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Revisit the Lost Gems of Manhattan's Side Streets

Written by: Betsy Polivy.
Lost Gem
Showman's Jazz   LOST GEM 1 Jazz Blues Bars Clubs Manhattanville Harlem

Showman's Jazz

Mona Lopez met Al Howard when she was working at a bar in the Bronx. A detective with the New York Police Department, he would come into the bar to make sure that police were not stopping by and drinking while on duty. When Mr. Howard purchased Showman’s in 1978, he convinced Mona to check out his new place on 125th Street for a few days. Those “few days” turned into “over forty years,” Mona said. “It’s been good. I’ve met a lot of great people. Mr. Howard is now in his nineties, he would like to sell Showman’s, and when he goes, so do I.Mona never tires of relaying the story that made Mr. Howard a hero in Harlem. On his first day out with his partner Phil Romans in 1958, Mr. Howard got a call that there was a problem at a book signing involving Martin Luther King Jr. A “crazy” woman had stabbed him with a letter opener, missing his heart by a speck. Mr. Howard told another woman who was about to pull the letter opener out to not touch it — and warned Dr. King not to “sneeze or move” as he could sense that the opener was too close to his heart and could be fatal. Mr. Howard and his officers summoned the ambulance that took Dr. King to Harlem Hospital, where they saved his life.Showman’s has had three homes through its long life in Harlem. When they were located next door to the Apollo Theater, Mr. Howard had the 125th Street beat. “He fell in love with the people going in and out of the theater dressed up in proper attire.” The musicians would then go into Showman’s on their breaks and hang out, sometimes performing.The first Showman’s location held 300 people, the second could accommodate half that amount, and since 1999, the bar has the capacity to hold only eighty. Mona describes this space as far more intimate. No food is served, but occasionally she will cook something up and everyone is invited for a potluck dinner during the three performances each week. Mona welcomes the younger generation, particularly the students from Columbia University who appreciate the history and charm that Showman’s offers — but she emphasized, “Believe it or not, there are still people left who have been coming to Showman’s longer than I have been working here.”

Lost Gem
Little Picasso 1 Childrens Classes Artist Studios Uptown East Upper East Side

Little Picasso

The story of Little Picasso is of a woman who understands priorities. Isabella Grossman, originally from Israel, was a successful fashion designer working in China when she learned that her daughter was pregnant. She decided that she had to be in her granddaughter's life and chose to move to Manhattan.Between applying for positions in the fashion world, and working temp jobs, Isabella played with her granddaughter. Early on, she realized that her granddaughter was artistically talented, and whenever she could, she engaged her in elaborate art projects. One day, Isabella's daughter suggested to her mother that perhaps she should begin a new path and teach art to children. Thus, Little Picasso was born.Isabella teaches all ages from preschool up through high school, and always knows exactly how to adapt her lessons to the skills and interests of the children. As a grandmother myself, I was completely drawn to Isabella, both for her artistic passion and her devotion to her precious granddaughter. While listening to her, it became apparent that she is adamant about not teaching "cookie cutter arts and crafts." Though she appreciates simple arts and crafts studios, she feels that there are enough places like that in the city. Isabella prefers to help children learn "real" art techniques, and educates them without them knowing that they are learning.Isabella spends time teaching students to make pyramids, and does folding projects that demonstrate how 2D foot plans become 3D shapes. Looking around, I found an amazing paper mache project made to look like an archaeological dinosaur dig and rows of sculptures and raised paintings making use of recycled materials. Some of the art, made with painted tissue paper, reminded me of Eric Carle's technique, known universally in his classic book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. When I told Isabella this, she admitted that she reads that story to the younger children, whose lessons end each week with a picture book and a snack.In her small, warm studio, Isabella brings a worldliness that sets her above the rest. She informed me that she teaches her students to "literally think outside the box." Though she is happy with the life that she has built for herself in New York, she would love to return to Israel one day, as she is torn having her son there as a "Lone Soldier," and she is sorry she cannot be with him. Understandably, Isabella considers herself fortunate that she can spend so much time with her granddaughter, now five years old, and her two-year-old grandson, and open up new worlds of colors and forms to them and so many others in and around Manhattan.

Lost Gem
Telepan 1 American Lincoln Square Midtown West Upper West Side


Chef Bill Telepan - along with partner Jimmy Nicholas - opened his eponymous restaurant in 2005 after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, working with many renowned, international chefs, garnering success as an executive chef, and publishing Inspired by Ingredients. Many accolades later, Telepan retains its community ties, sourcing locally and being "neighborhood-centric." In addition, through the nonprofit Wellness in the Schools (WITS), Bill devises and executes nutritional cafeteria menus.The interior of Telepan consists of an attractive bar, inviting booth-style seating, nook-like areas for intimacy, and a semi-private dining room. An impressive wine cellar draws attention to lesser-known origins, celebrating a different region each month. And the tastefully simple exposed brick, subtle green tints, and wooden accents highlight the seasonally-rotated, close-up photographs of luscious produce by Quentin Bacon.Most of the ingredients on the menu are sourced from the Union Square Greenmarket and local farmers. According to Director of Marketing and Communications Jacqueline Hensel, "Bill was doing farm-to-table before farm-to-table was a thing." In lieu of fancy names or feigned trendiness are consistent seasonality and fresh flavor for guests to experience. The coveted pea pancakes - that only appear on the menu for a short while - are so eagerly anticipated by frequent diners that they make reservations weeks in advance to be certain that they will not miss the opportunity to savor every bite.One of the most valued opinions comes from a strong-minded older woman who has been eating at the restaurant for years. If she approves a new dish that Bill has created, it goes straight onto the menu. After all, as Chef Telepan explained, "it is all about the customer." He is cooking for everyone who walks through that door, which included the Sideways team when we sat for lunch one summer afternoon.We started off with refreshing chilled tomato and red pepper soup, a famed house-smoked brook trout, and a beet salad that highlighted the root vegetable in sweet, sour and savory variations. Unable to see the robiolla neatly baked into my tortellini, I was pleasantly surprised with each cheesy bite. The others enjoyed an elegantly cut grilled hanger steak plated atop a mound of potatoes and spinach, and a playful burger dish, garnished with all the fixings and served alongside a volcano of onion rings and french fries.Pastry Chef Larissa Raphael's desserts were no less inspired. The moist coconut cake was complemented with smooth whipped cream, the strawberry granita parfait fizzled when introduced to a shot of prosecco, and the peanut butter and chocolate gianduja with peanut brittle ice cream and huckleberry gelee was a triangular love affair of compatible tastes.

Lost Gem
Long's Bedding 1 Beds and Bedding Upper West Side

Long's Bedding

On a street full of family-owned businesses and long-lasting neighbors, Long’s Bedding is yet another that merits a shout out for its “Long-evity.” The mattress center has been around for four generations, starting with Max Long, the great-grandfather of the current owner, Terri. Max emigrated from Poland and started putting his skills as a mattress maker to use in 1911. In 1936, Max’s son Harry turned the business towards retail. The business had floundered during the depression, but after World War II, Harry was able to build it back up until he was able to buy out his brother and father. In 1963, a year after the business moved to its current location on 72nd Street, Harry’s son Bob started working as a delivery truck driver. We met Bob, who still works in the store despite having passed the torch on to his daughter, Terri, as well as his wife, Judie, who helps sell the mattresses when she is not working as a photographer.Judie showed us the historical prints on the wall, including Yellow Pages advertisements for Long’s from a century ago and a photograph of Max Long. She also gestured to the wall of photos of celebrities who have bought Long’s beds. The list is quite lengthy, including John Kennedy and John Lennon. My favorite celebrity story was the one about Mick Jagger, who ordered a wall-to-wall mattress. Though Judie says they have not received a request as outlandish as that in a while, they still help customers with many antique beds that often come in unusual dimensions. She explained that customers, including the stars on the wall, often find Long’s via word of mouth and interior designers.Long’s is one of the last small, independently-owned mattress sellers in the city, since mattress chains are unfortunately driving the smaller shops out of business. Judie said that she believes that the reason they still remain is because “New Yorkers are smart.” She elaborated by explaining that if she shows customers a better mattress than the one they have been sleeping on, made by a small producer, they will buy it, despite the lack of recognizable brand name. Judie referenced the Sleepy’s across the street and said, “Customers walk in there to look, and walk in here to buy.”Whereas Judie gave a lot of the credit to the store’s clientele, it was clear to me that the family’s warmth and personal attention are equally deserving. Judie agreed and said simply, “We care. When someone comes back and tells us they’re happy, it makes us happy.” Customers are treated with kindness: Judie told us about a woman who came in, slightly distraught after losing her wallet, whom Judie sat with and spoke to until she calmed down. The woman has come back to buy mattresses at every stage of her life, and says she never will forget that day.Judie shared another one of her favorite stories, in which a woman bought a new bed from Long’s. Two years later, Judie was helping her daughter buy an apartment, and discovered the broker was this same customer. The woman exclaimed, “You changed my life!” and started describing how her quality of sleep had improved thanks to the bed she bought at Long’s. Bob also had a story that shows what an amazing network Long’s customers have created: A woman came in to look at a mattress. She saw a woman she knew and greeted her, asking what she was doing there. The second woman replied, “I’ve been shopping here for thirty years: It’s an Upper West Side institution.” The comment sealed the deal and the first woman bought the mattress.“We try really hard to please every customer,” Terri interjected. She went on to tell me that she has childhood memories of being fascinated by the parade of mattresses that her father carried up and down the stairs when he was treating the basement of his family home like a warehouse. There were additional indications from Terri’s early life that she would one day own the family business. For example, Judie told us that her daughter used to sit at Bob’s desk when she was small and “make a whole mess.” It is really touching to see how Terri’s parents have entrusted the operation of Long's to their daughter. “Terri runs the show now,” Judie stated, and smiling, she added, “I like to make her look good.” Similarly, Bob has passed over the responsibility to Terri and now functions as her constant mentor and source of support.I was curious to know if the family thinks that a fifth generation of mattress salesmen/women is in the cards. Olivia, Terri’s daughter, is still too young to show any signs of taking over the family business, but the Longs do sell a mattress called the “Olivia,” so perhaps it is an omen.

Lost Gem
Mihoko’s 21 Grams 1 Lounges Japanese Flatiron

Mihoko’s 21 Grams

21 grams was an experience that took five of us into an uncharted culture and left us not only deliciously sated, but also feeling like a welcomed and valued friend. On our first venture inside, we were working - exploring the restaurant, taking photos and observing the chef in the kitchen. Our second visit was to participate in the entire dining experience. Words cannot possibly do justice to the absolutely incredible 8 course, Franco-Japonaise works of art we consumed. With each bite, we all went silent and then looked up at each other in amazement only to find the same looks of awe on all of our faces. From the fresh rolls served with brown butter to the hollowed eggshell filled with the most decadent chicken consomme imaginable resting on an aromatic bed of lavender salt...to the potato truffle croquette with a molten cheese center, probably one of the best bites of food I have ever eaten...to the tuna tartar "sandwich"...to the thoughtfully-crafted vegetarian dishes...to the outrageous cocktails including an iced sake intermezzo...and dessert that was over-the-top chocolate souffle...we were positively dazzled. This was a meal, served by expert waiters in tailcoats, the memory of which will stick with us as we continue indulging our way across the side streets.Dancer, set designer, costume designer, clothing designer, stylist, sculptor, holistic nutritionist, certified edomae-sushi chef, restaurateur – Mihoko Kiyokawa is an incredibly talented woman. And, perhaps, nothing proves this more than stepping inside her magnificent restaurant where her goal is to feed the soul through the passionate preparation of elegant food. Entering the restaurant, one walks down a narrow red-carpeted hallway, ornamented with clean-lined Japanese pottery and projections on the white walls. Tastefully displayed are an array of handmade Japanese teapots, dishes and other beautiful pieces, many created by Mihoko, herself. This exquisite welcoming is simply a taste of what is to follow. The main dining room contains a mixture of Japanese-French aesthetics. Each table is surrounded by a padded barrier -- reminiscent of a gift box. We found it to be dramatic and unique, paying homage to Mihoko’s former career in stage design and dance. Perfectly set, each tablecloth is pressed and glistens with shiny cutlery and ceramics – a bowl with a minuscule towel rests in the middle of each setting. When seated, bergamot-scented water will be poured over the small roll for a guest to wash their hands. While the setting is grand and luscious, upscale and ornate, with some of the men dressed in formal tails, everyone made us feel at ease. From the manager, to the bartender, to the sommelier, and even Mihoko, herself, we were greeted warmly. Within this gorgeous and amicable setting, fantastic, complex and savory food was prepared by twenty-five year old chef, Mizuho Hirakawa. We were taken into the kitchen to observe her as she delicately placed chrysanthemum petal after petal around a circle of foie gras to create a sunflower-esque presentation. We watched as she gently placed a rack of lamb on a plate and wiped away any traces of its juices from the rim before serving. As we photographed this edible art, we were invited to taste these delicacies: Foie gras with buck wheat crumble, apricot and chrysanthemum; Botan ebi tempura roll with shrimp, plum, shallot and tomato; lamb Provencal with ratatouille, lemon thyme sauce and candied pecans. Each dish was presented beautifully and the flavors intriguing -- a mix of spices, textures and colors. The Manhattan Sideways team certainly had a memorable experience exploring the extensive space of 21 Grams, including the downstairs lounge and bar, and, of course, speaking to the gracious people who have poured their hearts into 21 Grams – the supposed "weight of the soul."

Lost Gem
Ebisu Gift Shop 1 Stationery Gift Shops Yorkville Upper East Side

Ebisu Gift Shop

Ebisu, named for the Japanese god of fishermen and fortune, is a small wonderland filled with Japanese toys, gadgets, and mementos. For anyone familiar with anime, Miyazaki, or Japanese culture, there are countless familiar faces, such as the characters Totoro, Pusheen, and Hello Kitty. The types of items vary from cute portable bento boxes to animatronic piggy banks. Everything comes straight from Japan.I spoke to the owner, Ely Wami, who told me about her inspiration to open the store. She arrived in the United States in the year 2000 and owned a Japanese restaurant called Inase on the Upper East Side for many years before opening Ebisu in 2014. Her decision to open came from her observation that high quality Japanese toys were difficult to find in New York City. “I like cute stuff - I love Hello Kitty,” she giggled. She started importing items from Japan, including Spirited Away merchandise, Japanese stationery, and other traditional Japanese toys. “Not many stores have these items.” Because she sells goods that are rare in the United States, customers visit her from far and wide – she mentioned that she has a contingency of people who regularly visit her from Washington, DC. Additionally, Japanese expats know they can visit Ebisu for items that they would otherwise only find in their home country.Ely put a lot of thought into every aspect of her business. She chose her location carefully: not only is there a large Japanese population living on the Upper East Side, but she also found a spot that is perfectly situated with regards to her apartment. “I live half a block away from the restaurant and half a block away from the store,” she said. She is hoping, however, to add a new location of Ebisu in the near future, possibly in the East Village. As for the name, it took her a while to think of the perfect title for her shop. She wanted a word that was very common in Japan (many Japanese restaurants and stores are called “Ebisu”) and something that would be easy for Americans to say. She told me that the name “Ebisu” eventually came to her in a dream. It was perfect – “’Ebisu’ almost sounds like ‘ABC’,” Ely pointed out, enthusiastically.

Lost Gem
Juni 1 American Murray Hill
Lost Gem
Maysville 1 Bars American Flatiron Tenderloin


Offering impeccable New American fare and bourbon alongside, Maysville made dreams come true for one southerner on our team. Opened by Sean Josephs, owner of Char No. 4 in Brooklyn, the restaurant mixes upscale locavore themes with Southern cuisine to produce refined yet soulful dishes. It is open and bright, with understated colors and a long bar reminiscent of a wraparound porch. On the wall opposite the bar, three huge horses, rendered in charcoal, gracefully strut for diners and lend the space an air of majesty.In addition to the bourbon, there is a large selection of craft beers, both domestic and imported. We ended up settling down and spending a few hours at Maysville one September day. We had the pleasure of speaking with sous chef Arun, for quite some time. He explained that all of their produce is locally grown and seasonal, bought from the Union Square farmers market a few blocks away. “We think of the veggies first, and then create our daily menu around that.” The extra care is noted: the roasted zucchini dish is one of our all time favorites, sporting a scrumptious medley of flavorful flora, ricotta, tomatoes, a cilantro pistou and garnished with an explosive lime vinaigrette - everyone agreed with me that this particular dish is certainly not for plant-lovers alone; the crispy fried grits with prosciutto were one of the best takes on this classic that our southerner has tried; the char was also excellent, served with grilled nectarines, mini roasted eggplants and hazelnuts; the creme de la creme for another on our team, was the hay-roasted mouth-watering oysters. As seasons change, the menu will be changing accordingly. Every week, following local growing patterns, dishes are swapped in and out. The menu is comprised of "things I would like to cook at home," Arun explained. “So we might go to the market, buy some produce, cook them, and then try to figure out how to bring them into a restaurant setting.” Now that fall is approaching, Arun is looking forward to reintroducing some favorites from their original autumn opening a year ago. We can’t wait to find out what they unveil next.

Lost Gem
Trattoria Il Mulino 1 Italian Gramercy

Trattoria Il Mulino

I unexpectedly garnered a reservation on the first Friday evening of the eagerly anticipated opening of this 18th Street hotspot. Trattoria Il Mulino is a more casual offshoot of the highly regarded, Il Mulino, an old-world powerhouse that focuses on the cuisine of the Abruzzi region. We were seated in the back of a cavernous room where the tables were spaciously arranged around two focal points - the large, dimly lit, stainless steel bar, and a mural that could have been painted during the days of the New Deal - both set the stage for a colorful meal.Immediately, when we sat down, a scrumptious basket of bread was presented to us along with an eggplant capanata and a plate of Italian charcuterie. My friend started with the cocktail special of the evening, which was reminiscent of a Bellini, conjuring up thoughts of Harry’s Bar in Venice. In fact, Trattoria Il Mulino’s cocktail menu specializes in typical Italian drinks, and sure enough at the end of the evening, we had the opportunity to sample their delicious, freshly made Fig Grappas and Limoncellos. Throughout our meal, a bevy of staff hovered around us, but it was our primary server, Desi, a champion jujitsu athlete and all around great guy who made several menu recommendations. We ordered the Bufala Fritta to start - a simple slice of fried heaven, in which the sauce complemented, rather than overtook, the taste and texture of the cheese. We also shared a perfect margherita pizza. Two of our main courses included a capellini dish with Pecorino Romano and pistachio, differentiating it from a more typical pesto, and a spaghettini with spicy crab and meyer lemon, a refreshing summer dish that hopefully will stay on the menu beyond the season.Yes, I have saved the best for last – the desserts. We devoured several, but the overall consensus was that the Bianco e Nero was superb - Italian ice cream with walnuts, vanilla crunch and espresso zabaglione, which was supremely delicate in texture with just the right amount of diverse flavors. We also enjoyed a warm Brioche Budino – baked bread with grappa soaked raisins (there goes the grappa again) and topped with fresh figs, the perfect alternative to the lighter than air Bianco e Nero. Trattoria Il Mulino in Manhattan follows in the footsteps of two other successful ventures, one in Orlando and the other in Atlantic City, and I believe that they have a third hit on what is one of the city's most vibrant side streets that I have documented, thus far.

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