The Messenger’s Guide To New York City: The West Village and Midtown
Standby with Hiromi/Ghost stories and local comfort with Stoned Tone
Words and photos by Chris Lee
In the second installment of The Messenger’s Guide To New York City, I got a chance to have the man behind Boda Boda, Hiromi Bruni show me around. Hiromi was born and raised in the West Village and knows the neighborhood like the back of his hand. We payed respects to the remains of Gray’s Papaya, a hot dog joint that was a fixture in the neighborhood and got some desert at Rocco’s. We went by Dave’s Work Wear, the local’s only one stop shop for work wear. And finally chilled at his favorite midtown standby spots.
Let’s start off with (the now defunct) Gray’s Papaya… What is it about this place that was so special to the neighborhood?
Hiromi: I was born and raised in Greenwich Village and went to PS 41, which was just a few blocks from Gray’s Papaya. All of my friends and I loved that spot because it was obviously the best hot dogs in the neighborhood and when you’re a kid, hot dogs and hamburgers were your favorite things for the most part. My fondest memories would be when I wasn’t even tall enough to reach the counters, I would look up and they would have the paper fruit ornaments hung up all over the ceiling. Between that, the bright yellow walls and the assortment of drink dispensers… that whole place was kind of magical in a weird way. Its really a shame to see it go. Although there is Papaya King and all the other papaya spots, it didn’t matter because for kids that grew up in the Village, that place was a cornerstone for the neighborhood.
And it also had to do with the location, right? Not only was it a good/cheap place to eat, it was centrally located?
Hiromi: Yeah! It was on the NE corner of 6th Ave and W. 8th St. Gray’s Papaya was pretty much just middle east of where everyone lived. And across the street was the Barnes and Nobel, which closed down. You go further back and there was Sam Goodie down the block and Coconuts across the street. Further down the street was Bleecker Street Records, which my dad would love to bring his vinyl collection to. That used to be a very lively intersection. Now its just kind of desolate and its weird to see that because it used to be a place people would go out of their way to go to.
Lets talk about the Atrium. This is your favorite standby spot. But more importantly this is your favorite spot during bad weather days, which is crucial to a messenger, right?
Hiromi: Yeah so this spot is the atrium of the Trump building on 56th St and Madison Ave. I mean, there’s a Starbucks everywhere, but its not the best place to be hanging out as a wet messenger. The nice thing about the Trump Atrium is that its a really nice place to be in general. Its a big glass house wedged in-between two sky scrapers. And there’s different species of birds inside. There’s also a ton of seating and a really nice restroom thats downstairs…the bathrooms are literally lined with GOLD plating! Its inviting for anyone who has an outdoor job. I’ll go in there and see messengers hanging out in one corner, traffic cops hanging out in another corner and in another section there will be construction workers. And then you’ll have tourists and business people dotting the seating between these groups. It almost this weird microcosm of blue collar NY within that area!
Okay, so this is one of the many “dollar slice” joints that have been getting popular in New York. What is it about this 99¢ Fresh that makes it special?
Hiromi: I think its funny that Gray’s just closed and people (in the West Village) are saying, “oh no, this neighborhood treasure is closed”. I think in the year 2030, kids will be saying the same thing about all the 2 Bro’s dollar slices! Anyway, an old messenger named Mason put me on to this spot. The first time I went there it blew my mind! Its a good dollar pizza spot and I’m pretty sure its one of the oldest dollar slice spots around. I think the quality of slice they produce is better, the dough is cooked better, they use better sauce, better cheese and the ratio of sauce to cheese on the dough is better than all the other spots. It feels as though I’m eating a real New York slice of pizza.
What is it about Rocco’s, as a West Village native that really stands out to you?
Hiromi: Anybody that grew up there (the West Village) would get pastries from Rocco’s. The West Village kids had Rocco’s and the East Village kids had Vinero’s. I prefer Rocco’s. Always. And it kind of holds a special place in my heart. Between my parents and me, that’s three birthdays a year that we would get cakes from Rocco’s. That’s a life time of treats we would get pretty frequently from there. And that’s not including all the canoli’s that we would have between those dates! At the end of the day, I’ll go out of my way to go to Rocco’s and I’ll carry that cake one handed over the bridge to get it to whoever it needs to go to. It’s a tradition that I’m happy to follow.
I also was shown around by long time veteran on the streets, Stoned Tone. Tone has been living in NYC for the last 15 years and probably threw most of the alley cat races that happened during those years. Something I didn’t know about Tone was that he is really into ghost stories. Including showing love to Chari & Co, a bike shop that showed him a lot of support over the years, he took me to a few supposedly haunted buildings and a homey place to grab some comfort food in Bedstuy.
Wanna tell me about the first place you wanna show me?
Tone: The first place I wanna go is Chari & Co. Its kind of like my home base where I go to hang out, chill and relax. It’s a pretty well known store. They got a lot of vintage stuff and accessories. They’re caring people and those are my people’s yo! I like a lot of bike shops but the one I feel most comfortable at is the one in the lower east side (Chari & Co) and the atmosphere within the staff is just great.
These guys showed you a lot of love throughout the years, right?
Tone: Yeah! Throughout the years they’ve been open, they’ve kicked down a lot of prizes for the alley cat races I organized.
Lets talk about the ghost stories! Wanna give me a quick run down of the three places we visited?
Tone: Okay the first place we went to was on Gay St, between Christopher and Waverly Place. This one was a checkpoint in a race I would throw on Friday the 13th. Over 100 years ago, there was a man that was living there and he was fresh dressed to go see his daughter get married. But as soon as he stepped on the street, he was killed by a horse and carriage. So they say there have been sightings of the ghost coming out of the door of the house, walking down the stairs and disappearing when he gets to the sidewalk.
The second one we went to is 29 E. 4th St. The Merchant House. Its a famous but tragic tale of Gertrude Treadwell. Gertrude fell in love with some guy, thinking that he was gonna be the one for her. To make matters worse, the father wouldn’t approve of the marriage, let alone be seen with each other and he forbid her from being in contact with him. She ended up dying (a virgin) and she never had kids and her ghost roams in her bed thats still upstairs. Man you should go check that shit out sometime, for real!
Finally MacCarren pool. Apparently a girl that died at the pool. There have been sightings of her running around the pool gates looking for her mom.
Not many people know that you’re into ghost stories. What’s up with that?
Tone: Haha I don’t know. I was into Ghost Busters as a kid. Paranormal activity is something I’ve always be into. Also, watching some shows kinda creates some fascination of what is there in life and the after life. Its just a hobby though. I actually try to concentrate on the given moment, which is the present.
Finally we ended the day at Peach’s Hot House…
Tone: It’s a comfort environment, yo! You wanna feel like you’re at home even though you’re not. And that’s what the food here does for me. I think the last person I brought up here was Chas. Yo ask Chas! Chas knows about this place yo! We got down haha!
To close I wanna ask both you guys one final thing: What is it about New York City that keeps you here?
Tone: Everybody comes here for some reason. To fit in or to belong. But your environment is what you make it. If you wanna make it a positive environment, do what you can! (When I was younger) I saw myself here through hip hop. But it was really far fetched that I would still be working as a messenger to this day. But I learned a lot from being in the city and it grows on you!
Hiromi: I feel like I’m only alive when I’m in the city. Any time I’m out town I feel detached from life. New York is kind of a beast and I think its really humbling for a lot of people. Its not until you’re humbled that you can really discover your true character and I think New York really brings that out of people.