The Subway sandwich shop that replaced Intervideo in the East Village has been open for a couple of weeks, and First Avenue between 6th and 7th is now a nearly unbroken chain of chains--Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, Subway, Ricky's.
As Subway continues its juggernaut across the city, let's look back at its predecessor and competitor--Blimpie Base.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, the Hoboken-born Blimpie Base multiplied across the city (here's one on E. 14th), taking over a few bohemian haunts. It replaced a place called the Ham & Eggs on Broadway and 72nd, recalled in Richard Goldstein's 1973 New York essay on the Continental Baths as "a sort of leather Sardi's." He dubbed the replacing Blimpie as "asexual...and onion-y at that."
In 1969, they famously took over the beloved Cafe Figaro at Bleecker and Macdougal. The Times called it "the orange and white chain of hero sandwich shops proliferating through the area." A young man searching the ruins of Figaro for souvenirs said, "A Blimpie’s? They might as well change the name to Pizza Square."
Here's what the Village Voice had to say in 1971 after the Blimpie had opened:
"A symbol of what’s happening to the Village is the Blimpie Base sandwich shop at MacDougal and Bleecker Streets. The Blimpie occupies the spot where the Café Figaro used to be. The Figaro was forced out by high rents in January 1969. It may have been the best of the Village coffee houses. It had the beautiful, easy ambiance about it that flavored the whole area… Walk into Blimpie today and you’ll find that it has carried on the tradition of influencing the neighborhood. But not in the same way. An unnatural silence hangs in the air… A feeling of foreboding seeps out of the Blimpie and spreads like a stain down Bleecker Street."
photo by machine stops, 11th St. & 6th Ave.
We might be hearing echoes of the present day's disdain for chains, but it's not the soul-sucking nature of fast-food chains the author is talking about--it's the fact that this Blimpie was filled with junkies on the nod. Other authors recall this notorious spot as "sordid" and a "harbinger of...decay."
We could use a sordid harbinger or two these days.