Thursday, October 30, 2008

Elizabeth Street

Some years ago, when Elizabeth Street began to change, I began to avoid it. But before then, it was possibly my favorite street in the city. I used to go out of my way just to walk on it. Now I make sure not to go near it. Recently, I made the terrible mistake of visiting.

Today Elizabeth is another street altogether. She's the plain, approachable girl who went on Extreme Makeover and came out wrapped in a shiny, plastic, Barbie-doll skin. You don't recognize her, searching in vain for some familiar feature that will bring her back to you.

On her polished, high-maintenance storefronts, she proclaims herself "Trust Fund Baby" and "La Petite Princesse."



This transformation began about 10 years ago. In 1998 Bella's Luncheonette became Cafe Habana. And then a shop opened. It blared ear-splitting music and expelled obnoxious people who stepped over the Italian ladies peeling potatoes on the sidewalk.

I was nervous then, but had no idea just how complete the change would be--and how little time it would take. It's the totality that troubles me, though it pleases the people on today's Elizabeth. They smile and shop, stop and chat, loving this made-over, plasticine swan.

This is Nolita now. An illustration on the scaffolding around the new 290 Mulberry informs us that "Elizabeth Street Is Da Bomb."



The only protest (if this can be called protest) against the endlessly encroaching, luxurious sameness comes from a man selling junk on the street. He sets up rows of little milk cartons and, with a golf club, drives them into the netted scaffolding of "beautiful, bespoke" 211 Elizabeth.



But the old girl is gone.

LaRosa & Son bakery is now a high-end home decor store. Habana attracts a crowd of hipsters and Europeans. The mysterious candle house is a mansion. The Italian ladies who used to peel potatoes have vanished. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Albanese Meats & Poultry is the sole remaining old-timer on this stretch.



I'm worried about Moe Albanese and his store. It looks emptier than it used to, and it wasn't open when I went by in mid-afternoon.

Elizabeth Street will break your heart. Don't go there. Unless you need a nice piece of veal. But when Albanese is gone, there will be not a single scrap left of what was. And I don't expect the octogenarian butcher will last much longer here.

to be continued tomorrow...

16 comments:

EV Grieve said...

Wow. I've been avoiding it too.

Trust Fund Baby? Seriously?

Albanese is something special. Elizabeth Street doesn't deserve this shop anymore.

KnicksBasketballNY said...

On a brighter note.

The Knicks WON won last night.

1-0 BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

how is it that elizabeth street changed whereas the few blocks west didn't? how did they get rid of all the rent stabilized tenants?
I think I know, the same reason Ludlow street changed quickly.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I used to love Elizabeth St. around '98 - Bread and Butter was next door to the newly opened Habana, but all the other store fronts were old and it was still genuine. Kids playing in paddling pools on the sidewalk in August. Guess that's gone. I'm kind of glad I moved to LA after all...

Anonymous said...

hard to believe, but when i lived on elizabeth st not that long ago ( well 15 years ago, so kind of a long time ago) my landlord used one store front for storage, and the other one had a guy from the building's woodworking shop in it. i think he paid a hundred bucks a month for it. the landlord literally couldn't rent his storefronts to stores.

Jeremiah Moss said...

15 years is not a long time, but an eternity in new york years. it never ceases to astound me how an entire street, or an entire neighborhood, or much of a city has been so radically and almost totally transformed in a decade or less.

Anonymous said...

I used to live on that block between Prince and Houston in the mid 80's into the early 90's and Nolita to me is just short hand for "No Longer Little Italy". It's a great example of the white washed self entitled New New York. I give up but thank god Ray's is still over there.

Jeremiah Moss said...

No Longer Little Italy is pretty good. where's the mafia when you need them, that's what i want to know.

Anonymous said...

maybe they should have catered to the Chinese shoppers. they could use a good butcher shop like the lone butcher shop on Mulberry below Canal street. but we know the real reason.

Anonymous said...

No Longer Little Italy is correct, but it's not the rich white people and Trust Fund Babies that choked Little Italy--it was the virulent sprall of Chinatown. It was gone way before the area became trendy.

Anonymous said...

Moe Albanese is a living legend.

But don't be too hard on Cafe Habana -- Moe tells me that Sean is his best customer. You can imagine the size of Cafe Habana's regular order!

Anonymous said...

I've lived on Elizabeth Street since 1992. Definitely have thoughts on the changes, but another time for those.
Shorpy.com (cool archive) has a Lewis Hine photograph of 260-268 Elizabeth Street (East side, just south of Houston St.)

http://www.shorpy.com/node/44?size=_original

Judith Klinger said...

I was at Moe's last night. He's doing fine.
Posting an Ode to Moe on my blog today.

Anonymous said...

it all went sour when cafe habana moved in. or maybe the rialto which was sean's first venture up the block. both places were a magnet for trustafarian slackers who came and never left. but what a wonderful block it was in the 80s and 90s.

jcradio said...

Elizabeth Street, how I miss my lady. Born and raised on Elizabeth street. My Grandfather owned 237. The store front was Moe's Butcher and in the rear was Frank's. Frank's was a steakhouse and had the greatest steak sandwiches, I know, my DAD was Frank. I can go on forever, but my Lady Elizabeth holds my dearest memories.
I remember the San Gandolfo feast as a kid and all the great food served. My Cousin Moe Albanese and my Aunt Mary used to sell Sausage and Peppers, I can smell them now. Then the parade of San Gandolfo where they marched the Saint down Elizabeth Street and everyone throwing dollar bills out the windows.
Times have changed my by Lady still has my memories and no one can ever change that.

jcradio@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

My grandmother lived at 290 Elizabeth St. We visited her every Sunday and all feast days. Went down to see the area about 15years ago. What a surprise. The church on the corner was gone and so were the parks. I still have all the wonderful memories and they will never leave me.