Ronald McDonald House is a very special place that provides a "temporary 'home away from home' for pediatric cancer patients and their families. " Having had an apartment, for a short time, just a few doors down from their 73rd Street location, I was aware of the wonderful work that they do. When I mentioned to Sophie, one of our Manhattan Sideways team members, that I wanted to feature them on 73rd, she lit up and shared her close connection to the organization on the West Coast. Sophie told me that she was honored to visit and help her mother volunteer with her miniature horses at the Los Angeles and Pasadena chapters. "I was immediately won over by their mission, but even more important, by the children themselves. A significant aspect of their programming is to provide children with the opportunity to just be kids, first and foremost. Seeing the kids interact with the miniature horses showed me how much excitement and exuberance these children have. The smiles on the faces of their parents were always equally heart-warming. "Ronald McDonald House New York has been providing care and support to families since 1978. They "coordinate emotional and physical services, psychological care, ministry support, wellness programs, tutors, music, art, transportation, activities for siblings, holiday and birthday parties, and camaraderie for parents struggling with their child's cancer diagnosis. " In addition, this particular location has a Greek Division that provides services for families from Greece and Cyprus, Camp Ronald McDonald in the summer, classes in English as a second language, therapy for dogs (Angels on a Leash), and Weird Science, where the kids conduct intriguing and engaging experiments. Love and care are Ronald McDonald's central tenants. New York has its own set of angels in the way of the volunteers who play a major role in the day to day lives of the children. The Day Team leads afternoon activities and the Evening Team coordinates birthday parties, holidays, and dinners. The volunteer sign up is a major commitment to help provide a sense of normalcy and strength to the children and their families. If interested in volunteering, please visit their website.
Kate Rheinstein Brodsky, the creator of KRB, was immersed in the world of design and retail from a young age. Her mother, Suzanne Rheinstein, is an internationally recognized designer. Ever since Kate was a child, her mom has run Hollyhock, a Los Angeles furniture boutique. "I really loved retail, " Kate shared, telling me how she would go to Hollyhock after school and work there over summer breaks. As a teenager, she wanted to open a bookstore, but realized that this might be difficult in the digital age. As a "homebody" and frequent hostess, Kate knew that she enjoyed creating beautiful homes, both for herself and others. As she described it, "I loved the feeling of home, of having a nice place to live in. " Ultimately, her passion for retail manifested itself in a career in the design world. Upon graduating from New York University with a degree in art history, Kate worked for Jeffrey Bilhuber, the interior designer. "I love interior design... but I'm not an interior designer, " she said. Working for Jeffrey, however, she learned a lot of things that would help her later on in the world of retail. She realized the importance of customer service and doing things "correctly, in a thoughtful manner. " Following her time with Jeffrey, she worked at Elle Decor, which taught her discipline and introduced her to new looks. "I was exposed to so many different styles, " she explains. "Sometimes you don't know you like something until you see it. " Kate has maintained a good relationship with Elle Decor – they recently featured her Upper East Side apartment as part of their "House Tour, " which brought a collection of readers, impressed by her style, to Kate's boutique. When I visited KRB, I was taken by the variety of colors, as opposed to the usual browns and golds that dominate antique shops. The salesperson, Fiona, said that adding bold colors to antique pieces is one of Kate's trademarks. She showed me some traditional chairs with bright olive green seats as an example, saying, "Green's a big color for her, " before pointing out Kate's love for French opaline. Fiona went on to say that Kate could be inspired by anything. She spoke of a box of old cameos that Kate found. When Fiona inquired, "What are you going to do with those? " Kate answered matter of factly, "I don't know, but I'll figure it out. " Kate elaborated, "I like to reinterpret old things. " By this, she means both in the pieces, as with the chairs, and in the way they are used. She told me that there are many beautiful finger bowls out there that are no longer used - or at least not as finger bowls. Kate encourages customers to use them in new ways, by putting votive candles in them or a small scoop of strawberry ice cream. "I like taking things out of their original context, " she admitted. As another example, she told me about the tric trac tables, tables used to play a precursor to backgammon. The board is so similar to backgammon that the tables have been able to be repurposed. "I get very attached to furniture, " Kate admitted, likening different pieces to rescue animals. "I want them to have good homes. " She realizes, however, that people have different styles and that she may have to wait a while for the right person to come along. She added that although her mother heavily influenced her, the two women do not always see eye to eye on design. "We have our own taste, " she said. Despite their differences, the store is still inspired by her mother's extraordinary career. "I always love watching her, how she explains to people how to incorporate beauty into their life. "There is the possibility that a third generation of Rheinstein women might enter the world of design. In 2015, Kate was the proud mom of new daughter number three. "I love that my children comprehend what I do, " she told me. When they ask her where she is going, she can answer "to the store" and they know exactly where she will be. Owning the boutique means she has a flexible work schedule and can easily spend a lot of time with her children. She specifically opened on the Upper East Side to be near her family – and other families. She wanted to be in a place where people could stumble upon her and buy a housewarming present, rather than in a design-industry-heavy neighborhood. "I just hope I'm on people's path. I encourage them to come look.... browsers welcome. " As for her daughters and what they think of her boutique, Kate told me that her five-year-old recently told her teacher that when she grows up, she wants to be "a mommy and a shopkeeper. "
Mario Guerrero, a black belt, has made a name for himself in the martial arts world for helping at-risk kids by giving them training in discipline, fitness, and hand-eye coordination. He now has studios scattered throughout the city, from Tribeca to the Upper East Side, where children and adults alike can learn kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Mixed Martial Arts. Recently, Krav Maga, a form of Israeli street fighting, has been added to the roster. Modern Martial Arts advertises classes for everyone from "casual fitness seekers to trained, professional fighters. " The studio does more than offer classes; however: they also create a community. Mario and his trained teachers offer karate birthday parties, fitness-centered movie nights, and "Parent's Night Out" evening classes for kids. We met with Adam, who was teaching an adult mixed martial arts class. He greeted each of the students who walked in with warmth and humor. Once the class began, the group transitioned from generic fitness exercises to work with punching bags and finally horizontal punching bags where the studio members practiced their "ground pounds. " Watching Adam encourage his students to let out a "pshhh" sound each time they hit, I realized that the class was a terrific way to let off steam.
Nestled between Madison and 5th Avenue on E 73rd Street is a jewelry box of worldly treasures. Ivar Jewelry by Ritika Ravi, opened December 2022, is the first New York outpost for the designer — a graduate of the London College of Fashion who splits her time between India and the United States, sourcing inspiration for her next piece. “My idea was to take traditional Indian craftsmanship and give it a more contemporary aesthetic, ” Ritika told us when, entranced by the store’s gorgeous pod-like display cases, we found ourselves poring over the delicate filigree and vibrant gemstones of several stackable rings. “There’s always this incredible gold Indian jewelry, that’s so beautifully made — it's so intricate, ” said Ritika, “but it can be very large and not really wearable. I took that concept and the jewelry making techniques and gave it more of a contemporary twist. ” After launching the brand in 2018 and a successful store opening in the Maldives, Ritika set her sights on New York. “It took me almost a year to find the right space, ” she said, adding that it took several trips from India and extended stays in the city to settle on the 825-square foot space on the Upper East Side. Ivar, a woman-owned business, employs a mostly female workforce, “from the front office to stores. ” Now, Ritika is happy to bring traditional Indian jewelry-making techniques and materials like polki (the art of using untreated raw, uncut diamonds) and enamel to the city, as well as incorporate sustainable sourcing practices and a commitment to global outreach — employing skilled artisans who have generations of jewelry-making experience and donating to the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, an organization dedicated to empowering communities in poverty. And after one trip in to meet the talented designer and marvel at each delicate, glittering pod, we’re certain we’ll be back for more than just window shopping.
Whenever I step inside Via Quadronno, I feel like I have been lifted out of Manhattan and gently dropped onto a pedestrian street in Italy. The walls are lined with wines and jars of honey, jam, and olive oil. On the day when I descended into the warm, rustic dining area, there was the smell of cappuccino wafting through the air that attracted my senses. It was the owner, Paolo Della Puppa, however, as authentically Italian as his restaurant, who captured my heart. Paolo spoke to me about the history of Via Quadronno, which is intertwined with his own story as well as the social history of the world. He began his career publishing music through his own company, Anyway Music. He went on to sell Anyway to Warner Brothers in 1992. In 1983, Paolo moved to New York while continuing to run the business, but when the conversion rate jumped to 2000 lira for every dollar, he realized he needed to find a new job. Friends encouraged Paolo to speak with Hans Pauli, owner of the recently opened Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue. At this point in his story, Paolo took a moment to explain Hans Pauli's background. I had previously heard a bit of this story, as I had visited Sant Ambroeus on West 4th Street when I first began walking the side streets. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to hear Paolo share what he knew about Hans. He told me that Hans had bought Sant Ambroeus, which originally opened in the fashion district in Milan in 1936 and was regarded as one of the nicest cafes in the city. Apparently, when Hans Pauli became the highest bidder to purchase this Italian icon - all in cash - he created quite a stir. Enthusiastically, Paolo went on to tell me that the reason why Hans had the money was because of his success with Bar Quadronno, the hottest paninoteca in Milan. Paolo, who had owned a discoteca from 1972-1974, explained that paninotecas had become popular because of the social revolution of the 60s. As discotecas became the default entertainment for young people - who now could go out and dance without any dress code or elaborate partner rituals - Italians were looking for grab-and-go food that would fit their lifestyle. Bar Quadronno opened in the late 60s and turned the original Panini, which was traditionally just ham and cheese, into a new food sensation with the help of a man named Giuseppe Tusi. Giuseppe Tusi turned a two-ingredient sandwich into a seven-ingredient masterpiece, using tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto, boar’s ham, and countless other traditional Italian foods. Returning to his personal story, Paolo went on to tell me that when he inquired about a position at Sant Ambroeus, Hans simply asked him if he could make a good cup of cappuccino. Paolo replied, “Do I need to show a diploma? ” Paolo laughed and declared to me, "any true Italian knows how to make a cappuccino. " He then added that Martha Stewart has taped a show in Via Quadronno about how to prepare the perfect cup. Paolo worked at Sant Ambroeus for years before opening Via Quadronno with Hans on 9/9/1999 - “My partner is a little superstitious, ” he explained with a grin. Taking the story full circle, he ended by telling me that the two men then brought in Giuseppe to train the Panini chefs, allowing Via Quadronno to churn out the exact paninis that made Bar Quadronno an instant hit in Milan over fifty years ago. Ultimately, Paolo began to fly solo, turning his restaurant into an Upper East Side sensation. He continued to join in other successful ventures in New York, as well as opening a second location of Via Quadronno. Paolo proudly said that even after so many years, his first restaurant is “still very much loved” among its neighbors. He even mentioned numerous actors and actresses who are known to stop in for the tiramisu and other classic dishes. Despite the flock of familiar faces to this Upper East Side institution, Paolo assured me that he treats all of his customers the same - from tourists to celebrities. “Everyone is equal - everyone waits for a table. " He then went on to say, “We are not pretentious, in fact, we receive compliments on how friendly we are. ”Of the many stories that Paolo shared with me, the one that involved a successful businessman was my favorite. Apparently, several years ago, this gentleman requested that Paolo open a bit earlier in the morning to accommodate his schedule. If Paolo complied, and began his day a half an hour sooner, the man would then invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to open a Miami location of Via Quadronno. Check, check. Although the Florida restaurant has since closed, the Manhattan restaurant continues to open its doors every weekday morning at 8: 00am. Paolo will never forget this kind man who did not want shares or a percentage in his business, he just wanted breakfast. Paolo said that he returns to Italy multiple times each year, either to visit family or to attend the restaurant show, Host, in Milan. He then grinned and admitted that he loves New York, and has no desire to move away. As he so brilliantly summed it up, “New York is Tokyo, Paris, Madrid, Milano, Hong Kong, and Shanghai in one. And all the best parts of each! ”
"Like a kid in a candy shop" is not an adequate description of how I felt walking into The Sweet Shop. I felt even happier: I was an adult in a candy shop, both dazzled by the color and array of decadent desserts and warmed by the nostalgia brought on by the chocolate cigars and sugar wafers of my childhood. As I watched the flow of customers going in and out of the small store, I realized that I was not alone in my thoughts. All ages come in, with big smiles on their faces, to buy treats from the Candyman, himself. "We're a nostalgic experience, " the Candyman, also known as Kelly Jaime, said when he saw my jaw drop as I walked in the door. Since 2000, Kelly has lived in the neighborhood while working in sales for a Fortune 500 company, and continually lamented that there were no late-night ice cream stores. In 2013, he decided to solve the problem himself. What started as a simple ice cream parlor, however, turned into a place serving candy and ice cream. "The demographic in this area changed overnight, " he explained. "It's much younger – there are strollers everywhere. " With this new kind of audience, Kelly decided to offer all sorts of sweet delicacies rather than ice cream alone. This meant he could sell his favorite treats: marshmallows. "You have to understand this about my dad, " his son piped up. "He loves marshmallows. " The sweet shop is a family-run business. Kelly and his son Matthew, also known as "Pie Guy, " man the store while his wife, Glyn, is the designer behind the Willy Wonka-esque decor. She even made the breath-taking chandelier made of candies and the whimsical sweet-themed cabinet door handles. One of the few things in the space that Glyn created, but did not illustrate, is the little logo of Kelly in his uniform, which they commissioned an artist to do. Despite the fact that Kelly decided not to focus solely on ice cream, he is still very proud of the frozen treats. "We sell five of the top ten ice creams in New York, " he beamed. He pointed out that there is no other location in the city where you can find this many varieties of high quality ice cream in one place. He carries OddFellows and Van Leeuwen standard choices, as well as Van Leeuwen's vegan flavors. He also sells Snowballs, which he describes as, "Better than a snow cone – just smooth, slushified ice. " Even though the whole store is filled with sugar, Kelly says that he is very careful not to feed unhealthy habits. "We are selling small things, " he said. He showed me an example of the tiniest size cone that he fills. They are custom-made by a secret source solely for him, and though he originally meant them for children, they are also bought by many health-conscious adults, counting the nearby medical community among those constituents. Kelly went on to tell me that he buys the highest quality candy and has Underwest Donuts delivered fresh everyday. "We are a fresh fruit stand for candy, " he said with a smile. Moving away from the ice cream counter, Kelly was eager to show off his chocolate collection. He carries a variety, from companies that have been in production since the 1940s to the Mast Brothers, a relatively new chocolatier. He also has a lot of "bean to bar" creations that emphasize the flavor of the cacao bean. When he saw me circling around, questioning where the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were, Kelly quickly responded, "I don't sell anything that one can find in Duane Reade. " Instead, The Sweet Shop has a private company that makes their amazing peanut butter cups. Next Kelly had me walk over to the drawers upon drawers of Swedish candy. "This candy is just utterly, utterly delicious, " Kelly exclaimed, filling up a bag for each of us from Manhattan Sideways. Next, Kelly gushed over his world famous butter crunch, saying that it has now been shipped to every continent, including Antarctica. And, of course, marshmallows can be found throughout the store, both on their own and in treats like the "Jakewich, " a marshmallow wedged between two Tate's chocolate chip cookies. Though the store is packed with candy, part of the treat of visiting the Sweet Shop is simply talking with the Candyman. Kelly is full of witticisms and stories. I overheard him telling a customer that the licorice was "black like my heart and just as delicious. " He told me that a lot of his whimsical attitude is thanks to his grandmother, who worked with Walt Disney. When Kelly visited her as a child, she would throw him in the Magic Shop whenever she needed a babysitter. There is a small section of the Sweet Shop that acts as an ode to these childhood memories: Kelly pulled out a drawer at the bottom of the Swedish candy that was filled with vintage magic tricks, pranks, and fake candy. Not only that, but there are plastic ninjas and little optical treasures hidden around the room. Recognizing that every inch of space has an element of fun, I learned from Kelly that he had worked in an amusement park in his youth, and was greatly influenced by the excitement of entertainment. When I inquired as to what might be next, this clever, warm man confided that he was about to launch his own chocolate bar line. The flavors were still a secret, but he seemed very excited. "I've been extremely happy with what we've been able to accomplish in two years, " he said enthusiastically. There is no doubt that Kelly has managed to feature an outstanding variety for those of us with a sweet tooth. As we were leaving, Kelly's last words were, "Our family is trying to bring the best confectionary treats, by brand, into one place" From what each of us witnessed and tasted, we would have to agree that he has succeeded.
EJ's Luncheonette has mastered the art of American comfort food... and beyond. This was the go-to spot for my kids in the morning, whenever they spent time with us in our East 73rd Street apartment. The eatery churns out perfectly toasted bagels, omelets, homefries, French toast and pancakes. When in the mood, my family members also appreciated their greasy hamburgers (meant in the most loving way), and my husband was a huge fan of the milkshakes.... while I always appreciated their healthy, vegetarian choices. Sadly, I now live on the Upper West Side, so we do not get here as often, but visiting EJ's with the Manhattan Sideways crew was a real treat. On one visit we met Eric J. Levine, also known as EJ. Despite the fact that his initials are “EJ, ” the restaurant name is also a combination of his plus that of his partner, Jay Silver. While sitting at the counter, he talked about his background, which is also partly his father’s story. Eric explained that his father wanted to open a restaurant/bar in his later life “like every other Jewish businessman with a mid-life crisis. ” Unlike many other men, however, he went through with it. He left his job in the garment district and fell into the restaurant business at fifty-five years old with Dock’s Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill. Growing up, Eric worked in various restaurants, but when he reached adulthood, he tested out a series of different paths. He dropped out of college and became a stockbroker for four years, during which time he “worked 100 hour weeks. ” He then went back to college at NYU. When he dropped out, he told me, “The only business I knew was the restaurant business. ” He opened EJ’s on the Upper West Side in 1990 and became one of the pioneers in resurrecting Amsterdam Avenue. “We were busy day one, ” he said, and the business kept accelerating from there until they sadly closed in 2013 after the lease expired. Although the luncheonette appears to come straight out of the 1950's, Eric opened his second EJ's on the East Side in 1991. His team was comprised of people he had met while spending time at Dock’s. Jay, for example, was the chef at Dock’s and their other partner, Robert Eby, was the General Manager. Eric admitted, “My father was always involved by extension. ” Eric was also inspired by his father, who helped open the restaurant Carmine’s and Angelo & Maxie's Steakhouse. “That’s the whole tree of life, ” Eric said with a smile, reflecting on the two intertwined careers. Eric has branched out to other restaurants throughout the years. He and his partner started a consulting company and owned a few pizzerias that he has since sold. EJ’s on East 73rd, however, is at the core of everything he does. “I guess this is my baby, ” Eric admitted. He is proud to be an independent business, despite how difficult it is. “Being the mom and pop guy... it’s a different environment, ” he said soberly. This is especially the case for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurant. “You always have to be on your toes, ” Eric stated. “People gotta eat! ” He is open every single day of the year. He is often busiest on holidays including Thanksgiving and Christmas, since EJ’s is “the only game in town. ” Eric confessed, however, that he enjoys being at EJ's on the holidays. “It’s the best day to work – people are in great moods. ”EJ’s also has a healthy delivery and catering business, though Eric much prefers it when people come in to eat. He also admitted that while EJ’s is lauded for its breakfast, he would like more people to know about his dinner specials. “All our food’s home cooking, ” he said proudly, adding that EJ’s is the closest thing the Upper East Side has to a casual seafood restaurant – it is one of the few places where a customer can get a fresh piece of fish for $20. EJ's menu continues to evolve in an effort to suit people’s taste. Eric sited an example of having recently removed the egg cream from the menu, since no one was ordering it anymore. He has now added a power smoothie with flax seed and greek yogurt. The cooking staff presented us with their latest endeavor - gluten-free pancakes, along with their classic spaghetti and meatballs. “There’s a lot of love and attention put into it... We make food to make people happy. ” When I questioned Eric about his continued passion for running the restaurant, he reigned in the emotion like a true New Yorker and quipped, “It’s better than being in a dentist’s office! ”
The first ground hall we visited at L'Antiquaire & The Connoisseur, a gallery that celebrates art from the eighteenth century and earlier, is the only section that features art from the twenty-first century. Helen Fioratti, the owner of the gallery, has put her daughter, Arianna Loreto's work on display. The modern, familial pieces leading to the elevator provided a perfect complement to the gilded and dazzling older antiques that we were about to visit. I was taken by Arianna's whimsical drafts and sketches that decorated the elevator, appreciating that visitors are surrounded by art at every turn. Upon stepping out onto the second floor landing, I noticed a collection of chandeliers with candle fixtures instead of bulbs. Helen promptly informed me that each one is from the eighteenth century. With a slight smile, she went on to say, "I was told by a chandelier gallery that there are very few eighteenth century chandeliers on the market. I have ten, which I think is more than anybody else. " As we wandered around the gallery, Helen pointed out treasures and told us about her life. Along with owning the shop, she is an interior designer who has worked with members of the Kennedy family and the Royal Family of Kuwait. She grew up in the art world, since her mother was Countess Ruth Constantino, the first female fine art dealer in the United States. Her mother started collecting art at a young age. The countess's uncle would pay her money to go to bed on time, which she would then spend on antiques when she went to Europe with her family. When Ruth grew up, she worked for a German art dealer as an unpaid intern, because her father claimed that well-bred girls did not have jobs. She eventually persuaded her father to let her open a gallery, but soon married an Italian diplomat whom she met at the New York World's Fair in 1939. As Helen paraphrased her father, "Wives of Italian diplomats didn't work. " Ruth opened a new gallery, but did not use her name, instead calling it "The Connoisseur Inc. " This is the gallery that Helen would merge with her own in 1982. I asked Helen about her earliest memory having to do with art and antiques, and she responded with a story from when she was five years old: she picked the paint off of the antique Venetian commode in her bedroom and colored it back in with crayons. Helen added that when she first got married and opened her gallery, she already had a furniture collection put aside and needed no more to furnish their apartment. Helen has the magic ability of breathing life into each of her pieces through suggestive storytelling. She showed me a cabinet that had belonged to the King of Portugal. There are twenty-eight secret compartments and a mirror on the top, which Helen said, "is where the king would model his crowns. " I could immediately picture the regal purposes of the piece of furniture. Similarly, Helen said that a clock that caught my eye had been made by an Englishman for the se de Medici's in Florence. The clockmaker then decided to stay in Florence. His son became the greatest Scagliola master - meaning he was an expert in a specific form of decorative work. Since she seems to know the story behind all of her inventory, I asked Helen if it is ever difficult for her to have to sell a piece and part with it. "It's like having a marriageable daughter, " she responded. "You don't want someone to take her, but it would also be sad if no one wanted her. "Some of the most interesting pieces in the store were the games tables. Helen has written many books in her life, including one on old games and the antiques that teach us how they used to be played. She then brought out a little bag that Louis XV would have given to one of his courtesans. It has carved ivory "fiches" that function as game pieces and have little fortunes wrapped inside. "It's a very rare thing, " Helen said with a sparkle in her eye. There was also a collection of inlaid wood game tables, complete with clear outlines showing where to put cards, players, or pieces. Pointing to one that was signed with the artist's name, "RENOLDI, " on an arch in the wooden landscape design, Helen told us that she looks for authenticity in her entire collection. "What I care about is that things are real all the way through, " she said. "I even want the tips of feet to still be original. "Despite being in her antique business for thirty-five years, Helen is surprisingly spry and still does in-depth appraisals herself. "I may have to turn it over and crawl on the floor, but I can tell you if something is authentic, " she stated. "In this gallery, if it's painted, the paint is original and if it's gilded, the gold is real. " After exploring more of the multi-floor antique wonderland, with treasures like sixteenth century Italian ceramics, a fourteenth century illuminated manuscript leaf, and rare globes made of wood and paper mache, I returned to the first floor and Arianna's drawings. In a little corner of the room, Helen pointed out a picture of a cat that Arianna had drawn when she was twelve years old.
Across the park and nine streets north from the 64th Street location, Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was still visibly excited to be sitting down to breakfast at Alice's Tea Cup. Though she loves each of the teahouse's three "chapters, " the 73rd Street cafe is the original - and the first one she visited as a young teen. She shared stories with me of coming here and marveling at the tiered Afternoon Teas that would arrive at her table, filled with scones, finger sandwiches and sweets. She questioned whether or not she might have been a bit too old at fifteen to celebrate her birthday here and then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around New York blowing sparkle-filled bubbles, dressed in a pair of shimmering fairy wings acquired from the tea shop's front room, which is filled with whimsical retail items. On our visit to Alice's, Olivia, now a mature twenty-five, had her usual - a pumpkin scone with a personal pot of tea - while Tom, our photographer, ordered "the biggest coffee" they had. It arrived in a mug "the size of Tom's face. " Olivia pointed out all the Alice in Wonderland themed decorations that she remembered from previous visits, including a quote from the character of the Duchess written in fun purple font along the walls and an angry painting of the red queen in the bathroom, telling employees to wash their hands or "Off with your head! " Her favorite little decorative touch, however, was on the swinging door into the kitchen. There is a giant keyhole window, suggesting that maybe, like Alice, the diners had shrunk to the size of mice, and would be swept away into a magical land, scones and teacups in hand.
Though not exactly hidden, since the grand exterior bedecked with flags makes it hard to miss, I still consider the Bohemian National Hall a hidden gem due to the magnificent spaces and programs cached behind its walls, unknown to local passersby. For a short time, my husband and I had an apartment a few doors down from this imposing building, and had the opportunity to step inside a couple times. However, it was Cynthia Sutherland - Public Relations head for the Czech Center at the Bohemian National Hall - who provided Manhattan Sideways with an in-depth look at each of the five floors. There are three main organizations residing in the building: The Czech Center, the Consulate General, and the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association. All these organizations work together to promote Czech culture. For anyone who associates "Bohemian" with Queen, Rent, or flowing hippie skirts (which, Cynthia informed me, is true for many people), Bohemia is a region in the Czech Republic that is famous for artistic expression, freedom of speech, and a strong sense of tradition. We began our tour in the theater on the first floor, where a film club meets on Tuesdays to watch a variety of movies. Cynthia explained that the Czech Center is open to different cultures, and has shown many works by American directors, with the only requirement being that the film must somehow link back to the Czech Republic. She also mentioned that most of the programs at the Bohemian National Hall are completely free, which was especially impressive considering the size and scope of the events. Cynthia then took us upstairs to see the gallery, which is accessed via a breathtaking spiral staircase. Stepping inside, we observed people setting up for their next exhibit, called "Czech Dream, " featuring art that explores the ideas of resignation, expectation, and uncertainty in Czech consciousness. Before moving to the next floor, Cynthia pointed out the meaningful quotes written on the wall in both Czech and English. "This building is a living, breathing thing with its own voice, " she explained. Venturing into the library, we were warmly greeted by Barbara Karpetova, the director of the Czech Center, who encouraged us to wander in the library, which is open to the public and often holds forums and readings. Cynthia then led us to the floor run by the BBLA, formed in 1892 so that Czech visitors to New York would have a place to go and meet with their fellow countrymen. Cynthia showed us a large plaque dedicated to Antonin Dvorak, explaining that the famous composer held concerts in the Bohemian National Hall and that the BBLA owns artifacts from his life, such as hand-written sheet music. We also learned that weddings, conventions, and concerts are still held in the spacious Study Center and recital room on this floor. Upstairs, our jaws dropped as Cynthia led us into a grand ballroom. The space can hold up to 300 people, not counting the balconies above. The magnificent stage that occupied one wall is a replica of a theater in Prague, and there is a full bar and kitchen off of the ballroom. Over the years, countless musicians, dancers, and theater troupes have performed on the stage. As we stood there, Cynthia enthusiastically mentioned that the Center was looking forward to a new concert series in 2016, called "Prague New York Effects, " where Czech and American artists will be working on a collaborative piece. "We like to call it an incubator, " Cynthia said. The artists will then visit the Czech Republic to perform their work in Prague. As we exited the ballroom, we noticed pictures of the renovation that took place in 2008. Cynthia explained that the goal of the renovation was to make the building look "Bold and bright and modern. " Everything we saw could certainly be described by those adjectives, including the state-of-the-art dressing rooms that we found on the balcony level. On the other side of the floor, we saw the meeting room in which the Czech president had recently sat. The cherry on the sundae, however, was the rooftop. With an outdoor bar and an area that can be covered against the elements, the roof hosts a variety of events throughout the summer. Cynthia told us that they had shown eight rooftop movies during 2015, subtitled in English, with complimentary champagne and strawberries. "This is a cultural haven, " Cynthia remarked as we were descending - and after exploring the beautiful hall from head to toe, we could not agree more. Cynthia, who commutes in every day from upstate New York, simply announced, "I love my job. When I'm here... it's amazing. " With countless events each month (where complimentary Czech beer is frequently served), the Bohemian National Hall should be on any New Yorker's radar. It is a great place to immerse oneself in fine quality Czech culture. Cynthia's closing line of the afternoon said it all, "To the Czech people, art is life. "
On a sunny afternoon, Arte Cafe's front patio is completely filled with diners enjoying the sidewalk space, but the inside is just as beautiful and airy. With Tuscan decorations and arches leading into different dining areas, the cafe is a little pocket of Italy in the big city. The menu includes Italian classics, complete with fresh artisanal pasta.