Sweet aromas lure one into this tiny coffee and tea shop on west 70th. Originally founded in 1976 across the street, the Sensuous Bean moved to its current location in 1990 and is now co-owned by partners in life and in business, Lucretia La Mora and Tom Wilson. "People follow their noses, " explained Tom of the cafe's success. And even horses cannot resist - he recalled one peeking its head through the door as an officer grabbed a cup. "We blend to taste, " Tom added. Each day, beans are grinded on site and brewed in three roasters for a hot cup. And although small, the place is stocked with a large selection of coffees and teas sourced from a variety of regions. The chai spice tea comes from India and the Mexican Vienna brew from Zimbabwe. The assortment of flavorful tisanes includes intriguing names like red velvet cupcake or bella coola lemon lime.
Amber Upper West relocated from Columbus Avenue to this dimly lit, intimate side street enclave in 2015. A wood-beamed ceiling and whitewashed walls are organically accented with well-illuminated hanging plants and a graphic, black and white tree painting. With a menu featuring a large selection of rolls, grilled dishes and sushi to be shared in either the conventional dining space or well-stocked bar, this side street gem offers more than just lovely decor.
When Henry Clay Frick passed away in 1919, he had placed in his will that his residence be turned into a museum forever open to public access, featuring the impressive collection he had assembled over a span of forty years. In addition, his will provided a fifteen million dollar endowment for maintenance. In 1935, the Frick Collection was opened in the expanded Gilded Age mansion originally designed by Thomas Hastings for residence, and initially transformed into the museum by John Russel Pope. The interior features spectacular selections of Old Master paintings and European sculptures in sixteen permanent collections that integrate Italian, French and Spanish works, allowing cohesive interactions from multiple regions and time periods - the way Henry enjoyed viewing art. In the center, the Garden Court, which had been Henry's driveway, is considered the museum's heart, ornamented by rushing water, a bounty of plant life, impressive sculptures, and an intriguing skylight. Today, it is the only room in which one is permitted to take photographs. I remember visiting the Frick for the first time as a teenager and declaring it my favorite museum in Manhattan. I can easily state that it remains so to this day. I never tire of introducing visitors from out of town to The Frick and I continue to appreciate each new exhibit. For me, it remains a tranquil setting to walk, contemplate and unwind as I am surrounded by art and beauty.
Established in 1904, The Explorers Club is centered on scientific discovery in all realms - land, sea, air and space. Its original headquarters were located at the Studio Building on West 67th Street, and it moved to this location in 1965. In 1918, a signature flag was introduced, capitalizing on historic routes and unabated curiosity. Since then, the flag has been proudly carried on hundreds of expeditions as members of the club were the first to make it to the North and South Poles, the summit of Mt. Everest, the deepest point in the ocean, and the surface of the moon. The club first allowed women in 1981. To this day, it is a meeting spot for all kinds of explorers, scientists and students.
With woven wicker chairs, plush red booths, tiled walls, a bar backed by an antique mirror, and many years as a topnotch restaurant, Cafe Luxembourg resounds with familiarity. And, as portrayed in the signature postcard of three naked ladies photographed by Cheryl Koralik in 1988, playfulness and boldness are always present. Customers loosen their ties, let their hair down and engage in easy conversation — "fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. "Lynn Wagenknecht and her then husband, Keath McNally, opened the place in 1983 as a French neighborhood bistro. Now the sole proprietor, Lynn has maintained a rare level of comfort within the realm of fine dining, fully investing herself in Cafe Luxembourg as well as its sister restaurants, Cafe Cluny and The Odeon. Constantly finding inspiration from her trips to France, Lynn's warm attentiveness permeates the restaurant. "Lynn nurtures from within, " said General Manager Morgan Nevans, who has been with the company since 2008. Staff members are invited and encouraged to dine in the restaurant. "We have a lot of aspiring professors, artists, actors and doctors, " explained Morgan. A performance artist, Manager Krystel Lucas started at Cafe Luxembourg because of its proximity to her school, finding it easy to work around her wavering show schedule. "I was proud to stand at the door, " Krystel informed me, having worked her way up from hostess, server, and bartender. Customers also have an inclination to return with many coming since the restaurants' opening — regulars or not, "everyone is treated as a VIP. " The food may also have a little something to do with their loyalty. A graduate of New England Culinary Institute, Executive Chef Michael Navarette acknowledges, "food is a gateway to culture. " Everyone eats, and dishes have their own history, prepared in a variety of ways throughout all regions. His breakfast specialty, an omelet with mixed greens, exudes comforting familiarity, while his Faroe Island salmon over a salad of lentils, potatoes, onion and a curry aioli, is a more innovative concoction that breeds its own memories. "A chef is a journeyman position, " Michael smiled, "The training never ends. I learn as I go. " It seems the staff and restaurant both have a knack for refining while retaining their roots. A bistro that only gets better with age, this side street gem will always be something to look forward to.
Every year of my childhood, my parents would take my brothers and me into Manhattan to watch the Thanksgiving Parade. We would meet friends and relatives and congregate on the steps of what we referred to as the Spanish Portuguese Temple. This synagogue held a special meaning to us as my aunt and uncle were married there in 1949. When I entered through their side street door, and stepped inside the sanctuary in the summer of 2015, I turned to Hazzan-Rabbi Ira L. Rhode in awe. He simply looked at me, smiled and said, " Yes, even kids' jaws drop when they enter, and, amazingly, they remain quiet. " Having been an integral part of the congregation since 1990, he had seen everyone - including three year olds - held speechless in this magnificent holy space. Tiffany stained glass windows gentrified the walls with light accentuating their colorful geometric patterns. Original marble steps marbled with history, and the arc opened to crimson cloth-covered torahs, each topped by silver ornaments. On my visit, one was wrapped in black in honor of Tisha b'av. According to the rabbi, the temple's name references its founders who were largely of Spanish and Portuguese origin and who fled to New Amsterdam from Brazil when it was taken over. In 1654, Congregation Shearith Israel became the first Jewish congregation to settle in North America. Since then, the congregation has occupied five different spaces, catering to a growing following. "They were all built from scratch, " the rabbi explained. In 1730, the Mill House on South William Street was the first, furnishings of which can still be found in the current building. In 1816-17, the congregation decided to rebuild in the same location, allowing for a much larger synagogue. In 1834, the temple moved to Crosby Street as the city flourished. When the Manhattan grid was formed everyone wanted to move uptown, so the next location became 19th Street in 1860 and then in 1897, when Central Park was created and the Dakota went up on West 72nd Street, the Jewish population wanted to be on the West side and found a site that had previously been a duck farm. Since then, this landmark building on Central Park West and 70th Street has stood with its beautiful neo-classical aesthetic. Although the steps are now protected by a gate, thus not allowing anyone to sit on them during the November parade, I continue to cherish my warm memories of years of sharing a seat next to so many special people in my life.
Walking around Creel and Gow, I marveled at the rare but not endangered species preserved in lifelike taxidermies, each having died of natural causes. One of my favorites was the vulturine guinea fowl, a large black bird with subtle touches of blue and purple feathers, and I found myself staring at the set of skull-shaped billiard balls for more than a few moments. The heart of this unique shop started in 1996 with silver-plated Ruzetti and Gow seashells. Italian-imported, the shells were strongly demanded as elegant, nostalgic glorifications of Mother Nature. In 2012, the boutique was rebranded under partners Jamie Creel, an avid collector, and Christopher Gow, a sculptural specialist, to be devoted entirely to rare and exotic nature-related finds. The co-owners' favorite part of the business is traveling around the world in pursuit of extraordinary objects. "We look for the weird and wonderful, " Jamie explained. A malachite set of obelisks, customarily gifted for university graduates, was sourced from Congo, a classical lapis lazuli box from Afghanistan, and coral pieces from dead reefs in the Solomon Islands. "We supply gifts for people who are difficult to buy for, " Christopher commented. A fully preserved zebra stands proudly in the back, a glass case conceals a deconstructed lobster and, perhaps the oldest item in the shop, a fossil of sea urchins comes from the Mesozoic era. "We have everything, " he added. If it fits the category of mineral, plant or animal, they certainly do.
With an affinity for gems from 1835 to the 1980s, and having been involved in this trade for nearly two decades, Lara Kornbluh entered the retail business in 2013. Much of her focus is on Egyptian revival jewelry, and the serpent emblem even appears in the Icon Styles logo, but rare finds from well known designers and intriguing pieces with a breadth of color, texture and design also make their own statements. "I can only sell things I truly like, " Lara expressed, sporting tasteful vintage accessories including one of her many sets of whimsical eye glasses. With a degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in Metalsmithing, she certainly has an eye for unique finds and understands how to properly care for and restore them. Beaded bags bask with a one-of-a-kind glow and precious jewels sit behind restored glass cases from the 1920s, relics of the location's former life as an apothecary. Lara entertained me for quite some time as she removed stunning and fascinating pieces from her collection, including butterfly wing jewelry from the 1920s that appeared to come straight out of a fairytale, glistening a stream of colors when set to the light. I was in awe of a pair of gold Georgian earrings from the 1850s that were finished with a rose cut diamond, and a Victorian French jet snake wrap-around from the1880s that Lara told me symbolizes eternal love. Included in Lara's charming boutique are elegant dresses from days gone by. But now, each piece can be reborn, expressing new generations and new venues. I could only imagine the types of occasions these ornate garments and accessories had experienced - jazz clubs, dances, and nights out on the town. They come from a period of less consumption, when each purchase was regarded as an investment into one's projected image.
I have lived on the Upper West Side for several years, but it was not until I walked on 70th Street one evening that I discovered Shalel. It is tucked away down a set of stairs with no signage during the daytime. Curious what this was, I descended the steps lined with rose petals and herbs, and entered what seemed like a magical cave, decked out in Moroccan décor and candles. There were secret nooks behind curtains and around corners filled with pillows, couches and tapestries. In the back, erupting from a mysterious darkness, was the fountain for which the restaurant is named - Shalel means “fountain” in Arabic. When I visited with the Manhattan Sideways team, I was able to learn the history of the restaurant from the owner. Vasilis Katehis, who hails from Greece, bought the basement space in 2000. “It was terrible, ” he said, describing an uninhabitable, dark piece of real estate that apparently had never been used for anything except storage. He began by lowering the floors by a foot and exposing the sheet rock, which he cleaned. The waterfall, he explained, used to be a pile of dirt. Despite the difficulty of the project, Vasilis greatly enjoyed the endeavor, since he considered it a labor of art. “I like anything having to do with design, décor, and poetry, ” he lyrically stated. “I had a vision. ” By the time Vasilis was done with the renovation, the difference between the beginning and end product was “like night and day. ” Even though the nooks and crannies had all existed before - and Vasilis's vision was to do “the unfinished thing, ” - he succeeded in completely transforming a basement into a romantic restaurant. Shalel immediately attracted customers, drawn to the idea of an underground eatery. Initially, it used to be more of “a date place, ” but in 2015, Vasilis told me that he tends to attract an older clientele. He also shared with me that he is the mastermind behind the entire menu, which is Mediterranean with an emphasis on Moroccan cuisine. As for Vasilis’s own background, he recounted, “I grew up as a farmer and a fisherman, ” and then added that he knows how to make both olive oil and wine, thanks to his upbringing on a tiny Greek island without a name. “For us, it was natural. ” Though he had other restaurants scattered around New York, Vasilis has sold them, with the exception of Shalel. He casually mentioned that he hopes to drift into semi-retirement and spend more time in Greece restoring his olive groves. It is unclear what the neighborhood would do without him, though. As he declared, “They know me on the Upper West Side. ” We had a long chat about the local businesses in the area, including those that have had to shutter over the years. After discussing raising rents, fallen culinary comrades, and the future of New York, Vasilis turned to me and added something rather poetic - If worse comes to worst, “We can all just go back to making olive oil. ”