My LES: Michael Kelly (of House of Cards)
Tomorrow, Valentine’s Day, Netflix debuts the second season of “House of Cards,” the dark and twisted political drama. We thought it would be a good time to revisit Michael Kelly, a Lower East Side resident who plays Doug Stamper, Francis Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey’s) chief of staff. This feature was first published in September.
How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?
Around 10 years down here [in the East River Co-op], but we were on Houston and Attorney, right next to Parkside Lounge, for eight years prior to that. When I first moved to New York in ’94, I lived on East 12th Street, between Avenues A and B. It was me and two buddies from a small town in Georgia in a tiny “two”-bedroom. There was a separate bathroom (the tub wasn’t in the kitchen) but you had to shut the door completely before you could sit down and go to the bathroom. We built a shelf in one of the bedrooms for the second bed and in the other room there was a full-size bed, but you couldn’t even open the door all the way to get in or out.
Why did you move here?
We moved [to the Grand Street Co-ops] because it was the best bang for your buck when my wife Karyn and I decided to buy. We’re on the top floor, and out of the back side of the apartment you see the Williamsburg Bridge and everything going uptown and out of the other side you see the river and the other bridges. It’s really great.
What do you do?
I’m an actor. Currently filming the second season of House of Cards on Netflix. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I’m just so proud to be a part of it. It’s such a good show. The show is filmed in Baltimore, which is hard; I keep an apartment there and I go back and forth. It’s hectic, but I’m so blessed to be doing what I love for a living, you’re not gonna hear me complain.
Tell us about your apartment – the good, the bad and the ugly.
This is our third place in East River, in the same building. This one we bought last May but the renovation took over a year. Architect Greg Colston took a two-bedroom, one bath, and converted it to a three-bed, two-bath (we have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old). Lower East Side Construction did the renovation — both neighborhood guys. The only bad part is we’re not totally done. The walls are still bare and we’re not even fully furnished yet. All of our effort – we completely demolished the entire thing, it was just a really long process – went in to the renovation, so we haven’t found the energy, or time to really finish it.
What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why?
The Hillman playground next to the East River building. It’s fully shaded and the kids love it there.
Favorite cheap eats?
An Choi. I love the catfish vermicelli bowl.
Favorite place for a special night?
Honestly, we love Cafe Katja — the food is amazing and one of the owners, Andrew, is another local. The staff is just amazing and you‘re given the same treatment with or without your kids; as a parent you couldn’t ask for more.
How have you seen the neighborhood change?
Well, we live in a NORC [Naturally Occurring Retirement Community] and I love that about the ‘hood and I embrace the seniors. As life goes, though, we’ve lost many over the years, including some good friends. We’ve been changed by life’s normal progression. People pass on and new families come in. It’s really nice seeing all the young children mixing with the seniors and the joy that they bring to one another.
What do you miss from the old LES?
I miss some of the above-mentioned friends, but as far as an institution, El Sombero, a.k.a., The Hat, if indeed it is closing, will surely be missed.
Is there a new arrival you love? Why?
Although it’s not that new anymore, I love Top Hops on Orchard. The guys there are great and I love just sittin’ down and pickin’ a cold one from one of the best tap beer selections I’ve ever seen.
What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?
I guess the Williamsburg Bridge traffic on Grand Street in the evenings is the most annoying thing about the neighborhood. Not bad if that’s your biggest complaint, though.
Tell us your best LES memory.
Prior to this apartment, we had a two-bed, one-bath with a 200-square-foot terrace that overlooked the whole city, and every year we’d have all our friends over for a Fourth of July party and watch the fireworks (back when they were still set off on the East River).