Hailing from a family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu royalty, Renzo Gracie is not a good man with whom to make trouble. He is, however, a good man to train with, carrying several blackbelts and fight records, including bouts against past world champions. In 1995, while still an active (young) fighter, Gracie moved to New York and opened Renzo Gracie in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks north of its current location. Since then, the gym has moved south, added Muay Thai to its training acumen (as well as comprehensive MMA and boxing programs), and seen more than one world champion come to train.
Arriving from South Africa, Albertus Swanepoel attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, which led him to an apprenticeship and ultimately his own glove-making business. The appeal of gloves, however, was “incredibly limited, ” as most people wear them only seasonally. So, renaissance man that he is, Albertus switched gears and slid seamlessly into the world of hats. Now he is firmly entrenched in his new niche, and has been producing haute couture headwear since the 1990s. Grounding his practice in old-fashioned millinery traditions, but using techniques from multiple fashion disciplines, he is able to approach hats creatively and expertly. This is a must for a bold garment that can fall flat if not done stylishly. “I try to make things that people wear everyday and look cool but not nostalgic, ” Swanepoel explained. And New Yorkers are wearing his high-end hats across the city. Albertus has a very optimistic take on his environment: “I think that’s the great thing about Manhattan. There are so many people living here that you can almost do anything and people will want it. ”
“We wanted to be that diamond in the rough, ” explained Ashley, the co-owner of Blank Slate. When Ashley and Zach, spouses and co-owners, were searching for a location for their restaurant, they wanted to find a neighborhood with a large crowd but not a lot of quality spots to eat. Blank Slate is successfully that hidden gem located in NoMad, one of Manhattan’s up and coming neighborhoods. Blank Slate attracts a crowd full of young, creative professionals who are quickly changing the area. Ashley and Zach established Blank Slate, which opened in November of 2015, in an effort to create the first coffee-shop-restaurant hybrid in New York City. Ashley explains that they were tired of going to places that provided quality coffee but low quality food. She wanted a place that offered superb grab-n-go coffee as well as more formal dining where friends could meet for a long meal. Ashley and Zach’s vision has been realized. Blank Slate serves killer coffee as well as an impressive assortment of salads, sandwiches and even gourmet desserts. Their coffee is proudly served from farm to cup in close to 20 days. They have a sign at the cash register indicating the green date and roast date of the coffee being served that day. My intern, Emily, hesitantly tried their brussels sprout Caesar salad and only had positive things to say about it, even though she usually does not enjoy Brussels sprouts. Blank Slate also has a small but wonderfully curated market located inside the restaurant, which offers primarily locally sourced products such as cookie dough, yoghurts, pickles and a host of beverages. In addition to serving excellent coffee and food, Blank Slate has a fun, creative atmosphere. Ashley and Zach chose Blank Slate’s name because they wanted to convey the idea that people can make or create everything here. While customers wait in line for coffee, for example, there are etch-a-sketches on which to play. They even have Instagram competitions that reward one talented etch-a-sketcher with a free meal. Ashley hopes that Blank Slate can be a space for people to create. She explained that the etch-a-sketch sends a message: the “possibility of everything. "
In the race among Manhattan restaurants to attract customers, simplicity is sometimes lost. But not so in the Mason Jar, a restaurant and bar that keeps it old school with good vibes and great tastes. The southern, barbecue-heavy menu and extensive list of craft beers and bourbons speak for themselves, complete with suggested pairings. Each month, a new craft beer is featured in an effort to support small breweries. If these beers attract a following, they are added to the full-time roster. While visiting with some Sideways members, I had a lively conversation with chef about the different styles of barbecue - our North Carolinian team member swears by vinegar sauce and appreciated Mason Jar’s variety. The food is fresh and not overdone, but at the same time the Chef “puts love into it. ” The high quality meat is treated seriously - specialty ribs are coated with a dry rub, smoked using apple and hickory wood, braised, and mopped with a tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce. Then grilled. The brisket and boneless pork butts are given no less attention. Replete with wood, American Flags, and comfortable seating, Mason Jar also achieves a homey feel to match its Southern style. Many of the University of South Carolina alumni in Manhattan choose this spot as the venue to catch the Cocks football games, and Villanova basketball fans flock here for their games, as well. With the hearty food, good beers, and down-home feel, it is easy to understand why. To put it plainly and simply, Mason Jar was a good find.
“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. ”
In 2001, The Center for Alternative Photography (CAP) opened its doors in the heart of a midtown district with rich photographic history (Abraham Lincoln came here to be photographed). Run by the non-profit Penumbra Foundation, the center focuses on alternative and historic techniques. In the words of Executive Director Geoffrey Berliner, “People are forgetting what photography is and where it came from. In a photo-based world, it is important to understand the history of photography. ” In this spirit, the Center educates, exhibits, and provides support for artists. When I visited in 2013, the center was planning a series on how the depiction of war has changed over time. Walking into the space, I also passed through a tintype studio, where one can have his or her portrait taken using the same methods as were used in the mid 1800s. The event space houses an artist lecture series in an effort to delve deeper into the photographic works. Recurring shows showcase daguerreotype, toy camera, and alternative techniques. The “In Conversation” lecture series has photographers and artists of different disciplines bring in their work to discuss and gain more perspective. A particularly powerful “In Conversation” lecture recently paired up Andrew Moore (whose pictures of urban decay in Detroit find romance in the otherwise decrepit parts of the city), with Philip Levine, a poet who sympathetically describes blue-collar Detroit.
Dover Street Market is a seven level hodgepodge of runway-ready designer looks laid out like a modern art gallery. On the ground floor is a fun café, Rose Bakery, with an assortment of light eats like toast and eggs, market salads, and sweet scones, as well as a comprehensive listings of cold drinks, teas, coffees, and wines. Shoppers and art-enthusiasts alike can effectively spend their entire day here. As a fellow Sideways member and I explored the market with from head to toe, we could not help oohing and aahing, pointing at curiosities for the other to see, and interacting tangibly with some pieces. On the seventh floor, we tried on almost every pair of the funky glasses displayed. On the sixth, we were met with whimsical creations, all somehow embodying the phrase “we make noise not clothes” that filled a corner in bold, lit-up letters. One of these, a tee-shirt with a picture of an apple, was captioned “pepper. ” A large pole (an infrastructure found on each floor) was collaged with miscellaneous beer cans, shower items, and holiday-specific ornaments. The walls of the fifth floor were decorated with cooking utensils, and mannequins in motion sported looks that combined the aesthetics of circuses and lawyers. Probably the smallest floor, the fourth featured architectural garments fashioned from hard leather and light lace. At the end of the floor, a water park themed staircase, equipped with a tunnel, beach ball and sand structures, slid us downstairs to splash into the pattern-filled third floor. On the second, we were met by statement sneakers and more fun glasses. Back on the first floor, we decided to linger a bit longer, checking out the Bo & Play headphones that were set against a white wall surrounded by neutral shapes in all dimensions, each bringing the accessory more focus. We flirted with the shiny pieces of jewelry on the other side of the floor, wanting to bring each ring, bracelet and necklace home. Collectively, our side street exploration of Dover Street Market was filled with a beautiful assortment of artistic garments and accessories, eye-catching artwork and infrastructure, and a great deal of smiling.
I have dropped by Wine 30 on a numerous occasions and it has always been perfectly pleasant for a glass of wine, some scrumptious food and a nice conversation. Once a very tiny space, the restaurant has been cleverly expanded backward to include a heated, glass-enclosed garden. For nights when grabbing a beer at the local pub does not appeal, this great find offers refuge.