Michele Maccaron opened his gallery at 45 Canal Street on November 3, 2001, the smell of the collapse of the World Trade Center still lingering a few blocks away. The cluster of off-grid blocks where Division and Canal meet between Essex and Allen was once a handful of electronics stores and Chinese restaurants, as well as the historic home of the turn-of-the-century Jewish intelligentsia in New York. But at the time, opening a hip contemporary art gallery in this neighborhood was as innovative as landing on the moon.
“Who knew Canal Street stretched so far east until Michele Maccarone opened Maccarone,” local pundits from the Voice of the village wondered at the time.
The gallery has taken over two floors of a building that once housed a forgotten clothier who was called, according to an engraved stone, E & G Model Shop. In 2001, a store called Kunst Electrical Appliances occupied the retail space on the ground floor. There was a big sign that said “KUNST” and kunst happens to be the German word for art. It felt like fate.
“I was walking my dog and saw the building and the sign said ‘kunst’, because the Jewish family owned it,” she said. “I was like, Oh, that’s funny, this panel is a ready-made.”
She liked the composition of the block, the way Division crashed into the end of Canal to create a sharp angle rarely seen on gridded sections of Manhattan, and a triangular island that placed additional storefronts between the two intertwining passageways. And its artists connected to the energy of the place. The first show was Christophe Buchel, now known as the “shock of the art world” for his provocative large-scale installations. In 2011, he was unknown in the United States, but Michele Maccarone gave him the keys to the gallery to do what he wanted with the place and left town. Büchel became completely obsessed with the building itself, and that’s what he did with the artwork in the exhibition: a building within a building, a classroom embedded in a roof constructed at the top floor, crawl spaces within crawl spaces, loft within loft, electronics store within electronics store.
“We co-existed with this family-owned electronics store and had this funny relationship,” she said. “Christoph recreated the building inside the building, and these people were like, who are these monsters?”
Twenty years later, this building and those immediately surrounding it are known internationally as Dimes Square. The name refers to the area’s three outposts of a restaurant called Dimes, and an easy riff poking fun at the intersection’s relative smallness compared to the famous Midtown plaza where the New Year’s Ball falls – but , really, the whole thing was a fake name coined by regulars in the mid-2010s, an inside joke that writers would walk past their editors and pass off as legit.
Eventually, the name transcended the joke and was taken very seriously. In recent months, the micro-district has given birth to a cottage industry of ready meals, breathless tweetstorms to mindless sociological wanderings to investigations into what is described as Pierre ThielAdministration-backed political machinations reveal anonymous local podcasters to articles in British weeklies about the neighborhood’s anti-revival schisms.
The takes tackles the fact that the “square” has been a meeting place for many people across the lines of the downtown culture that have emerged over the past five years. The small area of Dimes Square – just the three-block stretch of Canal between Allen and Essex and the two-block stretch of Division before it reaches Seward Park – directly spawned a network of art galleries. art, half a dozen popular podcasts, an eponymous one-piece that sold out for several months, a hyperlocal newspaper, a modeling agency that signs non-models found in local bars, a skateboarding scene, a station radio and a TV show coming out of it soon.
What comes next are the strangers.
After decades of anticipation, this week the 116-room mega-luxury hotel called Nine Orchard opened its doors to guests, along with several celebrity chef restaurants Ignacio Mattos and a glorious cupola planted atop the 12-story building. Dimes still has its triumvirate of upscale restaurant, cafe and deli, but it no longer claims to be the area’s namesake now that a hotel has three places, plus two private rooms and a private bar on the roof, ready to be rented by brands and companies seeking influence. By the end of the year, there will be a restaurant with a tasting menu only dotted with tables of Harold Ancart worth 10 times more than what sells in the local galleries. On Division, the owners of the Charlie Bird restaurant empire are opening a branch of their Midtown wine shop, Parcel, and the super-strong online presence that is Hypebeast is opening its first US pop-up further down Division Street. , outside the Dimes Square border, but close enough to be disturbing.
This is a far cry from the battery of electronics stores that once stood next to Seward Park, with a computer parts store turned bakery that makes its own flour; a Chinese joss paper store is now a Greek restaurant; a century-old shoe store is now an annex of this Greek restaurant.
Maccarone occupied its space until 2007, and it then housed Terence KoAsia Song Society’s gallery-slash-club-house, before the owner sold the whole building to Koh’s pal, rolling stone scion Theo Wenner, for $2.35 million in 2012 – a brilliant real estate investment, in hindsight. Wenner has done a near-gut renovation on the building that once housed Kunst then Maccarone then ASS, and although it bears little resemblance to the historic building that once housed the fabulous anarchist Emma Goldman when she first moved to the city , Wenner could flip it for a big profit. Still, he seems to like the neighborhood. Not too long ago, I saw Wenner at the Clandestino, the watering hole for real neighborhood bosses, with a large group of friends, including the pop star Lorde.
But that, clearly, is a far cry from the post-September 11, 2001 days, and Maccarone had few kind words to say about the three Dimes outposts, or the new occupant of his old building.
“As it was getting gentrified, I was like, Damn, I don’t need to be here anymore,” Maccarone said. “When I heard about what Theo had done to the building, I never set foot in that block again. I was too heartbroken.
The heart of what is, or used to be, Dimes Square is Clandestino, a discreet but powerful bar in a former appliance store, its low tin ceiling and narrow hallways make it a decent place for a secret meeting. The first issues of The drunk channel, the local newspaper, documented the comings and goings in Clandestino the way the Time The Styles section covers the Met Opera. Barely a live broadcast happens at Montez Press Radio, the radio station across the street, let alone the post-show bar favored by on-air talent. Dimes Square the room, by Matthew Gasda, depicts a late-night conversation between speed-ridden pseudo-intellectuals that might have taken place in Clandestino.
Gary Shteyngart used to live around the corner – “in the co-ops they call them the JPs, the Jewish projects”, he told me – and described the bar at length in his novel Success Lake, giving even then bartender and now owner jeffrey simon a cameo.
“I was in Clandestino the second it opened – these co-ops are near FDR, and we were always looking for a watering hole and Clandestino was so sweet compared to this other shit,” Shteyngart said. “I was in my thirties at the time, and it was a bunch of weirdos: writers, graphic designers, architects. All of my first dates were there, all of my drunkest nights, and by the time you could hear each other talk, all of those discussions made their way into my books.
Clandestino took over the mantle of the area’s box of choice after Good World, a tavern offering Swedish finger foods and smoked fish platters, closed in 2009, its Division Street building demolished in 2010. Dan Colen and Ryan McGinley, which moved to the same building on Canal and Eldridge from the heart of the East Village in 2003. Nate Lowman lived with them from time to time, and Aaron Young and Adam McEwen lived on Division and Orchard. In the winter of 2003, the French spot Les Enfants Terribles opened on the still desolate corner of Ludlow and Canal. “It’s nice that the Manhattan tradition of opening a restaurant in an incredibly lonely, graffiti-bombed corner of town is still going strong,” the new yorker wrote.
But Kama Geary seen something in the area. After working in Nolita and living in the East Village, the budding restaurateur stumbled upon the hidden corner where Orchard hits Division. She signed a lease in 2005 for an abandoned storefront that sold aquariums, with a basement that was once a mah-jongg parlour. In 2007, she opened with her husband, Alain Levitt, the beloved underground Venetian restaurant Bacaro.
“We’re a Venetian restaurant, and when you find Division Street, you feel like you’re in Venice, stumbling across things,” she said.
In the years that followed, an acceleration took place. 47 Canal Gallery opened in 2011, kicking off a year as one of the most trusted star-making programs in the global contemporary art landscape. A restaurant called Forgtmenot opened on Division Street, and its owners quickly expanded to the adjacent space and opened the neighboring Kiki’s door, before expanding to open another Kiki across the street.