Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Unitard, "NYC’s naughtiest, nastiest, no-holds-barred comic trio," just announced its new residency "Tard Core: There Are No Safe Words" at Joe's Pub, starting May 3. The group is made up of Mike Albo, Nora Burns, and David Ilku. They poke fun. It has come to my attention that they'll be poking fun of the hyper-gentrified city, so I asked Albo a few questions.

With Unitard, and in your solo work, you've roasted gentrifiers and gentrification. What makes the topic so right for comedy?

Well, greed is always something ripe for satire and parody. Its always amazing to watch, especially in this city, and now elsewhere, how insane and absurd-minded people get about real estate and what they can accomplish by selling avocado toast for 12 dollars.

What's so wrong about 12-dollar avocado toasts?

Oh, they are delicious! Especially when you make it yourself for an eighth the cost! Its just friggin' toast with some avocado on it! We have fabulized ourselves into financial oblivion. Somehow we need to make bad coffee and oily omelettes at diners cool again.

I'd love to hear your suggestions for how to do that.

Get Gigi Hadid or Kendall Jenner to take a pouty Instagram photo? One weird mutation with our food culture now is how people just buy things to take pictures of it. Have you seen the new “Unicorn Frappucino” at Starbucks? It's basically diabetes in a cup. But it's more a photo op than it is food.

I’m afraid diners don’t have eye-catching entrees, so maybe if we opened a diner and stuck a bunch of Smurfs and confetti all over it, we would have a business.

What gentrifi-centric subject matter can people expect in this upcoming show?

Oh, so much! We have “Ruiners,” who are three types of people who come and ruin your city. But then at the same time we also have a sketch of people who sit there and complain about how great things used to be.

So you'll also be roasting people like me! And yourself. When you complain about how great things used to be, what do you complain about?

See above about diners. Most everything I complain about has to do with the affordability of things before, say, 1999. My life “before” was so cheap, but I barely remember it. I made about $1,500 a month tops and somehow afforded to go out, eat out, enjoy myself. I produced a solo show or a play every year, too. I was still poor (I am always poor), but I wasn’t in a constant state of financial panic like I am now. A swarm of hidden fees and costs plague me now--my cellphone, my Netflix, my everything.

And this has affected me artistically. I can’t afford to publicize myself or my work and I feel like I am languishing in obscurity while the moneyed have assistants to tweet and Instagram and get their T magazine sidebar article. Have you noticed that everything is about publicity now? PR and events are what keep this city alive.

We also didn't used to see the rich everywhere. Now they're everywhere--or just about. And they're very conspicuous with their wealth. I think this constant visual has a big impact on how it feels to live in New York and not have that wealth.

Yes. And it sort of creeps into your psyche. I learned a hard lesson on how our culture is designed for the wealthy when I was canned at the New York Times, something I explain in my solo show and Kindle Single The Junket. In a nutshell, I was a freelancer there with no contract or salary, and I was invited on a free trip (which I made sure was on my own time and in no way associated with the Times), and that was “exposed” by Gawker (r.i.p., you bitch!), and I was "let go" for violating their ethics code. Now I totally understand journalistic ethics of keeping your reporters free of commercial influence, but there is a secret system of bread buttering going on that is WAY more egregious than one low-income freelancer taking a trip on his own time. Essentially, if you want to write about anything, especially travel or style, you have to be able to afford to pay your own way, know the right people, have the right access. It's why you see articles like “The Alluring Treehouses of Mozambique” in that insane T Magazine and wonder who the fuck wrote that. They are written for rich people by rich people.

And you are right the rich people are everywhere now! How are there so many?! Do they grow them on trees? After he saw The Junket, my friend, the talented Rob Roth, told me how, back when the legendary weirdo dance night Jackie 60 was happening in the Meatpacking District, there would be just one or two rich people in the mix of queers, trans people, drag queens, and artists. They were just part of the mix.

It’s awe striking how long ago and completely unlike our current climate it was when going somewhere fancy was getting a burger at Bowery Bar or maybe a mimosa at the Four Seasons if you were feeling ironic. But you went to Florent mostly to just feel the energy and be among your artsy peers, and get their goat cheese salad and spend under 25 bucks and feed your soul.

We have this whole repeat gag in our Unitard show about an 18 dollar glass of wine. I love that there are people out there who actually just pay for that breezily. If I did that I would be essentially taking a fork and stabbing myself in the stomach.

Check out Mike Albo and Unitard at Joe's Pub--starting May 3.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fight the Vanishing: Tonight

Tired of watching your local small businesses disappear? There are solutions. Tired of complaining about it while doing nothing? Here's your chance.

Tonight, the Artist Studio Affordability Project is hosting a discussion and organizing meeting on the topic from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. at Jimmy’s 43, 43 East 7th Street in Manhattan.

They write:

"We have a commercial rent crisis in NYC. Bodegas, bookstores and hardware stores are closing. Working artists, dance troupes and musicians are leaving the city. And manufacturers are leaving our industrial zones, taking their good jobs with them. Why? High commercial rents, and no lease rights.

Learn about some possible solutions, including one approach introduced in the City Council: The Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). The SBJSA would help all commercial lease holders in NYC, from mom & pop stores to artists to manufacturers. It offers an opportunity to restore economic equality to our business owners, save our art and cultural institutions, maintain the character of our neighborhoods, preserve a pathway to social mobility for hard-working families, and could even function as a brake on gentrification. The SBJSA has the potential to do all this, while dealing with only one aspect of “small business:” the lease renewal process. What is it, how would it help? How can this bill get a hearing and ultimately a vote of support? How can we pressure our elected officials to show real leadership? Come to this discussion and brainstorming session. Your input is important."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hyper-gentrifying 14th

I was just thinking about how truly remarkable it is that much of 14th Street, from east to west, has not been hyper-gentrified.

Yes, there's the Apple Store at the western end. Yes, a Target and maybe Trader Joe's is coming to the east. And Union Square is strangled in chains. But much of the rest miraculously remains Chinese takeout joints, 99-cent stores, other discount shops, diners, and one beloved doughnut shop. It attracts a diversity of New Yorkers, many from lower socioeconomic circumstances.

And now this.

Gothamist reports that, in response to the impending L Train shutdown, Transportation Alternatives has a plan that "envisions a 14th Street free of car traffic—a concept with the endorsement of city planners, politicians and advocates—plus a six-stop shuttle bus operating on dedicated lanes, and protected bike lanes. The shuttle would connect to a new cross-bridge bus, carrying Williamsburg commuters on a dedicated lane over the Williamsburg Bridge. Among the runners-up are a proposal for temporary barriers separating dedicated bike and bus lanes on 14th Street, and a plan that would close certain blocks of 14th Street to traffic."

We all know that one powerful way to hyper-gentrify a neighborhood, or a cross-section of the city, is through transportation alternatives, i.e., bike lanes and trolley cars. Pedestrian plazas, as Bloomberg's transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn showed, made property values shoot through the roof in Times Square. These are proven tactics. Conservatives love them because they're good for the rich. And liberals love them because they're environment friendly. But they are not friendly to a diverse, affordable, and equitable urban environment.

This plan is not a done deal by a long shot. But it's worth noting that developers and urban planners have their eye on the scruffy remains of this holdout corridor. Enjoy it while you can.

Any time I've ever mentioned bike lanes as anything but an all-good thing, people become apoplectic, both the pro-development neoliberals and the lefty bike advocates. For the record, I own a bike and I ride in the bike lanes. I enjoy them. They still are used by mayors to spur and reinforce gentrification by attracting "creative economy" consumers, tourists, and residents (see the work of Richard Florida and Jamie Peck). Same goes for pedestrian plazas (though I don't like them). See Google. See also Google. See also this PDF from Sam Stein.

Monday, April 17, 2017

No Thanks, No Tech Hub

This Saturday, April 22, show up for a rally to save the neighborhood just south of Union Square Park.

Over just the past couple of years, we've watched this area be demolished and rebuilt into yet another dull center for luxury housing and corporations. Speculators are buying up whole buildings and evicting them of their small business tenants.

This is happening, in part, because of Mayor de Blasio's plan for a "tech hub."

the proposed tech hub on 14th st.

As GVSHP's Andrew Berman wrote in The Villager: "the new building would tower over its neighbors and form the lynchpin of a new 'Silicon Alley' the mayor hopes to develop between Union Square and Astor Place."

This is not a neighborhood in need of revitalization. It is already vital, its old buildings buzzing with small businesses from bottom to top. Say "no" to more luxurification. Say "no" to more corporate chains. Say "no" to more small business evictions.

Rally with GVSHP on Saturday at 3:00pm, on the east side of Broadway at 11th Street.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Quad Signage

Yesterday, the new Quad cinema got its new sign. It's a 3-D effect. With slots along the sides for digital display of current movie titles.

I took a peek inside. There are digital movie posters where there used to be paper. A wall of TV screens in the back. On the side, there's a wine bar with a tile floor that spells out QUAD.


The website is up and the new place opens this Friday. Early word has been good, so let's hope it's still welcoming to the city's scruffy cinemaniacs.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dressing Up High-Rent Blight

Two years ago, Icon Realty purchased 57 Second Avenue for $30 million.

The two retail tenants, Alex Shoe Repair and Allied Hardware, were on month-to-month leases and soon removed via steep rent hikes -- $26,000 per month for the hardware shop and $14,000 for the cobbler.

Both businesses were mom-and-pop run for decades. They provided necessary services to local residents, and their storefronts provided visual interest to the avenue.

I liked walking past to see the giant hammer in Allied's window under their colorful sign. I especially liked the odd paintings that framed Alex Shoe Repair, and the typed poem in the window that Hettie Jones wrote for the cobbler.

These places were useful, local, and idiosyncratic.

Then they were gone.

The signs came down. The funny little paintings were painted over. And Icon's advertisements went up. The two storefronts sat that way for awhile, the picture of high-rent blight.

Now, Icon is dressing them up--and they're getting that look. You know the look. The "nice" look.

It's the look of sameness. The look of nothing. The look of the zombie city.

We see these same facades everywhere. Soon will come little chains--little taco chains or "juicery" chains--decked out in Edison bulbs and subway tiles. Or maybe a Starbucks. Maybe a place that feeds you charcoal shots so you shit black, because shitting black is now good for you. Or maybe an Aesop with their "fragrant botanicals and skin-softening emollients," or else that other place, the one that looks like Aesop and sells candles for $450.

Better yet, how about a bone brotherie? How about some more macarons?

Whatever comes, it won't last long. It won't last decades. It will come and it will go, and the neighborhood will feel that much less like a neighborhood. Again.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Angelica Sale

Angelica Kitchen closed yesterday after 40 years in the East Village. The place was mobbed. If you missed out on a final meal, you can visit today and tomorrow for their memorabilia sale:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Save Our Small Businesses

As more and more mom and pops vanish from the face of New York City, people are getting sick of it, and the idea of saving them keeps coming up in the media.

This past week, NY1's "In Focus" with Cheryl Wills had two segments on the subject.

In the first (watch here), Wills talked with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich about the problem of chain stores in the city. As Brewer noted, "We don't live in a mall in the middle of Minnesota. We live in New York City."

Of course, without real policy changes, like the Small Business Jobs Survival Act or commercial rent control, like we had from 1945 - 1963, New York's looking an awful lot like a mall in Minnesota. And it will only get worse.

In the second segment (watch here), Wills spoke with The Commissioner of the NYC Small Business Services, Gregg Bishop, and the President and CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, Mark Jaffe.

Unfortunately, neither had any meaningful response to the problem of unreasonable rents.

Over on the Brian Lehrer Show, Tony Danza called in to ask Mayor Bill de Blasio what he was doing about what he called "neighborhood wasting disease."

Said Danza, "You know we have so many longtime establishments that have anchored neighborhoods in this city that are just being pushed out by exorbitant rents. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t know how you legislate that. But I’d just like to know what your thoughts are about going forward. Like, where I live on the West Side, on one block – and this is the truth, this is what’s really kind of startling, is that Starbucks had to leave because they couldn’t pay the rent."

The mayor did not have a useful response (read the full transcript). At one point, he replied, "Look, let’s be really cold here. It’s a free enterprise society that is not particularly warm and friendly to things like older stores, mom-and-pop stores. I would urge the landlords to be less greedy." (Three years ago, when I asked him on Reddit what he would do, he had a few better answers.)

The only way to regulate human greed is through policy. And, let's be clear, this is not a free enterprise society. It's a rigged society that gives deals to large corporations and developers.

Chain stores get taxpayer subsidies in this city. They get selected by Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). They get preferential treatment from banks. This is not "market forces." This is corporate welfare. It's time to put an end to it. There are solutions.

Visit #SaveNYC and learn more about what we can do to stop the death of New York's soul. We've even made it easy for you to write letters to City Hall.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Cat's Paw Girl


There has been a shoe repair shop at 74 E. 7th St. for many years. Most recently, it was David's. Before that, it was A. Brym's. And for all those decades, a Cat's Paw advertisement stayed stuck to the entryway window.

Now it's gone.


"Thin heels by CAT'S PAW," the circular sign read. "For those who want the best!" In the center of the circle, a smiling blonde cuddled a pair of kittens.

In this following photo from the 1960s, we see that Brym's had two copies of the ad--one decal on the front window and the other in the entryway.

Edmund V. Gillon, Jr.

You can catch a glimpse of them again in this next shot from 1980. That's likely the year that David's moved into Brym's. The front-most Cat's Paw girl probably vanished when David painted the window with his name, but the second sticker stayed.

And stayed.

I liked seeing her when I brought my shoes in for repair.

photo: Michael Sean Edwards, 1980

David's Shoe Store closed in 2013 when the landlord hiked the rent too high. It sat empty until recently. Workers are now building out something that looks like it will serve food. Maybe Japanese. Anyway, not shoes.

As expected, they have scraped away the Cat's Paw girl and her kittens, the last remnant of what was.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sile's Gun Sign

Reader Monique wrote in to say: "The Sile sign is gone on Centre Market Place, seemingly overnight. I work on the block in a converted gun shop and was comforted by its sight daily. All of a sudden it is gone, turned into white... nothing."

The white nothing, photograph by Monique

I wrote about the vanished gun shops of Centre Market Place back in 2011--trust me, it's a fascinating bit of history.

The Sile sign was the last remnant of the gun district. These little things. They matter in the psychogeography of the city.


Monday, March 27, 2017

The Lost Village

On April 4, at the New York City International Film Festival, you can see Roger Paradiso's "The Lost Village," the story of NYU and real estate in Greenwich Village.

Here's the synopsis:

"Once a haven for the proverbial starving artist who brought creativity as their currency, the Village is now a hangout for cover bands and Wall Street hipsters hopelessly aspiring to recreate something that is lost. We encounter testimony of NYU students turning to prostitution to pay NYU’s predatory tuition that fuels NYU’s real estate ambitions.

We find 'Mom and Pop Shops' in trouble. Their closures have changed the culture and character of our Village. High rents and no regulations cause over 1,000 small businesses to leave New York City every month.

Can the Village be saved? Or is Greenwich Village lost forever?"

Watch the trailer here:

The Lost Village Trailer 2.28.17 from Roger Paradiso on Vimeo.

See the film at The Producers Club, 358 West 44th Street, April 4 at 8:00 p.m.

Angelica Kitchen


After 40 years, Angelica Kitchen is closing.

Civil Eats

Gothamist reports:

"The restaurant had been struggling for several years, particularly because rents in the area have become almost unbearable for independent businesses. A new lease McEachern signed in 2014 was for over $21,000 a month—keeping in mind that doesn't include additional expenses including utilities, taxes, insurance, payroll, etc.—up from $450 a month when the restaurant first opened nearby on St. Marks Place."

Pearl Paint Luxe

The trophy hunters have snared Pearl Paint and stuck its head on a pike.

Curbed reports:

"Pearl Paint, the beloved downtown art supply store, closed in 2014, but a piece of the shop still lives on—in the new, pricey rentals that have just hit the market in its former Canal Street headquarters. Listings for four apartments that sit atop the former art shop just appeared, with the cheapest going for $16,000/month, and the priciest—a top-floor penthouse—asking $18,000/month."

And: "Unsurprisingly, they’re using the store as a selling point: the brokerbabble touts the apartments as being part of 'the stunning residential conversion of the iconic art store,' and the neon 'Pearl Paint' sign that once hung on the flagship is now installed in the building’s lobby. (One could see this as either a nice piece of historic preservation, or an egregious way of capitalizing on the store’s historic cachet. We’ll let you make that call.)"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


If you haven't yet gone to see the Martin Scorsese show at the Museum of the Moving Image, go soon. You've got another month.

It is pure New York.

That's all I've got to say about that.

And this is the table and chairs from Scorsese's parents' home on Mulberry Street, as seen in the great 1974 film "Italianamerican."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

City of Sin

Back in the "crime and grime" 1980s, Michael DiPaolo walked the streets of Times Square (and "other equally sleazy parts of New York City") with a hidden camera, secretly filming the whores, hustlers, homeless, and other denizens who came out after midnight. The result is "City of Sin," a compilation of footage from DiPaolo's nighttime walks.

I asked the filmmaker a few quick questions:

What inspired you to do the hidden camera?

Well my “day job” at that time was videotaping confessions for the Brooklyn DA’s Office, where I also did some surveillance stuff and I thought I could get a more “real” unguarded view that way. In addition, I was planning on going down to the West 20s/30s to video the prostitutes, and I knew that there would be no way in hell to do that without hiding the camera. Finally, I wanted to get some background footage for a couple of shot-on-video features I would later complete in 1988 and 1989--Bought and Sold and Requiem for a Whore.

What was your technique?

I would put the camera--a Panasonic VHS camcorder with a wide-angle lens--inside a black gym bag that had a hole cut out on one end. Then I placed black gauze/screening over the hole. I would start recording about a 100 feet before turning onto the block I was going to shoot, then just kept walking and pointing the camera in the direction of anything interesting. But I made it a point of trying NOT to look where I had the camera pointed and I always kept walking. By doing it this way, I never knew what I had until I got home and was able to screen it.

Did you ever get caught -- or worry about being caught?

The only time I was “caught” was when I stopped walking to shoot an argument/fight outside Port Authority. One guy noticed and said something, so I immediately walked away. I was most worried about getting caught when I was shooting the prostitutes and pimps and police down in the relatively desolate West 20s/30s. Actually, I think I was most worried about videotaping the police, as they especially don’t like to make “unscripted” appearances on camera.

Do you ever go to Times Square anymore?

I still do pass through Times Square--with great sadness--as the very first place I went to when I first moved to New York City back in the early '70s was the Times Square that I had read so much about. To me it was magical, some sort of profane church for the lonely where I worshiped until Disney came along and turned it corporate.

Some people say the cleaned up Times Square is an improvement over the "grime and crime" of the past. What do you think was valuable about the old Times Square in your film?

Times Square BD (before Disney) was a unique, one of a kind place offering a cultural smorgasbord that could only have existed in New York City and nowhere else in the entire world. It has now become just another outdoor corporate mall replicated hundreds of times around the world.

Also, it was for New Yorkers (including those who choose to come to New York to make it their new home) of all cultural, financial, and racial variations, as well as the tourists. Today it seems to be catering mostly/mainly to the tourists.

Watch the film trailers here and here -- and find out more at Black Cat Cinema.

Monday, March 20, 2017



photo by Brian

Brian writes in about the closure of Merchants, a popular Chelsea restaurant that had been at 17th Street and 7th Avenue for 25 years:

"The owner was papering up the place because they closed on the 28th. I knew that the day was coming because a developer bought the corner of that block and shuttered the health food grill and the bodega last year. In fact, the bodega owner I’d known for 16 years was so upset that he went home and died of a heart attack. They had just put money into remodeling, a brand new awning, and repainting. Now it’s a graffiti magnet."

I reported on the bodega's closure in July. It is, indeed, still sitting empty, more high-rent blight, collecting graffiti and garbage. The new awning has been carved up, the name of the store removed.

Brian continues:

"I spoke with the owner of Merchants and he told me landlords in the area are using the new Barney’s as a benchmark for their rents, meaning they’re not going to be affordable to the average non-corporate lessee. You need Walgreens or Red Lobster dollars to afford to open. He’s been looking to stay in Chelsea but says the prices are so high he’d have to do something beyond selling food and drink to actually make money."

And, as with many closures, there's a goodbye sign on the door. This one encircled with a glitter heart.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Loft's Restoration

Many of you have noticed the vintage Loft's Candies sign downtown on Nassau Street--I wrote about it here back in September.

Two Boots Pizza is moving in to the space--and they say on Twitter they're restoring the sign. So it's not going anywhere.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Katz's & Tourists

For over 20 years, I've been going to Katz's deli on the Lower East Side. I go because I love the atmosphere, the history, the aroma. I get hot dogs, mostly, and egg creams. I go alone and I go with friends. But, lately, I don't go at all. I can't get in the door.

There are too many tourists. Way too many. Sure, tourists have always filled Katz's, but now it's out of control.

They line up down the block, keeping New Yorkers from easily accessing this local treasure.

The last time I tried to get into Katz's, I thought maybe the line was from a tour, waiting to go in as a group, so I walked in the door. The bouncer--yes, the bouncer--stopped me and told me to get in line. No, thanks. I left.

I'm not sure if I'll ever get back inside. It's like this every day.

And now that the Carnegie Deli is gone, the tourist hordes will only get worse at Katz's. No longer content to stay in tourist-centric parts of town like Times Square, they are spreading outwards, finding all our local joints, and making them inaccessible.

A symptom of globalization, mass tourism is a worldwide pandemic. It's a trend increasingly referred to as "overtourism."

“A rapacious tourist monoculture threatens Venice’s existence,” wrote Italian art historian Salvatore Settis in the Times in 2016, “decimating the historic city and turning the Queen of the Adriatic into a Disneyfied shopping mall.”

In cities like Barcelona, Reykjavík, and Amsterdam, leaders are taking steps to slow the influx of tourists, and city dwellers are doing their part. In his book Coping with Tourists, Jeremy Boissevain observed Europeans engaging in “covert, low-key resistance” to tourists, i.e., “sulking, grumbling, obstruction, gossip, ridicule, and surreptitious insults.”

In Berlin, the anti-tourist outcry has been especially fierce, with protests and graffiti slogans that say “Tourists Fuck Off” and “No More Rolling Suitcases.” In a backlash to the backlash, tourist sympathizers argue that tourists are just like immigrants or refugees, and that anti-tourist sentiment is the same as xenophobia, casting the protesters as fascists. This is a false equivalence. Tourists and immigrants/refugees occupy very different positions of power, and people on vacation do not come to cities seeking sanctuary. They come seeking selfies and souvenirs.

A little while ago, Jake Dell, the fifth-generation owner of Katz's, penned a heartfelt goodbye letter to the Carnegie Deli. In it, he wrote: "Here in the 'city that never sleeps' we cherish the bold and beautiful bustle that makes New York the greatest city in the world, yet agonize over the nonstop gentrification when we lose too many of our classics."

Nonstop gentrification also brings mass tourism--which brings "tourism gentrification" in turn--and that inflicts its own negative impact on a city's treasures. What is New York if it can't be enjoyed by New Yorkers? A place lost to tourism is also lost.

I have a suggestion. Tourists get special deals--why can't New Yorkers? Our IDs, with their local addresses, should be our "city passes." These could get us into museums and other popular places ahead of the tourist lines. We don't need City Hall to get such a program started. We could start it right now, with small business owners.

So Katz's, how about it? Give a thank you to the local folks who've kept you going all these years and be the first to institute a "Local Priority" policy--let anyone with a valid NYC ID in the door ahead of the tourist line.

We will love you even more for it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grab 'Em

Last night, someone slathered the East Village with posters of the President of the United States explaining his method of sexual assault.

It's the old "grab 'em by the pussy" speech.

Just in time for today's Women's Strike.

Cobble Court

I wrote the following essay three years ago, when Cobble Court, aka the "Goodnight Moon" house,  was under threat of possible demolition. (It seems to be safe now.) I interviewed Mrs. Bernhard, who moved the house to the Village, but never posted the story. This week marks the 50th anniversary of the house's move. So here's the story--as written in July 2014.

New York Times

There is a house on Charles Street in Greenwich Village that captivates every passerby. Long ago named Cobble Court for the cobblestones that have surrounded it, the two-story dwelling looks like something out of a storybook. In its white clapboard and blue trim, the house slants at odd angles, standing asymmetrically on a green sheet of grass framed by a high wall covered in ivy and climbing roses. In spring, a cherry tree lowers its bright red fruits over the wall, almost low enough to pluck. If this fairytale wooden farmhouse looks out of place among the hulking bricks of former tenements and warehouses, that’s because it is. Twice saved from the wrecking ball, the house traveled here in 1967 from York and 71st Streets. Now, many fear that the wrecking ball has caught up with the runaway house and aims to try for a third time.

In her Connecticut home, Ingrid Bernhard has filled an entire wall with photographs and newspaper clippings on the subject of Cobble Court. She and her late husband, Sven, were its saviors.

“I am an old lady now,” she says, with her native Swedish accent. “I was just thinking I should do something to tell the story of the house, before it’s too late.”

She was shocked when she heard the recent news that the house has been put on the market--with a $20 million price tag and a realtor’s listing that coolly calls the historic home a “blank canvas for a developer or user to execute a wide variety of potential visions,” including “boutique condominiums.” The Bernhards didn’t haul the house across five miles of New York streets for it to be destroyed for condos.

“It was enormously difficult to save it,” Ingrid says, recalling struggles with the Archdiocese of New York, who had purchased the house as part of a parcel to be demolished for a nursing home. Though the Bernhards were only renters (paying $65 a month), Sven went to court and told the judge, “I will agree to move only if I can take the house with me.” Once they got possession of the house, with help from Mayor Lindsay, the Bernhards had to obtain a vacant lot to put it on, along with permits for just about everything. Then they had to physically move Cobble Court, stones and all.

Formerly part of a dairy farm, in the 1940s the house became the writing studio of Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon and many other children’s books. “The reason the house got into Scandinavian hands,” Ingrid explains, “is, well, it just happened that way.” She tells a story that begins with the untimely death of Ms. Brown, felled by appendicitis on a book tour in France. The author had willed the keys to the house to her young fiancée, James S. Rockefeller, Jr., a socialite sailor with a passion for all things Norwegian. He went on to marry the ex-wife of ocean explorer Thor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame, and his subsequent social connections led him to rent Cobble Court to a series of young Norwegian men, one of whom had a Swedish friend named Sven Bernhard. An opera fan, Sven traveled by sea to New York—paying his way by washing dishes on the Swedish American Line--for the sole purpose of seeing Arturo Toscanini conduct live at Carnegie Hall. When Sven arrived, however, the conductor had cancelled his New York concerts. Dejected, Sven crashed at his friend’s place. The young Swede fell in love with Cobble Court, vowing, “If I ever come back to New York, I’m going to live in this house.”

It was here that Sven took Ingrid when they were dating and later married. “When I first saw the house,” she recalls, “I was not crazy about it at all.” It was cold and damp, and the gas heat emitted a foul odor. “But then, with its charm and coziness, I got to like it very much.” When the Bernhards learned the fate of Cobble Court, Sven told Ingrid, “I want to save this house for other generations to come.”

And so, on a cold morning in March of 1967, the 18th-century farmhouse rolled down the island of Manhattan. It was a rickety little thing and must have looked wonderfully strange as it rumbled and swayed down the rain-wet streets, like a houseboat rocking on the waves, precariously balanced atop a wooden cradle towed by a 16-ton truck. Watching it, young Ingrid cried, “It’s saved, it’s saved!” She told the New York Times at the time, “The house, the move, everything, cost all the money we have. But this house is so important, it’s a way of life.”

The Bernhards lived at Charles Street until 1985, when they moved to Connecticut. It wasn’t easy to leave. “That house,” Ingrid says wistfully. “You’d be busy at work, in the bustle of the city, and then you came inside and you closed the door and it was like a different world. A very pleasant world.”

The house changed hands a few times and soon ended up with its current owner, Suri Bieler. Like Sven Bernhard, she also had a chance encounter with the house, fell in love with it, and made a vow. As a girl, Bieler spotted the house from the window of her father’s car as he wandered lost through the streets of the Village. “She saw a man out front, wearing a bowtie,” Ingrid recalls Suri telling her. “That was my husband, of course. And Suri said to her father, ‘The people who live there must be very happy.’ She vowed to one day live in the house. When she returned to New York years later, there was a For Sale sign out front. She bought it.”

Ingrid wonders why the beloved house is being sold today, and why it’s being marketed as a development site. But if you walk a block or two in any direction, you can’t miss the rising tsunami. Richard Meier’s towering triplets of glass front the river, blank and cold. Futuristic 166 Perry glitters spastically on a once-cozy lane across from 150 Charles, a mega-development that neighbors have called “The Rape of the West Village.” Cobble Court is somewhat protected within the Greenwich Village Historic District, and preservationists vow she won’t go down without a fight. As Ingrid says, “Cobble Court is part of New York. So it should stay there. I like to see it there.”

Many people like to see it there. You don’t have to live in it to love it. Knowing this, when the Bernhards built their wall, they added a wide gate because, says Ingrid, “We wanted people to be able to look at the house. We thought it would be nicer if people could just look and not have to feel embarrassed about peeking through a fence.”

On the night that Cobble Court first arrived on Charles Street, the great New Yorker writer Maeve Brennan went out to have a look at it. In The Talk of the Town, she wrote that stories like this one “remind us that we are always waiting, and remind us of what we are waiting for—a respite, a touch of grace, something simple that starts us wondering.”

It may have been the Bernhards’ house, but they saved it as a gift to the city, to us all, so that we might look and simply wonder.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Vanishing New York - The Book

From HarperCollins' Dey Street Books, Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul is now available to pre-order wherever books are sold. (Nudge, nudge, buy it from your local independent bookshop.) Look at that cover!

What's the book all about? Here's the copy:

An unflinching chronicle of gentrification in the twenty-first century and a love letter to lost New York by the creator of the popular and incendiary blog Vanishing New York.

For generations, New York City has been a mecca for artists, writers, and other hopefuls longing to be part of its rich cultural exchange and unique social fabric. But today, modern gentrification is transforming the city from an exceptional, iconoclastic metropolis into a suburbanized luxury zone with a price tag only the one percent can afford.

A Jane Jacobs for the digital age, blogger and cultural commentator Jeremiah Moss has emerged as one of the most outspoken and celebrated critics of this dramatic shift. In Vanishing New York, he reports on the city’s development in the twenty-first century, a period of "hyper-gentrification" that has resulted in the shocking transformation of beloved neighborhoods and the loss of treasured unofficial landmarks. In prose that the Village Voice has called a "mixture of snark, sorrow, poeticism, and lyric wit," Moss leads us on a colorful guided tour of the most changed parts of town--from the Lower East Side and Chelsea to Harlem and Williamsburg--lovingly eulogizing iconic institutions as they’re replaced with soulless upscale boutiques, luxury condo towers, and suburban chains.

Propelled by Moss’ hard-hitting, cantankerous style, Vanishing New York is a staggering examination of contemporary "urban renewal" and its repercussions—not only for New Yorkers, but for all of America and the world.

What are people saying about the book? Check out these blurbs:

Gary Shteyngart: “I haven’t read a more impassioned book in over a decade. Vanishing New York is angry, incredulous, but also full of insight into a city of legend, where every legend happened to be true.”

Luc Sante: “Jeremiah Moss came to the party that is New York City just in time to see it turn into a wake. His book is lucid, eloquent, phenomenally detailed, and terribly sad. Future generations, assuming there are any, will read it in wonder and disbelief.”

Charles Bock: “Meticulously researched, thoroughly reported, at once a call to arms and a soul cry, Vanishing New York is a love letter to originality and the human spirit. Grab a knish and settle in.”

"For those of us who've watched hopelessly as our beautiful city has turned into an assortment of Duane Reades and Starbucks, this book is a must-read. Jeremiah Moss bears witness on our behalf, and puts it all into brilliant perspective."
--Andy Cohen, host and executive producer, “Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen”

Pre-order yours today--wherever books are sold (nudge, nudge).

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Chez Jacqueline


French bistro Chez Jacqueline opened on MacDougal Street in 1982. And now it's gone.

photo: Judy's Book

The last Yelp review was from January, so it must have shuttered recently. If you know what happened to Chez Jacqueline, please let us know.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Gaslight Lounge


In the Meatpacking District, David Brown writes in to report that Gaslight Lounge and Pizza has shuttered. There was an auction this weekend and everything was hauled away.

photos by David Brown

Gaslight opened in 1996. On the Meatpacking Gentrification timeline, that's after Florent, after Hogs & Heifers, but before Pastis.

Their website calls it, "Meatpacking District's first and oldest bar lounge."

In 2015, the Times reported that Gaslight would vanish this year:

"Retail changes are also altering the area, with neighborhood institutions continuing to disappear. The Rockfeld Group does not plan to renew the lease of the Gaslight Lounge, a neighborhood fixture with heavy red drapes and antique furniture at 400 West 14th Street, when it expires in 18 months. Instead, Rockfeld hopes to market the ground floor of the five-story landmark building to a high-end retail tenant."

Steven Feldman of Rockfeld group told the paper, “Kind of like what happened in SoHo, the first guys to come in are the restaurants and the bars, and then the restaurants and bars get priced out."

Monday, February 27, 2017

Mon Petit Cafe


Mon Petit Cafe, a 1980s-era French bistro on Lexington and 62nd Street, says adieu. The climate for small businesses in New York, they say, is "a crushing force."

Wall Street Journal

From their Facebook page:

"It is with very heavy hearts that we inform the community that Mon Petit Café has closed after 32 years in business. We are so deeply grateful to all of our customers, many of whom have been with us since we opened our doors in 1984.

It has been our family’s (and extended family of staff’s) way of life to run our little restaurant and serve favorites like croque monsiers, quiche and steak au poivre every day (closing just on Christmas day every year). MPC’s owner Daniele raised her children behind these windows and managed even to stay afloat in 1990 after the passing of her husband/business partner. Her eldest, Alessandra, stayed on and eventually filled the empty shoes of co-owner with her mom.

Nevertheless, the climate for small business like ours in New York City has become a crushing force. Mom-and-pop stores of all kinds are now an endangered species in our city. Small business are all but disappeared in our neighborhood, giving way to massive Duane Reades, banks and Starbucks on seemingly every corner. Despite our best efforts to keep MPC alive, our reality is that we carried on 'in the red' for quite some time.

With each closing door, is the beginning of a new chapter. If you miss us as much as we miss you, good news: we will come to you! Alessandra is now concentrating her efforts on her catering and private chef business. Keep in touch and email her at alessprivatechef@gmail.com.

Our most sincere thanks once more to all of our patrons. We hope you will remember us, and think fondly upon this corner each time you pass as we will do."