My LES: Mel Russo & Liz Buehler Walker

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?

Mel: We own Yoga High, a Vinyasa Yoga studio on Clinton Street. We chose (to open our studio in) the LES because we were both teaching in the E.V. and we had a lot of students who lived in the E.V. and the LES and we wanted to bring Vinyasa Yoga to the LES since there is none. The Bikram studio on Allen was the only Yoga studio down here. We’ve both lived downtown for years. I still do and Liz did for many years and we felt very connected to the community.  We loved the small independent owned shops and the real sense of community that you felt when walking down the intimate streets of the LES.

Liz:  I fell in love with Yoga in the East Village when I practiced and later trained and taught at Bhava Yoga on 6th Street between Ave. B and C. The people who tend to live and work on the LES really appreciate the Yogic lifestyle and are the kind of people that we felt we wanted to serve. We could make more money or have a bigger space in other neighborhoods, but there is a history of community and people who value Yoga, small businesses and a creative, non-consumerist lifestyle down here on the LES. That’s what makes it such a joy to have Yoga High here.

How long have you lived on the LES?

Liz: I actually live in Brooklyn, but I’ve taught Yoga in the East Village / LES for 12 years. Yoga High has been open for four years.

Mel: I have lived in the East Village for 12 years.

Favorite block in the hood?

Liz: Broome Street, between Ludlow and Orchard. You have the old tenement apartments, Babycakes vegan bakery and Barrio Chino all right there.

Mel: Orchard between Stanton and Rivington because I have great memories of shopping down here with my mother when we would come to the neighborhood to visit my grandmother.  My grandmother lived in Stuyvesant Town so we spent a lot of time south of 14th street when I was growing up. Shopping on Orchard Street was just what you did when your mother was an old-school New Yorker. I think when she was growing up (in the Bronx), the LES, Orchard Street especially, was where you would come to by your underwear. Back then there were tons of Hasidic-owned intimate apparel shops. I think last time I looked, there was like one left. Bless them for still standing!

Favorite date spot in the hood?

Liz: It used to be Frankie’s Spuntino but sadly they’ve changed it and I’m now looking for a new favorite date spot.

Mel: Fat Radish because the food is excellent, it’s beautiful inside, and unlike many restaurants on the LES you feel like you can have an intimate conversation.

Favorite coffee in the hood?

Liz: I often stop for coffee on my way from the subway to Yoga High. Luckily I have tons of choices so it’s a toss-up between Tiny’s, Atlas and Pause.

Mel: A shot of espresso from Gaia Cafe on Houston.

Favorite cheap eats in the hood?

Liz: Not sure how cheap, but I love the Margherita pizza and the Spring Salad from San Marzano.

Mel: Hands down, Brooklyn Taco in Essex Market.

Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?

Liz: My favorite (thing) is to walk around from Stanton Street to Broome, all up and down Orchard and Ludlow, going to the little boutiques. There are some great shops for men’s clothing, too, which are unique to the LES.

Mel: Yoga High of course :) I love to walk South on Orchard and make a left where there are all kinds of galleries and really cool shops — I don’t even know the names of the streets, but I just get drawn in and follow my intuition.

Favorite dive/locals bar in the hood?

Liz: I used to come down to Barramundi when I first moved to NYC in the ’90s, and I still love to head over there and say “Hi.” The owner Tony is such a leader in the small business community of the Lower East Side.

Mel: At the risk of being cliched, Parkside Lounge. I especially like the back room with the art and live music; Parkside Lounge is not only a bar but a cultural institution.

How has the neighborhood changed in the last few years?

Liz: We’ve seen many businesses come and go. Times have been very difficult for small businesses and boutiques, but the feeling of independent businesses, where owners are around and know the people who live and work in this neighborhood, is alive and well. It is such a pleasure to be in a place without Starbucks and big box stores (Delancey excluded).

Mel: There has been a shift from the downtown artsy type of people to more conventional business types. There are pros and cons to both. While I miss the more lighthearted and spontaneous lifestyle, I love that there are high end options to go along with the old standbys. And there is still a sense of “downtown” and the arts in the neighborhood.

Favorite LES memory?

Liz: Not a specific day or memory, but all the times I am walking around the neighborhood and it feels like Mr. Rogers neighborhood. I run into lots of people I know who are out and about at all times of day, doing interesting things, living creative lives.

Mel:  I remember coming down here to check out all the discount shops. You could get designer things at a discount cost. I remember buying my first Calvin Klein winter coat on Orchard Street. I think my mother just new that all the bargains were downtown and on Orchard Street.

Also,  when we opened Yoga High because opening a small business in this neighborhood means a lot to me — I want to help sustain the vitality of the independently owned establishments in this neighborhood.