Real Estate

TCQ&A: Erik Torkells

The rules: Answer as many of the 50 questions as you like (but a minimum of 15, and you must answer #1–4). Please limit most answers to the general geographic area.

1. How long have you lived in the area? Where did you move from? Where are you originally from? I’m originally from Huntington Beach, California. I went to college at Duke, where there’s a study-abroad-like program focusing on the arts in New York City. That semester changed my life: I moved to the city after graduating, working as a magazine editor for 16 years before starting this site. I came to Tribeca in 2003; my husband, Adam, has lived here since the mid-90s. (He says he’d have to dig up the legal documents to find out the exact year.)

2. Married? Partnered? If so, what’s his/her name and occupation? Adam works in finance.

3. Kids? Pets? We had a pug, Howard, whom we still miss. There will be more pugs.

4. Where do you live? Southeast Tribeca (and Santa Barbara, Calif.). Love the views over City Hall Park; hate the sirens stuck in traffic on Broadway.

5. What do you do for a living? Keep my husband happy. Seriously, though, ask me in a month.

6. The best deal around: Radicchio at Whole Foods, because the cashiers consistently ring it up as red cabbage.

7. Most-frequented restaurants: I try to eat widely in the neighborhood, but the places I go back to again and again are Arcade Bakery, Houseman (below), Café Altro Paradiso, and Pasquale Jones.

8. For special occasions, I go to: I have grown less interested in the long, expensive meal—but if you want to actually hear people, you have to pay a premium. I have had very nice times lately at Bâtard and Jungsik.

9. Best sandwich: The best sandwich in the neighborhood is among the simplest: the ham-and-cheese baguette at Arcade Bakery. I try to eat little meat, though, and the vegetarian sandwiches there are a delicious consolation prize. (May the eggplant one come back soon, Roger.) I’m also partial to an egg-and-cheese on a roll at Morgans Market, making sure to ask for a toasted roll and extra salt and pepper. And a recent discovery that I can heartily recommend is the fried baccala sandwich at Café Altro Paradiso (below).

10. Sweet-tooth satisfaction: Nine years ago, when I started this site (and began walking the streets in earnest), I frequently stopped for a snack. Over time, my sweet tooth has diminished, but I have fond memories of Tribeca Treats’s chocolate-covered pretzels, Duane Park Patisserie’s chocolate-almond leaf cookies (below), Baked’s coffee cake, Café Clementine’s cowboy cookies, Fika’s cinnamon rolls, Maman’s pistachio cake, Interlude’s honey scones, Bouley Bakery’s canelés and palmiers…. And a special mention goes to Grandaisy’s almond and fennel seed biscotti—so good after dinner, preferably with a nip of Scotch.

11. Most delicious cocktail: The three that come to mind aren’t available anymore. North End Grill made the ideal gin gimlet, neither too sweet nor too sour. Brushstroke’s shiso cocktail was a classic (below; photo by Andrea, who made it often at home). And Evening Bar used to have a drink called Old Nut that was made with Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, Averna, Angostura bitters, and black walnut bitters, and nothing beat it on a winter night. So I’ll go with the Ol’ Dirty Bâtard at Bâtard and EJ’s Manhattan at Houseman.

12. I usually order in from Kesté, and I always order the margarita and quattro formaggi pizzas. Actually, we don’t order in much anymore, preferring to cook something simple. But when we do, the only places we consider are Kesté, Sole di Capri, Takahachi, and Max. And more often than not, we get pizza.

13. I can’t resist popping into: The lobby of 101 Barclay (a.k.a. 240 Greenwich), just to annoy the BNY Mellon security guards.

14. The last non-essential item I bought: Panettone from Eataly. Why can’t I have panettone all year long?

15. When I walk into my apartment, the first thing I see that I bought around here is: That depends on where I look. Buying things from local stores—especially when a sale is on—is an occupational hazard for a hyperlocal blogger. I see a desk and two vases from Stillfried Wien. A dining room table, chairs, wallpaper, hutch, another chair, carpet from Just Scandinavian. Sculptures by Robert Janz and Herb Schiffrin. An IBM Standard Issue clock from Schoolhouse. A concrete vase from Steven Alan Home Shop. A felt stool from Issey Miyake. A terra cotta pot from Ten Thousand Things. I could go on….

16. I’m so glad Kaffe 1668 South is in the neighborhood, because without it I’d be crabby after swimming.

17. How I stay fit: Five or six days a week, I swim at least a mile and a half at Asphalt Green. It keeps me fit, but more important, it keeps me sane. I have been so grateful for that pool—the BMCC one was an exercise in frustration, and the Stuyvesant Community Center’s hours aren’t great—but one huge plus for California is being able to swim outside…. And I can’t thank Jeffrey Villanueva (below, in a photo by Arlynn Shimizu), who teaches at Yoga Vida, enough. I would have give up yoga long ago without his expertise, attention, encouragement, and patience. He’s the only yoga instructor I’ve come across who watches everyone in the studio for the entire class, even calling out at you from across the room.

18. Where I get beautiful: I get my hair cut at Yama Salon on Spring Street. They do a nice job and it only takes just over a half hour.

19. What’s the area’s best-kept secret? If you’ve never walked into the Western Union Building (60 Hudson) or the AT&T Long Distance Building (32 Sixth Ave., below), do it! You may not get far, but you can still revel in the interiors.

20. A recent enthusiasm: I have rediscovered my love for green olives stuffed with pimentos, and the ones from Santa Barbara Olive Co. (it’s a coincidence that I’m moving there) are the best. They’re not cheap, though: $4.69 for a five-ounce jar at Whole Foods, which is probably 50¢ per olive. (But they’re infinitely better than the cheaper, chewier ones at Trader Joe’s.) Another enthusiasm is the novel I’ve been telling everyone to read: Madeline Miller’s Circe.

21. A worthy splurge: Chair massages at Salon M. I don’t know if it’s the blogging or the swimming, but my shoulders get so tense they’re up by my ears half the time. Ten minutes in the chair and I have a new lease on life. In particular, I’m always impressed by how well Evan seems to know exactly where to focus.

22. A recent case of sticker shock: The flowers at Roman and Williams Guild.

24. Rainy-day activity: Blogging.

27. I’ve never been to Puffy’s Tavern and I don’t know why.

28. I’m sorry, Ninja, but I won’t be coming back. (Not sorry!)

29. How does every single art gallery stay in business?

30. I tend to take out-of-towners to: The Smyth, or AKA the Smyth, as it’s awkwardly called now.

31. I wish I lived in…. I often think Jay Street might be the perfect Tribeca street—it’s pretty, of course, and there’s little traffic and no buses. But when I next live in New York City, I think I’ll be needing a doorman building. I’m ready to stop having to deal with people trying to get into my building without buzzing.

32. My very favorite spot: In the morning, if you look north on W. Broadway from around Chambers Street, the water tower atop 6 Varick is silhouetted against the Empire State Building. From the middle of the street, you can get them to line up perfectly. (Keep an eye on the traffic.) The juxtaposition gets me every time.

33. Pet peeve: People who refuse to push a revolving door, making the person behind them do all the work.

34. If money were no object, I’d… Buy a ton of furniture at Espasso, despite the aloofness.

35. A doctor I’d recommend: Dr. Traci Goldstein (optometrist), Dr. Kori Darling (dentist), Dr. James Gladstone (orthopedist), Dr. Stacey Silvers (ENT), and Dr. Alon Prywes (best periodontist ever—when every other one wanted to slice-and-dice my gums once again, he found a better way). This makes it sound like I’m always breaking down or a hypochondriac, but one of the suckiest parts of moving is leaving doctors you trust and like—I’ve lived in New York 25 years!—and I’m delighted to be able to recommend them.

36. My most memorable celebrity sighting: At Water 4 Dogs, I had a brief conversation about Howard’s name with Jake Gyllenhaal, which was amusing to me because Howard’s breeder had named him Jake, and one of the main reasons I wanted to change it was because Brokeback Mountain had just come out, and I was concerned people would think we had named him after Gyllenhaal. (I didn’t tell him that.) Also, Mike Bloomberg wanted a photo with me. Run for president, Mike!

37. A local celebrity I’d like to run into: Jim Smithers. No, Mariah Carey. (That’s her voting in Tribeca in 2012; photo by T.)

38. The most romantic spot around: Evening Bar.

39. Tribeca could use more twentysomethings and less entitlement. Does it never occur to you that you just got lucky?

40. If I could change one thing about the neighborhood: I’d institute congestion pricing and true parking-placard reform, along with much stricter enforcement of traffic laws. And I’d limit the number of film shoots. And I still don’t know why non-emergency construction is allowed on weekends. This might be at the core of why it’s time for me to leave: I can see so many ways to make life better here, and so little chance of politicians even attempting them.

41. A business I’d like to have here: A fishmonger. A cheese store. Somewhere that sells good lettuce! Eataly sometimes functions as all of those, but it’s so inconsistent.

42. A business I miss: The Harrison, where one snowy night the hosts gave us umbrellas. North End Grill, where we had our rehearsal dinner (and so many wonderful non-event dinners). Duane Park Café, where Jorge would spill tea about the other diners. Duane Park, where Murray Hill called out our table as a bunch of squares and, although I wasn’t there, Lady Gaga performed an impromptu concert in 2010 (photo by Malgorzata Saniewska). Azafrán, which had excellent croquettes and the best carrot dish. Greenwich Grill, which I was almost inexplicably fond of. Upstairs at Bouley, where snow blew around us and we debated whether Laurie Anderson or Annette Bening was at a nearby table. Roc, purely because of Rocco. I’m sure there are many others. When I move on, I hope you’ll miss me as I miss them, with fondness and gratitude and an understanding that everything must change.

43. My best Tribeca story: This is probably not my best story, but it’s what came to mind. Plus, I had already written it up for my long-neglected personal blog, The General Situation. (If you decide to click through, bear in mind that I’m far less permissive about the comments there.)

While my friend Tracy was in town, we stopped by a store that was having a big closing sale. As we left, one of the owners walked us out—and then handed me a $20 bill. It was ostensibly for buying Howard treats (if I understood correctly), although a miscommunication over Tribeca Citizen advertising may have been involved. In any event, after much discussion on the sidewalk, I finally managed to get him to take the money back.

Tracy: What just happened there?

Me: I don’t know! Why would he give me $20? I don’t understand!

Tracy: Were you buying drugs from him?

Me: No! What are you talking about? That would be the most awkward drug deal ever. And I don’t do drugs!

Tracy: Did you have sex with him?

Me: What?! [Pause.] Twenty DOLLARS?!

44. The best Tribeca story I won’t tell: The one about the boarded-up storefront at 48 Warren.

45. Someone who lives here whom I really think you should meet: Anyone outside of your socioeconomic sphere.

46. Proof that change is good: Hudson River Park. And more broadly, the transformation of so much of New York City’s waterfront. If you haven’t been to Brooklyn Bridge Park or Long Island City in recent years, your mind is going to be blown. I know there are people who find it all too sanitized, but that’s quibbling about something that has changed the quality of life for so many people.

47. A new building I admire: The Spring Street Salt Shed. Runner-up: 565 Broome. A new building I don’t: It’s a three-way tie between 19 Park Place, the dreadful Beekman Hotel condo tower, and the depressing, banal outbuilding to the east of 111 Murray (below). The last thing an ugly building should do is draw attention to itself by spouting steam.

48. Best reason to go AboCa (above Canal): Court Street Grocers on Laguardia has the best sandwiches in town. In nice weather, I take mine to Washington Square Park and people-watch. Also, the Morton Williams supermarket is right there, which is handy now that Best Market is kaput. Li-Lac Chocolates is only a couple of blocks away, too. Here’s another excerpt from the General Sitch, as both fans of the blog call it:

I was sitting in Washington Square Park, enjoying my lunch, when a woman stopped in front of me. “Do you love poetry? Especially when it’s short and happy, like me?” My attack response was engaged—I assumed she was a charity mugger—but then I saw the “free hugs” sign on her shirt.

“I hope you have a lovely day,” I said, very slowly.

“And I hope you have a lovelier day,” she replied.

“Me too.” If someone’s day has to win, it might as well be mine. After congratulating myself for being pleasant to an aggressive stranger, I spent the next few minutes mulling over why it’s so aggravating to be interrupted while eating—worse when it’s during lunch, worst of all when you’re eating a sandwich. Am I the only person who thinks sandwich time is sacred?

A few minutes later, a teenager sat down next to me. “Beautiful day!” the kid said, so I ignored him. He tried again, this time clearly directing it at me: “Hey, do you know what that festival is for?” It appeared to be for India, I told him, which he mistook as encouragement. “Would you answer a question?” he asked. “What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone like me, who’s young and just starting out?” So much ran through my mind: Don’t point out your youth to older people. Don’t get a pet monkey. Don’t interrupt a man when he’s eating a sandwich. But what I said was, “Never go to a party on a boat.” And I got up and left.

49. If I couldn’t live here, I’d live in…. Santa Barbara! And if that doesn’t work out, maybe Barcelona.

50. I wish you had asked me about: Who’s taking this site over.


Recent TCQ&As:
Peter Carey
Patrick McGrath
Logan Levkoff
Edward Burns
Ben LeBlanc

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