Every nook and cranny of this tiny storefront's space is full of an extensive and eclectic collection of musical instruments from around the world. Instruments hang from the ceiling just as haphazardly as they are stacked on top of one another from the floor. Located at this same address for over fifty years, Music Inn has an impressive sitar selection from the 1960's, a rare 100 year old sarinda from Afghanistan, as well as adorable little child guitars and mini pianos. I had a quick throwback moment when I spied an autoharp. Do you remember music class in elementary school back in the 60's?
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.
This bright and colorful West Village thrift shop is just one of the many businesses run by Housing Works, one of New York's highly regarded non-profits. Housing Works was founded in 1990 by members of ACT UP, an AIDS activist group that is dedicated to fighting the joint issues of homelessness and the AIDS epidemic. Their first thrift shop opened in Chelsea in 1992 and thirteen more have opened throughout the city since then, as well as a bookstore café in SoHo. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, the social stigma associated with those living with the virus or simply being LGBTQ+ resulted in thousands of individuals being denied the foundation of a stable living: housing. Whether it was from familial rejection or housing discrimination, more and more HIV positive people found themselves on the streets, and poverty, queerness, and AIDS soon became intrinsically linked. Recognizing this often neglected connection, the founders of Housing Works sought to create an organization that addressed this crisis. The non-profit is committed to ending the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain their efforts. Luke, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, sat down with the 10th Street store manager, Lauren Guttenplan, to discuss the community atmosphere forged in their shop. She mentioned, “Community feels very central to the mission. We’re not too far from Christopher Street and Stonewall, so many of our customers and volunteers have lost someone or have a personal connection to the cause. They like to know that the money they’re spending is going to help towards something good. ” Guttenplan also noted that many of their regular customers come in as frequently as once or twice a day, and that the staff, the majority of whom are volunteers, often know customers’ names. Some patrons will even make a point to shop on a day where they know when a particular volunteer is working. Guttenplan credits much of the success of the operation to the devotion of the volunteers, whom she describes as “the face of the store. ” The shopping experience is truly unlike many other in that there are opportunities for customers to become volunteers or get involved in local activism and protests. With a retail background and a degree in social work, Lauren finds Housing Works to be a perfect blend of her passions. The organization provides the unique opportunity to run a business and actually make a difference. She appreciates that with programs like job training, it is particularly satisfying to witness the impact of her work first hand. Because all of the merchandise sold in the stores is donated, each of the Housing Works shops also serves as a reflection of the surrounding neighborhood. The West Village shop, with plenty of natural lighting and exposed brick, features not only fun and unique clothing selections, but also many household items, including kitchen items, home décor, and even furniture. The store hosts a number of events, the biggest of which are the Best of Fall and Best of Spring sales.
What started out as a couple of ice cream trucks in 2008, has since become a beloved collection of shops throughout Brooklyn and New York City. Van Leeuwen offers delicious fresh milk ice cream and vegan options made with only “coconut and cashew milk, raw cocoa butter, extra virgin olive oil, and organic sugar cane. ” These artisanal ice cream makers are extremely concerned with the quality of their product and the source of their ingredients - their vanilla flavor comes from organic bourban and Tahitian vanilla orchids, and their chocolate from a family-run French company concerned with quality and free trade practices, Michele Cluizel Chocolate. Van Leeuwen also offers sophisticated flavors like ginger, sweet sticky black rice, earl grey tea, Ceylon cinnamon, and salted caramel with buffalo trace bourbon. This is a must try ice cream spot for vegans, dairy-lovers, and everyone else.
When Bienvenido Alvarez and his wife left the city of Ourense in 1973, they did not know when they would see their children again. Looking for a better life in Manhattan, where Bienvenido’s brother worked at Sevilla, the couple arrived to the sight of the Twin Towers being built. Bienvenido’s American life grew in tandem with the skyscrapers: He worked as a waiter in the mornings and learned English in the afternoons. After months of this hard work he and his brother, Jose, bought Sevilla, which remains open seven days a week, just as it did years ago. It was not until 1976 that Bienvenido and his wife were able to bring their children to New York. During the summer of 2017, Bienvenido sat with the Manhattan Sideways team at Sevilla, the light illuminating the left side of his face through the massive window that faces West 4th Street. His granddaughter Andrea joined us, kindly translating our interview between Spanish and English. The relatives do not look alike, yet both emanate the same brand of warmth. We arrived at the restaurant while Bienvenido was in the middle of paperwork, but he still took the time to do an interview on the spot - it is befitting that his name translates to “Welcome. ” Before it was established as a Spanish restaurant in 1941, the corner of West 4th and Charles Street was an Irish tavern that sold burgers and beer. The remnants of that earlier establishment can still be seen in Sevilla's decor. Although Bienvenido and his brother are the second set of owners of Sevilla, Bienvenido pointed out that there are no noticeable differences between the restaurant today and the original that opened so many decades ago. Insuring a seamless change of ownership, the brothers chose to leave the restaurant as they inherited it, except for the menu and the alarm system. “We did better, everything, ” said Bienvenido about the menu. It is identical to the 1940s menu, except for a few new dishes and revamped editions of the original items. The alarm system at Sevilla is an homage to the character of the West Village in the 1970s. An eclectic prequel to the upper-class neighborhood it is today, the Village was once home to many thieves, artists, “Bohemians, ” and a significant Spanish community. The restaurant “used to get robbed a lot, ” but is now protected by alarms and its proximity to well to do neighbors. This safety came at the cost of the area’s gentrification, which pushed most of the Spanish population out of the neighborhood. The West Village’s blocks were once so packed with Spanish restaurants it used to be known as “Little Spain. ” Andrea proudly stated that Sevilla is a “pillar for the Spanish community” that remains today. One unwavering Spanish value that the business upholds is the importance of family. Sevilla is not just a restaurant, but the venue where Bienvenido's large Spanish family gathers to celebrate Easter, Mother’s Day, baptisms, and communions. Andrea estimates that three to four generations attend these gatherings and then added that their immediate family tries to have a meal together once a day. Bienvenido bought the building in which Sevilla resides in 1982 so that his family would have a place to live. In general, the family is very close: Bienvenido said that his relationship with his brother is “muy bueno” and that on the rare occasion the pair does argue, Bienvenido can never stay mad at his partner for long. Andrea has been living in New York for the past three years while she finishes culinary school, but before that, she visited the restaurant at least once every year from her home in Spain. When asked what she has learned from her time spent here, Andrea began her response with a one-word statement: "sacrifice". While the restaurant’s enduring success can be credited to its authentic food, it is also fueled by something less concrete: Bienvenido’s genuine, enviable love for what he does. He describes his customers as “marvelous, ” and, at the age of eighty-five, continues to come in every other day to do paperwork and mingle with guests. “He’s a very loving person, ” Andrea gushed, “And he doesn’t understand retirement. ” Bienvenido started working when he was fourteen in Spain, but still keeps a sense of humor about his life’s obstacles. “The worst part was the idioms, ” Bienvenido reminisced about learning English forty-five years ago (His grasp of English has sadly since slipped away). Laughing, he imparted a truism: “A day without work is a day without money. ” Towards the end of our interview, Andrea distilled her grandfather’s character into two words - “proud” and “fun” - and revealed that he wakes up singing every morning. While the brothers used to work hard out of necessity, they do it now for joy. “They work not because they need it, but because they love it. ”