Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
Known as the "Center for Social Change, " the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression. " Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.
In 1919, America's first major tabloid newspaper, the Daily News, was founded. In need of a home in 1929, the paper began construction on the Daily News Building, completing it a year later. The bold vertical stripes by architect Raymond Hood influenced his design of the subsequent Rockefeller Center. No longer headquarters to the Daily News (the paper moved out in 1995), it is still a showstopper, as it was the home of the Daily Planet in 1978's Superman. Remaining in the lobby is the enormous globe (although it is a bit out of date geopolitically), spinning slowly twenty-four hours a day. The lobby is visually striking, with the globe sitting under a black dome meant to simulate the cosmos. A compass of marble surrounds the globe, pointing the way to other cities, while astronomical measurements are detailed in ornate script. It is a spectacular site to behold for anyone in the vicinity.
Built in 1900 by famous impresario Oscar Hammerstein I, New Victory Theater was a relative newcomer to theater row on west 42nd Street. The venue was originally named Theatre Republic, but a series of ownership changes saw the name and theme changed every few years. It had a stint in the '30s as Minsky's Burlesque, New York's first Broadway burlesque theater, and a subsequent time as Victory movie theater (so named for the United States' success in WWII), later the first theater on the street to show pornographic films. This more sinful time coincided with the neighborhood falling on hard times. In 1990, New York City took over the theater together with a handful of others in an effort to refurbish the area, returning the theater to a more mainstream focus. In 1995, the Victory reopened as the New Victory and became New York's first theater aimed entirely at children and their families, making the return from vice to virtue complete. It now holds the distinction of being New York's oldest continually operating theater.
Jill Herlands defines herself as a “jewelry artist, ” rather than a designer. “I believe a designer creates up until production. I am an artist. I conceptualize, produce- everything else that goes along with it. ” By staying true to her own, unique artistic vision, teaching herself how to create jewelry, and continuously expanding the bounds of her expertise, Jill has built up an entirely distinctive brand that has become widely celebrated and exhibited nationally. Jill had always loved to take apart jewelry and reassemble it in strange ways, but only started creating jewelry in 2014. For most of her adult life, Jill was in the music industry, but stopped her career to raise her daughter. When her daughter went off to college, Jill decided “it’s time for something for me to do that’s exciting - it’s time for me to do something for myself. ” She began by buying a small torch and teaching herself how to solder. Jill’s decision to become a jewelry artist was almost instantaneous, “the minute the flame hit the metal, I thought “this is it. ”” She set up a little desk in a corner of the kitchen and “just started creating. ” She did not intend to start a business originally, and simply created for her own joy. Once she had amassed a large body of work and began to post on Instagram, she quickly sparked interest in the jewelry world due to her designs that were unlike anything else. She was often told she would not succeed, since her work was too atypical, but continued nonetheless. Building up a following through her unique creations and by responding to every comment and cultivating relationships, Jill realized the interest surrounding her jewelry was real, and created her business in response. And, she continues to respond to every comment on Instagram, and “has made real friendships” through social media. Jill’s jewelry style is “edgy, avant-garde, and a mixture of feminine and masculine, ” and she specifically likes it to have “a worn-in look. ” As an example, she stated “I will use pearls, but I will mix it with a distressed metal. ” Although self-taught, Jill professed that “I can’t imagine not doing this - it’s like second nature to me. ” Jill draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including the “rock and roll vibe” from the talent agency where she used to work, her imagination, ruins, construction sites, and raw materials. She has never looked at a YouTube video, and describes her continuous learning process as her dedication to “risk taking. ” Beginning only with the knowledge of how to make a ring band and how to solder, she experiments extensively with every material she works with in order to test how it melts, how to achieve certain effects, new ways for the metal to hold gemstones, and what specific heats are best for each material. Jill is always looking for new materials to incorporate, and is particularly known for using concrete in her designs as well as using enamel with her own, original method. She learns from trial and error, but does not strive for perfection, which she views as “a little bit boring. ” She often does not plan her creation concretely before she begins, and if she makes a mistake, will try to incorporate it into her final piece. Staying true to her style, she will “create something and then melt it, or make holes in it, or make the edges sort of burnt, ” morphing her work as she goes along. Even as the demand for her pieces grow, she still experiments in order to expand her options and grow as an artist. When Manhattan Sideways sat down with her in the summer of 2019, Jill told us that she was currently teaching herself how to crochet with gold. Everything is made by her hand, everything is one of a kind, and she believes that her jewelry is “an extension of the wearer. ” She ascertains that “each piece that I make is guaranteed to be an heirloom that you can hand down to your children and grandchildren. ” Jill has ample opportunity to craft jewelry to individually express the wearer, since almost all of her business is custom work. Whether clients ask for a piece in the style of one they were particularly drawn to on her Instagram, want her to melt down and completely recreate a piece of their old jewelry, or have any other inspiration, Jill will take as much time as needed to connect with the client and learn about them so that she may personalize the piece. Jill is especially pleased that a large percentage of her clients give her creative control, trusting her vision completely. In the future, Jill hopes to stay a niche brand with each piece being one of a kind, but to also be known globally. Although her entire workplace consists of a small room in her apartment in Hell's Kitchen, and the only help she receives is administrative, Jill describes her studio as her “little place of heaven. ”
Guarded throughout the day and evening by friendly gentlemen, who were kind enough to allow me entry one afternoon (no photos allowed), I was in total awe of what was once upon a time the headquarters of the Bowery Savings Bank. Built across the way from Grand Central (and not to be confused with the Cipriani Dolci restaurant inside the terminal) in 1921, the Italian Romanesque Revival structure is considered one of the most spectacular in Manhattan with its chandeliers, marble columns, inlaid floors and incredibly high ceilings. Today, the lavish lobby is used to host private events.