Flatiron’s Hidden Tea House

Every time I return home from school I exit my elevator and turn down the hallway, and I’m reminded of the Japanese art and decorations at the rear end of my floor. Steve G. was a venture capitalist when he worked and has been a resident of 8– Broadway decades longer than my family. He has lived on the seventh floor for as long as I have been alive, and when I was much younger, his son S– lived with his wife in the apartment next to ours. They lived there until they had their first kid, and they moved to the east side, leaving the apartment back to Steve. Then, without a single warning to the Co-op in our building, he began renovations on turning that apartment into an authentic Japanese tea house. 

To paint a picture in your mind, this place is practically an oasis of bamboo and grass, with a fake stream with stepping stones, and many more aesthetic and calming decorations. Stepping from our dim hallway, littered with exposed sprinkler pipes, and covered in a visible film of dust into this tea house is surreal. Before he renovated the space, my family and I had no idea of his immense interest in Japanese culture. We knew he traveled, but never where he went, so we began asking, and every time he left he’d be going to Japan.

About two or three times a month, Steve will host an event in his space, an action that my family could probably disallow due to the co-op nature of the building. That said, we have never experienced any disturbance from the crowds that flock to this hidden cultural bubble, and our theory is that people who would visit a tea house are unlikely to be those who would cause a ruckus. Sometimes the event of the night is a kimono show, with mannequins lining the walls of the open space around the stream and the bamboo-clad loft, all of them wearing intricate and vibrant kimonos. Some will have patterns or prints, such as a dragon or a bird, while others utilize different fabrics to give the robe a more textured pattern. I remember a few years ago walking in the hallway as Steve exited his tea house, and he invited me in to see all of the beauty of this traditional Japanese dress, with a blend of older traditions and modern adaptations. Another common event is, of course, the tea ceremony. Many people will congregate on random nights to participate in this unique experience. The authenticity, tradition, and respect exhibited in these ceremonies can be found (as far as I know) nowhere else in the city. 

I constantly see Steve walking around the neighborhood with a casual kimono, sandals and his bowler hat. Any typical new-yorker would see this and think “This is just another weird nutjob” or a tourist may see him and just be utterly confused, but I know the story behind Steve’s dress, and I take pride in that fact. To me, Steve has become a staple in my building’s community, and his tea house has become famous, in the scope of tea houses.

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