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Women of the Year: New Yorkers making the city even better

Meet Time Out New York’s astonishing Women of the Year, who are each giving the city something to talk about

Katrina Lenk
Photograph: Guerin Blask Katrina Lenk
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To mark Women's History Month, we’re toasting the New Yorkers we consider the women of the year. (And speaking of WHM, take a peek at our favorite NYC events in March.) Discover the creatives, entrepreneurs and artists who are putting their stamps on our fair city, whether it’s by hosting one of the best comedy shows in NYC, starring in a highly anticipated Broadway show, building buzz with a brewery or generally making New York more awesome.

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Women making NYC better

Naj Austin
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Naj Austin

Who she is: The founder of the first social and wellness center designed for people of color describes herself as “a black-ass woman with black-ass intentions.” It’s Austin's clear-eyed vision and ambition that led to the creation of Ethel’s Club, which empowers members to “create, vibe, heal, cry and laugh.” Inside the East Williamsburg haven is a lounge as well as welcoming areas with stadium or window seating, a café, a podcast studio and a wellness room in which practitioners host meditation, reiki and mental health sessions. Ethel’s Club also throws events—think Harlem Renaissance–inspired live music performances, educational workshops on sex work and a new film fellowship (launching in April) that aims to help up-and-coming writers of color to make headway in the entertainment industry.

Why we love her: While NYC often celebrates diversity, a lot of work still needs to be done. “New York City consists of a lot of noise, and we wanted to build a place that cuts through it,” says Austin. “People of color deserve a space where they can show up and not fear being excluded or discriminated against.”

Get in on the action:  Visit the website to apply for membership.

ethelsclub.com

Torres
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Torres

Who she is: Clinton Hill resident and indie musician Torres (a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott) is the first to admit she’s not very immersed in New York’s music scene. “I love my musician friends, but I think music circles are boring,” says the 29-year-old. She’s most inspired by creatives (painters, architects, carpenters, chefs) who make things “about which [she] knows nothing.” The influence behind her new, instrumentally lush record, Silver Tongue, is rooted in deep emotions of “desire, love, obsession and persuasion,” says Scott, and the album is an honest depiction of what it’s like to chase after whatever (or whoever) makes us feel whole. This raw, tender release proves that Scott is a shining light in modern music, but she’s also beaming as a woman in love: Her girlfriend, painter Jenna Gribbon, created her Joni Mitchell–esque album cover and stars in her latest music video, “Dressing America.”

Why we love her: It all boils down to her vulnerability. Scott says: “I aim to reveal
the truths that make people uncomfortable because I think confronting what’s difficult contributes to individual healing and understanding, which ultimately raises the collective vibrational frequency of the Earth.”

Check her out: Torres headlines the Bowery Ballroom on May 28.

torrestorrestorres.bandcamp.com

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Katrina Lenk
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Katrina Lenk

Who she is: In this feature, we’re honoring women who are stepping into surprising roles across the city. Actor Katrina Lenk is doing so quite literally, in a gender-switched production of the classic musical Company. When we think of great musical-theater stars, it’s usually women who shine the brightest—from Ethel Merman to Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald—and Lenk is the latest in this pantheon to capture Broadway’s heart. After years in regional theater and replacement roles, she zoomed up the ranks with her Tony-winning performance in 2017’s The Band’s Visit. This spring, she returns to the stage in a revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s groundbreaking 1970 musical, which director Marianne Elliott is giving a major twist: Company’s male central character, Bobby, is now a woman. 

Why we love her: Lenk projects a sly sense of mystery and depth, which should make her a good fit for the cryptic Bobbie, a confirmed bachelorette whose friends are all married. (That one of those pals is played by LuPone adds to the sense of a diva torch being passed.) "I think having it be a female Bobby—dealing with the pressures of being in a committed relationship or having a family versus having a career—is maybe a little bit more relevant than a 35-year-old man who’s a swingin’ single," Lenk says. "I don’t think we worry about that guy so much, but women definitely still feel that pressure." (Read our fuller interview with Katrina Lenk here.)

Check her out: Company starts previews at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on March 2 and opens on March 22.

companymusical.com

Mary Beth Barone
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Mary Beth Barone

Who she is: Who says heartbreak isn’t hilarious? During Drag His Ass: A F*ckboy Treatment Program, Barone and a diverse set of jesters join forces to rag on the contemptible daters of New York. (Who can’t relate to that?) “Comedy is becoming more democratic, and audiences are showing up,” says the 28-year-old, who has a dry, non-aggro delivery onstage, despite the premise of her showcase. But what makes her brand so different? As her pal and fellow comedian Sydnee Washington puts it, “She’s doing deadpan stand-up in a crop top. No one else is doing what she’s doing.”

Why we love her: During the program, the comedian asks a brave audience member to fess up to their toxic dating behavior and has them pledge to change their ways. Days after seeing her perform, a fan—“let’s call him Tom because that’s his name”—told her he ended things with two girls before sleeping with them because he knew it wasn’t going anywhere. “At that moment, knowing two girls were spared, I realized what I’m doing is worth it,” says Barone.

Check her out:  On April 23, catch two anniversary shows of Drag His Ass at Chelsea Music Hall.

marybethbarone.com

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Tara Hankinson
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Tara Hankinson

Who she is: This 33-year-old Manhattanite really goes the extra mile.“[Business partner] LeAnn Darland and I both run marathons and have taken calculated risks to work in the beer industry, which shows our grit,” says Hankinson, the cofounder of TALEA Beer Co. That level of toughness is an important quality for two female beer owners to have, especially since, according to Darland, only 2 percent of the 7,500-plus breweries in the U.S. are owned exclusively by women.

Why we love her: Hankinson is working hard to change that inequity by brewing her liquid magic—and she’s doing it in record time. Over the past 10 months, she and Darland have launched nine “easy-to-love” IPAs and fruit-forward sours canned in vibrant, cool-girl packaging. “We saw a gap in the market for a brewery and beer company that targets non–craft-beer drinkers,” says Hankinson, noting that TALEA has raised $2 million to build its own Williamsburg taproom, set to open this year. Their latest creation? The Cherryberry Tart Deco, reminiscent of a cherry Pop-Tart mixed with Sour Patch Kids. Ale, yeah!

Get a taste: On February 22, you can tip back TALEA’s offerings at the Brooklyn Expo Center during NYC Beer Week’s Opening Bash, from noon to 10pm.

taleabeer.com

Maresa Ponitch
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Maresa Ponitch

Who she is: This vintage slinger redefines what it means to be a fashion-forward New Yorker. But the appeal is not just her style; it’s also the 41-year-old’s awareness of how harmful the industry is to our planet, making her one of the most futuristic thinkers on our shopping scene. “These issues require real, systemic attention,” she says. That’s why Ponitch, who worked in textile-recycling facilities for more than a decade, stresses the importance of buying locally and secondhand. Recently, she transformed her former Greenpoint shop, Dusty Rose Vintage, into the Dusty Friends pop-up collective, which is now hosting a
variety of events, such as a session (running through April) that’s devoted to drawing a topless figure wearing sustainably made panties. Last year, she launched Gold Dust Projects, a roaming event series that’s part throwback shopping market and part panel,
with a focus on sustainability.

Why we love her: To top it all off, the groovy seller gives back whenever she can. Ponitch created Our Damn Selves, a marketplace that donates a cut of the profits to a worthy cause. “I built a thing to help small brands band together, make rent and do some good at the same time. That’s tombstone-worthy stuff,” says Ponitch.

Check it out: On February 25, from 6 to 8:30pm, her pop-up hosts “Darn It!,” an instructional evening of “care and repair for your knitwear.”

dustyrosevintage.com

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Antonia Joannides
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Antonia Joannides

Who she is: For Astoria denizens looking to wine and dine, Queen’s Room is the place to go for the royal treatment. Joannides, one of the rare female restaurant owners along the strip of eateries that dominates Ditmars Boulevard, rules the neighborhood-bolstering haunt by really, really getting to know her patrons. Proof: “I went on vacation with someone I met here,” shares the 36-year-old LIC resident. Before her nearly three-year-old spot opened, she thought, Let’s feel out what we and Astoria can do together. And like the beloved queen she is, Joannides continues to offer steadfast support to other local entrepreneurs by promoting or cohosting their events.

Why we love her: Here’s just one anecdote: Ever since an elderly woman was kicked out of a nearby restaurant for occupying a table without ordering, Joannides offers her a seat and free food every time she comes to Queen’s Room.

Check it out: On Tuesdays, enjoy happy hour all night—plus trivia at 7pm. 

Lenk cover shoot: 
Styling: Sarah Slutsky; Styling Assistant: Gina Brase; Hair: David Cruz/TraceyMattingly.com; Makeup: Rebecca Restrepo/TraceyMattingly.com

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