Martinis on Christopher Street

by Phyllis Kriegel

Moving into New York in the early 90s, l landed a dream apartment on Christopher Street, complete with beamed ceilings, bookcases galore and a working fireplace. The second story windows provided an added bonus– a perch for keeping an eye on neighborhood happenings.

My block offered a clutch of hedonistic haunts: play darts at Kettle of Fish, sing-along at the Duplex, buy bongs and booze side by side. I could purchase an adorable puppy, try on sexy underwear, meet the LGBTQ crowd at Stonewall Inn and stop at Bar 55 for cool jazz.

But it was a gustatory wasteland. A subpar Argentinian restaurant had replaced Les Deux Gamins-an intimate bistro run by two dour French men whose cigarette ashes just missed the onion soup. I yelled a joyful adios when the space was vacated, watching it morph into a Zagat-touted hotspot with tin ceilings, exposed brick walls and extremely loud rock music.

The hands-on new owner—Gabe Stulman– named his venture Joseph Leonard, in honor of his two grandfathers. As Gabe put it, “there are few things more charming and with more heart and soul…than a West Village corner.”

Never mind that the music played wasn’t Rodgers and Hart, I became a regular. Although my senior status and grey hair upped the age demographic, generational differences took a back seat. The affable staff welcomed me. In short order they knew my name, the name of my dog and what I drank. We schmoozed and traded stories, sharing must-see, must-read lists.

I loved my nirvana on the corner where I savored chance encounters with all comers–locals, tourists, art and film mavens—even an occasional bold faced name.

Meanwhile, animated by the vibes of his contented customers, Gabe launched another local eatery—cater corner to Joseph Leonard—on the corner of Waverly and Christopher, just a few doors from my building.

He called it Jeffrey’s Grocery, where he plied organic vegetables and fresh seafood, all the while filling glasses with beer and wine. But in short order he jettisoned the grocery-cum-bar concept, determined that Jeffrey’s needed a radical makeover—including a full liquor license.

The prospect of applying to the Community Board must have caused some anxiety. Board 2 was notorious for being particularly stingy with new liquor licenses. Meetings were said to be raucous, even grueling.  Applications frequently pitted neighbor against neighbor; while some insisted that that a new license on their block would ruin people’s lives.

Gabe asked me to come to an upcoming Board meeting to speak in support of his new venture. So began my maiden skirmish in NYC internecine war over booze.

On a Tuesday night midwinter: Meeting room packed. Applications argued. Passionate differences. Then my turn to speak. I detailed the way Gabe and his helpers had turned the neighborhood into a spirited community. Then I got to the nub…’I’m not getting any younger, and it seems a shame that I have to cross the street on a cold, dark night to get my martini.’ Applause followed.

If you go to Jeffrey’s and ask for a “Phyllis,” you just might get a vodka martini, straight up, with ice and olives on the side.


Virginia Woolf wants us to write “For the good of the world.” I believe that to survive, you must tell stories. Phyllis Kriegel