This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you would like to participate in “My LES,” please email us here.
What do you do?
Work-wise, I run the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center on Suffolk Street. It’s a 98,000 square foot former P.S. 160. GORGEOUS. Built in 1897. It fell on hard times when the City, which still owns it, more or less abandoned it in 1973. In 1993 it was turned into a Puerto Rican/Latino/multicultural multiarts center by a writer from Puerto Rico, and actors from Uruguay and the Dominican Republic, and that’s what it is today; with 4 theaters, 42 visual artist studios, 3 galleries, 13 not for profit arts organization offices, rehearsal rooms, lots of programs, lots of visitors.
Outside work, I try to get to a non-urban environment as much as possible to try to remember things like where vegetables come from.
How long have you lived on the LES?
I’ve been on 3rd Street, between Avenue A and Avenue B, since 1976. Somebody very young asked me to tell her about “the good old days.” I told her about landlords burning down their buildings because they could get more money from insurance than from rents, about running the gauntlet of drug dealers on the street day and night, about watching my back as I came home with my tips from my waiting jobs when I was supporting my modern dance habit. She looked forlorn and said, “I meant when there were a lot of galleries, in the 80s.”
Favorite block in the hood?
It’s not a block, but it’s East River Park. I think they’ve done an amazing job landscaping along the river. I don’t run there often, but it always starts my day out right when I can run, enjoy the plantings, the breezes from the river, the relative scarceness of people.
Favorite date spot in the hood?
Mancora (Peruvian food) on 1st Avenue and 6th has a tiny bar, but VERY good pisco sours and very friendly bartenders and very good soft-ish Peruvian music. I like Festival Mexicano on Rivington near Essex because the Mexican owner is in the kitchen so you know the mole is authentic. The margaritas aren’t killers, but who cares, since the family-like servers are really low-key and nice. You can either go really high-end in the neighborhood or greasy spoon, and these two are in-between. Though I’d like to try a LOT of others.
Favorite coffee in the hood?
I like it that the decaf at the cupcake shop, Sugar Sweet Sunshine, on Rivington is only $1.
Favorite slice in the hood?
Nino’s on Ave. A and St. Mark’s. I have friends who own a Mexican restaurant upstate who are mostly jealous of me because I live so close to Nino’s.
Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?
You can’t go wrong just wandering aimlessly. I like the mosaic mural memorializing 9/11 on the entranceway to my apartment building. I like the postage stamp Puerto Rican gardens, especially the one on 5th, with the ducks and the rabbits. I like the Tenement Museum and the tours because you always learn about things right under your nose that you never suspected.
Favorite dive/locals bar in the hood?
My apartment, because I see a lot of people most days and I like to hear nothing for a change.
What sort of changes have you seen in the neighborhood in the last few years?
Much more crowded streets, and crowded with younger and whiter people. It’s a different kind of internationalism than from what used to be here. I have no complaints, and am grateful NYC is so tenant-friendly so that with rent stabilization, as much of the old Caribbean and Chinese character of the neighborhood has stayed as strong as it is.
Favorite LES memory?
My wildly outrageous born-on-the-Lower-East Side land-lady, a Catholic Jew with a foul mouth and a heart of gold. Well, maybe not gold, maybe tarnished silver. I can’t use any quotes of hers because the language would offend somebody, but I’ll tell you some over a margarita or a pisco sour.