Jenny Southan takes a walk from Gramercy Park to the West Village and finds 18 miles of books, a cornucopia of exotic teas and the ultimate Manhattan cocktail.
Pure Food and Wine
From Marcel Duchamp and Jack Kerouac to Uma Thurman and Woody Allen, the brownstone houses of New York’s bohemian quarter – in and around Greenwich Village – have been favoured by artists, writers, actors and filmmakers throughout the 20th century. And it remains as popular as ever today – so much so that if you linger for long enough at one of its many cafés or bars, you are likely to spot a few familiar faces.
To get into the vibe, start with a bite to eat at Pure Food and Wine in Gramercy Park, which serves cuisine so good, even faddy New Yorkers flock to it. Open since 2004, it offers a stylish setting with wooden floors and candles in the evening, while in summer months a garden terrace is open. Lunch is 12pm-4pm daily (dinner 5.30pm-11pm) and the seasonal menu includes dishes such as king oyster mushroom scallops in lemongrass coconut broth with saffron chamomile cream, mustard greens and micro wasabi (US$14), or ravioli with truffle cream sauce, baby white asparagus, pickled ramp and porcini oil (US$26). You’ll barely believe that not only is everything vegetarian, but served raw – forget tofu and lentils, though, this is renaissance cooking. The wines are all organic or biodynamic. If you’re pushed for time, get a fresh juice or tortilla wrap from its shop around the corner. 54 Irving Place. Tel +1 212 4771 010; purefoodandwine.com
“Well they spill out of the Cinema 14, to that drag bar there on the block, best live show by far on the whole East Coast, with a bank rolled up in your sock; she stands right there for your pleasure, half Puerto Rican Chinese, you got to find your baby somebody to measure, I’m goin’ to get me some of these,” sings Tom Waits in his trademark gravelly voice as his band plays Union Square.
This well-known plaza is one block from Pure Food. It’s somewhat rough around the edges but full of local characters. Meander on through while students play guitar and tramps with shopping trolleys hold placards saying things such as “Lindsay Lohan stole my stuff”. It’s been a hub for speeches and demonstrations and, in the days after the September 11 2001 attacks, became a place for people to grieve and put up memorials.
A couple of blocks south, on the cusp of the Village, is one of the world’s best bookshops. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, with its garish, long red awning along the front and shelves of worn paperbacks on the pavement, but inside is a floor-to-ceiling dream-come-true for literature lovers. In fact, the Strand proudly proclaims to have “18 miles of new, used and rare books”, and as you start to peruse the many sections, from signed editions and Americana to philosophy and science, you see they can’t be far from the truth.
Whether you are in the Big Apple for the first or the 50th time, it’s always worth engaging with it through the eyes of the writers who have been inspired by it. Pick up Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which has sold over six million copies since being published in 1943 and gives a fictional account of the life and career of a driven architect, or Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy, for a dose of “meta-detective fiction”. Then there’s Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (cheery reading for the flight home) or Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, both set in the 1980s and revelling in themes of consumerism, greed and politics on Wall Street. East 12th Street and Broadway. Tel +1 212 4731 452; strandbooks.com
McNulty’s Tea and Coffee
Continue along West 12th Street, through Greenwich and into the West Village, ten minutes away. Christopher Street serves as the heart of the gay district, with the famous Stonewall Inn (where the riots of 1969 took place) at number 53, and has also been home to celebrities and writers including Yoko Ono and EE Cummings. If the sex shops selling poppers and leather thongs are less your thing, head for McNulty’s at number 109.
This characterful store has been trading in exotic teas and coffees since 1895 and, as soon as you step in, the aroma of leaves and beans mingled with citrus peel, rose petals and chocolate engulfs you. Dozen of blends of oolong, green, white, black and herbal teas from as far as Sri Lanka and China sit in sacks and chests – ask and staff will weigh some out and present it in a neat packet to take home. For coffee, try some Jamaican High Mountain or Venezuelan Maracaibo. Open Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 1pm-7pm. 109 Christopher Street; mcnultys.com
By now you have undoubtedly earned a “Manhattan in Manhattan”, and what better place to enjoy it than a prohibition-style speakeasy? A short walk around the corner, Employees Only is easy to miss, as from the outside it looks like a fortune teller’s with its red neon “psychic” sign in the window. But open the door and you will be waved through a heavy curtain into the dimly lit bar, where mixologists in white coats and matching “EO” tattoos conjure up spine-tingling cocktails.
Take a seat on one of the high stools and see how the experts make your drink of choice (note that they won’t follow Marilyn Monroe’s method of mixing it in a hot water bottle, as her character did in Some Like it Hot). This classic concoction sees Rittenhouse Rye stirred with Italian vermouth, orange Curaçao, and a dash of Angostura bitters. For US$14, there’s no better way to end the day. If you’re hungry, you can also order a bite to eat in the cosy dining area at the back. Open 6pm-4am. 510 Hudson Street. Tel +1 212 2423 021; employeesonlynyc.com
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