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Nina In New York: What Recession? Weird Businesses Booming In NYC

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.

By Nina Pajak

Aren't traditional, time-honored small businesses still struggling to survive, up against a down economy, high unemployment, low consumerism, and internet robots offering their services and products for cheaper than any human can possibly match?

It appears the entrepreneurial spirit in Manhattan is, as always, unshakable - however, er, misguided it may be. Two dubious businesses have arisen in the recent months that made me scratch my head and ask, aren't we still in something of a recession?

The first is Molecule, a "water-only" cafe in the East Village. Yes, that's correct. A designer cafe that sells premium, designer NYC tap water which has been distilled into some heavenly state of crystal-clear purity with the use of a $20,000 custom-made filtration machine. For $1.00, you can drink a "Canteen" of water at the cafe. For $2.50, you can take your serving to go. And for $0, you can keep on drinking the same chlorine- and fluoride-filled water which you've been getting out of your tap for your entire life. I mean, I can see opening a place like this up in Miami, where the water is so hard you can see it on your skin after you get out of the shower. But in New York? Home to the most famous "good" tap water? If it's good enough to make our bagels, it's good enough for me. What is this, the early '90s? Next thing you know, we'll all be hanging out at oxygen bars again. And be "we" and "all" I mean exactly the same assortment of trend-mongers who did it in the first place.

More: The 13 Best Cheap Eats In The East Village

Next is Dans Le Noir, a "theme" restaurant recently (and hilariously) reviewed by two staffers at Eater NY. Read their conversation here. You will laugh and cringe and feel very, very angry. The set-up is simple: the entire meal is served and consumed in pitch blackness. Sounds like fun, right? It's supposed to be a psychological experiment in sensory blah blah blah. Interesting! What it sounds like is a scene out of a horror movie, where waiters are touching guests strangely and no one knows what they're being served and when you turn on the lights it's braaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnns. No really, it's seafood, but they don't even tell you what you're ordering before the meal. Guests choose from a few different color-coded "surprise" menus, and then play "what's this squishy thing" for the next couple of hours. I can't really imagine a less appealing eating experience. It's like someone took the concept behind the home-grown haunted house (blindfold + cold spaghetti + peeled grapes) and thought, wouldn't it be cool if there was a whole restaurant where you can convince yourself you might actually be eating eyeballs?

I suppose I'm glad to know that small business is still thriving in our fair city, economy be damned. As long as there are bored people with money around here, our designer tap water and sensory deprivation restaurants will never go wanting for customers. And that's something. I don't know what it is, but it can't be nothing.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

 Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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