There are many hidden gems to be discovered on the side streets of Manhattan, but the beginning of my walk on 61st might trump any that I have had thus far. For it was here that I was suddenly convinced that I had stepped into a time portal. Nestled between the skyscrapers that perch along the East River is a stone house dating back to the eighteenth century with a glorious garden (even in the middle of winter) tucked behind it. "Eighteenth Century" may be a bit misleading, since the building, which was built as a carriage house to go with a central mansion, was constructed in 1799. Originally named the Abigail Adams Smith Museum, as this is where she and her husband owned the land on which it was built, it was turned into a "day hotel" in 1826. This was a popular kind of institution that possibly resembled a country club more than an inn. With the rise of the middle class, centers for leisure were popping up all over the island. The city proper mainly existed below 14th Street, causing 61st to be considered a vacation getaway. Though the Mount Vernon Hotel is the only day hotel left standing, at one point in time there were numerous similar ones dotting both rivers. In 1833, the building returned to being a private residence. During the following century, it changed hands multiple times, once even being used as a soup kitchen, until it officially opened as a museum in 1939 in the capable hands of the Colonial Dames of America. To this day, their overall mission continues to be to preserve and teach America's history. The Museum also hosts guests and events of many different kinds: One of their largest affairs is Washington's Birthday Ball, but they also host pie-making workshops, school programs (which are often booked solid for three months at a time), and public events in the auditorium next door.
An inviting gourmet deli for both to-go bites and sit-down fare, Cafe Fresco offers a salad bar, an omelet station, sandwich fixings, "legendary bagels, " and many other options for all sorts of cravings. One of their featured dishes, the eggplant Milanese, is made with oven-roasted eggplants, pesto ricotta and fresh mozzarella. Open windows give each seat a full view of either First Avenue or St. Catherine's Park. When I stopped in with a fellow Sideways member on a brutally humid summer day, we watched the children swinging higher and higher outside at the park as we hid inside from the heat, refueled ourselves, and recharged our cell phones.
Walking into Java Girl feels like coming home. In addition to the cafe being host to a friendly assortment of mismatched cushions, a cuckoo clock, an antique mirror, and other objects of curiosity, this was my go-to shop when I lived on East 67th Street. My friends and family members knew that I did not own a coffee pot and therefore we always had to stop by this neighborhood favorite. I was thrilled to be revisiting an old haunt, and on this particular day, I chose a seat in the window nook, settling in for a chat with Java Girl herself. In the mid-nineties, Linda Rizutto was working for a major retailer, wondering what it was that she wanted to do next. She would sit in a coffee shop with her journal and contemplate her options. "And then the opportunity came, " Linda told me. In 1998, the west half of Java Girl became available for rent. Linda decided to take her own journey as inspiration, and create a coffee shop that would give other people the space and time to think about their lives. In 2001, Linda expanded into the second half of the cafe. "It created what I was dreaming of, and that was a place to let people come and decompress, whether it's for twenty minutes or two hours. "Linda truly is the "Java Girl. " She has crafted an amazingly diverse selection of coffee offerings, each 100% Arabica and hand-picked, from the volcanic soil of Mount Kilimanjaro to the fertile Costa Rican rainforest. Java Girl's exotic beans are all roasted locally by third generation roasters in Long Island City and the flavored coffees are done so by hand without any chemical processing. Not only does Linda know coffee, she also has a well-curated and enticing selection of gourmet loose-leaf teas, some of which are blended in-house. In the mornings, her oatmeal smoothie is a popular choice and hearty kickstart to the day. Over the years, Linda's customers have become regulars, allowing her to develop strong relationships with many of them. On the day that I stopped by, Linda had purchased flowers for someone who had recently lost a family member. "We've also celebrated marriages and babies, " Linda proudly shared. Clearly more than just a coffee shop - Java Girl is a community. And a community is really what Linda set out to create. "I didn't have a business plan, I just had this idea... and it worked. "
Sojourn calls itself the Upper East Side’s “sexiest restaurant, ” and it is hard to argue: the color scheme, in coppers browns and reds, gives the restaurant a warm, intimate feeling. The name, which means “a temporary stay, ” hints at the fact that visitors can expect a full dining experience. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was excited to return to Sojourn. She and her family had discovered the restaurant, tucked behind a residential-looking doorway, right before Thanksgiving and had visited two more times by the New Year. Along with the friendly staff, warm ambience, and delectable, seasonal food, what makes Sojourn stand out is its approach to courses: all menu items can be ordered as sharable tapas, with just the right number for the table. For example, when Olivia went with a group of seven family members and ordered the chorizo croquettes, the waiter said he would bring out two orders at three to a plate... plus one extra. Using this innovative way of ordering, each party can essentially create their own tasting menu. As for beverages, the cocktail menu is sophisticated and diverse. The restaurant not only has a large selection of wine, but also keeps some of their grapes in barrels rather than bottles, a more environmentally friendly method of storing and serving it. Among the many menu items that Olivia’s family tasted were the zesty arugula salad, crispy fish tacos, and Kobe beef sliders. Despite being thoroughly full, they made sure to have enough room for the warm, fluffy churros served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. We spoke to Johnny Musovic, who owns Sojourn with his father, Sami. They originally opened a Mexican restaurant called Santa Fe in the same location, but discovered that the neighborhood did not have a strong need for casual Mexican food. Instead, the father and son duo reopened with a higher-end concept which has been wholly embraced. Johnny proudly told me that his father is no newcomer to the restaurant world, having been the Head Maitre D’ at Sparks Steakhouse and Mr. Chow’s. He also has two other restaurants nearby. As for Johnny himself, he told me “In this industry, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, ” referencing his time spent as everything from dishwasher to delivery boy to co-owner. He is clearly very proud of Sojourn for a variety of reasons, beginning with the food. “Most chefs are into fresh, local ingredients, but these chefs really are. ” He is also happy to have cultivated a chic, relaxing space, which includes live music on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Though he proclaims that the Upper East Side is his favorite part of the city, Johnny’s dream is to open up a Sojourn in Midtown one day. Until then, his goal is to integrate his bar crowd and his dining crowd. One night, he held a two hour open bar as his way of “giving back” to the neighborhood. Along with drinks, he offered his customers a series of hors d’oeuvres. He was surprised by how many of his bar regulars approached him and said, “I didn’t realize you had such great food! ”
Ronald McDonald House is a very special place that provides a "temporary 'home away from home' for pediatric cancer patients and their families. " Having had an apartment, for a short time, just a few doors down from their 73rd Street location, I was aware of the wonderful work that they do. When I mentioned to Sophie, one of our Manhattan Sideways team members, that I wanted to feature them on 73rd, she lit up and shared her close connection to the organization on the West Coast. Sophie told me that she was honored to visit and help her mother volunteer with her miniature horses at the Los Angeles and Pasadena chapters. "I was immediately won over by their mission, but even more important, by the children themselves. A significant aspect of their programming is to provide children with the opportunity to just be kids, first and foremost. Seeing the kids interact with the miniature horses showed me how much excitement and exuberance these children have. The smiles on the faces of their parents were always equally heart-warming. "Ronald McDonald House New York has been providing care and support to families since 1978. They "coordinate emotional and physical services, psychological care, ministry support, wellness programs, tutors, music, art, transportation, activities for siblings, holiday and birthday parties, and camaraderie for parents struggling with their child's cancer diagnosis. " In addition, this particular location has a Greek Division that provides services for families from Greece and Cyprus, Camp Ronald McDonald in the summer, classes in English as a second language, therapy for dogs (Angels on a Leash), and Weird Science, where the kids conduct intriguing and engaging experiments. Love and care are Ronald McDonald's central tenants. New York has its own set of angels in the way of the volunteers who play a major role in the day to day lives of the children. The Day Team leads afternoon activities and the Evening Team coordinates birthday parties, holidays, and dinners. The volunteer sign up is a major commitment to help provide a sense of normalcy and strength to the children and their families. If interested in volunteering, please visit their website.
Ed and his wife Heidi know that being small has its advantages and disadvantages. Their reputation has been growing, which is wonderful, but on many evenings this can also mean up to an hour wait for people hoping to get into the tiny restaurant. Based on its popularity, there is no doubt that the cozy eatery has filled a void uptown. Unlike the East Village, for instance, where every nook and cranny is filled with enticing bars and restaurants, Heidi’s House is the only one of its kind in the immediate area. Ed emphasized that he would not want it any other way - he loves being “part of the fabric of the neighborhood” and interacting with the steady, loyal crowd. Ed and Heidi are both former teachers. The full name of the restaurant is “Heidi’s House by the Side of the Road, ” a reference to a poem of the same name by Sam Walter Foss. While Heidi is presently studying for a masters degree, Ed has been taking on more of the responsibilities in running the restaurant, though Heidi is still the master of the wine list, which has a wide, interesting selection and rotates with the seasons. Ed is the beer man and has steered away from draught, preferring craft and bottled beers. He is also in charge of the space. He put his skills as a former carpenter to use in building the restaurant, finding salvaged wood from the building itself, some of which is over 100 years old. Ed brought out a couple signature dishes for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph. Cipriano and his sous-chef Heleo Aviles whipped up a plate of bruschetta as well as the seared sirloin steak special, served with fingerling potatoes, red pepper puree, and fresh horseradish sauce. Though it was early, the small space was already bustling, and bartender Rosendo Hernandez had his work cut out for him. When Ed and Heidi first began planning their restaurant, they wanted to create a place where they, themselves, would like to go. They designed an intimate, TV-free zone with great jazz and good food where customers could meet and enjoy a conversation while dining on an eclectic mix of comfort food. For the latter, they found Cipriano Pita, who has been with Heidi and Ed since they first opened Heidi’s House in 2010. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, he is a “natural born cook, ” smart and intuitive. Because of the limited space in Cipriano's "workshop, " Ed said that the produce, meat, and fish are delivered daily. "We have nowhere to store it, so it has to be fresh. " Everything is hands-on, without any corporate elements. The atmosphere is similarly guided by what Ed and Heidi want to see in their space. They brought decorations from home, including framed post cards, quirky sculptures, and a Nepalese window frame. There are board games at the front of the restaurant including checkers, chess, Scrabble, dominoes, and Trivial Pursuit. I was struck by a poem on the wall behind the bar written by a child who came to dine with her family, detailing her experience at Heidi’s. “Everyone wants to be around things that they like, ” Ed pointed out. It was refreshing to experience a place where every detail is decided by what the owners like, not what they assume the customers prefers - in the end, it appears that they are one in the same.
Though the congregation was established in 1895, the golden yellow building, designed in the Hungarian vernacular architectural style by Emery Roth, was not completed until 1916. The church is now the oldest in the neighborhood and still holds services in Hungarian every Sunday.
The Anita Shapolsky Gallery is named for its founder, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she invited me to No. 152. Having first opened in SoHo in 1982, by the late nineties, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that by the late nineties she was ready for a change, and so she moved the gallery closer to home – in fact, into the building on 65th Street where she had been living for twenty-two years. Since 1997, the gallery and Mrs. Shapolsky have shared a home. The relationship is truly a symbiotic one. "What would you do in a house without art? " she exclaimed. "They take the paintings down between shows, and I'm sick with nothing on the wall. " Her bedroom is tucked into the second floor of the building, concealed behind accordion doors, and in another room of the gallery, a shoe closet is just ajar. On the day that I sat down to speak with Mrs. Shapolsky, the feature exhibit, , was by the artist Russell Connor, whose art riffed on classic painters, pairing them and their masterworks with references to other, more modern pieces. Mrs. Shapolsky said that she thinks of it as an educational show, as it exposes visitors to art history, and brings the old and the new together. Having been invited to a lecture by the artist, I had the pleasure of meeting Russell Connor, and listened as he elaborated on a number of the paintings; each one has a hidden joke for the seasoned art historian. This exhibit was a change from Russell Connor's accustomed style; he usually prefers abstract art for which the Anita Shapolsky Gallery is best known. When Mrs. Shapolsky opened her gallery, she decided to focus on the Abstract Expressionists of the fifties, especially those of the New York school. She had no experience at the time working in or running a gallery, only a great passion for art. "It was madness, sheer madness, " she told me. But despite the mad ambition of the project, the gallery has been a great success. Mrs. Shapolsky drew on her connections to other artists and friends in order to bring the appropriate pieces into her space. Although she knew that the aesthetic was not popular at the time, Mrs. Shapolsky told me that she had grown up with the abstract expressionists, and felt that they represented an important artistic avante garde. The Anita Shapolsky Gallery excels not only at exhibiting important art, but also at connecting that art to people. To be both in a gallery and a home is a unique experience, and meeting Mrs. Shapolsky was a privilege. She is as much a part of the gallery as is the art. On the day that I met her, she was wearing a piece of art around her neck. Her jewelry was made by Ibram Lassaw, whose work can also be seen at the Guggenheim.
The Roosevelt House is primarily an educational institution, housing two of Hunter College's undergraduate programs and hosting a number of book talks, panels, and other public events. But, as the name reveals, it began as a family home. The Roosevelt's moved into this double townhouse in 1908, with matriarch Sara Roosevelt living on one side, and Franklin and Eleanor on the other, along with their five children. On my visit to the Roosevelt House, I participated in a guided tour that illuminated some of its history for me. The building itself, was designed by architect Charles Platt, who also made the plans for the nearby mansion that was home to The China Institute for almost seventy years. This elegant townhouse among the rows of brownstones would set the tone for many of the other structures in the area to be renovated or replaced. Deborah, the tour guide, took us through the many rooms and their pasts. I was surprised to learn that the house was built with two elevators, one on each side, a rare architectural choice for the early twentieth century. The elevators became especially important after 1921, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt fell ill with polio and was confined to a wheelchair. One of the elevators has been retained in its original state, and is shockingly small – the wheelchairs we use today would never fit - but Roosevelt's had a profile similar to that of a dining chair, and so was able to wheel in and out without difficulty. The second elevator has been expanded to allow full accessibility to Hunter College. Upstairs, the library functions as a little museum, containing a selection of books on the Roosevelt's, along with some historic artifacts. The real history though, is in the building itself. "A lot came out of this house, " Deborah explained. President Roosevelt appointed his initial cabinet members in the upstairs library, and among them, the first woman. That same library is where President Roosevelt practiced tirelessly on crutches until he could stand and move sans a wheelchair during political gatherings. A few steps away, the drawing room was the site of Roosevelt's first radio address as president. One floor up is the bedroom where he recovered from polio, and where he often held meetings so that he could continue working minus the discomfort of his leg braces. I found myself lingering close to the walls, hoping they might whisper some of the things they overheard all those years ago. In 1941, Sara Roosevelt died, and the family put the townhouse up for sale. It was a difficult time to sell a house – everybody was at war except the United States, and the whole country knew that conflict was in the immediate future. The Roosevelt's still managed to find a buyer. Eleanor had a strong relationship with Hunter College, and so when they expressed interest, the family lowered the price, making it possible for Hunter to acquire this historic home in 1943. It was dedicated as the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House. Today, the Roosevelt House works to balance its legacy and contemporary function. The house retains all its original crown molding, but the furniture is new, allowing Hunter students and visitors to sit comfortably and not worry about causing damage to antique sofas or rugs. Students at the Roosevelt House study Public Policy and Human Rights, a fitting tribute to the Roosevelt family's influence on this country.
Pil Pil, named for a specific kind of sauce originating in the Basque region of Spain, fills an important role on the Upper East Side. It is a neighborhood watering hole, upscale and with enough ambience for a perfect date or friendly hangout, but still casual enough to lure locals back multiple times each week. I spoke with Nikola Romic, the owner and general manager, who explained that this is exactly the environment he wanted to create when he opened Pil Pil in 2010: a “homey atmosphere” where locals could have good food and wine. Nikola, originally from Serbia, spent a lot of time in Spain. He gained a true appreciation for the cuisine there and now owns vineyards in the Spanish countryside. Most of the wines at Pil Pil come from either his own grapes or family-owned vineyards. Nik told me that he personally travels to each of the vineyards to speak with the vintners and try the wine. Despite being so selective, Pil Pil features wine from over eighty different kinds of grapes. Considering the breadth of his experience, the property he owns, and his education, I was even more impressed with Nik when he revealed his age - when we met in early 2016, he was only twenty-seven! Pil Pil's home on 78th Street had previously been occupied by a sake bar where Nik actually worked. When it became obvious that the space would have to shutter, Nik turned it into a Spanish restaurant, decorating the interior with wine bottles and twining tree branches to make the intimate ambience for which Pil Pil is known. His initial plan was to serve traditional Spanish food, but he has added many American classics with key Spanish ingredients to the menu to appeal to his New York audience. For instance, there is a mac and cheese with chorizo and sliders made with manchego cheese. On the day we visited, Nik was offering a special mulled wine. He handed each member of the Manhattan Sideways team a glass, seasoned with citrus and cloves, which warmed us from the inside out. He showed us to the recently redesigned wine cellar before beckoning us into the kitchen where he casually added shrimp to a pan filled with butter and spices with one hand and stirred the pot of mulling wine with the other. Everything Nik and his sous chef Pedji did seemed effortless, like a well-timed culinary dance. He brought out a few dishes for us to try on the hightop tables, including the shrimp, called gambas al ajillo, which had just the right amount of spice and left enough sauce for the perfect buttery bread dip. We also tried the freshly baked flaky mushroom flatbread, seasoned with truffle oil. The last to arrive were the macaroni and cheese croquettes. These light balls of noodles and cheese, with a dash of paprika, were sensational. Nik is proud of what Pil Pil has become, both in terms of the food and the staff, many of whom speak both Spanish and English. There is no hierarchy of waiters and food runners. Casually dressed, they all work seamlessly together, emphasizing the relaxed atmosphere that Pil Pil has fostered. On Wednesdays, Nik occasionally brings in a Spanish acoustic guitar player from Barcelona…and sometimes Nik himself even plays.
The James B. Duke house is the first building one encounters on a block known as "Millionaire's Row. " It was built for James Buchanan Duke, one of the founders of the American Tobacco Company, in 1912. It is now an academic building used by New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.