Saturday, September 08, 2007

So THIS is how the rich do their grocery shopping!

I don't know if these photos can possibly convey how cool this thing is. It's "just" a grocery store, kids. But it's hands-down the coolest one you'll ever see. Here's the deal:

We finally made it to New York City for a day trip on a charter bus last weekend. I've been there plenty of times before, and we only had about 8 hours so we couldn't be too ambitious (even squeezing out 8 tourist-hours makes for a loooooong day when you factor in the additional 7 hours of round-trip driving), but for this birthday-weekend-trip, I was determined to find and explore something unusual, something cutting-edge, to really make it memorable (and to make me a far cooler and more urbane person, as a result, of course!)

I remembered an incredible visual presentation I had seen when I was working in Los Angeles, which talked about the mind-bending ways that architects around the world are able to re-purpose old structures in ways that give them new life in a modern world. The project that stuck in my head all these years was this grocery store.

I've seen a boatload of adaptive reuse projects, all over the world- turning the old L.A. Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery into an artists' colony, converting an old power plant on the Thames into the Tate Modern Art Museum, taking a 1915 Portland elementary school and transforming it into an entire microbrewery/hotel/restaurant/bar/music venue-complex - but this NYC grocery store might take the cake.

The grocery store is located UNDERNEATH - sort of the "armpit" if you will- the Queensboro/59th Street Bridge. Apparently this space was the site of an open-air market until the 1930s, so there is some precedent for its current incarnation, but it had been used as storage space for the NYC transit department for decades. It's the underbelly of a bridge, you understand!

Well, this bridge isn't any ordinary bridge, because its underside has very beautiful arches with detailed tilework that is apparently done by a famous Spanish architect named Guastavino, who also did lots of NYC's subway stations. Still, somebody had to have some serious artistic vision to think that what must have been a filthy, dark space could ever become an uber-swanky grocery store - where people buy fresh food!- on the Upper East Side, sharing the neighborhood with some of the priciest condos in Manhattan.

Sharing the space with the grocery store is an adjacent special event space called Guastavino's (named after the tile guy) which is so cool that it was apparently the site of "Sex and the City" cast parties (somehow that gives it the NYC stamp of approval).

The top photo shows the bridge and the outside of the space, which sports a mini-park and a (straight outta London) Conran Shop (it's a high-design home furnishings store, sort of like Ikea but about 50 times more expensive). The middle photo is an overview of the grocery store. The bottom photo was taken in the loft-area where we sat and ate our sushi, and shows more detail of the vaulted ceiling.

OK, I'll quit raving now, but- take it from me- if you are ever in NYC, it's a 15 minute walk from the southern edge of Central Park, due east, to the coolest grocery store you'll ever see.

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