Lower East Side Sunday Walk

by Joelle


For the first time in many years I happened to spend part of my summer in New York City.

Living uptown and traveling during most of the year, I was lazy and seldom bothered to take a train and  spend my weekends downtown.

It was only when I read recently in the New York Times about the first public artwork in Manhattan by the two Brazilian brothers called “Gemeos”  at the Northwest corner of Houston Street and Bowery last July that I decided to explore the East Village street scene in Manhattan.

Since the Gemeos event , I created an East Village  Street Art and Shops Itinerary that has become my Summer Sunday routine ending with a majestic brunch at  the legendary Cafe Mogador, without exceptions  one of my favorites among all in the neighborhood.

To reach the Moroccan- style Cafe I  arrive with the train at Astor Place, check quickly the  progress  of the fascinating  of Cooper Union School new building in construction  and follow into to the historical Saint Mark Place . Armed with my camera and a purse full of small bills  I stroll around the crossing 10th,  Bowery,  9th and  8th streets up to the very interesting Alphabet city .

St. Mark’s Place, the most interesting,  is a street named after St Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, which was built on Stuyvesant Street. The street has long hosted alternative retailers, appealing in recent years particularly to suburban teenagers; nevertheless, the street is somewhat of a crust punk haunt. Venerable institutions lining St. Mark’s Place including the St. Mark’s Hotel (one of the few hotels in the city to still offer hourly rates) , a handful of open front markets that sell  colorful Rayban Style sunglasses, and silver jewelry.

It’s not very easy  to portray  faces-belly-ears pierced young individuals. While I walk among  authentic Japanese restaurants  and record stores who by the way carry rare and competitively priced merchandise, I wander if these young neighborhood street residents are truly aware of the legendary personalities that lived and made these old and legendary brick walls so important. This is because unlike Greenwich Village, this three block street , incredibly historic, was never gentrified by a large influx of residents, retaining its atmosphere.

To name a few of these notary addresses , the present St. Marks Ale House in the St. Mark’s Hotel was for many years The Five-Spot, one of the city’s leading jazz venues, known as a base for innovators such as Thelonious Monk, who started appearing there in 1957; GG Allin also lived in the building. Number 4 Home to James Fenimore Cooper from 1834 to 1836 later the Bridge Theater, associated with Yoko Ono and other Fluxus artists; it is now the Trash and Vaudeville of the seminal punk and goth clothing stores of NYC.

To enter the Vaudeville shop you must go up a black iron staircase reminiscent of a fire escape; to get into Trash you have to go down a few concrete steps into what otherwise might be a basement apartment. According to the owner: ‘Vaudeville is full of bright colors and kitsch; chances are you’ll prefer its alter ego— Trash, subterranean both literally and figuratively.”

At number s96 & 98- The Led Zeppelin album Physical Graffiti features a front and back cover design that depicts the carved face buildings 98 & 96. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger are in front of same building in the Rolling Stones music video “Waiting on a Friend“. The front cover of Physical Graffiti displays a daytime view of the buildings and the back-cover displays the same two buildings at night. The view on the front cover is not based on a natural perspective. I stay on the opposing north side of the street and I realize it is be much too close and low to obtain the view captured on the cover.

Furthermore, the actual building has five visible stories (discounting the basement level) whereas on the album cover, it only has four, the result of photo touching up. The original album jacket for the LP included die-cut windows on the building shown on the cover; as the inner sleeves for the discs were inserted in different orientations, various objects and people would appear in the windows. Number 98 currently houses the Physical Graffiti boutique . Prior to this, number 96 was the home of the Anarchist Switchboard, a 1980s punk activist group.

Number 39 was the home to poet Anne Waldman in the late 1960’s/mid-1970s; in 1977, the storefront had Manic Panic, the first U.S. boutique to sell punk rock attire and developed its own line of make-up and vibrant hair dyes; Manic Panic had visits from numerous performers, including: David Bowie, Cindy Lauper, Debbie Harry, and Joey Ramone. Number 34 – home to the band Dee-Lite, in the 1980s.

Most important I learn that number 51 – in the early 1980s, this was home to 51X, the gallery that broke graffiti art into the mainstream, representing artists such as Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Around this time Keith Haring started doing his chalk drawings on empty ad spots in the subways, that was the origin of street art and the groups in the East Village art scene as they are thought of today. Growing in New York City all young hoodlums wrote graffiti. It started as an ethnic thing, but disaffected middle class white kids caught on quick.

The whole street art and East Village scene came out of Latino and Black kids writing graffiti and their subsequent artistic expressions, but the street art thing and the short lived though tremendously influential East Village movement were the result of a bunch of a bunch of arty white kids “hopping the train.” Nowadays exhibitions of street art and graffiti are lumped together and co-titled Urban Art.

The neighborhood is filled with Chico’s renegade work which dates back to the early 80’s when he used to tag old redbird subway cars. He is often credited with transforming subway graffiti into a more accepted art form. His first mural — long gone — was a jab at then President Reagan: a tank driving toward the words “World War III.” Then local businesses offered to pay him $100, then more, to paint walls near their stores creating an eclectic range of art.

He has been all over the world teaching graffiti art, has been recognized as a pioneer in the world of graffiti murals and has even — as all good artists should — garnered some controversy.

The day is absolutely beautiful typical of early Autumn. I realize I need to shop for the coming season. One of my favorite designers Elliott Mann on 9th street, has a great stock of old ethnic handbags made out textiles from all over the world. My favorite are the ones from Guatemala.

Suddenly I see on a collage starring Brigitte Bardot style blondie with a leopard bathing suit glued at the entrance wall of a small shop where a painted skull says” Buy or die”.  It’s a vintage clothing and home decor small boutique. So cute…hundred of pointed shoes pile up on a rack facing a large knitted pouff armchair. The shop is called Atomic Passion and the tattooed owner carrying a  blond baby on his laps tells me the shop exists for the last 15 years .  A crucifix and a Our Lady of Guadeloupe stare at me while I  pay for a straw hat thinking I really need a coffee.

The aroma is too inviting. I stop in a  charming coffee place called  Mud. The old brick walls,  the cute patch worked curtains,  orange 1970’s cups, and the polka dotted dressed waitress  are so typical of a West Coast atmosphere. Everyone is cool and they consider themselves as the anti-establishment coffee machine people.

In here and the visuals including the package design, the old Sly And The Family Stones song “Everyday People” and the feeling of being  comfortable standing side to side, shoulder to shoulder with the village neighbors, no matter how different they may appear, just to grab my cup and think about the next move in the area.

With the coffee in my brain I feel I can carry on walking for another while  before we have brunch, exploring the counterculture of this streets while my attention is caught by an altar with several candles, amulets and  what seems an old witchcraft book in  a lower level shop. Enchantments…..I love it! A young girl that looks like the Kristen Stewart in Twilight informs while reading a magazine:”  The store  offers a full line of  Witchcraft, Goddess, Nature religion products, classes in the Grove and Enchanted Classes and Studies in our new classroom.”

The  ” Witch’s workshop ”  stocked with shelves of jars full of a wide variety of “magical” herbs and resins is impressive. The same girl tells me I am allowed to take all the pictures I desire but NOT of the altars.(exactly what I wished) . ” We sell these herbs for magical use only – Not to be used in tea or to be eaten.

Use them for incenses, powders,  potpourris, sachets, dream pillows and more. We DO NOT carry any items dealing with black magic.  “Do What Ye Will and It Harm None.”  and, remember, “everything you do comes back to you threefold.”

I decide to buy some sweet grass as I am told that it is very good to bring in prosperity in the house and a color energy candle ( purple to transform the evil eye into good eye) and off I go before I get tempted  to spend all my money with other varieties of magical incantations.

With its dusty synagogues, squeezed-together tenements, anarchist graffiti and shop signs in Yiddish, Spanish and Chinese, it’s a visual event. At the same time one knows  that the essence of a city is change, and this neighborhood is changing. The synagogues and signs are disappearing, along with the anarchist spirit and artist-friendly rents. Chic little bars and boutiques speak of rampant yuppification, although at the moment — and a sullen economy could prolong this — old and new are still trading places.

Among those, the chic and trendy Humiska boutique still nestled in the famous 9th street, houses the flirty little dress line that bears her name. This classic collection, inspired by grand dames, found fabrics and whimsical dream states, is an ode to several muses, Marilyn, Audrey, Greta Garbo. HUMINSKA’s passionate belief that ‘Fit is Everything!’ resounds each time her fabulous florals and dotted ditties glide over the curves of any female, from the budding beauty to the mature sophisticate, with style and ease.

Among my favorites of all is the Think Closet boutique. With a large vintage chandelier, mirrors, high ceilings and bright golden curtains surrounded by old brick walls and cemented floor, a large collection of Asian designers mainly for petites reigns supreme in this chic- glamorous store. With very reasonable priced “a la Gatzby ” straw hats  and cute hip, under-the-radar Asian labels by young designers from Korea, Japan and beyond.  With no need to travel across the Pacific I decide to pick a pair of evening golden sandals  and a creamy laced short baby doll dress.  I am starting to feel hungry.. I head to  the De la Vega museum in front of  the Cafe Mogador.

De La Vega, a graduate of the Sorbonne and Oxford, has been recognized internationally as an Artistic Genius, Modern Master, and Shaman. In the spirit of Ho Chi Minh, Federico Garcia Lorca, Jean-Paul Sartre, Julius Caesar, Simon Bolivar, Genghis Khan, and the Trojan Horse, De La Vega has created his own niche.

He has travelled throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia exhibiting, creating public murals, happenings, lecturing, and inspiring millions with His ‘Become Your Dream’ message . You can join in on the De La Vega movement simply by promoting letter writing and the power of the written word.

The museum and shop is filled with cute cards and small gifts with inspiring messages of all kind. I strongly advice if you are in the area and are waiting on the long line for brunch at Mogador to sit and relax on the graffiti chairs he provided at the door of the shop and read some literature about how Fidel Castro can have similarities with your mum or in which way you can through your negative thoughts into the sea with a vase full of water.

And finally I reach my destination. Cafe Mogador. Considered a pioneer of Moroccan restaurants in NYC, Café Mogador is a delectable haven at any time of the year and is a family owned and operated restaurant that throughout the decades became a landmark in the heart of the East Village. We pick a table in the terrace from which the cosmopolitan East Village scenery can be appreciated.

Grad students, skinny  boho- style models  and French expats fill this crowded, noisy brick-walled café, nibbling olives and sopping up tagine drippings with piles of couscous. The theme is Moroccan, with excursions into generic Middle Eastern territory—falafels, babaganoush, kebabs, and a hummus that is beloved by regulars. More interesting are the tagines, available with chicken or lamb, in any of several varieties, from the classic preserved lemon and olive to the spicy green Charmoulla.

I always ask for a French chocolatecroissant, a dry capuccino, fresh orange juice, and the delicious Normandy Style eggs with Tahina and the side and strawberry jam with 7 grains toast. After that I like to savor the  large Moroccan mint tea called Nana. The newspapers is available and usually the routine takes me to the movies nearby.

Essaouira formerly known as Mogador, its older name is an isolated city in the western Moroccan economic region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, on the Atlantic coast.

Believe it or not, thanks to the East Village creative crowd I certainly got a great taste of it. Hamdullah!

Joelle’s Tips:

The Boutiques:

Think Closet -Asian label clothing 318 E 9th str ( between 1 & 2 Ave,) 1 212 228-2282

Atomic Passion:  Vintage Clothing and home decor – 430E 9th Street 1 212 533-0718

Fabulous Fanny’s: Antique and Vintage Eye-wear

Enchantments: Magic- Witchcraft, Goddess, Nature religion Products 424 E 9th street

Elliott Man: Ethnic designer clothes 323 212 260-9181

Humisnska: 315 E 9th st. Fashion 1940 style 212 677-3458

Trash and Vaudeville : Goth-Rock- Punk  fashion accessories 4 Saint Marks  Place 212-982 3590

Search and Destroy_ Dangerous Clothing Store 25 Saint Marks lace 212 358-1120

St Mark’s Bookshop: Books of Independent Vintage  31 Third Avenue 212 260=7853

The Art Gallery:  Giant Robot : Mainly graffiti Artists store and gallery 212 674grny

The Hotel: Saint Mark Hotel

The Hair Stylist and private Studio: By appointment  Shalom Sharon – 63 East 7th street ny ny 10003 tel: 212-529-6712         cel: 1646-331-6712      shalomsharonhair@yahoo.com  –  Agent for Bookings: Oliver Piro Agency gergg rudner at oliverpiro

The Cafes and Bars:  Cafe Mogador:  Moroccan -Style cuisine 101 Saint Marks Pl # 1 – 212 677-2226/ Mud Coffee Restaurant with Garden 307 E 9th street 212 228 9074/ Saint Mark Ale’s House . Jazz House- 2 St Marks Pl,
at Third Ave.  212-260-9762

The next Exhibition: Graffiti Gone Global / Miami Art Basel

Related articles: The Lower East Side, Before It Boomed By By JOHN STRAUSBAUGH
Published: September 24, 2009 New York Magazine



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