Thursday, May 29, 2014

Village People's New York

In the Village People's video for "YMCA," a few glimpses of the vanished city.

The piers, the Ramrod, and the original McBurney Y.

In 2000, the Y -- where the Village People said you could go when you’re short on your dough -- moved to 14th Street and the old building went up for sale.

Across from the Chelsea Hotel since 1904, it sold for $8.5 million, and then sold again in 2003 for $12.5 million. The upper floors of the were converted into large “ultraluxury” condos, while the lower floors were given over to the David Barton gym. In the Times, the new building owner said the gym would be a "one of a kind luxury spa." "They are planning a Turkish Room," he said, "with indoor waterfalls and eucalyptus scrubs done by men in sarongs, combined with afternoon tea."

In the Voice, Michael Musto wrote about the grand opening. He reported, “scantily clad guys and gals sported the motto ‘Look better naked’ in body glitter or on T-shirts, and five wackos dressed like the Village People pranced around a steamy stage as ‘YMCA’ boomed out of the sound system.”

If the YMCA video doesn't satisfy your Village People needs, their movie Can't Stop the Music is streaming on Netflix. It's a 1980 extravaganza of glitter, tight jeans, and Bruce Jenner. It includes a few scenes of the Village streets, mostly along Bleecker and Christopher.

In one longer scene, the whole band, along with Valerie Perrine and Jenner (in crop top) walk along Bleecker from 10th Street, past a rug store called La Chambre Perse (now 7 For All Mankind), a number of antiques shops, and one Joe's Hand Laundry. Today they have all replaced by luxury shopping mall chain stores.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Today, Grieve notes a real estate listing that appears to be the death of the great DeRobertis Pasticceria on First Avenue in the East Village.

When I asked the co-owner a few months ago if they were closing, he said "absolutely not." But who knows? We thought Manganaro's would stay when they sold their building and that did not happen. In these uncertain situations, it's best to go and enjoy the place while you can. DeRobertis is a treasure and it will be a tragedy if and when they vanish.

From an interview I did with the owner, Annie, back in 2007:

“People come in and tell me I don’t know how to make cappuccino," Annie said, incredulous. (She's only been making the beverage for 50 years.) "They tell me, 'Starbucks makes it this way.' I tell them, 'I’m here before Starbucks.' They want flavors. I tell them, 'I got flavors. You want a flavor? I’ll put it in.' Put it in? They look at me," with a look of disbelief. "Do these people really think the coffee bean grows in flavors? Like it comes in hazelnut and mint? These are people with college educations. But they want Starbucks. So I tell them, very nicely I say," with a wave of her hand, "So go to Starbucks.”

The East Village has enough Starbucks. We need DeRobertis.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jan Sun Laundry

Tom Birchard, owner of Veselka, sent in the news that Jan Sun Laundry on 17th Street and Irving Place is closing after 45 years in business.

Tom writes: "I moved to this street from the East Village eleven years ago and starting taking my shirts there. The gentleman who owns the business told me that when he immigrated here with his parents from Hong Kong the former residents of my brownstone took him under their wing and helped him acclimate to life in the US. They took him to the beach in the summer and helped him learn English. He eventually took over the laundry business and has been running it with his wife ever since. I know that New York is constantly changing but sometimes the loss of these neighborhood stores that make up the fabric of our daily lives really hurts. They will be gone at the end of the month."

I talked to the owner's wife. She told me they decided to retire, after so many years of laundering, to travel and spend time with grandchildren. She also told me about the wonderful sign in the window, which I've admired each time I've walked by.

The sign shows two men meeting on the street. One asks, "Sir, can you tell me where is the laundry that does good work?" And the other responds, "Why sure. Go to the Jan Sun Laundry. All work there is satisfactory."

The sign dates back to the 1940s, when it hung in the first Jan Sun over on Third Avenue. It came to the new place in the 1960s and has been here ever since, touched up to keep it fresh over the years.

I'll miss seeing that sign. Jan Sun is part of a quiet, almost untouched block of mom and pops--a barber shop, a shoe repair place, and a junk shop that recently closed. The lady at Jan Sun told me how the neighborhood has changed dramatically over the years, and how sad it's been to watch her old neighbors--all customers and friends--pass away.

"Now it's all young people," she said. "They're so busy, always on their phones, too busy to make friends."

Friday, May 23, 2014


Founded by a group of firefighters, Suspenders Bar & Restaurant opened on lower Broadway in the Financial District in 1988. Tonight is their last night.

photo: Midtown Lunch

Reader Kevin Corrigan wrote in with the news: "Before I even sat down, I heard one of the bartenders saying, 'Yeah, tomorrow might be the last day.' I ordered a Guinness and overheard a few other things like, 'Are you going to move to another location?' I heard a waitress say, 'It's just too emotional for me right now.'"

The Tribeca Trib reported the story earlier this month, writing that the pub's landlord, Capital Investments, refused to negotiate the lease or give an extension. June 1 was the closing date given, but I called the bar to confirm and tonight is the end for Suspenders. They'll stay open until midnight, as long as they get a crowd.

photo: Kevin Corrigan

After 9/11, Suspenders became a place for first responders to take a break, find community, and forget the pit for a little while. "We were firemen before we were restaurant owners," co-owner Bill Ahearn told the Tribeca Trib, explaining how the place stayed open through the post-9/11 days. The pub's website describes it as "a de facto emotional safe haven...forever rooting itself in New York City history."

So, in the same week that the 9/11 museum opens, with its gift shop filled with commemorative cheese plates of death, a place run by firefighters that served the neighborhood and the people who did the recovery work at Ground Zero just can't get a break in the new New York.

photo: Kevin Corrigan

The owners of Suspenders hope to find a new location in the neighborhood. Follow their Facebook page for updates.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fucking FroYo

Someone has started a Twitter feed and a Tumblr page called "Now It's a Fucking FroYo Place."

"Tracking New York's downfall," one froyo place at a time, the site puts together Google Streetview images of city locations before and after they were taken over by frozen yogurt shops.

"It was a photo shop," reads one entry, "and now it’s a fucking fro-yo place!" "It was a local bar," reads another, "and now it’s a fucking fro-yo place!" "It was a bodega...and now it’s a fucking fro-yo place!"

You get the gist. To quote from Manhattan, "It's pithy yet degenerate."

The lost places aren't all winners, but that's not the point. The point is that the streets of the city are being taken over by monoculture--chain stores, banks, condos--and the froyo place has come to exemplify a certain strain of this banality, one that is multiplying like a virus.

So here's to "Fucking FroYo," keep up the good work!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Olympic Diner & Jade Fountain

On Delancey and Essex, the Olympic diner has been in business for nearly 35 years. They'll be closing soon.

The mega-development known as Essex Crossing is coming, massive glass boxes filled with upscale retail, condos, a glitzy Warhol Museum, and some affordable housing.

From the website: "Essex Crossing will feature a compelling array of restaurant, retail, entertainment, and office space highlighted by The Market Line... a continuous three-block shopping experience."

Most of Essex Crossing will rise on parking lots, but here and there, some people and their businesses will need to be removed. The original Essex Market will be demolished, its vendors given a prime new space inside the development. (However, we hear the vendors' rents might go up, so who knows how that will actually shake out.)

The Olympic is also in the way. I asked if they were getting a new space inside the glass box to come and was told, simply, "No."

A young woman waiting for her order overheard this and chimed in, "That's not right. This is the best place to eat around here." It is a good place to eat. A regular old coffee shop, with cheap food and friendly service, it's one of a dying breed.

The Olympic has been on a month-to-month lease for some time. They're not sure when they'll close exactly. Maybe in July or August.

And we have to assume that, with this building coming down, we will also lose the neighboring Jade Fountain liquor store, locally famous for their sign that proclaims "AS OLD AS HILLS." How old? "Since 1920," according to the sign, "over 80 years old," which is most likely a vast exaggeration.

Jade Fountain is a gritty little spot, covered with graffiti inside and out.

There's a man who often stands outside, asking ingoing customers to buy him a half-pint of Georgi vodka, which he then quickly empties, tossing the empty bottle over the fence and into the parking lot next door. Piled up around the weedy ailanthus, among the litter of broken glass, are dozens of his bottles, a sort of accidental art installation. Sort of.

I tried to ask the Jade Fountain lady when they're closing or if they'll be getting a space inside Essex Crossing, but she only made an impatient sound through the Byzantine construction of bullet-proof Plexiglas and waved me away after I paid for my booze.

So we're left to guess that, like the Olympic, Jade Fountain won't have a place among the artisan bread and cupcake shops, the Prada and Pastis that fill the architect's renderings of the new shopping mall to come. When it's all done, Delancey will be a very different place.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mars & Micheline

With Mars Bar gone and vanished, replaced by the "Jupiter 21" luxury building and now a TD Bank, along with a new bar coming that will serve organic juices and quinoa, I've said what I had to say about its considerable significance in the neighborhood. On a more personal note, for me the place will also be indelibly linked to Beat poet Jack Micheline. He introduced me to it when I was young and still new to the East Village.

For what it's worth, I include here my journal entry about that night, my first time at Mars Bar--when I didn't even know the name of the place. It was exactly 20 years ago.

Jack at Mars, photo: Ellen Lynn

May 16, 1994

Last night I ran around the East Village with Jack Micheline. I met him up at Harris’ bookstore and we went out for coffee. We walked up and down the streets, stopping in bookshops and bars. He smoked Camels, unfiltered, one after the other, coughing and farting. We went into a bar somewhere around 1st Street.

We smoked and talked.
He told me about Franz Kline, “Larry” Ferlinghetti, Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, and an ex-girlfriend of his who was cruel and mean. Later he found out she’d been college roommates with the woman who shot Andy Warhol.

A song came on the jukebox by a woman Jack knows. Her band is called Nice Undies. He said he gave them a song he had written for Janis Joplin, but “Janis was into this heavy lesbian relationship at the time and it’s a real hetero song.” So Nice Undies got it.

Jack told me about the time he was "shit-drunk" with Bukowski. Jack pulled out a toilet plunger and kissed it. He said it blew Buk’s mind. Jack told him,
“If you can’t kiss a toilet plunger, then you can’t be a great poet.”

Jack at Mars, photo: Ellen Lynn

Later, alone, I retraced our steps back to Mars Bar (which I now thought was spelled "Marz" because of the way the name was painted on the side at the time) and eventually took friends to the place. I also spent more time with Jack.

In my journal I wrote:

"Jack came in and sat on my couch and chain-smoked Navy Cuts. The cockroaches were crawling on the walls. He'd just been to his art show with Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg. He told me more about his days with Janis Joplin, getting drunk with her. 'She was just a person,' he said, 'a regular person. She was a good kid.' He explained how uncomfortable she was offstage, with her low self-esteem, and about all her lovers. One woman, he told me, wrote a book called Going Down on Janis, which was all about what it says it's about and, according to Jack, 'terrible.' I lent him my harmonica for his show. He played a few tunes, then we went to Kiev."

my last drink at Mars Bar

In these journal entries and others, I was so young and excited to be in the East Village, hanging out with poets. There are all these scenes--being kissed by Allen Ginsberg, drinking beer at the Cedar Tavern with Anne Waldman, Ed Sanders, and Joanne Kyger (who amazed me by eating sugar straight from the packet with her fingertip).

There are all these meals (at Kiev and the Jones Diner) and drinks (at the Telephone Bar and back at Mars Bar again) and trips to bookshops like Tompkins Square Books and Harris Books (does anyone remember Harris Books on the second floor?).

Twenty years later, all those places are gone. The East Village is no longer a bohemian space. Mars Bar just opened as a TD Bank. Jack's gone, too. He died in 1998, alone on the BART train out of San Francisco. I never did get my harmonica back, but it doesn't matter.

The Loss of Mars
Blue & Cream on Mars
Before Mars Bar
Remembering Kiev

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mars Bar to TD Bank

This weekend, the East Village celebrated the Grand Opening of another TD Bank -- on the sacred ground that once held Mars Bar.

With free coffee and cookies, games to play and raffles to win, the energetic TD Bank people flanked the sidewalk in suits and ties, accompanied by a green-faced, wedge-shaped mascot who waved his mitts and thrust his pelvis in a delirious attempt to attract new recruits. It's all part of TD's aggressive expansion throughout the city.

"Win prizes!" the bank people called as East Villagers walked by, some of them stopping for cookies. "Take a chance! You know you want to!"

Inside, a bored-looking DJ in a TD Bank polo shirt played watered-down versions of 1980s punk and New Wave classics.

If you stand on the spot where the long wooden bar used to be -- at the front by the windows where the sunlight used to ooze in through smeared and graffiti-covered glass -- if you stand there, with your back against the ghost of the bar, and look out at what had been the Mars Bar view, you will be faced with a phalanx of ATMs.

Three clones in a row, extruded from some multinational design, with their bellies full of bills, like slot machines they wait for their buttons to be pressed.

No one is telling stories or cracking jokes. No one is slapping art on the walls. And the yeasty smell of beer has been replaced by new carpets, slowly off-gassing their volatile organic compounds.

Vivienne Gucwa, flickr

Friday, May 16, 2014

El Quijote

Updated post: A reliable source is letting us know we should go to El Quijote very soon. In the interest of protecting the source's source, I've been asked not to say more at this time, and to delete the details previously shared in this post.

All I've agreed to say is this: El Quijote has been in the Chelsea Hotel since 1930. It hasn't changed much since, and if you'd like to experience it as it's always been, go have a good, affordable meal while you still can. Changes are coming.

Update: My information has now been confirmed via Eater.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Times Square to East Village: 1986

In the summer of 1986, downtown videographer Nelson Sullivan filmed a group of drag queens on a walk from Times Square to the East Village. At some point, they run into RuPaul. And a shirtless guy in velvet pants with a large boombox on his shoulder.

The streets, compared to today's throng, are practically empty. Ice cream cones are had at the dearly missed Howard Johnson's.

RuPaul drifts down Avenue A in angel wings made of shredded paper, making a crunching noise in boots made of plastic grocery bags.

These are not your fresh and clean drag queens of today.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

7th and 2nd: 1981

This week, the Dirty Old 1970s New York City Facebook page posted a photo of a nondescript corner in the East Village. It's a simple image, but it has resonance and gravitas.

Sven Kierst, 1981

The photo was taken by Sven Kierst in 1981. There's a brick wall covered with battered posters, a beat-up American car, and a punk making a call at a pair of pay phones.

One reader identified the guy at the phones as Nick Marden, son of artist Brice Marden and Pauline Baez (sister of Joan), and member of The Stimulators. He was photographed in this same jacket by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1980.

The location has been identified as the northwest corner of 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, and it looks like it, with some structural changes. At the time, Love Saves the Day was still in a small space over on 8th Street. The shop owners made some alterations, but the corner maintained its offbeat character until the late 2000s.


The corner looks very different today.

The payphones were ripped out and covered over when Love Saves the Day shuttered after over 20 years here (the rent had tripled) and a sushi and ramen place moved in (quickly shuttered). A man used to check those payphones daily for change.


The barred windows and the arch have been bricked shut. A fence was added to keep the garbage penned in. The bricks sport a coat of clean red paint, and the only posters are for a pop-up shop from a luxury designer featured in Vogue ("You know her. The French girl with the just-rolled-out-of-bed, can’t-be-bothered look. She pulls on last night’s clothes—slouchy tee, gray jeans. Fingers through the hair, a touch of makeup, and she goes out. Yet she looks smashing").

All that's missing is a guy in flip-flops and backward baseball cap talking on an iPhone. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Shakespeare & Co.

Someday, sooner than I can stand, we won't quite remember what it feels like to enter a bookstore. To be in the presence of real books. The sweet papery aroma of it. The way your blood pressure pleasantly descends in that silent crowd. How the whole place holds you in its separate space, away from the world.

I went in to Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway to saturate myself with it before this one, too, is gone. As Grieve first reported, the bookshop has lost its lease. The rent has been hiked to an insane $50,000 or more.

I asked the cashier when they're closing. He wasn't sure, but figured it will be over by the end of June or the end of July. Who knows? "One day," he told me, "it'll just be gone. You'll come by and find a frozen yogurt shop here."

They're currently having a 20% off sale.

This bookstore always has the best displays, enticing tables of selections, helping you find your way to books you didn't know you wanted. They excel at titles on filmmaking and acting, and have many shelves loaded with plays. I love seeing those sherbet colored bindings on the little scripts.

Anyway, if you haven't yet, please go shove your Kindle up your ass.

Monday, May 12, 2014



A tipster writes in about the imminent closing of Plantworks on East 4th Street: "I talked to the owner who said after 40 years they will be losing their lease, and are closing. The rent has gone up from $15k to $34k a month."

Plantworks is being essentially kicked out. The shop will shut down May 31, with the outdoor garden center closing June 31. 

This may have been in the works for awhile, as Grieve reported back in 2012 when a For Lease sign appeared in the window. Plantworks has been in business since 1974.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Folsom East Returns

Good news. After being pushed off West 28th Street, thanks to the luxury High Line condo explosion, the Folsom Street East fair is returning June 22--and it will happen just one block south, on West 27th Street.

Organizer Dave Hughes told 1010 WINS, “We did community reach-out and talked to a lot of the businesses on 27th Street, and you know, a lot of the places we spoke to like the Hotel Americano were very encouraging, and so, you know, we decided to move.”

On the Folsom East site, coordinator Gary Martin says, "We're thrilled to bring Folsom Street East back to the streets of New York City. We believe that 27th Street will be a great new venue for our event and are confident that our final permit will be approved in light of Community Board 4's unanimous recommendation to SAPO earlier this month that it go forward."

So, happily, contrary to earlier reports, the High Line hyper-gentrification machine hasn't killed all the kink of Chelsea -- yet. While it lasts, get out there and enjoy the grit.

Folsom East and The Eagle
Folsom East Responds
Folsom Under High Line
Eagle Under Siege
Folsom Fights On

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Crafts on Columbus

For the past 34 years, a popular arts and crafts fair called Crafts on Columbus has thrived in a choice spot along Columbus Avenue between 77th and 81st Streets. For six weekends each year, white tents line Theodore Roosevelt Park. This coming weekend, however, is slated to be their last. Their permit expires this month and Community Board 7 denied a renewal.

Peter Salwen, artist and author of Upper West Side Story: A History and Guide, has started a petition to save the fair. It has over 1,450 signatures so far.

He calls the fair one of the great cultural features of the neighborhood. “In 1980,” he says, when the fair began, “the Upper West Side was a dangerous place. The fair contributed substantially to changing the area’s character. Now the artists are being attacked, as they were in SoHo and other parts of town, pushed out by the financiers.”

Peter Salwen's paintings

It’s unclear who exactly is responsible for the fair’s demise. Long-time fairgoer Pat Joseph says, “It’s just two crazy people on the Board with a lot of power. They want it gone for some strange reason. But who gets rid of something so good?”

It is difficult to make sense of it. In a city where so many cookie-cutter street fairs routinely commandeer the avenues, hawking the same tired wares in between mozzarepas and bouncy castles, Crafts on Columbus is a genteel operation. It’s the place to go when you need a gift for your Aunt Myrna, who loves a brooch made of antique wristwatch parts; or your mother, who looks fabulous in a hand-painted silk scarf; or your nephew, the newly minted psychotherapist, who needs art for his first office. Simply put, they’ve got nice Upper West Sidey stuff.

Opponents of the fair have argued that the vendors sell “junk,” but there are no two-for-one tube socks here, no t-shirts upon which Borat gives the thumbs-up and says “Sexy Time.”

Opponents claim that the fair overcrowds the sidewalk, but the entire length of it spans the backside of the Museum of Natural History, impeding not a single business nor residence. Meanwhile, Shake Shack across the avenue hosts a daily scrum of burger fanatics, jamming a residential sidewalk year round.

Opponents say the fair is noisy and that it hurts the businesses across Columbus. But the yuppies and white-haired ladies who peruse the handbags and cardamom-ginger soaps don’t make much of a peep. As for the businesses across the way, from the boutiques to the delis, they say the fair brings more customers into their stores (I asked them).

So what is this really about?

Simon Gaon with painting of a friend

Simon Gaon, artist, founder of the fair, and executive director of the American Arts and Crafts Alliance, blames local political maneuvering and a kind of Upper West cabal. “A few people over on 81st Street,” he says, “have ganged up with the farmer’s market.”

On Sundays year round, the 79th Street Greenmarket occupies this same desirable length of Columbus. On the six Sundays when Crafts on Columbus is here, the Greenmarket moves to a schoolyard on 77th Street. “They’re inconvenienced,” says Gaon. “That’s what this is about.” But Michael Hurwitz, director of the Greenmarket Program, told me: “Greenmarket has not been involved in any of the discussions concerning the Craft Fair permit.”

Since a greenmarket also brings crowding, noise, and commerce, this does seem to be an issue of changing tastes. When Community Board 7 wrote their resolution to deny the craft fair’s license (pdf), they clearly stated a preference for the Greenmarket, calling it “extremely popular with residents,” and citing its occasional displacement to a “smaller and less visible space” as the number one disadvantage of the fair.

Gaon has offered a compromise, proposing to cut the fair back from six weekends a year to just two, for Mother’s Day. “I thought that was a reasonable offer,” he says, “but the Community Board said the decision is final. They never gave us a hearing. We weren’t even invited to the meeting. They did this under the darkness of night.”

In 1979, when Gaon started planning the fair, he was a struggling artist. “I was second-generation welfare,” he says. “I didn’t go to college. I wasn’t articulate.” His therapist thought the fair could be a good way to make an independent living while helping other artists in the process. Three decades later, Gaon looks back and says, “This fair made me into a man. It gave me empowerment.”

When the fair shuts down after next weekend, a hundred artists and artisans—many of them local--will lose a place for making a living and finding empowerment in community. In our urban foodie culture, where buzzwords like “grass-fed beef” and “foraged greens” send fashion-conscious crowds clamoring for the next trend, farmers carry more cachet than artists.

Next May, instead of a nice hand-painted scarf, mothers across the Upper West Side will be getting handfuls of ramps.

But there's still hope:
  • Sign the petition here.
  • Tonight at 6:00, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal will put the craft fair's case before Community Board 7. Please attend--at the David Rubenstein Atrium, Broadway between West 62nd and West 63rd Streets.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dante Returns

After closing in January for an overhaul, Caffe Dante reopened last week. Thankfully, the re-do is not the total disaster that many of us worried about.

The old signage remains, outside and painted on the windows, and the coffees and desserts are unchanged. It hasn't gone "artisanal." The yellowed old prints of Italy still hang on the walls, if a bit spruced in new frames. Sinatra plays over the speakers, not that guy who yodels over and over and over again about how happy he is.

The feel of the place, however, is just not the same.

Gone are the wobbly little tables and chairs that gave the space a cluttered and inviting look. They've been replaced by larger, sturdier tables and long banquettes. The old-fashioned cafe curtains that hung in the windows are also gone, along with those choice window-bench seats that seemed always to be reserved.

Caffe Dante is still Caffe Dante, but it feels cooler, less comfy, not a place you can sink into, feeling held in its history. Maybe with time it will warm up again.

All in all, it could be worse.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sixth Ave. Panorama

I can't remember exactly when was the first time I saw Todd Webb's gorgeous photograph "6th Avenue Between 43rd and 44th Streets, New York, 1948," but it was years ago, maybe at MOMA, and I immediately fell in love with it. More than anything, I wanted to fall into it.

Now the photograph has been blown up nearly to life-size, and hung in the windows across the length of the International Center of Photography.

Stretching across several panels, the panorama reveals the entire west side length of the block from 66 years ago. It's incredibly crisp, showing every detail of the record shops, art supply stores, and bookstores, the light lunch joints and neon-sign restaurants. The second-story businesses specialize in typewriter repairs, a school for "talking picture operating," a Spanish-American billiard parlor.

Most of the people walking on the sidewalk are men, with only two or three women among them, and they're almost all in hats.

Gazing at it, the image feels like a window into the past, a fantasy disturbed only by the passersby of 2014, looking down into their phones, not paying attention to what's in front of them. If only you could step through the glass and into that lost world.