By and  on February 6, 2002

WHAT TO SEE AND WHERE TO BE SEEN ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE.

Theatrical Comeback

The Sunshine Cinema opened in December after a $12 million-dollar renovation that transformed the former Yiddish vaudeville house and nickelodeon into a 980-seat, five-screen hangout for art-house aficionados.

Pleskow + Rael, a Venice, Calif.-based design firm, was responsible for the 104-year-old building's facelift, which included adding stadium seating and two Japanese rock gardens. There is also a cafe serving atypical theater fare, including Scharffen Berger gourmet chocolates and baked goods from the East Village's Sticky Fingers Bake Shop.

The theater's programming includes first-run independent and foreign films.

"The Sunshine will give audiences the opportunity to experience new and classic art house films in a sophisticated neighborhood theater," said Bert Manzari, executive vice president of Los Angeles-based Landmark Theatre Corp., the theater's owner.

The building was originally home to a Yiddish vaudeville house, the Houston Hippodrome; in 1917, it became a nickelodeon called the Sunshine Cinema. The theater closed its doors during the Forties and subsequently served as a warehouse for a hardware company until the late Nineties. 143 East Houston Street, (212) 358-7709, landmarktheatres.com.

Massages, Now Martinis

Formerly a massage parlor -- shut down by the city about a year ago -- and now a watering hole for the see-and-be-seen crowd, the space at 302 Broome Street has always had an appropriate name: Happy Ending.

"There was definitely much more than massage going on there," claimed Peter Kane, who along with partner Oliver Pihlar, owns the bar. The duo also own Wyanoka restaurant and Double Happiness lounge, both located on nearby Mott Street.

Unlike the old set-up, which had more of a one-on-one atmosphere, the renovated Happy Ending houses up to 150 people. Patrons may now plunk down in brown velvet booths with their Moscato martini or blood orange tequila gimlet, in a space once occupied by hot tubs and steam rooms.

But not everyone is sold on the new Happy Ending. Some of the old clientele still stop by and are disappointed with the new digs. "The conversation usually doesn't go too far," Kane said. "They usually ask, 'Massage?' and when we say, 'no,' they leave." 302 Broome Street, (212) 334-9676. Drinks are under $10.A Call To Arms

True to a neighborhood known for harboring young talent untainted by corporate shackles, Rivington Arms gives up-and-coming artists a chance to make their mark on New York's competitive art scene.

Founded by twentysomething artists Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden -- both Sarah Lawrence College alumni -- the 1,000-square-foot gallery opened in January and exhibits photographs, paintings, collage creations and other works.

"Rivington Arms' purpose is to provide young artists who might not have the chance to exhibit an opportunity to do so," Marden said.

Rivington Arms' current exhibition, "First Show," includes work by Lansing-Dreiden, the collective name of a group of young artists who work with drawings, digital animation and music. Their pieces are inspired by artist-writers Friedrich Lansing and Caspar Dreiden, who lived in South America in the Fifties. "First Show" also includes work by illustrator Daisy de Villeneuve and photographer-multimedia artist Athena Razo.

The gallery also sells T-shirts, jewelry, posters, CDs and books. 102 Rivington Street, (646) 654-3213.

Fab Food For All

Chef Marlon Aitcheson last fall expanded his culinary empire beyond the kitchens of the fabulously famous to SX137, where downtown finicky foodies congregate.

After stints as the personal chef to Russell Simmons, Annie Leibowitz and Joseph Simmons of Run DMC, Aitcheson's culinary sensibility has landed on the plates of the hungry masses.

After joining the eatery, he shelved the appetizer-oriented menu in favor of a vegan-oriented one that includes crispy seitan and vegetables in a coconut curry sauce. But carnivores won't be disappointed, as Aitcheson -- who also moonlights as a personal trainer -- serves up baby-back ribs and hamburgers, as well. On the seafood front, there is also sea bass, salmon and shrimp.

But most folks are going the vegan route, even indulging in tofu cheesecake, he said.

"The thing about vegan is that people are open to it," Aitcheson said. "They just don't know how to prepare it."

Born in Jamaica to a mother who was one of 23 children, Aitcheson said he had plenty of relatives on whom to practice his cooking skills. "I started getting into this a long time ago, I just didn't realize it," he said. 137 Essex Street, (212) 674-6931. Entrees from $11 to $20.Garment Art

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum's "Bursting at the Seams" art installation -- a tribute to New York City garment workers -- is as eclectic and diverse as the men and women it honors.

The installation's creator, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist Polly Giragosian, said the exhibit's purpose is "to emphasize the diversity of people and elements that go into garment-making."

Located in the museum's street-front windows, "Bursting at the Seams" includes nearly 100 photographs of local garment workers, as well as doll-sized pieces of clothing strung together on a piece of wire against a backdrop of clothing patterns.

The exhibit also includes papier-mache models of sewing machines covered in newspapers, most in languages other than English -- including Italian, Yiddish and Arabic -- to represent the varying ethnicities of the city's garment workers.

Each sewing machine also features a glowing light bulb, "so the machines in a sense become little memorials to those who have 'sweated' in the making of a piece of clothing," Giragosian said. Exhibit runs through Feb. 17. 97 Orchard Street, (212) 431-0233, www.tenement.org.

Suba-Duper

The decor at the just-opened Suba is as eclectic as the patrons it serves. A reflecting pool, suspended drawbridge and subterranean grotto are some of the atmosphere-enhancing attributes of the Spanish and Latino restaurant and tapas bar.

"It's cosmopolitan without being pretentious -- it is what it is," said owner Yann de Rochefort, who also is a marketing and strategic planner at Allied Domecq, the maker of Kahlua, Tia Maria, Canadian Club and other beverages.

Designed by Phillip Morgan, the artistic force behind Lizard Lounge in Paris, the 125-seat three-level Suba offers a menu consisting of atypical fare, including roasted lobster with duck and empanadas, as well as steak with sides of onion marmalade and cumin-spiced French fries.

Suba also caters to a cocktails-only crowd by playing deep house and Latin music in its lounge and offering tropical drinks, including blood orange margaritas and black currant margaritas. 109 Ludlow Street, (212) 982-5714. Entrees from $17 to $25.

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