Southern In The City – Meet John Maloney
I love connecting with so many creative, clever people through The Southern C… definitely a perk of the job! I recently chatted with Alabama native John Maloney and would love for you to meet him, too. Though based in New York for many years, where he is the creative director and founder of the boutique design firm Coosa (www.coosa.com), a creative collective that guides, invents and reinvents brands both inline and online by working collaboratively with both agencies and individuals, and local startups as well as global corporations, John still has an affinity for his native South, as evident in our conversation.
When we spoke recently, he was kind enough to share a little about himself and his wealth of knowledge about the place he now calls home. So many fabulous finds and insider tips for a jaunt to the city… I am ready to pack my bags and follow this amazing itinerary! (See the links at the end)
How long have you lived in NYC and what brought you here?
I’ve been at least a part-time New Yorker since the mid-1990s when I would travel back-and-forth nearly every week between Manhattan and cities including Seattle (I was a creative director at Nordstrom there) and Minneapolis (as a Design Director for Target) to art-direct photo shoots. About seven or eight years ago I finally gave up my Delta Airlines Diamond Status and made New York my sole home when I opened my design firm, Coosa (named for the beautiful river in Alabama on the banks of which I grew up).
What do you miss most about living in the South?
Each time I head South to visit my family, I realize how inevitable it is that I’ll return permanently one day. I may live in New York (and don’t get me wrong—I love New York) but the South will always be my heart and home. I find myself missing so many seemingly small things—like how in summer the South is in full bloom—blanketed in a kudzu-covered green. I miss the huge starry Southern skies filled with lightning bugs sparkling as far as you can see. And, to be perfectly honest, I miss fried okra and how red velvet cake is made with seven-minute icing in the South—not with cream cheese frosting like it’s made here up North. Southern food culture has somewhat recently become a big deal here in New York. While the bodega near my apartment inexplicably, and also somewhat unreliably, sells Goo Goo Clusters, unless I’m back home in the South, “Southern” food in New York is just not at all as soulfully Southern as I’d wish.
The only place better than NYC is:
I won’t say any place is necessary “better” than New York—just wonderfully different!—but Charleston and New Orleans are pretty terrific, aren’t they? And even the least romantic person alive couldn’t help but fall in mad love with beautiful, perfect Paris.
24 hours in the city – three must-do’s:
Set your alarm to get to Russ and Daughters Café right when they open to beat the inevitable queue who know New York’s authentic and best bagel (I like mine plain with cream cheese, tomato, smoked salmon and extra capers) can be found here. The family-owned business recently opened a shiny café right down from the original location complete with an old-school soda fountain and luncheonette counter that feels like you’ve been transported back to the New York City of 1914—the year they opened for business.
Quickly pop into Dimes, a sunny Australian-inspired café, for one more latte to go (you did get up early!) and make your way through the charming shops and streets of The Lower East Side, coffee-in-hand, to the pedestrian entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge. The walk across the bridge takes about half an hour (maybe a little longer because you’ll be stopping a lot to Instagram all the quintessential New York-iness along the way). The bridge ends where two of my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods meet (posh Brooklyn Heights and artsy DUMBO) and both neighborhoods are perfect for simply wandering past the perfectly restored rowhouses in Brooklyn Heights’ waterfront streets (the streets all have fruit names like Pineapple and Cranberry) and taking photographs of DUMBO’s many large-scale street murals.
When you’re ready to return, head back to Brooklyn Bridge Park (where you exited the bridge earlier) and grab a deliciously quick and easy lobster roll lunch at Luke’s Lobster before jumping aboard the nearby water taxi back across to Manhattan. After a quick-ish recharge at your hotel (I recommend the understatedly chic boutique hotel, The Bowery), grab a pre-dinner Ginger and Spice cocktail in one of the overstuffed velvet sofas in The Bowery’s lobby bar before heading off to Keith McNally’s nearby and newest restaurant, Cherche Midi. If you don’t order the classic steak frites, you’ll sure be missing out!
Secret only a local knows:
Forget standing in the long, chaotic lines wrapped around for blocks and blocks, elbow-to-elbow with hundreds of wheelie-luggaged others awaiting the (somewhat expensive) claustrophobic ride to the top of the Empire State Building and instead take the little-known Roosevelt Island tram for a skyline view that’s much more unique and much less patience-trying. Just head towards the East River to the Queensboro Bridge at 59th Street and buy an MTA (that’s our subway and public transportation system) ticket from the kiosk for around $5 for a round trip. You’ll ride in a large glass gondola suspended way-up-high along the top of the bridge slowly moving along the bridge top and over the river to Roosevelt Island. Admittedly there’s not much at all to see on Roosevelt Island but your tram view in transit in both directions will be breathtaking and relatively crowd-free.
I like to buy a takeout tomato and basil panini and Italian grapefruit soda from the in-house bakery at Eataly, Mario Batali’s ginormous Italian gourmet market—which is a must-see spot all on its own—and take take it with me to the tram. After the five-minute-or-so tram ride to Roosevelt Island I grab a park bench right where the tram drops off and have my lunch watching the tugboats go up and down the East River with the full Manhattan skyline as their backdrop.
Perfect lazy Saturday in the City:
If New Yorkers haven’t fled the city to their Hamptons or Fire Island beach houses for the weekend, their Saturday plans are first and foremost about brunch (which never, ever starts before noon by the way). I like King Bee, an Acadian (apparently that’s a mixture of both French-Canadian and Southern Louisianan influences) restaurant in the East Village. Brunch here is way more exciting than the usual omelettes and pancakes. Think oysters on the half shell, a crawfish eggs Benedict and Andouille sausage buckwheat crepes. After, jump in a taxi to the art galleries on the Manhattan’s far west side in the Chelsea neighborhood. The art galleries are open all day and are free to all. A very intuitively-named website named Chelsea Gallery Map shows a map of all the galleries (between 10th and 11th Avenues there must be at least 100 galleries on West 20th through West 27th Streets). Images of the current exhibitions at each gallery accompany the site’s map and make it easy to create your own self-guided tour.
After your artful afternoon, if it’s warm out, walk all the way to the end of West 26th Street where it meets the Hudson River and have a drink (or two) at The Frying Pan, a historic lighthouse ship-turned-outdoor patio bar floating tall at Pier 66. When you’re getting hungry for dinner, jump in another taxi (or summon an Uber of course) across town to the Gramercy neighborhood to Javelina, a new restaurant serving authentic Tex-Mex cuisine—curiously New York’s newest food obsession. The “Bob Armstrong” is what you want to start with—it’s a cheesy-spicy-creamy dip topped with some of the best guacamole in the city. And be very sure to order a round of the frozen avocado margaritas.
A last nightcap with change of venue you ask? The perfect place for a late-night pineapple-and-ginger margarita is not too far up the street at the intimate and art-filled Rose Bar inside the storied Gramercy Park Hotel (The Rolling Stones and Blondie’s Debbie Harry have both called the hotel home). Cheers to an amazing Saturday!
New York Favorites Speed-Round:
Pies ’n’ Thighs just opened a new location in Chinatown that looks like the very chic-est Waffle House you could ever imagine. I grab a stool at the lunch counter for ridiculously delicious buttermilk biscuit amazingness—just like back home they’re hot, homemade and smothered in a creamy sausage gravy. Some mornings I have them slathered with cream cheese and pepper jelly. And then other times I order them stuffed with New York City’s very best fried chicken—super crispy and juicy with hot sauce and honey butter. Trust me—damn those carbs and order the biscuits!
Bar and Drink:
In our Chelsea neighborhood Danny Myers just opened Porchlight. He calls it “a bar with a Southern accent.” We head out to happy hour on the early-ish side to score a rocking chair on the porch (along with some boiled peanut hummus). And please be sure to make mine a bourbon Manhattan straight up with an orange twist!
My newest favorite Broadway show isn’t technically on Broadway—it’s “off Broadway” at the Public Theater in NoHo. “Hamilton” is a historical musical—stay with me here—about founding father Alexander Hamilton told through a musical mixture of hip hop and Rogers and Hammerstein. Unlike many traditional biographies it’s sexy, wildly fun and completely modern. Tickets aren’t the easiest to find (it’s technically sold out through its entire off-Broadway run so try Stubhub for last-minute tickets) but there are rumors it’ll move up to one of Broadway’s larger theaters later this year—after which I’m super-confident it’ll take home zillions of Tony Awards and be even more of the most sought-after tickets in town.
I’m very excited (as is all of New York for that matter) for the May 1st re-opening of The Whitney Museum of American Art. They’ve moved downtown into a majorly spectacular Renzo Piano-designed building right on the High Line park in the Meatpacking District. In October, a career retrospective of one of my very favorite artists, Frank Stella, premieres there.
I promise I’m not playing favorites by recommending Alabama-based Billy Reid. His menswear has a slightly Southern-and-preppy point-of-view that feels both classic and modern (there are two shops in town–I prefer the West Village location). Also be sure to check out Steven Alan in TriBeCa and—surprise!—the Club Monaco flagship (it also has a sweet bookstore, coffee shop and flower shop inside the massive, just-renovated space) on Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District. They both have great choices for guys as do Odin (multiple locations) and Maison Kitsuné in the NoMad Hotel. For women’s—while I can’t personally vouch—plenty on the Coosa team shower love and major-huge recommends on Opening Ceremony, Owen, La Garçonne, Dover Street Market (Don’t miss this place. I’ve been—it’s seven floors of artfully-over-the-top!) and Rachel Comey’s new store in NoLIta.
Living in New York means living in a challengingly-tiny amount of square footage and I find it so ironic—almost mean!—that we have so many gorgeous furniture and interiors stores here. Our friend (we designed much of the branding and advertising for his recent collaboration with Target) Thomas O’Brien has a loft-like store called Aero in SoHo that he’s curated with the most gorgeous and perfect mix of new and one-of-a-kind vintage lighting, furniture and everything else for the home.
We’ve also worked on a Target collaboration with DwellStudio, whose elegant SoHo boutique is filled with their signature graphic print textiles on everything from sofas to bedding to carpets. Also in SoHo, don’t miss BDDW (their handmade furniture is an elegant mix of rich woods and leathers that are somehow both rustic and luxurious) and Global Table for affordable, not-seen-anywhere-else glassware and dinnerware. And in nearby NoLIta, be sure to visit John Derian (yep!—we worked with him on a Target capsule collection of his signature decoupaged home décor too), Matter and Mud Australia.
I’m really not the biggest aficionado of vintage clothing but I do love the vintage art, furniture, lighting and décor found at Mantiques just down the street from Coosa in Chelsea. Last time I stopped in I fell in love with a vintage Gucci travel backgammon set and a massive steamer trunk from the 1930s. And when I’m in the West Village I always visit The End of History to swoon over their unparalleled collection of blown glass and ceramics from the 1950s and ’60s—all organized in huge rows of color from the brightest pinks and purples on down to the deepest blues and greens.
Whitney Long, co-founder of The Southern C and contributing editor for Southern Living, is always in a New York state of mind. In this series, she gets to live, eat and shop vicariously through her subjects and friends she has met on The Southern C – The Social Network of the South. Her wallet and her husband are most appreciative.
Meet more Southerners in the City: