THE BLOG

The Healthiest Block in New York?

03/04/2013 11:42 am ET | Updated May 04, 2013

"There'll never be a bar on this block," Jeremy Spector, the chef/owner of the Brindle Room, assured me shortly after I moved into my new apartment, "you can't legally open one too close to the churches and the block association would fight against it tooth and nail even if you were far enough away."

It has been two and a half years since I moved to 10th Street, hoping to find a quiet block and, indeed, despite its East Village locale, no bars have popped up here. In their stead, what one might call "healthy living" (or eco-friendly) establishments have come to this tree-lined stretch of 10th Street, bookended by Commodities Natural Market on First Avenue and Tompkins Square Park on Avenue A.

(And salons. The East Village manages to support an unfathomable number of "too cool" salons where, without fail, a hair-dresser can be spotted weighing hair in hand while tossing questions at a mirror, remarking something I imagine to be vapid, and then letting out a giggle that snaps them back to snipping. My block alone has four salons -- one of which recently doubled in size. Your hair is safe here -- or unsafe, depending on one's perspective.)

On the south side of the street, starting on the First Avenue side and heading east, the first healthy living establishment is Body Evolutions. Clean, well-lighted, and recently renovated, the studio offers a variety of Pilates and Gyrotonic classes. In addition, the view through the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows provides aesthetic pleasures: the large machines and their arrangement in space over loft-type wood flooring have a relaxing beauty to them and would not be out of place as a gallery installation -- think mod-style space stasis-pods done in woods (various), matte aluminum, black leather.

Meanwhile, the adjacent building is perhaps the eco-anchor tenant of the block. The Russian & Turkish Baths, founded in 1892, has an assortment of saunas and steam rooms, a cold pool, and a juice bar. In addition to massages, one can also be beaten with a broom made of fresh oak leaves. Bathers step outside, often in robes and even in the cold, to mingle and people watch from the many steps leading up to the entrance.

Down the block is Thirstea, which sells bubble teas -- the drinks with black gelatinous blobs dancing within whilst waiting to be sucked up by oversized straws. While I would not describe bubble teas as healthy, the store also has a large selection of the traditional type of teas for purchase: they carry the entire lines of Hanley & Sons and of The Republic of Tea.

Wrapping around 10th Street from Thirstea and heading west on the block's northern half, we first encounter an outpost of the growing Juice Press empire. There are, of course, juices at the Juice Press, along with smoothies, raw foods, supplements and desserts. I am unsure what chia pudding is, or if it qualifies as an appetizer or as dessert, but it is addictive.

Further up the block, past the Brindle Room, past a designer consignment store (carrying used clothes, it might also be considered eco-friendly), past a few salons and a Middle Eastern restaurant, we arrive at the soy meat of the matter.

First we reach the just-opened Jennifer's Way. Owned by the actress Jennifer Esposito, herself diagnosed with celiac disease, the bakery will be gluten-free (and free of many other potential problem ingredients judging by the long list of nouns on the window followed by "free"). When I asked Ms. Esposito what attracted her to 10th Street she replied: "There's a real health-conscious vibe on this block. There are a lot of like-minded stores and people, and there's the park up the block -- it's just something we wanted to be a part, I've just always really liked this block."

Next door is Quintessence, a raw vegan restaurant. Raw and vegan in combination might sound limiting but the menu is not short. The space, however, is small and during warmer weather people can be seen eating outside -- both on a wooden bench under the restaurant's awning and on nearby steps. While there are plenty of casual diners inside, it would appear to be a go-to for romantic vegan couples.

Moving on we get to Live Live & Organic, a health food store that offers natural skin care products and supplements, books, raw organic snacks/foods/juices, and a smattering of kitchen devices. They also stage health-related talks. A few doors down is Bloom Skin Care, which offers facials, skin care treatments, and the expected associated products. Further up, the block is capped off by two side-by-side florists.

However, backing up, between Live Live & Organic and Bloom Skin Care are the block's oddities. Next to Live Live & Organic is a store that impels visitors to ask me, the first and the second and the third time they see it, "What the *?#& is going on there?" The faded awning and unlit neon sign indicate that it was once a juice bar. However, the view through the dirt-covered glass reveals a hodgepodge fit for a hoarder, a junkyard in a room: an electronic sign scrolling instructions for its own operation, framed dusty prints, tool boxes and gas canisters, dusty supplement bottles that now appear to hold contents not consistent with their labels, a guitar amp... all packed together from floor on up, all giving the place a look of post-apocalyptic repurposing. As best as I can tell, the proprietor fixes bicycles (both standard and of the motorized variety), with the sidewalk as workshop, enabling relatively eco-friendly transportation. However, I've never sought him out for clarity... I prefer the mystery.

Next door is Molecule Water Cafe. When it first opened, you could count on passersby stopping in their tracks to declaim it with "are you kidding me?!"-s and "really!?"-s or to take snapshots for immediate social media uploading with the aforementioned exclamations as captions. This has largely stopped, as the neighborhood seems to have adjusted to the presence of a water store -- either that or Sandy has engendered fears over the quality of city water. Molecule, whose symbol as carved above its entrance resembles a biological hazard sign and as window logo suggests a radioactive hazard sign -- only bubbly -- and whose store emits a soft blue glow at night, cleans water using a $25,000 filtration system that occupies much of the back wall. Molecule also offers to add supplements to said water and sells home filtration systems.

Even The Brindle Room, perhaps best known for their burgers, is not immune to the block's influence: Chef Spector has recently added a vegetable tagine and is planning more dishes that are in line with the 10th street vibe.