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Karen’s Quirky Style: Waiting on a Friend

BY KAREN REMPEL | This corner is obviously the coolest spot in New York City! I’m sitting by a graffitied doorway at the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Avenue A.

It looks like the bar might be deserted, but if you peek through the window, there’s a guy chowing down on tacos. Classic rock (the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”) is pouring through the open windows and the wooden tables are suitably ringed with draught beer marks.

The bar is called Empellón Al Pastor, across the street from Tompkins Square Park. According to Ada Calhoun, writing in the Guardian in 2015 — but I think it holds true to this day — the coolest street in the country is St. Mark’s Place in the East Village, which stretches for three blocks from Third Avenue to the park. Shh!! Don’t tell anyone.

In fact, across the street is a “secret” speakeasy called Please Don’t Tell. To get in, you have to call from a pay phone inside Crif Dogs, the subterranean hot-dog stand next door. More famously, Debbie Harry lived across the street, and Led Zeppelin shot their “Physical Graffiti” album cover on the block, a few doors down from the bar, at 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place.

My boyfriend, Mick Jagger, sat on a stoop on this block in the Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend” music video. Keith Richards swaggered through crowds on the sidewalk to meet him there, and they monkeyed up the street to St. Mark’s Bar and Grill (now stripped of history and called Bar Lula). Ronnie Wood was already inside, smoking a cigarette with another stuck behind his ear — remember smoking? The bartender was ready with a beer for Keef, and Charlie and Bill were joking around a few stools away. After a few swigs they all went to the back of the bar and picked up their instruments to play. This song was one of the biggest hits on “Tattoo You,” in 1981. This great Wikipedia article shares Mick’s story about how Sonny Rollins played sax on the track, to their delight and surprise.

“Tattoo You” is my favorite Stones album of all time, maybe because it came out in real time for me. I turned 16 that year, a few months after the album was released. A girlfriend I worked with at Wendy’s in Vancouver gave me “Tattoo You” for Christmas that year. I have literally listened to this album hundreds of times in the four decades since then.

When I was a 15-year-old dreaming about Mick in my basement room, I had no idea I’d one day be doing a photo shoot on the same block that the Stones walked on while they recorded their first-ever video single for the emerging music channel called MTV. Wow! I could kiss the ground… . If only I could time travel back to that day… .

This is the wonderous thing about New York. No matter what block you’re on, and how ordinary it might look, a history of ideas, people and events is steeped into the asphalt and bricks, waiting to pounce on you.

To see more fun Philip Maier photos and my original Canadian “Tattoo You” album cover, go to karensquirkystyle.nyc.

Style Notes

Although this column ended up being about the Rolling Stones, I hand-painted these boots to perform “Life on Mars” at the National Arts Club, in full Bowie costume! I bought the coat because it reminded me of Bowie’s outrageous “Tokyo Pop” vinyl bodysuit (designed by Kensai Yamamoto for the “Aladdin Sane” tour in 1973), which was displayed on the cover of Time magazine right after Bowie died, in January 2016.

Vintage Donna Karan metallic-silver brocade tuxedo coat. Rare Donna Karan storage sale, next to Urban Zen, at 705 Greenwich St.

Black felt 1960s-style hat by The Hat Box, Union Made, with black leather bow. Honeymoon Antiques, 208 E. Sixth St.

Bianco black polished cotton skinny jeans. Veriazioni, now at 338 Bleecker St.

Hand-painted Top Shop platform boots with cream and black “brogue” pattern and purple heels. The Bay, Vancouver, BC.

Silver star earrings with tiny rhinestones. Starlin New York, 206 E. Sixth St.

23 Comments

  1. STEVEN G HILL STEVEN G HILL April 2, 2022

    Those 3 Blocks Used to be Cool decades ago…Yuppified!

    • Karen Rempel Karen Rempel April 3, 2022

      Hey Steven. You’re so lucky you got to see the real thing. I would love to hear any stories you have from that era. Warmly, Karen

  2. Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz April 2, 2022

    Another pricey, studiously cool outfit but with no prices cited for the duds in list below columm. The cost of merch on sale should always be included in any publication that serves the public interest.

    • Karen Rempel Karen Rempel April 3, 2022

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for your note. I wrote you a lengthy reply last month explaining this. Maybe you didn’t see it. I appreciate hearing your opinion.

      I also appreciate that you think it’s a pricey outfit, but it’s not. I hope you feel inspired to put together your own looks from what’s in your closet. This column is not about encouraging people to spend a lot of money on their clothes!

      Best wishes,
      Karen

      • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz April 3, 2022

        Thanks, Karen, for your detailed reply to my question in your last column for The Village Sun. As a newsie and former fashion writer, I just need to know the precise cost of things at retail venues.

        • Karen Rempel Karen Rempel April 4, 2022

          Hi Mary,

          It’s great to hear from you again. I’m enjoying this conversation.

          These items were literally all from my closet, purchased over a span of the last six years. That being the case, there is no precise cost.

          I hope to inspire you to put together your own unique looks, not replicate mine. As a former fashion writer, I am sure you have amazing style, and I would love to get a look at your closet!

          The other point of the column is to explore the locales of the photo shoots and celebrate the splendors of New York. Many of my readers who are native New Yorkers enjoy learning about aspects of the city they were unfamiliar with.

          This is not your typical fashion column about selling clothes with the story just there to sell the clothes, the way you might see in Vogue. It’s a different type of column. No advertisers are paying for me to flog their wares, though I’m sure my editor wishes they were!

          If you like something that I mention, by all means, I hope you will wander over to Urban Zen, Honeymoon Antiques, Veriazioni or Starlin and see if they have anything that appeals to you. But it’s unlikely you will find any of the items I am wearing, as they were either one of a kind to begin with, or would be a model from years ago that’s no longer in stores.

          Thanks for continuing the dialogue.

          Warmly,
          Karen

          • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz April 5, 2022

            Thanks for clarifying your mission, Karen. I used to work for WWD years ago and could never afford the duds featured in its pages but learned a lot about style from designers I interviewed, like Betsey Johnson, Perry Ellis and Valentino. Then, as now, I refuse to buy retail and find great fashion deals at thrift shops. But I’m interested in the names you have mentioned, like Honeymoon Antiques, and will check them out, time permitting.

  3. Jeff Jeff April 3, 2022

    I love Please Don’t Tell. Was there just last month. They have some fun craft cocktails, very nicely prepared, but a wee bit expensive. Ring, ring.

    BTW, Ask me about painting leather, it’s easy with the right stuff and lasts longer than I imagined. But, you may already know.

    St. Marks Place still has some fun, authentic shops from a bygone era.

  4. Karen Rempel Karen Rempel April 3, 2022

    Hey, Jeff! We must go there sometime. I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of the speakeasy! And over drinks, you can tell me your leather painting techniques. XX Karen

  5. Kim Kim April 3, 2022

    Gorgeous picture. I love the hat!

  6. Arthur Lambert Arthur Lambert April 3, 2022

    Stunning as usual. Always interesting and inspiring. Perhaps you should save your
    outfits for the Met’s clothes exhibitions, Low Cost Couture.

  7. Karen Rempel Karen Rempel April 3, 2022

    Thanks, Kim! I got the hat after an unhappy haircut! 🙂

  8. Maggy Maggy April 3, 2022

    I love your column, Karen. It brings back lots of fond memories.

    • Karen Rempel Karen Rempel April 3, 2022

      Thanks, Maggy! I bet you could tell a story or two! 🙂

  9. George Sanders George Sanders April 3, 2022

    There’s a pay phone in Manhattan? Unbelievable!

    • Karen Rempel Karen Rempel April 4, 2022

      Right! I forgot about that detail. I wonder how much it costs? We must drag Jeff and the gang over there for phone calls and cocktails!

  10. Marisa Marisa April 3, 2022

    Love this look and the “Tattoo You” back story!

  11. Pat Duffy Pat Duffy April 4, 2022

    Your blog piece evokes a whole spirit and time—just love it–and the video!
    Also fabulous photo by Philip Maier: wistful, poignant, longing for another era (or for that element of “cool” that links many eras).’ And a great ending to your piece–needs a special spotlight:

    “This is the wondrous thing about New York. No matter what block you’re on, and how ordinary it might look, a history of ideas, people and events is steeped into the asphalt and bricks, waiting to pounce on you”

  12. Karen Rempel Karen Rempel April 4, 2022

    Hi Pat, isn’t that video wonderful!? Your description of the photo is marvellous — that’s totally what I was feeling!

    And the feeling I get from the streets of New York is so palpable that it hit me the very moment I first set foot on New York soil at La Guardia. It struck me like a force as I walked around Manhattan on my first trip here in 2014. There’s a feeling of a warm embrace emanating from the bricks! Maybe it’s the energy of all the amazing people who are here now, mingled with the trace energy of all the folks leading back generations and even centuries.

  13. Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz April 6, 2022

    Magical thinking, Karen. There’s a new crime wave in Manhattan and I doubt the thousands of people who have been mugged and murdered here think of the inert streets of New York as warm welcoming mats.

  14. Bill Stepp Bill Stepp April 10, 2022

    Ada Calhoun’s book “St. Marks Is Dead” paints a timeline of the street. Mick sang at 96 St. Marks in 1981. Do you know the date?

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