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The first sign that something strange is happening on Ludlow Street is the fence, which is long and green and decidedly out of place amid a cluster of city buildings. Peer through its holes and things get even more confusing: Is that a backyard? In the middle of Manhattan?
Yes, yes it is. And it's yours to rent for just $100 an hour.
"It's certainly strange. I mean, how could it not be?" said Corbin Cavallero, as he surveyed a crowd of hipsters gathered in the yard for a barbecue on a recent summer evening. "I've never had a backyard with, like, street art on the walls."
Wedged between two buildings in the East Village, the "Timeshare Backyard" is back for the second summer in a row -- and New Yorkers desperate for some fresh air are taking full advantage of it. Aside from the taxis honking their horns just beyond the fence -- not to mention the graffiti-covered brick walls -- the place actually bears some resemblance to a real backyard, albeit a very hip one.
It's more like a backyard with an ironic smirk on its face.
"I thought I was definitely moving away from the, you know, barbecue set," said Elliot Firestone, a 22-year-old from Portland, Ore., who recently moved to New York City and was pouring lighter fluid over the charcoals. "I was thinking more of going out to eat at restaurants all the time. And, you know, pizza. Not exactly barbecues."
But barbecues are exactly the sort of thing that Jessica Resler and her business partner, Jacqui Kavanagh, had in mind when they dreamed up the Timeshare Backyard last year. The idea was rooted in nostalgia for the backyards they left behind upon becoming New Yorkers. What they really wanted, Resler said, was a green refuge from sweltering summers in the city.
"When we first launched it, we thought, 'oh maybe this will be interesting to about 30 people,'" Resler said. "And one day we walked into our office and we had 1,000 emails come in from people that wanted to rent the space or were curious about it."
The duo stumbled across this lot, which is a stalled construction site, near their office one day last year. Misrahi Realty, the real estate company that owns it, was happy to let them rent it out.
The place comes stocked with all kinds of backyard essentials, including a charcoal grill, plastic coolers, lounge chairs and hula hoops, among other amenities. But who really wants to eat hot dogs when some of the world's best bars and restaurants are just a taxi ride away?
"It's something that I feel like a lot of us grew up with. It's something that we give up to move here," said Minnesota native Emily Kapsner. "I feel like when you live in New York, you give up a lot of standards of living, you know. So having this open and available again is kind of reminiscent of being back home."
Mostly everyone behaved as if they were, well, in somebody's backyard. Many hot dogs and plates of grilled vegetables were consumed. And there was a sense of relaxation in the air that you'd be hard-pressed to find in a restaurant.
One barbecue attendee tested out the creaky porch swing in one corner of the lawn while his friends drank beers on the lounge chairs. Another group decided to pose for photos with a pile of plastic pink lawn flamingoes.
"If it could stay vacant forever, it would be the best secret little garden in all of Manhattan," said Lorence Dippolito, vice president of leasing for Misrahi Realty, which owns the Timeshare Backyard and rents it out.
Unfortunately for backyard lovers, it won't be vacant for much longer. Plans are in the works to begin construction on a building here sometime during the next year or two, though the timing is unclear.
Until then, there's an option for New Yorkers who don't want to shell out any money: the Timeshare Backyard is now open to the public on Friday afternoons for free.
"People love outdoor space," Dippolito said. "And no one has it. It's a luxury."
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