Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Rudy's Replacement

As you know, Rudy's Music Stop closed this year, another casualty along dead and dying West 48th Street's Music Row.

Here's what replaced it:




Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Frankie & Johnnie's

After 89 years, Frankie & Johnnie’s steakhouse has closed -- and is moving not far from its origins.

Florence Fabricant noted in the Times last week:

"The steakhouse that started as a speakeasy in 1926 is moving a block from West 45th Street, where its building is being put to another use. The last day of service there will be Saturday [12/26], and the new location, once B. Smith’s, will open in early January: 320 West 46th Street, 212-997-9494, frankieandjohnnies.com."



I tried a few times, but never got to eat in this place. For a detailed report, see Brooks of Sheffield's 2012 piece in Eater, where he notes:

"Despite having dodged the wrecking ball, the owners of Frankie's nonetheless found a way to wreck the joint themselves. Soon after being saved, they ripped out the old hidden bar upstairs—a wonderful, ramshackle little getaway if you knew how to find it, where Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lanskey once drank alongside John O'Hara and Frank Sinatra, and Jason Robards Jr. pilloried Richard Nixon to his face. They then installed a faceless, blah bar on the ground floor, and scrubbed up and widened the entrance to the old staircase that winds it way up to the tidy, second-floor dining area.

These renovations were mistakes, and noticeably decreased the seedy charm of the place. Still, Frankie & Johnnie's retains more charm than most. Tucked away 15 feet above Eighth Avenue, its small windows shaded, it still feels like a speakeasy, the most Runyonesque of Times Square eateries. The bill of fare remains avowedly old school."

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Vanishings

At the end of each year, since 2007, I offer a list of places that vanished during the year. These are the ones I covered on the blog, but there were many more. Please add those not included here in the comments. Click the highlighted name to go to the post for more info. And for previous years' vanishings, just scroll down to the bottom.


Avignone Chemist
Since 1832. Killed by its new landlord, a hedge fund that tripled the rent.

The Unicorn
Just 21 years old. Another piece of gay Chelsea gone. Rent increase.

La Parisienne
Since 1950. Cause of death unknown.

Winnie's
28 years in Chinatown, beloved by gangsters and karaoke kids alike. Could not get a new lease from the landlord.

Moran's
Since 1957. Building sold, a new restaurant took over the space.

Caffe Dante
100 years old. Sold by the owners.



Penn Books
Since 1962.

Eagle Provisions
Over 75 years old. Owners opted to close in a neighborhood where they no longer fit.

Louis Shoe Rebuilders
On the site of the Empire State Building before the Empire State Building was even built, the shop had been here since 1921. After 94 years, the landlord did not renew the lease.



Rudy's Music Stop of 48th Street
Music Row is dead and dying.

Tribeca Cinemas
Since 1996. Building sold for development.

Charlie Mom
Since 1983. Death by rent hike.

The Palm Restaurant
90 years old--and gorgeous. The owners sold the building. The cartoon murals were destroyed.



Cafe Borgia II
Since 1975. Lost their lease.

Market Diner
Since 1962. Sold to the Moinian Group development corporation, closed for demolition and a new luxury tower.

La Taza de Oro
68 years old. Forced to close by the city due to bricks falling from neighboring building. After several months of losing income, the owners decided they could not reopen.

La Lunchonette
28 years old. Closing New Year's Eve. The landlord sold the building for more High Line development.




Previous Years' Vanishings:
2007
2008
2009: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
2010
2011: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
2012
2013
2014

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bickle Hawk

This is the mohawk wig that Robert DeNiro wore to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.



If you want to commune with it "in person," you can find it at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cafe Edison: 1 Year Later

One year ago this week, after a mighty fight to save its life, the great Cafe Edison closed its doors. The Polish Tearoom, as it was lovingly known by its many fans on and off Broadway, had been in the Hotel Edison since 1980.



Last winter, the new owner of the hotel denied a lease renewal to Cafe Edison, despite passionate pleas from the Broadway community, magicians, local politicians--including Mayor Bill de Blasio--and thousands of fans who made our case via national and international news.

While the hotel owners originally claimed they would replace Cafe Edison with a "white-tablecloth" restaurant and a "name chef," they recently announced that a local mini-chain called Friedman's Lunch would be going in. "Just like the Cafe Edison," reported the Daily News in September, "the new restaurant is not some flashy, white-tablecloth type space... It’s a modest, family business." The real-estate broker on the deal told the paper, “It’s old-school, hearty good food. We must have gotten 50 offers but the landlord didn’t want big chains or celebrity chefs. They wanted something warm. This is going to be everything the Edison Cafe was--just a few decades later."

But Friedman's is not "just like" the Cafe Edison and it won't be "everything the Cafe Edison was."

While it might try to sound like one, Friedman's is not a family name, in case you thought it might be. Remarkably, according to DNAInfo, "The restaurant's name is a tribute to free-market economist Milton Friedman." Could anything be more apropos in this city destroyed by neoliberalization?

For your holiday listening pleasure, here's the Milton Friedman choir sharing the man's definition of a corporation:


via okieblog

Anyway, needless to say, many of us who fought like hell to save this truly authentic piece of New York feel betrayed by this news.


Conrad Strohl & NBC News: photo by Barbara Nassberg -- see the video here

I reached out yesterday to Cafe Edison family member Jordan Strohl. When we last heard from the Strohls, they were busy looking for a new location for the coffee shop. Jordan told me:

"It’s hard to fathom that it’s been a year to the day that the longest show on Broadway went dark. This is certainly not the outcome that my family and I wanted. It is a sad day for my family. I try to think about all the wonderful memories, customers, and stories that we had as our home remains dark! The business was a wonderful success story and spoke volumes about what my family stands for and who we are."

"In the past year we have looked at many places with an open mind and, unfortunately, nothing has panned out. As a result, we have turned our attention to finding a way to make some of our products available for customers. We have been actively engaged in working on our product line and believe there is a market for our food. Hopefully, we will have more announcements about that very soon."

"As for the recent news on Friedman’s taking the space, I hope it is an epic failure!"


Jackie Hoffman: Photo by Jennifer Leonard

The Strohl family continues to look for a new space where the Cafe Edison can rise again, bringing people together over authentic New York comfort food.

If you know of a place, or have any leads, please leave the information in the comments section here, or write to me directly at jeremoss at yahoo dot com. 

The fight to save Cafe Edison continues.



Previously:
News breaks about Cafe Edison's forced closure
Over 600 supporters come to our first of many Lunch Mobs
Local politicians and Mayor Bill de Blasio join the fight to Save Cafe Edison
Big rally and press conference at Cafe Edison
The last day announcement
Cafe Edison Closes


Monday, December 21, 2015

Garage

VANISHING

In case you missed the news, the Garage restaurant is closing.


via Brunch Upon a Time

Reader Elizabeth writes in that the last day is January 3. She says, "their rent was going to be hiked to $50k a month. So they are closing. I am heartsick. My friend George and I had Thanksgiving dinner there many times over the years, and loved hanging at the big beautiful wood bar and listening to jazz. No plans to try to reopen in NYC."

I don't know how long exactly Garage has been on Seventh Avenue in the Village, but I guess it's been about 20 years.

Originally a garage, the building has long been a home for jazz and theater--of one sort or another. Over 75 years ago, it was the Nut Club, a nightclub that hosted cockroach races.




cockroach racing (photo via GVSHP)

In the 1950s, it was jazz club The Pad and then Lower Basin Street, where Dave Brubeck played.

After jazz, the building housed live theater as the Sheridan Square Playhouse, home of the Circle Repertory from 1969 - 1994, when they moved to a larger space shortly before folding.

Today, Garage hosts jazz every night and specializes in a jazz brunch. There will only be a few of those left.


Cars on the wall of Garage













Wednesday, December 16, 2015

La Lunchonette's Last Days

You may recall that last fall I reported that La Lunchonette would be forced to close, thanks to the High Line Effect that is sweeping small businesses from Chelsea.

The 28-year-old restaurant hung on longer than expected, but now the last supper has been announced. La Lunchonette's final night will be this New Year's Eve. 

Owner Melva Max adds, "A ten story building will be erected, another 'starchitect' flexing their creative muscle along the old rail line."



After the High Line opened, Max's landlord’s phone didn't stop ringing, and it was always a real-estate developer on the other end. She told me, “My landlord’s not a bad guy, but how you can you say no to offers of $30 million?” 

She also noted, “The neighborhood is so gross now. It’s all tourists coming for the High Line. People always say, ‘But wasn’t it great for you?’ The High Line has been the cause of my demise.” 

Stop in before La Lunchonette is gone -- taking its delicious lamb sausages with it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pearl River Mart

This past spring, Crain's reported that Pearl River Mart, the excellent Asian emporium, would be forced to close at the end of the year due to an insane rent hike.

Now reader Andrea R. writes in with a final (ish) date. A friend who works in the store told her: "the closing date is around February 10."



Pearl River first opened in Chinatown in 1971. It has since moved twice, but this may be the end of it, due to sky-high rents all over the city. As Crain's reported, "Pearl River currently pays more than $100,000 a month for its shop, and rent would rise more than five times when the lease expires."

That's over $500,000 per month.

And this is why we need to #SaveNYC.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Nostalgia Train

Riding the Nostalgia Train sounds like something you do when you're lost in reverie and memory, pining for what used to be. If that's what it is, then many New Yorkers are casting backwards through time on Sundays this month, riding antique subway cars along the M Line, from Second Avenue to Queens Plaza and back again.

The people on the Nostalgia Train are a different breed.



Some come dressed in period costume, Depression-era hats and coats, shoes and neckties, dark lipstick shades of another epoch. These otherworldly anachronisms dance on the station platform to the music of a little swing band, the slick-haired singer crooning "Night and Day."

Others come in MTA paraphernalia, railfans dressed in t-shirts and knit winter caps proclaiming their favorite subway line. The F and the 6 are tops. One young man sits grinning, running through a near constant patter of conductor announcements. He's got the script down and compulsively, giddily recites its length and breadth. "This is Broadway-Lafayette," he calls out. "Transfer is available for the 6 train. Stand clear of the closing doors." Another young man, wearing an Amtrak t-shirt, holds his iPhone by the open door between the cars, audio recording the clickety-clack in the dark tunnel's roar.



Haloed by warm incandescent light bulbs, an older man stands and pontificates on the state of today's New York, city of yuppies, cell phones, and drunk Santas: "Is this the city you and I were raised in? It's become alien. I have no feeling for it anymore. It's scary!"

But no one listens. They'd rather pretend it's the past.

Retired motormen trade stories. Clasp hands. Greet each other warmly, saying, "Hey, I ain't seen your ugly mug for a hundred years."

Among the fanatics and nostalgics, other New Yorkers climb aboard, acting like the everyday subway riders they are--tired, bored, going to work, coming home from a long day already. They've got no time for reminiscence.



The Nostalgia Train doesn't sound or feel or smell like today's bright and whispery subway cars. Heavy in its bones, it broadcasts a loud symphony of sound, rattling and wheezing through the underworld. Inside, ceiling fans whiz overhead. The air is olive drab or else some shade of sea foam.

Open windows let in the smells of the tunnel, which shift from swampy organics to a fragrance you'd swear was burnt buttered toast.

Soot flies in and lands in your eye. In these old cars, you are not sheltered from the city. You are joined to it.



There is no stillness here. The rattan benches bounce your spine up and down as the jolting car keeps all bodies in motion.

But the best part comes when the train dives beneath the East River and launches forth to Queens. The driver lets out the throttle, like letting loose the reins of a horse, and the whole thing torpedoes ahead. It dives deeper, faster, jerking from side to side, shuddering in its bolts. A gritty wind blasts through the openings, strong enough to knock off a hat, if it tried.

In this unbridled speed, the riders are giddy. It is a relief to feel the city thrumming in your gut, to not be insulated from it, to not be held in some sterile, hospital-lit tube.

This feels real. This knocking around. This sucking down the filthy wind. This robust mechanical jolt.

This is New York.






Wednesday, December 9, 2015

SantaCon

SantaCon is coming. I hope to avoid it. Here's a SantaCon repost from Christmas past:


On the downtown 6 train, on the day of Santacon.

Doofus Tourist Man: Hey, what's up with all the Santa suits?

Santacon Man: It's New York! Woo!

New Yorker Woman: (intervening) It's called Santacon. People dress up like Santa and get drunk.

Doofus: Awesome! So they just walk around shit-faced all day? That's awesome.



New Yorker: No, it's not awesome, actually, it's pretty horrible.

Doofus: What are you, Ebenezer Scrooge?

New Yorker: Yes, I am.

Doofus: But it's New York!

New Yorker: (getting upset) You're telling me it's New York? You're telling me?

Doofus: What, you live here?

New Yorker: Yes, I do.

Doofus: But you're not from here, originally.

New Yorker: Yes, I am.



Doofus: So you see this Santa thing all the time?

New Yorker: Yeah. And it gets old pretty quick.

Doofus: (giving up) Huh. Well, I guess it's a local holiday. Like Kwanzaa.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Going Into Black Seed

One year ago, right about this time, DeRobertis' Pasticceria closed after the family opted to sell the building in increasingly hard times for small businesses. It had been on First Avenue in the East Village since 1904. Last week I shared the news that they opened a new shop, way out in Clifton, New Jersey. You can order their pastries online, but it won't bring back the feeling of sitting in their glorious cafe.

Going into Black Seed bagels won't bring it back, either.


Black Seed, photo via Eater


DeRobertis

As I do with all of my favorite places when they've been taken over and partly preserved by new owners, I forced myself to enter DeRobertis' replacement.

Stepping inside Black Seed, I was surprised by a sudden physical dysphoria. My stomach clenched, my head spun, my whole body trembled like a tuning fork. The cognitive dissonance of being in a space so intimately familiar, yet rendered utterly strange, was too much to bear.

The Black Seed people have kept many of DeRobertis' antique features, and I should be glad for that. It still has the tile walls and floor, the pistachio green back wall, the mirrors with their star-burst centers, but everything else is wrong, modernized and hipsterized, crammed with different people--the wrong people, people who never set foot in DeRobertis.

I hurried out, gasping for air, but vowed to get my bearings and go back another day.


Black Seed, photo via Eater


DeRobertis

On my next trip, I steeled myself, only felt slightly woozy, and ordered a bagel sandwich and coffee. The total came to over $15. I sat in a wide wooden booth made of "reclaimed sycamore" and stared at the floor, at the empty spot where a mobster's 1821 half dollar used to be.

I focused on what felt familiar and attempted to mentally exclude the rest. The extant details of the old cafe served as potent memory cues that helped to reconstruct a vision of how the space used to be. I began to relax. But the alien elements kept intruding and unsettled me again. The smells were wrong. The sounds were wrong. My psyche flipped back and forth between the old and the new, unmoored again by a cognitive dissonance, a locational unease. Where was I? Maybe this is like getting into a bed with a lover who's just returned from a Body Snatcher pod. The voice is the same, the face seems right, but you just know you're holding an alien in your arms--and it gives you the chills.

My sandwich, if such things are important to you, was tasty. I might order another. But it's not at all difficult to find a tasty sandwich in foodie-saturated Manhattan today. What is hard to find is authenticity, history, and a haimish environment.

Even when a space is preserved, once the soul has vacated, it won't ever be the same.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Where Ess-A-Bagel Was

Where Ess-A-Bagel once was, there is a Tal Bagels (since September) and, just this week, a Bank of America.



Ess-A-Bagel was here since 1976. They were forced to close this past spring, to much weeping and rending of garments.

Why put another bagel shop where there already was a hugely successful and beloved bagel shop? I have no idea. At least Tal uses the term "appetizing" on their sign, a word with an interesting history.

As for Bank of America, there's nothing appetizing about it.

Ess-A-Bagel plans to reopen a new shop just a little further south on First Avenue.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

DeRobertis Opens DeRoLicious

Some good news for a change. The DeRobertis family, moved from their historic space in the East Village one year ago, has just announced the opening of a new shop in Clifton, New Jersey.



Via email, they write:

"This is the DeRobertis Family. Well, the reason I am contacting you is because on Nov. 23 we opened up a place called DeRoLicious Delights. My Father John, Brother John, Tony the Baker and I (Dana) have decided to continue the business in Clifton, NJ. We are very excited to be back sharing our family tradition with new and old friends. We have a retail space available to visit AND an Online Shop available for people to order Biscotti, Butter Cookies & more."



You can find them online here -- follow them on Instagram -- and visit them in person at 64 1/2 Market St., Clifton, NJ.

Some of the old furnishings have gone with them, including the tables and chairs, and their excellent Wall of Fame:



La Taza de Oro

VANISHED

After nine months of sitting shuttered by the City, after hopeful rumors that they’d soon be reopening, Chelsea’s wonderful La Taza de Oro has called it a day.

Sadly, it's been confirmed, the beloved 68-year-old Puerto Rican luncheonette has closed for good. I will miss it.



A tipster wrote in, "They were looking forward to opening in January, and as of not that long ago were still going to open, but the city recently put additional financial burdens in the way that make it impossible for the small business to open back up."

I went by the restaurant to find proprietor Eric Montalvo, husband of Maria and son-in-law of the man whose uncle originally opened the restaurant in 1947.

Mr. Montalvo was mopping the floor, cleaning up the place and taking it apart. He let me inside and we talked awhile. The bright yellow hand-painted menu signs had already been removed, but he put them back up, proudly, so I could photograph and admire them.



He told me he’s retiring. His children don’t want the restaurant; they all have careers of their own.

The breaking point, however, came when the city made it impossible to stay open after the Second Avenue gas explosion this past spring caused city agencies to panic and tighten the rules, so that when a few bricks fell from the neighboring facade, Con Ed turned off the gas in the Montalvos' building and the Department of Buildings slapped them with an order to vacate. They lost nine months of income. (We nearly lost the B&H Dairy for the same reason.)

Even when you own the building, as the Montalvo family does, it’s getting harder for small restaurants to stay afloat in this town, thanks to increasing bills and a punishing Health Department.

"Small businesses are being pushed out," said Montalvo.

On top of all that, the neighborhood has changed dramatically in recent years. Google took over the building across the street, and its employees, by and large, don’t want the Puerto Rican home cooking at La Taza.

“The new generation,” Montalvo said, “they walk around with the Starbucks cups and the cell phones and…like this,” he turned up his nose and clutched his collar to mimic someone who acts superior, Starbucks cup in hand.



Through the years, La Taza soldiered on, a thriving remnant of the days when Chelsea was filled with Latin restaurants and people. It has served mofongo and tostones to many a celebrity -- Carlos Santana, Puff Daddy, Benicio del Toro, Madonna, Sandra Bernhard -- among the crowd of everyday neighborhood regulars who were devoted to this warm and comforting place.

Montalvo understands that people will be heartbroken to see La Taza go. “I’m sorry to them,” he said. “This is a landmark of New York. It’s the embassy of Puerto Rican cuisine in the city.” But, at some point, you realize you're fighting a losing battle.

“I’m going back to the Caribbean,” he said. “I’m going to swim in the rivers. And try to relax.”



Montalvo plans to rent the space out and hopes for a Latin restaurant to move in.

As for those vintage hand-painted menu signs, he’ll be putting them on ebay if you’re looking for a souvenir.


Previously:
La Taza shuttered by Con Edison
La Taza shuttered by DOH



Better than Starbucks. And only $1.50.



Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sidewalk Cobblers

A little while ago, New York magazine published a piece on how Chinatown has stayed Chinatown, instead of becoming yet another bland, suburban, luxury Nowhere like most of Manhattan. It really is one of the last holdout neighborhoods of the old New York.

I love the relative lawlessness of Chinatown's sidewalks, where all manner of business is conducted. The place has not been regulated and tamed. One phenomenon I particularly enjoy is that of the sidewalk cobbler. While storefront cobblers across town are dying out, thanks to skyrocketing rents, these renegade merchants survive.

There are many of them, but my favorite has a wide space on Elizabeth Street by Grand. Not the ruined Elizabeth Street of "Nolita," but the other Elizabeth Street, further south.



The cobbler's stall, if you can call it that, consists of a long piece of plywood erected alongside a corner herb market. It is beautifully decorated with hand-drawn illustrations, glued to the brick wall. Most of the drawings are of animals--birds, horses, cats, pandas--but also waterfalls and warships and airplanes.



The cobbler and his assistant sit and smoke cigarettes while they work--and their customers wait, stocking-footed, on nearby stools, reading Chinese newspapers.



Most of the sidewalk cobblers will also sharpen your knives and scissors.

Here's another:



And another:



Writing for the Times about the shopless cobblers of Chinatown in 2003, here's Joseph Berger:

"No one knows whether this breed of entrepreneur is growing, but scholars say the phenomenon may reflect the city's rising costs of doing business.

'As rents increased, it became more prohibitive to open up a store, so if you can have a store without paying the rent you do it,' said Dr. William B. Helmreich, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York who specializes in urban ethnography.

These sidewalk tradespeople may be a throwback to the European immigrants of a century ago who would stake out a business wherever it was possible."

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Pearl Paint: On Tour

When the Pearl Paint mothership suddenly shuttered last year, artists all over the city--and the country--wept.

Soon after, artist Barry Fellman recreated the interior of the store, traveling to Texas to buy Pearl's original cabinets, fixtures, and various products, and turn them into an installation. "Art Show" is on view once again at the Center for Visual Communication in Miami, and will soon be touring the country.



From the press release:

"The installation provokes questions about the availability of art supplies, how they are purchased, and how their use is changing as artists adopt digital technology and new forms of presentation. Art Store extends Duchamp's seminal Readymades, sourced from consumer culture, to a collection of mass produced objects actually used to create art."

"Art Store will be launched in 2016 as a traveling installation to activate communities nationwide by serving as a point of engagement to support local museums, schools and organization involved in arts and education. Institutions may contact CVC for more information on exhibiting Art Store in their community."

Meanwhile, back on Canal Street, the Pearl Paint space remains vacant, another casualty of high-rent blight.