Thursday, February 27, 2014

Subway Inn

Recently, EV Grieve asked, "Should we start worrying about the Subway Inn?"

The Real Deal reported that the development firm World-Wide Group, owners of the Subway Inn's building, just made another big purchase on the block, adding 155 E. 60th to their growing parcel, which includes numbers 143 (home of Subway Inn), 145-147, 149, 151 and 153.

We wonder what it means. Surely, the global corporation plans to knock it all down and put up a giant glass sarcophagus in which to bury the soul of this block.

Gothamist asked the owner's son, who said, "We're not worried about it anytime soon. As far as we know, everything is good." However, "We're probably going to end up moving somewhere else pretty close in the area. But right now it's not a concern, so we're not looking right now."

I made a trip up to the beloved dive bar, on 60th Street near Lexington since 1937, where it still sports one of the most splendid neon signs in town.

The bartender I talked to had the same noncommittal response, saying, "We've been 'closing' for nine years now, but it hasn't happened yet." He had a Zen-like, living-in-the-moment attitude, just taking it easy, one day at a time. "We could close as early as a few months, or it could be years from now. You never know."

What does it mean? Nothing and everything. The short answer is: Yes, worry. But go while you can, have a few drinks, soak up the atmosphere. Tomorrow, it could be gone.

In 1997, New York magazine included the bar in their Best of New York, summing it up this way, "If someone lit up a cigar in here, it would be an old bald guy reading the Post, not some yuppie talking Dow after the final bell." 

At the right time of day nothing has really changed. While Friday nights bring in a loud party crowd (atomic wings!), and a few affluent locals "sneak in" now and then, the bar caters mostly to after-work folks--with the usual 6:00 rush, followed by an 11:00 rush when the restaurant workers pour in. In the daytime, though, you can still find an old bald guy reading the Post, but no cigar.

And the best time to go (if you like your dive bars quiet)? Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Last week we learned that the original Junior's in Brooklyn is selling its iconic and beloved two-story building to the developers of a high-rise luxury tower.

The Junior's building, with all of its flashy and fantastic classic details, will be demolished. During construction, the 64-year-old restaurant will relocate, and then they hope to move back in to the new tower's first floor--though there's no guarantee.

“The only thing for certain in life is death and taxes, right?” the broker told the Daily News. “It’s our objective to move back in.”

As the news spread, people across the city panicked, causing a run on Junior's cheesecake. “We literally had to cut cheesecakes quicker because people were buying them with a fervor...,” third-generation owner Alan Rosen told the Times. “People were under the impression we were closing, that we’re closing imminently. It was like a cheesecake panic.”

1958, photo via Brooklyn Historical Society

Junior's has been partially destroyed before. A fire swept through the building in 1981 (onlookers watching the firefighters shouted "Save the cheesecake!"). After the blaze, parts of the exterior were "modernized" and an enclosed sidewalk cafe was added, but much of the place remained the same. (Minus the second-floor Albee Square bowling alley, lost somewhere along the line.)

The restaurant stands on the corner of DeKalb and Flatbush like a proud ship, an analog clock mounted at its prow, flanked by the outlines of martini glasses. Golden lightbulbs flash the word COCKTAILS like champagne fizz. A scrim of steam fogs the bakery windows, providing a peek-a-boo curtain through which voyeurs gaze upon cheesecakes and impossibly oversized lemon meringue pies.

Inside it's all orange and gold, with curved banquettes and a U-shaped counter with swivel stools. Couples, families, friends, whole basketball teams crowd the tables, which are further crowded with piles of pickles, cole slaw, and beets, plus a platter of sweet, pliant cornbread--all before your order actually arrives. The waiters are experts at the art of packing an overloaded tabletop.

The sandwiches come stabbed with plastic cocktail swords (remember those?).

Framed on the walls it's the Dodgers, Barbra Streisand, Tony Danza, Eddie Murphy. Throughout the meal, ceiling speakers play Ella and Billie, Sinatra and Darin, the sort of music that doesn't force you out, but makes you stay, wanting only to linger over lunch, and then another cup of coffee, and then a slice of pie.

It's hard to imagine Junior's staying at all the same once it's swallowed up in a dead glass box. It's hard to imagine this warm, gentle feeling can be replicated inside a sterile luxury tower.

During a recent lunch, a woman sat at the table next to mine. On the other side of 50, with a Caribbean island accent, she was dining alone, unaccompanied by any electronic devices. We talked a bit about the coming demolition.

She said, "This city is changing too much. It's always changing, here and there, but now it's too much, too fast. I come back to Brooklyn--I used to live here, but I moved to Queens--and I get off the train, and everything is different. Everything! Usually, one thing or another is different, but now? My eyes, my brain..." She wiggled her fingers over her eyes, signifying confusion, disorientation. "It's Brooklyn, but I don't know where I am!"

When Junior's is gone, even if it "returns," it won't be the same. And Brooklyn will have lost another important landmark.

1. a prominent or conspicuous object on land that serves as a guide, especially to ships at sea or to travelers on a road.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Meatpacking 1985 & 2013

Local photographer Brian Rose is publishing a sort of follow-up to his wonderful book Time and Space on the Lower East Side. This time, he reveals the Meatpacking District before and after hyper-gentrification swept across the neighborhood.

In 1985, Brian photographed the streets of the Meatpacking District, a desolate and mysterious place. In 2013, he went back and photographed it again, recreating many of the shots for a fascinating "before and after" effect. Those stunning, full-color photos are now collected in Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 & 2013.

A self-publishing venture, the book needs your help--Brian has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication. Please give your support. Just $50 will get you a signed copy:

I got the opportunity the write the foreword for the book. Here's the first and last paragraph. To read the rest, well, you'll have to buy the book:


Monday, February 24, 2014

Jim's Shoe Repair

On East 59th Street since 1932, Jim's Shoe Repair is a fourth-generation business. But that's where their long and celebrated history comes to an end. Jim's is being pushed out.

I talked to Joe Rocco, whose grandfather Vito (called Jimmy) opened the shop 82 years ago. Before S.L. Green bought 625 Madison Avenue in 2004, it had been owned by the Ginsberg family for many years. This September, the Roccos' current 10-year lease will come to an end.

"My father went up to ask for an extension," Joe said. "S.L. Green told him no. They already made a deal with Walgreens. They didn't even tell us."

Walgreens plans to expand their giant Duane Reade next door into the cobbler's modest 12-foot-wide space. The Duane Reade already takes up 5,500 square feet, running through the entire block from 58th to 59th Streets. Why do they need 12 more feet of frontage?

The Duane Reade got a 15-year lease extension in 2008. At the time, an executive at Green said, "We're delighted that Duane Reade will continue its long-term tenancy with us." They should be delighted to have Jim's, a venerable New York City institution.

The shop still looks the way it did decades ago.

It has antique wooden "while-u-wait" booths, and people still sit inside, waiting for their shoes to be fixed. "Kids come in and think it's a choo-choo train," said Joe, but these are comfortable privacy booths, dating back to a time when people were modest about their stocking feet.

The original 1930s cash register is here, too, a gorgeous heirloom.

The shop enjoys a steady flow of faithful customers, including many well-heeled celebrities, movers, and shakers.

Just last year, Assemblyman Dan Quart presented the senior Mr. Rocco with a proclamation in honor of his family's long-time service. It states, “The longevity of this small business is a testament to the quality of its work and broad customer base."

In 1990, at a tough time for the city, Andy Rooney called Jim's a reason to love New York. "Let them knock New York," he wrote. "They don't know Jim's."

Maybe S.L. Green and the people at Walgreens don't know Jim's either. Maybe if they knew, they wouldn't push them out. 

Today, everyone who goes to Jim's signs the petition at the counter, under the banner that reads, "Help Us Preserve the Character of NYC." They've got over 2,000 signatures so far, collected in the hopes of holding on to even a fraction of the storefront, just so they can keep on fixing and shining shoes.

"People are heartbroken," said Joe Rocco of his customers. "They're ready to cry when they see we only have eight months left."

A group of lawyers are helping out. "This business is part of the heritage of this neighborhood," said William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer Storefront and counsel to Jim's. "Naturally, we are exploring all of our options--to ensure that this valuable part of our community is not lost.” Brewer continued, "We are grateful for the outpouring of community support, as people rally to defend a business that typifies the American Dream."

Joe's 24-year-old son works in the shop now, extending his great-grandfather's legacy into the fourth generation, a rarity in the city today.

The oldest business on the block, Jim's is a precious piece of New York's history, a holdout from a time when the streets were full of mom-and-pop businesses, when everybody knew everybody, and each neighborhood had a sense of place. At 625 Madison, they're surrounded by chain stores and global luxury brands.

"What's happening to the city is horrible," said Joe. "There's no character in the neighborhoods anymore. We're losing the history of the city. These places are like a time capsule. If you lose it all, who's going to remember?"

Post Script: In 2004, S.L. Green bought the building for $231.5 million, or $415/sf. Since then, the value has nearly doubled. In 2013, the ground lease sold to Ashkenazy Acquisition for $400 million, or $710/sf. "Before Ashkenazy pounced," reported the Post, "there was significant interest from major players, including institutions, real-estate investment trusts, sovereign wealth funds and high-net-worth families." The paper speculated that a super-luxury skyscraper could one day grow on the spot.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Uncle Charlie's Downtown

The following is a guest post by Charles Cosentino, who runs the Original Uncle Charlie's Downtown Facebook page:

Uncle Charlie's Downtown opened in the early 1980s in Greenwich Village, part of a popular chain of gay bars in New York City. Born at the same time as MTV, it was one of the first video bars, and soon earned a reputation as a place where nobody spoke, but just stood and watched, a so-called "S&M" bar, for Stand and Model.

During the AIDS crisis, Uncle Charlie's Downtown became one of the most popular gay bars of the 1980s with one of the busiest happy hours, packing them in with screenings of Dynasty Wednesdays & Golden Girl Saturdays. Maybe people needed something light during that time of tragedy.

Scandal hit when the bar's owner was charged with the 1986 stabbing murder of a 37-year-old man who had a relationship with his former 20-year-old lover. After a hung jury in 1988, and awaiting a re-trial, he sold everything and disappeared to Panama--until he was nabbed.

But the bar played on.

Taken over by a new owner, Gary Davenport, Uncle Charlie's was revamped and remained a popular hotspot throughout the late 1980's and 90's.

In 1997, Uncle Charlie's was forced to close its doors, ending an era in Greenwich Village gay history. The reason? A drop in customers as Chelsea was gaining popularity as the "new" destination for gay men, along with a 50 percent increase in rent.

Today, the Irish pub and restaurant Fiddlesticks occupies the legendary Uncle Charlie's Downtown space at 56 Greenwich Avenue. If you go inside you just might see a few familiar things and remember some good memories.

all photos via the Original Uncle Charlie's Downtown Facebook page

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Go Eat at Heidelberg

The Heidelberg restaurant, on 2nd Avenue between 85th and 86th Streets, has been a surviving piece of old German Yorkville since 1936. But they're struggling.

First they endured the construction of Georgica, a massive, 20-story, cantilevered condo tower that went up next door in 2008.

But it's the Second Avenue Subway construction project that has been killing them ever since it plunked a giant god-knows-what in front of the restaurant, completely blocking it from view and plunging it into shadow. The subway construction has been decimating small businesses all along the Upper East Side.

"Business has been down 40% since the construction started," said a waiter. "If we didn't own the building, we'd be gone by now. People drive by and they can't see us. They call all the time and ask if we're closed. We just have to hold out a few more years. I hope we can make it."

A note comes with the bill that reads, "During these difficult times with the Second Avenue Subway construction, economic condition, and rising costs," Heidelberg would greatly appreciate if you could help out by paying the bill or gratuity in cash.

Please help Heidelberg by visiting for lunch or dinner, preferably with cash in hand. Bring your friends. Go for birthdays and anniversaries. You'll find them hidden away behind a giant, ugly bunch of Second Avenue Subway paraphernalia.

Enjoy the wurst!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Divino Ristorante


Divino Ristorante, on 2nd Avenue near 81st Street, has closed after 37 years in business.

The Italian restaurant was opened around 1977 by Mario Balducci and Antonio Bongioanni, who came to America from Northern Italy four years earlier. The restaurant did well and became a local favorite. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a regular; he and his wife enjoyed the romantic Italian ambiance (though the neighbors did not care for the helicopters and snipers that came with him).

After Mr. Bongioanni died in 2007, Mr. Balducci continued to run the restaurant, telling a videographer, "I've been here for 32 years...and I hope to stay here another 32." But sometime in the past month, that hope apparently passed away, too.

I asked the locksmith next door what happened. He said, "One day, they just closed their doors and were gone. That's it." The sign in Divino's window reads, "Because of special circumstances and after 37 years in business, we decided to close."

The locksmith added, "Someone's trying to buy up the whole block. They're buying all the buildings so they can knock them down and put up a high-rise. They're not gonna get us, though."

The eastern block between 80th and 81st Streets is a collection of tenement-style buildings, none over five stories tall, including a narrow sliver of a two-story building with a curious pitched roof. If they all go, then it's goodbye to Pig Heaven, too, a favorite Chinese restaurant since 1984.

(Local reader C.K. has heard the rumors, too, writing in: "The corner buildings on East 80th are being slowly emptied out of tenants above.")

The locksmith then pointed north, "Someone's buying up that block, too. Same thing. Knocking it all down for a new high-rise building."

That block is the same, all low-rise tenements filled with small businesses--including the famous comedy club Comic Strip Live, opened in 1975. But many of those businesses are already shuttered, with For Lease signs on the fronts.

"At this rate, there's not going to be anything of the neighborhood," I said to the locksmith.

"That's right."

*Update: Reader C.K. lets us know that a "for lease" sign has gone up on Divino's. Icon Property Management has the listing, with the space going for $27,000 per month. Is Icon the developer buying up the block?

Friday, February 14, 2014



Bad news for one of the last record shops in the East Village. In a Wall Street Journal piece today on St. Mark's Place, Richard Morgan notes:

"Sounds, the last of once-many record shops on the strip, recently limited its business days to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, said Felicia De Chabris, an associate broker with Halstead Property. She said Sounds' space went on the rental market this month, with its first showings this week."

Let's hope the Grassroots Tavern down below isn't going anywhere.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sally's Show

We first met artist and activist Sally Young back in 2007, when she was selling t-shirts about the destruction of the East Village. Later, she helped lead the fight to save 35 Cooper Square--demolished now, its land awaiting a college dormitory.

Currently, Sally has a show of paintings up at the Ottendorfer Library in the East Village.

Visit her website to see her work. She writes:

"My work is about the landscape of cities and how I see this landscape. Lower Manhattan, where I've lived and experienced its ever changing landscape for the last 32 years, is the subject of my current series of paintings. They are topographical maps with buildings, water-towers, tipping their perspective from looking up, or down, as if onto rooftops, fire-escape ladders rising to the top or descending below ground to areas that are below sea level. Exposed stairwells are reminiscent of partially demolished buildings in the LES during the 1980's that exposed the skeleton of the building via stairwell and rooms.

I am a historian of buildings on the Lower-East-Side and the people who lived in them, particularly those of the Bowery. This may not be evident in my paintings which are very ephemeral, but play a large part in the unseen knowledge of the area that I draw my images from. My project is my vision of my neighborhood, as I paint it, as I see it via real images, dreams, memories, and transitions into the future."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Birdbath #9

That was fast.

Nicky's magazine shop, containing the remnants of the beloved Nikos magazine shop, on 6th Ave and 11th, just shuttered last month. It already has a high-profile new tenant.

The City Bakery's Birdbath is moving in.

This will be the ninth Birdbath in town (not including the carts on the High Line). Says Birdbath, "The bakeries are built from recycled, found, vintage, and sustainable materials. Birdbath is wind-powered, and the food is delivered from our main kitchen in bicycle-powered rickshaws. We give discounts to any customer who arrives by bike."

So virtuous, how can anyone possibly complain? But I'd rather have the old magazine shop. (Counting the seconds before someone says, "It's better than a bank.")

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Picture Collection

The Mid-Manhattan Library, long neglected, has seen better days. Due to be closed and devoured by the Main Branch, it won't be around much longer (assuming the NYPL's plan goes forward). While there's still time, go hang out with the Picture Collection. Located on the third floor, the collection contains over a million "original prints, photographs, posters, postcards and illustrations from books, magazines and newspapers, classified into 12,000 subject headings."

One of those subject headings is New York City, spread across several folders, and organized by neighborhood, decade, and themes. You can sit and sift through this treasure trove to your heart's content. Totally unfussy, they let you take digital photos of as much as you want. It's a very hands-on, user-friendly experience.

With so many images from the lost city, you can really go crazy in this place.

Anything might suddenly appear. Here's just a few. Above, in the upper right, two East Village shots, plus a Nedick's, and more.

Below, a couple caught embracing, like dancers, on the corner of St. Mark's Place and Third Avenue. There's the vanished St. Mark's Pizza, and something called "Jack the Ribber."

East Villagers sucking on popsicles and playing guitar while--is that a corpse, or someone with dirty feet napping atop a car?

Commentary from the 1960s and 1980s on real-estate development east and west.

The original (?) Pink Pussycat.

The long-lost corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, back when it was still the Deuce.

And then there's Edna Thayer, singing waitress at the Automat, 1972.

Known as "The Automat Gal," Edna got a brief write-up in Oregon's Eugene Register-Guard, in a 1973 story about aged vaudevillians. She sang for Automat customers every Monday morning. She'd been in show business for 64 years, starting at the age of 3. She said, "I've lived in the Times Square area for 37 years, but, oh, how it's changed."

If I could go back in time, I'd sit all morning in that Automat and listen to old Edna belt them out.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Clover to Wines

Back in November, based on a tip, I incorrectly reported that the long-shuttered Clover Barber Shop in Park Slope was up for rent. Now it looks like the news is coming true--and the old Clover has a tenant.

The same tipster sends in the following photos, showing the Clover clearly with a liquor license application notice taped to its gate.

The notice indicates that an LLC called 382 Wines has applied for an off-premises liquor store license for this address. That likely means a wine shop.

382 Wines is the LLC of Big Nose Full Body, located at 382 7th Avenue, across the street from the Clover. Maybe the wine store is moving, but I'm going to bet it's expanding. The owners, Aaron and Gillian Hans, also run the wine bar Brook-vin, which is also on the same block as Big Nose and the Clover space.

Do three outposts make a mini wine empire--all on 7th Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets? Either way, it'll be tastings instead of trims.

And, unless they're calling the new place the Clover Barber Shop Wine Store, the wonderful old sign--with its scissor- and comb-shaped letter A's--is sure to vanish.

Read more on the Clover and its barber, Mr. Riccardelli, here and here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cedar Tavern Art

The Cedar Tavern is getting its own art show. Or, more accurately, the phone booth of the Cedar Tavern is getting its own art show, now that the bar has been completely erased--torn down, condofied, its space turned into a European body waxing center (a grotesque fact that one writer has celebrated).

The Cedar Tavern Phone Booth show opens April 12 at Westbeth.

From the press release:

The phone booth at the Cedar Tavern was the only part of the original bar that survived the move from the bar’s earlier location at 24 University Place to its location at 82 University Place. Therefore, the phone booth was truly a witness when Jackson Pollock ripped the bathroom door off its hinges and threw it at Franz Kline, or when Kerouac was thrown out for urinating in an ashtray. The phone booth witnessed Robert Motherwell’s weekly salon, and the literary and art discussions of Leroi and Hetty Jones, Allen Ginsberg, Grace Hartigan, D.A. Pennebaker and Bob Dylan. Later, it witnessed the bar becoming a hangout for New York actors, writers, and musicians like Herbert Hunke, F. Murray Abraham, Matt Dillon, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Winona Ryder, and even Brad Pitt.

When the bar decided to get rid of the phone booth, Megan Karlen, a Cedar Tavern waitress and painter, arranged its movement to John Carruthers’ Catskills cabin. The double punch of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy damaged the booth beyond repair. It was then disassembled, and the parts given to artists to create pieces based on the Cedar Tavern, and New York City during its beatnik and Abstract Expressionist heyday. We are pleased to have such a perfect setting as the Westbeth Gallery because of its own longstanding role of supporting artists in New York City.

Curated by John Carruthers and Gywnne Duncan, the show will include paintings, prints, watercolors, and mixed media works. The show will feature 18 artists and have a room set aside for the phone booth inspired pieces as well other current work by the artists. Inspired by the group shows we curated in the 90’s, we contacted many of the same artists and are joining back together in a show about the New York art scene in the ’90’s. Throughout the last decade, many galleries and music venues have been shut down as real estate gobbles up the old neighborhoods. Witness is about being there, participating, and rendering the world around us while connecting with our community of artists. We are keeping the spark alive with new images of urban landscapes, portraits, and dream imagery.

The artists are- John Carruthers, Danielle Charette, Marianne DeAngelis, Brian Delacey, Gwynne Duncan, Kirsten Flaherty, Wes Freed, Daniel Genova, Peter Gorfain, Jenny Shannon Harkins, Shirin Kazemi, Megan Karlen, Hamish Kilgour, David Lantow, Glynnis MacNicol, Mary Pinto,Rick Prol, Chris Syrett, HeideTrepanier, and Julie Wolf.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Roy Colmer

Roy Colmer, the photographer who captured more than 3,000 New York doors in the mid-1970s, passed away on January 24. His wife, Claudia, says that he'd been in poor health for months.

Last year, I talked with Roy about his doors, a sweeping collection that gives you the real sense of walking through the city on an average day, at a brisk pace, just trying to get somewhere. The doors are not special, not set up to be admired, in some ways barely noticed. They just are.

from Doors of New York

As Roy explained, "I was not concerned with the particular street, historic or architectural importance of the door." He was also not interested in creating anything that wasn't simply there.

"In the mid-1970s," he said, "no one noticed when I was photographing on the street. This gave me a great sense of freedom. I did not wish tension or drama to appear in the project."

New York City, 1984 - 1986

Beyond the doors, Roy also photographed the movie houses and the street life of New York City. In 1988, he received a Guggenheim for this work. Some of his New York photos are in the MOMA collection. A handful were collected in a slim volume called New York City, 1984 - 1986.

While Printed Matter has put out a number of small books of his work, there has been no major Roy Colmer collection published. I'd say it's about time.

Inside New York City, 1984 - 1986