Table For Two

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Photo by Jennifer Strom.

After suffering through the winter that wouldn’t quit, lots of people were making the most of some beautiful spring weather this past weekend. On Saturday, we spotted Erica Tempchin, who lives near Clinton and South streets, hanging out at La Flaca, the Mexican restaurant on Grand Street.  That’s Joia, her five-and-a-half year old sun conure. When asked if Joia eats out often, Erica told us, “she likes to go outside, and I like to eat.”

My LES: H. Spencer Young

H. Spencer Young

My LES For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with photographer and filmmaker H. Spencer Young.

 

How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?

For the better part of 17 years, with some brief interludes in a few other neighborhoods.

Why did you move here?

Petula Clark tells it best: “So go downtown, where the lights are bright, downtown. Waiting for you tonight, downtown. You’re gonna be all right now, downtown.”

What do you do?

Artist, photographer, filmmaker, writer.

Tell us about your apartment – the good, the bad and the ugly.

I live in a small loft on Ludlow Street. Much of my life since I moved here in the ’90s has centered around Ludlow Street. I am beyond grateful to be able to live here. My neighbors, landlord, local friends and new friends who work around here are all creative, artistic, hopeful, entertaining, smart people who constantly inspire me, and hopefully vice versa. A few years ago I was directing a commercial and my neighbors and I converted our entire floor into a production office. Stuff like that is pure NYC. The Velvet Underground was founded on my block. Tony Conrad, Jack Smith, Mike Mills: Ludlow Street. Don’t get me started. The bad? I could use 5,000 extra square feet.

What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why (could be a block, garden, bar, building, etc)?

Café Grumpy. Hours are spent there talking about art with the remarkable, talented artists who make that magic espresso. I want to name them but they’ll be embarrassed so I won’t. I’m also a big fan of Lost Weekend NYC, owned by friends who go out of their way to bring together the Lower East Side community.

Favorite cheap eats?

My version of cheap eats is subsisting on dark-chocolate-covered almonds from The Sweet Life.

Favorite place for a special night when you are splurging?

I had this fantastic date recently. After we finished drinks at Freemans we both confessed that we were craving Katz’s pastrami at 11 p.m. Check was instantly paid, and we made a beeline for Katz’s, where, between us, we ate four hot dogs and split a pastrami sandwich. (Insert joke here regarding “the table.”)

How have you seen the neighborhood change?

This is too big of a question. To the same degree that the LES is one of the last bastions of art and music in Manhattan, it is also hell on earth due to the direction that the nightlife is going in. I’ll spare you the gentrification clichés and lamenting the loss of the legacy cultural spots because I’m more focused on those of us who are trying to keep our noses to the grindstone and be part of the solution going forward. The area is going through what Soho went through over the last 25 years, and we are in the transition state presently, from artistic/cultural center to urban theme park. But, the struggle is part of the magic. The story is not over.

What do you miss from the old LES?

The old after-hours clubs with the best deep house on earth spinning until noon. And peanut butter, banana and honey sandwiches at the Pink Pony in the middle of the night.

Is there a new arrival you love? Why?

Dimes. Because everything about Dimes is sunshine. I also love Dudley’s. Because ribs.

What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?

The lack of a piazza. The LES seriously lacks a place where people can meet and spend time together outside, talking, just being.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?

Walked out of my building one day three summers ago, and Kramer [actor Michael Richards, from Seinfeld] was standing next to my building, alone, taking close-up photos of bricks on the building facades. The block was empty. Summertime empty. Just he and I on the block. We acknowledged each other and I went on my way. It was pure strange.

Tell us your best LES memory.

When the lights came back on after Hurricane Sandy.

My LES: Jasmin Sanchez

Jasmin Sanchez Photo by Alex M. SmithMy LES

For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with Jasmin Sanchez, who runs the Ana Luisa Garcia Community Center.

How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?

I have resided on the Lower East Side since 1979. I am entering my 35th year in this community.

Why did you move here or, if you were born here, why did you stay?

My grandparents migrated from Puerto Rico in 1959. I stayed living here because I want to contribute to the development of my community.

What do you do?

I operate my own organization, the Ana Luisa Garcia Community Center. I do this on a volunteer basis since the agency has not received funding. I am a program director at Park Slope Collegiate Middle School in Brooklyn.

Tell us about your apartment–the good, the bad and the ugly.

I currently reside in Baruch Houses, a New York City Housing Authority complex. My apartment is not in the greatest condition. I have mold, water damage and leaks in the bathroom, and NYCHA hasn’t repaired my apartment even after several demands from the courts.

What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why?

My favorite spot on the Lower East Side would be the East River Park, field No. 7. It is very relaxing and it is wonderful to just gaze at the water and Williamsburg Bridge.

Favorite cheap eats?

Mancora, which is located on First Avenue and Sixth Street. The brunch menu (before 3 p.m. on weekdays) is delicious and affordable, $8.95.

Favorite place for a special night?

Sazon’s restaurant on Reade Street. I know it is not the Lower East Side, but their food brings me back to my roots in Puerto Rico. I celebrate my birthday there every year since it has been open. I [also] normally go to El Castillo de Jagua restaurant or Cibao restaurant.

How have you seen the neighborhood change?

I have seen local mom-and-pop shops displaced due to the rent on their stores increasing. Essex Street and Clinton Street remind me of South Beach without the beach. It is a place where people visit without regard to those who live in the community.

What do you miss from the old LES?

I miss the familiarity of the stores, the people. I miss Apolo’s, Lucky’s, Kique’s Joyeria and Bunnies. I know my mother and grandmother would say the Cuchifritos. I do miss walking down the streets peacefully. I do not like seeing crowds of people lingering in front of establishments, smoking and being very loud at all hours of the night.

I miss the variety of the community. Our stores sold very different items: household goods, hardware store, shoe place, bakeries, clothing stores for kids, another for teens and adults. Everything you needed was easily accessible in our neighborhood. Now we have 10 nail salons and five hair salons, all a store apart. There is an abundance of lounges. Totally takes away the feel of a community.

Is there a new arrival (restaurant, shop, attraction) you love? Why?

No. I continue to only support mom-and-pop shops that have been in the community since I was a child.

What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?

The thing that drives me crazy are the evenings when bars and lounges are open and the people outside are smoking, congesting the streets and speaking very loudly.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?

The strangest thing I have seen was a series of knitted bicycles [by the artist Olek] throughout the community in bright colors. It was strange but really pretty.

Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met and why?

Rev. Leo Lawrence from Dewitt Reformed Church. He is compassionate and friendly. Greeting all residents that pass by the church and he meets throughout the community. He is a perfect example of what a dedicated, loyal, loving, caring and productive member of society is.

Tell us your best LES memory.

My best memory would have to be attending P.S. 142 as a child and my grandmother bringing me lunch at school. There used to be a bakery that sold everything across the street from P.S. 142 — now there’s a pawn shop. All the parents would go there and buy Jello, cookies and sandwiches. I miss my old Lower East Side.

My LES: Alysha Coleman

For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with tenants’ rights activist and long-time resident Alysha Coleman.

My LES: Michelle Myles

Michelle Myles, owner of Daredevil Tattoo. Photo by Alex M. Smith.

Michelle Myles, owner of Daredevil Tattoo. Photo by Alex M. Smith.

My LES For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with Michelle Myles, owner of Daredevil Tattoo, which recently moved to 141 Division St. after almost 20 years on Ludlow Street.

What do you do?

I am a tattoo artist and I own Daredevil Tattoo.

How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?

I moved to Clinton Street in 1991 and then to Ludlow Street in 1993.

Why did you move here?

I moved to the Lower East Side because it was affordable. My first apartment on Ludlow was $500. Everyone told me Ludlow Street was bad news because of all the drug dealers back then, so when I moved to the block, I tattooed all of them and never had problems. They actually looked out for me; I never had to worry.

Tell us about your apartment – the good, the bad and the ugly.

I live in a tenement apartment next to the old Daredevil location. It’s pretty small but my husband and I have made it pretty cozy. I have no complaints. We face the back of the building, so it’s plenty quiet and all of my neighbors on our floor have been in the building for years, so we kind of stick together. I love the history on the Lower East Side, and when I think of how many people might have been squeezed into these spaces back in the day I feel like we have it pretty good. The worst part of the apartment is outside on the street. Ludlow has become overrun with the bar crowds. This block has lost most all of its neighborhood feel.

Favorite spot?

Right now my favorite spot on the Lower East Side is the new location for our shop. I love it down on Division. There’s still all sorts of quirky storefronts and it’s a little gritty–it reminds me of Ludlow 15 years ago.

Favorite cheap eats?

My favorite cheap eats right now is Ming’s Cafe on Canal and Essex. We’re over there almost every day since we moved onto Division. Huge portions, always delicious and on the money, plus they’ll whip up anything you think of.

Favorite place for a special night?

For a special night out, we hit Stanton Social. Everything is over-the-top delicious, and it’s my favorite brunch spot, too.

How have you seen the neighborhood change?

This used to be the sort of place people stayed away from if they weren’t from around here. Now the weekends are like Mardi Gras. The worst changes to me are the giant modern buildings that have been allowed to go up and overshadow the historic tenements.

What do you miss from the old LES?

The loss of Max Fish is heartbreaking. It’s not the old Lower East Side any more, that’s for sure.

Is there a new arrival you love? Why?

I love the Hester Street Fair on the weekends. There are always different vendors and it’s something to look forward to every week in the summer. I love having a variety of different snacks at least one day a week. It’s so easy to get tired of your stack of menus.

What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?

The thing that drives me crazy are the people that show up in the neighborhood and have no respect for the fact that people live here. They don’t know how to act, come down here get wasted and treat it like it’s their toilet.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?

There was a woman who lived above the old Daredevil who would drink and not take her medicine sometimes. We called the cops on her once when she was getting out of hand and she bit the cop on the finger.

Do you have a favorite neighborhood character?

Sal at Rosario’s on Orchard is my favorite neighborhood character. He’s so nice and works so hard. When I first moved to Ludlow, his place was on Houston. He always makes you feel like family.

Tell us your best LES memory.

My best LES memory was coming down to Ludlow looking for a place to tattoo out of. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing, people were telling me how dangerous it was down here. The first place I looked at, the landlord said his ex-wife was a tattooer and he had a perfect place for a tattoo shop. He sold me an autoclave and I was in business. The LES was the best move I ever made.

My LES: Frank Arroyo

Frank Arroyo of Frank's Bikes on Grand Street. photo by thelodownny.com

My LES For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with longtime local resident and merchant Frank Arroyo of Frank’s Bike Shop on Grand Street. (This story was first published in the May 2013 edition of The Lo-Down’s print magazine.)

How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?

Since 1955.

Why did you move here, or if you were born here, why did you stay?

I was born in upper Manhattan. My family moved to 120 Columbia St. when I was 9 years old and then we moved into the East River co-ops about twenty years after that. I like it here, it’s convenient. My friends and family are all here. One of my sons lives here in the co-ops, too.

My LES: Wilson Soo

For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked recently with community organizer Wilson Soo. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

What do you do?
I am the program manager at Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, Inc. Two Bridges is a nonprofit organization that serves the community through the creation of affordable housing and by advocating for quality of life improvements for residents. We provide access to social services and engage residents in public, political and planning processes that impact the community in which they live and/or work. I am also one of the co-chairs of the Chinatown Working Group, a community planning initiative for Chinatown and its surrounding areas.

How long have you lived on the LES?
I have lived and worked on the Lower East Side all of my life. I actually still live in the building that I was raised in.

My LES: Jessica Perez

This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?
I’m a flight attendant with a regional airline based out of Laguardia Airport. I get to fly to a bunch of places that no one cares about ( j/k). I’m also a day time dreamer and a music listener.

How long have you lived on the LES?
Six years. I moved to the big city almost eight years ago. Started in Harlem, then Bushwick, a.k.a. “East Williamsburg,” and then the LES. It’s my favorite area. Everything I want is right here. Anything else is not too far away.

Favorite block in the hood?
Doyers Street. It’s a cool little block. You take a short walk through it and think, “Where am I?” Then you make a left on Pell Street, then a right and left on Bayard Street and you run into this park where there’s a flood of Asian elders playing dominos and exercising. And you think again, “Where am I?” I enjoy getting lost so it’s a good feeling. And (I like) Orchard Street below Delancy. The Tenement Museum is there and it’s got an old time vibe. That’s where my first LES apartment was. They’d have farmers’ markets outside my apartment during the summer. I loved it.

My LES: Jonathan Medows

This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

What do you do?

I am a CPA and the Managing Member of MEDOWS CPA, PLLC.  We are a Lower East Side based firm (Grand St & Columbia St) and we expanded and moved to our current location in January 2012.  My work focuses on tax planning, tax preparation, tax controversies, business planning and structuring. Our clients are freelancers, small businesses and individuals with moderate to complex tax returns.  I am sympathetic by nature and very much like to help people solve their problems.  Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than helping someone remove their stress so they can sleep at night.

My LES: Ludwig Persik

This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?
I play music! In 2010, I was swooped up on a world tour singing and playing guitar for Jamie Lidell, promoting his 2010 album, Compass. It was an absolute dream come true. This year I finished recording my debut album in Nashville, Tenn., which was produced by the very same Mr. Lidell! Currently, I’m playing shows in NYC promoting the EP, which is available for free on my website. Our next show is Dec. 6 at Glasslands, so stay tuned. Yep!

How long have you lived on the LES?
I grew up on Avenue B, and went to the Neighborhood School for elementary school, and NEST+m for middle and high school. So, my answer: forever.

My LES: Marisa Scheinfeld

This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?

I am a photographer. My work is fueled by my interest in histories and most often by the ruin. My current project imparts a contemporary view of the former Borscht Belt in Upstate New York. The area is notable for a vibrant entertainment and tourism industry that peaked in the 1950s and subsequently declined. If you don’t know of it, think of the movie Dirty Dancing and you’ll get the idea.

I grew up in the region and spent time at many of its hotels as a kid. As an adult and as a photographer, I have been photographing the various hotels that remain, in ruin. In its peak the total amount of hotels numbered 600. The project carries important personal as well as collective weights. It’s also one quite linked to the LES, as many of the neighborhood’s former Jewish population used to vacation there in the summer.

My LES: Gigi Li



For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we ventured a bit farther west to talk with Gigi Li, who lives in Chinatown. Li was recently elected as chair of Community Board 3, which encompasses the Lower East Side, the East Village and Chinatown.

If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

What do you do?
I run a nonprofit, Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, that helps maximize funding for free after-school programs, community centers and summer jobs for young people throughout the city. I am also the chair of Community Board 3 in lower Manhattan.

My LES: Caroline Kruse

This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?

I am the Development Director at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, which means my day lands somewhere between writing grants, leading corporate volunteer groups, planning fundraisers, and building up our electronic waste recycling program.

How long have you lived on the LES?

Since 2008.

Favorite block in the hood?

I live on 9th Street between First and Avenue A, and I’m pretty obsessed with my block.

Favorite date spot in the hood?

My LES: Vanessa L. Bolger

This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?

I am a special education teacher & educational consultant.

How long have you lived on the LES?

I just had my 6 year anniversary of living on Grand Street.

Favorite block in the hood?

Ludlow between Houston and Stanton. My first boyfriend lived there, and I’d make the trip over from the west village (where I grew up) and relish in the scene. I remember going to Max Fish to see an art show of fax transmissions, and thinking, this place is amazing.

My LES: A.J. Rourk

This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?

I am father to a gorgeous 4-year old Pekingese: Buttercup, and I also work at the Culture Desk at the New York Times. I first came to the company as an intern in 2000 after being awarded the New York Times College Scholarship. I was very fortunate to intern all throughout college and then returned as a full-time employee in 2006.