In the early 20th century, the East Village went through a curious construction boom. 139 2nd Avenue is what’s known as a dumbbell tenement. If you look at an overhead view, you’ll see why. Landowners flushed the front and rear facades with neighboring buildings to maximize floor space, leaving mere inches for side windows.
Naturally, light and ventilation in these tenements were terrible, and the New York State legislature set to improve the city’s cramped slums. In 1901, they passed the Tenement House Act, which would require indoor plumbing, open courtyards, and outward-facing windows in every room with sufficient space to let in light and air. Property owners, fearing to lose an inch of precious floor space, rushed to turn their open plots into dumbbells, or “old law” tenements, and be grandfathered in before the year was out. That’s why you’ll find many blocks on the Lower East Side with 20th-century buildings on the corners and 19th-century tenements in the middle.
Groceries, flower shops, and restaurants all occupied the ground floor at one point or another, but for the past 47 years, Julian Baczynsky has operated the East Village Meat Market. From the late 1800s through the end of World War II, thousands of Ukrainian immigrants came to the New World and settled in the East Village tenements. By 1950, more than 80,000 Ukrainians living in New York, many of them clustered around 2nd Avenue and 7th Street. Baczynsky came in 1960 and opened his store a decade later. I personally think Baczynsky sells the best ham and sausage in Manhattan, and it’s a great place to get all your other Eastern European grocery staples like sauerkraut, rye bread, plum jam, and homemade mustard. During Easter season, hams are brined for two weeks, then hung for 12 hours in an in-house maple smoker before receiving a final caramel glaze. Me, I prefer the thick ropes of kielbasa czosnkowa. It’s absolutely delicious, but your kitchen will reek of garlic for at least a week.