In the heart of Manhattan, 8th Street and St. Mark's Place have long been bastions of individuality and creativity, where the eclectic and the flamboyant came to find solace. But the relentless tide of commercialization and gentrification has swept away over 50 small businesses that have featured by Sideways in the past decade. Among these are some deeply cherished institutions: L'Impasse, a boutique that dressed stars and regular folk alike; Theatre 80, an off-Broadway theater that echoed with the whispers of ghosts from a golden age; Jules Bistro, a cozy corner of Paris in the Big Apple; and Storm Ritter, a kaleidoscopic fashion studio that defied easy categorization.
Theatre 80 is chock full of history. According to the affable owner, Lorcan Otway, Frank Sinatra once performed on their stage. Stars such as Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Jane Russell, Myrna Loy, Kitty Carlisle, and Dom DeLuise all visited this spot, pressing their hands into cement to decorate the sidewalk that lines the building. Most amazing was learning the history of Theatre 80 itself, designed and created by Lorcan’s father, Howard Otway. Howard had come from a family involved in theatre since the seventeenth century, and after running away to become a coal miner, returned to the world of theatre at fifteen to become an actor and published writer. During his thirty years of traveling and performing on various stages, Howard would always take notes on how the stages themselves specifically affected the performances. In 1964, Howard was able to receive a loan from Walter Scheib, who had run the space since its time as an illegal nightclub during the Prohibition Era. With the success of the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in 1967, Howard was able to pay off the loan and ensure that 80 St. Marks Place could grow to be what it is today. Theatre 80 is part of a shrinking class of medium sized, off-Broadway theatres, and is truly one-of-a kind. Lorcan informed us that Howard’s main influences were Roman amphitheaters and German opera houses. He designed the theatre such that everyone is be able to see the entire performance, no matter where they were sitting. For this reason, the stage is enormous, taking up almost fifty percent of the room, and is also on a lower level than most other stages. The acoustics are also amazing, Lorcan telling us that a whisper on stage can be heard from the back row!
Under candlelight, Jules Bistro comes alive to the sounds of live jazz music. A French-inspired bistro, Jules cooks up some classic dishes – mussels in broth, escargot, steak frites, and crème-brulée for dessert. Bringing a little bit of Paris to St. Marks Place, Jules is the perfect spot to escape the busy city for a romantic dinner or drinks with friends. Maybe you can even brush up on your language skills with the friendly staff – many of whom are French natives.
Walking into L’Impasse feels in some secretively pleasurable way like trespassing in the dressing room of an old Hollywood A-List star like Rita Hayworth or Grace Kelly. It has been an 8th street institution since 1993. The shop brings in a wide variety of customers, including celebrities, high school prom shoppers, impersonators, and transgender women. “We make fine garments in a timely manner and we do not turn anyone away, ” said the manager, Roger McKenzie, at the time of our visit. He began working at L’Impasse after being a long time client. His passion for the upstairs showroom is evident. When we marveled at the beaded and lace wonders before us, he exclaimed, “Clothing has feelings. ” While making certain that we handled the items gently, he added, “You have to treat them with ease and softness. ”Each dress at L’Impasse is a work of art. Though outside pieces, mostly from Paris, are featured in the boutique, custom work is the shop's specialty. If you come in with an idea, L'Impasse's team can make it come to life. "The utmost care is devoted to each piece and each customer, " owner Abdul Sall told me. "We dress everyone from Beyonce to Rihanna to Lady Gaga - What we do is excellence. " He shared that L'Impasse goes way beyond being just a business. "For us it is more about the product and the service. " Elaborating, Abdul said, "When people leave L'Impasse they do not only look great, they feel like a different woman. "Abdul's parents were from West Africa, but he was born and raised in Paris. He came to New York in 1995 and spent thirteen years working for the original owner of the shop. He took over in 2009. When I inquired about his training in the fashion world, Abdul quickly responded, "Fashion cannot be taught. As long as you have a good eye, it works. I never went to school for this. " He shared that it has been an experience - a long road - since he did not speak English when he first arrived here and had little money in his pocket. Despite his difficulty adapting to this country, he persevered. "You can make your dreams come true if you put in the work - anything is possible. "When I asked what business was like on 8th Street in 2017, Abdul said that the street continues to change - over and over again - but that he keeps pushing. "As long as I have the drive, anything is doable, " he insisted. Though it may be said that fashion is also constantly changing and morphing, like 8th street, some things remain the same. Love, passion, and care trumps convenience and instant gratification. There is a definite reason why this charming boutique has stood the test of time on 8th street.
Sitting atop a pink, red, and black chair atop a pink, red, and black ottoman in a room bursting with every color and pattern imaginable, Storm Ritter appeared as regal figure. She was dressed to the nines, from her dramatic eyebrows to the shimmery pink paint all over her fingers. Her steel-toed boots were splattered with paint and she wore two pairs of glasses: a fuchsia-tinted pair on her face and a blue pair resting on her head. She seemed to represent a queen for rebels and artists alike. Her red, wide brimmed hat might as well have been a crown and the vibrantly colored chair might as well have been a throne. Her mission? “I make cool shit and I sell it, ” she said. At Storm Ritter Studio, Storm creates unique clothing items from her original paintings. A recent college graduate and lover of academics, she jumped around from school to school before eventually ending up in Enlightenment Studies at New York University’s Gallatin. She has done costume work for Saturday Night Live as well as freelance work for Vogue. In 2016, she opened Graey Studio, an experiment in individuality and rebellion. In 2017, Storm Ritter Studio became the newest iteration of this experiment. “It's a bit of a mess, ” said Storm as she showed us around her shop. Mess might be one word for it, but it was a carefully curated mess. To the Manhattan Sideways Team, it represented a kind of beautiful chaos. Ritter grew up in Florida with “hippie” parents and as such, finds inspiration in the creative energy of the 1960s, among other things. Many of her customers feel this influence and see her work as a “throwback” or homage to the Village of the beatnik and bohemian days. However, Ritter’s designs are much more than recycled inspiration. Because she paints ambidextrously, her work has a sort of whimsical, surreal, and ethereal quality. Her paintings and designs also incorporate a lot of symbolism, concepts that she learned from her mentor, celebrity psychic Frank Andrews. Storm is nothing if not a spiritual person, and she strives to imbue all of her creative work with spiritual energy. In addition to her original creations, she also sources vintage items - including jewels, sunglasses, books and dresses - altering them in one way or another before selling them. “Everything in this store is touched in some way, if it's not homemade, ” Storm informed us. Amidst the spectacle of color, she explained her creative process for her unisex clothing. First, she paints her works on the second floor, unofficially her studio. Then, these designs are digitally printed onto the fabrics in Georgia, and afterwards the fabrics are sent to Florida to be cut and manufactured into clothing before arriving in New York. What sets Storm apart from other clothing stores, she says, is the “interactive quality” of her products, not only because they require a combination of painting and textile manufacturing, but because customers can also commission works. Of course, she could not do it all without the help of her lovely feline sidekick. A lover of animals, Storm has five cats. “One of them has three legs, ” she told us, proudly, “he fought a coyote. He's a veteran. ” As she continued to share her story, a beautiful gray cat in a green dress paraded across the floor. “That's Velvet, ” said Storm, “she's a little sass factory. ”Sitting in the perfectly organized chaos of Storm Ritter’s shop, a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo raged on in the background. Colors and vibrant patterns and images surrounded us. “I just wanted to create a job where I could paint and be myself, ” said Storm.
L'Impasse was more than a clothing store; it was a temple of sartorial elegance. Owner Abdul Sall, a self-taught fashion impresario who hailed from Paris, ensured that every garment lived up to his exacting standards. With offerings that spanned everything from custom couture to vintage Parisian pieces, L'Impasse invited you to shed your mundane skin and step into something transformative. It was the kind of place where you didn't just shop; you had an experience, a dialogue with fabric and form. The store's closure leaves a void that can't easily be filled by the impersonal racks of fast fashion outlets.
Theatre 80, with its rich history, embodied the spirit of independent artistry. Howard Otway's architectural wonder was a sanctuary for medium-sized, off-Broadway productions. It provided artists and audiences alike with a space that felt both intimate and grandiose, thanks to its carefully engineered acoustics and expansive stage. Meanwhile, Jules Bistro was where the bohemian and the epicurean coexisted, serving up classic French cuisine accompanied by live jazz. And Storm Ritter Studio was a riot of color and creative chaos, a place where fashion and art were indistinguishable, and where Storm's own original paintings transformed into wearable art. In their own unique ways, each of these businesses enriched the cultural fabric of New York, making their absence all the more palpable. For the residents and frequent visitors to 8th Street and St. Mark's Place, the closures are not just commercial losses but emotional ones—another sign that the spaces where community, creativity, and individuality thrive are increasingly under threat.
Here are some more "Lost Gems"...
The Belgian Room, as its name alludes, serves only Belgian beer. A dark, but welcoming space, the Belgian Room is pouring, in the words of the bartender, “the best beer in the world. ” Loyal patrons come here to choose from a wide selection of beer, lounge in the relaxing environment, and eat pomme frites. It’s not a glitzy spot, just one that is dedicated to generously serving beer aficionados some serious brew. On one visit, during the winter months, we chatted with another patron seated at the bar who lives only a few doors down. His comment about the Belgian beers was "I always feel like I had a drink after leaving here despite the fact that it is just a beer. " And if you are in search of a different type of bar scene, hop on over to Hop Devil Grill through a passageway located at the back of the Belgian Room. It wasn’t until we went to use the ladies room that we realized the two spaces were connected.
Stepping into St. Marks Barbershop is like stepping into a place that time forgot - with the bright red 1940s President chairs and the timeless look of the men who have been working in the barbershop for decades. I spoke with Albert, who was giving a man a close shave. He said that he had been here “a long time” and that the shop itself had been around since the 1960s or 70s. He gestured to Ada Calhoun’s book, St. Marks is Dead, where St. Marks Barbershop has a mention (under its old name, the Royal Unisex Barbershop). I read that the location had been owned by Italian and Polish immigrants for generations. Once I put the book back down, Albert shared with me that Ada Calhoun’s family continues to come to St. Marks to get their haircut. Albert humbly mentioned that he is a third generation barber and that his grandfather started a successful barbershop in Russia. He took out a bag filled with old tools, including slightly tarnished metal combs before plastic became the norm and non-electric razors that the barber had to squeeze by hand. Though he does not use them, he keeps the old, well-worn tools around as a reminder of his legacy.
There are some terrific crepe places scattered around Manhattan, however, Jean Christophe brings a whole new meaning to this delectable pancake. From Brittany, France, Jean told me that his recipe is hundreds of years old, as this area is where the crepe had its origins and continues to be made on every street corner throughout the territory. Jean shared with me that most people make either a buckwheat or a white flour crepe, causing them to be a bit heavy, but with his secret recipe, he combines both flours together to make the absolute thinnest crepe imaginable. Beginning with a melted cheese and homemade tomato puree crepe, I was convinced that this was among the best savory crepes I had tried, however, Jean then insisted on having me sample the one made very simply with sugar and butter. So flaky are the crepes that he makes, that they can fall apart - but not to worry, he serves them in a paper cone. Jean will then explain exactly how to eat his creations - "You must bite into the multiple, crispy layers at once as this is how one experiences the ethereal, flakiness of my dessert. "When I declared that I could not eat another bite, Jean then brought me little dollops of the fillings to try - the blueberry and whipped cream crepe, "done the French way, " Jean said, so as not to be too sweet and made with fresh berries - then the strawberry with a hint of black pepper and vanilla, and the last one, rosemary caramelized apple. All sinfully delicious and combinations that I will dream about until I can return for more. Attached to the William Barnacle Tavern, Jean stands inside his little booth at Crepes Canaveral every evening (except Tuesdays) until all hours of the night chatting with people as they pass by. He is incredibly quick at turning these treats out so that people can grab one on the go or step inside the bar and sit down and savor every bite while having a drink. Either way, they are not to be missed.
Large windows allow sunlight to pour into this airy room. Decorated with looms and racks of vibrant yarn, this bright space is where creative minds are nurtured. “As a resource facility and creative meeting place, ” the Textile Art Center is where fiber artists and everyday people can take part in textile arts – learning to make fabric, to weave, to sew, to design. We certainly were intrigued and inspired by this spot.
While the concept is new to many of us here at Manhattan Sideways, the friendly folks at Beyond Vape obviously know all the latest trends in the E-Cig world. The place feels like a lounge with stools set up along the counters in a bar-like setting and couches for customers to enjoy the company of others while they sample any one of a number of Beyond Vape’s “E-Juice” flavors. Knowing next to nothing about E-Cigs, an employee explained to us that an E-Cig is powered by a battery and produces a vapor that resembles smoke by vaporizing the E-Juice. The atmosphere in Beyond Vape was certainly that of a lounge, with nearly ten people hanging out and sampling E-Juice flavors on the afternoon that we visited.
In a town in the French Alps called Val d’Isere in 1992, a grand race course was designed for the world class skiers that would compete in that winter’s Olympic Games. Excitement was on the rise, but there was one problem. A section of the mountain was already inhabited by a beloved and ancient French resident: the Ancolie flower. Designs for the course called for razing that section of mountain and the destruction of the lovely little wildflowers' habitat: Cue an uprising from the townsfolk and a debate on the importance of culture versus nature. Over thirty years later and an ocean away, I sat with Chloe Vichot, owner of Ancolie, a little cafe named for the flower and representative of the struggle to preserve the environment. Chloe, who is originally from Paris, lived in New York for twelve years, working in finance until she felt compelled to do something she felt truly passionate about. As many others have done, she left Wall Street and made her dream a reality by opening Ancolie. Today, in 2017, she encourages her customers to be careful with the food they eat. She offer discounts if diners bring their own coffee cups, and she uses glass jars to serve her food, rather than disposable items. Almost everything at Ancolie is recycled, demonstrating Chloe’s deep commitment to environmental responsibility. Her coffee is seasonally sourced and most of the ingredients that go into the delicious salads and soups on the menu are bought from the Union Square Greenmarket. Anything that is not local is still sustainably sourced. Anything left over is composted or reused. “My goal is to show people that it is not too complicated to just be careful, ” said Chloe. As I sat munching on a handful of the incredible apple crisps, Chloe explained to me that the peels are leftovers from her apple compote. Rather than throw the peels out, the staff cuts them up and sprinkles cinnamon and olive oil on them, and then they cook slowly until they turn crisp. The result is simple and simply delicious. Someone also comes twice a week to take what is not reused to a garden for compost. “The best way to avoid waste, ” Chloe told me, “is just to not create it. ”Ancolie has quickly become known for their use of jars to serve food. It is true that mason jars are trendy at the moment, but Chloe’s fascination with them goes beyond the fashion of the day. Eating with glass, she told me, is uncomplicated and soothing. “The experience is amazing, ” she said. “I like to drink coffee out of a real cup. You don’t feel like you have to rush. ”
If you prefer not to wait for assistance at an Apple store, you can bring your computer, iPhone or any other Apple product to the team at Dr. Brendan's for immediate help and repairs. One of the friendly, young computer physicians responded to us in two words when we asked for him to tell us why people should come to Dr. Brendan's -- "Quick fixes" were the words he chose. The energy inside the store is brimming, and the knowledge seems to be immense, so we are hopeful this means that any Apple device would be left in good hands.