Showing posts with label A visit to. Show all posts
Showing posts with label A visit to. Show all posts

Thursday, August 11, 2022

A visit to Aliens of Brooklyn on 9th Street

Photos and interview by Stacie Joy

It’s 7 p.m., and I’m meeting Joseph Angel Tijerina, the artist/owner behind the Aliens of Brooklyn clothing and accessories brand, which recently opened its first storefront at 305 E. Ninth St. between First Avenue and Second Avenue, as he closes up for the day. 

It’s his birthday, but he’s agreed to chat with me about the history of the pop culture brand, his Mexican heritage, his ’90s-era Taco Bell inspiration, and his love of collabs with other brands — all before heading out to celebrate.
What is the origin of Aliens of Brooklyn? How did you arrive at the name, and what was the inspiration behind the brand? 

As a child of the ’90s, I recall watching the original “Ghostbusters” movie, going to my mother and telling her that I would live in New York City one day. And she then would shoot me down with a simple “No.” I would ask why, and she would say, “It’s too far and too big.” Plus, she’d miss me too much. But in my mind, all I did was dream big. 

I would later graduate from Wade College art school in Texas, and my mom would pass away from a heart attack. That was the catalyst that led me to move to New York. I had never even been to the city, just watched movies and dreamt about it.

Aliens Of Brooklyn came alive the moment I moved to Crown Heights in 2012. The culture, the vibe, the space where an artist could complete their puzzle of whatever it was that they couldn’t convey anywhere else. All my puzzle pieces were finally connecting. I was finally healing. 

The people in Brooklyn were so vibrant, and everyone dressed however they wanted. I never knew I could come to a place where trends were ever-changing and there felt like no rules. I think this is what they meant when they said to find your tribe. And I have no idea who “they” are. 

This brand is absolutely inspired by the people I’ve met and the ones I people-watch. I did Google to see if actual aliens were living in Brooklyn, and some articles popped up about sightings. I sort of knew this name was special, and so it stuck. 

It’s something about constantly feeling like an outsider and creating a world where everyone is actually invited to the party. Being in Texas was great, but I realized being in NYC was better. I could be OK with where I came from, who I’ve become, and who I was becoming. 

And although there is so much more to me than my race and sexual orientation, I absolutely embrace that I’m a Mexican American and an LGBTQIA+ brand. It makes me brave, and it might make people struggle to be brave too. I think the thing I’m really proud of is that I’m a Mexican who owns a successful business. I’ve always wished my mom could see me at this stage of my life because of how far I’ve come. I’d like to think that she’s around working through me somehow. 

You recently opened a shop in the East Village. How has a brick-and-mortar location differed from your pop-up and Artists & Fleas vending background? 

Well, the locals are this tight-knit community who basically have welcomed my brand with open arms, which is something I’ve always needed. We don’t always have to be pushed away. We can treat each other with respect and kindness. It shows with the East Village, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think they might recognize that I’ve come with an interesting point of view. And to me, art is exactly that. In my eyes, the East Village is always a place where the artists migrate, and I find that sacred and want to honor the history already created here. 

Pop-up markets can be really hard but also fulfilling once you hit your sweet spot of being satisfied with your brand, and it’s not always about the money. I think those are big lessons that many artists struggle with because what you love may not pay the rent at first, although it can. You just have to go back to the drawing board and problem solve for a bit. 

Doing markets for almost 10 years gives you a lot of experience. I’m so happy that the customers helped the brand become so successful by buying hats and beanies at our pop-ups. But having a hit item in markets doesn’t always translate to having a hit brick-and-mortar store. I am still learning, but with a store, I get to have a fully realized concept and aesthetic. I’m enjoying every moment of it.
Your Instagram teased the inspiration for your shop décor was ’90s Taco Bell. Has that come to fruition? 

[Laughs] A picture of Taco Bell in the 1990s was actually on my vision board for the store. I was inspired by the pastel motif, so I painted those exact colors on our walls. My brand is known for neon colors and tie-dye, but it is always evolving and ever-changing. 

I love the 1980s, 1990s and Y2K era. So, Taco Bell walls one day, and then we might be inspired by Blockbuster the following week. Who knows? I just know I’m going to try to make the customers smile and laugh when they walk by. 

You have done some collabs with other brands. Do you foresee future collaborations? And what’s next for the brand?

Collaborations are so fun and a lot of work as well. But it is great working with other small businesses or artists and cross-promoting your audiences. You gain all these wonderful people who only discovered you because of that collaboration.

I for sure can see myself doing many more collabs in the future. I will always pay it forward — some of my first gigs were popping up in front of another small business boutique and selling hats outside their front window on the sidewalk. 

I want to grow the business in a way that customers can customize anything they see in the store. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” So, to me, that leaves space for all of us to make things happen. 

And there’s still so much art to be made and work to do. I can’t wait to see what happens next with the brand!
You can keep up with what’s happening with Joseph and the shop here.

Aliens of Brooklyn is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Friday, August 5, 2022

A visit with Hemingway, the sleepy kitty in the window on 3rd Street

Text and interview by Stacie Joy 

We’d long-admired Hemingway’s insouciance as he catnapped in a north-facing window on Third Street between Avenue B and Avenue C...
Hemingway’s human companion, Alex Smith, recently granted us an audience with the playful feline and answered some questions as Hemingway allowed himself to be admired.
How did Hemingway come to be a window mainstay on Third Street? When did the two of you arrive here and how did his lounging antics start? 

We arrived in NYC in April 2021, and the lounger was one of the first things I set up. We moved here from New Orleans, where he used the lounger on our front door in a quiet neighborhood. I honestly didn’t think much about putting the lounger up on the window when we moved in. 

Not long after setting it up, he took right to it again, and very soon after, the passersby started, and the phones came out. My mom had come to help us settle in, and we would laugh at everyone’s reactions to Hemingway in the lounger. 

What has been the reaction of passersby? 

The reactions range from surprise and amazement over the lounger and cuteness of Hemingway — for those who haven’t noticed it/him before — to people slowing down right as they check if he’s in the window. Some people pick up their dogs and bring them up to the window, which I always find hilarious, and Hemi doesn’t mind. I can hear people talking to friends saying, “Oh, wait, come see this cat,” some even call his name after reading it on his collar. 

If someone is walking by and on FaceTime, they will flip the phone view to show the person on the phone. The most consistent reaction is smiles. It’s hard not to look at a kitty in a window and not smile.

How does Hemingway react to all the attention? 

He loves it. He’s never been a shy cat and seeing the number of people he’s come into contact with over the last year has been so fun. The same children will come to the window every day, and if he’s not at the window, they call for him, and he runs to them. It’s so cute to watch. I also like that it keeps him stimulated. He also loves to sunbathe and nap, which also makes people stop to ooh and ahh.
What does he do during his “down time” when he is not lounging in the window?

If he’s not in the window, there’s a good chance he’s either sleeping in his heated bed — I know, I know — playing with his toys or trying to get my attention for treats, pets and playtime. 

 Best viewing times to see him? Is there anything special he likes or doesn’t like? 

You can usually find him in the window from midmorning to around 3 p.m. daily. Sometimes a little later. It also depends on the weather and temperature. He loves when people talk to him through the window. He also enjoys it when people bring their dog up to the window — as long as the dog doesn’t bark too much. 
You can follow Hemingway on Instagram at @hemi.inthecity.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

A visit with East Village singer-songwriter Jim Andralis

Photos by Stacie Joy; Q&A by EVG

Jim Andralis is an East Village-based singer-songwriter ... and trauma-focused psychotherapist in private practice — a unique combination for a unique talent. 

His body of work, starting with 2016's debut, "Your Dying Wish Came True," shows Andralis as a pop craftsman, a songwriter of rare melodic gifts. Live, he has been joined by Julie Delano, Lesia Graves, Susan Hwang and Jessie Kilguss — not to mention his husband, artist-designer Larry Krone. (They opened for Bikini Kill on July 9 at Irving Plaza.)

Next Thursday (Aug. 11), Andralis plays at Rockwood Music Hall on Allen Street (it's also his birthday). His proceeds will go to the Yellowhammer Fund, which promotes reproductive justice in Alabama and the Deep South

Ahead of the show, we stopped by Andralis' East Village apartment, where we took a lot of photos of Dory, who graces the cover of his forthcoming LP, "I Can't Stop Trying," and the album's promo T-shirts. 
Here, Andralis talks about his career ambitions, life-changing accordion lessons and love of the East Village.

What was your earliest career ambition?

I had jobs since I was 15 but nothing resembling career ambition until I was well into my 20s. Until then, I think my sole ambition was trying to pass as heterosexual. 

Once I moved here at 24, the dream became performing on some kind of stage — ideally singing. The shows I loved the best were Kiki and Herb, The Talent Family (Amy and David Sedaris) plays, Jeff Weiss and Carlos Martinez’s insane serialized stuff. 

The people I looked up to the most were hustling in some kind of service-industry job while attempting to carve out some kind of creative life. Imagining I could do that here felt pretty fucking ambitious. 

When did music come into the picture? 

I had been in a couple off-off Broadway musicals and stuff, but in the early 2000s, I started taking accordion lessons with Walter Kuhr at Main Squeeze Accordions on Essex Street. I’d always been really drawn to the accordion, particularly in the context of a band. But it’s also completely self-contained. You can play the accordion in your apartment, sing along and you can do just do that right away. Playing chords is really easy. 

Anyway, you can draw a direct line from accordion lessons with Walter to everything I love about my life here. I was tending bar at Phoenix on 13th and A. Two of my favorite bar customers, Ben and Clint, found out I was taking accordion lessons and asked me if I wanted to be in their band the Isotoners. I started really writing and singing songs in that band. Bridget Everett would usually sing a couple songs with us whenever we performed, so that’s when Bridget and I got to be friends. 

Also, the whole reason I met my husband Larry Krone is that he asked me to play accordion with him at one of Julian Fleisher’s nights at Starlite Lounge on Avenue A. So music coming into the picture also coincided with love and family coming into the picture. 

You work as a trauma-focused psychotherapist. Do you consider your music to be more of a side project or perhaps a second career? 

It’s definitely a whole second career. But it’s not, to be clear, two actual revenue streams. It’s more like, “You want a vinyl pressing for this release? Take on two more clients, motherfucker.” 

You're a longtime East Village resident. What first prompted you to move here? What keeps you here?

Long before I actually lived in this neighborhood, I worked and spent every minute I could here. It wasn’t until I first entered The Bar on 2nd and 4th in, like, 1994 that I felt like I could be myself in any kind of gay context. Soon after that, I started tending bar there, then Gold Bar, Dick’s and finally Phoenix. But I mostly lived in Queens. 

When I started dating Larry in 2004 I put in an application for a place in the HDFC where he was already living. I was able to move here (and actually afford it) in 2007, all thanks to our HDFC! This neighborhood has felt like home to me for way before I lived here. I just feel lucky to miraculously have an apartment here, friends nearby, tons of live music within a 5-10 minute walk.

In conclusion, I believe I shall remain here as long as possible! 

I try to live in the moment as much as I can. But I've always been a nostalgic person. Do you find yourself being more nostalgic about the East Village and NYC, in general, these days, or can you balance the present and past to a healthy degree?

It depends on the moment. Some days I walk around and feel the history of our neighborhood existing in this weird, beautiful harmony right alongside the present. Like I’m part of something complicated and beautiful that extends beyond me in all these different dimensions. 

Other days, it’s almost like panic because I can’t remember what used to be where this nail place is. Was Little Rickie on First or A? And if I can’t remember fill-in-the-blank, how the hell will anyone remember I was ever here? 

It feels very linked to my feelings about mortality. In other words, yes completely healthy! 

Sometimes, though, it’s a really sweet nostalgia, like you could get a goddamn soy patty platter at Dojo for 5 bucks in my day, honey! 

Tell us more about the recently released single "New York City Spring" and what was going on when you wrote it. 

I got COVID pretty bad in March 2020 when the city was just hit so hard. 

I don’t think "Working Girl" is the BEST movie, but I like it. It came on TV when I was really sick. I watched the opening with Carly Simon singing, and a million people taking the Staten Island ferry to go work with, like, the Twin Towers on the horizon and I lost my SHIT. It was like this enormous wave of grief and terror came over me, this awareness of how vulnerable this little island is and how much it’s been through. 

I write a lot of songs about New York, and I love art that loves New York and New Yorkers, like my friend Neil Goldberg’s gorgeous work. “New York City Spring” is my experience of New York in 2020, when it felt like a scared, wounded place where all these things used to happen. But it ends up kind of a pep talk for us both and an attempt to conjure some sort of magic to come save us.

 

You and the band opened for Bikini Kill on July 9 at Irving Plaza. Most memorable moment of the evening for you? 

The entire feeling just felt like this enormous, insanely fun moment. We were just ecstatic to have been invited by Bikini Kill to do it and so overwhelmed by how welcoming the venue and crowd were.

But if I had to pick one particular moment, it was being with my band just ecstatically dancing during Bikini Kill’s incredible set. We’d already done our set, loved every second of it, and just got to celebrate the whole thing together as friends while watching the most amazing Bikini Kill show. Plus Kathleen dedicated “For Tammy Rae” to me and Lar. That also felt like heaven and made me cry. 

Your birthday is Aug. 11. (Happy early birthday!) You're playing a show that night at Rockwood Music Hall, and you're donating everything you make to the Yellowhammer Fund. Can you tell people more about them and why you support the organization? 

The Yellowhammer Fund is doing amazing reproductive justice work helping people in the places being hit the hardest right now. They help marginalized communities get health care. One way I can help is by supporting organizations like Yellowhammer. I’m just grateful they exist. They are doing beautiful work that is saving lives, and also fucking dangerous. 

And thanks for the birthday wishes! 

Your LP, "I Can't Stop Trying," is due out in early January. Will there be a tour with it? Any special plans?

I mean, I hope so! I’m proud of this record. My friend, producer and engineer Tom Beaujour set up this insanely safe and quarantined recording experience, and making this record really helped me survive that year. 

In terms of plans, we usually do a record release at Joe’s Pub. That’s not locked in, but we have our fingers crossed. I have never toured. I’m dying to do it but can’t quite afford it. But it’s something I feel like I’ll make happen if not for this record definitely the next one, which we’ll be recording this fall! 

Larry and I are doing a show in Andes with Julian Fleisher, Neal Medlyn and Julie DeLano on Aug. 6. Can we call that a tour?? 
You can keep tabs on Andralis via his website or Instagram.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A visit with Wolfie, a talented emerging outsider artist — and rabbit

Images by Stacie Joy

Earlier this month, Special Special, an exhibition space and retail brand on First Street, hosted its first interspecies exhibition of a talented emerging outsider artist.

"The Artist Is NOT Present" is the first solo exhibition by Wolfie, a rabbit (above and below), featuring the artist's series of 13 recent portraiture artworks from the catalog of Marina Abramović's 2010 retrospective at MoMA, "The Artist is Present."

EVG contributor Stacie Joy stopped by to meet the artist and take in the space, which opened in 2016 here between First Avenue and Second Avenue...
According to the Special Special press materials on the show, Wolfie began this body of work when she found a copy of Abramović's "The Artist is Present" sitting in her home left out by her roommate Panny, "who had received the book as a gift but had not felt a personal connection with it."
Out of a pile of other printed material, Wolfie was immediately drawn to the emotive portraits from the performance, which took place long before her birth. When Panny discovered Wolfie’s first finished piece, a portrait of Abramović, she was so impressed that she showed it to her colleague’s at Special Special, landing this emerging artist her first solo exhibition.

And...

Wolfie's whimsically crafted portraits evoke possibilities of art creation, beyond the conventions of the human-dominated global art scene. For Wolfie, her chewing process is an act of curation, indiscriminately selecting portraits from the catalog, and chewing between her chosen subjects until she reaches her optimal desired composition.  

And from the left here at Special Special: Wen-You Cai, founder and director, Oliver Yuan, product designer, and Panny Chayapumh, graphic designer and Wolfie's human companion ...
You may book an appointment to see Wolfie's work through the end of the month at Special Special via email.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

A visit to Spooksvilla + Friends on 9th Street

Text and photos by Stacie Joy 

I’m hoping Shahrzad Ghadjar, artist/owner of female stoner-art-inspired shop Spooksvilla + Friends at 309 E. Ninth St. between First Avenue and Second Avenue will allow me behind the shop curtain to see her studio. 

I’m fascinated with seeing where artists and craftspeople create, and after taking some photos of the store’s merchandise, I get the opportunity to do just that. We sit down to talk about demonic inspiration, her history in the neighborhood and the role advocacy plays in her work.
Where did the idea for the Spooksvilla brand come from? Where do you draw inspiration for your work, and what influences you? 

Initially, it wasn’t a brand; it was a way for me to make art under a different name. When I started working at this shop in my neighborhood in Los Angeles, I would go through all this inventory from these different small creative companies and see how — mostly female! — artists were making it work for themselves.

On top of that, the owner was making her own products, and she taught me a lot about how to run your own business. I started to see that there was a way for me to make money off of my illustrations if I put them on usable items. I liked that I could have complete control over what I was doing and get paid on my own terms. 

I started off with a couple pocket mirrors, three prints, some greeting cards and jewelry. I set up a table at this club night at a spot called Club Los Globos in Silverlake and all my friends came to support me, which was great. From there, I would sell at the Hollywood and Silverlake farmers markets every week and that’s where I met a ton of people that told me about other markets to try. By then, I had already put out Dinosaurs Smoking Weed, which people were loving, and I started to hand-draw stickers for lighters. 

The first like, 500 lighters I sold were all original drawings. I would spend an outrageous amount of time on them, and they would sell in the first 30 minutes of a market. I’d be like, Great — what do I sell now? I feel like the lighters have become my calling card and I really like that. 

Inspiration is a hard one. I’m all over the place with influences. Surrealism has always been my jam. I love a good cartoon. Definitely astrology and tarot — I’m a huge Alejandro Jodorowsky person, which is why we have his book on tarot in the shop.

I also love erotica, photographic or literary, which is why I have Anais Nin, Eric Stanton, Tom Bianchi and Araki books hanging around here. I pretty much only buy books for the shop by people I was influenced by. Love a Harmony Korine movie. Big fan of Nan Goldin. Obsessed with Francesca Woodman

Over the past couple of years, I’ve really leaned into my Iranian-ness. I spent a lot of summers in Iran hanging with my family and they made sure I saw the culture. Palaces covered in mirror work, ceramics, hand-knit carpets, gardens, vibes. My aunts bought me art books that I would casually dive into when I got home and those have always influenced me a lot. 

There’s this one book filled with old mystical Iranian iconography that I incorporate into my drawings. It’s just pages of symbols. There is a lot of imagery in Iranian poetry. My dad just repeats different lines from old poems to me over and over until it sticks and then sometimes I draw a picture, so I don’t forget it. The demon babes I draw are all supposed to be jinni, and I’m trying to learn more about those guys. 

The mirror piece I have in the shop is an homage to Monir Farmanfarmaian, an incredible Iranian artist who made huge mirror mosaics. She worked in this traditional art form called Āina-kāri — mirror work — and made it her own, so I’m also trying to do something similar where I take the idea of Āina-kāri and throw some of my demon babes into the mix. Figuring out a way to combine the Western and Eastern vibes within me.
You hung out on the block the shop is on as a teen. What did you think of the block at the time? Did you ever imagine you’d be running a business here one day?

I spent a ridiculous amount of time on Ninth Street and St. Mark’s Place. Honestly, mainly St. Mark’s and just sitting at the cube back when it was a little island in the middle of the cars. I loved it! The East Village was always the place to be when I was growing up. I spent my high school years hanging at Mud Coffee with friends and “studying.” Smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank beers on the stoop across the street from the shop. Nobody was carding so we could go to the bar. It was great! 

I became friends with some of the different personalities on St. Mark’s. All of their shops have moved from the block now. As a kid, my parents would take me to Khyber Pass because they had good kabob and were close to our apartment. I spent a lot of time with Boris [Zuborev] at East Village Shoe Repair listening to his stories and just watching him do business. I bought all my shoes from him. 

Whenever I’d come by, he’d pull out a pair of shoes from a giant trash bag that fit perfectly. He still does that when I go see him in Bushwick. The dream was always to live in the East Village but not necessarily run a business. I never thought I’d own a business. It wasn’t even on my radar. I thought I was going to make artsy movies that would play at museums, and most people would walk past but there would be maybe four people who thought it was really cool. 

What kind of creative work were you doing before launching Spooksvilla? Were you living in Los Angeles? What drew you back to NYC? 

I spent about ten years in LA. I went out there for college and it was ROUGH. It was definitely a culture shift. Once I found my crew, everything got so much better! We were all trying to do things in film so we would all work on each other’s projects and were open to new ideas and really supportive. 

The best thing I did during those years was VJ at a couple clubs around LA. Possibly the most creatively fulfilled I’ve ever felt. Some friends and I would shoot visuals specific to the event and then would live mix them on a projector to the club music. It was SO. FUN. We definitely set up the vibe for the nights. I remember people going crazy to the music and visual combo. 

But unfortunately, it didn’t pay the bills so I was also doing freelance video editing work and casually working in postproduction on a reality TV show. That was mind-numbing. Even the people I worked with were like, “I have a feeling even if we offer you a job on the next show, you’re gonna say no,” and they were right. I was doing these pop-up markets every week and finally I got in with Artists & Fleas when they opened in the Arts District. Once I did that a couple times, I was offered a spot selling at Artists & Fleas in Williamsburg and I took it!

Has reaction to your work and shop changed since marijuana decriminalization? If so, how? 

The only real difference I’ve noticed since decriminalization is that older people are less standoffish when they see Dinosaurs Smoking Weed. There were a couple markets in LA I had parents dragging their kids/teenagers away from my booth because they just saw the word “weed.” Lots of scowls back then. I guess people are more likely to see the lighters and Dinosaurs Smoking Weed as goofy, which it always was. But now it’s socially acceptable to smoke weed so these conservative types can loosen up a bit. It kind of blows my mind that just a couple years ago it was such an ordeal to smoke weed in the city and now it’s just OK. We’ve gone from going into random people’s cars to buy weed to just walking into a smoke shop. It’s kind of wild.
Advocacy regarding human rights issues seems to play a big part in your life. How has that affected your art? 

Oh man, I should be doing way more than I am. I would like to get more involved in the community. Right now all I really do is show up to protests when I can and donate to bail relief and WNYC! 

You know who I think about a lot when I’m drawing these demon babes? Medusa. I’ve drawn different versions of Medusa my whole life. She is just the most epic character to me. I mean she’s this crazy monster with snake hair that turns men into stone. But why did that happen to her? Because she was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple and Athena got pissed! Come on! How is that fair? 

Now she’s walking around traumatized, with snake hair and whenever she looks at people they turn to stone. History has this babe written off as a monster, but none of it was her fault. And I guess I look at all these jinni and demons wondering what their perspective is on the situations they’re in. Are they really evil or did something happen to them and then they were just over it? 

Another chick I have in my mind a lot is this character Gordafarid from the Shahnameh, an Iranian epic poem that all Iranians know about. She went out in men’s armor and almost defeated this beloved male character in the book, Sohrab, but mainly she distracted his army for so long that her kingdom was able to escape before Sohrab and his army could take over. I love that. She’s such a bad bitch. 

Ultimately, I just love strong women, whether they’re demons or heroes. There are elements of some of that in my work. I basically only draw women and they all strike me as super strong, fierce ladies. They do what they want when they want, and they don’t care what anyone has to say about it. I think I’ve dreamed up this universe of all-female demons that I fuck with. 

My whole thing with demons or jinni is that they’re mischievous goofs. So my demon babes are super powerful creatures that can be perceived as scary or evil but are also just having their idea of a good time. It’s kind of like humans, right? You can’t be all bad or all good. There’s some balance in there.
What’s next for you and the shop? Any future plans? 

I’m working on my second mirror mural, so I’m super stoked! I’d like to do four by the end of the year. Also, sitting around doing a lot of drawings for the shop so that the Spooksvilla brand stays strong! 

For now, I’m just trying to keep the shop stocked with fun stuff that the people want. Maybe I’ll open up in Brooklyn or even LA, but for now, the East Village is all I really care about!
You can keep an eye on what’s happening at Spooksvilla on Instagram

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A visit to Le Phin, the new Vietnamese cafe on 10th Street

Text and photos by Stacie Joy 

Curious about Vietnamese phin coffee? 

I sure was, which was why I was holding off on my daily caffeine ration before visiting Lê Phin Café, a sunny, delicately appointed new Vietnamese coffee shop at 259 E. 10th St. between Avenue A and First Avenue to talk with owners Khuyen Thi Kim Le and Duc Manh Nguyen (the wife-and-husband owners go by Kim Le and Dan Nguyen). 

Kim recently published a piece about phin on coffee-publication site Sprudge, so I had an idea of what to expect, and since the labor- and time-intensive phin takes a while to create, we had time to chat about the café, Vietnamese coffee and local reaction to the highly caffeinated drink.
How did Lê Phin come to be? Was there a quintessential moment for you to realize the dream of opening your own business? 

Ten years ago, after I got admitted to grad school, I was still trying to figure out my move from Vietnam to the U.S. I would have never imagined myself opening a coffee shop! 

I remembered trying to squeeze a few bags of coffee and a phin into my carry-on before the trip, hoping to bring a little bit of home with me into the next chapter of my life. 

Over the next few years, through all my ups and downs, all the moves, all the struggles, the habit of having a cup of phin coffee every day has probably been the single consistent and familiar thing that I could keep in my life, comforting me through those moments of diaspora blues. 

It is hard to explain such a strong attachment to something so simple, all from the daily life I used to have back home. I guess that emotional attachment is where it started, or at least where the first sparks started for me. 

After my graduation in 2015, while still trying to figure out what to do next, I made a trip home to Vietnam and one of my relatives invited me to visit his coffee farm in Bảo Lộc. That was the first time I got to see the whole process. The work that goes into the single cup of coffee that I had been drinking without understanding much up until that point. Tasting those fresh, high-quality beans was eye-opening to me. But more important, I was overwhelmingly surprised by how little the farmers in Vietnam make, despite their hard labor. 

The light bulb kind of went on at that moment. After that trip, I came back to the U.S., started researching and learning more and more about coffee and coffee production. I got my certificates and eventually became a coffee-quality grader and also started a small business exporting Vietnamese green beans to Japan. Then Covid hit. 

My exporting business halted right when I was planning to test my own roast in the United States market. I was struggling quite a bit before finally deciding to open my own coffee shop. It is a completely different business than curating and exporting beans, but it takes me back to where it all started, that comforting feeling from my daily cup of phin-brewed coffee. I want to share that joy and comfort with more people, and for me that was a great place to begin again.
Why was the East Village a desirable location to open your café? 

I have always loved the East Village and spent a lot of time hanging out here. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant at first to settle here, since there are already so many coffee shops in the area. I was not sure if I could handle the competition!

I spent four or five months wandering different neighborhoods, looking at quite a few locations for my shop, from Brooklyn to Queens through Manhattan. But whenever I asked myself, Where would I want to spend a cozy morning sharing all those random stories over a cup of coffee with friends from all walks of life? 

I could not think of anywhere else than this neighborhood. The multicultural and unique characters you come across, this artistic essence, this dense urban feel yet welcoming vibe that reminds me of home, all of that made me decide to take a leap of faith and settle here.
What have you found to be the most challenging part of opening your own shop? The most rewarding?

My husband and I spent many months looking for a location and many more months renovating this place after we signed the lease. Almost every day of that preparation period felt challenging. We put our entire savings into this but we did not have much, so we did a lot of things by ourselves, from floor plan and interior design to finding suppliers and contractors. 

Almost everything was new and every little thing could go wrong, sometimes it felt like I could never get the shop ready for opening. But it finally did open. And then I guess the most rewarding part was to be welcomed by everyone, more than we could ever imagined: Our neighbors come by every day with a smile, customers come back bringing a friend, random people spend an afternoon at our shop and start talking to each other, sharing all little these stories. This place has quickly become a little oasis for not just us but many of our old and new friends, and that brings me joy every day. 

Did you model Lê Phin on any of your favorite places/cafes? 

Not really. We did not hire an interior designer and basically just gathered the items that we liked, all preloved furniture, and tried to put them next to each other in a way that seemed to make sense. 

The only thing is this yellow accent color that we used for our shop, which is a shade that you can easily see everywhere in Vietnam, especially in the older, French-influenced buildings. 

What has been the reaction from patrons to date? 

People have been very excited about our special drinks. I started having some repeat customers come to the shop and order phin pour-over coffee, straight black — no milk. It proves that the phin is really capable of brewing a delicious cup of coffee.

What’s next for the two of you? Any future expansion plans? 

We would like to take the time to make sure everything runs smoothly first. Since the shop is getting more attention, our primary focus now is to train our new staff and maintain the quality and service.
The café is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

A visit to Archie's Press on 10th Street

Text and photos by Stacie Joy 

I’m eager to meet Archie Archambault, the mind behind Archie’s Press, a newly opened letterpress-printed retail art and map shop at 219 E. 10th St between First Avenue and Second Avenue.
An East Village resident as well, Archie greets me at the shop before business hours, shows me the prints, maps, and pressed art pieces, and patiently answers my questions about the letterpress machine and process, his conception and design methods, and what’s it’s been like opening a retail space during the pandemic.
Can you provide a brief primer on letterpress — including the part about potentially crushing every bone in your hand? 

Between 1492-1980, anything printed for mass consumption was produced using letterpress technology. Every size of every font was cast in little metal letters that were strung together and printed into advertisements, newspapers, books…everything. For disseminating information, this was the most important technological development until the internet. EV Grieve would be typeset by hand if it was around in the 1970s. [Ed note: YES!

Digital typesetting made it mostly obsolete and many presses were left to rot or destroyed. In the late 1990s, people started rehabbing presses to make beautiful stationery and art books. Letterpress actually presses the design into the paper, leaving a strong indentation. It’s up to 600 pounds of pressure, which can easily crush every bone in your hand — watch out!
How did your interest in letterpress come about? 

I took a letterpress course in college and got hooked. I’m not sure exactly why. It’s a very “liberal arts” craft. It’s composed of words, so you become a poet. The type needs to be laid out so you become a designer. The colors need to be mixed, so you become an artist. The press is going to break, so you become a mechanic. 

There are so many different parts of the brain at work when executing a project. I’m impatient, so it forces me to slow down, think carefully, and stay cool when things don’t go smoothly. When I started selling my work, it became my full-time job, and I haven’t looked back. 

Please tell us a little about the Vandercook SP-15 that you use in the shop. 

This model is the lightest flatbed press available at about 700 pounds. It was designed to make one perfect copy of something like a newspaper sheet using hand-set type. That one perfect copy would be made into a film for offset printing, which runs very quickly (it’s the machine you see in old movies during newspaper montages). 

Remember, there were no computers, so this was the only way to get that one perfect copy. Vandercooks are the most common flatbed presses for doing larger letterpress prints because they are reliable and bulletproof. My press operates without a motor, so it can be used during the apocalypse, which is exciting. 

What’s the concept behind your city/state maps? 

New research indicates we’re underutilizing the navigational parts of our brains because of GPS. Turns out that’s a problem. This is a hugely powerful part of our brains. When was the last time you felt so lost you thought, “uh oh?” Google Maps is constantly coming to the rescue. 

I’m trying to explain the city in the major gestural terms on a map that taps into the “map from the mind.” There’s a great book called “Image of the City” by Kevin Lynch that describes our mind’s vision of our urban spaces. We do not think in birds-eye view. We create our mind’s map with pathways, boundaries, landmarks, nodes and neighborhoods. 

I try to draw a map that brings all these things together and omits everything else. I want the viewer to engage with the map and feel the city when they explore it. Keeping it simple prevents a “dazzle” effect. Making it beautiful encourages more engagement. 

To get to that sharp gestural drawing, I work with people who are from the city to arrange it like it is in their minds. States are much larger areas, which are harder to wrap one’s head around, but still, there are important roads and landmarks in states that keep our minds constantly orienting themselves.
What design vision guides your work? 

I have no formal graphic design education, but letterpress is essentially the foundation of graphic design. All the physical rules of letterpress created the visual language we take for granted on our screens. There’s a reason we keep lines evenly spaced. The personality of each font is much louder when it’s cast in metal. 

Everything I know about design I learned by typesetting and printing. I do most of my designing on the computer now because it’s so much more efficient, but the vision comes from letterpress. I’ve expanded to many other ideas, all based on organizing information in a way that is simple and beautiful. 

Why decide to open a storefront for your products — instead of relying solely on an online operation? 

I opened the store for a few reasons: I wanted to start making new work and get people’s reactions right away. Now I can get something from the idea to the shelf within a week rather than months. 

After an isolating 18 months due to COVID, I really wanted to see more people and rejoin the community. I live nearby, and I’ve never felt more at home. And I wanted to collaborate with artists and designers, and having a storefront gives me the venue to produce and celebrate their work.
What has been the reaction to the shop so far? 

Everyone who comes in is supportive and delighted. Most people who come immediately go for the print racks, flip through every print and then stare at the walls for a while. It’s a feast and everything in the shop is special for one reason or another. I love it when people ask, “Did you make everything in here?” If I did, I would be a wizard. 

Why choose the East Village for your shop? 

I’ve lived in the neighborhood for five years and love our robust ecosystem of small unique businesses. For some reason, I felt like the East Village would “get it” and appreciate it. I was right! I cannot imagine this shop anywhere else. 

Any future plans you care to share? 

We’re just starting to take custom print jobs, so if you have a wedding invitation or business cards to get letterpress printed, we’re the place! We’re also starting to collaborate with artists and designers, so we’ll be having a new show every month or two starting in the spring.
You can keep an eye on the presses here.

Store hours: 
Monday 1-6 p.m.
Tuesday Closed
Wednesday Closed
Thursday-Friday 1-6 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday noon- 6 p.m.