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New York City: Brooklyn & SoHo (3/1/2016)


New York City: Brooklyn & SoHo (3/1/2016)

    On Tuesday, March 1, I visited New York City’s Bowery and Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhoods. I’m a Philadelphian by birth, but have always felt a strong connection to NYC. The country’s biggest city symbolizes constant progress: there’s an invigorating spirit in the air, the feeling that 8 million people are all here because they want to participate in something more. That intangible New York spirit packs Broadway theatres and Midtown museums; swells Manhattan apartments and Brooklyn startups. In the 1800’s, metropolitan doctors recommended that patients leave the city to breathe fresh air in times of illness. 200 years later, I breathe the city and feel alive.

    My day began in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was meeting a friend at Toby’s Estate Coffee in Williamsburg, a Brooklyn-based roastery with its own dedicated café. Toby’s Estate is the epicenter of the new New York: ambition, creativity, and above all else, passion. Next to me, two aspiring screenwriters hashed out details of their script. One table over, a junior lawyer took a client call in between sips. Regardless of background, the crowd at Toby’s was here for the coffee and the company. The superb Congolese pourover I had was only half the experience.

    If you’re ever in Brooklyn, seek it out. Sure, it’s pricey (I bought the proverbial “$5 coffee”, but hey, that’s Williamsburg) and power outlets are scarce, but Toby’s just makes you want to spend time there. Raw-hewn wood tables, an open-air interior, and massive lightwells are the perfect complement to work without chargers. Coffeeshops in libraries have made me want to read less. Bring a book, grab a friend, and enjoy.

    From Toby’s, I took the L Train back to Manhattan to visit legendary sneaker store Extra Butter. Even if you’re not from the East, if you know sneakers, you know Butter. As one of a handful of shops that collaborates with the brands themselves, Extra Butter consistently turns out some of the most desirable shoes out there.

    This season, Extra Butter collaborated with Italian sneaker brand Diadora on the “Spaghetti Western” Titan II. This unique take on the Titan II silhouette connect Extra Butter’s love of cinema with Diadora’s Italian heritage to present a silhouette inspired by 60’s-era cult Western classics. Iconic films like “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” may have been written for American audiences, but were shot in Italy by Italian directors, giving rise to the “spaghetti western” genre.

    Extra Butter and Diadora celebrate that heritage with a Titan II retro runner straight from the Old West. Premium saddle leather, shearling lining, and a poncho-weave toebox combine to make a shoe that’s as much Eastwood as Lower East Side. Big thanks to Chris and Bryan from Extra Butter for the store tour.  

    From Extra Butter, I crossed Delancey Street to visit the Tenement Museum. This living history museum in the heart of Manhattan’s Bowery District is dedicated to preserving a slice of New York heritage that’s both impossible to forget and at risk of disappearing. I took the hour-long “Irish Outsiders” tour, stepping back into the 1860’s to learn about the lives of Joseph and Mary Poole. Through their experiences, the tour explained everything from the immigrant experience to the growth of New York’s ethnic enclaves and the resulting cultural collisions that made the city great.


    My group of 10 explored the original 19th-century apartment a family like the Pooles would have occupied before walking through Mary and Joseph’s actual home, restored to authenticity by the Museum’s historians. As a history buff, I can’t recommend the Tenement Museum highly enough. If you’re looking for a uniquely New York experience and are tired of the Midtown museum circuit, check out this Lower East Side gem.

    After the tour wrapped at 1:00, I followed Delancey to Lafayette to meet my friend Gaby for lunch at The Smile. The Smile is a rustic basement café famous for its Mediterranean-inspired takes on American favorites. It’s also, notably, a frequent backdrop for Aziz Ansari’s superb Netflix series “Master of None.”

    From the moment you cross the door, you can see why a show about New York foodies would choose The Smile: conversation dins, pasty smells waft, and a historic corner bar clinks with brunch cocktails. The environment is welcoming and communal – tables are tight, but no part of The Smile is claustrophobic. You sip espresso as waitresses rush by, nibble on nut bread with your elbow in, and it’s all oddly warm.

    Maybe it’s the superb décor. One thing’s for certain: my Harissa Honey-Roasted Chicken Breast Sandwich delivered. Great food; great atmosphere; and a certain homespun amiability it’s hard to find in a city of 8 million strangers. I will be back at The Smile whenever I’m in town.


    I said goodbye to Gaby, left The Smile, and walked down Mulberry St to Noah Clothing. Noah is one of a handful of stores I go out of my way to visit. In a world of monochrome overbranding, Noah’s take on relaxed but thoughtful sportswear is refreshing.



The brand, brainchild of streetwear legend Brendon Babenzien, combines music, art, sports, and culture into an experience that’s as much enlightened as it is casual cool. In addition to the eponymous Noah clothing line, the Mulberry Street store curates a selection of footwear and accessories that emphasize understated quality. Vuarnet sunglasses, retro-inspired woven belts, and heritage footwear from French brand Paraboot are right at home with the store’s own selection.

    Noah is as much about making great clothing as it is exposing people to the right ideas. For example, the store’s blog famously hosted a one-day screening of filmmaker Sterling Milan’s “Black Movie Night.” The short film examines racial politics in the movie industry through a dialogue between actors, rather than a grandiose speech. Why would a clothing label take a stance on a potentially-controversial topic? Simple: because supporting good ideas is the right thing to do. Big shoutout to Brendon, Will, and Jason for all the work they do bringing Noah to life.

    From Noah, I took Broome to Mercer to visit my other favorite downtown spot, NikeLab 21 M. NikeLab is the Oregon sportswear giant’s sleekest touchpoint. While every shoe on display is a performance machine in its own right, the luxurious marble surfaces and exclusive colorways make NikeLab as much ultramodern boutique as athletic store.

    I love NikeLab: every visit feels like a peek into the future of the world’s most innovative sportswear company. The stylized running gear available only through NikeLab (part of the Nike x UNDERCOVER Gyakusou collection) is a particular favorite. Considering my own pair of Nike Swoosh Hunters were in the mail, I unfortunately left empty-handed – I love sneakers, but making rent does occasionally take priority. Until next time, 21 M.

    With the sun setting over skyscrapers, I drank in my last New York moments, then took the E Train back towards New York Penn Station to begin a long journey home. Someday, I’ll hopefully live and work in this city. For now, I’m content to visit whenever I can.

If you’re interested in any of the locations mentioned above, I’ve made a custom Google Map retracing my steps. Enjoy your visit!


AS RAKESTRAW | The personal site of Alex Rakestraw.