The Tricks and Tools of Coffee Connoisseurs

Blue Bottle’s Juan Hernandez demonstrates proper techniques for making coffee using the drip method.            PHOTO: MARK ABRAMSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

My marriage comes with perks, starting first thing in the morning when my wife brews a robust cup of coffee. She fills a Melitta filter with a small mountain, a mini Vesuvius, of ground beans.

Her habit costs less than if she were a chain smoker—and probably with fewer eventual medical complications—but it’s nonetheless substantial.

It also seems to me that she could make just as excellent a cup of coffee—providing sufficient buzz to get her out of bed and through the morning—with half the beans.

Since she isn’t interested in my advice, I decided to enlist the support of the baristas at Blue Bottle, an artisanal Oakland, Calif., coffee company with seven locations in New York City.

The pour, using a swan neck kettle.ENLARGE
The pour, using a swan neck kettle. PHOTO:MARK ABRAMSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

They take coffee seriously, perhaps slightly too seriously. But I visited their Chelsea cafe Thursday afternoon with one purpose: to learn the proper amount of coffee it takes to make a cup; and then to persuade my wife that while I can appreciate as much as the next guy the sense of well-being that comes from abundance, she could still have her coffee and put the extra money into art, or our daughter’s college tuition.

Blue Bottle, which offers free weekend coffee-making classes, prefers to roast its beans on the lighter side than other retailers, according to Juan Hernandez, the Chelsea cafe’s manager. That facilitates the release of “floral, citrusy” notes in some of the varieties of coffee Blue Bottle sells.

I can’t say I’ve ever conjured either adjective in regards to coffee. Maybe because my wife and I, in our ignorance, have been buying it over-roasted.

To release this bouquet—I asked that we employ the drip, or pour over technique, because that’s what we do at home—we would be using a pearly white ceramic Bonmac dripper rather than the funky brown plastic one we normally use.

“This is bamboo,” Mr. Hernandez explained, of the #2 filter.

I assume ours is made of humble paper.

“You can get sediment in the coffee,” Mr. Hernandez cautioned. “With bamboo you don’t.”

And to pour the water he used a small swan neck kettle. “It gives absolute control over where and how much water you’re pouring.”

We use a conventional kettle, and our primary challenge—speaking of sediment—is preventing a wave of falling water from washing the grounds over the lip of the dripper and into the cup.

We also don’t use a scale to measure the proper amount of coffee, something the manager described as “very important.”

Added Shawna Sharie, Blue Bottle’s New York director of retail, “We measure all our coffees down to 1/10th gram. Even 1/10th of a gram will change the flavor profile.”

Ground coffee beans at Blue Bottle’s cafe in Chelsea.ENLARGE
Ground coffee beans at Blue Bottle’s cafe in Chelsea. PHOTO: MARK ABRAMSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Blue Bottle recommends 30 grams of coffee (just over an ounce) to 350 grams (12.5 ounces) of water—the water divided into an initial 60 gram pour to release the beans “bloom,” and then a 30-second wait before embarking on a second pour.

The suggested technique is to start pouring at the center of the coffee bed and spiral outward toward the walls, until all the coffee is saturated.

Perhaps my wife wasn’t as obsessive as I thought.

“You need a timer,” Mr. Hernandez said. “If you spend 5 to 10 minutes you’re taking too long.”

“The goal is 2½ to 3½ minutes,” Ms. Sharie added.

Add a timer to our shopping list.

“If you really want to improve your coffee, get a great grinder,” Mr. Hernandez said, recommending a “flat burr” grinder to eliminate the risk of “inconsistent grind size.”

“It will be bitter” if you employ inferior grinding technology, he warned. “At the same time really sour.”

Ms. Sharie recommended a grind size finer than sea salt but coarser than table salt.

I’d always been content that my wife’s coffee was strong, as opposed to the swill they typically serve in coffee shops and diners. I was starting to think I needed to set my sights higher.

Unsurprisingly, the experts decried the grinders at the high-end grocery stores where we normally purchase our caffeine.

“You’re mixing very expensive artisanal coffee with lower-grade coffee,” Mr. Hernandez claimed. “Also, they don’t clean their machines. You might be getting coffee from last year.”

The big moment had come, or almost: the pour. “Once you have rolling bubbles, take it off the heat and wait 30 seconds,” Mr. Hernandez told me. “You never want to pour boiling water on coffee.”

You don’t?

“You’re going to burn the coffee.”

Waiting brings the temperature down just below 200 degrees, apparently the pouring sweet spot.

Blue Bottle also employs other brewing techniques, including using a siphon. It’s prepared by a siphonista, a job description with which I was previously unfamiliar. “You have to go through a special program and shadow a current siphonista,” it was explained to me.

I didn’t think I was ready to spend the $9 a cup for that privilege.

Besides, I admitted squeamishly, I drink iced coffee year round—taking an initial swig of the hot stuff, then putting the rest in the freezer until I’m ready for breakfast.

“There is no wrong way to drink coffee,” Mr. Hernandez assured me.

You could have fooled me.

ralph.gardner@wsj.com

City Civilities Go to Pot as Winter Takes Its Bite

ILLUSTRATION: ROB SHEPPERSON

In an act of almost unprecedented civic virtue (at least for me) I pulled a plastic bag from my pocket Tuesday afternoon and handed it to a young woman standing on Park Avenue.

If you happen to be a dog owner chances are you also have these conveniences at the ready in the pockets of every coat, ski parka, windbreaker, and the occasional pair of slacks.

I probably also instantly made myself a hero to the doorman at 955 Park Ave.—the building in front of which one of the woman’s two dogs, either the lab or the shih tzu, had done his or her business. (Judging by the generosity of the deposit, I suspect the former.)

In this dog walker’s defense, I believe she was unaware that her pooch had performed his duty. She was simultaneously juggling a load of files, plus her dogs, while speaking on the phone.

And when I first asked whether I could donate a baggie to the cause, she said no, until I pointed out the severity of the situation. Her back turned to it, she seemed genuinely surprised, accepted the offer, and quickly employed the receptacle.

On the other hand, she obviously wasn’t carrying her own stock, and unless she suffered from some shocking condition that robbed her of all sense of smell, she could not have failed to detect the olfactory indications. I had from half a block away.

While I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, I won’t the thousands who appear to have decided that this winter’s surly weather has given them license to cease cleaning up after their pets.

It’s hard to avoid noticing that decorating the blackened permafrost rising from every curb—in addition to a postmodern canvas of discarded cigarette butts, parking tickets, gum wrappers and bagged garbage—are knots of abandoned canine caca.

My interest is less to draw attention to this urban crisis than to attempt to understand why otherwise theoretically responsible adults feel that snow gives them permission to break the social contract. Don’t they realize it eventually melts?

Perhaps a personal history of this ritual exercise, the sharing of my own trajectory as a native New Yorker from chronic scofflaw to clean-streets champion, might shed some light on motivation, or its absence.

When I was a child, I didn’t clean up after our family’s Boston Terriers. There were several reasons why, including that I was walking Skippy under protest, and also that my parents had a rather lax attitude about letting him go indoors.

But the main excuse is that there were no laws on the books regarding canine refuse collection. Or if there were they went ignored. At least until Ed Koch , our fearless former mayor, came along, enforced the pooper-scooper laws, and even erected street signs featuring generic humans diligently cleaning up after their animals.

In more recent years I’ve taken pride in my fastidiousness, considering it a small but significant contribution to the commonweal. On the rare occasion when I find myself without a bag, I’ll promptly return to the scene of the crime as soon as I secure one and perform due diligence.

Not always, of course. Show me someone who claims never ever to have let a hangover, flu, or pressing social commitments prevent him or her from doing the right thing and I’ll show you a stinking liar.

But what’s happening on New York City streets this winter feels unprecedented. The social order, poop-wise, seems to have crumbled completely.

Trying to fathom the motives of the miscreants responsible, I have to assume they must consider snow some sort of hazard that, should they follow their pet onto one of these icy promontories, would put their own safety at risk.

Or that frostbite might ensue if their pet went midblock and they had to walk the baggie all the way to the corner.

Or perhaps they feel that the frigid weather we’ve been experiencing lately has some sort of preservative, or sealant, effect (judging by the amount of poop dating back to the holiday season they’re probably right) that does the job just as well as depositing it in the nearest trash receptacle.

In short, the soot-caked glaciers serve as the urban equivalent of a crushed ice caviar bowl.

Of course, all of this is simply an excuse to do the wrong thing. It proves that civilization is but a thin skein, a membrane, glazing over the roiling chaos, disorder and incivility that lurks just below society’s surface.

Cleaning up after your dog isn’t natural but learned behavior, nurture not nature. The inclination is to disown the smelly mess as fast as possible.

The fact that we don’t is almost as eloquent testimony to this city’s greatness as any of its cultural achievements or the plummeting crime rate.

We shouldn’t let a little weather allow us to revert to outlaw status. Remember, it’s never too late to clean up after your dog.

You know who you are.

ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Nathalie Handal, a Queens Poet Without Borders

Columbia professor travels widely, even when staying in her N.Y. neighborhood

Nathalie Handal, above, likes neighborhoods with international flavor.
Nathalie Handal, above, likes neighborhoods with international flavor.PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“Where did you grow up?” is typically one of the earlier and easier questions to ask in an interview.

But it took Nathalie Handal, an award-winning poet and English professor at Columbia University, a good 10 minutes to explain.

And when she finished I was hardly more enlightened than when we started.

Part of the confusion was her fault because, as a lover of Irish literature, she suggested we meet at Donovan’s Pub, not far from her apartment in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights.

The remainder of the blame was on me because I foolishly took a swig of Scotch before I interrogated her.

I wasn’t drunk—or even tipsy—but alcohol, for all its merits, doesn’t encourage the kind of rigorous cross-examination that goes to the heart of high-quality journalism.

However, in my own defense, Ms. Handal’s biography is more peripatetic than most.

“It’s complicated,” she acknowledged.

Returning now to my notes—single malt Scotch also doesn’t foster excellent penmanship—Ms. Handal was born in Haiti.

“And my parents immediately left,” she reported. “My parents immediately went to Switzerland.”

Ms. Handal described them as “leftist students.”

“My mother traveled the entire nine months of her pregnancy. Before I even came into the world, I was traveling.”

When Ms. Handal was 3 or 4, she moved from Lausanne to Boston.

“That’s why I write in English,” she explained.

I believe the scholar-writer may have been drinking Guinness. However, it in no way impaired her narrative powers.

Ms. Handal returned to Haiti by the age of 7 or 8. And there were visits to the Holy Land: Her parents were of Palestinian descent and her grandfather was from Bethlehem.

Europe was also home for a while. She has French and American citizenships and graduated from the University of London.

Ms. Handal earned a master of fine arts from Bennington College in Vermont, although she said she spent little time enjoying the state’s great outdoors; she mostly commuted from Manhattan.

“I love James Baldwin,” she told me, of the American essayist and social critic who settled in France, “because James Baldwin never allowed anyone to box him. We live in a world where we need to be identified. What’s great about Jackson Heights is that La Guardia is eight minutes away. It suits my lifestyle.”

Ms. Handal is the author of four books of poetry—five if you include her latest collection, “The Republics,” loosely based on stories she heard while visiting Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. She describes the work as “somewhere between prose poetry and flash fiction.”

“…I ask him about his family, but why intrude upon a man’s grief,” she writes in one section. “He hums again and says: My wife was crushed when the wall fell on her, and our first child still in her womb. The house is gone. The street gone. The entire neighborhood gone. He stares at me. I imagine he means to ask me if I am satisfied for having disturbed his loss. But then he says, the city is mine, and music is a version of god behind those mountains…”

I suggested we order dinner, feeling a sudden urge for protein.

When she moved to the U.S., or rather moved back to the U.S. in the 1990s, Ms. Handal lived on the Upper West Side. The neighborhood’s bodegas and international flavor appealed to her personality, as does Jackson Heights today.

“It’s like entering the world of that country,” she explained. “Literally where every block is a world.”

She put her neighborhood to poetry in “Life on the Seven”: “…The deaf man on 75th asks for a Samosa, says Namaste to the bride shopping for a sari, turns to me: There are secrets hiding between Jackson Diner and the Patel Brothers. Silence is like listening—you have to master its voice…. The train passes. Exile understands motion…”

Ms. Handal said when she moved to Queens, “I felt sort of in exile. Everyone I knew was in Brooklyn and Manhattan.”

She doesn’t anymore. The neighborhood allows her to travel without boarding a plane, even though she still does a lot of that, too—lecturing from Los Angeles, to Germany, to Africa.

“I go to Astoria and I’m with the Greeks. Walk a little more and you’re in South Asia. Walk a little more and you’re in South America.

“I have produced a lot since I’ve been in Queens,” said the writer, whose book “Poet in Andalucia” was described by Alice Walker as “poems of depth and weight and the sorrowing song of longing and resolve.”

Ms. Handal also edited the prizewinning anthology “The Poetry of Arab Women” and is a playwright whose work has been produced by the John F. Kennedy Theater for the Performing Arts.

“I also think I’m less distracted here,” she added of Queens. “You have the whole city, but you also have your private writer’s residency in your apartment. I have trees in front of my house.”

After dinner, Ms. Handal walked me to the 7 train. I wouldn’t have contemplated getting home any other way.

ralphgardner@wsj.com

Seeing Grant’s Tomb in a New Light


Seeing Grant’s Tomb in a New Light

Ralph Gardner Jr. gets a history lesson during a visit to the General Grant National Memorial

The General Grant National Memorial, also known as Grant’s Tomb, at West 122nd Street and Riverside Drive in New York City.ENLARGE
The General Grant National Memorial, also known as Grant’s Tomb, at West 122nd Street and Riverside Drive in New York City. PHOTO: ADRIENNE GRUNWALD FOR
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?

I’ve always labored under the impression that General Grant wasn’t.

He is. Or isn’t. For semantic reasons I’ll get to momentarily.

But my understanding, based on an abundance of ignorance, was that Grant’s Tomb, at West 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, was empty. I assumed he was buried elsewhere. Perhaps in Ohio, where he was born, or at Arlington National Cemetery.

That the tomb—officially the General Grant National Memorial—stood mostly as an undervisited symbol of the disappointments of Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency, after serving as President Abraham Lincoln ’s greatest Civil War general.

In any case, I felt no pressing need to drop by, even though I’ve been passing the classical mausoleum in cars for decades. That is, until my friend Hugh Howard suggested a visit. He’s a historian, preservationist and author most recently of “Houses of Civil War America” (Little, Brown) with photographer Roger Straus III.

I agreed, considering it a relatively painless way to remedy my lack of education. And also because, like others I suspect, my estimation of Grant has grown in recent years beyond the wanting stick figure with sword of the grammar school history books of my youth.

Apart from his presidency, distinguished by civil rights and conservation legislation, and his exceptional record as a soldier, Grant is the author of one of history’s better autobiographies—a best seller written as he was dying of throat cancer in 1885 to provide for his wife, Julia.

In the memoir, published by Mark Twain, who revered the man, Grant impresses not only through his self-effacing accounts of his victories in battle, but also because he possessed a world-class wit. Who knew?

But onto Grant’s Tomb. The reason it became the answer to a riddle—perhaps most famously posed by Groucho Marx to contestants on his 1950s TV show “You Bet Your Life”—is that it’s a trick question.

The coffins containing the bodies of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia,  at the General Grant National Memorial. ENLARGE
The coffins containing the bodies of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, at the General Grant National Memorial. PHOTO: ADRIENNE GRUNWALD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“Technically they’re not buried,” Mr. Howard explained as we looked down from the tomb’s rotunda into the crypt. It held two matching sarcophagi, made of red Wisconsin marble. One casket held the 18th president, the other his wife, Julia, who died in 1902.

“That’s actually ground level,” said Liam Strain, a district National Park Service ranger who joined us on the visit.

“The lids are 21/2 tons,” added Michael Callahan, another park ranger who accompanied us.

Mr. Strain said Julia Grant wanted her husband buried in New York City, where he spent the final years of his life and where she continued to live. “His only requirement was that Julia be laid to rest with him. At the time West Point [where Grant graduated] and Arlington did not allow women.”

The tomb, designed by John Duncan and based on an ancient Greek mausoleum, is relatively stark without being uninviting. Natural light streams through high amber glass windows. There are two small reliquary rooms off the rotunda bearing battle flags, and the crypt is decorated with busts, added during the 1930s as part of a WPA project, of Grant’s generals—among them Phillip Sheridan and William Sherman.

But does anybody visit?

“Visitation is about 100,000 a year,” Mr. Strain reported, with peak attendance on April 27, Grant’s birthday. “It’s not bad considering the generation that knew and liked him best are all gone. When it first opened it was 500,000 to 600,000 a year.”

“West Point always comes down with an honor guard,” the ranger added. “The commandant speaks representing the [current] president,” of the United States. “There’s a 21-gun salute.”

When the site was inaugurated on April 27,1897, thousands attended, including President William McKinley.

From left, National Park Service District Ranger Liam Strain, historian and author Hugh Howard, and National Park Service ranger Michael Callahan at Grant’s Tomb.ENLARGE
From left, National Park Service District Ranger Liam Strain, historian and author Hugh Howard, and National Park Service ranger Michael Callahan at Grant’s Tomb.PHOTO: ADRIENNE GRUNWALD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

And, of course, the National Memorial is perennially popular among Civil War enthusiasts. “Some people come here to impress or stump the ranger,” said Mr. Callahan, who seemed as knowledgeable as any historian.

Presenting a challenge, besides people who show up wanting to debate history around closing time, are those who arrive in period costume.

“One of the things I don’t like is if they come in hobnail boots,” Mr. Callahan said.

Another obstacle is that the memorial is partially hidden. Mr. Strain told me that the monument was originally conceived as standing on a windswept bluff overlooking the Hudson River.

“One of the things that worked against that was Robert Moses, who did not enjoy the site,” Mr. Strain said, referring to New York City’s midcentury master builder. “He had the area planted with trees.”

Nonetheless, that hasn’t prevented intrepid tourists from finding it. And proving that no corner of America history is too remote or lacking in romance, particularly for foreign visitors. The guest book is filled with the names and addresses of those from Holland, Brazil, Belgium, South Africa, the Czech Republic and Sweden.

“I try to monitor TripAdvisor,” Mr. Strain said. “Some people think it’s outside the city. It’s a five-minute walk from the 125th Street subway.”

An Enchanted Global Invasion

Artist Paula Hayes stands amid ‘Gazing Globes,’ an installation in Madison Square Park that will run through April 19.ENLARGE
Artist Paula Hayes stands amid ‘Gazing Globes,’ an installation in Madison Square Park that will run through April 19. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Who doesn’t love snow globes? “That Lilliputian world,” agreed the artist and landscape designer Paula Hayes.

“And, of course, the magical snow falling. Everything becomes coated with this beautiful material. Each part of snow is unique and crystalline.”

Obviously, she gets it. So I was excited to hear about Ms. Hayes’s new installation—“Gazing Globes”—in Madison Square Park. The exhibition, which consists of 18 illuminated, transparent polycarbonate spheres of different sizes and heights, opens Feb. 19 and runs through April 19.

But why only two months? Let’s make it permanent. The problem with this world isn’t that there are too many snow globes, but too few.

Though, strictly speaking, these are gazing globes—which Ms. Hayes informed me date to 13th-century Venice and reached the apex of their popularity in Victorian England—not snow globes.

You can’t shake them up and watch the pretty white stuff fall. Large, heavy and attached to fiberglass pedestals, they’d be a challenge to lift.

There’s also the matter of their contents. Pretty much anything will be improved by placing it inside a crystal ball. But I’ve been conditioned since childhood to anticipate something Christmassy akin to a winter wonderland with Santa schussing between pine trees, his reindeer close behind.

A detail of one of the orbs featured in the ‘Gazing Globes’ exhibit.ENLARGE
A detail of one of the orbs featured in the ‘Gazing Globes’ exhibit. PHOTO:KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Or maybe New York City in a blizzard.

This was anything but. Brooke Kamin Rapaport, the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s Martin Friedman Senior Curator, described it as “post-apocalyptic.”

The globes were filled with—what, I couldn’t exactly say—but it drew associations less with Currier and Ives than Fukushima.

There were what appeared to be black shards and spare parts floating in some sort of toxic-looking broth.

“But she looks at these in a very positive way,” the curator added, referring to the artist.

One of the 18 orbs filled with man-made items featured in the exhibit.ENLARGE
One of the 18 orbs filled with man-made items featured in the exhibit.PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Then again Ms. Hayes also writes science fiction, believes in extraterrestrials and cheerfully told me about the time she got buried in quicksand. “Up to my neck,” she recalled. “It was in the Hamptons.”

While there was an eerie beauty about the contents, I couldn’t quite visualize wanting to shrink to tiny size and join the objects inside—which is pretty much the litmus test for snow globes.

“It has parts from vintage radios,” the artist explained when I mistakenly identified one of the cylinders floating in the soup—the medium was actually pulverized CDs that sparkled with iridescence and that Ms. Rapaport describes as “fairy dust”—as a miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“There’s also shredded rubber tire in there,” Ms. Hayes announced almost festively. “And a little on-off switch.”

I gently broached the idea of whether she might have been tempted to include something more recognizable or conventionally attractive. Maybe a model of the Flatiron Building across the street. I knew a souvenir shop around the corner that sold them.

Ms. Hayes, who is known for her terrariums, said that when the Madison Square Park Conservancy originally approached her it was with the thought that she’d do terrariums.

But the artist decided that would be redundant. “I thought, this is a park and the horticultural aspect is already beautifully cared for. It evolved to be the gazing globes.”

The artist was also seeing them for the first time, in situ, and was delighted with the results, especially the way they reflected the surrounding skyline.

“I like the way they’re communicating with the spire of the Empire State Building,” she said of a globe that was spouting stalagmites.

She described some of their contents as glacial and oceanic. And indeed they were. Some looked like they contained icebergs, if that vortex of debris—the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—had migrated to Antarctica.

Utterly apart from my minor reservations about the contents, I was concerned about the gazing globes’ safety. Perhaps because the sound system for that night’s Kanye West concert, right next to the park on Broadway, was being tested and belching out disorienting noise.

But Ms. Hayes assured me the globes were virtually indestructible. “You can shoot it with a bullet,” she said, though she admitted that she’d never tried. She compared the material to those dividers used to thwart robberies at liquor stores or delis.

I also raised the scenario—again perhaps prompted by the crowds already assembling for the Kanye West concert—of pranksters being tempted, by the park’s recreational atmosphere, to try to remove the globes from their pedestals and use them as bowling or bocce balls.

Ms. Hayes also expressed no fear in that regard.

“I believe it will elicit more protectiveness in the public—‘How can that be outside?’ ” the artist observed.

As we spoke, the sky grew dark, the wind began to blow and large flakes of snow started to fall, swirling around the illuminated globes.

It was as if 18 miniature worlds had suddenly come to life. And it was actually quite lovely.

Write to Ralph Gardner at ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Going Hog Wild in Pig Heaven

Annual Chinese New Year Celebration Marks Restaurant’s Unofficial Opening

Ms. Lee, 58 years old, dances for customers. The restaurant owner was a professional basketball player in Taiwan and still plays internationally.
Nancy Lee’s Pig Heaven has reopened at a new location, on Third Avenue at 80th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Here, Annie McDermott dances during the restaurant’s annual Chinese New Year party, which also celebrated the reopening.
Columbia University Lion Dance opened the festivities at Pig Heaven. Chinese New Year falls on Feb. 19, and it will usher in the Year of the Sheep, not the pig.
Belly dancer Jaida performs during the Chinese New Year celebration at the new location of Pig Heaven.
Ms. Lee talks with longtime customer and friend Ed Nyitray and others at her annual Chinese New Year celebration at Pig Heaven.
Catherine Platt enjoys the performance by Columbia University Lion Dance at Pig Heaven.
Ms. Lee dances for customers. ‘I can’t tell you how much this means to me,’ she said of the reopening. The new Pig Heaven features the same pink pig motif as the old restaurant.
Kly Huang and Lucy Brewer perform a traditional Chinese dance at the Pig Heave’s Chinese New Year party.
Ms. Lee, 58 years old, dances for customers. The restaurant owner was a professional basketball player in Taiwan and still plays internationally.
Nancy Lee’s Pig Heaven has reopened at a new location, on Third Avenue at 80th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Here, Annie McDermott dances during the restaurant’s annual Chinese New Year party, which also celebrated the reopening.

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Ms. Lee, 58 years old, dances for customers. The restaurant owner was a professional basketball player in Taiwan and …

The sensation isn’t uncommon if you’ve lived in New York City long enough: You’re walking down the street and suddenly get a craving for Bonte’s dreamy petit fours or the Czech restaurant Ruc’s crispy roast duck.

Then reality snaps back and reminds you that Bonte, a bakery on Third Avenue in the ’70s, has been closed for years, and Ruc even longer than that.

Rare is the place that returns from the dead to become bigger, or at least better, than ever. It probably requires many things to fall into place—affordable real estate in an acceptable location, prominently among them.

But the most important factor is the tenacity of the owner: The sheer will to survive.

The Columbia University Lion Dance got the celebration rolling.ENLARGE
The Columbia University Lion Dance got the celebration rolling. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

And few seem to possess that instinct in greater abundance than Nancy Lee, who owns Pig Heaven. The restaurant flourished at Second Avenue and 80th Street for 30 years, until it lost its lease last July.

I fully expected to relegate its excellent spare ribs and Peking duck to history, just one more place on New York City’s honor roll of the culinary dead.

At the time, Ms. Lee told me she hoped to reopen in the neighborhood. But I didn’t really believe her. Who doesn’t say that as they’re going under?

So I was pleasantly surprised when the restaurateur called me a few months later—it might even have been mere weeks—with the announcement that Pig Heaven was reopening. And conveniently, as it turned out, on Third Avenue and 80th Street. A full block closer to my apartment.

The reincarnated restaurant has been going since November. But as far as I’m concerned Ms. Lee’s official coming-out party was this week. With her annual weeklong Chinese New Year celebration.

So what if Chinese New Year isn’t until Feb. 19?

It should come as no surprise that Nancy Lee does things her own way.

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Ms. Lee said into a microphone as she stood in the center of her new restaurant, though with the same pink pig motif as the old, and addressed the sold-out crowd. “This is not a restaurant. This is family and friends. Many of you have been coming 20, 30 years.”

Cultivating customer loyalty is part of the secret to her success.

Kly Huang, left, helps Lucy Brewer get ready to join the fun.ENLARGE
Kly Huang, left, helps Lucy Brewer get ready to join the fun. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

But another reason is that Pig Heaven is more than a restaurant to Nancy Lee. It’s also a nightly stage. And she’s its star. Never more so than on Chinese New Year.

“Get a drink so I perform better,” she announced to laughter.

Then she launched into Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York” as 15-year-old mistress of ceremonies Stephanie Schein, the daughter of loyal customers Michael and Jacqui Schein seated nearby, explained that the song had stoked Ms. Lee’s dreams of coming to New York from her native Taiwan.

Ms. Lee donned a top hat, was tossed a cane, and high-kicked her way through the restaurant—customers simultaneously dining on lobster soong, spare ribs and shumai appetizers, singing along and jockeying to snap their ebullient host’s photograph on their phones.

Over the course of the evening, the restaurateur would go through 15 costume changes, of which I believe we were up to six at that moment.

“She has a very loyal fan base,” Jacqui Schein observed. “She’s known for her spirit.”

And her fitness. The 58-year-old Ms. Lee was a professional basketball player in Taiwan and still plays internationally.

“She doesn’t age,” Michael Schein said. “She looks the same.”

Ms. Lee proved Mr. Schein’s point with her next number.

“Look Dad,” said my daughter Lucy, who had joined me for dinner. “It’s a real belly dancer.”

And so it was. But with Ms. Lee hot on her heels, matching her undulation for undulation.

“When you look out at the audience,” Mr. Schein added from his seat near the bar, “you can see the generations of people who have known her.”

They ranged from children—several of whom danced alongside Ms. Lee and her servers (I should mention that the restaurant continued to deliver take-out orders throughout the festivities)—to seniors who arrived pushing walkers.

The Scheins’ daughter has been coming since she was a baby.

“This is the first place that Stephanie had Chinese food,” her father said.

The story was much the same with Rochelle Stempel and her teenage daughter, Annie McDermott, whom she adopted from China. They were seated at the bar.

“I brought her here from China when she was 1 year old,” Ms. Stempel remembered. “This is the first place she ate.”

The evening ended with assorted fresh fruit, almond cookies and the opportunity—of which many availed themselves—to have their photo taken with Ms. Lee.

Chinese New Year celebrations at Pig Heaven, and Ms. Lee’s performances, continue through Saturday. One more night, on the official Chinese New Year, has been added by popular demand.

Ralph.Gardner@wsj.com

Sandwiches and the Supermodel

The top management team at Tartinery: Nicolas Dutko, left, Alicia Rountree and Serguei Dutko.
The top management team at Tartinery: Nicolas Dutko, left, Alicia Rountree and Serguei   Dutko.                           PHOTO: KEITH BEDFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

If you’re a restaurant owner, one of the advantages of having a supermodel as your co-owner is that you don’t have to hire another supermodel—at great expense—to appear in your promotional material.

Also, supermodels tend to have more supermodel friends than the rest of us. They need to eat, too, though perhaps not as much. So chances are that when hunger strikes, or they’re seeking refuge from the paparazzi, they’ll head to your establishment rather than, say, the corner deli.

And as everyone knows, short of trailblazing cuisine, one of the easiest ways to fill a new restaurant with customers is the buzz that results when supermodels are in the house.

However, I’m persuaded that’s not why Nicolas Dutko started dating Alicia Rountree, who has appeared in ads for Victoria’s Secret, Ralph Lauren and the Gap. Ms. Rountree and Mr. Dutko founded Tartinery, a bistro on Mulberry Street in Nolita.

Tartinery opened in 2010 and now also has locations at the Plaza, in the hotel’s Food Hall, and at Hudson Eats, the food court at Brookfield Place, across from the World Trade Center.

“We met in Paris through our parents,” explained Mr. Dutko, who attended Switzerland’s famous Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. “I was 18. She was 16.”

The bistro’s croque madame
The bistro’s croque madame       PHOTO:RAMSAY DE GIVE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

They’re no longer dating. Just good friends. And business partners, of course.

“I was working too much,” Mr. Dutko said, “and she was traveling a lot.”

I was under the misimpression that a tartine, the dish that inspired Tartinery, was a French breakfast staple—a tasty baguette slathered with creamy butter and jam.

But Mr. Dutko informed me that the open-face sandwich is more typically made with country bread that serves as a platform for any number of toppings.

Tartinery boasts 15 on its menu, including chicken, lobster, roasted zucchini, steak, and the one I ordered—a tasty croque madame made with French ham, Gruyere, béchamel and topped with a fried egg.

In fact, what inspired Ms. Rountree and Mr. Dutko to open Tartinery was their friendship with Apollonia Poilâne, owner of one of Paris’s most famous bakeries.

“We were going to open a Poilâne bakery” in New York, Mr. Dutko said.

But Ms. Poilâne wasn’t satisfied that her crusty loaves could be made from scratch in the U.S.

“She didn’t want to make it because of the humidity in the air,” explained Serguei Dutko, Nicolas’s younger brother and Tartinery’s chief financial officer.

Apparently, the air on the Rue du Cherche-Midi on Paris’s Left Bank, the location of the bakery, is more arid.

“We wanted to get the dough and make it fresh here,” Ms. Rountree added. “But that wasn’t an option either.”

Another motivation for their restaurant is that while a tartine is a form of fast food in France, Nicolas Dutko claims the dish was largely absent from New York City’s food conversation.

“The only place that was doing tartines was [Le] Pain Quotidien,” Mr. Dutko observed. “We are more sexy. We’re a sexy version of [Le] Pain Quotidien.”

His comment wasn’t as boastful as it may sound. By sexy, he meant a certain casual sophistication.

Even the restroom, hidden behind a blackboard door—Mr. Dutko’s mother was the restaurant’s architect—is identified with a chalk drawing as the “Pipi Room.”

Shouldn’t that be pee-pee? But the restaurateur said no. In France, it’s spelled pipi.

And since we’re on a tangent anyway, I ought to mention that Ms. Rountree grew up, not in Paris, but on a sugar plantation in Mauritius with a ring-tailed lemur that she raised from a baby. She and “Ringo” became so bonded, she remembered, that once when the family went on vacation, leaving the pet behind, they stopped to discover the primate clinging to the roof of their car.

But back to bread.

So Tartinery uses bread baked by Balthazar, Eli’s, and Poilâne’s famous sourdough flown over from Paris. But that wasn’t the canvas that my croque madame arrived on.

“The Poilâne is stuck in customs,” Mr. Dutko reported. “It’s becoming a real issue. We’re switching all our breads to Pain D’Avignon in Queens.”

However, the bread that Ms. Rountree is frolicking with on Tartinery’s website appears to be exclusively Poilâne’s, distinguished by a giant “P” baked into its crust.

Not that I suppose it matters.

In one photoshopped scene, the supermodel is clutching a large loaf to her chest as she watches other loaves raining down from the sky. In a second image, she’s sitting on a bench by the side of the road with several loaves, though I doubt she’d have trouble attracting a ride in any case. And in a third photograph she’s fording a stream in boots while juggling five loaves.

I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Tartinery’s menu. But it certainly can’t hurt.

ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Courting a Special Euphoria

Pat Anderson, of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association team Rollin' Knicks, coaches local students during a wheelchair basketball clinic.
Pat Anderson, of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association team Rollin’ Knicks, coaches local students during a wheelchair basketball clinic.
PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Are all balls—baseballs, tennis balls, soccer balls, footballs—created equal?

Or is one more equal than others?

And if so, is the basketball the greatest—the sphere that provides the most tactile pleasure, and even more important, the most profound sense of possibility when it lands in your hands?

Such weighty philosophical thoughts crossed my mind as I watched the joy on the face of 14-year-old Brandon McIntyre when Patrick Anderson passed a bounce Brandon’s way.

Mr. Anderson is one of the best wheelchair basketball players in the world; Brandon attends PS 721K in Brooklyn, a school for the developmentally disabled.

Professional wheelchair basketball player Faizool Ali with students at the clinic.ENLARGE
Professional wheelchair basketball player Faizool Ali with students at the clinic.PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The two were playing with a bunch of other pro wheelchair players and disabled students at the Chelsea Recreation Center as part of NBA Cares, a season-long effort to reach a million schoolchildren in New York City.

The clinic last week was a precursor to the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday. Or, more accurately, to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s Wheelchair Classic, which takes place Saturday.

Brandon, in a semicircle of wheelchair students playing with Mr. Anderson, caught the ball, and something close to rapture spread across his face. Then, he returned the ball with a pinpoint bounce.

I could relate to his excitement, even though I foolishly make more of an effort to hide my emotions; it’s a misguided macho thing.

Actually, here’s why I think basketball beats out all other ball sports when it comes to personal engagement: the basket.

It’s fun when you hit a baseball over the left-field fence. Or plant a soccer ball firmly in the corner of the goal. Or throw—or catch—a perfect spiral.

But what else provides the visceral satisfaction of sinking a basket?

It allows the most athletically undistinguished among us, and I include myself in that category, for one brief moment to stride among the gods, kin to the likes of Jordan, LeBron, Kareem and Kobe.

Obviously, there’s delight in merely dribbling a basketball. But the real joy comes from the relationship between ball and basket, and the connection created between the two, by the graceful arc the player produces as he or she sends the ball on its way.

That was also the clinic’s next event: shooting baskets.

The students lined up as a portable backboard was maneuvered into place.

Some had disabilities that kept them from throwing above their heads. But that didn’t pose a problem.

Indira Nesbitt, 16, works with pro wheelchair-basketball player Eddie Lopez, left, during a clinic.ENLARGE
Indira Nesbitt, 16, works with pro wheelchair-basketball player Eddie Lopez, left, during a clinic. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

They tossed it to Eddie Lopez, a member of the Rollin’ Knicks, a wheelchair basketball team sponsored by the New York Knicks. In one seamless motion, Mr. Lopez tapped the ball into the basket.

The teenagers’ sense of accomplishment seemed no less than if they’d stuffed the ball themselves.

“It’s all about the arc, because you’re sitting at such a low level,” explained Chris Noel, the accessibility coordinator for the New York City Parks and Recreation Department, which operates the rec center.

Mr. Noel, who was watching the action from his own wheelchair, said he has been known to beat able-bodied players in a game of Horse, where you have to match your opponent’s shot.

“I think sometimes they’re amazed I still have my jump shot,” he told me.

An idle basketball feels in abject need of companionship, not that I spotted many. Nonetheless, I felt an acute urge to get my hands on one.

Fortunately, the opportunity eventually came in a brief one-on-one wheelchair lesson with Mr. Anderson, who lost both legs below the knee at the age of 9 when he was hit by a drunken driver.

“The single biggest thing getting over my accident was getting physically active,” remembered the athlete, who grew up in Canada. “It would kill me to watch my friends play hockey. Basketball gave me wings. It was like being able to breathe again.”

Student Nagm GashonENLARGE
Student Nagm Gashon PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I missed my first 10 shots, but then made one in a row; if you think it’s challenging to sink a basket under normal circumstances, try it from a moving wheelchair.

Our lesson was cut short by a group photo and then the announcement that it was time for the students to leave.

At least one, Angel Hernandez, didn’t seem ready to go. He was clutching a basketball in his lap.

“Want me to sign it for you?” Mr. Anderson asked.

“Yeah, I want your autograph,” Angel said.

But what he wanted even more was a game.

Mr. Anderson shimmied his wheelchair, as if trying to outmaneuver his opponent. But he couldn’t shed Angel.

I’d put my money on the kid stealing a couple of points off the pro.

ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Pedals to Test a Soul’s Mettle

Wall Street Journal columnist Ralph Gardner participates in Stacey Griffith's SoulCycle class on Friday.ENLARGE
Wall Street Journal columnist Ralph Gardner participates in Stacey Griffith’s SoulCycle class on Friday. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The news that I was taking a SoulCycle class was met with a combination of consternation and concern by the female members of my family.

Consternation that it was me, not them, who had landed a coveted spot in one of Stacey Griffith ’s Friday morning sessions at the SoulCycle at Third Avenue and East 83rd Street. Concern that I might not survive.

I’d been meaning to sign up for a class for some time. More out of curiosity than a desire to improve my cardiovascular health.

SoulCycle, started in 2006, seems quickly to have become part of the city’s infrastructure—if infrastructure can be said to extend to the sculpted bodies of its clientele.

A cult of sorts.

“More a lifestyle,” Ms. Griffith, one of their most popular instructors, corrected me.

I had made that characterization in regard to her “co-pilot” that morning, a woman approaching zero percent body fat. She was riding a bike on an elevated platform at the front of the room, seemingly serving not only as a human pace horse, but also as a role model for the rest of us to aspire to—though many of the 71 riders in the class, most of them women, already had physiques that rivaled hers.

As it turns out, she wasn’t an assistant instructor but simply an enthusiastic SoulCycle devotee.

“I wish you would have seen the way she looked before she started riding,” Ms. Griffith told me. “She didn’t have any definition in her arms. And this is all she does. But she takes my classes 15 times a week. She’s slightly obsessed.”

Until I stepped onto my bike I didn’t know what to expect, though I doubted that SoulCycle would become an obsession, if only because I’m not the obsessive type.

I’d heard that classes sold out instantly; that it wasn’t cheap (at $34 a class in Manhattan) thus catering to an upscale demographic (someone made reference to the row of Escalades idling in front of the studio); and that it involved a stationary bike of some sort.

SoulCycle is actually a discothèque on wheels. The lights were low as the session got under way, the music loud, and there were lots of mirrors. The only thing missing was a disco ball.

“I used to be a DJ and a huge clubber,” said Ms. Griffith, who’s teaming up with the Brooklyn Nets for a celebrity ride at Barclays Center on Valentine’s Day, as part of the festivities surrounding the NBA All-Star game.

However, there were several differences between SoulCycle and, say, Studio 54 in its heyday. The absence of drugs and sex for starters—though there seemed a mild whiff of exhibitionism about the enterprise. Or perhaps it was only self-esteem made flesh.

There was also a touch of euphoria in the air—not unlike the surprise of feeling cleansed and sober after dancing your heart out all night.

The problem, for a first timer, is that all that energy is crammed into 60 minutes rather than spread across the length of an evening.

And as someone who wasn’t quite in competition shape, I started to feel myself at a disadvantage about 30 seconds into the class. Put another way, if the bikes we were riding had been rolling rather than stationary, I’d already have been badly lagging the pack.

Stacey Griffith leads a class at the SoulCycle studio on Third Avenue and East 83rd Street on Friday.ENLARGE
Stacey Griffith leads a class at the SoulCycle studio on Third Avenue and East 83rd Street on Friday. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

And by the end of the session, if my exertion had taken me to the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, the women on either side of me would have already been arriving in downtown Baltimore.

Cycling as fast as your legs will take you would have been challenging enough. Add to that the knob on our bikes that Ms. Griffith ordered us to turn at intervals, building up ever greater resistance. And the calisthenics we were expected simultaneously to perform to the music—bouncing up and down on our bike seats, sideways, and at one increasingly torturous point, even lifting weights.

Some of the instructor’s encouragements, shouted over a playlist that included a Massive Attack vs. Fleetwood Mac remix of “Rhiannon”—such as to envision our “Costa Rica fitness vacations”—felt foreign to my ears, mostly because I don’t think I have ever uttered “fitness” and “vacation” in the same breath.

My best friends were my towel to catch the cascades of sweat, water bottle from which I took copious swigs (my daughter had warned me to stay well hydrated) and the fact that my shoes clipped into the pedals. That way, even if I had lost my balance, not to mention consciousness, I’d probably have managed to remain upright.

“You looked like you were having fun,” Ms. Griffith said after I survived.

Tell that to my saddle sores.

—ralph.gardner@wsj.com

What’s Old Is New Again

<strong>William, tintype, 2012</strong> ‘If someone were to see my portrait, I’d want them to know they are looking at someone who did their best to carry on the tradition of the Mohawks and that I worked hard.’
Photographer Melissa Cacciola used tintype to produce portraits of 30 Mohawk Ironworkers. Here are some of those portraits and what the ironworkers had to say about themselves. <strong>John, tintype, 2012 </strong>‘As a kid, I used to play on the bridge back home in Kahnawake and go walking on the iron archway and spans under and over the river. At the time I became of age, I wanted to give ironworking a try.’
<strong>Old Man, tintype, 2012</strong> On working at the World Trade Center site: ‘It is very inspiring to know that I had played a small role to help reclaim that part of New York.’
<strong>Norman, tintype, 2012</strong> Why he became an ironworker: ‘I saw an article in one of the old Life or National Geographic magazines when I was very young about Mohawk Ironworkers in New York City and said that is what I want to do.’
<strong>Mike, Ttntype, 2012 </strong>What he would like people to know about him: ‘I would have to say the fact that I am a member of a people with the only true ties to this continent called North America.’
<strong>Cal, tintype, 2012</strong> On working at the World Trade Center site: ‘It was an unbelievable sight to see. It was probably the hardest job that I ever had to do and something that will be etched in my memory forever.’
<strong>Cory, tintype, 2012 </strong>‘I love ironworking. I do it because it’s a tradition back home. Being Mohawk, we take a little more so-called pride in our work.’
<strong>Harrison, tintype, 2012 </strong>What he likes most about ironworking: ‘The freedom, the traveling, the pride, and seeing something each day that wasn’t there before.’
<strong>Joe, tintype, 2012 </strong>‘[My father] taught me everything I know. It was a family thing. It’s a good living, that’s for sure.’
<strong>Peter J., tintype, 2012</strong> On working at the World Trade Center site: ‘I can tell my grandchildren that I helped build this. The WTC, Tower 1, would be the highlight of my 35-year career as an ironworker. Knowing the height of the building and what it means to the people who lost their loved ones, it is like a victory for us and the people.’
<strong>Jim, tintype, 2012 </strong>‘The general population thinks that Mohawks are lazy and don’t work. The opposite is true. The camaraderie among ironworkers is unrivaled in the construction trade. The sense of pride when a project is completed is an unbelievable feeling.’
<strong>Tommy, tintype, 2012 </strong>‘We all learn something on every job. It may not be something new, but it may be that you are reminded of something.’
<strong>William, tintype, 2012</strong> ‘If someone were to see my portrait, I’d want them to know they are looking at someone who did their best to carry on the tradition of the Mohawks and that I worked hard.’
Photographer Melissa Cacciola used tintype to produce portraits of 30 Mohawk Ironworkers. Here are some of those portraits and what the ironworkers had to say about themselves. <strong>John, tintype, 2012 </strong>‘As a kid, I used to play on the bridge back home in Kahnawake and go walking on the iron archway and spans under and over the river. At the time I became of age, I wanted to give ironworking a try.’

1 of 12fullscreen
Photographer Melissa Cacciola used tintype to produce portraits of 30 Mohawk Ironworkers. Here are some of those portraits …
Old Man, tintype, 2012 On working at the World Trade Center site: ‘It is very inspiring to know that I had played a small role to help reclaim that part of New York.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
Norman, tintype, 2012 Why he became an ironworker: ‘I saw an article in one of the old Life or National Geographic magazines when I was very young about Mohawk Ironworkers in New York City and said that is what I want to do.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
Mike, Ttntype, 2012 What he would like people to know about him: ‘I would have to say the fact that I am a member of a people with the only true ties to this continent called North America.’MELISSA CACCIOLA
Cal, tintype, 2012 On working at the World Trade Center site: ‘It was an unbelievable sight to see. It was probably the hardest job that I ever had to do and something that will be etched in my memory forever.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
Cory, tintype, 2012 ‘I love ironworking. I do it because it’s a tradition back home. Being Mohawk, we take a little more so-called pride in our work.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
Harrison, tintype, 2012 What he likes most about ironworking: ‘The freedom, the traveling, the pride, and seeing something each day that wasn’t there before.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
Joe, tintype, 2012 ‘[My father] taught me everything I know. It was a family thing. It’s a good living, that’s for sure.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
Peter J., tintype, 2012 On working at the World Trade Center site: ‘I can tell my grandchildren that I helped build this. The WTC, Tower 1, would be the highlight of my 35-year career as an ironworker. Knowing the height of the building and what it means to the people who lost their loved ones, it is like a victory for us and the people.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
Jim, tintype, 2012 ‘The general population thinks that Mohawks are lazy and don’t work. The opposite is true. The camaraderie among ironworkers is unrivaled in the construction trade. The sense of pride when a project is completed is an unbelievable feeling.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
Tommy, tintype, 2012 ‘We all learn something on every job. It may not be something new, but it may be that you are reminded of something.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA
William, tintype, 2012 ‘If someone were to see my portrait, I’d want them to know they are looking at someone who did their best to carry on the tradition of the Mohawks and that I worked hard.’ MELISSA CACCIOLA

It’s hard enough finding 35mm film these days, let alone someone to develop it.

Which gives a sense of the challenges that photographer Melissa Cacciola faced when she embarked on a project using tintype—a far older format than 35mm film—to produce portraits of 30 Mohawk Ironworkers who helped construct One World Trade Center, towers two, three and four, and the Santiago Calatrava-designed transportation hub.

The result is “SkyWalkers: The Legacy of the Mohawk Ironworker,” an exhibition that runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through March 12 at 4 World Trade Center. It’s open to the public, but by appointment. (For more information, send an email to skywalkersexhibit@gmail.com.)

Getting these exhausted hard hats to her studio in Brooklyn after a long day’s work was part of the challenge.

Perhaps more so was the photographer’s choice of medium—a temperamental, time-consuming technique that was practiced in the 1800s.

“They were treasured and honored” by Civil War soldiers, said Ms. Cacciola of the one-of-a-kind mementos, perhaps the only photograph a person in those days might have taken over his or her lifetime.

“They created an emotional connection that’s maybe diluted [today] when you have 1,000 pictures of something or someone.”

There’s something to be said for the ease with which we snap images on our smartphones.

Melissa Cacciola discusses her series of tintype photographs, ‘Skywalkers.’ENLARGE
Melissa Cacciola discusses her series of tintype photographs, ‘Skywalkers.’PHOTO: NATALIE KEYSSAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

But the effort that Ms. Cacciola put into each handmade work—from making the photographic emulsion to shooting it with a large-format antique camera and then developing the plate in a darkroom at Brooklyn’s Bond Street Studios—pays off.

There’s something haunting about the images. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to suggest that the photographer captured a small piece of each construction worker’s soul, but there’s something about tintypes, perhaps because of the laboriousness of the process, that turns it into a collaborative medium.

“I’m counting off seconds,” explained Ms. Cacciola, who also constructed a head brace so that her subjects kept perfectly still. “A typical exposure can be anywhere from nine to 15 seconds.”

There are no images in the show of an ironworker balancing on a steel beam high above the city while guiding another steal beam weighing thousands of pounds into place; most of the men, from the Kahnawake and Aquasasne reservations in Canada, commute back and forth each week.

Yet, somehow their courage is conveyed. And more than courage, a stoicism that oozes from every pore and seems forged from the very elements—iron and wind, rebar and rain—that they were sent every day to vanquish.

“All these guys had a super- steady gaze when they sat in front of the camera,” Ms. Cacciola said. “They seemed to be centered. There’s a calmness to their gaze.”

And because the process took so long—the agreement with Ironworkers Local 40 was that the photographer shoot two portraits, one for herself and one for the worker—Ms. Cacciola learned their stories.

Many were second-, third-, fourth- and even fifth-generation ironworkers.

“Their grandfathers and fathers worked on the original towers,” of the World Trade Center, Ms. Cacciola said.

There’s Norman, a “rod-buster” whose work history includes the original Twin Towers and 1 World Trade Center, as well as the Golden Gate and Queensboro bridges.

Each ironworker is identified only by his first name, and Mohawk name if he has one, in a biographical booklet that accompanies the show.

“First off,” writes Norman, “I am not Mohawk,” even though he has many friends who are, having lived and worked for years in New York City. “I an Paiute/Washoe, originally from Northern California.”

And Joe, a fourth- generation Mohawk Ironworker, whose tribal name “Kanentakeniate” means “Top of the Pine.”

“He and I had an interesting time,” Ms. Cacciola recalled. “He doesn’t shave. He’ll pluck out his beard with tweezers. He said, ‘If it doesn’t hurt, what’s the point.’ He came with a basket of raspberries and sat eating them.”

“Someone proposed to me in the darkroom,” she added, with a laugh. “I’m sure they were kidding.”

The photographer, who holds a master’s degree in fine art and the historic preservation of art from Columbia University and New York University, learned how the tintype process from John Coffer, a master tintype maker.

Previous subjects of her work, represented by the Steven Kasher Gallery, have included the U.S. military and New Orleans brass band musicians.

I don’t think they were afraid of very much.

—Melissa Cacciola, photographer

The exhibition, designed by Fiedler Marciano Architecture, floats above the city on 4 World Trade Center’s 67th floor, a view spread out below as spectacular as any the ironworkers—with job descriptions such as journeyman, bolter-up, connector and signalman—enjoyed while performing their daily high wire act.

“They were tough guys,” Ms. Cacciola attested. “I don’t think they were afraid of very much.”

The hardest part of the job for many, as an ironworker named Cal, cited in his biographical sketch, was the 12 hours-a-week travel time back and forth from Canada over thirty years, and working in winter.

“Not being able to see your children grow up is what I missed most,” he said.

ralph.gardner@wsj.com