By Gus Saltonstall
You walk into a deli on West 72nd Street, you grab a diet coke and a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. But your journey within the business does not stop there, instead, you make your way up a black staircase near the back of the store and suddenly find yourself face to face with a comedy show.
The Hungry and Healthy Marketplace at 163 West 72nd Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, is not your typical deli. The family-run business offers everything you’d expect on the first floor, but the second floor has been repurposed into an event space that hosts music, cabaret performances, and comedy.
Longtime comedian and Upper West Sider Lee Paul is leading the initiative to transform the second floor into a go-to entertainment space within the neighborhood. Paul was tasked in helping with the repurposing of the space in September.
“I got really excited because you know as a New Yorker, I love cool, kitschy things like this,” Paul told West Side Rag in a phone interview. “Because what’s more New York than comedy on top of a deli?”
The upstairs area of the deli has a little stage, low ceilings, a black curtain, candle lamps, and tables. During the day it serves as a dining area for customers, but at night it transforms into a place of entertainment.
“This is a real speakeasy. You walk into a deli that’s a real deli, then you walk upstairs to where the seating area is, and boom, all of a sudden you’ve got a cabaret,” Paul said. “It was not designed in an effort to be a speakeasy, this was a fully functioning deli that decided to refashion the upstairs to do comedy and music.”
The performance venue, which is dubbed Up & Up NYC, has already hosted five large comedy nights, with another planned for Friday, December 15. Paul, who is hoping to define a more consistent performance schedule for the venue in the new year, also hosts a weekly show on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. atop the deli.
You can check out the website and see upcoming performances — HERE.
“The venue is the charm of it,” Paul told the Rag. “To be able to get all the snacks from the deli and then take them up there and enjoy a comedy show.”
“Sometimes you might hear a sandwich or a smoothie being made downstairs, and the comedians will reference that and say, ‘you know that joke didn’t do so well, but somebody’s having a really nice, healthy smoothie,’” he added.
The partnership between Paul and the deli works for more reasons than one.
The Hungry and Healthy Marketplace keeps Halal, which means there is no alcohol within the store. Paul has been sober for 15 years and hosts a sober show at various venues throughout the city called On The Wagon, where comics that are either in recovery, taking a break from booze, or just allies, come and perform in various alcohol-free spots.
While you can bring a soda, juice, or smoothie up to the second floor of the deli for a performance, there is no bar upstairs or alcohol of any kind allowed.
The Upper West Side community is the other element that allows the unexpected venue to work, according to Paul.
The longtime comedian lives a little farther uptown near West 104th Street, but he considers the deli and his apartment to be part of the same neighborhood.
“As a New Yorker I moved around so much, it’s great to finally have a neighborhood that I can anchor and settle in,” Paul said. “I’m all about the Upper West Side. I take my dog to Riverside Park all the time, I go to the north woods in Central Park, I go to Silver Moon bakery — I’m invested in my neighborhood.
“Even though [the deli] is 30 blocks south of me, I still think of it as part of my neighborhood, and we get a lot of locals, that’s what I want, people who might not go to the bigger stand-up spots on the Upper West Side, but the fact that a neighborhood deli is doing something like this — it appeals to neighborhood people.”
Subscribe to WSR’s free email newsletter here.