Lights Shining Bright

Let There Be Neon – a store opened back on 451 West Broadway in 1990 owned by Jeff Friedman – makes quite a few things shine bright. Originally opened by Rudy Stern, a painter, docu-filmmaker and artist in 1972, two years later it was recognized as “the first ever gallery dedicated to neon,” and was the first to install a neon environment for a disco. Its history tells much more of a tale, but today it offers works of art via animation, graphic design, pieces for residential areas, film, TV and other media and more.

What is the beauty and excitement behind this?  Friedman believes that:

“Neon is red when it’s lit, the pure color of neon. But we also use argon, which is blue, and by combining the different gases with different glass colors or phosphorus inside the tube, that’s how we get all the different colors.”

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, “Let There Be Neon” was still shining bright, at least in all its neon glory, was store after store was shuttered following stay at home orders.

Now that things are somewhat getting back to normal, the SoHo region is boasting its offerings.  From galleries to architecture, boutique and unique stores, this move is being bolstered by a rezoning proposal put forward by Bill de Blasio, NYC Mayor.  If accepted, this would add a substantial amount of apartments to the area – 3,200 – 800 of which would be priced lower than the market rate.

While this would indeed help tackle the homeless crisis, the question has to be asked as to what it would do the city’s culture?  Plus there is the environmental concern.  Nonetheless, Will Thomas who sits on the Open New York board believes it would actually create an “historic opportunity, claiming:

“This would really change the unspoken rules around development in New York City. Breaking down the exclusionary barriers of SoHo is a matter of racial justice, is a matter of housing justice, and especially right now during a pandemic, affordable housing is more needed than ever.”

Whatever transpires and however it impacts the environment and the region’s culture,  ‘Let There Be Neon’ shined bright it will continue to illuminate its environs.

Up and Coming Local Performances

Entertainment is slowly coming back to our neighborhoods.  New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that from April 2nd, venues can reopen, following certain regulations such as only filling to 33 percent capacity and no more than 100 people indoors, 200 outdoors.  In cases where they take a negative test before entering the numbers can increase to 150 and 500 respectively. 

This, in addition to the NY PopUps that the Governor launched toward the end of February. These free events were established to “revitalize the spirit and emotional well-being of New York citizens with the energy of live performance while jumpstarting New York’s struggling live entertainment sector, is a private/public partnership overseen by producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal, in coordination with the New York State Council on the Arts and Empire State Development.”

The Pop-Up system was created as a pilot program in an attempt to see how live performances can return to the stage in a safe manner. Zack Winokur worked with a council of artistic advisors in the region to engineer the festival.

The Return of Le Figaro Café

While so many small businesses (which include local coffee stores and eateries) have been shuttered due to the local ‘safer at home’ order, there is one café that is actually making a comeback. 

Le Figaro Café had its time in Greenwich Village way back in the 1960s and boy did it enjoy the good times.  Patronized by famous people including Lou Reed and Sam Shepard, it was heralded as the place to be for beatniks in the area. It stayed opened for a while but in 2008 closed.  Backed by some investors, it is now set for a simplified relaunch, ditching the Le, under the name Figaro Café by partners Mario Skaric and Florence Zabokritsky.

Just before the pandemic hit the partners found a space to house the once much-loved café.  Now that they have returned to check it out they have been offered a great deal for the next two years.

With the culture of the sixties returning thanks to shows like The Queen’s Gambit and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, what better time to get back to that day with a renovated café that will still have its cultural ties in the 1960s.

Local Architecture Gets Face Lift

There are a few things in the work for the New York skyline.  First, the Sarcostyle Tower which has been proposed by Hayri Atak Architectural Design which would create something very unique for the skyline.  A large rectangle featuring curved, carved-out sides it would be placed right in the middle of Lower Manhattan’s historic office towers.  Inspired by human anatomy and cells this building is nearly 690 feet tall. It is being called the Sarocstyle as that is a muscle fiber and the project was inspired by biology.  It will provide unique angles of the skyline too.

Plans are further along in the pipeline for 109 East 79th Street’s condominium. A beautiful merger between historical prewar architecture with modern interior design, the 32 residences of the 20 floor building is being put together by award winning firm Steven Harris Architects LLP.  Sales are hoped to begin this year via Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group.

Black Lives Matter Below 14

We’ve all heard about the BLM movement but how has it manifested in our own neighborhood?  We take a look at this phenomenon through two lenses: corporate and art.

Black In Corporate is the brainchild of Candace Marie. Inspired by the work she put into the design and decoration of her own apartment, Marie explained:

“The art all came from different places. At the time a lot of Black-owned businesses saw a surge in people purchasing their items, so a lot of it was sold out. So I was piecing it together, trying to find the same aesthetics and things like that. It’s like this puzzle piece, trying to assemble a home.”

Enhancing the corporate world for everyone is vital. Marie’s company slogan is: “Championing for Black individuals behind ALL corporate walls – where changed is needed most.”  Through her work she seeks to create resources to help others thrive in their work not only exist.

In the realm of art, Destinee Ross-Sutton has recently made a “splash.”  The online exhibition she engineered for Christie’s was an immediate hit. Say It Loud (I’m Black and Proud)”  was a little different from a normal sale.  Anyone who wanted to buy a piece had to commit (via contract signing) that they would not flip the work!   Following the success of this project Ross-Sutton has created her own show “Black Voices: Friend of My Mind,” which opened just before Christmas in SoHo at an 8,000 sq. ft space that used to house the works of gallerist Paula Cooper.  Ross-Sutton’s exhibition is a first in the sense of being a “nomadic gallery” that will open in different cities worldwide.

New Eats in East Village

Chinese hot pot in East Village!  Yes, the Dolar Shop is making its way to the East Village. A new restaurant that has 55 locations around the world has just made its debut here at 5 Third Avenue, St. Marks Place.  According to manager Johnny Sleek, since they see Manhattan as “the center of the restaurant world,” East Village is a great start.  Future franchises are planned for Chelsea and Midtown.

Another new kid on the block is chef Hong Thaimee’s East Village pop-up.  Ngam restaurant owner will be selling home-style Thai food in the East Village using ingredients she grows herself at her Hudson Valley Heermance Farm.

Halloween: Do It Safely

While Halloween definitely was not the same as it historically has been, that did not stop downtown New Yorkers from celebrating the event.  True, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade – that has been happening for close to five decades – got cancelled but there were still many cool and scary activities for people to enjoy, in a socially distanced way.

So what was on offer?  There was the virtual miniature puppet parade; the New York Public Library’s Virtual Dance Party; Halloween Water Towers – an interactive kids event learning how to build their very own water tower; the Halloween Spooky Singalong for 4-11 year old which also had a fancy dress competition.

Outdoor parties – in small numbers – were still permitted, but indoor events were cancelled.  But what was cool this year was how the Empire State Building became a (Hasbro’s) Simon Memory Game, in a giant version, available to anyone with a view of the building or a weblink!

Yes, it’s hard and yes things are different but the creative genius that New Yorkers (and others around the world thanks to technology) are privy to encounter is just wonderful!

Out and About in SoHo

While the coronavirus is indeed preventing so much of our everyday lives from  happening as it used to, the innovation of policymakers, entrepreneurs and the guy who lives next door is very encouraging.  Here, we take a brief look at some of what is happening in and around the SoHo neighborhood.

First, there was the launch of the Open Restaurants Program, which gives local restaurateurs the opportunity to serve customers outside by having seating in the streets and sidewalks.  Thanks to the Mayor, this has become a permanent measure and will mean that people will still be able to enjoy eating out in a safe environment.

What’s also nice about it is that it has given other individuals – who ordinarily might not have offered food choices – to open up pop-ups.  Plus, as the city hopefully reopens, indoor dining capacity could go up to as much as 50 percent as we move into winter. However, in the meantime, there are ways to make the outdoor areas not so cold – such as electrical heaters – under guidelines De Blasio outlined at the end of September. Any propane used will require a New York City Fire Department permit. All of these measures have enabled over 10,000 to reopen across the city with the help of architectural innovations and local governmental support.

For those who want to try one of these corona-safe eateries, one example is the Vestry.  The new restaurant was opened by Shaun Hergatt in spite of coronavirus.  He explained:

“It’s about time people celebrate and look for something positive. I want to have an outlet where you can go away from the craziness and get back to some normality for a while.”

Using locally-sourced fresh fish, Hergatt focuses on the simple approach which he learned growing up in Australia.  As a boy he would go fishing with his grandparents and then grill the catch!  Likewise at Vestry he uses binchotan charcoal giving the fresh fish a smoky flavor.  Other items on the menu include chicken, beef, caramelized onion rice and more.