Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oak Room

I used to like to walk through the Plaza Hotel, before it was converted to condos bought by Russian oligarchs who leave them empty and dark. I liked the liveliness of the place, the ladies in the Palm Court, the tourists snapping pictures of the chandeliers, the heavy, rich, old New York feeling of it all. Now it just feels dead inside.

I liked, once in awhile, to have a drink in the Oak Room and bar. It closed in 2011 because it had filled with all of the most horrible people in the city and they ruined it. Sometimes, I'll wander in and peek through a crack in the closed doors of the old Oak Room. It's empty and dark inside, a haunted space. But it used to be something.

1959--The Oak Room in Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock's day:

Through the 1960s--Gore Vidal and Truman Capote lunch weekly at the Oak Room: "where they nibbled at their friends during the first course, devoured their enemies during the second, and savored their own glorious futures over coffee and dessert." (Gerald Clarke, Capote)

1981--The Oak Room in Arthur, when the presence of a hooker in hot pants was still a scandal:

In 1980, New York described it: "There is about the place a breathless, frenetic vitality, and on any given evening one is likely to spot a few luminaries like Liza Minnelli...or Harry Reasoner. Of course, you have to pay $4.05 a drink for the privilege. But the peanuts and pretzels on the table are plentiful and free."

"There are a lot of very important ghosts here," wrote New York in 1990, "celebrating in the brooding haute-German gloom." And it's "a snug reminder of what it was supposed to feel like to be a grown-up."

2000s--The Oak Room in its latest years:

As the Post described it: "a Champagne-fueled orgy of gyrating jet-setters, lithe gold-spangled dancers and Chanel-sheathed debutantes is taking place. One particularly enthusiastic young man, Gareth Brookes, 29, is triumphantly perched on top of a service station in the center of the room, drinking Veuve Clicquot out of his Tom Ford lace-up shoe."

Paging Roger Thornhill. Come back to the Plaza, Mr. Thornhill.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Brill Library

If you haven't yet made a trip to the Abraham A. Brill Library at the New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute, you should. It is open to the public.

I wandered in one evening while attending a literary event at the institute (a rare occasion among their many lectures on psychology), and was delighted and surprised to find a real card catalog.

You know, the kind made from a wooden (or metal) cabinet filled with drawers. You slip your finger into the brass latch and pull them out. You flip through cards made of paper, each one typed (typed!) with information about a book or article -- in this case, articles like "Psychological Rationale of Puppetry" by one Adolf G. Woltmann.

Just glancing at each drawer's subjects can lead to pure poetry -- a poetry of the absurd. In a quick jaunt, you can go from FATHERS TO FEVER,



Inside each drawer, you'll find a Pandora's Box of phobias, anxieties, and complexes.

There are plenty of books here, too, of course. It's a library. The whole place is an artifact from the days when the Upper East Side was filled with Viennese accents asking about your mother. But it's those card catalogs that really do it for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hamilton's Luncheonette

For my piece in this week's Metro NY, something new that's not so bad. Yet:

A new eatery called Hamilton’s Soda Fountain and Luncheonette recently opened in Greenwich Village, on the corner of Marc Jacobs and Marc Jacobs, also known as Bank St. and W. 4th. It’s one of those new retro places that both attracts and repels me, first for its nostalgic verisimilitude, second for its twee self-awareness.

The real problem with most of these places is that they serve overpriced items for foodies who lust for fetishized fancywork. They also tend to fill up with the most irritating people on earth. So I approached Hamilton’s with suspicious curiosity. But after checking out their menu and finding it shockingly affordable and filled with plain basics, I tried the place out...

...At Hamilton’s, I was joined by an older lady, whose name I didn’t get, though she told me the story of her 50 years in the Village, and the flower shop she once ran, where gay men were her most appreciative customers and muggers strolled in with guns in their hands.

The lady was delighted to find Hamilton’s. “There’s no place left to eat around here,” she said. “The Village is gone. Only the buildings are left standing.” She read the menu like a good book, savoring each item. “Oh, chopped liver,” she said. “Pastrami! Egg creams and lime rickeys! I feel like I’ve been deprived of these things, and now here they are.”

She ordered the pastrami sandwich and a cream soda. Billie Holiday sang softly through the speakers. We talked about Brooklyn, tourists, and death. She told me about her rent-controlled apartment, how she outlived the landlord who never expected her to stay so long. “I’ll probably die there,” she said, “in another five years. That’s enough for me.”

If Hamilton’s keeps appealing to people like her, it’s a good thing for the Village. I just hope they don’t ruin it.

Please click here to read the whole article.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Colonized by Bears

After much anticipation, after two years of temporary schlockfests in the old Colony Music space, including Halloween stores and Christmas shops, it looks like landlord Stonehenge Properties finally found someone to commit to the reported $5 million rent.

Reader Ken Jacowitz did some snooping around and sent in the following shots. Is that a teddy bear peeking from behind Colony's door?

photos by Ken Jacowitz

Why, yes, it is. But not just any bear. Signs say it's the Build-a-Bear Workshop bear, native to Overland, Missouri, and conqueror of suburban shopping malls across the nation, with over 400 stores worldwide, including three already in New York City.

Colony Music had been here for over 60 years, since 1948. They were forced out after Stonehenge bought the Brill Building and quintupled the legendary record and music store's rent.

Add this one to the ever-growing list. Where once was a New York original, a one of a kind, there's now another piece of bland, middle-American ubiquity.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stage to Stagecoach

After 75 years in celebrated business, the venerable Stage Delicatessen shuttered at the end of 2012, due in part to rising rent. While it was lousy with tourists, it was a landmark institution and many in the city mourned its loss.

What replaced the Stage? Reader Ken Jacowitz checked in to find the Stagecoach Tavern where the Stage Deli used to be.

photos by Ken Jacowitz

The Stage's name conjured the footlights of Broadway. The Stagecoach is named for--a lack of creativity? Or should we think of covered wagons carrying pioneers to their Manifest Destiny? Just please don't tell me it's "an homage" to the lost deli.

A sports bar stocked with several high-def television screens, the Stagecoach looks like all the other nouveau Irish pubs in town--same Celtic font on the sign, same beige interior, same menu. Where once were pastrami sandwiches, egg creams, and matzoh balls are now hot wings, sliders, and mozzarella sticks.

And on it goes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Village Voice: Best of New York 2014

The Village Voice has included this blog in their Best of New York 2014 issue, naming it "Best Chronicle of New York's Ever-Changing Face."

Many thanks to the unnamed someone at the paper who wrote this lovely and lyrical description:

New York is changing at light-speed, with glassy condos and fro-yo shops mushrooming out of every corner. Sometimes it's hard to even take stock of all the changes; it can take weeks or months before you notice that your favorite old sign for a '30s jazz club has disappeared, or an Italian restaurant that has been tucked in some corner of (what's left of) Little Italy since the dawn of time. No one takes stock of New York's changes with the same mixture of snark, sorrow, poeticism, and lyric wit as Jeremiah Moss, the voice behind Jeremiah's Vanishing New York. Nothing escapes Moss's notice: When a beautiful robin's-egg-blue newsstand was suddenly gone from the corner of 23rd Street and Park Avenue South this past summer, he mourned its passing. "It was crooked and quirky, just like all our newsstands used to be. It had character," he eulogized. "Really it was the only bit of original New York character left on that chain-strangled corner." Even as the changes he's cataloging break our hearts a little, it's that kind of lovely, precise writing that makes Moss's blog essential reading.

B. Shackman's

In 2010, I did a little post on the word "novelties," and about how it's been vanishing from the cityscape. In the post, I mentioned Shackman's, a toy store long on 5th Avenue and 16th Street, since replaced by the Anthropologie clothing chain.

photo by Ed Sijmons, flickr

I'd not been able to find any photos of the old shop. But then Ed Sijmons of Amsterdam got in touch to share some wonderful shots he'd taken of Shackman's on a trip to New York back in 1980.

photo by Ed Sijmons, flickr

Shackman's had been selling toys and gifts since 1898. The "B" in B. Shackman stood for Bertha, who was killed by a car on Amsterdam Ave. in 1925.

photo by Ed Sijmons, flickr

You can still find a number of vintage Shackman items on Etsy--paper dolls, miniatures for doll houses, dolls, and cards.

photo by Ed Sijmons, flickr

You can also see many more shots of Mr. Sijmon's 1980 trip to New York on his Flickr page.