It’s a city that needs no introduction, its skyline and the streets below loved by locals and visitors alike. But the Big Apple still has secrets – you just need to know who to ask.
The American Folk Art Museum
In an otherwise glossy part of Midtown, just a few doors down from the ever-popular Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), stands the tiny, humble American Folk Art Museum. An eclectic crowd made up of conventional art lovers, edgy artists and craft enthusiasts wanders through, reflecting on an equally diverse collection of exhibits, from 1980s crayon drawings to a towering 19th-century weathervane.
The work here is made by self-taught artists – those who have had no formal training – also called ‘outsider art’ because many of its creators live on the fringes of mainstream society. Self-taught Dwight Mackintosh lived most of his life in mental institutions and painted animals with see-through skin; Judith Scott, an artist with Down’s syndrome, completely covered objects in coloured yarn; a 15,000-page watercolour story about winged beings called ‘Blengigomeneans’ was secretly created by a janitor, Henry Darger.
The work is lauded by some as being more original than the work of artists who follow academic or art-world conventions, and the museum embraces the old as well as the new. On any given day, you might find 18th-century needlework on display, or early American portraits painted by ‘spirit effect’, in which the artist painted according to a mystical vision of a deceased subject. According to Stacy C Hollander, the museum’s chief curator, many artists worked at home in their kitchens, or in secret, or without any intention of ever showing their work. This makes for a very different viewing experience than visitors might have at MoMA. ‘People are very moved when they come here, and even I don’t know what causes that reaction,’ says Hollander. ‘The way that most self-taught art is made, in a face-to-face or intimate way, gives it an immediacy. So when you’re looking at it, it’s as if you’re experiencing the moment of making with the artist.’
New York is good at cocktails. In part that’s because it was good at getting around 1920s Prohibition when, according to Apothéke bartender Chris Marshall, ‘you had a lot of bathtub gin that tasted so horrible you had to add stuff to it to make it drinkable’.
The bar, on a small lane in the Chinatown district, is almost impossible to find, with only tiny hardware-store lettering over the door. (‘Most people don’t find us,’ says Marshall with a smile.) It’s part speakeasy, part laboratory. In line with the ‘apothecary’ theme, most cocktails are made with fresh herbs and a dash of botanicals from the neighbourhood’s traditional medicine shops, and bar staff wear traditional chemists’ whites. The rows of ingredients – vanilla-bean-infused cognac, lavender tea, sugarcane, ‘energy tincture’ – are precisely arranged in old-fashioned jars, bottles and cut-crystal decanters.
With a dull ‘whoomph’ sound, Marshall flambés a mixture of sea salt laced with anise and sambuca, and a small crowd gathers to watch. Today is Saturday, when Apothéke becomes a cocktail academy, and anyone can learn the secrets of the bar’s potent concoctions made with fruit, herbs and even vegetables fresh from the market.
The ‘Deal Closer’, a cucumber-mint gimlet, is a popular lesson: it’s easy, strong, and contains horny-goat-weed tea, an aphrodisiac. ‘But don’t worry,’ Mitchell reassures a student. ‘It’s not like you’re going to rip off your clothes or anything.’