Thursday, September 27, 2012

Neil's Coffee Shop

As we lose more and more diners, Neil's Coffee Shop (not vanishing, don't worry) deserves recognition for being a quality hold-out from the old city.



On Lexington and 70th, Neil's has been here for half a century--and it's got the signage to prove it, from the brilliant pink neon sign to the all-caps COFFEE SHOP on the front, to the cursive Neil's suspended on a white cloud around the side.



Inside, tucked up by the ceiling, above the Greek-themed murals, you'll find framed head shots of mostly forgotten stars. But there are a few luminaries. Jim Fowler, originally of the beloved Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, has a place of honor above the register with two photos, right next to Steve Martin.



There's also Tony Randall, Howard Cosell, and Liza Minelli, who draws a heart and writes "Finally!"

Finally what? Finally, she got herself to Neil's Coffee Shop, after longing to do so for a great while? Finally, she brought in the photo she promised? Finally, she tasted the French toast?



One of the things I like about the Upper East Side is that it remains so much itself. It's not trying to be another neighborhood and it's not trying to be cool. It's filled with all kinds of tacky, expensive shops, and none of them are ironic. The rich people there, walking around in full-length furs, look like New Yorkers, and not like Europeans or Midwesterners trying to look like Europeans in New York.

There are also lots and lots of ancient white ladies toddling around, complaining about life, with their hands heavy with diamonds and their eyelids painted pink. They have great faces, and you can watch them go by from the window at Neil's.

16 comments:

Ellen Fagan said...

Thanks! I will surely go there soon...I'm getting an increased fondness for the East side, the old-school feel, the regional dialects & the vintage air to the place.

EV Grieve said...

OK, had a bit of a start when I saw the headline. Thanks for the appreciation of Neil's. I recall a trip there a few years ago. And one of the waiters saw me take a picture of the framed Abe Vigoda headshot. The waiter told me that Abe had just been in for a meal recently... And agreed with your assessment of the UES...

Anonymous said...

Although this place may have been here forever, it is certainly not due to their food! Neils is probably the worst diner on the UES!!

Anonymous said...

Have lived most of my life on the lower east side and as of late I have yearned to move to the upper east side. I need some quiet in my old age.

dejordy said...

And those ladies are all going to the doctor.

esquared™ said...

"The rich people there, walking around in full-length furs, look like New Yorkers, and not like Europeans or Midwesterners trying to look like Europeans in New York." e.g. Meatpacking District. And ditto -- trying to explain this to out-of-town visiting friends and family and they don't see it.

Also, I'm amazed that there are still a number of diners and old school restaurants in the UES, such as the Gracie Mews Diner (feat. in Lethem's Chronic City http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703298004574459091880955718.html), the Ottomanellis -- New York Grill in Carnegie Hill and Cafe in Yorkville,... .

But at the same time the glass condos are rising and the chains are encroaching. The 2nd Avenue subway line construction is closing many of the old mom and pop establishments there. And once that's up and running, 2nd avenue will be luxefied and chainified.

Anyway, EV Grieve had a post about Neils too http://evgrieve.com/2009/02/at-neils-coffee-shop-where-abe-vigoda.html . And here's a nice shot of Neill's

Miss Phoebe said...

It feels like the Waverly of the UES, complete with photos of forgotten stars. Though after the renovation, the Waverly did not reinstall their collection as promised.

Anonymous said...

Dear Vanishing,

I ask you...what's so great about what you speak of? Old ladies in heavy make-up and tacky stores? Ummm, hello? This is not why I came to New Yawk City. I came for hot chicks, VIP premium bottle service and, well, hot chicks. The last thing I want to see after a Sunday rooftop slammin' DJ party is Grandma in a fur coat. Buzzzzzzkillllll. I heard the Upper East Side is so over and anyone who's anyone lives below 14th st. You may want to get out more and see what the city's all about:). Later Bro.

~Bryce Allen

James C. Taylor said...

Neil's is probably my all-time favorite coffee shop and egg cream destination for precisely the reasons you stated. I love it there. Unhip Manhattan is where it's at.

laura said...

thank you so much for this nice post. photo is timeless. i have written several comments over the years about upper lexington avenue (mid 60s to 95th). how old world & normal it is. except for the e.85- e.86th, it is almost chain free (& tourist free). once you walk past that 86st, youre back to civilization. carnegie hill is wonderful too, mid 90s. interesting to note, small private old business are still are around (the italian shoe man, 93rd) as well as new ones opening. (asian custom tailors, small boutiques, nice little markets). btw, the old madison avenue was similar to this. this may be one of the only manhattan neigborhoods left.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Yes - the older ladies have a lot of style & great posture! Walking around here is a slightly love/hate experience for me, but I like the sense of time warp, and the avenues have such fixed identities. Going from Lexington to Park to Madison - what a trip.

laura said...

& i thought i was the only "regular" here who likes the upper east side! it had appeared to me (by most comments) that downtown was hip, uptown straight& stuffy. nothing exists but ave c, dive bars, punk, porn, used clothing shops, nose rings, tattoos, & the 1990s. i know this is not the first UES feature. but i was surprised to read the positive responses about the area, especially from EVgrieve. way back, in the mid 60s or so, you were "uptown" or "downtown". "uptown" person (no not harlem), was a type. "downtown" was another. i went both ways, like being bi. (people were thrown off, except the gays). some folks judged me for it. like "you look like from from (god forbid) the upper east side" "where's your copy of womens wear daily"? well, in 1968 i lived on the "lower" east side. fun but time to move on. in 1970 i moved to the "upper"- & i loved it. but went further downtown to hang out. btw, there were like 4 coffee shops w/in one block of my apt. funny how we remember these things. like the menu's, i can recite the breakfast specials to this day.

Neil J Murphy said...

My heart jumped when I saw this post; I was afraid the shop was gone.

Glad to know it's still there, as I have a print of a photo I made of the sign from many years ago hanging in my kitchen, for obvious reasons.

Uncle Waltie said...

"There are also lots and lots of ancient white ladies toddling around, complaining about life, with their hands heavy with diamonds"

That's exactly what I'm looking for. Plus I speak french: J'ai un pénis énorme....

Marcel Albet Guinart said...

Nice place to take a coffe

khairul044 said...

Yes - the older ladies have a lot of style & great posture! Walking around here is a slightly love/hate experience for me, but I like the sense of time warp, and the avenues have such fixed identities. Going from Lexington to Park to Madison - what a trip.