Reader Everettsville writes in about his recent visit to the Lexington and 51st location of Barclay-Rex, part of the tobacconist business that's been around since 1910:
"They were having a two-for-one sale. Why, I asked? 'Last day in business...today' the guy said. When I asked why, the guy told me, 'the landlord didn't stop at just doubling the rent, he tripled it.' When I sarcastically promised the guys behind the counter that I wouldn't patronize the 7-11 or Fro-Yo joint that would take its place, they corrected me: 'No, it's gonna be a burger joint!'"
Barclay Rex has two other locations in town--one near Grand Central and another downtown on Broad St. The original was opened on Barclay (hence the first part of the name) in 1910 by Vincent Nastri, a pipe maker from Salerno, Italy, with his dog, a Great Dane called Rex (hence the second part of the name). The business is still run by Vincent Nastri (the Third).
The just-shuttered shop on Lexington opened in 1997 with a prime spot in the gorgeous General Electric Building, formerly the RCA Victor, a marvel of architecture festooned with radio waves that look like lightning bolts zig-zagging down the building's rosy granite face.
my flickr: 2009
The windows of the tobacconist shop, on the rare occasion that I passed by, attracted me with their displays of fedoras and walking sticks--and their view of walls covered with a mural that brought to mind the WPA works that celebrate the city's industry, or Edward Trumbull's murals in the Graybar Passage of Grand Central and in the Chrysler Building.
One New Year's Eve, a few years ago, I stopped to take a few photos, wondering if the art dated back to the 1930s. Turns out, the 36-foot mural in Barclay-Rex was commissioned from artist Mark di Vincenzo in 1997, no doubt to match the vintage of the building and conjure thoughts of the past.
Somehow, I doubt the deep-pocketed burger joint will keep it.
P.S. What if, instead of one those trendy new burger chains (Good Burger, Bare Burger, 5 Napkin Guys Burger, etc.), the great Prime Burger has chosen this spot to make a comeback? That might make it alright. But with a tripled rent, it does seem unlikely.