Join Us This Evening For a Rooftop Happy Hour at the Manny Cantor Center

My LES: Laurie Gwen Shapiro

This weekly 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.

This week’s L.E.S.-er is Laurie Gwen Shapiro. She’s a writer and a documentary filmmaker with neighborhood roots that go way back.  As you’ll see, she’s got some amazing stories from the Lower East Side!

What do you do?

I tell stories for a living, as a documentary filmmaker, and other times as a fiction writer, essayist  or screenwriter.  I co-directed Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale for IFC Films with my brother, and most recently I co-produced Finishing Heaven with him for HBO. I also have written “funny” novels for adults and young adults including The Unexpected Salami and The Matzo Ball Heiress. I have some new film and book projects I’m super excited about in various stages of development.

First Look: Heads & Tails

When Traven and I started the Lo-Down way back in April, one of our biggest goals was to provide a forum for artists and other creative people in the neighborhood to tell us about the interesting things they’re doing. All this time Traven’s been keeping a little secret: even while she toils away on The Lo-Down, she’s been working on a creative project of her own.

For the past two years, she and our good friend Chris Frederick have been making a television pilot. I’m happy to report it’s finally done (actually as of about five minutes ago)! The pilot is called Heads & Tails. It’s an ensemble series featuring two bi-sexual characters struggling not to be “labeled” — even as many of their partners and closest friends insist on putting them in one category or another. The story is really about the messiness of love – no matter whether you’re gay, straight or somewhere in between.

We’ll be celebrating the completion of Heads and Tails tonight at the Huckleberry Bar (where a lot of the pilot was shot) in Williamsburg (588 Grand Street/Lorimer stop on the L). Cocktails at 7, a special preview screening at 8. Here’s a first look:

TLD Visits Rooftop Legends at New Design High School

We recently visited a fantastic show on the roof of New Design High School.  The school's third annual Rooftop Legends show included graffiti artists from around the world and resulted in an array of fabulous art on the walls all around the roof top. The school integrates different forms of design into a high school curriculum and uses graffiti art as one way to engage students.  We were able to catch some of the artists in action and spoke with students Channel Warner and Sierra Williams about the show.

The Rooftop Legends show is curated by NDHS Dean, Jesse Pais (a former graffiti artist), and is more important than ever as the charter school tries to raise funds for student programs after facing budget cuts three years in a row. Some of the artists featured include: Vins, Dezo, Tatu, Klass, Page, Keo, Cycle, Bounce, El Coro, and Doc TC5.  Music from DJ enuff and "Rockin' It" by The Fearless Four (we had to go old school) . For more about New Design High and to help their cause, visit their website.

15 Seconds – New Design High School’s Scott Conti and Jesse Pais on the L.E.S.

We caught up with Principal Scott Conti and Dean Jesse Pais at New Design High School's Rooftop Legends show over the weekend.  They told us why they love the Lower East Side.  We'll be posting a piece about their school and the Rooftop Legends show soon.

Posted by Traven Rice

Rooftop Films Back on the L.E.S. to Kick Off Their Summer Series


Photo credits: Sarah Palmer

Rooftop Films will be celebrating their opening night tomorrow with an evening of live music and short films down here on the rooftop at the New Design High School on Grand St. Don’t miss the Open Bar After Party at Fontana’s on Eldridge St.  They will be doing 7 screenings down here along with 39 others at various locations around the city. Their 2009 Summer Series Schedule can be found here.

We recently spoke with Founder/Artistic Director Mark Elijah Rosenberg and Program Director Dan Nuxoll about their burgeoning non-profit organization and how far their grassroots film festival has come.

Posted By Traven Rice

The Lo-Down Featured Artist

Norfolk St, originally uploaded by emptysquare.

We are currently featuring photography by A Jesse Jiryu Davis in our Photo Gallery.  Jesse is a portrait and event photographer based in New York City. As a self-taught photographer, he began taking assignments while refining his skills at the International Center of Photography, where he became proficient with digital and traditional processes.

Jesse has covered events and created editorial portraits for Time Out
New York, Meditate NYC, the Blue Roses Theater Company, the Shambhala Meditation Center, and the Village Zendo Journal. His personal work includes numerous protests and events around New
York City. For more info, visit his website here.

Posted by Traven Rice

15 Seconds – What I Love About the Lower East Side

Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheesemongers at the Essex Street Market on what she loves about the Lower East Side.

Posted by: Traven Rice

15 Seconds – What I Love About the Lower East Side

Living Legend Judith Malina, from The Living Theatre on why she loves the LES.

Posted by Traven Rice

Your Recession Stories: The Clinton Restaurant


We’ve been bringing you the stories of the recession’s impact on small businesses on the Lower East Side. The other day, I visited Pedro Vargas, the owner of the Clinton Restaurant, a fixture at the corner of Clinton and Houston for many years. Recently, his family was forced to put it up for sale. Pedro has lived on the Lower East Side for 27 years and has owned his restaurant for twelve.

Pedro fought back tears as he told me he felt like selling was his only option after his profits dropped more than 50 percent in the last six months. Around the same time, the economy started tanking, and as we all know, food costs skyrocketed. He just didn’t think passing along those higher prices to his customers was something he could do. Pedro told me he’s dipped into his own pocket to keep the restaurant open, but if he does that much longer he’ll lose everything.  The Clinton Restaurant has a lot of loyal customers — some eat his delicious Dominican food every day. It’s a breath of fresh air on a stretch of Clinton Street that’s dotted with trendy new restaurants and shops.

The restaurant is truly a family business. They all help manage the place, cook and wait tables. Pedro says he will look for another location because running a restaurant is all he knows but he is not optimistic that the economy will get any better in the next couple of years.


Owner Pedro Vargas at the Clinton Restaurant.

You can call 212.982.3222 for information about the sale of Clinton Restaurant.

If you or someone you know has a recession story, and would like to share it, please email us at:

Posted by: Traven Rice

At the Abrons Arts Center: “we are destroyed”

This delightful piece by Howard Fishman about the Donner Party
will be at the Abrons Arts Center this weekend. We stopped by one of the rehearsals to
speak with Howard about it. "we are destroyed" is directed by Ed Schmidt and features
Michael Fawcett, Susan Oetgen, Nicholas Webber, and Sarah Wilson.

You can get more info about Howard and this project here.

Posted by: Traven Rice