It’s the peculiar geography of New York that makes it what it is: a sardine can filled with eight million people, basically piled up on top of one other, living and working. In contrast to most other metropolises the Big Apple has no way of giving itself over to middle-age spread: two rivers, the Hudson and the East River, hinder a geographic city sprawl. So, at least on Manhattan Island, growth can only go one way: upwards.
Judging by this issue one can’t be blamed for thinking that New York is in a constant state of reconstruction. Old districts are constantly being ‘discovered’ and completely overhauled. So the moment an area falls into the public eye, is often the death knell for a whole community. That’s when the rents spiral to dizzy heights, normal-income residents have to pack their bags and leave their apartments so rich investors can make money with them. The phenomenon is known as gentrification, and New York is a perfect example of this in action. It’s a phenomenon that leads to social restructuring in whole areas of the city and is especially virulent in this present economic climate: clever investors take historically developed areas and invest in large-scale restoration and reconstruction work, which creates a value-increase in the area. The in-crowd is already poised to move and soon areas that used to be favoured for their cheap rents by families and artists are being taken over by yuppies and big earners. The meatpacking district and SoHo are both examples in case from the past. More recently it was the turn of the Lower East Side.
So the low-income caravan of urban nomads moves on to Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. But New York wouldn’t be what it is today if the track would come to a halt here: every district close to Manhattan, due either to its geography or good underground connections, like the district of Williamsburg in Brooklyn for example, is undergoing huge structural changes. With the claim “Just one stop from Manhattan” a marketing campaign is aiming at investors and new apartment owners to buy into the trendy new apartment blocks shooting up like mushrooms all along the banks of the East River. Admittedly, the view to be had here onto Manhattan is absolutely superb – and Brooklyn is no longer as rundown or dangerous as it was in the 80s. But the people who make Williamsburg a place of charm certainly won’t be amongst those moving into the new buildings, but who will instead have to make way and move on into neighbouring districts in the long or short term.
So perhaps the New York City guide that Ilona Marx has put together on her ramblings for j’n’c, together with photographer Carissa Pelleteri, should be viewed as a mere snapshot in time. Nevertheless, we hope that our choice of pretty boutiques, authentic diners and restaurants and spectacular hotels has captured something of the many facets of this fascinating melting pot.
Selected texts from the City Guide
When it comes to running a business David Alhadeff certainly knows his way around. The owner of The Future Perfect began his career in the IT business and founded his first own business whilst still young. One day, however, he decided to follow his instinct and sold his internet company in order to dedicate himself to interior design. And success stuck with him: his interior design store in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg is going really well. That’s mainly due to Alhadeff’s unusual gift for buying unusual designer pieces sourced partly from local manufacturers and partly from international trade fairs. Of course the building boom taking place on the Kent Avenue one block away from his shop also contributes to his business. Right here on the Brooklyn banks of the East River a whole glut of trendy apartment blocks with a view over to Manhattan are being built. The clientele, lured to Williamsburg with these and similar developments should ensure high takings for Alhadeff so that his second career ‘the perfect future’ should be taken care of too. No wonder that the young entrepreneur is already busy with expansion plans. With a second shop in Los Angeles David could even imagine opening further stores in Manhattan or in London.
A Turbo Esprit, dating from 1975, sticks its long white muzzle cheekily out of the gate-sized entrance on Elisabeth Street, serving as a lure to potential clients at the Groupe Seize sur Vingt. This multi-concept fashion store complements the neighbouring tailor shop, Seize sur Vingt, where for the past ten years women’s and men’s shirts, shoes and suits from a predefined collection are then tailored to the exact specifications of the client. The use of finest woollens, silks and cottons has priority at Seize sur Vingt. But just to do things a little differently, the menswear range, Troglodyte Homunculus, has been created. This secondary line embodies a somewhat more relaxed attitude. Checks and corduroy come into play here, and slacks and bomber jackets are also included in the collection. Last but not least there is also the official clothing label of the New York City Secession Movement, founded in November 2004. In addition to the three house lines there is still space for further ready-to-wear collections for ladies and men. So it’s really quite impossible to browse this expansive concept store without finding exactly what you’re looking for. But if it does happen, you can always go and take a closer look at the Turbo Esprit. The smart inspiration for the submarine vehicle in the Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, is for sale and, typically for Seize sur Vingt, was a customer order especially finished for its first owner. In this version and colour combination there are just two more in existence, so 30,000 US dollars for these hot wheels will certainly be well-spent.
With its 21 floors the glass Hotel on Rivington towers over the neighbouring 19th century buildings, so not everyone is thrilled about the new addition to the Lower East Side. But one man’s sorrow is another man’s joy, as we know all too well. And usually it’ll be the rich man who’s enjoying the pleasures of the Rivington, with its fantastic view. Almost all the rooms, which by New York standards are all generously laid out, have windows all the way to the ceiling, allowing a great view of Lower Manhattan. In the suites of the upper floors the city landscape has even been incorporated into the interior design. There you can bathe or shower in full view of the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge – an experience from which even the guests without a penchant for exhibitionism will profit, as the glass facade is furnished with optical shields designed by architect duo Grywinski Pons. Peter Stallings, who had the Rivington built, got quite a few star designers on board to help out with the interiors. Marcel Wanders for example designed the sculptural entrance, and India Mahdavi was responsible for the rooms’ interiors. It’s also thanks to her that the curtains can be opened automatically by alarm call, a luxury that obviously has its price. So the rooms on Rivington are certainly not cheap. But even the less well-heeled customer can enjoy the amazing city panorama from the roof terrace: the management arranges a party in the penthouse suite covering three floors, every Sunday, where not only hotel guests are welcome.
If you’re interested in Afro-American culture and black politics then the Lenox Lounge is an absolute must. Since its opening in 1939 the Harlem bar served as a backdrop for many jazz legends, such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Incorporated inside is the Zebra Room, so-called because of its black and white walls, which was once popular with the Harlem Renaissance writers James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. Malcolm X is also said to have met here with likeminded friends. Along with the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom the Lenox Lounge was one of the most important clubs in the district for a long time; now that the others no longer exist it is the oldest survivor and after undergoing a costly and extensive restoration in 1999 it has been returned to its original splendour and shine. The most pleasant and inexpensive way to spend an evening in the Lenox Lounge is to combine an evening at the star-studded jazz bar with a relaxing dinner. That way you can wine and dine and groove to the music all at the same time.
Hardly any other place sums up the US-American lifestyle principles of straightforwardness and mobility as authentically as the diner. Diners started appearing around the beginning of the 20th century and they were never more popular than in the 50s. That’s the birth date of the stainless steel mobile in which the hip Williamsburg Relish can be found. The good-looking luncheonette came to stand at the corner of Wythe Avenue/North 3rd Street forty years ago; since then it’s had its fair share of owners and reopened in 2000 with the present owners, a writer and a designer. On entering the gourmet tin you feel like you’ve been beamed directly into an American teenage romance movie. Lining the interior are two-dozen burgundy leatherette dining booths, whilst a long row of fixed barstools invite those who are here more to philosophise and drink to do the barfly. The food at Relish is an homage to international cuisine, without betraying its American roots. French, Italian, Greek and even North-African influences are tangible – a bit of a balancing act one would think, but according to the customers the food is mostly a runaway success. Prices range from between nine and twenty dollars, which is considered reasonable for the quality and size of the portions. But if you do head down to Relish you shouldn’t be camera-shy: the original location is always being used for fashion shoots and cinema films. Most recently Robert de Niro shot a scene for his thriller, The Good Shepherd, here.
Little Mexico in Soho. The trio of Taqueria, Café and Brasserie has been here since 2005 – and has been bursting at the seams with hungry customers ever since. The Taqueria, which serves eat-in as well as take-out is a favourite hangout for young hipsters who want to fill up on value-for-money tacos, quesadillas and tortas. Around the corner, as the Spanish name says, is the entrance to ‘La Esquina’ the corner cafe that goes with it. You can get great traditional Mexican food here for reasonable prices but here you get to sit down on camouflage-covered upholstery, with screen-prints of angry-looking freedom fighters looking down at you from rustic wooden walls. It gets really “über-trendy” in the third establishment, an underground brasserie. In order to get into this half-secret restaurant you not only have to put up with a three-week waiting list but then have to get past the bouncers at the door, who look like they are right out of the Stalin Era, protecting the basement as if it were their own personal treasure. But once you have entered this stylish grotto, excellent food with Mexican flavours awaits you. With a bit of luck you may be sitting at the table next to Beyoncé or Madonna, which of course makes this hidden location all the more exciting.
Although the military interventions of recent years have certainly tainted the USA’s reputation as a peaceful nation, the attitude of fashion conscious New Yorkers to all things military seems unwavering. After all Nom de Guerre has become one of the favourite menswear stores in New York over the past five years and the present collection by the eponymous house brand is just as combative as expected. Avoiding any concrete allusions, Nom de Guerre is going for a look from the years 1939-45. But political correctness can’t really be used as a measure here anyway. The current collection doesn’t just quote the uniform styles of the Western allies, but also various aspects of the military repertoire of the Russian allies from the Second World War. Rubberised cotton jackets and wool-lined coats protect from blustery weather while with the help of a range of T-shirts referencing avant-garde thinkers and opinion makers like Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Carl Jung the whole thing is given an intellectual sheen. Good camouflage isn’t just a topic for the house own-brand. The New York label’s flagship store is also pretty well-hidden: only the shop’s name painted on the pavement lets you know that this unassuming staircase on the corner of Broadway and Bleeker Street leads down to the fashion bunker. Kenta Miyamoto, known on the fashion scene simply as ISA, came up with the idea. He was the one who opened the ISA shop in Williamsburg years ago and brought the first designer styles to this part of Brooklyn. The Williamsburg shop has since closed but Nom de Guerre is doing better than ever. The label is available in more than a dozen countries and is sold, amongst others, by Colette in Paris.