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Meet 78th Street

Lost Gem
Heidi's House 1 Bars Beer Bars Wine Bars American undefined

Heidi's House

Ed and his wife Heidi know that being small has its advantages and disadvantages. Their reputation has been growing, which is wonderful, but on many evenings this can also mean up to an hour wait for people hoping to get into the tiny restaurant. Based on its popularity, there is no doubt that the cozy eatery has filled a void uptown. Unlike the East Village, for instance, where every nook and cranny is filled with enticing bars and restaurants, Heidi’s House is the only one of its kind in the immediate area. Ed emphasized that he would not want it any other way - he loves being “part of the fabric of the neighborhood” and interacting with the steady, loyal crowd. Ed and Heidi are both former teachers. The full name of the restaurant is “Heidi’s House by the Side of the Road, ” a reference to a poem of the same name by Sam Walter Foss. While Heidi is presently studying for a masters degree, Ed has been taking on more of the responsibilities in running the restaurant, though Heidi is still the master of the wine list, which has a wide, interesting selection and rotates with the seasons. Ed is the beer man and has steered away from draught, preferring craft and bottled beers. He is also in charge of the space. He put his skills as a former carpenter to use in building the restaurant, finding salvaged wood from the building itself, some of which is over 100 years old. Ed brought out a couple signature dishes for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph. Cipriano and his sous-chef Heleo Aviles whipped up a plate of bruschetta as well as the seared sirloin steak special, served with fingerling potatoes, red pepper puree, and fresh horseradish sauce. Though it was early, the small space was already bustling, and bartender Rosendo Hernandez had his work cut out for him. When Ed and Heidi first began planning their restaurant, they wanted to create a place where they, themselves, would like to go. They designed an intimate, TV-free zone with great jazz and good food where customers could meet and enjoy a conversation while dining on an eclectic mix of comfort food. For the latter, they found Cipriano Pita, who has been with Heidi and Ed since they first opened Heidi’s House in 2010. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, he is a “natural born cook, ” smart and intuitive. Because of the limited space in Cipriano's "workshop, " Ed said that the produce, meat, and fish are delivered daily. "We have nowhere to store it, so it has to be fresh. " Everything is hands-on, without any corporate elements. The atmosphere is similarly guided by what Ed and Heidi want to see in their space. They brought decorations from home, including framed post cards, quirky sculptures, and a Nepalese window frame. There are board games at the front of the restaurant including checkers, chess, Scrabble, dominoes, and Trivial Pursuit. I was struck by a poem on the wall behind the bar written by a child who came to dine with her family, detailing her experience at Heidi’s. “Everyone wants to be around things that they like, ” Ed pointed out. It was refreshing to experience a place where every detail is decided by what the owners like, not what they assume the customers prefers - in the end, it appears that they are one in the same.

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Pil Pil

Pil Pil, named for a specific kind of sauce originating in the Basque region of Spain, fills an important role on the Upper East Side. It is a neighborhood watering hole, upscale and with enough ambience for a perfect date or friendly hangout, but still casual enough to lure locals back multiple times each week. I spoke with Nikola Romic, the owner and general manager, who explained that this is exactly the environment he wanted to create when he opened Pil Pil in 2010: a “homey atmosphere” where locals could have good food and wine. Nikola, originally from Serbia, spent a lot of time in Spain. He gained a true appreciation for the cuisine there and now owns vineyards in the Spanish countryside. Most of the wines at Pil Pil come from either his own grapes or family-owned vineyards. Nik told me that he personally travels to each of the vineyards to speak with the vintners and try the wine. Despite being so selective, Pil Pil features wine from over eighty different kinds of grapes. Considering the breadth of his experience, the property he owns, and his education, I was even more impressed with Nik when he revealed his age - when we met in early 2016, he was only twenty-seven! Pil Pil's home on 78th Street had previously been occupied by a sake bar where Nik actually worked. When it became obvious that the space would have to shutter, Nik turned it into a Spanish restaurant, decorating the interior with wine bottles and twining tree branches to make the intimate ambience for which Pil Pil is known. His initial plan was to serve traditional Spanish food, but he has added many American classics with key Spanish ingredients to the menu to appeal to his New York audience. For instance, there is a mac and cheese with chorizo and sliders made with manchego cheese. On the day we visited, Nik was offering a special mulled wine. He handed each member of the Manhattan Sideways team a glass, seasoned with citrus and cloves, which warmed us from the inside out. He showed us to the recently redesigned wine cellar before beckoning us into the kitchen where he casually added shrimp to a pan filled with butter and spices with one hand and stirred the pot of mulling wine with the other. Everything Nik and his sous chef Pedji did seemed effortless, like a well-timed culinary dance. He brought out a few dishes for us to try on the hightop tables, including the shrimp, called gambas al ajillo, which had just the right amount of spice and left enough sauce for the perfect buttery bread dip. We also tried the freshly baked flaky mushroom flatbread, seasoned with truffle oil. The last to arrive were the macaroni and cheese croquettes. These light balls of noodles and cheese, with a dash of paprika, were sensational. Nik is proud of what Pil Pil has become, both in terms of the food and the staff, many of whom speak both Spanish and English. There is no hierarchy of waiters and food runners. Casually dressed, they all work seamlessly together, emphasizing the relaxed atmosphere that Pil Pil has fostered. On Wednesdays, Nik occasionally brings in a Spanish acoustic guitar player from Barcelona…and sometimes Nik himself even plays.

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Martine's Antiques

Stores like Martine’s Antiques are exactly the kind of businesses I look for on the side streets. Though small, every inch of the shop has some new treasure to discover. There are watches, jewelry, glassware, and various knick knacks decorating the room. Though she has been in New York since 1992, Martine Leventer's lilting French accent added music to her descriptions of each of the pieces that she has hand-selected for her shop. Martine began her career as a journalist in Paris, writing about business and the economy. She occasionally wrote about art, but usually only in terms of auctions and its financial role in society. She told me, however, that she had always had a great love for antiques, “ever since I can remember, in fact. ” She recalled the very first antique she bought as a teenager – a bronze candle holder. Since then, she admits, “I’ve been buying way too much in my life. ” She spent some time between the United States and France, collecting antiques from each location, but when she first went into business in New York, it was as a chocolatier. She had two chocolate shops: one on the Upper East Side, where she lives, and a small shop in Bloomingdale’s. Chocolate, however, was not where her true passion lay: “Having an antique store has been a dream of mine since I was very young, ” she told me. She began selling little pieces at her Bloomingdale’s location, mostly costume jewelry. She then opened an antique store on 82nd Street in 1997, while continuing to operate her chocolate shops. The current location opened in 2012 and she closed her chocolate business a year later. Martine is proud of the fact that her store is a specially curated selection of antiques. “Everyone tells me I have a good eye, ” she said humbly. She does not work in bulk or in estate sales: everything is something that caught her eye. Martine is especially drawn to costume jewelry, old watches - “Old watches have a heart that beats, ” she said poetically - and vintage American glassware. She used to use colorful glass plates and bowls to show off her chocolates. “I look for something that is either beautiful or funny, something that makes my day. It is important to have things in your house that give you happy feelings. ”Though she still has a couple customers who have been with her from the very beginning, many of her original clients have moved away. She has realized that that is a pattern in New York: things are constantly shifting and changing. Though some change may be good, for the most part it means higher rents. “So many small businesses have disappeared. It’s so heartbreaking. ” She elaborated, “Being from France, I don’t like seeing little old buildings being demolished. ” In Martine's view, the city is starting to become too angular, as harsh modern architecture starts to take over from the old world. When she first came to the United States, she was surprised by the variety of antiques. In France, most of the antiques are French, with perhaps a few English or German pieces if you look hard. The United States, on the other hand, is a source of antiques from around the world. Martine had never come in contact with American Vintage before, and immediately took a liking to it. Additionally, costume jewelry was cheaper and more accessible in the U. S. She discovered, however, that New Yorkers were often more interested in European pieces. She explained her frustration to me: In terms of antiques, architecture, and art, Americans will travel hundreds of miles to view masterpieces but will not show any respect towards the beautiful works of art on their own shores. “I hope people wake up soon, ” she said, “and learn to not throw away the beauty of their own heritage. ”

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Tiny Doll House

Before he discovered the intriguing land of miniatures, Leslie Edelman practiced as an attorney. This all changed when he befriended a couple that owned a doll house business on Lexington Avenue in the 1980s. “The next thing I knew, I was working with them. ” Leslie would go to shows and spend his spare time doing odd jobs in the shop. When the couple was ready to retire, they asked if he wanted to purchase the shop. Enchanted with the idea of opening a niche business, building tiny furniture, and traveling the world collecting doll house pieces, Leslie said yes. Today, he is also the mastermind behind many of Tiny Doll House’s designs. In the mid-1990s, the store moved to East 78th, where it has seen its clientele change over the decades. Initially, the business attracted people from around the globe who had an interest in the hobby. “They would come to us as we were the tourist center of the world. ” There were also local families interested in building their children a doll house, and then it turned to collectors as later generations became immersed in electronics. “Today, we are seeing more and more young people have a renewed interest in miniatures. ”Who would not be fascinated by the rows of tiny watches, tea sets, board games, bottles of wine, minuscule cakes, and musical instruments? Modern leather couches, mini televisions, and beautifully crafted Lilliputian antiques decorate the various houses that also run the gamut. There are stores, workshops, Tudor cottages, and federal mansions. Leslie even sells the mini people who go inside each model, ranging from a small rendering of the Mad Hatter to a woman in an elaborate sari sitting next to a hookah. A standout moment for Leslie and his partner, Tim Porter, was the day “Joan Rivers flung open the door, threw her shoes to one corner and her fur coat to another, and the next thing we knew we were building a house for her. ” She used it as a prop on QVC to promote her charm bracelets. “She sold a hell of a lot of them! ”

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Mnuchin Gallery

“It has the vibe of being lived in, ” Nicole Hudson, the Associate Director of Mnuchin Gallery said as she guided me around the townhouse that houses the gallery. The building dates back to the early 1900s and has been landmarked, thereby retaining its grand yet domestic design. It is not hard to imagine a time when the space was occupied by a well-to-do family who might have decorated their walls and floors with the kind of art that the gallery has on display. As Nicole pointed out, the unique location makes it easier for clients to picture the work in their own homes and see how the pieces could add to their lives. “Art has to enrich the day to day, ” she said with a smile. Nicole expanded on the origins of the gallery, explaining how the founder, Robert Mnuchin, became an art dealer after leaving the world of finance in the mid 1990s. He had been an art collector during his career in economics, and so he smoothly transitioned to owning a gallery. He began by forming partnerships with James Corcoran and Dominique Levy. The resulting galleries, C& M Arts and L& M Arts, both resided in the Upper East Side townhouse in turn. Robert then went solo and changed the name to Mnuchin Gallery in 2013. He deals primarily in the secondary market and uses multiple floors of his magnificent building. Nicole went on to show me the exhibition that was on display, called “Carl Andre in his Time. ” Originally, the gallery wanted to solely feature Carl Andre, a minimalist artist from the 1960s-1970s, but decided to open up the exhibit to his contemporaries as well. I was intrigued by how many sculptures were installed on the ground in geometric square patterns. Nicole noted that in the late 1960s, the pieces were created to be walked on (“It was part of the experience”), but because of their historical significance, Mnuchin preferred that visitors refrain from walking on the sculptures. One corner of the gallery that caught my eye featured two pieces of art juxtaposed - one was a series of stacked shelves by Donald Judd where each shelf had to be nine inches away from its neighbor. On the floor next to it was “32-Part Reciprocal Invention” by Carl Andre, made of found steel rebar, in which the distance between each bar in one row was designated by the length of the bar in the row above it. Both were interesting examples of how the world of math and measurements influences art. Another intriguing piece taking up a full wall was “Wall Drawing #69, ” designed by Sol LeWitt in 1971, which was previously on display in the Guggenheim. I would have missed it if Nicole had not pointed it out, since the swirling colored pencil designs that covered the flat white space were so delicate and light. Nicole explained that if the piece is purchased, the new owner gets a certificate of authenticity and then draftspeople come to their house to recreate it on their wall. Sol DeWitt provided loose, organic instructions, so each iteration of the piece is slightly different. It takes two people about ten days to replicate the design. After it is completed, Mnuchin’s own version will be painted over. Nicole then smiled and said how she loves seeing the faces of visitors who realize that there is a piece of art hidden on Mnuchin’s walls.

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Choices Books & Gift Shop

Choices tries to help anyone looking to improve his or her life while also offering different paths to recovery for its varied clientele. Jay DePaolo discovered Choices Books & Gifts shortly after it was sold by the original owners, a doctor and a nurse, who opened the store in 1989 to help the 12-step community. Jay came in while shopping with a friend, who said, “Wouldn’t it be great to own something this cute and adorable? ” Unfortunately, or fortunately for Jay, the new management was having trouble keeping the business afloat and wanted to sell. Jay’s friend set up a meeting. Jay did not have the finances to purchase Choices, but he had a clear vision for the store and was a savvy businessman, having owned Italian restaurants in the past. Miraculously, he met a potential investor, and after knowing Jay for only a day, the man loaned him the money to take over Choices in 2002. Within two years, Jay was pleased to tell me that he managed to bring the store back from the brink of failure. When I asked Jay what some of the immediate changes that he made were, he said it was as simple as moving some of the merchandise around, allowing the space to feel more airy and welcoming, rather than cluttered and claustrophobic. He also added an online side to the business. Arguably the biggest change was that Choices became less focused on the 12-step and therapy world, and more broadly applicable to “anyone who’s on a quest. ”  Jay added, “We’re all in search of something. ”I recognized Jay's commitment to his bookshop immediately and the extreme fulfillment he gets from the business. He told me that people continually stop by to share their appreciation and offer comments like “I want to thank you, you saved my little brother’s/cousin’s/sister’s life. ” Choices is not just a retail store: the staff chats with any customer who needs advice or a willing ear and attempts to help them on the road to recovery. In 2016, some fourteen years after Jay took over the shop, he is now able to speak at length about different methods and tools that people can use to better themselves. He was quick to point out, however, that he was not always so knowledgeable. He said that he had entered the business essentially blind and had to learn about it from within. Most of his education came from his suppliers who willingly told him about the purpose of each product. And he continues to learn from customers by talking to them about books they have purchased in the past and what paths have worked for them. “I owe everything to others, ” he admitted. “Most of the stuff in here has a meaning, ” Jay went on to say, rattling off the names of jewelry and candles, which he now knows by heart. The shelves are chock full of books for both people in addiction programs and “civilians” - the word for people not directly affected by addiction. He has everything from general daily readers filled with affirmations to crystals and tarot cards used by a more select group. Some of his staff offer different sorts of readings to customers who request them as another aid in their personal therapy. “It really is a little treasure, ” Jay said after walking me through the store. He spoke to me about what a pleasure it is to come to Choices everyday, saying, “I skip to work! ” As I was leaving, Jay shared one of his favorite ideas to live by: “Serenity isn’t peace from the storm, but amid the storm. ” It was an apt expression for a calm little store in a bustling city.

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Lady M Confections

After visiting Lady M’s location at Bryant Park, I was excited to stop by the original on the Upper East Side. I saw many of the same breathtakingly vibrant cakes and tarts lined up behind refrigerated glass, but the 78th Street spot also offers a selection of croissants, salads, and sandwiches. We heard from Ken Romaniszyn, the founder, that the savory lunch items work best at the founding store because regulars do not think of Lady M as a high end cake shop, but rather as a neighborhood café that has been around for years. “When we started, this was just a quiet little bakery, ” he said. “In 2015, it’s very different. ” Lady M now has multiple locations around the world. They just opened in Hong Kong and are looking forward to a new store in Boston. Ken brings an extraordinary expertise to Lady M, as he is a graduate of Harvard Business School, but also attended the French Culinary Institute. "I like numbers, " he stated simply, but he also appreciates beautiful desserts. Since opening his first retail shop in 2004 - named after Emi Wada, a family friend and baker in Japan - he has continued to expand into the Plaza and Rockefeller Center. He is also hoping to have a space in the new World Trade Center. Ken is proud to say that he might be the only business to exist in all three places. When I inquired about their kitchen, Ken told me that all of the New York baking is done in a 14, 000 square foot space in Long Island City, Lady M currently has forty-five to fifty cakes on its roster. Of those, there are five or six signature cakes that are always in stock. The others on display change with the seasons. When we were visiting in December, many of the cakes featured chestnuts for the holidays, having just taken the place of the pumpkin flavors. Ken's favorite, however, the strawberry shortcake, seems to be available throughout the year. Ken admitted that it makes him nostalgic for summers spent in Japan as a child. Lady M is probably best known for its mille crepes cakes in which paper-thin crepes are piled high to create a creamy confection. Lady M can even make wedding cakes out of their signature mille crepes – in fact, this is what Ken recently chose for his own wedding cake. When I commented on how beautifully and consistently constructed every cake is, Ken smiled and stated, “This is what we do, so we do it well” - adding that since every cake is handmade, if it is not perfect, it is discarded. It was also a delight to meet Sarah Altemeyer, Lady M’s brand new marketing director, who was eager to share a bit more about Lady M’s projects and plans for the future. She said that she is hoping to introduce bite-size cake samples, so that people can try more than one flavor during a visit. She also informed me of Ken’s plans to decrease waste: for example, the kitchen often has a lot of leftover egg whites, so they have started making Asian-flavored macarons (green tea, red bean, yuzu, etc. ). Though they are not available for purchase, yet, there is a possibility that they might be in the not too distant future. Lady M also recently introduced its own tea brand and, finally, Lady M is bringing WiFi into each of its locations. While speaking with Ken and Sarah, I was struck by how upbeat they are about the cake business. Smiling, Ken said, “We’re in the happy business. " He gets to brighten people’s day with delicious food and help them out when they are most inclined to be in a good mood. Ken feels very fortunate and is quite confident in his industry's longevity: “This is not a craze, ” he told me. “It’s forever. Cake is consistent – it’s nostalgia. ”

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Klara Beauty Lab

Everything about Klara Beauty Lab embraces the overall ambience of tranquility and hospitality, from the teal, turquoise, and white color palate to the welcoming plate of cookies in the waiting room. I immediately felt tingly and at ease upon walking in. The greatest source of calm is, of course, Klara Chrzuszcz herself, who greeted me warmly. I congratulated her on using her space to its full potential. In every inch of the side street shop there are comforting touches to make customers feel relaxed. An especially personal detail of the spa is the display of elegant leather accessories, including wrap around belts and necklaces - Klara is a leather worker in her free time. When I asked Klara what got her into the skincare world, she apologized for the cliché and said, “I had problems with my own skin. ” It was a touching answer even if, as she claims, it is a common one, but it was also hard for me to believe as I looked at her currently flawless complexion. Klara is a walking advertisement for clear skin and beauty, with her glowing face, sparkling eyes, and sleek, pulled back hair. Her route to owning a medical spa, however, was circuitous. She studied pediatric psychology in Poland and, upon graduating, helped children who had dealt with trauma reenter normal life. “I’m a giver, ” Klara said with a humble smile, reflecting back on those years when she learned that whatever she did with her life, she wanted to help people. She attended different programs and courses in London, Ireland, and Poland before moving to New York in 2004 and opening Klara Beauty Lab. I was impressed by the multiple certificates and diplomas on her walls, but Klara assured me that she is never done learning: “It is my passion and my profession. ” Klara went on to tell me that she is a pioneer for a number of products and procedures, most recently Lash Lift, a treatment that helps women reach their full eye lash length without using extensions. She was also proud to tell me that she has a wide range of clients who come to her from as far away as Dubai, Singapore, and Taiwan. Klara sets up champagne and food for her guests. “It’s their relaxing time, ” Klara said simply. She has had some of the same clients for eleven years, whom she refers to as her “loyal spies. ” But whether the it is a client's first facial or hundredth, Klara tries to make them as relaxed as possible - Klara revealed to me, laughing, “I love when people snore during their treatments. ”

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Stand Up NY

The jokes began almost as soon as I walked into Stand Up NY. I pointed out how clever it was to have a phone charging station by the bar and Gabriel Waldman, the co-owner, said with a smirk, “That’s what keeps us in business. ” The bar, which feels like a neighborhood spot with velvet wallpaper decorated with comedy and tragedy masks, is only the appetizer; the room stretches back into a full performance space where stand up comedians try out their routines. Gabe first came to Stand Up NY as a seventeen-year old. He performed for the very first time in a competition that the club was hosting. He did not win, but he quipped, “My mom thought I should have won! ” Back then, the club was run by Cary Hoffman, a Frank Sinatra impersonator who opened Stand Up NY in 1986. Before Cary, the space was just a simple bar. Sometimes Gabe would visit Stand Up NY with his friend Dani Zoldan, who has been his “best friend since the tenth grade. ” Dani would also come watch Gabe perform at Touro College in Brooklyn where he eventually received a degree in psychology. “I was not great in school, ” Gabe admitted. “Comedy’s my main thing. ” Despite his difficulty with academics, he then got a masters in social work and began his career working with disabled adults for three years. He used a lot of comedy to brighten the mood. One day, Dani and Gabe learned that their old stomping ground was up for sale. They purchased and renovated it in 2009, turning the bar into a slightly more upscale lounge that would lure people off the streets. The partners got rid of a big banquette that used to occupy the space, opting for smaller stools, and secured a relationship with a local restaurant that could provide them with traditional bar food because, as Gabe pointed out, “No one ever says, ‘five Jack and Cokes and some edamame, please. ’”Despite the change in ownership, comics who got their start at Stand Up NY still drop by to say hello. Louis CK, Amy Schumer, and Chris Rock were among the names that Gabe said he has welcomed. Whenever they arrive, he is happy to halt any planned programming and invite them up on stage. Gabe also mentioned an “All Star" show, where viewers bring canned food to donate to a charity instead of paying for tickets. But the amateurs definitely get their time on the stage: Every Monday from 5-7pm and Thursday from 4-6pm, Stand Up NY hosts an open mic. Gabe jokes that all you need to perform on his stage is “$5 and a dream, ” since you only need a fiver to put your name on the list. He says the demographic of comedians ranges from those who may eventually make it professionally to those who have a career and just want five minutes on the stage for fun. I sat and watched a few acts during the open mic and was surprised by the diversity of performers. There was everything from a middle-aged woman making jokes about being called “mature” to a young black man talking about how his nephew is starting to school him on “new rap. ” It was enchanting to see the people in the audience showing respect and encouraging the people on the stage, even when they got stuck. As Gabe pointed out, the open mic is about trying material and seeing what causes laughter, not about being judged. He added, “I don’t feel like I’m some comedy guru who can critique them. ”