Last month, eleven years after the term’s debut, NoMad returned to the Times, in the headline “In NoMad, a Bar With a Pub Vibe,” about the scene at the Ace. The Guardian in London called NoMad “a hipster hub in midtown Manhattan.” Even David Walentas said of NoMad, “We’re looking at a building there. But we’ll be just another asshole.”
There are other dots to be connected as the rough borders of NoMad are sketched in: There’s Bar Breton; the Eventi; and Eataly, a 32,000-square-foot skyscraper–cum–Italian artisanal market going up at the southeast corner of Madison Square Park, which will feature an 8,000-square-foot rooftop garden and six (!) restaurants under the guidance of Mario Batali. There’s also, of course, Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack in the park, where I once stood in line while a homeless man jeered, “Look at you! You’ll wait 40 minutes to pay $8 for a cheeseburger!” I wanted to correct him: The double cheeseburger is only $7, and I’d been in line for an hour and a half.
If the Ace is a neighborhood starter kit, then massive projects like Eventi and Eataly are the same approach taken to a Vegas-level extreme. It’s like creating a whole new neighborhood—complete with residences, restaurants, bars, shops, and a steady flow of tourists—inside one towering building: the neighborhood-as-biosphere. Gone are the days when you might reimagine an underused industrial zone on a map, or stumble on a bunch of vacant warehouses on the waterfront, or find some funky frontier in which to rub two sticks together and hope to ignite something new. There are no new frontiers, save the ones you carve out or conjure yourself, starting with the right magic word. “We all might be saying NoMad sounds dumb now,” says Arak. “But if 10,000 people keep repeating it for five years, who knows?” He corrects himself. “Maybe not 10,000 people. Maybe 100 trendsetting Ace Hotel regulars.”
Eventually the name, and the neighborhood, and the idea of the neighborhood, will drift out into the city, and make its way into more headlines and tourist guides and maybe even taxicab maps—everywhere, it seems, except across the street, on 29th, where two shops stand side by side. One bears the enigmatic name City Group King Star, though a neon sign explicates further: BELT LIGHTER WALLET hat. Judging from the window display, they could add LED BOB MARLEY LIGHTER SKULL BONG SNOW IN A CAN.
Next door is M.K. Sterling & Watches. Inside, I ask a clerk how long they’ve been here and he laughs. “Here? We just moved. We used to be there—” and he points across the street to the corner of 29th and Broadway, which is now the prow of the Ace Hotel building and is currently covered in plywood, awaiting a new tenant. “We got kicked out,” he says. His name is Umang. His boss, the owner, also gives only his first name, Shappy. (To be fair, his business card uses only his first name; that’s how you do business in the wholesale district.) Shappy’s had a store in the neighborhood for 25 years. Recently, he’s seen other shops pick up for New Jersey or, in an odd echo of the Victorian mad wife stashed in the attic, move to the upper floors of the local skyscrapers when the storefronts got too expensive. Most of the storefronts on the east side of Broadway between 29th and 28th are now for rent. “Small people can’t survive no more,” Shappy says. He likes the Ace. They’re decent neighbors. They even put planters out in front of their bar to obscure revelers and appease a mosque on the block. “They’re busy,” Umang says. “They bring good crowds,” though few of those people wander over to shop for wholesale watches. “What we sell is inexpensive. They sell T-shirts for $150.” I think of Remington Guest (yes, his real name), a 21-year-old who lives in Hoboken and was written up in a Blackbook article on the Ace. “I mean, look at the area it’s in,” Guest said. “You walk outside and there’s some guy trying to sell you suitcases for five bucks.” Correction: The Ace used to be in that area. It’s in NoMad now.