"Keep the extra dollar, in the name of girls helping girls,"
Just inside the entrance of the bustling Broadway Lafayette subway entrance, I smile at the strawberry blonde stranger across from me. Moments ago, I navigated toward the subway’s exit when she softly tapped my arm to ask if I could exchange singles for a five dollar bill. I pull my headphones out and nod. Reaching into my wallet though, I realize only have four $1’s, but the barely 18 year old girl gladly accepts with a look of relief.
I hit play again on The Killers album I’ve been revisiting and continue my ascent up to street level. And with “Midnight Show” ringing through my headphones I can’t help but appreciate the coincidence of such a situation. I’m on my way to meet Cyndi, possibly the most perfect front woman for the “girls helping girls” movement.
And although I’ve known her through Instagram for over a year, making my way East on Houston Street toward The Garret, my mind wanders to the first time we truly hung out in person.
"You can choose whatever you'd like from this table," I recall her saying, gesturing to the organized pile of accessories next to her. "You're so gorgeous, you don't need much else."
She smiled at me through large tortoise shell glasses as the words spilled sweetly from her deep red lipstick. Her silky brunette bun came together perfectly at the base of her neck, culminating her subtle yet impossible to ignore beauty.
Holding her petite brown dog Rocky in one arm, she hugged me with the other as I entered fully into her brightly lit room at the Crosby Street Hotel. Adjusting my camel colored hat my smile grew larger. I simultaneously thought the exact sentiment about her.
Cyndi founded Taste the Style, an online food/lifestyle/fashion magazine and the week prior she emailed me to be a part of one of the site’s most popular columns, “The Staycationers," a series that chronicles hotels across the country and how to make the most of your stay there.
"We'll be shooting some stuff in rooms later, but first, let's eat," she said to me warmly and straightened her over-sized white dress, triggering an instant increase in my connection with her.
As the day progressed through tequila in tea cups and pizza in pajamas, I couldn’t help observing Cyndi. She floated with such confidence and intelligence. As we snacked on pastries and finger sandwiches, she told me her New York story from growing up in Queens to moving to Manhattan at 17 to pursue a degree in fashion.
“I didn’t graduate,” she said, igniting a look of shock on my face which I'm sure prompted her to add, “I used to regret it. But all the consequences from that kind of lead me to where I am now.”
Hear Cyndi tell the full story of finding her path in the hospitality industry:
I recall her explaining how she came to be the Founder and Queen of Taste the Style, how she recognized a gap in publications focusing specifically on food, fashion and the incredible people within those industries.
“We were these fashionable people, sure,” I remember her saying. “But we also really appreciate the dining and hospitality industries. And that specific point of view really resonated with our audience.”
Hear Cyndi tell the story of her defining moment for the focus of Taste the Style:
Suddenly, a honking cab transports me back to my present walk. Passing over where I’d normally turn left to head home down Essex Street, I instead turn right to head north on Avenue A.
Turning my music up a little louder, I fall into auto pilot for a few blocks. This walk hardly comes as out of the ordinary for me, as I frequent The Garret East and all its swank and charm (and crazy good cocktails) at least once a week.
"Your husband owns The Garret?" I recall having to put my drink down to respond to Cyndi on that day at the Crosby Street Hotel. "That truly is my favorite bar in New York."
I call to mind the look on Cyndi's face, her genuine smile of gratitude.
And just as the image of her on that day fades from my memory, I reach for the bar's large gold handle, push through the heavy beige curtain and see her perfectly combined classic yet exotic beauty before me once again.
"The boys are just getting ready to open. Do you want a drink?"
Cyndi pulls back from our hug and gestures toward the bar, her forearm’s palm tree tattoo on perfect display. And before I can even get the words “of course” out, she leads me toward the marble bar’s corner stools.
From round velvet booths and bountiful green plants, to the signature neon sign and perfect mood lighting, The Garret’s thoughtful interior vibe exists as the epitome of any twenty-something New Yorker’s ideal apartment.
With plug and socket symbols indicating their respective designation and sex position wallpaper, even the bathroom at this place is cooler than I could ever be.
I have a hard time believing each person who passes through that heavy curtain doesn’t feel an exact unexplainable comfort. A feeling of “this must be the place.”
Just as the first time I’d met her, Cyndi floats across bar’s dark wooden floor with her usual effortless style. Adjusting the red silk scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, she orders.
“Rosé please,” she says with a matter of fact smile, placing her delicate hand beneath her chin and her elbow onto the bar.
I remember again our first meeting. She spoke with such humble pride about the bars and how her life’s path led her to meet her now husband and business partner.
“We’d been dating for a while at the time and are very like minded,” she said. “He always wanted to open a bar and just went for it. I knew I wanted to be involved, so I just dove in to help however I could. We opened the first one in summer 2015 and the East location about six months after that.”
The Garret’s original location on the west side of lower manhattan exists in perhaps the most ‘New York’s Cool Kids Club’ kind of way, if you know where to find it.
A pink neon “SOUL” shines from the second floor window of a corner building on 7th Ave and Bleecker Street serves as the bar’s only signage. But most notably, to reach this cozy cocktail haven, you must first pass through a Five Guys Burgers. And although I visit regularly, it’s a magical experience I never tire of.
In typical New Yorker style, opening two bars in less than a year wasn’t enough for them though. Harnessing their love and understanding of the food and hospitality world, they opened a walk-in dinner only restaurant through the back of The Garret East.
They called it Dinnertable, and it was perfect.
I recall wrapping our photoshoot at the Crosby Street Hotel on that first day I met Cyndi, and how we made our way to Avenue A where I dined at Dinnertable for the first time.
My hands, still decorated with accessories from the shoot, pushed through the heavy curtain to reveal the restaurant’s humble, cozy setting. No more than the size of the dining room you grew up eating in, three tables and an open kitchen filled the warm space.
With friends I’ve known a while and a few I’d only met hours before, we ate through one of my most memorable and comforting meals to date. Sharing plates of hearty rolled lasagna and refreshing baked oysters, time stood still just for us for a few hours.
Although the menu has now entirely evolved since then, the heart of the restaurant and its uniquely personal dining experience has not changed one bit.
“Hendricks and tonic. Enjoy love,” the bartender says sweetly, bringing me back to Cyndi and The Garret East.
Through nearly two hours more of talking and laughing through everything and nothing, I suddenly realize the bar is now open and we’ve seamlessly integrated into The Garret’s usual crowd.
"There are a lot of great things ahead," Cyndi smiled, coyly.
Damn right there are.
Eight months after this interview, Cyndi opened NYC's first cafe/spa hybrid, Chillhouse. They offer one of a kind "Chill Lattes", incredibly intricate manicures, and the massages all inside the hippest place you'll ever be.