I’ve long been drawn to Howard Street for one obvious reason
, but lately I’ve realized it’s far and away my favorite part of Soho. I don’t venture above Canal lightly, but I think you could do a lot worse than spending an afternoon exploring Howard and its neighboring streets. Consider this a miniature guide to an area that’s far enough south of Houston that it might be better known as NoCa….
Do you ever have guests come visit, and they surprise you by saying that they’d like to pop into somewhere you think they’d never know about? My friend Tracy did that to me a few weeks back, leading me into BDDW as soon as she saw it. This time I concluded it’s at the top of the first places I’ll visit after I win the lottery. And I’m obsessed with the ear.
We were in the area because Tracy wanted to visit De Vera, a shop/gallery at Crosby and Howard; I had passed by a hundred times and never gone in. It has the most amazing collection of objects. I suppose they’re antiques, or maybe not technically, at least all of them; what matters is that they’re fantastic. (The lack of price tags sends a message.) There’s also jewelery. I almost bought the book (there’s one about De Vera’s objects and another about its jewelry), even though it’s $165. I may yet.
The preciousness of De Vera makes Michele Varian, on Howard, even more of a delight, because not only is everything affordable, it seems downright inexpensive. My mom had been the one to tell me to check the store out—she wanted to buy me a troll-shaped cookie jar (you’d have to ask her why). Tracy and I agreed that we kept looking at price tags, only to be surprised at how reasonable everything was.
Next door is Dunderdon, a store I hadn’t recalled when I went in a couple weeks ago. I asked if it had opened recently. “We’ve been here four years,” said the staffer. Doh! It’s Swedish menswear and assorted objects, à la Steven Alan. I bought a shirt and then managed to restrain myself from buying no more than two of the vintage photos from Ampersand. They’re going to make ideal birthday cards/gifts, if I can determine who should get a photo of a 1980s blonde feistily baring her itty-bitties. Who am I kidding? I’m keeping that one.
I’ve mentioned Smile to Go on Howard before as the kind of takeout restaurant I wish we had (and will soon!). A few premade sandwiches, a bunch of salads, and really good cookies. (The peanut-butter-and-jelly one sounds weird but it’s not.) You can sit inside if you snag a seat, or just join the young workers outside hanging out on the loading docks—get too close to De Vera, though, and they’ll boot you. Note: It’s a zoo on weekdays, lovely on Saturdays, and closed Sundays.
If you’re more interested in a sit-down meal, you could do worse than Imperial No. 9 (if that’s still the name), the restaurant at the Mondrian Soho. I find the hotel ugly, and the restaurant is overwrought, to be sure. But in daytime, with light streaming through the greenhouse ceiling, you can overlook the Starckness of it all and just relax. (I though the food was fine when the original chef was there, but since he left I’ve only been for an afternoon snack—a shared dessert and lovely variations on lemonade.)
American Two Shot, up on Grand, sells womenswear by New York designers and vintage clothes, and it has a café, too. It feels like Brooklyn, and I mean that in the very best way.
Art-supply store Utrecht opened not too long ago at 148 Lafayette, and it’s everything that Pearl Paint isn’t—spiffy and organized, for one thing, and entirely on one floor, for another. And it has everything you need to send home a pretty postcard if you make the journey.