Chris Black is a man with strong views. Follow him on Twitter, or listen to him on his hit podcast, How Long Gone, and you'll soon learn that CB isn't scared to cast a few aspersions: restaurants, clothes, supermarkets, NFTs, flyover states, fitness, and the city of Berlin, the creative consultant, writer, podcaster and friend of Drake's is well acquantied with both barrels. He's also a man who spent many years living on Canal Street, the Lower Manhattan location that is home to the Drake's Open Studio, which is why we thought he'd be just the man to offer up a few tips on the area.
Photographed by Ben Rayner in our wool raglan coat and screen printed wool-silk scarf, we spoke to Chris about where to eat, what to do and his personal connection with one particularly beautiful post office.
Drake's: Hi Chris, what makes Canal a special part of New York?
Canal Street is the main drag of Chinatown, but it borders Little Italy, SoHo, and Tribeca. So it’s a street, that if you live in Manhattan, you encounter quite often. It’s a major artery, a proper thoroughfare, and it holds a lot of history.
How much has the area changed since you lived there?
It has changed, but it mostly hasn’t, and that's the charm. The giant Duane Reade they opened in a beautiful old building, on the corner of Broadway and Canal, came and went. You can still buy a fake watch or bag and the lighting stores are seemingly endless. Of course, you can order a piping hot oat milk flat white in a food hall, but that is unavoidable anywhere you go these days.
What's your scene report for Canal? How would you describe the mix of characters/aesthetics that inhabit it?
It’s a proper mishmash. It feels like a true cross-section of New York City, the hustle and bustle. It’s loud and windy, and the sidewalks are often rammed with people. These places are harder and harder to come by as more high rises go up and people flee for Connecticut. It’s nice to know if you must buy a bootleg version of Dune on DVD, there is a place to go.
Where's your favourite place to eat around there?
Dr. Clark, NYC’s first Hokkaido restaurant is technically on Bayard, but let’s not nit-pick. The Jingisukan Table Top Grill makes the meal collaborative (although I never actually flip the mushroom or lamb), and the ramen salad is a nice treat. If you stay late enough, the room turns into a karaoke party, and you can sing your favourite Smiths song perched atop a Green River Project LLC designed (they did the interiors) stool before they politely ask you to calm down.
How about hidden spots?
The watermelon or coconut slushie from the Shan Fu on the corner of Essex and Canal is the perfect summer treat. Cheap, refreshing, and just a little bit sweet.
If you had a whole day to spend there, what would your itinerary look like?
I would like to start my day with a coffee at La Mercerie, the setting is beautiful, and the ceramics are unmatched. But what would Canal Street be without Dimes Square? I am sure you have read about it, seen it, maybe even stepped foot inside it. The thing is, Dimes is great for lunch. The black rice plate is delicious and healthy. The people-watching isn’t bad either. After lunch, I would head down to Tramps, a gallery in Two Bridges. Then I would see my acupuncturist Dr. Li for a quick pre-dinner session to ensure everything is in order. He does a mix of traditional acupuncture and cupping and never ceases to help me leave feeling better and more energised. To finish, we would hit Joe’s Shanghai for soup dumplings. If I felt compelled to meet friends at a bar, Clandestino will be popping, and the crowd is primarily good-looking.
Do you have a favourite memory from your time there? A moment or period that sticks out?
The U.S. Postal Service, located on Canal and Church, is a beautiful two-story terracotta behemoth designed by Alan Balch Mills. I lived around the corner, and because of my shopping problem and making and selling t-shirts and books, I spent a lot of time in this particular branch. The wait times are long and the staff are famously salty, but over time I broke them down, and I think they actually looked forward to my visits. This may seem like a little victory, but it improved my quality of life. It also taught me that approaching service people with kindness and humility is the only path to success.