Offbeat devotional guide
Need a little soul cleansing? Find enlightenment from these unlikely sources.
Mon Mar 29 2010
Church of Sweden
To be a Freemason, you must believe in a Supreme Being (and have a penis—women are typically barred from joining); but to visit the Grand Lodge of New York’s towering marble-and-gilt Masonic Hall (71 W 23rd St at Sixth Ave; 800-3MASON4, nymasons.org), all you need is respectful curiosity. Free tours are offered Monday through Saturday (10:30am--2:15pm), but the public can also visit the 14th-floor Masonic Library (212-337-6620, nymasoniclibrary.org; check website for hours) for a peek at how the tight-lipped organization operates. Exhibits may showcase famous Masons (George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were members), along with artifacts like carved silver swords and Masonic symbols. Though the public can’t check out books from the library’s 60,000-volume collection, its reading room is an especially apropos place to tuck into The Da Vinci Code.
Learn the basics of Mahayana Buddhism—one of the largest sects of the religion—at the New York branch of the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom (360 W 28th St at Ninth Ave, apt 1C; 212-255-2487, zenbuddhisttemple.org). Get an introduction to meditation on Tuesday nights from 7 to 8:30pm; a five-week course is $160 (call to find out when the next lesson will take place). If you’d prefer to om in a more relaxed environment, hit up one of the temple’s Sunday public services (10am, 4pm; suggested donation $10), which include chants, spiritual talks and a near half hour of directed silence.
The Church of Sweden (5 E 48th St between Fifth and Madison Aves; 212-832-8443, swedishchurch.net; check website for hours) offers a sedate respite from the bustling midtown crowds, as well as inexpensive, sweet treats: The church’s airy ground-floor reading room and caf features soft, sticky home-baked cinnamon buns ($1.50), Mazarin cakes ($1.50) and steaming cups of Fair Trade coffee ($1.50). Though you can gawk at the modern home goods in the church’s shop (thou shall not covet the Design House Stockholm candleholders), the main purpose here is worship: The church features a light-dappled prayer corner, as well as a whitewashed and wood-beamed chapel, both of which fulfill more solemn needs.
Not to be confused with the other, larger Marble Cemetery a block away, the New York Marble Cemetery (Second Ave between 2nd and 3rd Sts, marblecemetery.org) is the East Village’s most secret garden: The half-acre landmarked oasis was built in the 1830s, and remains hidden in a small alleyway. All 156 of its nonsectarian vaults are buried beneath the lawn, and the monument-free expanse beckons you to rest in peace (for an afternoon, anyway). Though it’s usually closed to the public, the graveyard opens its doors once a month during the spring and summer; its grand opening takes place April 25 from noon to 4pm (check the website for updates).
Combining an interfaith spiritual academy, alternative-health hub, yoga studio and arts space, the New York Open Center (22 E 30th St between Fifth and Madison Aves; 212-219-2527, opencenter.org; Mon--Fri 10am--10pm; Sat, Sun 10am--6pm) has offered a choose-your-own-adventure style of personal fulfillment for 25 years. Beat in tune to the heart of the urban campus at the bookstore, with lovingly chosen tools to inspire a dynamic holistic lifestyle, such as mala beads, Reiki-charged soy candles and Anjolie handmade Ayurvedic soaps. A new caf (open ever day at 4pm) sells Stumptown coffee ($$2), vegan baked goods ($1.25--$2.75) and coming soon, organic and local salads, sandwiches and vegetarian dishes ($8--$10).
Communist bookstore Revolution Books (126 W 26th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves; 212-691-3345, revolutionbooksnyc.org; daily noon--7pm) has been a haven for New York’s neoradical community since it was founded by Revolutionary Community Party chairman Bob Avakian in 1978. Wide-ranging events like book readings and films screenings complement the radically stocked shelves—best-sellers include Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Akivan’s Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. Next up, the store will sponsor a lecture by Marxist author Raymond Lotta at Columbia University (International Affairs Bldg, 420 W 118th St between Morningside Dr and Amsterdam Ave, room 417; Apr 8 at 7pm; $10, students free).
As the oldest remaining botanica in Manhattan (it was established in 1921), Casa de las Velas Otto Chicas-Rendon (60 E 116th St between Madison and Park Aves; 212-289-0378) provides a home base for several different Afro-Caribbean religions, like santeria and voodoo. Stock up on hombre candles to help cure your troubles (red for passion, green for money, blue for tranquility), dried sage for giving your apartment a good spiritual cleanse, and a coconut carved in the shape of Elegua, an African deity who assists with luck and success. Got a specific problem? Consult with Theresa, the Casa’s resident adviser (she’s there after 1:30pm). She can help diagnose whatever’s ailing you (be it spiritual or physical) by doing different types of readings, and will prescribe remedies—herbal or otherwise—to help.
Though its events tend to skew secular, full of quirky film screenings, comedy shows and lectures, 92YTribeca (200 Hudson St at Canal St; 212-601-1000, 92ytribeca.com) has plenty of opportunities for spiritual (and cultural) enlightenment for hip Heebs. Like its uptown counterpart, the venue frequently plans Jewish-themed events, but with an eye toward pleasing the 18--34 set. At the Jewmongous! Passover Extravaganza on Saturday 3 (8pm, $20), for example, Sean Altman—who founded Rockapella, from Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego?—will perform ditties from his comedy album Taller than Jesus, including “Christian Baby Blood,” “Just Too Jew for You,” and “They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat).” Clearly, this isn’t your bubbe’s Passover seder.
Tucked inside Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, the Chinese Scholar’s Garden (1000 Richmond Terr, Staten Island; 718-448-2500, snug-harbor.org/chinese.html; Tue--Sun 10am--4pm, $5), which opened in 1999, is an oasis of calm within the confines of hectic NYC. Built to reflect a traditional Ming Dynasty garden by Chinese firm LAC (which also designed the similarly laid-out Astor Court, at the Met), it has undulating pathways, abstract rock formations, and rainbow-hued carp and koi ponds that exude organic sensuality. Muse over the beauty of life as you stroll through the garden; your third eye will thank you for it.
Do you see God in a pork bun? Find bliss of a different sort at these NYC spots.
Temple of design
Moss (150 Greene St at Houston St; 212-204-7100, mossonline.com) has rewritten the good book on contemporary gallery-quality, avant-garde industrial design.
Cult of caffeine
“Farm to cup” fanaticism drives the small-batch goodness at Gimme! Coffee (228 Mott St between Prince and Spring Sts; 212-226-4011 * 495 Lorimer St at Powers St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-388-7771 * gimmecoffee.com), particularly its signature Leftist Espresso Blend, a handcrafted Northern Italian--style quaff.
High priest of pork
It takes hard work and prayer to get a seat at David Chang’s Momofuku Ko (163 First Ave between 10th and 11th Sts; 212-500-0831,momofuku.com), but exploring its ever-evolving tasting menu—glazed duck breast with blackened mustard greens currently dominates—is an essential step to culinary enlightenment.
Church of chocolate
You don’t need a golden ticket to visit the bearded Willy Wonkas of Williamsburg. Mast Brothers Chocolate (105A North 3rd St at Berry St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-388-2625, mastbrotherschocolate.com) will soon conduct tours of its artisanal chocolate factory on Saturdays and Sundays; call or check the website for details.
Head uptown for artistic enlightenment: Scenes from the ancient Sanskrit epic The Ramayana are on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave at 82nd St; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org) through September 27.
There’s no cathedral to rare and illuminated books quite as opulent as The Morgan Library & Museum (225 Madison Ave at 36th St; 212-685-0008, themorgan.org), whose monks (okay, librarians) oversee treasures such as letters by J.D. Salinger, the ultimate literary hermit.
The tithing may be steep at Apothke (9 Doyers St at Pell St; 212-406-0400, apothekebar.com), but with more than 250 speciality cocktails on the menu (starting at $15)—many featuring house-infused, apothecary-inspired spirits—the mixology reaches the divine.