Friday, February 29, 2008

Columbus Circle Bloodbath

Columbus Circle is poised for a major demolition. Let's begin at Columbus Circle Wine & Liquor.



Recently closed and moved a block north to 1802 Broadway, they've been forced to move a lot in the past 74 years. Owned by the Villani family since 1934, they began at 1 Columbus Circle, then got pushed out by the Huntington (now American Heritage) Museum. Their new building was then sold in 1964 (currently Trump Tower). From there, they moved to 1780 Broadway, distinguished by a big red neon LIQUOR sign. But #1780 has been bought by Extell and will soon be replaced by "a fucking 60-story high-rise," as I was told by Steven Villani, the store's current owner.


Steven Villani with 1970s sign: the number is still the same

Third-generation, Steven is the son of Frank, nephew of Tony, and grandson of Charlie, the founder of the shop, who also happened to be the first Bronx guy to get a liquor license after Prohibition. With it, he opened a tavern and from there came the liquor store. Steve's new shop looks fancy with fresh shelves and fixtures, and while some customers wish he'd kept the old look of the place, the service is the same. The neon sign, which dates to 1964, was not permitted at the new location, and Steve promises to rescue it before the demolition and put it away in the basement for safekeeping.


closeup of sign in 2006

Loyal to his family's legacy, Steve hasn't raised his prices one dime. "I'm still trying to be the local guy I've always been," he told me, "like the guy my grandfather was...I might be the only stand left in this neighborhood."


1780 Broadway

He might be right about that. 1780 Broadway isn't the only building coming down between 57th and 58th Streets. I talked with a mover at Beethoven Pianos who was good enough to give me a quick tour. We stood on the sidewalk and he pointed down 58th, "That was a parking garage: toast. That was a hotel: toast. That was a recording studio: toast. The supermarket? Toast. That townhouse at #226? Toast. The school next to it: toast."

"That's a lot of toast," I said.

The piano mover laughed, "You ain't kidding."

Who knows if we can trust the accuracy of the piano mover's information. The townhouse, built in 1901, has a market listing. It also has a port-a-potty in its courtyard. But if he is right, that makes seven buildings--and maybe more--falling at Columbus Circle. What replaces them will surely be made of glass. Like the glass that will soon sheath the pre-war brick of 3 Columbus Circle (see renderings here). We are becoming a city of glass, of cold, shiny surfaces and not much else.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

Who knew homeless New Yorkers were so fashion-forward? America's Next Top Model hits a new low. [Gothamist] Really, I'm not sure anything could be more disgusting than having anorexic fashionistas pose as starving people. Here's Tyra in a cardboard box holding up a Happy to Serve You bodega cup of change. She better not go into Starbucks like that:

more photos here

Bloomberg clears out Chinatown's "Counterfeit Triangle" and is applauded by Rolex for his efforts to protect luxury business and replace those bad, bad, evil places with "legitimate" shops--umm, like more super-luxury boutiques and chain stores? [City Room]

A tipster tells me that Bloomie says the proliferation of counterfeit goods is "standing in the way of the revitalization of Chinatown." Did you know Chinatown was being revitalized? Me neither. Says my tipster, "Get used to the term ChiTo." I guess Canal is being positioned to become the next new-Bleecker. Marc Jacobs, are you listening?

My depressing walk down Bleecker yesterday is still kicking my ass. After everything I saw, the absolute slaughter, I have to make the following prophecy: I don't see the Pizza Box lasting much longer. Why? They've been there since 1957, they're next to dead-duck Magic Shoes, and they're surrounded by yogurt chains. Tell me I'm wrong:


What retail is going into that big new condo on 18th and 6th? Next to the giant Chase, a giant Modell's is getting cozy, fitting right in with the shitstorm-style of the avenue:


As evidenced in my last two posts on Magic Shoes and Second Childhood, Bleecker Street is a bloodbath. Smack in the middle is the face-off between Red Mango and Pinkberry (across the street from each other!) with a giant Grom gelato coming to the corner of Carmine. Remember Joe's Pizza there? Closed after a 1666% rent increase! Grom pays the rent at $4.75 a scoop. Call it "artisanal" and "European" and they will flock to your doors.

Second Childhood

On Bleecker Street, there was a deep and narrow shop filled with collectible vintage toys. I remember entire armies of cast-iron men pouring over miniature war-torn hillsides, tin dirigibles and airplanes with spinning propellers, painted hobby horses, carousels, model trains. It was a wonder. But when I walked by yesterday it all was gone, a FOR RENT sign on the front.



In the window I saw the pale, boyish face of Van Dexter, the man who presided over the shop for the past 39 years. I waved to him and he invited me inside. In his late 80s, Mr. Dexter may be hard of hearing, but his skin is smooth, almost translucent, and his eyes are sharp. He stood in the ruins of his once-packed shop, now stripped bare, all the toys taken by a single buyer. He is putting his beloved carousel horses up for auction. "I hate to see them go, most of all," he told me. He won't open another shop, though, and hopes to get back into acting.



He gave me a souvenir pen that doesn't write unless "you lick it or light the end with a match." He licked the ballpoint to demonstrate and handed me a card. On it, I noted the scandalous rent increase that has pushed him out of his neighborhood: It's going from $7,000 a month to $15,000. When he first moved in, back in 1969, he was paying $150.

Magic Shoes

At 178 Bleecker, between 6th Ave and Sullivan St, Magic Shoes has been selling hard-to-find, rare, and discontinued footwear since 1979. A favorite among Converse aficionados, they were also voted "Best place to buy '70s librarian shoes" by the Voice.

Now their rent has skyrocketed and they will close in April. Everything is on major sale: 80% off and more. The owner, Tina Wu, a smiling, gregarious woman, hopes to sell everything out by the end of March.



As she punched out price tags on her tagging gun (reducing a pair of gold pumps from $60 to $10), Ms. Wu told me how her parents opened the store after they came to America from Taiwan and graduated from NYU. Now, with a tremendous rent increase which she did not disclose, the family business will be gone. "Nothing can afford to be here but a big chain," she said, "like a Banana Republic or something. No more mom and pops in this city. In another five years, it will be nothing but chains."

She remembers when, "If you wanted shoes, you went to 8th Street. Now, 8th Street is dead. After 6:00 at night--forget it. It's dead."

And so it goes in our dying city.



If you want Converse high tops in any color, skater shoes, cowboy boots, green fuzzy slippers, and much more, go to Magic Shoes, open every day from noon to 8pm. They have a lot of stock to get rid of, a back room filled with shoe boxes. But don't bother if you've got big feet--Tina doesn't want you to waste your time coming down when she's only got small sizes left.

Follow up: This shop was shuttered and the building demolished in 2009.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Otter's Vanished NY

The other day, by chance, I met Ned Otter, son of photographer Robert Otter, whose black-and-white photos of New York in the 1960s can be found and purchased on a website linked to here. It was a warmish, sunny day in the Meatpacking District and I was just coming back from lunch at the doomed Florent when a stand of neatly matted photos outside the Apple Store stopped me.



I chatted awhile with Ned who explained that, while his father was a commercial photographer, he loved to walk the streets, taking photos of his Village home. His work has never been formally collected, so Ned has taken it upon himself to archive and promote the photos, none of which were dated or labeled by his father. A daunting task to say the least.

There are hundreds--all of them images of a vanished New York filled with ghosts like Sutter's Bakery, the Women's House of Detention, a Howard Johnson's on 6th and Greenwich, a desolate Highline, the Bleecker Street Cinema (before it was a Duane Reade).

For anyone who seeks to recreate our city, this collection is essential viewing. When all is glass, when all is gone, we'll have such photos to remind us of what we have lost, the people and places we permitted to pass away.


in "MePa" with a photo of "MePa" from before it got its trendy nickname

To find Ned or arrange a purchase of his prints, email or call him here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

The old Jade Mountain (now Shoolbred's) Chow Mein sign was inexplicably aglow again today. But whatever happened to the wonderful Jade Mountain sign itself? A tipster told me it's sitting on the roof above the new bar--and indeed, you can see it here, chrome agleam in the morning sun. I spent awhile strategizing how I might climb up there for a better shot, but this is as close as I could get:


Some of us love old neon signs--like these folks in Brooklyn aiming to save Armando's lobster (since 1936). [Bk Heights] via [AMNY]

A sad, crowded farewell to the old UWS's La Fortuna. [Lost City]

Is the Chumley's reconstruction really to build a breakroom for weary Marc Jacobs employees? One Eater commenter claims this is so. Jesus H. Christ on a crutch. [Eater]

Say goodbye to the OTBs--and the toothless old guys who make them what they are. [City Room]

Coney in the off season is a dream--come see. [New Yorker]

Another writer weighs in on the meaning behind Hollywood's relentless destruction of New York, a favorite theme of mine--and gives us one of those delicious-mouthful German words: Schwanengesang. [culturemonkey]

Dystopian films do best during economic booms--just before a downturn. What does it mean? [io9]

And, while we're at it, here's a whole bunch of fantastic Statue of Liberty destruction images. [Gerry C]

Village Yogurt

With new super-chains Red Mango and Pinkberry taking over the city bedbug-style and both just opened at the corners of 14th and 6th, I thought it was time I checked out Village Yogurt, surely on the fast train to doomsville with Red and Pink duking it out nearby. What I found, however, was something completely different.



The Korean owner of the 27-year-old luncheonette, Mr. Jay Kim, explained that Village Yogurt is a bit of a misnomer, as the place sells very little frozen yogurt and mostly deals in delicious, healthy meals. The full name on the take-out menu reads: "Poochie's Natural Cafe (Village Yogurt)." Poochie was his son's nickname as a baby, because he was "small and dear," and Mr. Kim has plans to change the sign out front.


Mr. Kim and his vegan treats

On the menu you'll find plates of brown rice, veggie dumplings, chicken, and steamed vegetables in various combinations. I opted for the "Everything Super Fantasy," mostly because I could not resist saying that fabulous name out loud. I'm not a big eater of brown rice and steamed vegetables--could anything be more bland? But the Everything Super Fantasy was exceptionally flavorful, especially with Mr. Kim's special sauce, and made me feel virtuous just for eating it.



Mr. Kim's clientele is a loyal mix of health-conscious New Yorkers, including "ballerinas, office people, actors, trainers, and gymnasts," by which he means people who work out at the local gyms. He loves his customers because they are "a different class of people, gentle and nice," and he looks forward to seeing them when they come in.


Mr. Kim's wall of the not-yet-famous

Mr. Kim is sandwiched between a GNC and a shuttered bodega, on a stretch of 6th Ave cluttered with McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, and bank branches. When I asked if he was staying put, with all the changes in the area, he told me he sees no sign of shutting down, "I'm good. I don't bother anyone. This is a good mama-papa store. Why would the building man kick me out?"

I hope he's right--Poochie's is good for the health of the city and, apparently, to its romantic life, too, as a recent craigslist Missed Connection can attest:

VILLAGE YOGURT M4W 30 writes, "You asked about the udon and then went for the combo. It's a rare occasion when I'm so immediately connected to someone but when I made eye contact with you, there was something...no? It kind of blew my mind. Then your nice smile when I left really stuck with me. I hope your lunch was good."

I'm sure it was.

Friday, February 22, 2008

61 Fifth

I have often passed 61 Fifth Avenue and wondered about its history and its future.


my flickr

It has been vacant for awhile, fire destroyed much of it. Recently, 10th Street refugee Danal moved in next door and now #61 is under contract, according to Massey Knakal. We don't know what it will be, but we know what it once was.


photo source

Massey Knakal's description says, "The previous tenant was 61 Cafe, a restaurant/bar with dining areas and roof access. Built in 1938, 61 Fifth Avenue was originally the home to Schrafft's restaurant."


the candy window in 1940

The Schrafft's chain demolished the previous building. Here it is being torn down in 1938. According to the verso of the photo, this building went back to the early Dutch days and was part of the Brevoort estate. Minetta Brook once went streaming past. When Schrafft's took over, the March 18, 1938 Times headline said "Restaurant Chain Will Enter Washington Square Area for the First Time."


Photo: NYPL

I wonder if the neighbors were upset. Of course, Schrafft's had already been around for 77 years at that time, but it does force us to think about the way capitalism repeats itself, like a neurotic in the throes of a repetition compulsion. Sometimes, that notion is almost comforting.

In the 1980s, the Schrafft's building was occupied by Texas expatriate fave Lone Star Cafe, complete with giant iguana on the rooftop.



I'd like to see the building restored. Unfortunately, according to MK, "The building is neither landmarked nor within any historic district making the as-of-right development the highest and best use for the property. The development opportunity at 61 Fifth Avenue has vast potential. The location alone sets the site apart as there is tremendous demand in the end-user luxury condominium market in this thriving neighborhood."

And what's the asking price? $17,500,000.

Maybe some modern-day Brevoorts will turn it back into their private mansion. And then, in about 2108, the great-grandchild of Schrafft's and grandchild of Starbucks will claim the property for their Washington Square chain. Until 2208, when someone will lament the passing of that future chain--but we don't have to go that far with the whole "cycle of capitalism" thing, because by 2208 New York City will be controlled by blood-sucking, night-dwelling humanoids.

As we know, they're already among us...


Gossip Girls in front of 61 Fifth

Thursday, February 21, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

Starbucks writes a faux-tearful, "keep your chin up" cliche of a goodbye note as one of its 8th Street outposts shutters. Shazzam! [Curbed]

But John and Yoko's favorite, Cafe la Fortuna, is closing. With an authentically tearful goodbye note. [Urbanite]

Somebody must really love Mr. Pokey. In this window on W. 11th Street his short life is still memorialized 5 years after his passing:


Speaking of lovable rodents, rumor has it Whole Foods is infesting the Avalon Christie with rats, rats, rats! And the renters are fleeing like, well, rats! (As I rub my hands together in giddy delight.) [Curbed]

More info about Sophie's survival--with a photo by me. [NY Mag]

One Lower East Sider looks up at Blue and sees a fist raised against the spirit of the neighborhood. [Jose V]

Overheard last night in W. Village, 50-ish man to friends, "Ever notice how the more the world changes and all the things you knew from life are lost, the less you want to live at all?" His friends did not respond.

Get a sneak peek of 1 Jackson Square's impending undulation, complete with sanitized green park. How much fun would it be to play in this sales office with the Cloverfield monster toy and a blowtorch?


The EV's the Smith is made up of "mainly N.Y.U. kids, and the Smith’s atmosphere evokes a fraternity house, with the acoustics of a rush-season kegger." Could describe much of the neighborhood really. [NYer]

The Source to stay in EV--I'd heard this guy was having landlord trouble, but it looks like we can still get our copies done at this classic shop. [Villager]

Another authentic East Villager is dead--now who's drooling over that de-controlled, soon-to-be-gut-renovated (no doubt) apartment in which she died? [Times]

The Pleasures of Walking

In a Times article this past summer, Alex Marshall discussed a resurgence of walking in New York, which he credits, in part, to the city's becoming "cleaner, safer and more prosperous." In the same issue, novelist Nicole Krauss sang the praises of walking in our city. She wrote, "I like to walk to be alone with the world, not to be alone. In this way, walking is a lot like writing. Both writing and walking (as I know it) are fueled by a desire to put oneself in relation to others. Not in direct contact — some aloneness wishes to be preserved — but contact through the mediation of language or shared atmosphere of a city street."

I echo Ms. Krauss' sentiments, but wish I could live in whatever city she is walking in. It sounds like New York circa 1990.


from t-squared's flickr: this is a parody

Throughout my first several years in New York, I loved nothing more than to walk the streets. Like Ms. Krauss, I enjoyed the sensation of being alone with the world, engaged in a "freewheeling thoughtfulness" or free association, one idea leading to another, blossoming and unfolding. When I felt like writing, I would go out hunting and gathering. The cobbler standing in his doorway with black-stained apron, the talcum powder smells coming out of barbershops, the old ladies leaning with elbows on windowsills. All of it fed my work--the way it did for city writers and artists like Frank O'Hara and Edward Hopper.

But the streets have changed. The little shops and the people who were once so emblematic of the city are vanishing. And the pleasures of walking are vanishing, too.


from t-squared's flickr: this is also a parody

Cleanliness and prosperity have brought sterility and narcissistic obliviousness to the streets. When once my fellow pedestrians generally walked on the right and passed on the left, paying attention to the crowd, now they weave and careen, distracted by cell-phone calls and text messages. They stop short. They clog the sidewalks to chat with friends. They use their baby strollers like battering rams. They exit buildings blindly and don't yield to the flow of traffic.

Just this week, a man with an iPod bud in one ear and a cellphone in the other came flying out of a Starbucks and landed on top of me. As I shoved him off, he only looked at me with disgust. Whatever train of thought I had been following was lost, swallowed up in a fantasy of beating this man unconscious.

In this environment, our aloneness with the world is not preserved. The small gestures of relatedness are disappearing, replaced by the rage engendered by alienation and invisibility. What would Frank O'Hara or Edward Hopper make of this new city where the flaneur's stream of consciousness is constantly being invaded and disrupted by phone calls and body slams? What can be created in a city that no longer permits "freewheeling thoughtfulness"? What art will be made from condos, cell phones, and the endless succession of carbon-copy chain stores?


from ebay: this is not a parody

Maybe one day, when I sell a couple bestselling novels and can afford to keep author's hours, I will spend the quiet middays strolling and will see the city I used to know. But I doubt it. The barbershops and cobbler shops are closing. The old ladies who leaned on windowsills are dying one by one. The people and the buildings that are replacing them don't feel like New York to me.

I rarely go out walking anymore.

Post Script:
Maybe future art will all refer to Starbucks and condos: Starbucks Gossip reports that a "very rare 1994 Starbucks coffee mug was just sold on eBay for $1,283.65."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

When did Yonkers get Manhattanized by the real estate machine? SoYo? At least one kayaker/blogger is not happy about this river-blocking development:


The Plaza Hotel/Condo is dead, an abandoned house where the lonely megawealthy roam the halls alone, forced to eat pizza with the security guards. Here we see the future of a city in which, with the poor to middle classes kicked out, much of its population will be out-of-town investors who are simply never here. This is the ghost town New York is destined to become. [Times]

OTBs closer to closing. I've said this before: Will some brave and talented photographer please visit all of the OTBs in town and capture the people and the places before they're wiped off the city map? April may be the deadline. [Gothamist]

Jeopardy answer: Like SOHO before the Bratz turned up. What is the LES? Mmmm...too late. [Curbed]

Rich kids say living on the LES is "like waking up in the apartment you partied in the night before." How about waking up where a bunch of bratz partied the night before? Which I experience every morning. [Observer]

As local grocers are replaced by condos, so says New York to its poor: Let them eat arugula! [Wash Post]

A message from Eisenberg's--It's enough already with the New Year's resolutions, time to eat some good greasy food:


Alex in NYC recalls the first eyesore dorm to land on the East Village, way, way back in 1993. [Flaming P]

"The Neighborhood Is Dying"--says activists in Gowanus/Carroll Gardens. [Gowanus L]

The closing of Sacred Heart School in the Bronx, due to financial constraints, is breaking the hearts of many generations. [NYDN]

Coney Island's B&B Carousell gets whitewashed over as Massey Knakal's trying to rent the space for $9500/month. [Coney I] via [Curbed]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

McSorley's at 154

This past weekend, McSorley's celebrated its 154th anniversary, complete with balloons, party hats, drunken out-of-towners, and men with muskets.



The only good time to go to McSorley's is around 11:00 on a weekday morning. If you're very lucky, you'll arrive just as the coal truck, a ghost from the distant past, unloads its bulk down the sidewalk grate and into the basement to be shoveled into the pot-bellied stove on winter mornings.

At 11:00 in the morning, the crowds have not yet arrived. You can sit at a table by the window. You can appreciate the way the sunlight illuminates the sawdust on the floor and the dust that furs the lamps along the ceiling. A cat might slip past your legs.

For just an hour or so, it's quiet enough to hear the soft talk of old men at the bar proclaiming the wonder of "sody crackers," and to hear, as e.e. cummings put it, "the Bar tinkling luscious jigs dint of ripe silver with warmlyish wetflat splurging smells waltz the glush of squirting taps."



But then noon comes and the crowd rushes in. Strange businessmen who, you imagine, must have come from some other part of town in their shirts and ties. Wifely women with bleached blonde hair done up with sprays. Frat boys. Frat girls. They come flocking for reasons I will never understand.

And part of me says, Be grateful--without them, McSorley's might be a Starbucks instead. But is this the trade-off? With more of them coming every year and soon worse. Notice how, reflected in the window of this venerable ale house from yesteryear, the specter of our future gleams, sleek, massive, indifferent.


A glimpse into McSorley's past, thanks to Berenice Abbott. At 11:00 on a weekday morning, it doesn't look much different than this:

McSorley’s Ale House, 15 East ... Digital ID: 482568. New York Public Library

McSorley’s Ale House, 15 East ... Digital ID: 482590. New York Public Library

Friday, February 15, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

A MUST READ: Many parents continue to be shocked to discover that their children are not, in fact, modern decor. Rather than give in to "ugly" decor, they let their kids crack their skulls all over the place. [NY Times] And only permit toys like this one: Kiddie Condo. (I love when the Times proves me right.)

What we've all been waiting for--the giant office park/shopping mall that will soon land on Astor Place. Prepare to scream in pain. [Curbed]

From one unpublished novelist to another: Hey Matthew Thomas, who just won a $14,000 Manhattan apartment, you better be writing something phenomenal. [NY Times]

A tipster worries: "Some of us in the neighborhood think that the Jefferson Market may be on its way out--the bags no longer seem to have the name printed on them, shelves can be sparse, and the always-present in-the-back bad smell is now smellable in the front." When bad in-the-back smells migrate to the front, it's time to worry!

Another Barnes & Noble bites the dust--the retail giant can't afford the rent. Guess they'll all have to move to the outer boroughs. Or Philadelphia. [Racked]

Who says rents are high? The Florent space is being offered up at a pittance of $700,000 per year. [Eater]

We've been looking at photos lately of the lost New York. It wasn't all burned out buildings, there also used to be fantastically interesting people--as evidenced in a new book of photographs by Arlene Gottfried, interviewed this week. [NY Mag]

Another thing that was better in 1970s New York--we looked at 3,000 fewer ads per day back then. [Butler Bros]

A tipster wonders: Where can you get a $665 martini? The East Village, that's where. [Bloomberg]

The stroller wars rage on in Park Slope with some funny signage. [Gothamist]

Cintra Wilson reams out Victoria's Secret and it's quite a brilliant ream, I mean read. [NY Times]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Atlas Barber School

Back when I was really broke, I would get $4 haircuts at Atlas Barber School. Now I can afford the raise in price--it's a whopping $5--but I also have less hair, so I do my own barbering. Still, when I saw the sign in the window announcing the school's 60th anniversary, I had to go in for a trim.



The Atlas Barber School has been on Third Avenue in the East Village since 1948. In the 80s, they moved south a few blocks and, in recent years, with rising rents, they've slowly been trimmed down. The Third Avenue spot's been cut in half and the 10th Street end closed completely. The remaining storefront has maybe a dozen red vinyl chairs manned by mostly men in white smocks.

The students are predominantly African American or Eastern European and the talk is mainly of politics. Can Obama do it? Yes he can!



As I was hanging up my coat, a black woman with short gray hair (she's been an instructor there for two decades) directed me to take a seat in front of a young, probably Russian kid with bling in his ear and three parallel lines shaved into the hair at his temple. He didn't say much and neither did I. He made quick, efficient work of my hair, asked if I wanted the back "square or round," and finished off by wiping my neck with a paper towel dabbed with green alcohol.



I tipped the kid and paid the instructor. She and I chatted for a bit about the school and the neighborhood. I wondered if Atlas would stay much longer. She shook her head to say "who knows," passed on a rumor about a Marriott hotel taking their old spot on 10th Street, and wondered about "that big new building down there," the Cooper Square Hotel, "it's so out of place--did they mean to make it look like it's falling over?"


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

Frances "Evelyn" Dudley, the very friendly woman who used to panhandle outside the fence of St. Mark's Church on the corner of 11th Street, has passed away. There will be a memorial service for her tomorrow.


A tipster writes in about the imminent closing of indie Hell's Kitchen (formerly EV) record shop Future Legend: "As I approached the store my heart sank as the big orange sign of death announcing 50% all stock tipped me off to the latest record store tragedy to hit the city... I got the sense they were closing fast and furiously. Not sure they will even be there tomorrow." Read more about it in the Times and News. [Beware otB]

A 101-year-old pigment plant closes in Staten Island and that means no more pink pigeons. [NY Times]

The Fontana Shoe Repair family hopes to donate Angelo's 75-year-old cobbler tools to a museum. [Villager]

The above article also names Fontana's evicting landlord, Mark Scharfman, who bears the distinction of having been dubbed by the NY Press one of the 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers and, I quote, "The Oil Can Harry of modern-day New York." Here's more from the Voice and Observer.

The Chow Mein sign is dark again and last night Shoolbred's big red sign was ablaze, announcing its opening. Shoolbred's replaced Jade Mountain and is also sporting some fancy wooden stained-glass doors. Down by the Hipster and its commenters provide a review. "Jammed" and "Jager shots" kind of says it all.


I spoke too soon when I speculated that the XXX video shop in the doomed low-rise group of buildings at 14th and 3rd would survive to grind itself against the butt of the shiny new tower to come. They have taken their dildos and buddy booths and moved to Christopher Street, the way of all flesh...

International Bar Update

When I saw light trickling out from the paper-covered windows and heard the whine of a table saw, I knocked on the door of the International Bar to be welcomed inside by new owners Molly Fitch and Shawn Dahl -- third partner Mark Suall was offsite at that moment.

Molly, in protective goggles and Robert Plant muscle-T, was cutting wood to patch holes in the floor. A longtime regular at the old place, she told me she'd read the conversations about the International's reopening on this blog and was glad to take fans' two cents into account.



"We're salvaging as much as we can," including a painting of a woman fainting, a photograph of original owner Michael Petruno (the Sacred Cowboy), and wooden boards graffitied with messages like "Fuck the bastards."

They hope to open in early April. "It'll be the reopening of the International," they said, "but it can't be exactly the same. Like we're making the bathrooms cleaner and bigger. That's what happens when girls take over."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

Mysteriously, after no light for a long time, Jade Mountain's old Chow Mein sign was aglow yesterday (half of it anyway). Is this a sign that it will soon vanish?


Is Chelsea Now being condo-fied like the neighborhood it covers? [Blog Chelsea]

More confirmation that the East Village has gone suburban. [NY Times]

Check out a reading-screening by poet/filmmaker Stephanie Gray: Feb 16, 7 p.m. (free) at Vox Pop Cafe & Books in Ditmas Park. Some of her films feature Super-8 collages of vanished New York like Gertel's, Zito's, and Jon Vie Pastries. If that's too far to go, she'll also be at Bluestockings on the LES March 21. [Vox Pop]

The city moves in once more to shutter Moore Street Market. [NY Times]

Some accuse me of nostalgia for NYC's brutal, crime-strangled past. Not so. There is a middle ground between abject poverty and abject wealth. But for those who might be nostalgic, here is a fascinating collection of photos, many of the poor Harlem that local businesses survived, only to be crushed today by wealth. [Skyscraper City]

Also take a look at the pre-Giuliani LES in pictures from photographer Marlis Momber. [SBTA]

One of my early readers, Michael of the blog One Foot in Front of the Other, passed away recently. I only knew him through the blog. I enjoyed his photographs of East Village faces. Please take a moment to enjoy them, too: Click here.

My last meal from La Casalinga, the lovely Insalata al Pesto. I chatted with the owner, a 20+ year resident of the East Village. She hopes to reopen in the neighborhood soon. Let's hope she can find a place that hasn't been bought, like her building was, by Croman realty.

Monday, February 11, 2008

7th Street Clearance

Seems like everywhere you look in the East Village these days, shops and restaurants are shuttering and For Rent signs are going up. Some blocks, like on 9th Street, every other storefront has a Rent sign on it. Maybe 7th Street is next for an overhaul.

Between 2nd and 1st, Varsovia Travel and Shipping moved out not long ago. They catered to the once-thriving, now-dwindling Polish population. The windows are papered in secrecy but the other night I found a guy in there who said it's going to be a tattoo parlor. This is surely better than a wine bar, but the last thing 7th Street needs is to become another St. Mark's Place carnival...



The three words still stickered to the door translate "parcels by boat, air":



Between 1st and A, the newbie boutique Sugar is shutting down and everything's on sale. Maybe this newcomer bit off more than it could chew during the recent period of irrational exuberance? Anyway, they're on their way out. I bet they'll be replaced by yet another trendy hair salon:



The non-profit Bodanna Studio & Gallery has also closed. It sounds like they were actually doing some good in the 'hood, teaching life skills to low-income people. (*See Bodanna's comment--they've moved to Soho.) They were in the space formerly occupied by Theo Wolinnin funeral home and kept the great "Licensed Undertaker" sign out front...



Let's hope the next tenants don't dislodge this East Village artifact:



As you can see from this mix, it's not just the old fogies who aren't making it in the East Village today. What's next? Either the greedy landlords will get the hint that their rents are astronomical, or they'll just sell out every single space to banks and chains--oh wait, even the chains, like Cold Stone Creamery and Barnes & Noble can't afford to be here. So I guess it will all be banks then.

More East Village closings: