Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rocco Simulacrum

"A new Italian spot? You've been there before," writes the New York Times in their recent review of Carbone, the latest link in the Torrisi chain of restaurants, opening tomorrow in the space held by Rocco's from 1922 until 2011 when they were evicted by an impossible rent increase--from $8,000 to $18,000--and the popular Torrisi company quickly took over their lease.


Rocco, 2011


Carbone, photo the Times

The Times says Carbone "pays tribute" to the red-sauce joints of the 1950s "in a space that used to house Rocco, which specialized in that kind of fare for nearly a century. Just about every element — the menu, the music, the uniforms, the décor and even the servers’ banter with customers — will be engineered to conjure up the feeling of a lively night downtown, circa 1958."

Of course, Rocco's had all of this--and it was actually authentic, because on the day it closed it was still basically the same as it was in 1958. And for years before. It didn't have to "engineer" or "conjure up" any feeling. It was the thing itself. But the real thing, we see again and again, isn't good enough for this new city. The real must be evicted and replaced with an upscale simulacrum of itself. 


Rocco: photo Mitch Broder


Carbone, photo the Times

The Times article continues, "you might say it’s the middle of the last century as interpreted by chic players from the early part of this one: the contemporary art on the walls of the three rooms will be curated by Vito Schnabel, a son of the painter and film director Julian Schnabel, and the servers will wear vintage-style vests and tuxedos conceived by the designer Zac Posen."

(They also ripped out the authentic, antique tile floor and put in a new tile floor modeled on an idea of the authentic--in fact, modeled on a floor seen in the Godfather movie.)


Rocco, 2011


Carbone, photo the Times

Fedora, Minetta, Bill's Gay 90s--you, too! None of you were living up to your potential. On it goes in the authentrification machine. We are surrounded by facsimiles of the erased, and The Powers That Be keep telling us: This is real. The buzzy Orwellian doublethink turns everything around. Can the real be engineered? Can authenticity be conjured? More and more, we're living in an Epcot Center Jurassic Park of a city. For your safety, please keep your hands, arms, and legs inside the vehicle at all times.


Carbone homepage



Further Reading:
Rocco Ristorante
Rocco's Update
Torrisi on Rocco
Rocco's and Bill's
Red-Sauce Joints
Carboned

37 comments:

maximum bob said...

Anytime I hear the word "curated" I want to hurl.

Anonymous said...

I don't want "chic players" anywhere near my food.

Giovanni said...

ABSOLUTELY PERFECT STATEMENT! Thank you!
Even at my age (43) and born and raised here, I am STILL stunned with how far this has all gone with the raping of ANY authentic culture, community, atmosphere, and replaced by this incredibly over confident, self-assured "We know what's best" attitude from people who wouldn't know "real NYC" if it bit them in the ass.
The audacity is just mind-boggling.

Robert R said...

This is from the folks that gave us "Parm" and "Torrisi Italian Speciaties" in Little Italy (oops! I mean "Nolita"!) where 20-somethings pay $75 for "spaghetti di mare" at Torrisi or wait in line for the cheaper $25 chicken cacciatore next door at Parm. How hip and quaint to dine in places which simulate the original joints which used to exist right there.

Anonymous said...

keeping that sign (and ruining it) was the douchiest move of all.

Anonymous said...

Inauthenticity is the new authentic. The new New Yorkers with their unthinking zombie-like ways will eat it up.

This place sounds absolutely nauseating.

Shawn G. Chittle said...

It's like Elaine from Seinfeld said "Fake, fake, fake, fake!"

John K. Friedman said...

Thankfully Gene's has escaped this sad fate -- so far.

Mrs.D said...

maximum bob said...
Anytime I hear the word "curated" I want to hurl - I feel the same way and agree wholeheartedly

Marty Wombacher said...

"More and more, we're living in an Epcot Center Jurassic Park of a city."

Not me anymore and reading about things like this make me feel better about bailing out of New York.

Anonymous said...

I knew I could count on Jeremiah to critique this NYT article appropriately. The whole thing is an unspeakable outrage.

Anonymous said...

I am often at odds with this blog but think this observation is dead on: "The real must be evicted and replaced with an upscale simulacrum of itself."

This seems the project of 21st century capitalism, and it seems to relate to the dying of an economy which invites useful participation by most strata of society - the more we stare into the automated, polarized future of 1% capital, machines, and neutered consumers dependent on the state for living assistance, the fewer examples of authentic life we'll have.

I wouldn't have though Dystopia would take the form of an old neon sign butchered for the pleasure of the wealthy - at least Winston had that dumpy antiques store to hide in...

BabyDave said...

Anon. 10:29 -- You are right about the sign. It's a mockery.

Grand St. said...

I wonder if the Torrisi/Carbone gang had the decency to hire any of the old Rocco waitstaff to work in the simulacrum (and wear the Posen 'tuxedos').

laura said...

im not that upset, it looks like a beautiful place. if the old roccos couldnt pay the rent, they had to go. i would rather see this, which is still a small italian resturant, rather than a juicy cuture. i really liked roccos, i was a customer, it was affordable. possibly they can move to brooklyn? or maybe east harlem? as for anon 10:33, youre over reacting.

DrBOP said...

Seeing this happen ALL over the world.....but especially in larger cities. Smaller places avoid this because there isn't such a concentration of douchebag "more money than brains" swells (THERE'S an old-time NYC term for 'ya!)
(As an example of the scene in smaller places, check out Marty's meanwhilebackinpeoria.com bar and restaurant blog posts.)

In case you're interested, hit up the French philosophers/sociologists Beaudrillard or Foucault who figured this out decades ago by observing American culture in the 1960s; and how most of what they were seeing THEN was already a re-representation of what had existed earlier in the American Century.

Also, I'm half-Italian, and my pop had all these over-$50-spaghetti-joints figured out long ago......"Shysters and crooks!"

Anonymous said...

I am guessing all the commenters here were regulars at Roccos. Funny that, because it was almost always empty. Having eaten there myself a couple of times, I can tell you exactly why. But the quality of the food -- or total lack thereof -- is irrelevant. Old is good, new is not. A simple formula for this blog.

randall said...

@laura

It's one thing if the business just isn't there and you can't make your rent, it's an entirely other thing when your landlord jacks your rent to something that you can't make knowing it will force you out.

Anonymous said...

If old restaurants want to survive they will have to update their menus to keep up with the times. They can't stay vibrant and in business by only catering to an aging population that doesn't go out like they used to.

Anonymous said...

The sign is the final knife in the heart ...

Anonymous said...

Koch: upon presiding over the wholesale eviction of artists in lower Manhattan said ".. Let them move to the South Bronx". Bloomberg applied the finishing touches in plasticizing Manhattan-packaged for the rich, who only know how to buy authenticity , Manhattan even has a moat around it.
Brooklyn follows at a sure pace.

DrBOP said...

Yep, you're absolutely right Anon 9:54.....LOUSY food, and NOBODY there......SINCE NINETEEN-TWENT-TWO.....wottaDICK!!!
ONLY thing irrelevant about this blog is YOU!!!

DrBOP said...

Sorry J....typed before I thought....I know it won't appear, and that's a-ok......just got my dander up.....it's 'da yoots, I tell 'ya! :+)

And captcha is eNdGerm...:+))))

Lulamae Broadway said...

A genuine shame about an old joint closing, but I've gotta defend Torrisi & Parm. You can get take-out sandwiches that are affordable and the food is delicious. They're one of the only joints that make meatballs like my Calabrian grandmother, with a combo of beef, pork, and veal, not just a giant mound of cheap beef. And the cauliflower side is to die for.

Brendan said...

Somehow, I doubt that the old-school homage will extend to the prices.

Cedarglen said...

Thanks. Great reading fun and a nice introduction to a new (old?) eatery. With a post like this, I'm surprised that the *new* menu (with prices) was not included.

laura said...

randall, i know the rent was doubled. i liked the food & the place. perhaps they will relocate, as little italy is now nolita? the landlords know they can get the rents easily. too bad "J" didnt ask them what the future was.

laura said...

ok ok the tuxedo suits ruin it for me.

Anonymous said...

...I love this city like it's a person, can't even explain it.

Bob96 said...

Vito, Schnabel, Zac Posen, "house-dried" oregano, congratulating themselves for "rediscovering" the diner, and that year spent thinking about linguine vongole: if this isn't a satire of clueless pretension, it does a pretty good job of it. How long before the Torrisi brand morphs into the new Sbarro?

Jeff said...

Most of these restaurants are designed to be investments--they put a lot of money into it, and after they make it back, decide if they want to keep it open or go onto something new. The location will never get the Disney crowds of tourists, so I wonder if it'll be round long. But if the bastion had to go, I'm actually glad they kept the sign relatively intact. I hope the next place that comes in dies the same.

mch said...

Just back from a weekend in Brooklyn. Our son-in-law made us a beautiful dinner on Friday night, featuring lamb's breast with a pomegranate reduction sauce -- yeah, yeah, but it was really really delicious. So wonderful to enjoy fine food lovingly prepared.

Saturday night dinner and Sunday brunch we ate out out, and boy was it disappointing food. I mean, if people are going to go to so much trouble to do the kale-salad this and braised pork with something exotic that, all for a small fortune, would they please do it well?

As Craig Claiborne observed decades ago, just about any hotdog at the ballpark is a gourmet's delight. But now the city's restaurant and eatery scene is getting very strange, and self-defeating. Too much pseudo-gastronomic haute nonsense, too little attention to the basics, whether of haute cuisine or a good hotdog. I'm worried.

Anonymous said...

OK, it's been a while since I was last in NYC and am coming soon for a visit. Am mourning the loss of Prime Burger, a favorite old spot of mine. From reading this blog, I'm getting rather upset about all the mom&pop restaurants that are closing due to greedy landlords. Is there any place left that I may support? Any good joints to get a burger, a plate of pasta, some kosher pickles (Will Sarge's Deli reopen?), a grilled ham and cheese on rye???? Would like to hear thoughts on some places that are still hanging on.

Anonymous said...

Amen to THAT, brother!

Anonymous said...

The first day in my job at NYU a quarter century ago, everyone in my little office went to lunch at Rocco's and they all got drunk except for me. ah the old days! My boss was a delightful old denizen of the Village who ate every meal out because as she said " the only thing I know how to cook is ice cubes". She took me to lunch regularly all over the village, Rocco was a favorite along with Suzie's Chinese, Il Mulino back when it was still good, and stills real mafia hangout, and the restaurant on Laguardia with two names. She was a real old timer and the Village was still "the Village" back then...

Anonymous said...

All points well made, but can we all agree how ridiculous it is that Rocco's paid rent for NINETY YEARS and never bought the building?!?!

ShatteredMonocle said...

They also stole the name from a modest Hell's Kitchen joint near 9th ave, causing confusion and hilarity when hipsters walk in the place.