our/New York — which Ortiz has spent the last four and a half years building to perfection. When he received that phone call, Ortiz recalls, “At first I thought it was a joke because me and my friends always played practical jokes on each other. We worked with Ashton Kutcher when we owned Zoo York — so I was like, I think I'm getting punk’d. And then this person called me. . . my mind goes, ‘somebody wants me to design a box, I do a label, I throw a party, I get a few bottles of booze out of it, I call it a day’. . . He asked me if I’d be interested in meeting the founders and I said ‘yeah sure, no problem’ and then I meet these three people and I’m still thinking it's a joke, and I'm like, ‘I can't believe that whoever is doing this joke hired three Swedish actors. ’ And then they begin to tell me their idea about the Our/Vodka project — and it was quite fascinating. And for me, I fell in love with it immediately. ”The project is dependent on the unique character of each city as well as the local ingredients. Each of the seven Our/Vodka distilleries works from a common recipe. All distilleries share one ingredient, a wheat distillate which is supplied from Sweden and which is then, in its last distillation process, distilled on site in each distillery, and the rest of the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible without compromising on quality, and of course local water, in this case, local NYC tap water. Ortiz dubbed this a “glocal” organization: one that is both global and local, though his focus remains on channeling the energy of New York and his experiences there into his business. In the Our/New York bar, he makes an effort to stock products from other small and local distilleries as much as possible. Ortiz explained to us, “We don’t carry the same spirits that you would find in a regular bar. 98% of our offer is from New York state. We carry many specialty small distillers that are like us. ” And even this is part of the Our/New York Vodka mission to stand behind New York as a community, as a place with hometown pride. It makes history as the first distillery in Manhattan since prohibition, but, maybe most important, it represents a throwback to the history of diversity and community in the city. I’m all about community and friendships, ” Ortiz tells us, “and that's the thing that New York is missing right now — Everybody’s to themselves, everybody’s segregated: The bankers hang out with the bankers, the guys with the popped-shirt collars, they hang out with the popped shirt collars. . . the meatheads all hang out with the meatheads over in the meatpacking. When I grew up in the late 80's early ‘90s, everybody was forced to hang out with everybody, you know? You go to a club and there’d be bankers and models, and there was Madonna, and, you know, Andy Warhol’s walking around. And everybody was forced to hang out with everybody because that’s the way New York was. . . I personally want to recreate the fun spot that I used to hang out — where every likeminded [person] hangs out: from skaters to ballet dancers to gay people, you know, Black, white, Chinese, designers, architects, all my friends who I know. All those are the types of people that come in here and just kind of say ‘what’s up. 'Stop in and say what’s up: have a seat, try a cocktail, and have a conversation with whoever happens to sit next to you. Notice the hand-painted walls and one-of-a-kind silkscreen prints, both done by Ortiz, the rawness of the cement floors, the beautifully arranged liquors behind the bar; take a look through the glass window at the back of the space into the distilling room, the first of its kind in almost a hundred years. Within a few minutes, you’ll be feeling the hometown pride, too, no matter where you’re from.
Before Lilia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, discovered ALT for Living, she said to me that she had never considered that shopping could be an “experience. ” In fact, she revealed, that "For me, life is life and shopping is shopping, quick and painless - I go in, find what I need, and get out. But as I walked into ALT for Living, I felt as though I had entered a time warp. "ALT contains two little worlds - a coffee bar and a showroom - and they work with miraculous synchronicity. The cozy coffee bar, A Little Taste, serves as the storefront, and it instantly recalled to Lilia the old-fashioned cafes of Paris and Rome. The coffee beans are one-of-a-kind, hand-roasted by ALT Roasting CO. “You have to try the iced coffee, ” suggested Victoria, ALT’s Marketing Coordinator. She was right. It was rich, full, and flavorful, with frozen coffee cubes instead of regular ice cubes. What a treat. With coffee in hand, we were ready to take in the pièce de résistance of ALT for Living, the showroom, which caters to high-end interior designers, design firms, and architects. The space is an aesthetic feast, somehow both immaculate and inviting, pristine and meditative. Sitting down with Analisse Taft-Gersten, ALT’s creator and owner, we learned that she would like her customers to view ALT for Living as a full-fledged lifestyle experience. “It’s a one stop shop to help amplify your home and get a great cup of coffee along the way. ”Analisse started out as a model at age seventeen, which provided her with the opportunity to travel all over the world. She fell in love with Europe, particularly Paris. “I think I was an old Frenchman in a past life, ” she said with a laugh. Analisse went on to say that she developed a passion for interior design, and left her native California to seek out a new challenge in Manhattan. While working for an interior design company, she found her calling in sales, and took a leap of faith. She began ALT as a small venture in a temporary office space, then a small showroom in Soho, and finally ALT’s current home in the Flower District. Since every item is unique, the shop attracts a vast array of customers, from hip up-and-comers to the most established designers in the industry. In an effort to maintain a stimulating space, Analisse constantly changes elements of the shop's layout. She loves repurposing old pieces and making them her own. Her current favorite piece at ALT is a vintage rosewood desk by furniture designer Joaquim Tenreiro. What sets ALT for Living apart from other businesses that cater to interior designers is that one can truly lose oneself in the shopping experience. Within the coffee bar-showroom, shopping is no longer just shopping, but also an opportunity to visit Europe without leaving Manhattan.