The Nolitafication of Dimes Square

Photo: Sukjong Hong

In a few weeks, Nine Orchard, a 14-story hotel, will open in the former Jarmulowsky Bank Building with three restaurants by Ignacio Mattos of Estela, Lodi, and Altro Paradiso. Per the website: “The hotel is surrounded by cultural institutions, animated neighborhood streets, and some of the city’s most exciting shops and restaurants.”

What it’s really surrounded by is Dimes Square. So on the occasion of the hotel’s opening, we asked self-appointed historians and long(ish)-term residents — the ones who moved in before beaded-bag company Susan Alexandra opened up shop but after the place had gone through a very thorough first wave of gentrification — for a State of the Neighborhood.

According to them, there’s a very clearly defined Old Dimes Square and New Dimes Square. Meetka Otto, a 25-year-old waitress at Dimes who has lived in the neighborhood for seven years and is known as the “Mayor of Dimes Square,” thinks the Switch officially happened in June 2020, after the first months of lockdown gave way to a cautious summer of COVID socializing. The “techno heads, Blazer Soundsystem boys, Kiki Kudo, and the Loft-adjacent 30-somethings sitting in Seward Park” were eclipsed entirely, she says, by “students, rich kids, and overly intellectual internet incels.” She knew when she moved in that she “was walking into an already broken-in shoe, but a very different one than it is now. The tone was similar, but the crowd was older and less aware of themselves. Mission Chinese was diner vibes, and no one was walking around saying, ‘Not me eating breakfast at Dimes!’” Performer Annie Hamilton lived in the area from February 2021 until February 2022. “When I got there,” she says, “the pandemic was raging and people were partying, and I loved that about it. But it was already a watered-down freak show. I got there late.”

The neighborhood had been creeping toward the inflection point that was the pandemic for years. An extremely abridged history might look something like this: Dimes opened in 2013 on Division Street in a 200-something-square-foot space named after its attractive patrons. (“Because all our customers are all dimes,” owner Alissa Wagner said at the time to Eater. “You know, like the movie 10.” New York described the scene as “overheated and cliquish.”) The area was already popular with a certain type of person — editors and gallerists had long gathered at Lower East Side bars like 169 Bar, Clandestino, Forgtmenot, and Beverly’s, all within blocks from the new restaurant. Within two years, Dimes triplicated, opening a market and a deli. Greek restaurant Kiki’s opened steps from the market in a former Chinese joss-paper shop. In 2017, tie designer Alexander Olch brought an arts cinema, Metrograph, to Ludlow — Greta Gerwig, John Waters, Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola, and Willem Dafoe came to the party. Next arrived slice joint Scarr’s, with bottles of pét-nat in the basement and popular-on-Instagram merch (“it’s just one of those places in New York that still feels like a neighborhood,” said model Sarah Lundqvist at the time); soon after, Niall Fallon and Nick Perkins’s Cervo’s moved into the former Pies ’n’ Thighs spot (Bon Appétit editors followed). In 2019, Dasha Nekrasova and Anna Khachiyan released an episode of their Red Scare podcast titled “Once Upon a Time in Dimes Square” (a two-parter reviewing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). And in 2020, Helena Barquet and Fabiana Faria moved their beloved home-goods shop Coming Soon to the corner of Orchard and Canal. Then: the pandemic. The neighborhood mostly stuck around and partied. Clandestino bartender Ivan Berko characterized the time thusly: “There was suddenly this Italian-piazza-type thing going on.”

By the time people started to return to the city in 2020, that Italian-piazza-type thing was being closely watched. Influencer-scammer Caroline Calloway somehow ingratiated herself into the scene and broadcast her various Dimes Square goings-on to hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram. The Drunken Canal put out its first issue. This magazine put out its piece on The Drunken Canal. The Times put out its piece on The Drunken Canal. Vintage dealer Chad Senzel began selling clothes on a rack at the corner of Ludlow and Canal to his many gallerist/editor/actor/model friends. Shops opened at a clipped pace on Orchard Street to cater to the tourists flocking in from Williamsburg and the West Village to see, or participate in, the spectacle the whole thing had become: Susan Alexandra, clothing-slash-record-shop Colbo, Desert Vintage. Viral underwear company Parade hosted a Dimes Square pop-up. By February 2022, there was a Dimes Square play, written and directed by author Matthew Gasda.

All of this development is resulting in some friction between Dimes Square’s Original Gentrifiers and its New Gentrifiers. The neighborhood is now filled with “pleather-clad girls Google-mapping how to get to Clandestino,” says Callan Malone, the founder of a substack called Real Housewives of Dimes Square. There is an abundance of “Australians wearing large hats,” according to director Leila Jospé. “The clando and wine bar outside seating has big greasers vs socials energy,” reads a recent tweet. Editor Nick Robins Early, who has lived above Clandestino for a decade, says that a few years ago he and his friends were having drinks — at Clandestino — and laughed when they saw “this NYU-student type sipping a Manhattan while holding aloft a book on film theory and looking around to see if anyone was noticing. Now there’s 50 of him almost every day of the week.” (Not to mention the tension between those who inhabited the area before the first wave of gentrification and everyone who has come after. When asked about the development of New Dimes Square, Scott, a creative director who’s lived in the same apartment on Henry Street for 18 years, said: “You mean Wu’s Wonton Square?”)

And there’s more (and more and more) to come. Lights are being turned back on at 37 Canal Street and Ludlow for the opening of Le Dive, a natural-wine bar from the team behind Acme and Le Crocodile. Suzie Kondi just opened her second store on Orchard (her first is in Amagansett) with $265 harem pants for sale. (A recent headline in Yahoo News reads: “Suzie Kondi Opens Dimes Square Store.”) And then there’s the hotel, which will have a grill, a corner-tavern-style bar, a cocktail lounge in the lobby, and 116 guest rooms. No one is exactly sure the effect it will have on the neighborhood. Michelle “Gutes” Guterman thinks it’ll mean more of the same. “It’s just more of what’s been happening all along — a slow shift to a higher-brow, new-money social class. Although Malaysia Beef Jerky will probably be pushed out.” Jospé is scared that the hotel “will probably bring in another wave of Dimes Square pieces, of people traveling here because they think it’s a real thing. It’s not a real thing. It was a joke that journalists and people who don’t live here kind of escalated into a reality. Best-case scenario, the hotel is sick and brings good business to the local spots that struggled to stay open during COVID, without completely diluting the zone with tourists and annoying people with no respect. That’s all we can hope for at this point.”

The Nolitafication of Dimes Square