Recently, after City Bakery's Birdbath moved into the former Vesuvio Bakery space, Eater posed the "Vesuvio Conundrum" in response to an angry reader complaint: "It looks like they're doing business as Vesuvio Bakery to take advantage of tourists whose guidebooks haven't caught up to Vesuvio closing. It doesn't say Birdbath or anything anywhere?"
Photo by Femia, via Eater
It turns out, City Bakery does have its own sign on the facade: In a small frame hanging on the door it says "Birdbath." You could miss it if you're not really looking and, since the door is open in the photo above, it's not visible.
(By the way, is anything more apropos of today's city than a shot of a trendy bakery with a guy pushing a high-tech stroller and a texting lady with a dog in a bag?)
Inside, Birdbath is also displaying photos of the original basement ovens (check out these great photos on Lost City), along with text about how "the classic green storefront, familiar to generations, is now an iconic image of the retail city."
All of this brings up the recurring issue of new businesses and entities moving into old, culturally significant spaces, and the question of keeping the old spaces mostly (kind of, sort of) intact, though the original meaning has been removed. Varvatos did it to CBGB, McNally did it to the Minetta Tavern, NYU did it to St. Ann's Church, and then there's the High Line.
We're supposed to feel relieved, even grateful, that the newcomers have saved pieces of the city's history, its heirlooms and treasures. And we often do, in fact, feel relieved. I'm grateful that I can walk along Prince Street and still see that "classic green storefront," especially in what has truly become "Retail City."
But we also have to ask what happens when the city becomes a shell of its former self, when its interior is gutted and replaced with something more fashionable and expensive than what came before.
In the end, New York is becoming its own, self-referential museum, a simulacrum complete with wall text to explain where we are--what was here, what remains, what's been altered and revised. We recognize it, while at the same time, it is unfamiliar.
We know that this fate is far better than a bank or a Starbucks. And yet, denied the unadulterated righteous anger that comes when a bank or a Starbucks completely erases our favorite places, in the presence of these preservations and simulations, we're not quite sure what to feel.