After I had been sitting for a while by the window in the front room drowned in red floral prints and warm smells, Amanda, the young lady serving customers behind the counter, led me through the red door into the kitchen. Lee, his son, and another employee stood together, working to finish another tray of Rugelach. There was an unglazed chocolate cake beckoning like a temptress from a table nearby, the scent of apricot and dough about to be baked filled the air, while the whirring of the freezers echoed in the background. "This is where the magic happens," Amanda declared. Well, after tasting several of Lee Lee's famous Rugelach – a Jewish flaky pastry dough rolled and filled with a variety of fillings including nuts, chocolate and jams - I can confidently state that there is magic involved. Alvin Lee Smalls came to New York from South Carolina when he was twenty years old in 1962 and found himself working in the kitchen, of New York Presbyterian Hospital, peeling onions. He remained there for many years, learning the ins and outs of the kitchen and cultivating a love for cooking that would carry him through much of his life. While speaking with Lee, I learned that it was on Christmas day in 1987 that he decided to bake Rugelach for the people at the hospital from a recipe he had found in the newspaper. Lee's take on Rugelach was met with wild approval from his co-workers, and his destiny has been tied to the pastry ever since. In 2016, Lee proudly told me that he makes about 700 Rugelach a day and even more for the Jewish holidays, when he works around the clock to supply his customers with his delicious desserts, all made by hand, all made with love. In addition to the Rugelach, the bakery offers incredible cakes, danish, and cookies.I sat with Lee for quite some time listening to his stories, while also observing the steady flow of customers that continued to march in and out of the screen door. Some were regulars who Lee greeted warmly, while another astounded me by saying that despite living in the neighborhood for years, she had never bothered to drop in. After sampling some of Lee's Rugelach, however, she announced, emphatically, that she would definitely be back. "People are just so surprised that this black man makes Jewish pastries!" Amanda told me. "I love sweet," Lee said and added a piece of advice to live by, "but if you're going to eat something sweet, eat the good stuff."
Founded by Antonio Veniero, who emigrated to New York as a teenager from a small town outside Sorrento on Italy’s Amalfi coast, Veniero’s has been an East Village mainstay since the turn of the twentieth century. Initially a confectionery shop, it later evolved into a cafe and then a full-fledged pastry shop, with culinary creations by some of Italy’s finest bakers. Along with his wife, Pasqulina, and their seven children, Antonio followed the Italian custom of keeping business in the family. Veniero’s passed through four generations until reaching its current owner, Antonio's great-nephew Robert Zerilli, who had worked at the cafe alongside his father, Frank, for decades before taking over. Beyond the business legacy he left behind, Antonio also birthed an extensive family tree. “The Venieros are every-where,” Robert quipped, adding that the legendary Bruce Springsteen is his second cousin. The business savvy of the extended Veniero family has helped keep the shop alive. Tales of Antonio’s relentless determination to succeed are still retold with pride by his relatives. He is also credited with bringing electricity to the neighborhood, home to mostly poor immigrants at the time, by rallying local support and collecting signatures to sway the reluctant energy company.In another bit of local lore, Antonio is said to have ushered in the entry of Italian espresso to the city, as he started roasting his own beans right in the shop’s backyard. Fittingly, Robert has Veniero’s to thank for meeting his wife, whose love for their iced cappuccinos made her a regular customer until he found the courage to ask her out on a date.
The Manhattan Sideways team is always excited when they discover a shop that specializes in chocolate. On this particular day, we were also delighted to spend some time chatting with owner, Kamila Myzel. We learned that this heavenly little store has resided on 55th for over two decades, and has an old-fashioned candy shop charm to it. Kamila makes every effort to be sure that anyone who steps inside her door feels welcome, and she went on to say that she uses her grandma's recipes for the many different sweets she sells. She bakes all the cookies herself, right on the premises, with her signature being the "Ultimate Cookie," a chocolate chip cookie that is then dipped in chocolate.Like many of the store's confectionary delights, Kamila is from Europe; she moved from Poland in 1981, and worked in a few other shops with sweet treats before opening this one. Licorice is a specialty at Myzel's, and Kamila explained to us that she carries over 130 different types of licorice made from licorice root that their loyal customers adore. On one of my visits, Myzel's was decked out for Halloween, with candied skulls, pumpkins, and a number of other appropriate decorations squeezed into every nook and cranny. Apparently, Kamila decorates extensively for each major holiday, but she said her personal favorite is Thanksgiving, as it has the "most sincere meaning." Myzel's even makes chocolate turkeys for the occasion!Until recently, Kamila had a partner with whom she decorated, baked, and ran the store: her mother, Lucy. The mother/daughter team worked together in the sweet shop until the summer of 2015, when Lucy sadly passed away. We had the pleasure of meeting Lucy and seeing the love and devotion that the two women had both for the store and each other. What we derived from our conversations with Kamila was the joy the store brought to her and her mom over the years. Together they have put so much thought and love into Myzel’s Chocolate, and it is clear that her mother lives on in the warmth, color, and happiness that the store evokes. “It’s what’s inside that matters,” Kamila insisted as she spoke about how much she loves connecting with people through sharing candies and sweet treats with them.
Named after the street where it was first located in SoHo, Sullivan Street Bakery was established in 1994 by former sculptor and bread aficionado, Jim Lahey. Meeting him one afternoon, while grabbing a bite of some of the freshly baked flat breads and sandwiches, was a double treat for members of the Manhattan Sideways team. It is always nice to learn the history and hear the passion of a shop directly from its owner.After spending eight months living in Italy and studying the art of bread making in the early 90's, Jim came back to the States with a talent for baking some of the best loaves around. Though he could only bake in his Williamsburg garage between shifts at other jobs, he continued to experiment with his own recipes and eventually started selling his product at street markets. Auspiciously, the first time he sold his bread was at a market on the corner of Houston and Sullivan Street, close to the site of his future brick-and-mortar.Jim moved Sullivan Street Bakery to the current location in Hell's Kitchen in 2000 and remains as involved in his business as ever – in fact, he lives right above the shop. He is famous for his revolutionary bread baking technique, often referred to as no-knead baking. In short, instead of pounding bread into a table, Jim lets the dough sit for fourteen to twenty hours, allowing it to ferment, and then puts it in a 450 degree oven for about an hour. The simple technique has encouraged many, including my own husband, to bake bread at home and rave about the results.In addition to Jim's bakery on 47th, he also opened Co. (short for Company) in 2009, where guests are invited to sit at communal tables to indulge in his variety of pizzas and other scrumptious items on the menu. Having written two books – My Bread (2009) and My Pizza (2012) – Jim has become a figurehead in the movement that is raising the standard for bakers everywhere, especially in Manhattan. It is his ultimate hope that the art of bread making will become as much of a cultural practice here as it is in Italy.
With a bowl sitting on the floor labeled “Dog,” a small children’s table set with books slightly ajar, and a wooden drying rack covered in aprons, walking into Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks is like entering a well-kept early twentieth century home. Out back is a casual collection of lawn chairs surrounded by greenery, the perfect place to sit and chat or get lost in a good book. We were guests first and customers second, peering at the shelves of authentic cookbooks adorned with spatulas, match boxes, teddy bears, rolling pins, a type-writer, an antique Hope Pride oven, and other trinkets under the domain of kitchen and library.More than a store of antiquarian cookbooks, Bonnie Slotnick offers an experience. The space is active, inviting you to delicately handle the old kitchenware, fumble through the books, and fraternize with Bonnie. The more we spent time with Bonnie, the more we realized how interdependent Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks and Bonnie Slotnick are, each filling the other, and those around them, with life and breath.Bonnie started collecting books, which she strongly distinguishes from the stocking she does for her store, when she attended Parsons School for Design. After graduating, she began her career in publishing. (She is still a freelance editor to this day, though her customers may not realize it). In 1984, she took on the side job of looking for books to help stock Kitchen Arts and Letters, where scouting out books became as much a mission as a hobby.When Bonnie picks up a used cookbook, she first looks for the aura. She fumbles through the pages, catches the familiar old book smell, and senses the synergy of the words, illustrations, and typefaces: the book as a complete object. She told me that she often feels like she is saying, “Oh there you are old friend, you nice old friend!” She picked up The American Woman’s Cookbook, first published in 1938, which featured a hologram-like cover, thumb index, and photographs sourced from marketing campaigns. “This is a wartime edition, published in 1942,” she explained, “…things like sugar, fat, and white flour had to be rationed.” She went on to show me some of the cooking utensils in her shop – a rotary egg beater, a tomato slicer, and some tools to make butter, amongst others. The Manhattan Sideways team agreed that they were reminiscent of pieces we had in our own homes growing up, a nuanced nostalgia that made our first visit to Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks both comfortable and familiar. Her passion in showing us the cookware and books not only fueled our own interest, but also engaged others wandering around shop. They could not help but listen to what Bonnie had to say, her eyes smiling the whole way through.Aside from books, what Bonnie wanted to talk about most was her supporting community. Though she at first feared the East Side, viewing it as an entirely different environment than the West, she now is familiar enough with the neighborhood that she could not stop listing other small businesses that she admires nearby, wishing to promote each one of them. Her website even has a section called The Neighborhood, where she promotes other bookstores that she hopes will be as successful as hers has been. These are not her competitors, but her friends.Nothing is more revealing of Bonnie’s character than her immense appreciation for her current landlords. Bonnie has lived on West 10th street since the mid 1970s, and when she lost her lease on her old West Village bookstore location in 2014 after being in business for seventeen years, she was devastated. Luckily, in 2015, Margo and Garth Johnson stepped in, offering her a lease on a commercial space in their house. Book lovers themselves, the two have adopted Bonnie into their community and saved her dream of “keeping bookstores and a love of reading alive.” They also adopted a dog, which Bonnie admits was as much for her as it was for them.Bonnie’s new lease offers ten years of permanence, rather than the three of her previous one. The new space is also three times the size of the old. With more room, supportive landlords, and a sense of stability, Bonnie is able to diversify the use of her space. She is now open to hosting literary and culinary gatherings, such as book clubs for food literature. She also hopes to expand her stock of books when she accumulates enough funds. The supply is certainly there: potential sellers often send her pictures of books they would like her to buy.Bonnie goes to work six days a week. She says, “Each day I create something. My store is my art.”
Peter Glassman was the kind of child who would move books back into their rightful places while browsing bookstores. Hooked on reading before the second grade, by age twelve he had “read his parents’ home dry.” Pegged as a bookworm by his friends and family, for his Bar Mitzvah he received over a dozen bookstore gift certificates. Aged fourteen, he applied for a position at a local bookshop but was turned away for being too young. A year later, he was finally able to land a job at a different bookstore, quickly becoming the buyer for its science fiction section.After spending just a year at Brown University, Peter moved to New York and began taking acting lessons. One day, his acting coach said, “If you're going to be an actor, it should be the only thing in life that makes you happy. If anything else in life brings you more joy, then you should do that.” It was at this moment that Peter realized, “Books are my greatest joy.”Soon after this epiphany, Peter began collecting antiquarian books, acquiring enough stock to sell. Originally, he thought he would rent space in a basement and have a mail-order business, but then he discovered a humble 200-square-foot location at 444 Hudson Street. With the help of a few friends, Peter cleaned it up, built some book-cases, and went to a wholesale book company to fill the last four shelves with a selection of his favorite titles, including The Cricket in Times Square, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Snowy Day, and Where the Wild Things Are. The fervent reader was only twenty years old when he opened Books of Wonder.In 1982, Books of Wonder opened a second store nearby, tripling in size. Stocked with mostly new books, he also offered a selection of old and rare titles. In 1986, he relocated to an even larger space on 18th Street and Seventh Avenue after he learned that Barney's was opening a “fancy” store nearby. He believed that this would attract more families to the neighborhood. He was correct.Peter soon decided that it was not necessary to pay avenue prices. Instead, he could open on a side street. In 1996, Books of Wonder settled on 18th Street, where he hosted readings by J.K. Rowling, Maurice Sendak, and every other larger-than-life name in children's literature. In 2017, Peter enriched the Upper West Side with his second location on West 84th Street. Of the many attractions at Books of Wonder, Peter is most known for his selection of The Wizard of Oz. He was mesmerized as a preteen when he first devoured L. Frank Baum’s series, and it was a copy of The Magic of Oz spotted at the Strand bookstore — with its beautiful colored plates — that inspired him to restore the series to its former glory. Together with Harper Collins, he printed all fifteen Oz books with their original illustrations under Books of Wonder Classics, something never done before.For some forty years, Books of Wonder has been a space where many children have become avid readers, and Peter is always touched when parents remind him that his store also turned them into devoted readers a generation before.
It is a thrill to be able to be writing about the Argosy Bookstore. As a former owner of a children's book shop, I could not wait to get to 59th Street so that I could delve deeply into this family history, which began in 1925, and share the story of the three extraordinary sisters that have carried on their father's legacy.Despite being on 59th Street since the 1930s, the bookstore remains a 'hidden gem' to many New Yorkers who will regularly walk by and miss its presence amidst the ever-growing retail buildings. Naomi, one of the sisters, who maintains her post at a desk by the door, says, "About fifteen times a day, I have someone walk in the store, stop in their tracks and say, 'Oh my goodness, I never knew that this existed.'" And what a wonderful discovery this six-story curiosity is.Argosy feels as much like a museum as it does a bookstore. With its specialty being rare and out-of-print books, along with a score of historic maps, prints and autographs, it is a treasure trove with a vast selection that has something for everyone. It brought me great pleasure to introduce members of the Manhattan Sideways team to this remarkable shop that I had been scouring for decades. From the moment we walked through their doors, and they commented at the "book smell" that invaded their senses, I knew that I had them hooked. But then their eyes wandered across the shelves of books that dominated the room, catching the paintings hung above them and the green library lamps suspended at every interval, they simply stood in amazement.And then Naomi greeted us and took us on what would become a remarkable tour of the entire building. We began on the main level, where some of the store's most beautiful books are showcased, in genres from historical fiction to children's books. We were amused as Naomi pointed out her special shelves appropriately named "the oh-I-should-have-read-this" - a sort of "un-Barnes and Noble section" that does not necessarily include Hemingway or Faulkner, but certainly exhibits a great awareness and taste in fine literature.From there, we ventured down to the basement, a general browsing room, and then up to the sixth floor, which Naomi calls the 'oh my God room,' as it is filled with autographs from Teddy Roosevelt to Elton John. As one of three sisters who inherited the bookstore from their father, Lou, Naomi explained that each of the siblings maintains an individual pride in a certain collection in the store. For Naomi, it is the autograph collection.As we continued down, we stopped on a floor dedicated to American History, where there was a fascinating collection of rare books on topics that included American Architecture, the Cold War, and the American Revolution. I was particularly attracted, however, to the map room. As I was wandering through, I discovered an actual first edition map of Manhattan - drawn sideways in 1865.Argosy Bookstore remains one of the largest, family-run independent bookstores in New York City. Despite impressive offers for its real estate, the store has continued its business through generations and maintains a genuine character matched by only a handful of other businesses in Manhattan.
There is no question that the independent bookstores of New York are disappearing, which is why I am always thrilled to come across one that is thriving. Book Culture was originally founded as Labyrinth Books in 1997 by Book Culture's current owner, Chris, and Cliff, his partner at the time. Chris' career had begun in the 1980s when he started selling books for Papyrus Bookstore. He also worked at the old Book Forum, located across the street from Columbia, and at Great Jones Books. In 2007, Book Culture broke off from Labyrinth Books. Two new locations opened in Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side in 2009 and 2014. In 2010, Annie Hendricks joined Chris as a co-owner.I spoke with Cody, who became the store manager at 112th Street in 2013. He explained that the real estate is owned by Columbia, and so the shop sees a lot of college students, especially in the early autumn months. Book Culture's customer base, however, is varied: after all, he pointed out, the Upper West Side has not really had an independent bookstore since Endicott Books closed in 1995. Book Culture carries a wide variety of subject matter including English, anthropology, history, philosophy, and sociology.Despite how many independent bookstores have been lost, Cody has optimistically seen a trend over the last four years, which he called "a natural renaissance of independent booksellers." He noted that chain stores are not sustainable in the literary world, since people "want bookstores to be tied to the communities." Cody acknowledged that Book Culture has tried to fulfill its role as a community center by offering events, such as family outings and bagel breakfasts. He then went on to say that since Book Culture takes care to cater to the neighborhood, the store "oftentimes offers a better curated selection" than one's average Barnes and Noble. "In many ways it's more than just a bookstore. It's a great place to spend a couple hours."Cody has noticed a few other recent trends. The store, he told me excitedly, had become increasingly busier. He has noticed that there has been a "return to fiction" with specifically a "growing interest in translated works." In response, Book Culture's literature section has expanded. Customers are encouraged to spend time figuring out what interests them. He then stated, "It's rare that someone doesn't leave with a book or at least a good idea of what they'd like to read next."
“INTAR is a beacon for all Latino artists in New York,” said Artistic Director Lou Moreno, who was raised in Colombia and naturally gravitated toward the theater when he arrived in Manhattan at the age of twenty-one. At the time, INTAR was still under the management of its founder, Cuban immigrant Max Ferrá. Max created the institution out of a passion for all international art, with a special focus on Latinx work. More broadly, however, “Max was driven by beauty. He always challenged us to find the beauty in everything we did at the theater.” His successor, Cuban-American playwright Eduardo Machado, sought to continue Max’s vision by producing plays in any venue he could rent as INTAR lacked a space of its own.Lou had been affiliated with INTAR since his first job running the light board in the 1990s. He did acting, directing, and some design before joining as Eduardo’s associate artistic director. When Eduardo departed the business in 2010, Lou took over the reins and endeavored to transform the theater and lift it out of debt. He converted the rehearsal studio on 52nd Street into a workshop space, complete with risers and a full lighting grid, and switched INTAR’s focus to developing new dramatic and musical theater productions. “I tried to honor what Max felt the theater should be.”To Lou, establishing their own place for performances rather than renting outside theaters was a logical choice: “I can either rent and spend money paying landlords or I can spend the money on the actors.” Once the unions got behind him, they finalized INTAR’s space within nine months and were able to put on their first show. Since then, the theater has produced about fifteen plays and developed new programming to support fledgling artists. “The heart of INTAR is based on this community of artists, so our organization will never truly die. Our artists constantly feed us, and we try to feed them.”Though Lou longs for the day when INTAR will no longer be necessary to push Latinx work into the mainstream, he is thrilled to see a shift in the industry in recent years. “We spent so much time chasing the American theater that now we are finally at a time that they are chasing us.”
A wonderful story of dance lay in our wake on West 55th Street, and how exciting for the Manhattan Sideways team to be able to enter inside and have a firsthand experience. The studio is named after Mr. Alvin Ailey, who began his immersion in dance while in high school in California where he went on to study with Lester Horton. In a style that later came to be known as the Horton technique, rooted in Native American Folk Dance elements and the idea of building strength by using the whole body, Mr. Ailey thrived. After moving to New York in 1954 while in his early twenties, Ailey danced on Broadway in "House of Flowers," while continuing to study modern dance as well as ballet. In 1958, Ailey founded his own dance company made up of seven dancers. Their first performance was at the 92nd Street Y. Completely redefining dance in America, the Alvin Ailey company, initially comprised solely of African-Americans, sought to interpret and express their experiences through a style based as much in spirituality, soul, and social commentary as it was in technique and innovative movement. Ailey's most prominent work with this group, entitled "Revelations," quickly established them as the one of the most creative set of dancers in the country. Ailey went on to choreograph works for the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the London Festival Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet. He received numerous honors and awards, as he became recognized internationally, and in 1969, Ailey took his devotion to dance and the African-American experience to a new level by founding the Ailey School. Although Ailey died in 1989 while only in his fifties, the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation continues his legacy and serves as the "umbrella organization." Though Alvin died while only in his fifties, the institution continues his legacy of “using the arts for activism,” said Sarita Allen. Taken under Alvin’s wing as a scholarship student in the 1970s, Sarita is now a longtime instructor at the Ailey Extension. “He was a champion of integration. Even more than his choreography, he demonstrated how people could dance together. They could be beautiful and harmonious,” Sarita said. Sarita had the privilege of working closely with Alvin, and he personally selected her to join his company. “It was so vibrant compared to the classical ballet world. People of so many different colors and nationalities were given the opportunity to perform.” This had an enduring impact on Sarita and countless others who were inspired by this portrayal of the grace, elegance, and power of the Black body. With Alvin’s unwavering support, Sarita was able to take a sabbatical from the company to embark on separate projects and work with Judith Jamison — an-other one of Alvin’s protégés who then succeeded him as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. In 1988, Alvin asked Sarita to return and help mentor the next generation of dancers, enabling her to spend the last year of Alvin’s life teaching alongside him. “It wasn’t that long that we knew one another, but it was very rich. He was an extraordinary man.” Today, not only is Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater the home for members of its company and school to rehearse and take classes, but they have an Extension Program that allows for anyone at any level of expertise to take a class taught by one of Ailey's incredible teachers. The stunning views of the surrounding area from the upper floors of the building serve as quite the backdrop for the dancing that takes place within. There are a wide range of classes offered including Salsa, Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary, Hip-Hop, Latin Jazz Fusion, Horton, Zumba, Samba and Afro-Brazilian. The Ailey Arts in Education and Community Programs works to offer the gift of dance to schools, communities, and the world. In addition, there is the Ailey Camp, a summer program that teaches dance to inner-city children in middle school, as well as Ailey Dance Kids, which emphasizes teamwork, self-discipline and creativity with school-aged children and teens. Together, the Extension program and the Education and Community programs serve to bring Ailey's core belief to life: that dance is for everyone, and it has the power to use "the beauty and humanity of the African-American heritage and other cultures to unite people of all races, ages and backgrounds.
Both a space of learning and of performing, Kaufman Music Center is home to Merkin Concert Hall, Lucy Moses School, and Special Music School. The organization was founded in 1953 and receives most of its funding through donations from music enthusiasts.The Merkin Concert Hall has been around since the 1970s and was renovated with the rest of the building in 2007. Vocal and acoustic performances of classical and new music send resonating sounds throughout the spacious 450-seat room, with its well-lit stage and impressive grand piano. Each year, the concert hall hosts the Ecstatic Music Festival, which presents one-night-only artist collaborations from across the spectrum.The Special Music School is the only public school in the city to offer music as a core subject to its gifted students, and the Lucy Moses School offers a variety of classes in music, dance and theater. "Lots of people will come back to play here as an adult having taken classes as children," explained Communications Director Joan Jastrebski.In the summertime, the classrooms turn into musical theater workshops where specific age groups work with writers and choreographers to develop a performance for their final recital. Because every good show needs its props, a team of designers gets together to go over every last detail. Alex, one of the interns, shared with me the story of how the team scurried around to fabricate a prop microphone out of tape and foam when one went missing from the set, only to find it moments from show time."What is exciting about the center is what people are doing," Joan added when she took me to watch little ones dance passionately to playful music in the Ann Goodman Recital Hall. She also allowed me a peak into one of the private practice rooms on the third floor where Genya Paley, who had been with the center for over three decades, was giving a piano lesson to a young boy. "Yes, right," said Genya as the child played each chord individually, "Now put it together." The lovely harmony that followed exemplified the intersection of practice and performance.
Members of the Manhattan Sideways team stood in awe when we entered the New York City Center and realized that the extraordinary exterior matched the majestic interior. One of the most beautiful facades on the side streets is here on 55th, but behind its doors is a restored treasure trove. Hawley Abelow and Stanford Makishi, two passionate personnel from the marketing and programming departments, greeted us as we arrived and proceeded to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of what they termed to be “The family business of performing arts centers of New York.” Stanford called it the “most ‘un-corporate’ large venue” he has witnessed, and he and Hawley both have the credentials to make that judgment, having worked at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Both went on to say that even though they have to book acts with a certain amount of popularity in order to be financially viable, they are mainly concerned with what they put on the stage, rather than the profits. City Center also displays a refreshing lack of competitive spirit: “Other philanthropic programs are our colleagues, not competitors,” Stanford explained, while detailing his amicable dealings with some of the big theaters in the city.We started out walking on the center stage itself, where we could stare out at the breathtaking view of the tiers of seating. Each level was an intricately carved masterpiece, reminiscent of a Russian cathedral. Stanford said that dancers, actors and musicians love performing at City Center because the theater is built so that every seat feels close to the stage. He told us that their left wing is legendary, as there is a wall only a few feet from the edge of the stage. Apparently every ballerina knows not to make extravagant leaps off the left side unless they have someone waiting to prevent them from smashing into the wall. Stanford is qualified to speak about the performer’s experience, since he was a dancer for many years, and City Center was the first New York location at which he danced. On our particular visit, the stage was getting set up for that evening's performance by Bjork.Though Hawley is not a dancer, her career has similarly come full circle: when we explored the downstairs theater spaces, used by the Women’s Project and Manhattan Theater Company, she relayed that she started in the Production department at Manhattan Theater Company. Though not as grand as the main performance space, the downstairs theaters are more versatile. Stage 2 appears to be a “black box” theater, in which producers have more freedom with how they decide to set up the audience seating and set. Stage 1, on the day we saw it, was completely bare. This is not to say it was empty: cords and lights and ladders filled the stage, showing us a surgical biopsy of the theater. “This is as raw as it gets,” Hawley commented.We also had the privilege to peek into one of the City Center’s dance studios, where we observed men and women twisting like tilted windmills. Stanford and Hawley told us that the spaces, which are rented out to different companies, are heavily sought after because they are much larger than many studios in New York. Broadway casts covet them, but they often go to not-for-profit groups. “Broadway is not our priority,” Hawley stated. There was a "throne" at the back of the room, which was originally built as an auditorium for the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, an appendant body to the Freemasons. Stanford told us that they used to hold their secret meetings in the spaces that are now studios, and the man presiding would sit on the throne.It was when Stanford and Hawley began speaking about “Fall for Dance,” an event that aims to bring the “highest quality dance to the largest possible audience,” that they became especially animated. As Holly declared, “You can’t come to this show and not fall in love with dance.” The performances take place in the early fall, and apparently people line up in the middle of the night to be first to purchase tickets when they go on sale the following morning.Our tour continued to the lobby, which reminded us of a receiving hall in a palace. The design is neo-Moorish with murals depicting desert scenes. Hawley remarked that the colorful, intricate designs had been painted over in white during the 1970s due to a misguided sense of aestheticism, but in the recent renovations, they hired specialists who uncovered the original design. At the same time, screens were installed that display rainbow rivulets. Stanford informed us that the video was specially curated by the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton. Another dazzling piece of art was a mural that stretched across an entire wall of the Patron’s Lobby. It was created by a Cuban artist, and had been borrowed to complement his country's dance troupe’s performance. “We try to make performances meaningful for the audiences,” Sanford commented. Every element of the theater is in place to enhance what is on the stage.
Three friends and self-proclaimed theater kids — John Soroka, Michael Quinn, and Gary Alaimo — were searching for something to do in between jobs and auditions. They started a flower shop, Everlastings, out of their shared apartment and began making arrangements for street fairs, offices, and homes. Upon realizing that the business had taken over their living space — “There were flower petals everywhere,” John recalled — the trio rented a place in Hell’s Kitchen and decided to sell gifts and cards along with the bouquets.With time, these additions became the central focus of the shop, which was later renamed Delphinium Card & Gift. Though some thought the men were “insane” for opening in Hell’s Kitchen, they have remained a fixture in the area for over two decades and counting. “We had taste, we knew what we wanted, and we always had a knack for knowing what the neighborhood needed,” John mused. Buoyed by their initial accomplishments, the trio started a second store, Delphinium Home, that stocked home goods and accessories, followed by a men’s clothing store, Wear Me Out, in 2003.In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and with the cost of rent skyrocketing, the friends closed the boutique and consolidated the two Delphinium shops into one location in 2011. Today, they sell decorations, home furnishings, works by local artists, and clever greeting cards that are handpicked by John. “Now that I’m not doing theater anymore, it’s my creative outlet. "Delphinium Home is my theater,” he joked.Overall, John appreciates how lucky they are to have surmounted so many obstacles thanks to the constant support from the people around them. “We are only here by the good graces of those who have known us for such a long time and love what we do.”
Laughing, Grace Kang told me that when she was first getting started and running operations out of her apartment, her doorman handed her a box and commented, “Olives aren’t pink!” She went on to explain the name, which, like many aspects of Pink Olive, is inspired by her niece, who has quite the imagination. Being that her niece loved pink and Grace was partial to both pink and green, Grace chose to name the business after those two colors. However, she did not want to name her store “Pink Green,” so she decided on “Pink Olive,” which suggests that in the fanciful world of the store, pink olive trees grow.Though Grace is originally from the West Coast, she considers New York to be the place where she grew up professionally. Her experience as a buyer at Bloomingdales, Saks, and Barney’s helped shape her skill set and her career. “I’m very Cali at heart, but New York is my home,” she told me. Her customers see Pink Olive as a New York-centric business, and after speaking with her, it was clear that the city featured prominently both in her original development of her gift store idea and its current identity.When Grace first started looking for a space for her whimsical gift shop, she contemplated numerous locations, but one day, her mentor suggested that she should “go into an area that you have a personal connection with.” Grace admitted, “The East Village always felt like home to me,” and so immediately following her meeting, she decided to take a stroll in the neighborhood, spotted a For Rent sign on 9th Street, and started the ball rolling at an alarming pace. In 2007, Pink Olive was given a home.Grace’s business has evolved since its inception - it began primarily as a store for babies, and then expanded to include more gifts for every age. In the years since she opened, she has noticed that there are more and more new babies named Olive.At the same time as Pink Olive's opening, two Japanese girls started Atsuyo et Akiko. Grace began carrying their “Je t’aime NY” onesies, which continue to be a top seller for New York babies. Some of the other items that Grace cannot keep in stock are the New York metro card rattles made by Estella. She pointed out that the items are “a no-brainer, but unique.” Pink Olive is where people now come for tasteful New York-themed gifts for every age range. Additionally, there are clever cards, scented candles, and chic accessories, among many other delightfully whimsical items.When I asked Grace how working as a buyer for the women’s departments of more corporate companies helped her in opening Pink Olive, she said that buying for women’s fashion is very different from buying for a gift store, but that she is glad to have had the experience. In fashion, everything is far more fast-paced, since lines are seasonal. Grace said it was very much like the mantra about succeeding in New York: “If you can survive the fashion world, you can survive anywhere in the buying world.” But Grace is very happy to have followed her more personal passion by entering the gift business. She considers her time at Pink Olive extremely rewarding, since she can be a part of the special moments in people’s lives, whether it is a birthday, a new baby, sending snail mail to an old friend, or redecorating an apartment. And Grace feels that special moments are not few and far between: “I truly believe that everyday there’s a reason to celebrate.”
Maison 10, an exciting and innovative gallery and boutique project from the minds of co-founders Tom Blackie, Henri Myers, and Carsten Klein, opened in June 2016. For the trio of founders, ten is the magic number, as the space operates in ten-week cycles, each centered on ten featured works by a particular artist, alongside ten different product categories, each with ten carefully selected items. Customers can also choose one of ten different charities to which ten percent of the proceeds of their purchase will be donated. Maison 10 combines the founders’ shared love of art, culture, and philanthropy.Despite its bare bones appearance, the storefront is bound to catch the pedestrian eye, or perhaps first their nose with sage burning out front. When Manhattan Sideways stopped by, the wall on the side of the building featured a striped mural, which we learned is repainted every ten weeks by the newest featured artist. The shop is minimally decorated with white display tables showcasing a colorful array of products. It is clear that the room is meant to be rearranged every ten weeks, and that the items on display speak for themselves. The window display rotates even more frequently, changing daily at four pm. “It’s all about engaging with customers. We like to keep it fresh, and the opposite of formulaic,” Tom remarked with a laugh. The only constant presence in the store is the large statue of a gorilla sitting in the back corner, overseeing the boutique.The founders’ wide range of backgrounds and experiences give Maison 10 the worldly quality it effortlessly seems to possess. Henri, who is originally from New York but has spent quality time in Los Angeles, has spent most of his professional career working in fashion marketing and branding development, attending trade shows, and cultivating a keen sense of taste. Tom, who hails from Scotland, cut his teeth working in the London non-profit sector, learning the intricacies of how charitable institutions operate. Carsten, who is of German origin, is the visual thinker of the group, working mostly in typography, packaging, interior and web design. The three have each made New York their home and describe their shop as “a mixture of all our worlds put together.” By combining their skills of curation, altruism, and design, these men have created a space dedicated to ethical consumerism.So, why ten? In addition to being a good number for design and numerology, ten has a nostalgic connection for the team. “When all three of us were teens, growing up in our different cities, we were music freaks, and we would run to the record stores every week to keep track of the top ten charts,” Henri recalled. Similarly, the diverse selection of gifts, fine art, and lifestyle items ranging from candles and books to handmade jewelry appears to be the best of the best. “With only ten categories and ten products, we’ve already pre-selected the best items, and they all have a story,” Henri noted as he moved between a fruit bowl made from copper and walnuts to a bag made from authentic Japanese satin. “It mostly comes down to personal taste. These are the things we love and feel should be on everyone’s radar. It’s about introducing the customer to an experience one on one. We want to bring back shopping.” Henri mentioned how important it is that Maison 10 offers products at a wide range of prices, so as not to alienate any potential customers, “We wanted to make it so that you could come in and find a $15 book, a $600 bag, or even a $7,000 piece of art.”Nine out of the ten charitable organizations to which the men donate remain fixed throughout the year. The tenth changes with the cycle and is chosen by the designer. The fixed charities are mostly found through personal connections thanks to Tom’s work experience in the non-profit world, and thus are largely New York- and London-based. The impressive list contains local favorites like Housing Works, which is dedicated to fighting the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS, and SAGE, which supports LGBT elderly nationwide. There are also world humanitarian causes including Orange Babies, an Amsterdam-based organization that advocates for HIV positive pregnant women throughout Africa.The Manhattan Sideways team visited right around the first anniversary of Maison 10's opening, and Tom was pleased to report that the business was doing well after its first year. “It keeps getting busier and busier; people love the concept and we’ve definitely gained some super fans who come in every two or three days." The founders told us that many people who live in the vicinity come in on a regular basis to introduce the shop to their friends. The men are thrilled that they are on their way to becoming a "strong community" - "We believe in our project and we believe that it’s good for the street too.” They have already collaborated with their neighbors, such as Yeohlee Teng, whose work was featured during a cycle. The team is also working directly with designers on future products, including an original fragrance by Henri himself.Events are a regular part of Maison 10's cyclical process, with launch and closing parties every ten weeks that boast several hundred guests over the course of the night. Additionally, the shop hosts “Friday Night Live” which features five of the designers and five display islands organized by category. These provide an opportunity for customers to interact with the artist or designer, adding a personal touch to the consumer experience. At each of these events, Tom, Henri, and Carsten can be seen in their signature black jumpsuits.
The excellent selection of herbs, flowers, leaves, roots, and seeds at Flower Power can spice up any home, flavor any cuisine, add zing to any tea, or add a little pizzazz to anyone’s day. There is so much to see and learn – glass jars packed with herbs, dried flowers hanging from the ceiling and a helpful staff willing to converse about the healing power of any item. After spending some time here taking in the aroma, we definitely walked away feeling calm and centered. And as we learned from neighboring shops, Lata Kennedy, owner of Flower Power, is the "main witch of the East Village." She is described lovingly as a healer for all.
In 1954, a Ukrainian refugee began Veselka as a shop that sold cigarettes, candy, and newspapers with a few tables for some tasty homemade Eastern European food. Over the years, it slowly evolved into a coffee shop, and then to a casual restaurant. Almost fifty-nine years later, it continues to thrive as a neighborhood destination when one is in need of comfort food, or as my own kids have told me, it is a great late night spot too. Open twenty-four hours a day, the restaurant’s menu is a mix of Ukrainian and typical American diner fare. More than a diner, though, Veselka is a family-friendly establishment that serves up Ukrainian "peasant" food - known to many as "Ukrainian soul food."
Au Za’atar is an Arabian-French bistro at the edge of Alphabet City that serves everything from Mediterranean cheeses to couscous to mezze, a variety of small plates meant to accompany drinks — which can be paired with Au Za’atar’s extensive wine and craft beer offerings. The chef is Lebanese, but there are plenty of recipes originating from Morocco and Tunisia as well. The restaurant’s interior is simple and inviting, with brick walls, rich wooden tables, and red leather booths, making it a great place to sample some exotic dishes or just grab a drink at the bar.
Biking with my husband on a beautiful August day, I stopped short when I noticed something new and picturesque on 5th Street. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, but I had been holding out until I discovered the perfect place to grab a bite to eat, and I certainly landed in an ideal spot. The rustic charm indoors, with replicas of the farm equipment used in Italy hanging from the ceiling, captured our hearts immediately, but it was the food – the outstanding rice dishes – that solidified Risotteria Melotti indefinitely on my list of top restaurants to recommend. Since the restaurant was quiet at this odd hour, we were able to chat casually with the staff throughout our meal, and we learned not only about the history of the restaurant, but also about the world of rice. Back in 1986, a couple began producing rice on one acre of land in Verona, Italy. Almost three decades later, together with their three sons, Rosetta and Giuseppe now farm 544 acres of land, all devoted to growing award-winning rice that is sold the world over.There are basically two different textures of the grain that they produce. Vialone, the more traditional rice, is rich in proteins and vitamins and, because it absorbs liquid better, is used for their delicious risottos. Carnaroli rice, “considered one of the best in the world,” is more readily used in salads because it remains al dente when cooked, adding a chewiness to the superb insalata di riso that we shared. We both marveled at the combination of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red and yellow peppers, capers, fresh mozzarella and, of course, brown rice. When we first sat down, a bread basket was placed on the table. Their take on focaccia was very good, but I could not stop sampling their rice cakes throughout our meal – the basic recipe is made in Italy and then flown here to be tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and then baked for fourteen minutes. I cannot say enough about how amazing the second dish that we tried tasted. We never knew that you could make polenta from anything but cornmeal, but we had our eyes opened to something new and wondrous when we had our first taste of polenta fritta con caciottina – a fried rice polenta with mushrooms and cheese that was perfectly moist in the middle with an added crunch on the outside. Every mouthful was rich and heavenly.This brand new restaurant – the first outside of Italy – serves about thirty people, making for an intimate setting, especially when evening falls, the lights are dimmed and the candles are lit. Up front there is a little “shop” that sells many of their rice products. The staff explained that the family has made an across-the-board decision to only offer Melotti’s gluten-free rice merchandise in the States. Thus, anyone eating gluten-free can come to their restaurant and be served a carefree, excellent meal. Anyone fortunate enough to live in the area can either have their food delivered to them in their home or office, or stop by, browse the menu, and take it to go. I have no doubt that we would be eating a lot more rice if we lived in the East Village, but we will visit as often as we can.
When I walked into Clash City Tattoos, Baz was hunched over his station, completing a tattoo sketch. The space popped with bold red walls, brightly colored ink bottles, and large tattoo designs. One could not miss the almost human-sized bass in the corner if they tried – “some friends just like to come in and play the bass,” Baz told me as he shrugged his shoulders. Music influences much more of this tattoo shop’s ideology than I could have anticipated. Named after Baz’s favorite band, the space encapsulates the idea that just as The Clash could play such a range of genres, so too could Baz’s tattoos encompass all kinds of people. “Lawyers and rockstars alike listen to The Clash,” he elaborated, “and I want my tattoos to unite my customers, just as a single beat can unite different listeners.”Baz first visited the United States in 1991 while working on a cruise ship and was immediately drawn to everything American – particularly the music, cars, and TV shows. Working in a comic bookstore, he was captivated by posters for Iron Man, Planet of the Apes, and an assortment of cartoon superheroes. He claimed it was the “solid black lines, bold colors, and clear forms” of comic art that lent it a unique and sophisticated artistic quality. Moreover, his mother’s admiration for surrealist painter Salvador Dali offered him an early penchant for the freedom of abstract art anchored in bold lines – the ideal forms for tattoo art.Clients coming into Clash City Tattoos have usually heard about the store and like to visit with an idea of what they want inked. While Baz and his team are exceptionally friendly, asserting that their store “is a place that you won’t have to be afraid to walk into,” they are also honest with clients about which designs work and which simply do not. Equipped with a creative bent, the team mostly designs custom tattoos using clients’ ideas. However, when someone comes in asking for a "full bible verse on their little finger" or an arrangement of “a heart with four names in it, two wings on either side, and a crown on top in the size of a fist,” the team knows when to say “this isn’t working; let’s fine-tune.” What is more, they pay exceptionally close attention to each client’s pain tolerance. While some can manage three hours of inking in a go, others (like Baz’s wife, he laughs) only last ten minutes.I asked Baz about the most challenging tattoo he was tasked with designing. When the bass player of globally-renowned British band Muse, Chris, asked for a tattoo of his son’s name, Buster, in Disney font, Baz started thinking of ways to make the design more complex and unique. A few days later, Chris and Baz were hanging out with a group of friends, when Chris recounted a story about Buster. The young boy was playing with his toys at home when he ran straight into the corner of an table and cut his forehead. But he continued with his play as usual until Chris’ wife noticed a large gash on his head and rushed him to the hospital. Buster was unfazed. The story inspired Baz to draw up the tattoo that now decorates Chris’ right forearm – a smirking cartoon kid with boxing gloves over the name “Buster” in striking black font. Chris loved it.Looking at Baz’s journey thus far, it is easy to see how he has settled into a characteristic set of themes and motifs. Through space backgrounds, gypsy girls, cartoon superheroes, and more, Baz eventually reached a signature design – “pin-up girls with stuff in their hair,” as he amusedly called it. I was thrilled to see his gorgeous side profiles of girls with complex forms – ships, octopuses, and more – wrapped in the locks of their hair. Baz’s artistic genius spans a wide range of imagery, fixed into his defining black lines and bold forms.
After moving to her current location from East 7th Street, Lalita Kumut is pleased with her new address for selling aromatherapy products. On one of our recent visits, we stood by while a delighted group of girls were creating their own fragrances. From the variety of custom blends, soaps, oils and other smell-good body products, to the lovely women who have been in this business for over twenty years, the Fragrance Shop offers a memorable experience for the senses.
“I like our name,” explained barbershop owner Steve Polanco, “we give people an editing.” Having studied hair care in college and worked under another barber for many years, Steve opened his own place with his wife in August of 1984. The salon, originally known as Etsy and Twiggy, eventually morphed into a barbershop to capture the fun masculine dynamics Steve appreciated in his visits to others. One of Steve’s hires, a ninety-year-old man, was the son of Frank Sinatra’s father’s barber, and received immediate and plentiful requests as soon as he started, a barber with a following. Steve showed me some old photographs and smiled, “People get some editing and some laughing.”
I had been told about Salon Riz by several people who live on the Upper West Side. They raved about Mike Riz’s space and told me that it cultivated a comfortable, relaxing environment unlike any other - "a visceral experience" is how Lisa, at the nearby women's boutique, Pachute, describes her time spent here. Still, I was surprised by the warm, rustic salon that greeted me when I came through the door. It felt more like a garden patio with its little mossy birdhouses and strings of postcards decorated with grasses. Flowers and botanicals met my eye wherever I looked and a central table was filled with treats including fresh brewed tea with honey, cookies, crackers, and pretzels. Examining the offerings more closely, I spotted a bottle of Disarono and removed the lid of a plate holding healthy, gluten-free “Aussie bites.”Mike’s story of immigration to Manhattan is fascinating (and an example of why I so love to walk and meet the people on the side streets). Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, he originally wanted to be a jewelry designer, but did not have enough money for materials. Instead, he turned to hairstyling. He swept the floors in a Beirut hair salon for the equivalent of $3 per week and miraculously managed to save enough money to pay half the tuition to go to beauty school. The school wanted to refuse him admittance because of his lack of funds, but Mike persuaded them to let him work as a janitor at night in order to pay off the rest. He graduated and started making a name for himself as a hair stylist, catching the attention of Lebanese celebrities. He moved to New York in 2004, but is still sought out by old Lebanese clients traveling in the area.Mike worked on the Upper West Side for ten years before realizing his dream. Today, he has some college age clients who have been coming to him since they were children. I, too, have become an immediate fan. I walked out of the salon after my first visit knowing that I would not be going anywhere else again. In addition to brightening up my color and giving me an outstanding haircut, I was totally taken by the ease with which Mike and his team work and the speed that he gets his clients in and out without making them feel rushed. I loved the intimacy of Salon Riz best of all.Katherine is the manager of the salon and her loyalty to Mike was apparent from our first conversation. She met him while they were both working at Extreme Color and then followed him when he opened on the West Side. In speaking about the decor, she commented, “Even the tiniest detail Mike picked out." She pointed to a picture frame, showing that the angle at which it hung, forming an asymmetrical diamond, was specifically chosen by Mike. He is constantly adding to his cozy home and changing it for the seasons. “Every time I come, something is different or added,” Katherine said. When I visited, it was late January, and some small flowers had already been hung from the lights in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. Katherine shared that on February 14th, everyone who walks into the salon leaves with a rose. Katherine went on to say that in the springtime, Mike hangs butterflies on the ceiling, giving clients something pretty to look up at while getting their hair washed.Mike told me that the space used to be the rubbish room for the building. He picked up the little sign ("RUBBISH") that he had saved and decorated as a remembrance. The renovation understandably took a long time, and when he opened in June of 2014, he had only just finished construction. He is now very pleased with the place he has carved out for himself a year and a half later, calling it “rustic chic.” “This is a space for the community,” he told me. He hosts various events in his salon, including a comedy show featuring Danny Cohen of Comedy Central along with five other comics and a holiday bazaar through the month of December. Mike either shares the space for special events, as was the case when shop owners took over the treats table during the winter holidays, or he completely reconfigures the interior for shows, using salon chairs as additional seating. Sometimes the events are directly tied to enhancing the experience of his customers, such as when he brought live music into the salon during New Year’s Eve to entertain the clients having their hair done.Katherine shared some of the other unique concepts that Mike has instituted to enhance everyone's experience. For his frequent customers, he has special alerts next to their name in the computer system, such as, “This customer likes Tina Turner and white wine.” Because of the personal attention and the warm relationship that Mike has developed with customers, they often wander in just to say “hi” and to grab a cup of coffee. “I always encourage people to come in and say hello, even if they’re not getting their haircut,” Mike said. Though he gets a lot of people who live and work in the neighborhood, he is also sought out by many men and women throughout the city.On the day that we stopped in to take some photos, Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, shyly asked if Mike might have a second to trim her bangs. She was so pleased to be attended to by this gifted artist and loved the way that he styled her beautiful long head of red hair. She paid particular attention to the product that he used - Mike told us that Label M, designed by hair stylists, was a London Fashion Show sponsor. He went on to say that he always tries to stay on top of the newest and best hair products. Cost is not an issue; quality is what matters to him. I believe that Mike has gained not only me as a new customer, but Olivia as well. Upon leaving Salon Riz, Olivia declared that the journey from Brooklyn will certainly be worth the trek.
The shaded garden on 149th street was not always the peaceful hideaway it is today. It was once an abandoned lot littered with garbage - a blight on the side street. Although the garden is now managed by Edo, it was her good friend Miss Maggie Burnett, a resident of the building across the street since the 1980s, who was the original driving force behind its transformation. "She was a cop, so no one messed with her," Jahanah, Edo’s daughter, told me when I stopped by one Saturday afternoon during the summer of 2017. She was in the garden selling baked goods and cold water. She said that there were "so many badass stories" connected with Maggie. One such legend was that Maggie stopped a shooting outside simply by confronting the instigators and saying, "Not in my garden.” In fact, she had been known to almost single-handedly police the street. Her dedication to keeping the neighborhood clean and safe is what drove her to contact then-mayor Ed Koch to request the restoration of the abandoned lot, which had long been a site for illegal activity. Mayor Koch offered her the space, and Maggie made it into a garden where she grew vegetables and even kept some chickens, “which was a nice treat for me to hear in the city,” Edo shared. When the New York Restoration Project - founded by Bette Midler - became involved in 2002, the garden was revamped. Thanks to generous funding from the Brownstone Family Foundation, a team of horticulturists and landscape architects was able to design a place that would best serve the community. Maggie’s Garden officially reopened in 2003 in a ceremony hosted by Bette Midler and attended by guests such as former President Bill Clinton and Representative Charles Rangel. Although Maggie passed away in 2016, she remained devoted to maintaining her garden well into her eighties. “It’s visibly noticed that she’s no longer here, and you feel the absence of Maggie, because she did keep things clean,” Edo reminisced, adding, “She was almost like a neighborhood staple.” Edo has done her best to keep the legacy alive, explaining that she is just “tinkering in Maggie’s shadows.” Edo does, however, allow her own philosophy on gardening to influence her modifications. As we walked down the path to the central arbor draped in hanging vines, Edo showed us the newest wind chime she was planning on putting up. “Part of gardening for me is using all of the senses,” she explained. For this reason, she has planted more colorful flowers “to give the garden more personality,” while also including sounds that serve as a pleasant backdrop for anyone resting on one of the benches arranged along the gravel paths. We were curious to find out about the members of the garden and their role in supporting it. Edo told us that anyone can be a member as long as they attend monthly meetings and do their shift working the soil. There are even areas specifically designated for members to grow new plants, and although they do not generally grow much food, we were assured that whatever they do harvest will be shared as a communal meal with all members. “That’s what this is for - sharing.”
Some of the most beautiful tulips in the city can be found between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue at the West Side Community Garden. The small green patch of urban wildlife was begun in a vacant lot in 1987. It is entirely run by volunteers. Along with the impressive flower garden, which is the center of a neighborhood Tulip Festival each April, the space features a vegetable garden and a small amphitheater. The public is invited to help plant bulbs each November and watch them blossom in an array of dazzling colors in the spring. The Garden boasted 13,000 bulbs in the spring of 2016. And oh what an exquisite display they make. My first time stopping by the garden was in February. The gates were shut tight; however, even in the heart of winter, this charming park was filled with chirping birds. (There is an entrance to the park on both 89th and 90th Streets.)
Peter Detmold Park is a quiet, leafy space overlooking the East River. Named after a former resident of the area, the park is a bit of a secret; not visible from the street it requires descending a set of stairs to discover the park, tucked between a high brick wall on one side and the FDR Drive on the other.Perhaps the park's primary attraction is the sizable dog run, but it allows any visitor plenty of shade and some beautiful-smelling rose bushes in the summertime. I spent a few peaceful minutes sitting on one of the many benches there before beginning my morning walk across 51st. I was able to engage in conversation with some of the longtime residents and dog owners whose pets were off playing inside the fenced-off area.
Clinton Garden is a striking testament to the power of residential communities in New York. One of the earliest examples of urban agricultural reclamation, the garden was created in 1979 in a lot that had been abandoned for twenty-eight years. Seeing potential in the space and hoping to improve the area around the neighborhood, residents (with the help of Operation Green Thumb, which leased the lot from the city) transformed the VACANT property into a garden using reclaimed and salvaged bricks, concrete, and slate. Finding the gates open on a beautiful spring Saturday, I wandered in and strolled down the paths filled with magnificent flowers and shrubs. I also met committed people tending to their small plots of land, of which there are now over one hundred. I have since been back many times, as I think this is a magnificent retreat on those days that I am in a need of a place to rest while walking the side streets of Manhattan.
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.
When I asked Alex Harsley if he knew who owned the 1968 Dodge Dart parked outside his gallery, his response was “that is mine…I purchased it in 1974, and have enjoyed it ever since…my car is all about the good times.” Complete with a penguin in the driver’s seat and an owl in the navigator seat, it certainly reflects the creative and historic atmosphere of the 4th Street Photo Gallery right behind it. Alex opened his gallery in 1973 and described it as a “museum of the past.” Although certainly showcasing past techniques, scenes, and individuals through its extensive collection, Alex has always been one step ahead of the curve throughout his long career in photography and videography. Alex developed his photography skills by playing around with the different techniques he had created as well as by learning from his mistakes. His career as a professional photographer began in 1959 when he got a job with a New York Attorney’s Office. After being drafted into the army, Alex was able to become a supervisor in the photography department at Color Lab due to his knowledge of photo chemicals and his ability to be “very good at getting weird kind of situations that no one knew anything about.” In the 1970’s, Alex began to focus deeply on experimenting with the photo chemical process. He became interested both in increasing his understanding and in spreading his knowledge to other photographers. He was able to open an art organization with the help of other artists that he was working with at the time, which he used as a platform for research, collaboration, and teaching. His organization, 4th Street Photo, is as much a community as it is a gallery. Since 1971, Alex has offered his space as a showcase for photographers of all backgrounds, as well as a meeting place where ideas are exchanged, portfolios are reviewed, and new friends are made. It has been instrumental in giving distinguished photographers their first significant New York City solo exhibits. Throughout his career, Alex has done an immense amount of work freelancing in both photography and video, collaborating with other artists on projects, and even producing video that would be displayed in the Whitney. He has also had the incredible good fortune of having spent time photographing both John Coltrane at the Apollo Theater and Muhammad Ali when he was a young fighter. However, in the early 2000’s, Alex realized that he was doing very little of his own work and decided to return to his own collection to begin the process of printing. He eventually produced around “2,000 or 3,000” of his own prints, many of which are displayed or stored in his gallery.
Despite its limited size, one could spend an entire day in George Glazer Gallery and probably still not see everything that the space has to offer. There are fascinating items covering every nook and cranny, from the ceiling to the staircase to the bathroom. Though there are many pieces, as George says, it is “exciting clutter” rather than overwhelming clutter, and a true treasure hunt to look through. I kept finding surprises, such as a column made from the inside of a piano, a set of miniature fire tools, and strings of scorekeeping devices for games of pool dangling high above my head.After years as a corporate attorney, George embraced his love of collecting art and opened his gallery in 1993. He began on the corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd Street, on an upper floor, but recently moved north due to rising rents. As he pointed out, however, the internet has made it so that it is no longer as important to have a prestigious address. According to George, having a well-maintained website and good social media skills is far more crucial to running a successful antique business. He also assured me that he has a strong international client base that reaches out to him online.Even though he has moved away from Madison Avenue, George is very happy to have found his current side street location. He loves the ceilings, which remind him of the original definition of “gallery,” a room in an English country house with tall ceilings. There is a garden out back that George occasionally uses for storage and events. The biggest change he has encountered, however, is foot traffic. Now that he is on the ground floor, he has more people coming by to stare in the window and occasionally wander in.Though many pieces originate from outside the United States, such as a long Tibetan instrument mounted on the wall and the Venetian glass sconces made in the shape of clowns, most of the items in the gallery were purchased in the States. “There’s a remarkable amount of stuff here already,” George commented. He not only collects pieces: George is also somewhat of an artist in his own right in the way that he arranges things, along with his gallery manager, Jeffrey. For example, I saw an old employee time card grid covered in various antique ornaments. The result was a visually fascinating display. “We make our own little art,” George said with a smile, gesturing to a figure of Humpty Dumpty sitting on a bed of coral above the doorway.George’s passion is definitely globes. He has a vast collection, spanning from a rare celestial globe to an enormous thirty-six inch specimen. More generally, George’s taste leans towards items that have a practical or scientific purpose. He also collects judges’ gavels and has a fair number of door knockers. After observing as much as I could upfront, we proceeded to the back of the shop where George puts pieces that he is particularly fond of close to his desk so that he can appreciate them most of the day. My eye went right to a wooden satyr face and an odd madmen-esque desk sign that reads “MISS PARR.”After showing me the back room where he occasionally fixes things, and telling me about a few prop-rental projects he has taken part in, George became introspective. “This place is an alter ego,” he admitted. “It’s for sale, but it’s what I like.” He continued on to say that his very specific style is not for everyone, but at the same time, he is confident that his often minimalist, modern antiques can fit into a wide variety of design schemes. His gallery is purposefully set up so that customers can see how things might look in a lived-in space. “It’s more like a place where people live.” That is, if the people living there are slightly eccentric. “We have a lot of odd things,” George confessed laughing.
Had we not been personally escorted through the unmarked double doors that lead to Kenkeleba Gallery, Manhattan Sideways might not ever have known it was here. The only sign on the building reads Henington Hall, etched into the stone facade along with the year it was built, 1908. According to Joe Overstreet, in the 70’s the building was condemned until he and his wife, Corinne Jennings, were able to strike a deal with the city in 1978. Although 2nd Street was teeming with drug activity back then, the arrangement proved worthwhile for Overstreet, as it gave him, his wife, three children and the emerging Kenkeleba House a home in an area that eventually cleaned up its act and became one of the most important neighborhoods for the arts in New York City.Since its founding, Kenkeleba House has flown under the radar as a not-for-profit gallery space and artist workspace. Joe and Corinne were only interested in promoting new ideas, emerging artists, experimental work, and solo shows for those deserving of the recognition. They preferred to showcase artists whose works were not typically featured in commercial galleries, focusing primarily on African American art. Joe and Corinne’s vision of Kenkeleba House - as a space for artists to grow, to showcase African American that oftentimes would have been lost, and teaching African American history through gallery shows - was only possible due to their extensive background in art as well as their immense individual efforts.Corinne was born into a family of artists in an isolated part of Rhode Island, and until she was about twelve or thirteen, she thought “that’s what everyone did- I thought people made things.” Her father, a talented printmaker who studied under Hale Woodruff, is widely known for his black and white wood engravings and costume jewelry. The Wilmer Jennings Gallery - across the street on 2nd Street - is named for him. Jennings’ mother was a Yale graduate and painter. Corinne came to New York in the 1960’s, originally wanting to be a scenic designer. Even though she was qualified, she was turned away by the head of the scenic designer’s union with the explanation that they did not want any women or black people. She instead started to do art projects, and eventually decided to “tackle some of issues that prevented African American artists from fully developing.”Corinne and Joe spent a lot of time speaking with artists from different parts of West Africa and the Caribbean, eventually coming upon the realization that “they needed to find a different way for people to develop, for people to have space to work, [and] to find alternative educational routes for people.” In 1978, Joe and Corinne purchased an abandoned building on second street, fixed it up, and opened up their first art exhibition in 1980. From then on, they began amassing their extensive and remarkable collection.The exhibits on display in this gallery recognize the rarely explored contributions that people of African descent have made to the art world. It is here, hanging on the walls and filed away in the deepest recesses of their private collection, we were showed a portrait of Dr. John DeGrasse painted by a largely forgotten African-American artist by the name of Edward Mitchell Banister (1828-1901). Banister won a national award for his most famous painting, “Under the Oaks.” The magnificent framed picture of Dr. DeGrasse is easily worth more money than we could count, but the history lesson we received from Joe was priceless. Dr. DeGrasse was a native New Yorker and also one of the first African-Americans to receive a medical degree. He gained acceptance to the Boston Medical Society in 1854, making him the first African-American to belong to a medical association in that state. And to boot, he was also the first African-American medical officer in the U.S. Army serving as Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War. In addition, Manhattan Sideways viewed works dating back to 1773, by the late Hale Woodruff, an African-American abstract painter who lived in New York City from 1943 until his death in 1980. In addition to being an artist who aspired to express his heritage, Woodruff was also an art educator and member of the faculty at New York University.“We are African-American, so that is what we do,” said Corinne, “but we are also interested in artists from the Lower East Side.” Corinne’s personal art collection reflects much of her parent’s amazing work, as well as that of other African-American artists, both well-known and yet undiscovered. Kenkeleba Gallery aims to teach the younger generations about African-American history. “Every nationality walks by here on a daily basis, but they have no idea who we are as a people.” Joe and Corinne were well aware of the contribution African-Americans have made to the arts that began right here in this community. Their private collection is made up of over 30,000 paintings, artifacts, art books and jazz records that tell the rich history of African-Americans in this country.
Stores like Martine’s Antiques are exactly the kind of businesses I look for on the side streets. Though small, every inch of the shop has some new treasure to discover. There are watches, jewelry, glassware, and various knick knacks decorating the room. Though she has been in New York since 1992, Martine Leventer's lilting French accent added music to her descriptions of each of the pieces that she has hand-selected for her shop.Martine began her career as a journalist in Paris, writing about business and the economy. She occasionally wrote about art, but usually only in terms of auctions and its financial role in society. She told me, however, that she had always had a great love for antiques, “ever since I can remember, in fact.” She recalled the very first antique she bought as a teenager – a bronze candle holder. Since then, she admits, “I’ve been buying way too much in my life.” She spent some time between the United States and France, collecting antiques from each location, but when she first went into business in New York, it was as a chocolatier. She had two chocolate shops: one on the Upper East Side, where she lives, and a small shop in Bloomingdale’s. Chocolate, however, was not where her true passion lay: “Having an antique store has been a dream of mine since I was very young,” she told me. She began selling little pieces at her Bloomingdale’s location, mostly costume jewelry. She then opened an antique store on 82nd Street in 1997, while continuing to operate her chocolate shops. The current location opened in 2012 and she closed her chocolate business a year later.Martine is proud of the fact that her store is a specially curated selection of antiques. “Everyone tells me I have a good eye,” she said humbly. She does not work in bulk or in estate sales: everything is something that caught her eye. Martine is especially drawn to costume jewelry, old watches - “Old watches have a heart that beats,” she said poetically - and vintage American glassware. She used to use colorful glass plates and bowls to show off her chocolates. “I look for something that is either beautiful or funny, something that makes my day. It is important to have things in your house that give you happy feelings.”Though she still has a couple customers who have been with her from the very beginning, many of her original clients have moved away. She has realized that that is a pattern in New York: things are constantly shifting and changing. Though some change may be good, for the most part it means higher rents. “So many small businesses have disappeared. It’s so heartbreaking.” She elaborated, “Being from France, I don’t like seeing little old buildings being demolished.” In Martine's view, the city is starting to become too angular, as harsh modern architecture starts to take over from the old world.When she first came to the United States, she was surprised by the variety of antiques. In France, most of the antiques are French, with perhaps a few English or German pieces if you look hard. The United States, on the other hand, is a source of antiques from around the world. Martine had never come in contact with American Vintage before, and immediately took a liking to it. Additionally, costume jewelry was cheaper and more accessible in the U.S. She discovered, however, that New Yorkers were often more interested in European pieces. She explained her frustration to me: In terms of antiques, architecture, and art, Americans will travel hundreds of miles to view masterpieces but will not show any respect towards the beautiful works of art on their own shores. “I hope people wake up soon,” she said, “and learn to not throw away the beauty of their own heritage.”
Evan Blum, owner of Demolition Depot, has been in the business of salvaging and renovating architectural art for forty-two years. He grew up “entrenched in the arts,” as he put it, since his father was an architect, his uncle was a well-known illustrator, and his grandfather was a craftsman, to name a few of the multiple examples he cited of artistic genes in the family. Evan had always had an interest in architectural artifacts, and upon seeing the beautiful and historic buildings around the city being torn down, he was motivated to save as much of them as he could by collecting worthwhile pieces, repairing them, and then selling them to new owners.“What we do is create art out of the construction waste stream,” he explained. Sixty percent of what is in landfills comes from demolition, and by saving and re-selling the valuable parts of these buildings, he said he is able to minimize the amount that would otherwise be laid to waste, as well as keep the objects’ history alive. It is his attempt to “‘un-tragedy’ the tragedy of demolition,” and to find interesting things buried within the mundane. Evan tries to repurpose as many things as he can, hence the eclectic and wide-ranging nature of his merchandise.While walking through the space on 125th Street, we were amazed by the sheer volume of fascinating and beautifully preserved items that we came across - and Evan pointed out that this is only one of his many facilities, so it is difficult to fathom the real scope of his collection. Each of the four floors of the shop housed a labyrinthine assortment of doors, stained glass windows, crucifixes, plumbing fixtures, mirrors, candlesticks, and more.When asked, Evan told us that there is not necessarily a single architectural style or period preferred by his clients. He shared the story of the rise in popularity of Gothic pieces after Cher started her Gothic furniture catalog in the 1990s. It used to be that no one wanted to buy anything salvaged from churches, he remarked, but after the catalog was released, the demand for the previously unpopular Gothic artifacts he had collected over the years surged. This is part of why he stores and saves everything he has found - as it is likely that at some point what was unwanted will become trendy and appealing again.When asked how he selects his pieces, Evan told us that his combined background in architecture, sculpting, manufacturing, and craftsmanship helps him envision which antiques would work well as focal pieces in modern spaces. In fact, a unique and integral aspect of his service is that he acts as “a designer’s designer and architect’s architect,” giving clients his input on how to improve their projects and best utilize their spaces. While many of his clients are hotels and restaurants looking for distinctive additions to their décor, he also does work with set designers in search of elements for their latest film and TV projects, or celebrities who want to incorporate antiques into their homes. He has also outfitted some pieces in well-known museums, including the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.While discussing his plans for the future, Evan mentioned that he will be starting an auction business, Harlem Country Auctions, behind the shop toward the end of the summer of 2017. Doing so will allow him to preserve even more artifacts, since he will be auctioning any art (e.g. paintings, sculptures, lamps, decorations) that are not "architectural," and therefore do not fall under the purview of Demolition Depot. In the more distant future, he hopes to create his own museum where he will be able to display his salvaged art for the appreciation of the general public.
Claude-Noelle Toly came to the United States in 1982 after having received her master's degree in political science. Her original goal was to improve her English, but she could not help but fall in love with Manhattan. "Much to my mother's disappointment, I became a waitress in a tiny restaurant in the Village,” Claude-Noelle confided. It was there, one day, that she met William Nuckel. They became fast friends and together shared a dream of traveling to the South of France on a regular basis to purchase items for a French shop. Shortly afterwards, a tiny little corner space in the West Village became available... that was also affordable. In 1987, they agreed that it was the perfect location and decided to give it a try.Built in the 1800s with three levels, the building is a perfect fit for the charming French boutique that houses antiques and collectibles. From traditional pottery and earthenware to folk art and colorful crystal chandeliers, everything about the shop is enchanting - and this includes the delightful partners.Over the years, during their trips abroad, the two have discovered many talented artisans who constantly remind Claude-Noelle of French farmers. She explained that "they are in their own little world working and producing special pieces, having very little communication with the outside world." But, she continued, "They absolutely appreciate the fact that there is a shop in Manhattan that is selling their work." I then learned that there is nowhere else in the States that carries their pottery. For that matter, the only other place in the world that does so is in France.In addition to the new pottery for which Le Fanion is known, the store also has a limited collection of both pottery and furniture that date back to the early and mid-1700s, alongside a larger number of items from the nineteenth century.When I revisited Claude-Noelle in 2016, she was still gushing about her longevity in the West Village and how she continues to love every minute of being on her special, quiet corner. She disclosed that there are two wonderful aspects of owning Le Fanion - traveling to the south of France several times a year, where she and William are able to interact with so many fascinating people "who have unexploited lifestyles," and returning with new inventory to share with their customers.Claude-Noelle added that she finds it "kind of funny to think that we are a genuine organic store - we only sell wood and clay." Who knew that they were so ahead of their time in the 1980s? "Today, everyone either tries or pretends to be organic... but we were doing it before many others," Claude Noelle commented. After a pause, she said, "Wow, thirty years later, and we are still here - How can that be?" Claude-Noelle answered her own question: "What we sell attracts people who appreciate the quality and the stories behind the pieces. And, it continues to always be a nice moment."
“We are pushing the boundaries of decorative arts,” Jen Lau, the Sales and Marketing Manager, told me as we rode the elevator to the Alpha Workshops’ studios and showrooms. Jen was referring to the way the decorative arts are taught at the Alpha Workshops and viewed in the world: it is a sector of the art world that is often inaccessible to the average person, a reputation that Alpha hopes to blow open. She was also referring, however, to the purpose the decorative arts have in society. “We heal through art,” she declared.The Alpha Workshops was founded in 1995 by Kenneth Wampler as a place where HIV-positive individuals could receive training and employment in the decorative arts. Kenneth, who came from a background working at the AIDS Resource Center, called his project “The Alpha Workshops,” which referenced the Omega Workshops, an English design enterprise from the early twentieth century. As Jen quipped, “They were the last word in decorative arts and we are the first word in new beginnings.” Many people get in touch with Alpha through caseworkers, flyers in pharmacies, or doctor’s offices. Today, the non-profit organization is expanding its community to include populations with other challenges, such as those living with autism, at-risk youth, and seniors, but the vision remains the same. Artists and students at Alpha Workshops are given a craft and helped to develop a plan for the future. While telling me about the series of classes that make up the Alpha Workshops school program, Jen emphasized that students are also taught how to represent themselves as artists, an important skill in a world where marketing can mean the difference between failure or success.The mission of the Alpha Workshops alone would make it an extraordinary institution, but the creations that come out of the studios offer proof of the extreme talent and creativity of the artists. “We have our own style,” Jen said, showing us the signature Negoro Nuri pattern that they use in much of their work and that dates back to seventeenth century Japan. As Jen guided us through a vast array of decorative finishes, wallpapers, and demo furnishings, displaying faux bois finishes, verre églomisé (gilded glass), faux marble (Alpha designed the faux marble in Gracie Mansion), and countless other textured patterns, I was continuously impressed with each new technique that the artists had created.Everything in the workshop is art, from the wallpaper in the hallways, to the cube seating, to the uniquely crafted lamps. Jen pointed out a gold lamp in a pattern that mimicked rock candy. She told me the story of how the executive director came into the workshop with a stick of rock candy and said to Obadiah, an artisan at Alpha in the 1990s, “Obi, can you make this into a lamp?” and so he did. The Eden Rock lamp is Obadiah's legacy, which lives on, though he is gone. Occasionally the studios will refurbish pieces, but mostly they are, in Jen’s words, “working with people who have ideas that they want to turn into reality.”Though they are mainly known for wallpapers, venetian plaster, and fine finishes, their expertise covers the whole discipline of decorative arts. I had heard from Harry Heissmann about how Alpha Workshops helped turn his friend’s illustration of a minimalist Easter Bunny into a 3D rendering, but Jen shared more stories, some of which involved adapting existing creations. For instance, the artists once made a sixteen-foot ceiling sculpture using grapevine branches: The sculpture was so popular that it then inspired another client to create a chandelier from the same material. As for how clients find the Alpha Workshops Studios, they have pieces in many showrooms around the city and have garnered a reputation for being a hub of creative, highly skilled artists. It does not hurt that the organization is also helping society on a grander scale. “More established designers know about us because of our mission,” Jen shared with a smile.Jen encourages any potential clients to come and visit the workshops, where they can see just how much the artists can do. Unlike many design centers around the city, Jen pointed out that clients “can visit the studios and classrooms right here and watch how it’s made.” The Manhattan Sideways team was excited to explore, even without having a commission in the works. We saw artists working on everything from ornate toilet lids to hand-stamped wallpapers. Steel and blush, we learned, were the colors of the season, and so we saw yards of wallpaper patterns in the soothing metallic gray and light pink. The head of the wallpaper department pointed out the more traditional patterns as well as the new ones, describing his job as “so Zen.” He explained that the mathematics of one geometric variation had been figured out on a computer before being completed by hand. “Artisanship meets technology,” he said with a smile. “This is tactilely satisfying work.”Our last stop with Jen was at street level where there is a showroom that doubles as an extra studio when there are no pop-up exhibitions. I have discovered many fascinating places as I have walked the side streets of Manhattan, but nothing that pulled at my heart strings the way that Alpha Workshops did. One person had a dream - a vision - and he was able to make it into a reality that some twenty years later continues to thrive. What was most important to me, however, is the number of lives that Kenneth Wampler has turned around, and in some cases, saved. I encourage anyone with an interest in art to discover this hidden gem, as the public is welcome to tour the facility.
Stepping into Ramini, we were immediately drawn in by the quirky decor with partially exposed brick, a wooden bench, vintage spoons hanging in a display and cleverly painted walls. The Cafe offers teas, coffee concoctions, and hot chocolate, as well as a colorful assortment of macarons, which were the perfect decadent treats to nibble on with a hot mocha. Also in Ramini's homemade collection of pastries were cheese and olive bourekas, brownies, cookies and mini croissants. For those keeping to a healthier diet, there is a juice bar with fresh cleansing juices constantly being made to order. We chose to linger at one of the two tables as it enabled us to appreciate the constant flow of dedicated customers as the late morning became early afternoon; always a sign of good service, good coffee and good food.
Much of Pennylane's personality is evident in its chic - yet stark - decor. The walls are painted black and grey and the people who queue up around the wooden countertop are clad in colors from the same palette: office grays, blacks, and blues. Founded by a former member of the fashion industry, Sung Kang, Pennylane encapsulates the trendy New York vibe. Just off Second Avenue, it is a haven for aficionados who crave a serious cup of coffee from producers like Parlor Coffee or Heart Roasters. It is also a great place to unwind with a stronger beverage, as Pennylane serves wine and beer later in the day.For most of his life Sung had been complacent about his coffee choices. He would stop by a familiar Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for a cup of joe and would go about his business, like many other New Yorkers. One day, a few years back, he came across a cafe in TriBeCa that changed the way he saw coffee. Sung was so impressed by the flavor, its richness and texture, that he started doing some research.Sung read every book on which he could get his hands and spent some time on the web reading NY Times writer Oliver Strand's famous coffee-related column, "Ristratto." Eventually, Sung realized that he wanted to start his own cafe and began to ask his friends what they thought was the best coffee shop in the city. A couple of friends pointed him to Sweetleaf, a cafe in Brooklyn. Sung offered to work as an unpaid intern there so that he could learn about the business and, after chatting with the manager, got the job. He stayed there for six months before he got up the courage to begin his own business – Pennylane Coffee.In the early summer of 2014, while we were walking 45th street, Sung was coming up on his first anniversary and reflected on what he had learned in the past year. The thing that was most different from his previous job, he thought, was facing the consumer. As a merchandiser, he never had to interact with the people who bought the final product. Instead, he would work with store representatives and stay behind the scenes. As a barista and business owner, Sung has had to learn to interact with customers and try to gauge whether they like the coffee or not. Sung prioritizes customer service and tries to talk to people about the coffee they are drinking when patrons are not swamping the counter.
Coffee is an essential ingredient in the everyday lives of many New Yorkers, and Richard Agudelo, the owner of Terremoto, takes this fact very seriously. He only provides single origin, best trade coffee, which means that he knows exactly where his coffee is coming from.In sitting down to discuss his business with him, I learned that he owns fifty percent of a coffee farm in Colombia, which allows him to have a close relationship with the people who grow his coffee and to ensure that the end result is the highest possible quality. “We know our farmers, milk purveyors, water suppliers, everything. We make sure that it is locally-sourced as much as possible - everything down to our grill.”Richard, who is also a creative director, has always loved coffee. After several years of research, he finally decided to open Terremoto on 15th Street in 2016, recognizing that this particular neighborhood "needed a place for high-quality coffee.” Terremoto, which means earthquake in Spanish, is named in part after Richard. He spent his summers as a child staying with his uncles in Colombia, who often called out in Spanish, “Look, the earthquake arrives” upon his entrance. “I was a handful,” Richard admitted. Laughing, he added, "Our caffeinated drinks will wake you up, just like an earthquake."Terremoto first made headlines for its famous espresso machine, which is covered in twenty-four carat gold. While the machine is certainly flashy, Richard said that he decided to buy it to serve as an homage to the original espresso makers from the early twentieth century. They were similarly plated in metal, usually copper or brass. In order to add a little twist, Richard decided to buy one covered in gold.Terremoto serves a wide variety of classic espresso-based drinks and a number of specialty teas. Richard donates twenty percent of the revenue generated from three of these drinks to charity: the Purple Rain, a lavender and vanilla based drink, the Space Oddity, a rose and vanilla based drink, and the Terremoto, a dulce de leche beverage. He has worked with various artists throughout his career, hence the references to famous songs. He donates to Music Cares and to a variety of emergency relief funds. Richard shared with me that he was a first responder at 9/11. He lived three blocks from the site, and grabbed a respirator from the hardware store below his apartment before going to help shovel out the debris. He has remained committed to helping other emergency relief efforts, having donated money to the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Indonesia.Terremoto’s 15th Street location was his first, but Richard has already expanded to Brooklyn with the hope of continuing to open more shops while providing high quality, single origin coffee.
Sweet aromas lure one into this tiny coffee and tea shop on west 70th. Originally founded in 1976 across the street, the Sensuous Bean moved to its current location in 1990 and is now co-owned by partners in life and in business, Lucretia La Mora and Tom Wilson. "People follow their noses," explained Tom of the cafe's success. And even horses cannot resist - he recalled one peeking its head through the door as an officer grabbed a cup. "We blend to taste," Tom added.Each day, beans are grinded on site and brewed in three roasters for a hot cup. And although small, the place is stocked with a large selection of coffees and teas sourced from a variety of regions. The chai spice tea comes from India and the Mexican Vienna brew from Zimbabwe. The assortment of flavorful tisanes includes intriguing names like red velvet cupcake or bella coola lemon lime.
While gazing at the view from the thirtieth floor, some of the staff "fired up" mini cupcakes of mac n' cheese, and the bartender mixed two of their signature drinks for us to sip. We tried the Fort Knox made with bourbon, mezcal, yellow chartreuse, honey syrup, and a large grilled lemon ice block, and The Skylark composed of gin, vodka, St. Germain liqueur, blue curacao, and fresh lemon. Jasmine, the manager who guided us through the three levels, was upbeat and incredibly enthusiastic about her job. Certainly not a surprise, as not only is the view spectacular but so is the retro decor, the food, and the drinks. It sounds like she is meeting many interesting people who stop by for cocktails from the surrounding world of fashion.The lower level has a room where a small group can gather, or another with a billiards table. Up one short flight is the main lounge where the space extends across the entire building and there are different clusters of seating allowing parties to have intimate conversations. Up another stairwell, I ventured outdoors to take in the panoramic view of the city. Jasmine is excited for spring to arrive, as the Skylark opened in the fall of 2013, therefore, they have not yet been able to utilize the outdoor lounge area. I, of course, was more than happy to brave the cold in order to have the full experience of this exceptional location. Bob Savitt, the man behind this venture, owns the building, which is dedicated almost entirely to fashion houses. He decided a few years back that he wanted to add a rooftop bar, and proceeded to add on three more levels. David Rabin and the husband/wife team of Abigail Kirsch catering, Jim Kirsch and Alison Auerbuck, joined Bob to offer a sophisticated, beautiful bar setting. Skylark is only open Thursday - Saturday, as the rest of the days are reserved for private parties.
“Liquor-wise, whiskey is the greatest expression of America.” So said Jessica, bar manager at American Whiskey at the time that I visited. Opened in September 2013, the bar immediately attracted a large industry following with its nearly two hundred varieties of bourbons and rye. The bar is more versatile than that, however, with a southern, French-inspired food menu and full bar to complement, because, as Jessica says, “even us cocktail nerds want a beer and a shot sometimes.” Here, highbrow meets reality. Tans and grays line the space, with rough distressed wood showing through. Numerous flat screens are generously located throughout the bar, between giant busts of beasts.Following our conversation with Jessica, we spoke with Casey, an owner of American Whiskey. As simple as the story is, we found it fascinating and truly applaud the dedication that it took for a bunch of friends to follow their dream. Between the five managing partners, they have trained behind the bar, managed a restaurant, cooked and even washed dishes – “you name it, we have done it,” Casey, told us. “We always knew that our end goal would be to open our own place. Once we graduated college and began to mature a bit, we got out of the beer mode and moved into the more refined and sophisticated world of alcohol.” Their vision from the beginning was to find a space large enough to accommodate their sport-themed bar, as they are avid fans of multiple games. One of the partners is a University of Georgia graduate, and managed to bring in several hundred Georgia football enthusiasts on a recent weekend. Casey said the place was electric.Mimicking the theme of a vodka service, the guys came up with “barrel service.” Served right at the table are buckets of ice, glasses and one or three liter barrels, which are whiskey-based with a variety of mixers, ready to drink. Duane, one of the several in-house whiskey experts, spent time with us sharing his passion for Bourbon. It was quite interesting to hear him speak of his experience in Kentucky, this past spring, when a few of the partners went on a trip to gain further knowledge. “What better place to go than right to the state that is famous for this,” Duane said. However, he did go on to tell us that there are a number of states that manufacture their own whiskies – Iowa, Oregon and Montana were a few mentioned.Duane chatted about the surrounding landscape where the whiskey is produced, saying “it breathes into the barrels” and emphasized the importance of the water source – “all combined, it makes for an outstanding whiskey.” The enthusiasm for the drink was contagious. Having only had tiny tastes over the years, I broke down and took a few sips of Duane’s signature “Strike Me Dead.” Templeton Rye (dating from the Prohibition), black pepper, maple syrup and maple bitters were combined and finished off with some orange zest and cloves. The result was powerful and flavorful. Following that, I tried Duane's other favorite drink, “Floral Collins,” consisting of Fords gin, cucumber juice, lavender syrup, fresh squeezed lime juice, maraschino liqueur and a slice of cucumber. Esteban, our photographer, was asked which concoction he preferred and answered that they had, “Equal goodness.” Duane has spent the last three years living and breathing whiskey. Although incredibly conversant on the subject, he describes himself as being “humble” and said that he is simply dedicated to delivering the message of our country’s whiskey, “the voice of reason.”
“We are beer nerds, not beer snobs.” That is how Bo Bogle, the general manager of Gebhard’s Beer Culture, and Peter Malfatti, its beverage director, would describe the wood-furnished, cozy bar and restaurant that they opened in the summer of 2016, featuring various local and foreign artisanal beers on tap. The people behind Gebhard’s Beer Culture - the sister restaurant to Beer Culture on 45th Street - are as enthusiastic about beer as they are about educating customers.Because many of the beers that they offer are unknown to the general public, Gebhard’s will always work to find the draught that best suits each customer’s palate. If one feels like tasting several selections, the beer flight - a tray of four small glasses - is a good choice. Along with the continuously changing list of beers, the kitchen offers an ample menu of munchies, many from Belgium, as this is where owner Matt Gebhard spent time as a foreign exchange student.I was enchanted to discover how playful the space is: Upstairs, there is a games room, complete with a dartboard, shuffleboard, Hacky Sacks, and BulziBucket. The decorations throughout the bar and restaurant are eclectic, with various beer signs and novelty items covering the walls. At the front, I discovered a nook full of records, as well as a well-loved bicycle helmet. Bo and Ryan, the bartenders on duty, matched the vibe of the restaurant with their jovial nature as they poured beers for the Manhattan Sideways team. They set out glasses of citrusy TarTan Ale, a Central Waters Brewing Co beer, and a fresh, hoppy Southern Tier 2x Tangier. The two men knew exactly what to select for a hot day in the city and enjoyed tag-teaming descriptions of each beer and brand.Bo explained to us that the motivation behind Gebhard's Beer Culture is essentially a “passion for the local beer market.” With the recent proliferation of local breweries around the city and in the rest of the country, Bo feels that “individuals are making great beers and that should be acknowledged.” However, he believes it is not enough to simply have them on tap, but rather, the bartenders should teach customers about the local beer scene. Beer Culture’s objective is as much educational as it is to host many good nights with friends. When asked about the one thing that he would like customers to know about their new bar, Bo grinned and said: “the second beer always tastes better than the first.”
The intimate space of red lamps, candles and beautiful music is easy to miss, as the Russian Vodka Room is somewhat hidden behind darkened windows. Luckily, my attention was piqued by the faint sounds of a piano floating out of the bar and onto the street. Walking in, I immediately noticed the huge glass vats of vodka with handfuls of fruit floating in them. This, the bar's manager informed me, is the restaurant's specialty: house-brewed, naturally infused Russian vodka. The flavors include cherry, raspberry, and apricot. In addition, 100 varieties of bottled vodka clamor for prominence behind the bar. The Russian Vodka Room also boasts a relatively diverse menu, with food "straight out of babushka's kitchen."
Jill Herlands defines herself as a “jewelry artist,” rather than a designer. “I believe a designer creates up until production. I am an artist. I conceptualize, produce- everything else that goes along with it.” By staying true to her own, unique artistic vision, teaching herself how to create jewelry, and continuously expanding the bounds of her expertise, Jill has built up an entirely distinctive brand that has become widely celebrated and exhibited nationally.Jill had always loved to take apart jewelry and reassemble it in strange ways, but only started creating jewelry in 2014. For most of her adult life, Jill was in the music industry, but stopped her career to raise her daughter. When her daughter went off to college, Jill decided “it’s time for something for me to do that’s exciting - it’s time for me to do something for myself.” She began by buying a small torch and teaching herself how to solder. Jill’s decision to become a jewelry artist was almost instantaneous, “the minute the flame hit the metal, I thought “this is it.”” She set up a little desk in a corner of the kitchen and “just started creating.” She did not intend to start a business originally, and simply created for her own joy. Once she had amassed a large body of work and began to post on Instagram, she quickly sparked interest in the jewelry world due to her designs that were unlike anything else. She was often told she would not succeed, since her work was too atypical, but continued nonetheless. Building up a following through her unique creations and by responding to every comment and cultivating relationships, Jill realized the interest surrounding her jewelry was real, and created her business in response. And, she continues to respond to every comment on Instagram, and “has made real friendships” through social media.Jill’s jewelry style is “edgy, avant-garde, and a mixture of feminine and masculine,” and she specifically likes it to have “a worn-in look.” As an example, she stated “I will use pearls, but I will mix it with a distressed metal.” Although self-taught, Jill professed that “I can’t imagine not doing this - it’s like second nature to me.” Jill draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including the “rock and roll vibe” from the talent agency where she used to work, her imagination, ruins, construction sites, and raw materials. She has never looked at a YouTube video, and describes her continuous learning process as her dedication to “risk taking.” Beginning only with the knowledge of how to make a ring band and how to solder, she experiments extensively with every material she works with in order to test how it melts, how to achieve certain effects, new ways for the metal to hold gemstones, and what specific heats are best for each material.Jill is always looking for new materials to incorporate, and is particularly known for using concrete in her designs as well as using enamel with her own, original method. She learns from trial and error, but does not strive for perfection, which she views as “a little bit boring.” She often does not plan her creation concretely before she begins, and if she makes a mistake, will try to incorporate it into her final piece. Staying true to her style, she will “create something and then melt it, or make holes in it, or make the edges sort of burnt,” morphing her work as she goes along. Even as the demand for her pieces grow, she still experiments in order to expand her options and grow as an artist. When Manhattan Sideways sat down with her in the summer of 2019, Jill told us that she was currently teaching herself how to crochet with gold.Everything is made by her hand, everything is one of a kind, and she believes that her jewelry is “an extension of the wearer.” She ascertains that “each piece that I make is guaranteed to be an heirloom that you can hand down to your children and grandchildren.” Jill has ample opportunity to craft jewelry to individually express the wearer, since almost all of her business is custom work. Whether clients ask for a piece in the style of one they were particularly drawn to on her Instagram, want her to melt down and completely recreate a piece of their old jewelry, or have any other inspiration, Jill will take as much time as needed to connect with the client and learn about them so that she may personalize the piece. Jill is especially pleased that a large percentage of her clients give her creative control, trusting her vision completely.In the future, Jill hopes to stay a niche brand with each piece being one of a kind, but to also be known globally. Although her entire workplace consists of a small room in her apartment in Hell's Kitchen, and the only help she receives is administrative, Jill describes her studio as her “little place of heaven.”
116th Street is filled with chains, be it Dunkin' Donuts, CVS or 7-Eleven, but quietly tucked away in a tiny space, amidst all of the other shops, I stumbled upon a colorful gallery filled with unique pieces of jewelry, art and glass. Although everything inside the space is beautiful, it was the owners of Millennium, Bertram and Judith Romeo, that drew me in and kept me there for quite some time.Bertram came to New York at the age of twelve from Jamaica while Judith arrived with her family a year later from Trinidad. They both landed in Brooklyn and met through their brothers, who had become friends. "We grew up together, and then it became more," Bertram beamed. He had gone to school to learn computer engineering, but one day, they decided that it would be fun to open a boutique and sell the pieces of jewelry that Judith had been creating. That was seventeen years ago, in 1999, and they are still enjoying every minute of being in business together.Bertram was quite proud to point out the stunning earrings and broaches that his wife had made. The "Mother Earth" collection was embellished with numerous stones - one more attractive than the next. It was Judith who chimed in at this point and said to me, "We take pride and are passionate in what we do." She then continued on telling me that "We always go the extra mile for our customers and they've been coming back for years."There is no doubt that Bertram and Judith are a fixture in the neighborhood. The door was swung open on the day that I visited in the fall of 2016, and not a person went by without calling in to say "hello." When I commented on this to Bertram, he responded, "Yes, we are always watching out for each other."The two said that they have been adding "different elements" as the years go on, changing up the inventory, but keeping true to selling jewelry, artwork and glass. In addition to Judith's artwork, the couple has a stunning selection of hand blown Venetian glass from their years of traveling to Italy. "We have loved traveling, my wife still enjoys creating, and we both adore meeting new people and spending time with those that we already know."Since they do not travel as much as they used to, they now recruit their friends to bring interesting pieces back from their trips to inspire them. They have loyal customers, but in order to keep them around, they need to "have something different to offer them."As our conversation went on, I learned that Bertram and Judith are inspired by current events. An example that they shared was when the Metropolitan Museum of New York had an exhibit on American designers influenced by Asian elements, they "played around" with Asian designs. And lately, that "something different" is pressing the essence of leaves and botanicals into silks and other materials using heat and pressure. It makes an extraordinary leaf pattern for scarves and fabrics. I marveled at the oak tree pieces with leaves from Massachusetts. Judith shared that when a couple brought back leaves from Australia, she created an Australian-themed selection.The shop represents several local artists and others throughout the States, as well as having a nice collection of art from Africa. When I inquired about their clientele, Bertram spoke warmly of the local community, but also mentioned the busses that travel to 116th Street each day taking tourists to the outdoor Malcolm Shabass Harlem Market next door, "and then they inevitably stop into our shop."When I asked Bertram if after all of these years it was still fun, he immediately replied, "I still love every aspect of the business," and then smiled and said, "We grew up together and we are always together, and we like it this way."
After almost thirty years in the Diamond District, Delicate Gem has made a name for itself among the several thousand other businesses that crowd 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. An Armenian family that had lived in Turkey and worked in the diamond industry before coming to the States, the Minnetyans have been in the gem business for generations. When Arthur Minnetyan first came to Manhattan, and founded Delicate Gem, he built up a reputation among the other hard-wheeling diamond merchants by virtue of his expertise. The whole family became involved, as was common in the Diamond District, and has remained so.One afternoon, I enjoyed sitting and chatting with the family and learning more about their passion for diamonds, as it was here that my husband bought me a cherished bracelet a number of years ago. After his father, Arthur, passed away, son Ari took over the shop and has dedicated himself to selling and crafting only the best pieces of jewelry for his clients. Though he had originally planned on becoming an accountant after graduating college, his father's death drove him to come back home and carry on the family business. Ari's dedication to Delicate Gem exemplifies how ingrained the diamond business has become in the lives of diamond dealers and manufacturers on 47th. To those who work in the Diamond District, jewelry is much more than an accessory – it is a link to one's heritage and family that is time honored.As a Gemological Institute of America certified gemologist, Ari explained to me how diamonds were rated – the 4 Cs: color, cut, clarity, carat – and how he was able to help customers both pick out their favorite stone and create the jewelry on-site. On a street where competition is tough and a buyer can be overwhelmed, Ari and his family pride themselves on their honesty in the business. They, like many of the merchants surrounding their store, seek to establish relationships with clients and to gain their trust so that they may become customers for life.
"I found it to be a little boring to just sell jewelry so I tried to mix it up by adding some other items made by friends," Christina Duarte Veronese revealed when we began our conversation. The shop has beautiful scarves, headbands, t-shirts, and, of course, an array of handmade jewelry designed by Christina herself.Arriving in New York from Rio in 1995, Christina's first job was selling leather products from Brazil. "The owner of my company was making belts for Ralph Lauren and he invited me here because I knew a lot about leather products." But as she confessed, "I fell in love with metal, and then one thing led to another."Before opening her boutique in 2011, Christina sold jewelry in flea markets and a variety of shows, but when a friend was giving up her lease on 7th Street, Christina said, on the spot, "I'll take it." She makes everything in Brooklyn to sell in her East Village shop, and nowadays she finds that there are many customers who come back to her shop every time they are visiting New York. "It is because of them that I am still here."