West Eighth Street is an anomaly is this city. As one New York Times writer said, this one block seems to be defying the laws of gentrification. The center Village is one of the most expensive and desirable neighborhoods in New York City with multimillion dollar apartments as the norm, yet West Eighth Street's merchants are a motley crew of businesses that cater primarily to tourists. Once known as the "shoe block" the street sported dozens of shoe stores. Only a handful remain.
The most telltale sign of trouble are the closed stores. Depending on the day, it is possible to see as many as 20 plus stores vacant on one city block.
But lately there have been signs of hope that West Eighth Street may rise again with the opening of two cafes, a winebar, and Elettaria at 33 West Eighth Street.
We residents hope for this, not because we embrace gentrification and rising rents, but because we would like to see quality businesses, at least some of which provide useful services to the neighborhood.
Elettaria does not exactly fit this description, but it could be one of the first signs of a break from the type of retailers this street has seen for as long as one can remember. The restaurant has had a lot of buzz and media coverage. It is extraordinarily upscale and chic for the street, albeit even a little intimidating - until recently it didn't even post a menu in the window. The food reviews are generally quite good with articles appearing this year in both the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times. The menu is unique - an Indian/Filipino/American fusion. Chef Akhtar Nawab and partner Noel Cruz have pedigrees that include the Grammercy Tavern, French Culinary Institute, and Craftbar. Negative reviews appear to be primarily leveled at the service.
There was a time where Eighth Street and its environs actually had the types of places emblematic of its artistic heritage - the original Whitney museum was here, as was the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture (still operating). In the early 1900s, the area was already an established art district - see my posting on Macdougal Alley. From 1900-1950 there was a community of some 200 artists who lived and worked in the two blocks north of Washington Square - see my posting: Left Bank New York. Elettaria's space was formerly a club, the 8th Wonder, where Hendrix and others played in the 1960s. Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios is still in business on the block.
One neighborhood activist I know predicts that Eighth Street will rise again. I hope so ...
Note About the Restaurant: The name Elettaria is a species of cardamom, one of the world's most expensive spices. You can visit the restaurant's website and menu here.