Monday, September 10, 2012

Rocco's & Bill's

Recently, New York magazine featured a story about the Torrisi restaurant team going "old-school." In the photo, the entrepreneurs smile and toast their new endeavor, "Carbone," under the stripped neon sign of vanished Rocco Restaurant.

New York

For those with short memories, the 89-year-old Village restaurant was pushed out last year, even though business was thriving, when the landlord took an offer he could not refuse. Torrisi signed a lease, with a massively hiked rent, before third-generation owner Antonio Da Silva knew what hit him. He fought and lost.

As one commenter says at the online article: "How can you write that they are paying tribute to the 'vanishing relics' when they are the reason one of the real relics (Roccos) vanished? I am very close with the former owner, and they were pushed out only to be replicated and paid homage to? I find it to be so distasteful."

On the next page of the magazine, there's a featurette entitled "History Buffs," about how trendy, monied restaurateurs "seem to be in a race to acquire New York’s oldest, most storied properties."

They write about the Beatrice Inn, which was already Vongerichtified years ago, and about the recent tragedy of Bill's Gay 90s.

Bill's landlord denied a new lease to the 88-year-old business, and handed it over to John DeLucie, who hoped to obtain the wonderful interior details. But owner Barbara Bart was smarter, and she took the memorabilia with her--after a fight with the landlord who wanted it all for his new tenant. As New York wrote, "When chef-restaurateur John DeLucie took the space, he kept part of the prior tenant’s name, but was less successful hanging on to all the furnishings and artifacts that gave the place its character."

Minetta before and after (you can't get in)

We've been watching this trend for a few years now--the "race" to snatch the city's classic places and claim them for the new guard. We witnessed the battle for Fedora ("fauxstalgia joints are tres chic these days," said Grub Street) and the cleansing of Minetta's (much of the city has become "like a theme park of the past, as these restored standards offer a vision of a lost bohemian New York--albeit with a well-heeled clientele and prices to match" said the Times), the "preservation" of CBGB, and much more.

It's bad enough that we lose our classics through death by natural causes, but now they're being hunted. And the hunters want trophies, heads stuffed and mounted in artful poses. When the hunters come for our next favorite place, while they do the killing, while they taxidermy the bodies, they will tell us that they're saving the city. They will tell us that if it weren't for them, we'd have nothing left to remind us of what used to be. They will tell us we should be grateful.

You know what would make me really grateful? If our classic businesses were protected by the city with rent-controlled leases. And if the torch must be passed, let it be passed to people who honestly care about preserving the true character of these places, not for the well-heeled newcomers, but for the regulars.

That would make me grateful.

Bill's Gay 90s


Anonymous said...

For me personally the sale and 'reworking' of Minetta's is the most heartbreaking. We would have dinner there maybe once a month. It was a go-to place for us because of what it was, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the way it was. Now? Since the new management has taken over, I think I've been in there a total of three times. It really feels like it has been snatched away with the statement of 'you don't like it now? Too bad!' Unless I'm in a situation where I'm invited by a friend or something to go there, I don't think I'll be making any decisions of my own to go there. Just like New York itself, it's over.

Anonymous said...

As long as landlords continue to hike rent to exorbitant prices this will continue to happen. It sucks that these places pay a poor homage to the former restaurants but shouldn't the blame be more on the greedy landlords?

Jeremiah Moss said...

absolutely, the landlords are to blame. in many cases, the landlords are new, as well--not the long-term landlords that were always there.

but i believe, too, that in many of these situations, the landlord does not advertise "space for rent." the entrepreneurs sniff them out, come around, and make offers. "Hey, I see this guy's lease is up next year. I'll pay you triple the rent if you give me an exclusive."

you know that's happening.

79rigid said...

I don't care if "that's just business."It's lame and immoral.Have a good sleep,or a good look in the mirror.

Ken Mac said...

Most of the classic places remain only because the proprietor also owns the building. Such as Cafe Reggio: the cafe owner owns the building and has no intent of ever selling, but as he ages, and as NYU continues to devour the Village, anything can happen.

Marty Wombacher said...

The really sad thing about Bill's is that Barbara offered to match whatever DeLucie was going to pay in rent and the landlord still threw her out, I've heard because the landlord thinks DeLucie will bring in "bold faced names." If there's any karma, the new Bill's will tank.

Anonymous said...

This welfare that you speak of is why this economy is a disgrace

You think that giving subsidized breaks to everyone but business is a smart way to build this city ???

Ms. said...

"Faux pas" refers to an error...In French, "faux" is employed literally to describe a physical loss of balance as well as a figurative loss of what was once in balance.

You can't make a velvet purse out of pigskin, and there's no silver in our silver coins, nor copper in pennies. Faux everything is simply modern design, as transparent as the glass facades of so many new buildings. I speculate the next step will be metal trees, so there won't be any messy organic material falling in Fall, nor roots to break the concrete confines of perfectly formed tree wells, nor noisy birds with their songs. Won't that be nice?

autherentificate this said...

Another prime example of autherentification.

BabyDave said...

Re: "Hey, I see this guy's lease is up next year. I'll pay you triple the rent if you give me an exclusive." That's pretty much how Milano's changed hands four or five years ago. Not such a drastic change of ambiance, though, just a friendly, decent owner kicked out of a longstanding establishment.

Pat said...

Trophies... yes... the image that comes to mind is that of a "canned hunt" which does not require any courage or sportsmanship whatsoever. All you need is the almighty dollar.

Anonymous said...

Quit bitching. It's capitalism. Nothing lasts forever.

EFB said...

Thank you for the article. When I first came to New York, I was charmed by all of New York's francophile bistros and restaurants. Eventually I became annoyed by them as the food offered was mostly lackluster and as they seemed to increase in numbers they made New York feel like an imitator not worldy. Now as you described these psuedo "old school" establishments only make New York feel even more inauthentic. I guess that's what you get in Epcot center. Inauthentic is how I would describe New York today. Everything new seems to be an imitation of something somewhere else.

Joe Blow said...

I guess there is still Monte's... and Villa Mosconi...

I've gone to Mosconi a few times... haven't been to Rooco's in years..

The Big Redhead said...

Quit bitching it's capitalism? Like that's an excuse? It's also called unbridled greed, capitalism's oh-so-ever present dark side. And a very unfortunate one at that. Just because someone has a lot of money doesn't give that person the right to sweep in a manipulate an entire market. But, yes, I'm one of those "regulation" people who believe in actually *planning* a community instead of "letting the market decide". Cuz the market has no conscience and no eye toward the future. Nor an interest in the personal needs of the people it is supposed to actually serve.

Crazy Eddie said...

“Quit bitching. It's capitalism. Nothing lasts forever.” Yeah like Penn Station, Grand Central Station should have been wiped out and replaced with a soulless, pseudo International style 6th Ave type glass office horror. This is the post 9/11 DB mentality that now runs this city. God help us all.

Little Earthquake said...

"Quit bitching. It's capitalism. Nothing lasts forever."

I love capitalism and think it's important that people have options. But by that same token neighborhoods are smart to protect their interests. There's nothing anti-capitalist about that. It's human nature to form small clans and "circle the wagons" against other clans if that aids survival. In other words, quit bitching - it's tribalism.

I'm not a fan of rent control per se, but again, if it's used to protect one group's interests and assets - by all means it should do so. The bottom line is that people don't usually "rig the system" because of some pure, altruistic motive. They do it out of self interest, the same kind that motivates some douchebag landlord to jack the rent and bring in a 7-11.

And I know what author you're going to peg me a fan of. Which I've never read. I just am an observer of the "ugly truths" behind human nature, evolution, and the sexual marketplace.

LuLu said...

The demise of the old and beloved restaurants can be credited to progress, capitalism, the changing of the old guard...any label you want to hang on it. It boils down to The "Vampirization" of a business. The old places all had one important key the upstarts needed, a host, a location. These diasppearing icons were markers to remind us of what NYC is....or should I say was? Personally, I will mourn the loss.