A year ago I came up with an arbitrary eight new things in the East Village that made me happy. I’d like it to become an annual tradition here on NearSay. Some of these things technically aren’t new, but they also aren’t the same. Anyway, in keeping with tradition, here are my Best New Things from 2011:
I’m a sucker for unusual jewelry, especially when it has a sense of humor. I wandered into Vera Meat on East 9th Street initially attracted by the display: a bunch of hands reaching out from the wall. Once inside, I found necklaces with dozens of adorable little charms hanging from the hands and immediately fell in love. I bought a tiny, slice-y knife on a delicate sterling chain. Now, every time I walk by I go in and fixate on something new. My current obsession is a one-inch hand, modeled after James Dean. When I finally give in and buy it, 20% of the proceeds will go to GRASP, an organization for Children & Adults with Aspergers Syndrome, a mild form of Autism, which means I’ll be getting a new trinket and the satisfaction of doing good! You might find yourself fascinated with her fangs, a miniature brain or a couple of humping bears. Her jewelry is just delightful
315 E. 9th St.
Exit 9 Expands
I rely on Exit 9 for last-minute birthday cards and housewarming gifts. It’s the definition of a neighborhood shop: run by friendly locals and stocked with all kinds of stuff I actually want to buy. They recently moved out of their previous location, Avenue A between 4th and 5th, into more spacious digs just a block down, between 3rd and 4th. You can almost Hula Hoop in there now! They still carry all the books and cards, baby gifts and kitchen gadgets, fun socks and fragrant candles, but you’ll experience fewer baby carriage traffic jams. It’s all so wide open there’s plenty of space for them to pack the place with even more quirky merch!
51 Avenue A
Upright Citizens Brigade East
This new outpost of the bi-coastal comedy group was heralded with much hue and cry, first about a theater catering to college kids ruining the neighborhood and then their less-than-PC monikered bar: “Hot Chicks Room” (a reference to a skit). I’m surprised the locals were so easily offended. But then, I remember a far more renegade East Village. Whatever your feelings about frat guys or “destination nightlife,” anything other than one more *%$#-in’ karaoke lounge or sports bar is an improvement, in my book. It offers an alternative to drinking or dining and who couldn’t use a good laugh now and then? Besides, haven’t we all gotten used to falling asleep hearing the shrieks of spike-healed co-eds and their Abercrombie & Fitch-clad escorts? I can’t imagine this establishment is making things any worse. Huzzah for humor!
Once upon a time, the East Village was known for an assortment of things that could’ve been called “flaming.” Now we have…art. Thankfully this particular art was installed by friends of mine, the clever Animus Arts Collective. The whimsical “cactus” are colorful zip ties on light poles, in keeping with Animus’ belief that “making art doesn’t require a lot of resources, formal education, or even money. Art and creativity are things we’re all capable of.” Part of the Department of Transportation’s 2011 Summer Streets program, the installation went up in early August around Astor Place and will remain till Summer 2012. These spiky lamp posts always make me smile.
JoeDough Sandwich Shop
I don’t cook. Ever. I order in or go out or bring something home. My oven truly is used for storage. So every new restaurant, regardless of the size or scope, is a potential expansion of my dietary options. Enter Joe Dough, the second establishment from Joe Dobias, chef and proprietor of JoeDoe on First Ave. That spot was for “my ego and what I want,” he says; Joe Dough is “for the customers.” So good of him to think of us! I’m just thrilled to have one more place to pick up a sandwich. As a creature of habit, I tend to order the same thing every time I hit the deli: turkey and cheese on whole wheat. Joe Dough offers far more exotic fare: Stoner’s Delight, After School Special and The Conflicted Jew, to name a few. And they deliver! Which means I won’t be taking my tax paperwork out of the oven anytime soon.
135 First Ave.
Movies “At” 2A
Back in the day, you could bumble up Avenue A and catch black and white classics flickering against a white rectangle, painted on the brick of the building on the corner of East 2nd St. The man behind the machine was Gary Balaban, who curated the films and played them with an old school movie projector mounted at the top of the stairs at 2A. Fast-forward almost 20 years — past petty bickering about who “owns” the surface of the wall that imagery was dancing upon and so on — to today (or, more accurately, tonight) when you can bumble up Avenue A and again witness the magic of cinematography playing over those same bricks. The projectionist has changed, as has the technology: there’s a pricy digital device responsible for the crisp images beaming across 2nd St. The result, however, is the same: serendipitous magic in the night. Oh, and that taco truck often parked below? Also amazing!
25 Avenue A
147 First Ave. Being Renovated
Last year I raved about the renovation of PS 122, saying how I’d long wished someone would rescue the old schoolhouse from its slide into decay. This year I’m almost as excited to see another renovation, even if the community won’t benefit quite as much when it’s finished. The ramshackle building right across the street from PS 122 has been empty for ages. It was a disaster when I moved into the neighborhood back in the late ’80s and once housed a hippy-dippy herb and spice shop. Ever since that shut down there’s been nothing but forbidding, boarded-up windows. Finally someone is showing the place some loving care. (And will, alas, probably be charging exorbitant rents.) I admit I have an unhealthy attachment to Manhattan edifices (edifi?) and feel no different about this one. The evils of gentrification aside, I’m always happy to see an old building cared for as opposed to destroyed. Contributing to my elation about this particular place: In the spring, The Bean will open its third location here. Any coffee shop that isn’t a Starbucks is awesome!
When Sidewalk closed early last year I was heartbroken. This East Village mainstay has served as my living room since I moved here. In 1993 I wrote them up for Best People Watching in New York Press’s Best Of issue and I’d been drinking there ever since. Their 2-for-1 happy hour pink margaritas are a favorite and I love their wilted garlic spinach. Where would I meet people for meetings? Where would I assemble my friends for overindulging in tequila-based beverages while basking in the sunshine? My world was unraveling! Rumor had it that the owners were arguing over making the place a cigar bar. Then the scuttlebutt was that they’d been shut down by the city. Whatever the real reason for the closing, they have reopened, albeit many months later. I heaved a sigh of relief. But of course, by now I’ve become accustom to entertaining at home. In my own living room. I’ll be venturing back, though, hoping to keep the place alive. The latest gossip is that they aren’t doing very well. (Mind you, this is all gossip.) Could be because they were closed for so damn long people found other places to go. Add the fact that their hours have become somewhat sporadic and you have a recipe for disaster. Or at least going out of business. Permanently. I’m excited about the springtime, when their outdoor tables will beckon and the weather’s more conducive to frozen margaritas. Plus I ‘m salivating madly about their Spiked Milkshakes. Oh yeah, other then their alcoholic offerings, their menu is more or less the same. My fingers are crossed that Sidewalk survives!
94 Avenue A