Monday, May 4, 2009

Tomb of Delphi

In 2007, the Delphi Restaurant, on the corner of West Broadway and Reade, closed after 37 years. Wrote the New York Sun, "The restaurant is closing because of a clause in its 12-year old lease that would increase the rent to$55,000 a month starting November 1, up from its current $11,000." Said one of Delphi's long-time waitresses, "It's not about what the neighbors or the community wants."

In an area Zagat calls "Bouleyville" for its proliferation of restaurants owned by the same celebu-chef, David Bouley was then planning to open an "upscale Japanese-themed restaurant called Brushstrokes" in the Delphi space. That was two years ago. A liquor license battle ensued, fierce enough for Bouley to call it a "witch hunt." The Delphi waitress may have been right, but Bouley won the fight in March 2008.

Today, the building looks gutted and ready for demolition, marked by a big red X.

Through the end of 2008, the Department of Buildings shows complaints about after-hours work being done against a stop work order and "site conditions endangering workers."

This is a landmark building. The blog Haute Notes wrote extensively on its history, which dates back to 1860: "By the time of the First World War, photos show fine etched-glass entry doors and a sweeping canopy sheltering Vogric's Café. Its Slovenian owner advertised the Knickerbocker beers and ales brewed in Manhattan by Colonel Jacob Ruppert."

Most curious are the seeming ghost signs on the facade, which show a giant hand holding a paint brush and the words: "Brush Up Business with Paint, Paste, Paper, & Push." (Here, "push" means to sell, writes ForgottenNY.)

Frank Jump, in his excellent ghost sign blog, dates the signage to the 1910s. But Haute Notes writes, "the signs don't appear in any of the historic photos, even those from the 1940s."

Was the ghost sign somehow uncovered? Or was it put there later on, maybe for a 1970s movie, and made to look like the 1910s?

Whatever the story, it seems one of two things will happen to this building: Bouley will eventually move in or it will be demolished. Either way, we'll probably lose the signage, as we lost the Delphi, a once-strong survivor in a vanishing part of town.

As a 2003 Downtown Express put it: "Whenever a trendy new bistro opens up, or a chain spreads its wings and expands into occupied territory, I imagine the neighborhood’s longstanding restaurants must brace themselves for the competition that comes along with gentrification... however, Delphi has held its own for many years, defiantly refusing to be intimidated by the influx of new options for hungry Tribecans."

Bouleyville was originally slated to get its trendy new bistro up and running here by the spring of 2009. Perhaps, still haunting its tomb, the spirit of Delphi continues to defy.


EV Grieve said...


Rents increasing from 11k to 55k...?

Will we refer to these as the bad old days?

Anonymous said...

The "Paint, Paste and Paper" sign was painted there sometime in the late 1980's, purposely made to look retro. I remember seeing it freshly painted and loving it.

Steve said...

Sounds to me like they're hoping it will just collapse, like its Reade Street neighbor...

Jeremiah Moss said...

anon, thanks for the info about the sign. nice to have a general date for it. any idea why they put it there?

Goggla said...

Sigh...seems every interesting building has to be erased from existence. I didn't know those painted ads were fake, but liked them anyway. I hope it lives...

Anonymous said...

Am very much enjoying this blog. There was a small railroad train style diner in the East Village on Great Jones Street run by a Greek that I recall from when I first lived in New York in the early 60s. Not many years ago, it was closed along with a small parking lot next to it with signs about new business development. That never happened. I've never gone back to see what horrors occured.

Jeremiah Moss said...

hey Anon, i think that was the Jones Diner. sadly gone:

Gardiner said...

Hey Goggla,
Not all of those signs are fake. In fact I would guess most of them are authentic artifacts, like old Revs and Cost pieces. I grew up in Tribeca and especially love the "Look for the clothespin tag" one on Church and White.

Anonymous said...

i recently spoke to one of the surviving owners of delphi restaurant about the sign and he told me that it was there before they opened it in 1970.
if anyone has any questions about the history of this building between 1970-2007 you can contact me at
thank you.