Friday, July 29, 2011

Jade Mountain Moving

Has Jade Mountain already been saved? Thanks to the tipster who wrote in to let us know that the endangered Jade Mountain neon sign has been taken down from the roof of Shoolbred's.



Sitting on the sidewalk guarded by two guys, the sign is waiting to be picked up in a van and taken to an undisclosed location for who knows what purpose. This is all the guys knew about it.

There is no sign of CHOW MEIN.



Jade Mountain looks pretty beat up. Many of the neon tubes are broken and the metal is dented and bent in places. The REMAX rental sign remains riveted to the thing, like a cluster of barnacles stuck to the carcass of a beached whale.

Let's hope it's headed for revival and not to the dump.

Save Jade Mountain

As an update to yesterday's post about the damage to the old Jade Mountain neon sign, many readers are concerned about preserving what's left of it and have ideas about how to save it.

Anonymous described in a comment two attempts to save the sign a few years ago: "Let There Be Neon, the Manhattan based neon sign company that made the neon Shoolbred's sign offered Mrs. Chan, the owner of the building that once housed Jade Mountain, money to buy the old neon sign and the Chow Mein sign. Jeff the owner of LTBN refurbishes classic old neon signs and saves them or loans/donates them to a neon museum. She never responded to him."


Photo from warsze

"Shoolbred's carefully removed the sign and placed it face up so as not to break the neon. Originally, Shoolbred's owners, (Robert Morgan and William Ivey Long) asked if they could buy/use the old sign while it was still up and work it into the new bar somehow. The original plan was to keep the sign in place and simply work the new facade around it.

After Mrs Chan said no, Shoolbred's decided to replace the old neon sign with another large neon sign to pay homage to the once beautiful Jade Mountain sign... The Chow Mein sign did however remain in place. And Shoolbred's found the power supply and wired it to a breaker. They would light up the old sign which eventually burned out on one side and just read Chow and the other side lit up Mein. It would flicker on and off and really made for a classic New York sight from the 60s or 70s. Eventually the sign burned out all together and it was decided to let it lie in peace."

Of course, as Grieve reported, the Chow Mein sign is now missing.


Thomas Rinaldi

Anon suggests, "If someone wants to get in touch with Mrs Chan or her son Nick about the signs and try one last time to save them you should probably drop by Shoolbred's and leave a letter with them to get to the Chan family."

Reader lxe let us know, "Spoke to Dean Maroulakos the General Mgr of Shoolbred's and Ninth Ward today. He asked that anyone with historic/preservation concern for this sign please contact him through email at info@ninthward.com or call his cell 646 275 0461 so he can direct you to the landlord."

*UPDATE: As of 3:00 today, the sign is on the move.

New York Neon

Thomas Rinaldi runs the blog New York Neon, "a documentary homage to old neon signs in New York." He's also the author of a book by the same name, due out next year. I asked Mr. Rinaldi some questions about the city's neon signs. Here's what he had to say.



Why publish a whole book about neon? What's so special about neon signs that you can't get from LEDs?

I suppose the short answer is that neon signs, particularly those of a certain vintage, are an endangered species. Signs are so important to our visual experience of a built landscape--they often make more of an impact than the buildings they hang from--but that importance does nothing for their longevity. Seeing New York's old neon signs vanishing, I felt it was essential that some enduring record be made of them. Of course the big signs, the Times Square spectaculars, are well documented. But the storefront signs seemed poised to disappear with almost no trace.

I have nothing against LED signs per se--just as neon replaced incandescent bulb signs, now LED signs are coming into their own. Actually LED signs, if nicely done, can be a big improvement over the cheap vinyl awnings and acrylic panel signs that have displaced a lot of old neon signs.



What are your top 3 favorite neon signs still in existence in New York City?

We're lucky to have a lot of good ones left! The signs at Nathan's Famous in Coney Island are my favorite, easily. The vertical sign there is one of the oldest working neon signs in the world - it's been in place since about 1930, and it has the patina to prove it.

The Radio City Music Hall signs have been nicely restored--not much in the way of patina, but possibly the most elegant neon signs ever made. Installed in 1932, they're about as old as the Nathan's sign. The Dublin House sign on 79th and Broadway is also a favorite, I remember passing by it even as a kid. It's been there since 1933. Amazes me to think that these are veterans of WWII civil defense dim-outs!



How about your top 3 vanished New York neon signs that you wish still shined?

The old Colony Records sign is the first that comes to mind. It actually wasn't that old--went up around 1970 I think--but when Colony replaced it with a new sign around 2004, it occurred to me that I'd better start taking photos of these things if I wanted anything to remember them by. I also miss the great “BAR” sign that hung outside of Collins Bar on 8th Avenue and 46th Street--that had probably been there 80 years when it disappeared in 2007.

The P&G Bar sign, formerly at 73rd and Amsterdam on the Upper West Sign, is the biggest loss though. I'll never pass that corner without shaking my head in bereavement for as long as I live.



You've spoken here before about the replication of neon signs, as at the new Fedora. How do you feel about replicated neon? Is it just as good as the old?

It's a tricky issue. As with architectural restoration (which is my day job), there are good sign restorations and bad ones. When a historic sign warrants special treatment, the restoration should leave it looking as if it had just been cleaned up, not replaced outright. Original materials should be kept to the greatest extent possible. From a purist's standpoint, the colors should remain unchanged, or revert to those originally specified.

Of course, some signs get to a point of being beyond restoration. For these signs, the best case scenario might be to make a facsimile using the same materials as those used for the original, and then to find a good home for the old sign--indoors as a display piece, or preserved at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, for example.



Why do you think neon is vanishing from the city, and so often replaced with plastic lighted signs or LEDs? Or worse--televisions!

Well, for the same reason that neon signs replaced old incandescent bulb signs in the 1920s and 30s. Vinyl awnings, plastic signs, and LEDS are cheaper, more efficient, and/or lower maintenance than neon.

In my opinion, neon marks the high point of the signmaker's craft. Neon signs could be crass or sometimes put in the wrong setting, but they were sophisticated technologically and very often aesthetically as well. And NOTHING makes a more distinctive storefront than an old neon sign today. LEDs have the potential to make some really great storefront signs. But it will be a long time before they take on the associations with old neighborhood institutions--the small businesses that give neighborhoods a sense of place--that old neon signs enjoy today.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Check out the documentary on the defunct Chinatown Fair. [BB]

Mars Bar demolition has begun. [EVG]

Google's NYC headquarters are styled in the exquisite corpse of dead New York. [AMNY]

A new take on the urban bookmobile. [Curbed]

Uniqlo-sponsored High Line skating rink moves in where 10th Ave Tire Shop used to do business. [Racked]

Fran Lebowitz: "Real estate is all people in New York think about. Except now, we also think about bedbugs. So here we have this combination of really expensive real estate—with bedbugs! That didn’t even exist. I never even heard of it. It was like something from the 19th century. Who could have predicted the return of bedbugs? So, perhaps, there will be a return of movie theaters like the Elgin."

A look at New York's superhero history. [BBs]

Jade Mountain Crushed

This week, Grieve alerted us to the removal of the Chow Mein neon sign from above the old Jade Mountain Chinese restaurant on 2nd Ave., thanks to some work being done on the building. I got nervous for the Jade Mountain neon sign that has been lying face-up atop the roof of Shoolbred's since the restaurant closed in 2007.


a few weeks ago

Recently, the inner text of the sign popped up, like a body suddenly sitting upright in its coffin. Walking by, you could see the last letter N in "mountain" peeking out with its distinctive chinoiserie shape. Perhaps it knew what was about to happen to it.

Now, that N has been crumpled like an aluminum can, smashed under the boots and equipment of the construction workers. I hate to think about what the rest of the sign looks like.


today

I got in touch with Thomas Rinaldi, author of the blog New York Neon and a forthcoming book by the same name. His response: "What a heartbreak!"

He wrote, "I think many people would agree with me that the Jade Mountain sign was a thing of real cultural value and significance. It was particularly noteworthy as one of New York's very last early- to mid-century signs that used a stylized iteration of East Asian calligraphy adapted to Roman characters. I know of only two others that survive at this point in the city, both of them abandoned. It's another one of New York's most important historic neon signs needlessly destroyed."

Can anybody get over there and rescue this sign?

*UPDATE: The sign has been taken away...


in better days

Further neon reading:
Peep-O-Rama refurbished
Fedora sign

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

The mainstream news has jumped on the Tompkins Square rats story [EVG]. 1010 WINS concluded their report this AM with the score: "In Tompkins Square Park it's red-tailed hawk: 1, kids: nil."

Chelsea Hotel to close for a year
: " if you want to spend one more night at the Chelsea Hotel before it closes, now is your last chance." [LWL]

Drinking at Pete's Tavern. [MAD]

Park Slope kids invade Gowanus--creative types booted. [Curbed]

Coney loses a good friend. [ATZ]

Is the lower Lower East Side being rechristened LoDel by the real-estate machine? [BB]

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Have we lost CHOW MEIN forever? [EVG]

Hipsters in the Hamptons--they're called "Hampsters" and they have their own shelf at Bookhampton bookshop. [NYer]

"It's as if there's some unwritten regulation that every corner of the city, from Times Square to Coney Island, must have an Apple store and a Shake Shack. And people seem to want this sameness everywhere. We've become a city of people afraid of originality and the unknown, like tourists who go to Paris and eat at Burger King." [AMNY]

Joe Liberatore, "the last of the original 117 food merchants who first opened in 1940" on Arthur Avenue, has passed away. [Grub]

What's it like to get old in NYC? [Restless]

Read all about the original "Panorama of New York City, a 3,000-foot-long painting depicting the streets, residents, and sights of lower Manhattan." [CP]

Before IHOP

As 14th Street between 2nd and 3rd prepares to become a so-called "foodie haven," and we've all by now learned that an IHOP will be opening at 235 East 14th, let's take a look at what used to be there.

The building that IHOP is going into happens to have been built on the burial ground for what was, when it closed in 1988, one of Manhattan's longest running theaters--and most notorious houses of smut.


NYPL, 1934

The theater opened innocently in 1914 as the New 14th St. Photoplay. In the above and below photos, we see the profile of the marquee in 1934, with a lighted vertical sign, and 1936--playing two unforgettable classics: Hips, Hips, Hooray! and O'Malley of the Mounted. It also sported an open-air roof.

Some accounts place the theater at 241 E. 14th, but these NYPL images show it clearly at 235, two doors east from today's Beauty Bar.


NYPL, 1936

In 1940 it was renamed the Arrow, then again renamed the Metropolitan in the 1960s. In 1979, New York Magazine reported, "The seedy Metropolitan shows X-rated heterosexual porn for an apparently gay audience."


American Classic Images, 1981

For a much more vivid description of the theater, Jack Stevenson in Bright Lights Film Journal tells every sticky detail. Here is a short excerpt from his must-read article:

"If the theatre ever had any pretensions to class, you couldn't tell it by the '70s when it was relegated to the screening of XXX, its filthy battered marquee casting an evil shadow over the entire block... The entrance of The Met, as it was now known, drew every pervert, pick-pocket, bum, mark, out-patient and junkie on notorious 14th street like a giant magnet."


1986

Stevenson reports that Mike Black in Gutter Trash remembers that "the toilets were a 'filth addict's wet dream, reeking of piss, grunge and body odour.' The urinals were perpetually flooded with rivers of piss, overflowing onto the floors to create a sea of green and orange slime."

Black also recalls "an obese fellow squatting his fat ass over a trash can and taking a dump. The horrid stench sent people fleeing for the exits and fresh air. (This might have been the Mad Shitter, a well-known deviant barred from every theatre in the city.)"


Bright Lights Film Journal

The Mad Shitter. (Was that anything like the Rogue Pisser?)

Interestingly, the East Village has a new Mad Shitter. Will he be psychically drawn to the IHOP, pulled in by the suburban aroma of Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity breakfast platters and a supernatural link to his fecal ancestor, his shitting soulmate from another time?

We will have to wait and see.


More lost theaters:
The Jefferson
Union Square Theater
Variety Photoplays
Shore Theater
The Playpen
Show Follies Center
Embassy
Mayfair
Chopin

Monday, July 25, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Art from the Chelsea Hotel is mysteriously vanishing at a rapid clip. Where is it going? [LWL]

Can Mars Bar rise from the dead? [EVG]

Pop-up bookstore opens in Chelsea today with lots of art books. [LM]

Another Saturday night with the rats of Tompkins Square Park. [NMNL]

Village has a "rogue pisser." [Gothamist]

A night of dining at Sylvia's in Harlem. [MAD]

Three ways to cool off old-school style. [ENY]

Movie Star News

Thanks to Mick Dementiuk for pointing us to Vintage Sleaze's collection of Irving Klaw advertisements, and for drawing our attention to the address on the ads: 212 East 14th Street. This was once the home of Klaw's pin-up business--Movie Star News--where he and his sister Paula photographed gals like Bettie Page and sold their sexy photos along with tamer celebrity stills.


Silent Porn Star blog

Richard Foster's The Real Bettie Page recalls that the first Movie Star News opened in 1939, across the street at 209 E. 14th. Before long, they moved to 212, right next to the Jefferson Theater--movie fans loved Movie Star News. So did fans of cheesecake and bondage.



Trying to find images of the shop's exterior in its heyday has proven impossible, but if you search for the more often photographed Jefferson Theater, you can find some slivers of it.

In the early days, 212 E. 14th (to the right of the Jefferson) sold pianos. Much later, by the 1970s, the first floor was a shoe store and the Jefferson had exchanged vaudeville for Kung Fu and blaxploitation.


1973, American Classic Images

In the 1981 photo below, you can see recognizable bits of signage from Movie Star News--the OVI in the second-story sign and, above the entrance, a sign that says "LARGEST VARIETY OF PHOTOS IN THE WORLD."

Above that, in the shop's window, you can just make out some blurry posters--one looks a bit like Casablanca.


1981, American Classic Images

At the time of the above shot, an after-hours club had taken over the second story of the Jefferson. Peter Nolan Smith writes about it in Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, recalling a loft that attracted "Movie stars, musicians, models, bankers, politicians, go-go dancers, punks, gays, cops, and dealers" who "called the Jefferson their home away from home" until the NYPD raided the place.

By 1986, the club was gone, Herman's Shoe Store was gone, and so was Movie Star News. The New York Guitar shop stood in its place on a block of 14th that looks like a corpse.


1986, by Michael Putnam

Sometime in the 1980s, Movie Star News moved off 14th. A member of the Irving Klaw Facebook page posted this photo, writing: "taken in the mid 80's-NYC, when a friend unknowingly rented this spot on 14th street!"


Facebook

Today Movie Star News is alive and well on West 18th Street. It's still in the family, run by Klaw's nephew, Paula's son, Ira Kramer. Their block, once the middle of nowhere, is bookended by two new, giant, glass condos and filled with upscale home furnishing shops. But once you get inside, it's purely old New York.



Classic movie posters cover the walls. Cinephiles sift through racks of more posters. In the back, towers of shelves rise ceiling high, packed with Hollywood photos. Here, too, is the Irving Klaw collection of photos that (I believe) are still printed from Klaw's original negatives. There's Bettie Page and Blaze Starr, Lily St. Cyr, Lois de Fee, and plenty more pin-up girls in the catalog.



As for the Jefferson theater, back on 14th St., its marquee was ripped off and its beautiful windows were smashed in and bricked shut. Grass grew along its lintels. In 2000, the theater was demolished and became The Mystery Lot, which remains empty.



Today, 212 East 14th houses the Super Saving Store, and its second floor, once the home of Movie Star News, is a residence. I doubt Irving Klaw's sign is still painted on the door.

Those stairs, though, they look like they might be the same stairs that generations of New Yorkers climbed to purchase--and pose for--pin-ups, bondage, and other fetish photography, long ago in another city.



Also read:
Adult Bookstores
Parisian Danceland
Freakologist

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bookberries

VANISHING

Manhattan is losing yet another independent bookshop. Reader esquared told us in a comment yesterday that Bookberries at Lexington and 71st "will be vanishing soon. saw a going out of business sign."


Lia Raum

A couple years ago, the Woman About Town blog wrote, "Thomas Jefferson once wrote to John Adams, 'I cannot live without books.' For those who love books and who relish the experience of browsing for a good read, Bookberries, an independent bookstore on the Upper East Side, is a treasure trove."

Meanwhile, on the Upper West Side, Avi chronicles the loss of neighborhood bookstores and remembers the day when the shops in that part of town said "intellectuals live here; being smart is more important than being rich; and, of course, nerds are welcome." We now live in a time and place where people would rather live without books. They've got their Kindles and Nooks, iPads and iPhones, and that's all they want. The rest of us are screwed along with them.

A call to the store confirms Bookberries will be closed this Saturday and Sunday, then open next Monday to Wednesday for their final week in business. Their last day will be July 27. They will not be moving to a new location. Maybe a cupcake shop will take their place and then all the zombies will be happy.


At the Strand

Before these are all gone, go buy some real books, will you?

St. Mark's Bookshop
Three Lives and Co.
Bookbook
Mast
Rob Warren Books
New Left Bank
Westsider
Mercer Street

Thursday, July 21, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

How to spot a narcissist: "They're considered more stylishly clad, cheerful, and physically appealing at first sight than are those who score lower in narcissism..." [PT]

What's up with the chirpy, optimistic narration on this death of Coney Island video? [NYT]

Like the rest of the city, Grand Central Terminal upscales and boots out its long-time tenants. [NYT]

Get ready to be disgusted: Bowery flophouse becomes boutique hotel--with homeless people still living in it. [Curbed]

One blogger's guide to surviving in New York. [VL]

Karl Fischer comes to E. 12th. [EVG]

July 23: Celebrate the life of Nuyorican poet Cheryl B., and attend the fundraiser for her partner at Dixon Place.

Before I found Jesus...on the side of a shuttered Thai restaurant in the EV:

Street View 1982

The Manhattan of 1982 was a city of delis, dry cleaners, and hardware shops. Of greasy diners, stationery stores, and donut pubs. We can see this thanks to photographer Dan Weeks' exhaustive project Street View New York 1982. The website and accompanying blog features black-and-white panoramic photos of Midtown, giving us a detailed glimpse into what the city used to be.

I asked Dan about the project and here's what he said.


Detail: 8th Ave. between 45th and 46th

"During the 1970s and 1980s I was a dedicated photographer. In NYC my work was 'discovered' by Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton on the eve of their film Reds. Later I shot Barbara Streisand’s Yentl and Places in the Heart with Sally Field.

In the midst of all the commercial work, I wanted to create a photographic portrait of New York City that would 'live forever,' something that would capture a slice of time that recorded the little details that are often forgotten. What if we could look at a detailed street view of Paris in 1790? I hoped the idea would catch on."


Columbus between 82nd and 83rd, click to enlarge

"This vision was bigger than anything I could do by myself, so I assembled a team of photo-enthusiasts who were as maniacal as I was. The whole project was a team effort from the start, and no one person can take credit for the resulting images, although I paid for everything, including salaries for everyone, which ruined me financially.

We called the project U.S. Photo, because I wanted to photograph the U.S. (like Google later did). I owned a VW bus, so we mounted a Nikon F motordrive with a 250 frame back on a platform on top of the bus. Ben Porter operated the camera. Peter McNally drove the VW. He was in radio contact with Ben so they could manage the traffic flow and photograph an even sequence of shots, which was difficult on Manhattan streets, as you can imagine.

I had envisioned an analogue version of 'Google Streets' before the digital age, so we were bound to the film, paper, and chemistry of the day."



"The production phase lasted about six months before I ran out of money and I ended up with a mountain of wreckage. Thousands of negatives, thousands of 5- x 7-inch prints--cut in montage sequence and hot-waxed to boards--what a mess!

The entire project was an utter failure. No one was interested in the pictures. They said, 'Why did you do that? I can walk out on the sidewalk and see those streets.'


Columbus between 85th and 86th, click to enlarge

Twenty five years later, I found myself on the Wind River Indian Reservation of Wyoming, still hauling those negs around. In the meantime, digital scanning and montage had improved and gotten less expensive, so I gave it another shot, and posted a few of the results on the web.

The original intention was to shoot everything. Now I can say, 'Oh, I wish we had shot the Village, Soho, lower East Side, etc.' And I wish we had."


Detail: 8th Ave between 43rd and 44th St.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

On why we shouldn't miss Mars Bar: it was "such a dump that it's safe to say that 99% of the people who are partaking in this outpouring of emotion probably never even went to the bar." [Eater]

"Mars Bar was proof that the New York of old-timer lore really did exist, and there was a sense that once it was gone, that would be the end." [Grub]

10 indie bookstores you could be buying books from. [Racked]

Has the backlash to "artisanal" and "curated" finally begun? [Grub]

More meatballs for the East Village. [EVG]

If at first you don't succeed, keep trying new concepts. The cafe on 13th and 6th began as Maximo Pino. In March it became Rockography, a "Hard Rock" kind of knock-off, but only for about 15 seconds. Now it's been totally renovated as the Blitz! Brasserie.


More from the candlelight vigil for Mars Bar. [NMNL]

Check out Sid Grossman's 1940s street photography. [ENY]

What does a summer fratboy party in the Hamptons look like? [NYO]

Hope for NYC: Starbucks altercations, latent crackheads, and more. [Restless]

Ices of the LES

A few years ago, it was announced that the egg cream required reinvigorating by the foodie tastemakers in town, and they went about artisanalizing the thing, mixing it with flavors like espresso and hazelnut. This started at the Chocolate Bar, then on 7th St. Today, on the same block, shaved ice is getting its turn with the glamour treatment as the People's Pops pop-up comes to the neighborhood to serve a classic Lower East Side treat in local, greenmarket flavors.

When this happened to the egg cream, I did an egg cream tour of the Lower East Side. Now, I offer a shaved ice tour. But first a bit of history.


Piraguero, 1920

In New York neighborhoods wherever Puerto Ricans settled, a cup of flavored shaved ice is known as a piragua and the men who do the shaving are piragueros. Wikipedia tells us that the word "is derived from the combination of the Spanish words 'Pirámide' (pyramid) and 'Agua' (water)" because the piragua has a pointy, conical shape.

For nearly a century, the city's piragueros have served shaved ice the same way--from a rattling cart loaded with bottles of syrup, from a big block of ice, and for very little money. Today, in the East Village and Lower East Side, you can still find them, mostly in Alphabet City and along Delancey, where Latin culture still manages to hang on.


photo by John Albok, 1940, E. Harlem

In my search for piragueros, the northwesternmost one I found was on 7th Street and Avenue B, across from Vazac's Horseshoe Bar. His blue cart under a red and white umbrella offered a respite from the heat.



He wore a second-hand apron from Katz's Deli. His glass bottles fit neatly into circular holes in the cart's wooden top. His block of ice was smaller than most, but it sent up a fine spray of shavings as he worked it. I got my favorite flavor, tamarindo, with a skinny straw for $1.00.



I found another by following a trail of happy ice eaters that led me into the winding paths of the Campos Plaza NYCHA projects off 12th Street between Avenues B and C. The cart stood by a playground, sheltered beneath a tropically decorated umbrella.



The white-painted wooden cart featured glass bottles and a large block of ice protected from the sun by a plaid tea towel. The piraguero shaped the ice's tall head with a gloved hand and his metal shaver. Coconut, a classic flavor, cost $1.00 for a small.



The next piraguero was parked on Avenue C at 6th Street. This gentleman wore a shirt with horses embroidered over the pockets and a weathered hat. His cart was made of wood, with round holes to hold the bottles, and painted a lovely shade of pistachio green. His ice was protected by a green garbage bag.



He gave the ice something of a pyramidal top with the metal scraper and, like the last two piragueros, served it with a slender cocktail straw. Another tamarindo for $1.00.



On Avenue C and 3rd, the piraguero keeps his syrups not in glass bottles, but in plastic ones recycled from supermarket colas. His block of ice is protected from the sun by a rooster-decorated tea towel and a red, white, and blue umbrella. His cart is also made of wood.



From him I got the blue--raspberry? blueberry?--a flavor with a startling color best left to kids for its too-sweet taste. This one was not shaped into a pyramid, but it was served with a cocktail straw and cost $1.00.



I did not find one piraguero on all of Avenue D, nor in East River Park, where I remember them being years ago. Delancey, however, was a hotbed. Here, the scene changes a bit as the piragueros feature more fanciful straws. At Delancey and Clinton, from a wood and metal cart painted a mossy green, an assortment of colorful bendy straws are kept in a repurposed juice bottle.



The piraguero matches the straw to your ice--in this case, orange for orange. This one tasted pleasantly like Gatorade. It also cost $1.00.



Finally, at Delancey and Norfolk, from a stainless steel cart reclaimed from a hot dog vendor, we find a piraguero who shapes his ice with a funnel to get that perfect pyramidal top. Before he adds the syrup, he presses the funnel onto the ice, giving it a point. With no circular slots to hold his bottles on the hot dog cart, he keeps them in red plastic Coca-Cola trays. His ice block is protected inside a plastic garbage bag.



Like his Delancey competitor, he pairs the flavor with its corresponding straw--here it's purple for grape--and, like every other piraguero around, he charges $1.00 for the small.



There may be more out there, but I stopped here. Later, for comparison, I tried the People's Pops pop-up.

I had been wondering where the piragueros get their blocks of ice. The server at People's Pops was telling another customer that there are places "around here" to get block ice, but they get theirs from "a guy in Pennsylvania." He talked about the ice for a bit--the impressive size and weight of it--then talked about local strawberries, how it's late in the season for strawberries, but due to a frost, they were able to have them for their popsicles.



The block of ice sat uncovered and melting in the sun. There were just two bottles with two flavors: rhubarb or red plum. The small cup cost $2.50, it is not shaped into a pyramid, and does not come with a straw of any kind. Instead, you get a flat wooden spoon. The ice is difficult to maneuver with the spoon. I wished for a straw. The mixed red plum and rhubarb flavors are hard to discern, like a subtle herbal tea, more ice than juice.

While the classic piraguas really are refreshing drinks, this one's more like a sno-cone that you have to figure out how to get into your mouth.



This seems to be the future of shaved ice in the city. Last year, the Times announced that the snow cone has "grown up" and it's only become more popular since with Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls, the Kelvin Slush truck, and many others upscaling this poor person's treat. On the Lower East Side, while an icy war rages between Ray's Candy and NYC Icy, at Pulino's the chef "freezes a purée of almonds, sugar and water, then sends it through the fine grating blade of her Robot Coupe R2N so that a light almond-flavored snow gathers in heaps."

But outside of the icy hubbub, beyond the gee-whiz factor, in an alternate universe where "artisanal" isn't even mentioned, you can still find the real thing. And, yes, it's still the best.