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4x4TH STREET — A Side Street that Takes an Interesting Turn

Written by: Betsy Polivy. Published: August 31, 2023.

Walking the 30 blocks that make up 4th Street (which starts at Avenue D and curves up to end at 13th Street — see our note for an explanation of this anomaly) is a crash course in Manhattan’s not-so-distant bohemian past. Since the 1950s, 4th Street has been an enclave for artists and writers unafraid to push the envelope with their bold and radical ideas.

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Corner bistro burger Bars American West Village

Corner Bistro

The Corner Bistro is a beloved neighborhood bar in New York City's West Village that has endured for over 60 years. Though lacking the storied literary pedigree of other downtown haunts, it has cultivated a loyal following thanks to its unpretentious charm, congenial atmosphere and its signature flame-broiled burgers — declared among the city's best by New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton in 1978. We certainly enjoyed ours (with a side of tater tots) when we visited. We got chatting to Jim, who was managing and bartending on the Wednesday lunchtime we popped by — he shared his longtime love of the fabled bar. "We're open late. So even when I was living uptown in my young twenties, I would come downtown, drink with my friends and then stumble in here to have a burger at two in the morning, " he said. His enthusiasm and memories are matched by the customers too. Jim recalls: "Every day people come in saying 'I used to come here in the seventies' or "I met my wife here'. So every day we have people coming back to New York and say this is a memory of their past. "Longtime Corner Bistro owner Bill O'Donnell, who turned the unassuming West Village burger joint into an iconic New York City destination during his 45 year tenure, died in 2016 at age 80 after a battle with cancer. ""The owner passed away before the pandemic. And his daughter just seamlessly took over, " said Jim. Corner Bistro retains its consummate neighborhood bar character, giving locals and visitors alike a taste of an ever-rarer old New York — and it's the western gateway to 4th Street!

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Merchant's House Museum 1 Museums Historic Site Noho

Merchant's House Museum

Surrounded by high-rise condos, with another on the way, and graffiti tagged buildings, this landmark relic of the past made it to the top of my sidekick Brandhi's must-do lists just in time for her birthday. She knew that a large and very wealthy New York family and their four Irish servants once inhabited the house in the 1800's, and managed to keep it intact over the years, but she was fascinated by the idea that the ghost of Gertrude, the family's youngest daughter who was born and died in the house at the age of 93, might still reside there too. So she eagerly paid the $10 admission, chose the self-guided tour, and wholeheartedly entered the time capsule. For Brandhi, ascending the magnificent wood carved staircases and exploring the great rooms of this 19th century home decked with the Tredwell family's personal possessions was like stepping back into a time when this part of the city was alive with the comings and goings of millionaires and upholding the highest social conventions were the norm. She found a little something that almost every kind of aficionado would appreciate in this historic home. She learned all about the Victorian etiquette of "calling, " admired the white day dresses that still look pristine, and imagined what it must have been like for a servant to lug a bucket full of coal up four long flights of stairs several times a day. If you think history, architecture, interior design, cultural anthropology or the paranormal is fascinating, then a visit to this museum should make it to the top of your must-do list too. Guided tours start everyday at 2: 00. However, if you are like Brandhi and prefer to explore in private, arrive early and you will likely have the entire museum to yourself. The peaceful backyard garden, though surrounded by cookie-cutter condominiums, is the perfect place to reflect on what it must have been like to live in the Manhattan of two centuries ago. Happy Birthday, Brandhi.

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Le Fanion 1 Pottery Antiques Lighting Historic Site West Village

Le Fanion

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. "

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4th Street Photo Gallery 1 Videos Art and Photography Galleries East Village

4th Street Photo Gallery

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 describes 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 1970s, 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 2000s, 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.

The four neighborhoods through which this street passes — the Lower East Side and the East, Greenwich, and West Villages — have histories rich with an independent spirit that is still evident today. This is the birthplace of the Nuyorican literary movement, punk rock, LGBTQ rights, the Beat Generation, two progressive churches prominent in anti-war activism (Washington Square Methodist Church and Judson Memorial Church) and Fourth Arts Block (FAB) — Manhattan’s only cultural district.

FAB is home to art in all its forms. Stretching only a short distance between Second Avenue and the Bowery, East 4th's cultural district has a multitude of theaters. Each has its own personality, with spaces dedicated to American and Latino heritages, women- and transgender-led productions, dance studios, teen projects and independent films. FAB is a must-visit destination — a commingling of art, passion, and people.

The Merchant’s House Museum is a perfectly preserved 19th-century home that was built for the wealthy Tredwell family in 1832. Seabury Tredwell, along with his wife, six daughters, and two sons, resided on 4th Street for nearly one hundred years until Gertrude, the youngest, died in 1933. Today the Federal-style building that still houses many of their possessions is a national historic landmark.

Once a drug-infested square where few would dare venture, Washington Square Park is now a vibrant space with a natural appeal that invites chess enthusiasts, children, dogs and a hodgepodge of live performers. Although named for George Washington, the park is perhaps best known for its 120-year-old arch modeled after Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. A towering water fountain welcomes playful children on hot summer days and is a favorite gathering place well into the night for NYU students, tourists and locals alike. It has borne witness to countless community advocacy efforts, including LGBTQ rights and peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.

4th Street also hosts plenty of music shops and concert venues, as well as an endless array of international food. No matter what neighborhood you find yourself strolling through, the variety of goods, services and entertainment will make sidewinding 4th Street a truly fascinating experience.

Of course, there is much dispute about the neighborhood boundaries that 4th Street passes through. The Lower East Side begins at Avenue D and ends at Avenue A. This area is also known as Loisaida, coined by the Spanish-speaking population that entered the area in the 1970s. The East Village is the area west of Tompkins Square Park to Broadway, where Greenwich Village begins. Finally, Greenwich Village becomes the West Village at Sixth Avenue until it ends at 13th Street. The next time you are randomly quizzed on the confusing geography of 4th Street, you will be ready. You’re welcome!

Side Note: West 4th Street is the only side street in Manhattan that, for a short distance between 6th Avenue and 13th Street, runs north to south instead of east to west. It is also the only side street that intersects with four other side streets: 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th.

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Pageant Print Shop 1 Bookstores Family Owned undefined

Pageant Print Shop

Pageant Print Shop’s entirely glass storefront bordered by light blue is instantly eye-catching and proudly displays the treasure within. Inside its bright, buttercream interior, an immense assortment of old prints and maps line every wall and fill neatly-labeled display racks. This sanctuary of beautiful historical pieces was created by Sidney Solomon and Henry Chafetz in 1946. It was originally one of the many second-hand book stores on Fourth Avenue, an area that was then known as “Book Row. ” Now under the leadership of Sidney’s daughters, Shirley and Rebecca, Pageant Print Shop primarily sells old prints and is thriving at its current 4th Street location. Having worked with historic pieces her whole life, Shirley knows how to get the best prints. She has amassed her impressive collection from antique book auctions as well as other various sources that she has built up over the years. Roger, who has been working at Pageant Print Shop for over a decade, told Manhattan Sideways that “what we are looking for are old books with the bindings broken that are really not in very good shape on the outside, but still have good quality prints, maps, or illustrations on the inside. ” Although they search for old books based on the contents within, the shop also sells the old bindings for creatives looking to make decoupage and other fun art projects. Pageant Print Shop is definitely a fixture in the East Village, and in the words of Roger, is “one of those neighborhood jams. ” They enjoy “a loyal group of people that have been coming here for eons, " tourists looking for something authentically New York City, and neighborhood people walking by. He told us that newcomers are often “surprised that they are able to buy a piece of history, ” and return for more of their authentic, beautiful, and historic prints. Pageant Print Shop is unique in its extensive, high quality, and affordable selection. Roger affirmed that “It’s going to be hard for you to find someone who has this kind of a collection at these kinds of prices — it’s just true. ”

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Sevilla Restaurant and Bar 1 Spanish undefined

Sevilla Restaurant and Bar

When Bienvenido Alvarez and his wife left the city of Ourense in 1973, they did not know when they would see their children again. Looking for a better life in Manhattan, where Bienvenido’s brother worked at Sevilla, the couple arrived to the sight of the Twin Towers being built. Bienvenido’s American life grew in tandem with the skyscrapers: He worked as a waiter in the mornings and learned English in the afternoons. After months of this hard work he and his brother, Jose, bought Sevilla, which remains open seven days a week, just as it did years ago. It was not until 1976 that Bienvenido and his wife were able to bring their children to New York. During the summer of 2017, Bienvenido sat with the Manhattan Sideways team at Sevilla, the light illuminating the left side of his face through the massive window that faces West 4th Street. His granddaughter Andrea joined us, kindly translating our interview between Spanish and English. The relatives do not look alike, yet both emanate the same brand of warmth. We arrived at the restaurant while Bienvenido was in the middle of paperwork, but he still took the time to do an interview on the spot - it is befitting that his name translates to “Welcome. ” Before it was established as a Spanish restaurant in 1941, the corner of West 4th and Charles Street was an Irish tavern that sold burgers and beer. The remnants of that earlier establishment can still be seen in Sevilla's decor. Although Bienvenido and his brother are the second set of owners of Sevilla, Bienvenido pointed out that there are no noticeable differences between the restaurant today and the original that opened so many decades ago. Insuring a seamless change of ownership, the brothers chose to leave the restaurant as they inherited it, except for the menu and the alarm system. “We did better, everything, ” said Bienvenido about the menu. It is identical to the 1940s menu, except for a few new dishes and revamped editions of the original items. The alarm system at Sevilla is an homage to the character of the West Village in the 1970s. An eclectic prequel to the upper-class neighborhood it is today, the Village was once home to many thieves, artists, “Bohemians, ” and a significant Spanish community. The restaurant “used to get robbed a lot, ” but is now protected by alarms and its proximity to well to do neighbors. This safety came at the cost of the area’s gentrification, which pushed most of the Spanish population out of the neighborhood. The West Village’s blocks were once so packed with Spanish restaurants it used to be known as “Little Spain. ” Andrea proudly stated that Sevilla is a “pillar for the Spanish community” that remains today. One unwavering Spanish value that the business upholds is the importance of family. Sevilla is not just a restaurant, but the venue where Bienvenido's large Spanish family gathers to celebrate Easter, Mother’s Day, baptisms, and communions. Andrea estimates that three to four generations attend these gatherings and then added that their immediate family tries to have a meal together once a day. Bienvenido bought the building in which Sevilla resides in 1982 so that his family would have a place to live. In general, the family is very close: Bienvenido said that his relationship with his brother is “muy bueno” and that on the rare occasion the pair does argue, Bienvenido can never stay mad at his partner for long. Andrea has been living in New York for the past three years while she finishes culinary school, but before that, she visited the restaurant at least once every year from her home in Spain. When asked what she has learned from her time spent here, Andrea began her response with a one-word statement: "sacrifice". While the restaurant’s enduring success can be credited to its authentic food, it is also fueled by something less concrete: Bienvenido’s genuine, enviable love for what he does. He describes his customers as “marvelous, ” and, at the age of eighty-five, continues to come in every other day to do paperwork and mingle with guests. “He’s a very loving person, ” Andrea gushed, “And he doesn’t understand retirement. ” Bienvenido started working when he was fourteen in Spain, but still keeps a sense of humor about his life’s obstacles. “The worst part was the idioms, ” Bienvenido reminisced about learning English forty-five years ago (His grasp of English has sadly since slipped away). Laughing, he imparted a truism: “A day without work is a day without money. ” Towards the end of our interview, Andrea distilled her grandfather’s character into two words - “proud” and “fun” - and revealed that he wakes up singing every morning. While the brothers used to work hard out of necessity, they do it now for joy. “They work not because they need it, but because they love it. ”