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...