After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Neon lights, on the back wall, greeted us as we entered Trademark Grind, the “boutique coffee bar” serving Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn. In this quaint space, we were treated to excellent cups of hot chocolate, perfect on this winter day. A few minutes later, the PR manager, Matt, greeted us and invited the Manhattan Sideways team to follow him through a small entryway where we discovered Trademark Taste, a cozy, dimly lit restaurant... a safe little hideaway in the middle of bustling Midtown Manhattan. Opened in the spring of 2016, by In Good Company Hospitality, Trademark Taste & Grind serves a mixed clientele, from guests at the attached hotel and the pre-show crowd from Madison Square Garden to those looking for a unique weekend bar scene. The menu is impeccably curated by culinary director, Jeff Haskell, to featured favorites like Burrata and Knots and Tuna Poke. However, with its dark, mellow colors, graffiti motifs and hints of industrial flair, Trademark is all about the space. The walls are white and black with accents of red. Intimate hidden booths circle a large center bar, the anchor of the room. As soon as I took a look around, I wanted to settle into one of these booths for the evening. When I repeated this to Matt, he replied, “People tend to not want to leave. ”
Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
Where can you get freshly “picked” flowers that won’t trigger your allergies? We headed to W36th Street in the Garment District, to a century-old factory and shop where fabric flowers are still custom-made by hand daily — “blooming” everywhere from movies and TV to high fashion design houses. Opened in 1916 by brothers Morris and Sam Schmalberg, the M& S Schmalberg fabric flower factory is the oldest and last of its kind in the US. It still employs many of the time-honored techniques for handmade flower making, and craftsmanship skills and the business itself have been passed down through the family over decades. Fourth-generation owner Adam Brand walked us through the legacy of the shop started by his great-great uncles. The M& S Schmalberg storefront in the 1940s. Photo suppliedSam Schmalberg. Photo supplied“I grew up here — there are staff members who have been here as long as I’ve been alive! ” said Adam as we chatted amid display cases of beautiful, brightly colored fabric flowers. “My grandparents, dad, mom, brother, sister and aunt have all been involved at some point — it’s truly a family business. There are fun family stories — I don’t know if they’re true or just family lore at this point — that I used to sleep in a fabric box like a crib! ” While Adam started his career at M& S Schmalberg at age five by making flowers for fun — “just for entertainment, not for production! ” he insisted — he began working at the store in earnest between semesters of school. “We were really busy with Sex and the City at the time — Sarah Jessica Parker was wearing our huge flowers in her costumes, ” he recalled. While he worked outside the business for a few years after college, Adam eventually returned to help his father, Warren, and grandfather Harold (nephew of founders Morris and Sam) at the factory. “About 14 years ago, I was kind of just at a place of wondering, ‘What am I doing? Where am I going? ’” said Adam. “One day I said to my dad, ‘Can I come in and help out, and see what happens? You don't even have to pay me, just pay for my train ticket! ’” he added, “and as a New Yorker, you know that’s not cheap! ” Adam's grandmother Renee, aunt Debra and grandfather Harold at the shop. Photo supplied The gig grew, and as dad Warren moved closer to retirement, Adam took on more and more of the day-to-day responsibilities — including the creation of flowers. While M& S’s veteran team of artisans complete the majority of crafting work, Adam walked us through the system he’s come to know after decades of observation. “This basic process has existed for over 100 years, ” said Adam as he showed us the hundreds of vintage irons — some from the factory’s first years in existence — that are still used to press fabric petals into unique designs. First, fabrics are brushed with a starching agent called sizing to eliminate wrinkles in the material. Next, fabrics are stretched and dried by hand before being cut into petals. Designs are arranged into the iron press — once gas, now the factory uses electric power to join petals together. Stems and extra accoutrements are applied by hand before the flowers make their way to a theater, fashion atelier or TV costume designer’s hands. While the team at M& S is well-versed in all aspects of the custom construction, today there are far fewer skilled flower artisans in the Garment District. “In the old Garment District, you could go to the labor union and say, ‘We need somebody for assembly, we need somebody for die cutting, we need somebody compressing' — there were so many other flower factories, ” said Adam. A recent profile of the shop by costume historian Bernadette Banner estimates that in the early 20th century, over 74 percent of flower and feather trade manufacturers were located in the Bronx and Manhattan — many of them in the Garment District. Now, like so many other specialty costume and fashion businesses once occupying the historic neighborhood, M& S Schmalberg is the last of its kind due to ever-increasing offshore manufacturing. Adam said he feels camaraderie with fellow Garment District holdouts, telling us: “I hold all of these manufacturers who produce here in such high regard — because the easy thing would be to ship it out. Continuing to manufacture here instead went from being maybe a questionable business decision to becoming part of our identity. ” Warren Brand with Adam Brand. Photo suppliedThat’s not to say that Adam and his family haven’t taken steps to bring M& S Schmalberg into the 21st century. In addition to updating the company’s website and creating social media accounts, Adam credited his brother with having helped pioneer their presence on e-commerce retailers like Etsy. “Before I started working here, my brother created an Etsy page, ” he told us. “We’d get an email maybe once a month for a $12 flower sale. But I started to get obsessed with amping up our photography and presentation — it took me a while, but I took to it, and now our sales from Etsy and Amazon are as much as 20 percent of our business. ” It’s a business that’s marked not only by the ebbs and flows of the fashion industry, but also the entertainment industry. “I could tell you our biggest customer this year, ” said Adam, “but it's different from the one five years ago and 10 years ago, ” he explained. “In fashion, Vera Wang is one of our biggest clients. We work with Rodarte, Oscar de La Renta, Marchesa, Carolina Herrera. We do flowers for Bridgerton, The Gilded Age and Marvelous Mrs Maisel, the New York City Ballet, Radio City Rockettes and the San Francisco Opera, ” he added. “We had someone come in from the San Francisco Opera and buy five flowers — and that led to an order of over 4, 000 flowers total! ” They also showcased 17 designs on The Met Gala red carpet. “We had an amazing run with the Met Gala, ” said Adam, “My dad came back in that whole week and helped! ”Jenna Ortega, Paris Hilton and Harvey Guillén in M& S designs at the Met Gala. Photos: Instagram Even during the slower periods, the team at M& S stays busy working with student groups from nearby FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) and Parsons School of Design to show young artists the legacy of the fabric flower industry. “What's in it for us, if you will, is that you now have 15 to 20 students from every tour that are going to go into fashion and now know about us, ” said Adam. “We help them on their final projects. If you're a fashion design student, it’s a great way to really get into and utilize factories and build relationships. ” But whether you’re a budding Calvin Klein or not, the M& S Schmalberg factory is open to you, said Adam. They welcome walk-in tours of the factory for those curious about their unique offering. “Anyone can come in, ” he said, as a couple rang the bell to buy flowers and take a look around. They also welcome those who would like to order custom flowers from a significant fabric like a wedding dress, he noted. “It’s one of our specialties — we have a vintage wedding dress in the back right now that’s getting made into a single rose. ” He hopes that by engaging with the public, more people will know about and turn to M& S for their distinctive artistry. “We try to be very welcoming, which is something my dad started, ” said Adam. “Anyone who wants to walk in the door is welcome to a tour, and if you want to buy a flower for $20 bucks? Great! ” We recommend making the trip to M& S Schmalberg for a free tour of the city’s singular fabric flower maker — and keep an eye out on billboards around town for M& S’s next Hollywood showcase!
The prevailing theme of Staypineapple hotels is barely surprising: pineapples. What might come as a shock to some, however, is just how seriously the hotel takes the pineapple motif: the fruit is prominent in the décor, stitched into the shirts of the employees, and even emblazoned on a rentable bike out front. The lobby offers complimentary pineapple-infused water and pineapple-flavored mini cupcakes amid modern, yet eclectic, furnishings. Covering one wall in the lobby is the following haiku: “Pineapples are sweetYellow makes people happyAnd everyone loves dogs - especially Michelle” Michelle is Michelle Barnet, the founder of the small hotel chain which has locations in a handful of cities across the country. Her passion for dogs informed the last line of the haiku - the hotel is extremely dog-friendly, even offering a “Pup Package” to make traveling with furry friends as relaxing as possible. Each room comes equipped with a plush dog that guests are welcome to purchase at the end of their stay, with a portion of the proceeds going towards animal rescue organizations. “The significance of pineapples is that they are a universal symbol of hospitality, ” manager James Bryant explained when Manhattan Sideways inquired about the unique theme of the hotel chain. He said that the symbolic meaning of the pineapple dates back to the 1700s, when the fruit was rare and difficult to acquire. It became a coveted gift, and when placed in front of travelers, it let them know that they were welcome in an unfamiliar place. “It’s this international sign of ‘You are welcome here. Come in and stay with us. ’” We explored two rooms. While smaller than a typical hotel room, the first was full of surprises. In a building that is only twenty-four feet wide, Staypineapple creatively utilizes their space. The television was hidden away at the foot of the bed, revealing itself with the press of a button. A coffee machine was tucked away in a similar automated compartment. An entire wall of the room was windowed, offering views of the city that more than offset the small size of the room. Staypineapple prides itself on “The Naked Experience, ” a title they have applied to their unique bedding situation (which is so luxurious, "they won’t blame you for wanting to sleep naked"). Two exceptionally soft, twin-sized duvets give guests extreme freedom with their sleeping experience - and diffuse any fighting over covers. In the second, larger room we met Pineapple: a virtual assistant and Staypineapple’s answer to the traditional bedside telephone. James explained that the device “acts as a smart speaker, a telephone, and a way to communicate with the front desk. ” Similar to an Amazon Echo or a Google Dot, an automated voice will answer at the cue of “Okay Pineapple. ” The device is also loaded with staff-curated dining recommendations, and can answer just about any question a guest might have, from the best sushi restaurants in the area to the day’s weather. Staypineapple is a hotel full of surprises and, in many ways, it is just plain fun. Manhattan Sideways found it refreshing to see a business lean into a theme so unabashedly, and we believe that the commitment pays off. The hotel creates an extremely inviting environment that does not take itself too seriously, prioritizing comfort and hospitality alongside their innovative technology and highly-Instagramable décor.
I have a long history with Keens, but nothing to compare with the number of years it has been serving its gigantic mutton chop, other varieties of meats, salads, sides and Scotch. The history wafts through the windy rooms and corridors of this superb steakhouse. Started in 1885 as an offshoot of the Lambs Club, a theatrical group, Keens Chophouse served as a gathering place for the elite in what was then home to the Herald Square Theater District. Beginning in the early 1900s, the restaurant offered a Pipe Club that folks could join. Members would finish up their meals and be brought their tobacco and long churchwarden pipes. Over the years, an immense collection has been gathered. The estimate hanging from the ceilings and stored in a back room today is more than 90, 000. When visiting with the Manhattan Sideways team, I smiled as they gazed in utter amazement at some of the names that were written below the pipe display in the foyer from Buffalo Bill to Babe Ruth. Over the years, the steakhouse has changed ownership, but it has managed to maintain its historic awareness throughout. In addition to the pipes, antiquated playbills line the walls advertising bygone shows. Each artifact has an incredible story behind it... if only these walls could talk. One quick anecdote: in 1905, Lillie Langtry came to the all-male establishment but was denied service. She took the restaurant to court... and won. A short time later, she was invited to dine at Keens. We learned this story when we discovered the menu from her honorary dinner hanging on a wall upstairs. The meal included "clear green turtle soup! "The premises are beautiful: metal lions and bulldogs menace from banisters throughout, while nude classical paintings, tile work, black and white photos and the aforementioned playbills decorate the walls. In the Bull Moose room, a gigantic moose head watches over diners from the wall and logs burn in a fireplace in one of the bar rooms. Once, in a bygone era, the upstairs areas may have served as a temporary living quarters for some of the workers as recounted by James, the manager. But there's more to it than the history: today's mutton chops and steaks are certifiably some of the best in the City. And that is what's most important, especially for those who have been around for much of Keen's return to prominence over the last few decades. "Restaurants go through different seasons in their lifetime, " James explained. "We're just happy to be in an exciting, dynamic meeting place again. "I have eaten at Keens a number of times over the past decades and even participated (or shall I say accompanied) a group of friends on a Scotch tour of Manhattan, where we ended at the renowned bar inside Keens. It offers one of the largest Scotch whisky selections in the city. The most memorable time spent, however, was this most recent visit and James's personal tour of his beloved restaurant.
This midtown drinking hole is bustling with activity at any hour. It is more brightly lit than most bars, and visually incredibly busy, with flags and banners hanging from seemingly every surface not covered by the enormous projector screens and flat screens, which abound. Opened in late 2012 by an Irish husband and American wife, Joe and Mary Carty, the Irish-American bar is exceedingly comfortable, and a great spot to get a drink or have some hearty pub food. The couple's children work here as well. One gets the feeling that their children may follow along in their parents' footsteps as we came away feeling a deep family connection. In fact, there is a large mural up front depicting an idyllic family scene with a bridge symbolically connecting the New World to the Old - Mary's family to Joe's.
Surrounded by so many raucous Irish pubs, it was somewhat of a shock to walk into Toledo where the music was playing softly and old world servers were there to greet us. The menu is filled with traditional continental Spanish fare and glasses of sangria are poured to complement their classic, signature paella.
At 5th & Mad, a long curved bar snakes from the entrance to the back of the bar beneath TVs and New York sports paraphernalia. In a room off of the main area, we found a pool table and dart boards. Most of the beer on tap is American. A comfortable upstairs area opens to accommodate the expanded weekend crowd on Thursday (or as we at Manhattan Sideways like to call it "Friday's Friday"), through Saturday nights.