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Meet 79th Street

Lost Gem
Sojourn 1 Brunch American undefined


Sojourn calls itself the Upper East Side’s “sexiest restaurant, ” and it is hard to argue: the color scheme, in coppers browns and reds, gives the restaurant a warm, intimate feeling. The name, which means “a temporary stay, ” hints at the fact that visitors can expect a full dining experience. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was excited to return to Sojourn. She and her family had discovered the restaurant, tucked behind a residential-looking doorway, right before Thanksgiving and had visited two more times by the New Year. Along with the friendly staff, warm ambience, and delectable, seasonal food, what makes Sojourn stand out is its approach to courses: all menu items can be ordered as sharable tapas, with just the right number for the table. For example, when Olivia went with a group of seven family members and ordered the chorizo croquettes, the waiter said he would bring out two orders at three to a plate... plus one extra. Using this innovative way of ordering, each party can essentially create their own tasting menu. As for beverages, the cocktail menu is sophisticated and diverse. The restaurant not only has a large selection of wine, but also keeps some of their grapes in barrels rather than bottles, a more environmentally friendly method of storing and serving it. Among the many menu items that Olivia’s family tasted were the zesty arugula salad, crispy fish tacos, and Kobe beef sliders. Despite being thoroughly full, they made sure to have enough room for the warm, fluffy churros served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. We spoke to Johnny Musovic, who owns Sojourn with his father, Sami. They originally opened a Mexican restaurant called Santa Fe in the same location, but discovered that the neighborhood did not have a strong need for casual Mexican food. Instead, the father and son duo reopened with a higher-end concept which has been wholly embraced. Johnny proudly told me that his father is no newcomer to the restaurant world, having been the Head Maitre D’ at Sparks Steakhouse and Mr. Chow’s. He also has two other restaurants nearby. As for Johnny himself, he told me “In this industry, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, ” referencing his time spent as everything from dishwasher to delivery boy to co-owner. He is clearly very proud of Sojourn for a variety of reasons, beginning with the food. “Most chefs are into fresh, local ingredients, but these chefs really are. ” He is also happy to have cultivated a chic, relaxing space, which includes live music on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Though he proclaims that the Upper East Side is his favorite part of the city, Johnny’s dream is to open up a Sojourn in Midtown one day. Until then, his goal is to integrate his bar crowd and his dining crowd. One night, he held a two hour open bar as his way of “giving back” to the neighborhood. Along with drinks, he offered his customers a series of hors d’oeuvres. He was surprised by how many of his bar regulars approached him and said, “I didn’t realize you had such great food! ”

Lost Gem
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Temple Shaaray Tefila

Shaaray Tefila has a very special place in my heart. For well over twenty years, beginning in the early 1970's, this was a home away from home for my grandparents. Reaching 79th Street and having the opportunity to write about this synagogue has brought tears to my eyes again and again. Rabbi Tattelbaum played an important role not only in my grandparent's lives, but in mine as well, when I was a young, impressionable teenager. It was Chip Schrager, the Communications Coordinator for the temple in 2015, who kindly guided the Manhattan Sideways team through the space, beginning with the main sanctuary. The room is expansive, seating 400 people downstairs and 200 in the balcony, and Chip was proud to say that it was filled to the rafters during the recent Hanukkah services. Something that I did not know was that the building used to be a movie theater until the temple took over in 1958. The old projector room is now used as an office for the parenting programs. Founded in 1845 as a strict Orthodox temple, Shaaray Tefila has shifted locations throughout the city, becoming Reform along the way. Stepping into the chapel, where smaller services are held, I saw bold stained glass ornaments on one side of the room with the names and symbols of characters from Jewish lore. In the meeting room nearby, well-polished Judaic pieces, along with artifacts dating back to the temple's founding were displayed. In addition, we took note of photographs of the old temple on West 82nd Street, the Seal of the Congregation, and even the trowel that the rabbi used to lay the cornerstone of the Temple. Leaving the room, Chip gestured to photographs of six men who were senior rabbis at Temple Shaaray Tefila. The temple has a strong children's program, including a nursery school, kindergarten, and religious school that extends through high school. We appreciated getting to observe the room used for art class. A giant paint pallet decorated the wall and colorful supplies lined the room. We then ventured up to the roof where the playground is located, surrounded by a fence that still allowed for a beautiful view of the winter sunset. It was here that Chip continued to speak of the various programs offered to every age group, including senior citizens. This is what my grandparents took advantage of so many years ago, and it warmed my heart to know that people are still participating in the various classes that Shaaray Tefila has to offer. As Chip beautifully stated, "Whatever your Jewish journey is, we want to be a part of it. "

Lost Gem
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St. Monica's Church

When I met Reverend Donald Baker at the end of 2015, he had been the pastor at St. Monica's for only four months. He already, however, had formed a deep sense of adoration for the church and its community, especially its emphasis on family and education. It was clear that he wasted no time delving into life at the church, since he met me having just come from coaching the new altar servers and was about to celebrate the mass for World AIDS day directly after our interview. Father Baker is pleased to be affiliated with a church that is connected to an education center. St. Stephen of Hungary school was merged with St. Monica’s after St. Monica’s merged with the Saint Stephen of Hungary parish and the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Many of the families that attend St. Monica's are asking how they can apply to St. Stephen's – "The school is really bursting at the seams, " Father Baker proudly told me. Though the relationship with St. Stephen of Hungary School is new, St. Monica's is used to having a school under its wing. Between 1881 and 1974, there was a school attached to St. Monica's. Shortly after it closed, the Caedmon School, a private elementary school, took up residence in the empty school building and has been there ever since. Although non denominational, Caedmon’s founders were Catholic and thus Caedmon offers Catholic religious education to any parents requesting it. St. Monica’s aids in that. Built in June of 1879, the church has stayed in the same neighborhood since its inception. The original building stood at 404 East 78th Street, but in 1906, a new church was built at the current site. "This was the Irish church, " Father Baker explained. The religious community was divided along cultural and linguistic lines. For example, St. Elizabeth was the Hungarian church and St. Joseph was the German church. Reverend Baker informed me that the older generation at St. Monica's is still primarily Irish. Having spent twelve years on the Lower East Side, first at St. Teresa's on Henry Street and then for seven of those years at the Church of the Nativity, the Upper East Side is proving to be a new experience for Father Baker. Downtown was very multicultural: Daily masses were said in Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, and English. Reverend Baker had to be able to function in Spanish as a priest. "That was a real challenge, but I loved it, " he said. He also joked that the demographic in the neighborhood was very different: "If I went to a restaurant, I was the oldest guy there. Up here, it's all families. " Often referred to as "Pizza Mass, " a special family service is held on the first Saturday of the month, allowing young children who cannot always sit quietly to attend with their parents. Afterwards, everyone is invited to have pizza. Father Baker led me through the rectory, pointing out, "This is where we live: it's a short commute, " and on into the main sanctuary. A statue of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, stood at the altar. The first thing that caught my eye was the enormous organ. Music is a large part of the community and Father Baker mentioned that people are constantly singing. Since it was December, he was anticipating that it would be standing room only for the Christmas mass, with over six hundred people in attendance. "'Catholic' means 'Universal, ' and I take that very seriously, " he told me before I left, and then added warmly, "Everyone is welcome – you already have a home here. "

Lost Gem
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New York Society Library

The New York Society Library is the oldest library in New York City. It was established in 1754 and was frequented by our founding fathers. Though there was technically no "Library of Congress" at that point in our nation's history, Carolyn Waters, the current head librarian, stated that the New York Society Library was the next best thing. It has had a vibrant history, having been looted by the Redcoats during the Revolution, moved among five different locations, and seen hoards of notable figures walk through its doors. The building holds personal meaning to me, since my mother lived directly across from the library in the 1980s and used its reference room to do research for her biography of Thomas Jefferson. Spending time here with my mom in the children's room was where the initial spark developed for the two of us to open our bookstore, "Once Upon A Time. " Coming back so many years later and having a personal tour with Carolyn was an absolute treat. I was thrilled to see that the old card catalogue in the reference room, containing drawers of titles and authors from 1989 and earlier, still remained. When I mentioned this to Carolyn, she quickly responded, "The librarians would chain themselves to it if you tried to remove it. "Though you must be a member to access the upper floors of the library, the gallery and certain events are open to visitors. Carolyn explained that membership has always been universal, even to women, dating back to the library's inception. As an example of female membership, Carolyn showed us the exhibit on Sarah Parker Goodhue who donated $600, 000 to the library in 1917, along with pieces from her husband's family's estate. The donation allowed the library to buy the building in 1937. Prior to this, it was the private home of John Rogers. Among the pieces on display was a facsimile of a letter written by George Washington – the original is temperature controlled in the library's upper floors. From the gallery, Carolyn led us into the Members' room where chairs were filled with readers. This room purposefully does not have WiFi, allowing members to experience an entirely analog environment. The whole back wall of the room is filled with exquisite china that was echoed in its detail by the walnut moldings on the walls and ceiling. Carolyn pointed out that the chairs and tables are the same furniture that was originally placed in the room in 1937. We then explored the stacks, where I asked Carolyn about the library's collection strategy. She said that for a long time fiction was considered frivolous, but that they stocked some titles because "it brought people into the library. " Because the library has limited space, the librarians continue to select their material very carefully, weeding out where necessary, but generally trying to hold onto the collection while still continuing to expand. I found it fascinating that there are records of what books have been taken out dating back to the library's beginning. As Carolyn said, "It's a study of the reading history of the city. We know what the founding fathers were reading. "Our next stop was the children's room, which was bright and airy and decorated with some of my favorite storybook characters. Meeting the children's librarian, I was pleased to hear that they continue to have children's authors and illustrators visit, and that many are members. While impressed by the carefully curated collection, it was when I discovered my mom's poetry anthology, Let's Pretend, Poems of Flight and Fancy on the shelf, that I became elated. Our final stop was to the six private reading rooms. According to Carolyn they are almost always taken, and come with a row of lockers that can be reserved on a rotating six-month schedule. It was in these rooms that my mom did much of her research and writing. Around the corner, there is a larger group reading room, called the Hornblower Room. While showing us the rooms, Carolyn shared a fun story: Apparently, Wendy Wasserstein wrote about sitting in one of the smaller study rooms as a member of the library where she was soothed by the subtle dripping of an exposed pipe. Because of this, Carolyn told us that when they renovated the room a number of years ago, they chose to keep the exposed pipe. It seemed to me like a fitting detail of the library, which has kept a perfect balance of tradition and history versus technology and modernization.

Lost Gem
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Dublin House

"We open every day at 9 a. m. I don't know why. I guess it's an old Irish way. It lets people know that we care about them. As a matter of fact, it used to be 8 a. m, ” shared Nicola Cusack, who has been working behind the bar at Dublin House since 2014. She added, “We don’t close until 4 a. m. ”A gentleman named Caraway rented the space in 1921 and ran Dublin House as a restaurant upstairs and a speakeasy downstairs. It never drew attention as a bar, making it ideal during Prohibition. When the need for secrecy ended in 1933, Caraway purchased the building and hung a large neon bar sign outside. To this day, the green harp continues to light up the neighborhood while the original iron gates framing the entrance welcome guests. Nothing has changed. “We even have the payphone and the mirrors in their original spots, and the wooden bar — with the holes in it from people putting out their cigarettes — remains untouched, ” noted Nicola. And, it has now been immortalized by a scene filmed there for the 2020 season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Caraway handed over the bar to his nephew, Chris Waters, who continued to run it for decades. Chris still lives upstairs but passed the baton to Mike Cormican in 2006, who had been a trusted bartender at Dublin House for some twenty-five years. “Chris still pops down to have a cup of tea and visit with all the old-timers, ” Nicola said. Many are from the neighborhood and have been stopping in for a daily pint of Guinness for years, but there are also the tourists who have read about the bar and come check it out after exploring the Museum of Natural History or catching a show at the Beacon Theater. The Dublin House’s long, narrow bar has always been a place to celebrate and commiserate, as exemplified when used as a setting for The Force, a 2017 gritty police action novel by Don Winslow. What resonates most with Nicola is that “women feel comfortable coming in, even on their own. ” She also appreciates watching the younger generation interact with the older folks, even outside the bar. “We are one big happy family. ”

Lost Gem
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Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

When we visited Irving Farm late one morning, almost every seat was taken and there was a constant stream of people ordering cappuccinos and breakfast sandwiches. "This is one of our busiest locations, " Liz Dean, the manager, said, explaining that it functions as a flagship store. There was a wide demographic, from mothers and young children to groups of out of towners. "This neighborhood is very interesting - we get a nice mix of regulars and tourists, " Liz pointed out. Liz was a regular for a while before becoming a member of the team. Now that she does the hiring, she looks out for people like herself, people who understand what Irving Farms is about and are already invested in its product. "I prefer to hire people who love our coffee, " she admitted. Two former college friends, David Elwell and Steve Leven, founded the company in 1996. The roasting is done in a carriage house in Millerton, New York, and there are now five cafes scattered throughout the city, as well as a training "Loft" in Chelsea. Though the cafe on Irving Place is the original, as the name would imply, it was recently renovated to look more like the Upper West Side spot, which opened in 2012, making the 79th street store the model for future expansion. In addition, Irving Farms has wholesale clients throughout the country and there are two more cafes set to open - one on the Upper East Side and another at the Fulton Street station. Liz is particularly excited for the Upper East Side location, since many of her customers live or work on the other side of the park. While the coffee menu is the same at each of the Irving Farms locations, the food offerings change slightly. 79th offers a wide range of food, thanks to the size of its kitchen. Demba, the barista, appeared to be both a master of foam art and a friendly face to many. He greeted people by name, effortlessly remembering their regular orders. My daughter, Joelle, who was visiting on the day that we were walking on 79th, declared that her decaf latte was "Rich and oh so good, " and elaborated by saying it was a "real cup of coffee, " not what she was use to being served in the Boston area. She was also thrilled with her scrambled eggs on a homemade flaky cheddar cheese biscuit with avocado. Liz was pleased with Joelle's reaction, commenting, "The breakfast sandwiches are huge here. " Liz went on to say that the lattes and pour overs are also popular, but that coffee lovers equally enjoy trying the single origin coffees, which are rotated throughout the year. Irving Farm is part of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, but they try to go above and beyond the definition of "specialty" by not buying coffee that is graded less than 85 in the 100-point system. They consistently try to give back to the farmers as much as possible, including featuring profiles of the farmers on their website. "In the city, it's so easy for there to be a disconnect between you and what you consume, " Liz said after speaking to us about her trip to El Salvador, where the ethics behind coffee were really driven home. People often ask Liz if she feels threatened by Starbucks, and her simple answer is "Absolutely not. " Liz and her co-workers know that Irving Farms is targeting customers who can taste and appreciate the difference. "We are, after all, a coffee roasting company first and foremost. "Yes, they are known for their coffee, and people are constantly stopping in for a fresh cup. However, I also appreciate that later in the afternoon, Irving Farm has a different vibe. Wine and beer alongside cheese boards are brought out, and people are given the opportunity to relax and participate in pleasant, quiet conversation while unwinding from the day.

Lost Gem
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Knitty City

At most hours of the day, Knitty City is bustling with activity. Customers are constantly browsing through the soft woolen rainbows of yarn lining the walls, flipping through books, or simply chatting with each other while working on projects, needles in hand. "I'm really proud of the community we've built here, " Pearl Chin, the owner, told me. She said that some people come into Knitty City just to use it as a bookstore. She originally opened Knitty City in 2006 as a "yarn studio, " but it has become so much more. People come by to take classes, to attend book signings, and sometimes just to hang out. Pearl learned to knit when she was in her 30s and pregnant with her daughter. She taught herself from Barbara Walker's book, Learn-To-Knit Afghan. Pearl told me with a smile that she originally bought the book as a hardback for $6. She still carries the book, which she says is one of the best sources to learn from, but now it's a $20 paperback. Pearl knit for personal pleasure long before opening her store. She ran a wholesale business called A Thousand Cranes for many years that dealt in origami paper and kimono textiles. Her family once owned a grocery store, Bob's Supermarket, which evolved into a neighborhood hub. She yearned to have that sense of community again, and so she opened Knitty City, a place she hoped would attract a wide array of neighborhood faces. Her dream has become a reality. One personal touch to the story that warmed my heart is that the little girl that Pearl gave birth to shortly after learning how to knit, Julie, is now in her thirties and an active member of the knitting community. Julie is responsible for coming up with the name, "Knitty City. "