Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Today's Hot Chocolate Festival flavor is Earl Grey Tea Hot Chocolate, which is hot chocolate made with an infusion of Earl Grey Tea. This is by far the most delicate flavor of the entire month. Earl Grey tea can't compete with chocolate - but it can compliment it - so in this drink, the total volume of chocolate is reduced to allow the tea to meet the chocolate on more fair footing. The body is delicate, and the flavor, melodic. This hot chocolate is lighter than every other City Bakery hot chocolate, but the experience [and pleasure] doesn't suffer for that.

I bought the Earl Grey for this yesterday, at Sullivan Street Spice and Tea Company in the Village at 208 Sullivan Street.   It's a personal little business, stocked primarily with tea and spices which opened last year. When it first opened, the hubaloo surrounding its arrival was the fact that it occupies the spot which for decades was the Triangle Social Club, i.e., the headquarters for Vincent "The Chin" Gigante and the Genovese crime family.

I get the temptation for anyone writing about this to want to indulge in the mobster-location-meets-green tea angle, absolutely, I do. Still, having now been in the space myself, what I'm surprised hasn't gotten more attention is a relic of a painted mural that lines the entire right wall of the store. It's a street scene of Paris [?] or some such urban French landscape. The portion included here, is but a snippet of the total work. It's a bit of a revelation, and it's got charm to burn.

When I went home last night and read up on the store, I was surprised to find next to no mention of this mural. I learned only that the owner of the spice shop says it took a special effort to clean away years of [cigar] grime which covered the work. I also learned that a customer whose has been into the store since it opened claims to know the artist, and planned to tell the artist that the store is open.

And who would that artist be?

The answer is one Helen Meyer, which I learned by clearing away a few jars of spices when I thought I spyed a signature near the bottom left corner of the work. "Helen Meyer 2/65." Fabulous.

47 years ago this month [love that!], Helen Meyer painted a sweet, charming, undeniably special mural at 208 Sullivan Street, and it still stands today for your viewing pleasure [though I must say, IMHO, I wish the top row of spice jars would be moved away to see more of the work. After all, there are, I imagine, hundreds of  tea and spice shops around the world with with oversized tea and spice jars, but most likely, only one with an original Helen Meyer mural to grace it's interior].

A day after this discovery, I'm pre-occupied with the following: Who was Helen Meyer? Is she still alive?
Was she a painter of note? [I could not find anything starting with "Helen Meyer" and "painter" and I googled about 50 variations on her name, the location, painting and murals]. What else did she paint? Any other murals? Who commissioned her? Was it, by chance, the Genovese family? If yes, did she know? If no, who, and how did it come to be in the first place? Where is the street supposed to be, and had Helen Meyer been on that street?
Also, I wonder where is the ladder she used to paint up high near the ceiling?

I don't believe I'll ever learn the answers to these questions, but that is just fine. The pleasure in finding that mural, in and of itself, was rich.

Thank you, Helen Meyer. Your work at 208 Sullivan Street is a treasure in New York City in 2012.

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