When the popular and still-expanding Torrisi restaurant venture took over the Thompson Street space occupied for 89 years by Rocco Ristorante, after a massive rent hike, we heard that the owner of Rocco's would be taking his great uncle's antique neon sign with him, along with the hope of moving it to a new space nearby. It had, after all, been casting its warm glow over the street since 1934.
But that plan would not come to pass.
The Observer later reported: "Rocco’s owner threatened to take the landlord to court, and the classic neon red ROCCO sign with him... One thing about the Torrrisi boys’ growth into the old Rocco space is certain, however: They are definitely keeping the sign."
The new restaurant is called Carbone, after one of the Torrisi team members, and now the name has officially been added to the property--superimposed over Rocco Stanziano's.
the new old sign today (thanks to Frank for the pics)
The old neon tubes have been stripped out, the once-crooked WINES - LIQUORS has been rehabbed and straightened, and like an awkward tattoo cover up, in hot-pink neon the name CARBONE will soon be blazing across the belly of Rocco's rusted hulk.
Again and again, in recent years, we've seen a trend where fashionable restaurateurs rehab the neon signs of classic joints when they take over and keep the existing name, i.e., the Beatrice Inn, the Minetta Tavern, Fedora.
In this case, we've got a hybrid, a new name on a classic sign, the new topping the old, keeping the souvenir of the past maintained for--what? A melancholy homage to the lost? Or cool cachet? Either way, it's a memento mori--a reminder that this, too, shall pass.
*Update: Grub Street follows up this post and asks some important questions: "So what does it mean, if anything, that the 'once-crooked' neon sign is hanging again with a new name on Thompson Street? Does New York have a nostalgia problem? As time goes on, more old, well-loved restaurants will certainly close and reopen as 'fashionable' spots, but if the new owners are essentially food-history geeks who are invested in tradition, does that make them tomb-raiders of New York City's restaurant history, really, or just keepers of the old-school flame? In other words, is the new sign cool or not?"
Torrisi on Rocco
Rocco's and Bill's