North Third Comes Alive
By Shannon Manning
Photographs by Eric Ryan Anderson (photo outtakes)
As an active candyholic, I am teased and pitied for my vice, and for the euphemisms I use to veil my addiction. I seek out “regional sweets” whenever I go on road trips or to foreign countries. I excitedly mark the change of seasons with purchases from the drugstore’s “seasonal candy” aisle. As if there were really any difference among mass-market sugar and fat combinations, as if a Mars bar tastes different when consumed in London or wrapped in Santa foil.
Well, Valentine’s Day approaches and I know no one wants to think or talk about “Blood Chocolate,” the widespread child labor and virtual slavery which poisons the supply of much of the beans used by Big Chocolate (Hershey’s, Nestles, Mars, Cadbury). I don’t! I want to stick my head into a red heart-shaped box of forced labor, bite into cute seasonally wrapped kisses of misery, and make up insane justifications for my lack of ethics.
But if I dig a little deeper, try a little harder, my soul is still there, and it yearns for the light. And I acknowledge the confusion that arises about what is organic and what isn’t, or what is fair trade, and which corporations now own and profit from former hippie brands like Burt’s Bees or Green & Blacks, to name two. How can the sugar junkie actually make a difference? The answer is to keep it simple and keep it local.
We can walk the walk by walking to North 3rd Street between Berry and Wythe, and dig the art and ideas of some of our local businesses who are making a difference in our neighborhood and the world, by supporting workers and artists in many cool and sustainable ways.
Head west from Bedford Ave. past the block under construction (if you’re quiet you might hear the rumor ghosts whispering, “Whole Foods”) and you’ll be welcomed to the block by an honest neighborhood bar called Levee (212 N 3rd) with pinball, pool, and other amusements, as well as the popular Radegast Hall & Biergarten (113 N 3rd), a reclaimed warehouse space where they showcase bands to accompany your hearty meats and beers.
You’ll also be drawn by the smell of cacao beans roasting at Mast Brothers Chocolates, the only “from scratch” chocolate manufacturer in New York City. (Other makers are “chocolatiers” who simply melt already-made chocolate into their own confectionery. They don’t make the actual chocolate.) I stopped by to talk with brother Rick while he made a poached fish lunch for employees who were hand-wrapping bars in shiny gold paper, all acting as if this were a perfectly normal scene and not my vision of a workers paradise.
The Mast Brothers opened this rustic and elegant factory space about a year ago, where they roast and craft small batches of wonderful dark chocolate they call “American Craft Chocolate.” The brothers get their whole beans from family farms and co-ops in the Dominican Republic and Madagascar. They shun West Africa, especially Côte d’Ivoire, because of the abysmal labor conditions there. Soon they will be adding beans from Brazil, Belize, and Venezuela. The beans are roasted in an old convection oven, and the nibs are separated from the shells by hand (and the shells are kept for garden mulching, of course). The nibs go into small mixers that run for days. Only sugar is added, no extra cocoa butter, vanilla, or preservatives. This is not Big Choco. Then the chocolate is tempered— heated up and cooled down to get the right texture, shine, and snap. Finally the chocolate is molded into shiny bars. At this point the bars may be graced with something like fleur de sel, or coffee nibs, or unexpectedly lovely truffle.
The Mast Brothers mostly sell their chocolate directly to restaurants and select local retailers, which they list on their chalkboard, and on their website: mastbrotherschocolate.com. Bars are also for sale at the factory on weekends.
When asked if they’d get into fancy molds for my “occasional chocolate” needs—for example, celebrations that require a hollow object and an excuse to buy more chocolate —Rick said they anticipate that other artisan chocolatiers will start stepping up to do that sort of thing. Which is a nice holistic way to share one’s craft and elevate others in the process—and nice way of saying, Hey, we make chocolate, period.
Best of all, the brothers are in the process of building a sailboat that will make three or four runs a year to farms in Central and South America, so they can also eliminate Big Oil and Big Transpo from the chocolate equation. You wanna change the world, there’s nothing to it. And the chocolate? Amazing. Local. Seasonal. Ethical. I am being ethical! From now on “ethical candy” is my fix.
I’ve walked by Voos on North 3rd a few times since it opened eight months ago, and admired a grass-covered lawn chair, without going in, which was a mistake. This 1500 square foot space is an inspirational art gallery — a museum of cool ideas — that also happens to sell furniture and other objects. And it is an amazing platform to nurture and promote the local design and manufacturing community.
Voos owners Serap Demirag and her husband Deger Cengiz both trained as architects wanted to create a network of designers, architects, fabricators, and end users. (They also own the French bistro FADA on Driggs and North 8th.) Their original stable of 30 designers has exploded to 65, and more are added every day, with a featured designer typically having one or two pieces on display. While I was there a visitor suggested a designer friend, and Serap encouraged him to call.
Voos is more than a store; it’s an exciting array of projects—furniture and household items made of sustainable materials including bamboo, metals, reclaimed and scrap wood, industrial felted wool, cork, even moss and grass! Currently on view are whimsical handmade items like a 2D cuckoo clock, little pants to hold your boiled eggs, and a fast food tray punched out with a cursive “Slow Food.”
Because all items are made by hand, and made locally, everything can be customized for size and color in a timely fashion. Voos will also work with individuals to create something from scratch, or provide part of a project, or just the materials if the buyer wants to design and build themselves. I asked Serap about an idea for a couch/guest bed I might make myself more cheaply and better than IKEA. She gave me some input about materials and construction and said this is the sort of thing she loves talking about. They are not just about selling the items, but sharing knowledge and solutions with their network.
Voos puts on a “Toast to local designers” event on some Fridays from 5-8, casual parties where you can meet local designers. Whether or not you are looking to buy, it’s worth a visit just to get ideas. And if you are in the design or fabrication business, you’re sure to connect with these guys!
P.S. Keep your eyes on the empty space next to Voos. Coming soon is a new cafe by the owners of El Beit on Bedford and N 8th.
After six years in business, this is one of the oldest shops on the block, featuring Japanese toys, stickers, notebooks, knickknacks, select vintage clothing, hats, local jewelry, stationery, and a nice selection of reasonably-priced vintage dishes and glasses. About Glamour also has a wide selection of socks, tights, and vintage Vivienne Westwood — the mother of punk fashion. I recently saw Vivienne on a British talk show wrapped in shiny drapery from her house, decrying the drug of consumerism and encouraging people to quit buying so many disposable clothes and get creative with what they already have. They don’t buy vintage clothing, owner Takeshi is quick to add, unless of course you have vintage Vivienne Westwood!
Book Thug Nation
100 N 3rd St.
Book Thug Nation (100 N 3rd St.) is a used bookstore and community space that opened last October, and is my new favorite thing. Owners Corey and Troy started off selling books on the sidewalk. They told me “book thug” is a term they came up with for those super-literate types who can scan a row of book spines and know instantly whether there’s anything of interest. “It’s a term of endearment,” they stressed. I’m no “book thug,” but their shelves reminded me pretty much of my shelves: literary fiction I have read or would like to read, fanzines, history, graphic novels, and some interesting and nicely-priced art books. They also sell LPs and a few new books from small indie publishers and are selective in their buying, which is good for the browsing. I found two new hardcover bios and offloaded a few books for a few bucks—a successful recycling effort! They also host readings, screenings, lectures, and invite event suggestions. And they welcome community to stop in for a cup of coffee. Maybe they’ll even be playing Mingus’s insane “Passions of a Man” on a low-fi record player, which will add to the experience. Scratch, chat, browse, yeah.
Lina Lex Design
85 N 3rd St.
Lina Lex has worked in jewelry for several decades, from factory assembly to hand design to Manhattan retail. She now brings that experience, knowledge of materials, and smart fabrication methods to her new retail store on North 3rd. Lina features an eclectic array of items fully handmade from raw materials, pieces assembled from vintage objects or pre-made, and many other combinations. This is Williamsburg DIY at its best. With labor and materials the bulk of the cost of jewelry, Lina’s creative approach keeps prices fair, and the results are wonderful. A beautiful necklace of connected rings is fashioned from pre-made silver strands that Lina hand-etches in a faceted shiny design. She also showed me some interesting pieces created with molds and wax-replacement to yield chunky but lightweight silver earrings and pendants. Because her work is handmade or hand-assembled, she can design with you, and her service includes repair, cleaning, and creative modification of your own pieces. You can even replace your watch battery! Lina also displays friends’ arts and crafts. When I visited, there were paintings and lamps, leather and woodwork, and wonderful vintage rings, trays, and pocket watches.
100 N 3rd St.
Task is a four-month-old variety emporium filled with simple, elegant, and unexpected everyday items and high fashion clothing. Owner Anne Seally is living her dream, she explains, translating her experience and insight in the fashion world into a store, using her passion for interior and object design to curate the selections. Some cool items and materials I noted included felted wool placemats, handmade embroidered pillows, ice cubes made of freezable soapstone (on the rocks!), wallets, purses, jewelry, onesies for babies, glittery greeting cards, stationery, fancy soaps, and a decent collection of kitchenware including beautiful handcrafted Heath Ceramics. You can also buy books on home design and DIY publishing and art, so while you consume you can also be inspired to produce! One of the mottos for the store is “gifts for daily living.” I took advantage of the nice sale and got some lovely printed legal pads, my medium of choice, made more fancy. Thank you, me.
Sangha Yoga Shala
107 N 3rd St. #2H
Friends rave about this studio, whose name means “Community Yoga House,” and its excellent teachers, masseuses, and a boutique with yoga mats, clothing, and bottles that are local, eco, or both. You may see for yourself with the current newcomer special of $40 for two weeks of unlimited classes . The studio recently offered a free class while accepting donations for Haitian relief. Visit the website www.sanghayoganyc.com for other events and opportunities and where they spell out their vision: “Only in community can we transcend and truly make a positive impact on the world.”
97 N 3rd St.
On North 3rd near Wythe, Stripeman Gallery is presently hosting a “pop-up store” of art, antiques, mid-century modern, and collectibles. Some amazing furniture, kitchen items, and toys are reasonably priced. The exhibit was extended after the holidays so it may not last long!
225 Wythe Ave.
This reputable establishment offers good non-traditional diner food in a 1950s stainless steel diner car. Inside, the booths are cozy and the prices fair, although the real treat arrives with nice weather when the restaurant’s garden opens.
Sanford And Sven’s Second Hand
106 N 3rd St.
The name alone should get you in the door. Sanford and Sven’s Second Hand offers “recycled” furniture and household good, and fosters both employment and services for artists. If you find something you like at the store—a mix of antiques and junk from estate sales that would make Redd Foxx proud—talk to Sven Moving Company where local comedians and musicians do the delivery and other hauling. They also supply furniture rentals for filmmaking and television productions. Attached to the S & S warehouse is Purple Piano Studio, a band rehearsal space complete with a baby grand piano.
84 N 3rd St.
Recently moved from its former space east of Bedford, the new location is spacious and tidy, with clean, organized shelves of everything you need for your DIY project along with a veritable “city” of lumber. A quick chat with the owner Paul Evans confirmed that the wood for my dream couch/guest bed would run about $50, which of course they will cut to my specified measurements. I say “of course” because I didn’t know that I thought I’d have to do some sawing!
100 N 3rd St.
This amazing exhibition space is very inviting from the street, where you can window- shop the architectural model on view. Vamos designs cool projects for public spaces, like their Park Pod, a strip mall rehab with MacroSea (those cool dumpster pool people), large scale commercial projects, and residential interior design. For any developers reading this…shop local and not ugly…come here!