Wednesday, January 17, 2018

M&H Deli


It's the little places that make a neighborhood function like a neighborhood. Bodegas and other small, affordable markets are vanishing fast across the city. Here's another.

Mike writes in: "I thought you might be interested in the closing of the M&H Deli (bodega) on Dekalb Ave and Saint Felix Street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Closing after 35 years due to rising rent, per the sign. It was your pretty typical bodega serving the community and the Brooklyn Hospital across the street."

Once again, it's not due to lack of business. It's not the Internet. The sign makes the reason clear.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Broadway Restaurant


As New York City diners meet their collective demise (and then some), overwhelmingly due to skyrocketing rent and denied lease renewals, another one appears to have joined the list.

Christopher writes in to say that the Broadway Restaurant at 101st Street has shuttered. There's no sign to say goodbye, or give a reason why, but the shutters have been down for a week and the phone has been disconnected ("temporarily" says the recording--is there hope?).

photo from Christopher

Asks one Yelp reviewer (where the reviews are glowing), "could broadway restaurant be closed ?? -will be missed if true." Maybe they're just on vacation? Though it seems unlikely.

I went to the Broadway only once, happily stumbling upon it while I was wandering the neighborhood for reasons I can't remember. I loved it instantly.

I loved the sign outside with its "STEAKS CHOPS SEA FOOD," an indication of a certain vintage, and an increasingly rare sight.

I loved its interior with the U-shaped counter and the movie star posters. Brad Pitt appeared on the walls several times--maybe because he filmed there once.

I loved the hand-painted menu with its CORNED BEEF HASH and TASTY SANDWICHES.

The place was busy and beloved. If you know what happened here, please let us know.

*UPDATE: Harry points us to a recent article in West Side Rag, reporting that a fire closed the place on New Year's Day.

Hopefully, the 47-year-old diner will recover, but the damage looks bad.

photo via West Side Rag

Monday, January 15, 2018

Saving Coogan's

Yesterday, local politicians and community members gathered to rally for Coogan's Bar and Restaurant in Washington Heights. After hiking Coogan's rent by $40,000, the landlord, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, surrendered under public pressure this week and made a deal to keep Coogan's in place for the foreseeable future. (The details are being kept confidential.)

On the cold and sunny Sunday afternoon, in front of a large crowd, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer made celebratory speeches, calling Coogan's "the United Nations of Washington Heights" and a "civic center" for the neighborhood. They also promised to save small businesses across the five boroughs.

"We spoke with one voice," said Brewer. "We want to do the same thing for other mom and pops. This is just the beginning."

"Our work must continue," said James. "Small businesses are suffering and we need to come to a resolution to protect small businesses in the city."

"Coogan's," said Stringer, "is the line in the sand."

But what do they plan to do? After questions from the press, the discussion got around to solutions, specifically the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a bill that many activists have been pushing for years (see flyer below).

"We need a hearing on the SBJSA," said James. "We're going to be urging the City Council and Corey Johnson to put it forward."

Currently, most City Council members support the SBJSA. To pass, the new Speaker must bring it to a vote. This is essential. Only a broad-reaching policy like the SBJSA--or the return of commercial rent control--will save our small businesses. Like Espaillat said to the crowd, handling the problem of evicted mom and pops one by one is not a solution. "We're going to lose a lot of them," he said, "and we need legislation. We're going to stop hyper-gentrification."

After the rally, inside Coogan's, I talked with Lena Melendez, a local social worker and organizer with RENA (Riverside Edgecombe Neighborhood Association) and Dominicanos Pro Defensa Negocios Y Viviendas (DDNV).

Lena and I discussed hyper-gentrification in Washington Heights. "The landlords are being incentivized to push people out," she explained, pointing to the 20% vacancy bonus loophole in the rent regulation laws. "It's an erosion of the consumer base. And small businesses have no protections whatsoever."

Real-estate speculation has been pushed into overdrive by the city's rezoning of Inwood. Lena noted the spread of high-rent blight infecting upper Broadway, a rash of storefronts forcibly emptied and kept empty. "The landlords need to be punished," she said, with disincentives like a vacancy tax. But that won't fix every situation. "If a business is in a two-story building, they're a dead duck." With a demolition clause in the lease and no rent-regulated tenants to deal with, the developers can just kick out the business and demolish.

Why is this problem so hard to fight? "Because REBNY is so strong," Lena said, "and the politicians are like prostitutes being bought." She wants to see the neighborhood get organized. "The Latino community has to stand up. But they need to be informed. If this community knew what that rezoning will do to the neighborhood, they'd be marching in the streets."

"The politicians want us all to think the rezoning is a good thing." To that she says, "You're jerking me around. You're pissing on my head and calling it rain."

When we finished talking, Lena went back to gathering signatures on a petition to save Galicia, a restaurant just a few blocks up Broadway, getting forced out after 30 years in business.

flyer by Jenny Dubnau

Galicia Restaurant


At yesterday's rally for Coogan's, Congressman Espaillat pointed up Broadway and announced, "My next stop is Galicia restaurant." After 30 years in business, he explained, they're being denied a lease renewal by the Edelsteins of Edel Family Management, owners of several buildings in the area. "I spoke to the Edelsteins," Espaillat said, "and they seem to be over the top and heavy handed."

After the rally, I went for lunch at Galicia. The place is warm and welcoming--and busy. Customers converse from table to table. The counter fills up and empties, and then fills again. The food is good. So is the cafe con leche.

On my table I had the flyer announcing a rally to save Galicia, January 21 at 12:00 noon. A woman stopped to read it. She said, "I'll be there. Just because this neighborhood is changing, everybody has to get out? No. We've been here. This place is part of our community."

She went on to her table and I enjoyed my chicken, beans and rice, and plantains.

I got into a conversation with another woman, Mrs. Doris Giordano, who was born and raised in Washington Heights. She rescues cats and has been coming to Galicia since it opened.

She showed me a handful of family photographs--her father with his friends on the stoop, her mother on the rooftop they called Tar Beach.

"Tiny Tim was born in Washington Heights," she told me. "Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers came from here. Lewis Lymon and the Teenchords, too. George Raft was from here. My grandmother had a crush on him. They went to school together."

"It's heartbreaking," she said about the demise of small businesses in the neighborhood. "And it's all to do with real estate and landlords." We talked about the closure of the Reme diner and the high-rent blight that is sweeping upper Broadway. "It's like a ghost town. To see stores that've been here since I was a kid, all gone. It's heartbreaking."

She doesn't want to see Galicia go. "Everybody's like family here. I'm not Spanish, but I've been eating here for so long. People say hello. It's safe. You get homemade meals. They have the best coffee and it only costs a dollar-fifty." A rent-controlled tenant on a fixed income, she can't afford Starbucks.

"They're building upscale gourmet places," she said. "The bodega where I got my Italian bread? It's gone and now they're upscale. They cater to the wealthy now. The rent is outrageous all over New York City and people are being relocated. They're moving out all the people who were born and raised here."

We talked about the upcoming rally and the promises of the politicians. Mrs. Giordano shook her head. She said, "I'm not trusting the politicians anymore. They tell you one thing, but nothing's being done. They talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk."

Want to help? Sign the petition to save Galicia. And go to the rally on Sunday, January 21, at 12:00 noon, 4083 Broadway near 172nd St.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Save Coogan's

Earlier this week, the Times reported that Coogan's bar and restaurant will be forced to close at the end of May after being in business since 1985. The closure will happen, wrote Jim Dwyer, "for the usual horrible reasons, the end of a lease and impossible rent demands for a new one."

Coogan's space, at 169th and Broadway, is owned by New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “They want about $40,000 a month more,” said one of Coogan's partners. That's a lot of beer.

This loss is hitting home with many New Yorkers, including Broadway luminary and Inwood native Lin-Manuel Miranda, who tweeted the announcement, saying "My stomach hurts from this news":

Graham Ciraulo, an organizer with the Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale coalition, started a petition to Save Coogan's. Over 10,000 have signed so far.

And there's a rally at Coogan's this Sunday, January 14, at 12:00 noon, organized by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, and other community leaders.

Whether you know Coogan's or you don't know Coogan's, you know it's another brick in the wall of the sterilized, de-urbanized, hyper-gentrified zone that New York is becoming thanks to unregulated landlord greed.

If you're sick and tired of that, then be there. And tell our city's leaders to make a real change -- pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and let's talk about bringing back commercial rent control. It's time to #SaveNYC.

*UPDATE: Coogan's has been saved!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Nick's Barber Shop

Last week I wrote about the sudden vanishing of John's Barber Shop under Port Authority. I mentioned that his brother, Nick, is still going strong in his own little shop on West 44th St. If you want a good, old-school barber shop experience, go see Nick.

Now that John's is gone, along with the great Mayfair, he may be the last of his kind in that area. And you never know how long a place like this will be around.

It's a little spot down a set of stairs at 351 West 44th. The signs just say "Barber Shop," but the official name of the place is the Times One Barber Shop.

If you bend down from the sidewalk, you can see Nick at work. There's always someone sitting in his chair.

You take a seat and hang up your coat. The walls are covered with Broadway posters, many of them autographed by Nick's customers. Along a ceiling pipe hang New Year's Eve sunglasses. There are mementos from Greece, Nick's home country.

If you ask him about the old shop, the one he worked with his brother under 42nd Street in the subway arcade, he might take out some photographs--one of the corner where the shop used to be, and one of himself, a young barber with thick black hair, in the Times Square of the past.

He'll do a decent and quick job on your hair. The price will be cheap--12 bucks. And, like the sheet metal barber poles in the window say, you'll LOOK BETTER and FEEL BETTER.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Lincoln Plaza Cinemas Update

The online petition to save Lincoln Plaza Cinemas now has over 11,000 signatures. Paper petitions are also circulating and gathering names. Every day, customers ask what they can do to protest the closure. But the closure is coming--in just a couple of weeks. Milstein Properties has not offered a new lease.

Before the new year, Dan Talbot passed away. He'd been running Lincoln Plaza with his wife, Toby, since 1981.

This week, West Side Rag talked with Toby. As it stands, she will not be part of Howard Milstein's plans for the site, which reportedly include upgrades and a new movie theater, possibly something run by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Possibly not.

On her wish to keep the theater going, Toby said:

“Of course I would like to continue running it. And one of the things that grieves me — grieves is hardly even a strong enough word — is that the people who’ve been working with us — and I say not ‘for’ us, but ‘with’ us, some for 35 years — are so devoted, I just hate to think of them suddenly being out of jobs. The people on our staff come from all over the globe. It’s a United Nations down there. It’s a harmonious place, run with a very hands-on perspective. I’ve been the one who has chosen everything at the confection stand. Almost every pastry comes from a different place.”

And on the chance of saving it?

“The only thing that could possibly be done,” Toby said, “is if significant political pressure is exerted by our elected officials, saying this isn’t a matter of just economics, but of a cinema culture that has been established for three-and-a-half decades in that spot, with people who are very bereft to be deprived of it.”

photo via West Side Rag

Please sign the petition and write to your local politicians, asking them to get involved. City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried recently sent this letter to Milstein:

click to enlarge

Monday, January 8, 2018

Apocalypse Now

Feeling apocalyptic these days? Go see "Empire," the Lori Nix / Kathleen Gerber show at Clampart Gallery on West 29th St.

Photographs of post-apoc miniatures of the city present "a world transformed by climate uncertainty and a shifting social order as it stumbles towards a new kind of frontier."

It's oddly relieving to see it all fallen apart.

You'll also find a few of Nix's miniature sculptures on display, including a trio of abandoned hot dog carts and a scene of sidewalk newspaper boxes complete with rats and Chinese take-out containers.

The headline?


The show is up until January 27 and there's an artist talk on Saturday, January 13, from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Cafe SFA


Reader John writes in:

"I have heard today that the restaurant Café SFA, which was located on the 8th floor of the flagship store Saks Fifth Avenue, closed on January 1, 2018."

photo via Style Cannoli

He explains, "It was in operation for at least 25 years and was a staple for the 'ladies who lunch' in Midtown. Many celebs and royalty passed through the doors over the years. It was also known for its view of Rockefeller Center and the rooftop gardens, as well as the Plaza and tree during the season. For many years, the ladies came in for the 1/2 sandwich and soup special. And before they were laid off in 2013, there was an older seasoned staff of waiters and waitresses there that added to the great service as well as a sense of continuity that the clientele appreciated. I think it qualifies as a type of place that will not be seen again and is a dying breed."

A call to Saks confirms that Cafe SFA has closed. The space will be reopening as a new cafe in April or May.

Broadway Kitchens & Baths

Back in November I noted the closure of Second Hand Rose Records. Its building, 817 Broadway at 12th Street, was sold to Taconic Partners in 2016. They planned to "reposition" the property -- as the Real Deal reported, "by April 30, 2021, all the building’s current leases will have turned over."

Now another local small business has left the building.

Broadway Kitchens and Baths has closed. They've been in business since 1995. Their big corner space is emptying out as they sell off their display sinks.

As you can see in Taconic's rendering for the "Address of Innovation," the small business was not in the plan:

This means the only storefront business left at 817 is Ribalta restaurant. For now.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

John's Barber Shop


Just a couple of months ago, I wrote about the sudden disappearance of the Mayfair Barber Shop and the move of one of its barbers to John's Barber Shop on the underground mezzanine of the 42nd Street and 8th Avenue subway station.

Now we hear from reader Ken that John's Barber Shop has disappeared -- along with two other neighboring small businesses. Ken called John and reports: "He closed the shop because it became too expensive and no longer cuts hair. Bad for the city and bad for my hair."

What does that mean about the closure of the other shops? Does "too expensive" mean rents were hiked or leases not renewed?

photo from Ken

Before moving to this spot in 1997, John Drakakis worked with his brother Nick in another subterranean spot, in the subway station entrance at the northeast corner of 42nd and 8th. As the Times reported in 1995, "In 1993 the Transit Authority, citing security and maintenance problems, sealed the gate from the passageway to the subway track below. Pedestrian traffic plunged. All the merchants except the barbershop closed."

The site then became part of the Times Square hyper-gentrification project, and the barbershop was forced to close, "demolished to make way for an entertainment center." John had worked in the shop for 39 years.

New York Times, 1995

Nick moved to a little spot at 349 West 44th (he's still there). In 1997, John opened his shop on the subway mezzanine, mostly under the Port Authority bus station. It's an out of the way location, and business started slow, but it built up over the years.

Every time I walked past, John was busy with a customer.

Just last year, he got redecorated by ad agency Mother New York, who replaced his 1980s-looking hairdo posters with new shots.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Grassroots Tavern


The Grassroots Tavern had been on St. Mark's Place for 42 years. It closed on New Year's Eve. The rent was too high. The space will be taken over by someone who runs a chain of bars that have been compared to “Euro Disney’s vision of the classic Irish watering hole."

On it goes.

I rarely went in to Grassroots. Just a few times over the years. It wasn't my bar. But I went in before the closing, as I often do, and wish I'd gone more often.

It's a weekday afternoon between Christmas and New Year's and the place is quiet. A couple of customers sit at the far end of the long bar. No one is playing darts or looking at the silent television. The music is classic rock. "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Don't Stop Believin." The bartender is a woman with tattoos on her arm and a vivid, multicolored black eye. I take a seat at one of the tattered stools, order a drink, and come into bracing contact with the smell of the place.

The feral stink of any old dive is the same from bar to bar, years of sour beer soaked into the floor boards, the organic rot of old wood. It tells you that you're in a place that's been here for a long time. But Grassroots has something extra, a musky base note that shifts in the air, lifting and then fading. At first I can't place it. Then my association goes to the one time I inhaled the residue of a dead body, in the hallway of the Elk Hotel on West 42nd Street. The pungent odor of profound decay. And since I seem to be drawn to the odor of decay (old books, dead leaves), I keep trying to catch it, but the longer I sit here, the more I lose it. (Later, at home, I will find it again, clinging to my sweater.)

Flies buzz the air of Grassroots. Fruit flies and house flies that land without hesitation on the book I am holding (Heidi Julavits' The Folded Clock), rubbing their hands together to groom themselves. I wave them away and drink my drink.

Two older men sit at the near end of the bar, by the window where daylight is dying. They talk about "all the perverts in Hollywood," the creeps getting ripped from the woodwork. A young man takes a seat and opens a paperback copy of Semiotics of the Cinema. As the sunlight fades, the bar blushes red with neon from the GRASSROOTS sign in the window tangled in houseplants.

A woman walks up and down, taking pictures of the place. When I ask her about the pictures, she introduces herself and it turns out we know each other virtually, blog to blog. Her name is C.O. Moed of My Private Coney, aka It Was Her New York, where she has shared her memories of the Grassroots. I interviewed her back in 2009.

So we sit and talk. I ask her, "Do you smell that incredible odor? Like a dead body?" She replies, "It's a million rats rotting in the walls." Her definitive answer settles it for me and now I can forget about the smell and move on to other things.

C.O. has been coming to Grassroots since she was a teenager in 1976. Her mother brought her. Her mother was a bohemian pianist, "eccentric as hell and wild." C.O. says, "I like to think of New York as a mother. The streets are your mother and your mother is your mother. And you have to survive both." So she turned to Grassroots for survival. It's home.

"I was here the night after Trump was elected. I was here the night before my mother died and the night after my mother died. I was sitting at that table, right there by the window, when I saw the first suit walk down St. Mark's and I thought Oh shit. That was 1978."

C.O. grew up on Grand Street and never felt like she belonged anywhere or to anyone. "Grassroots was a place I could go and sit down and be safe. No demands here. You could come in and people liked you. It was a place I kept returning to. I fit here. It's declasse--in the literal meaning of the word--there's no class here. Whatever you are, you're here. It had a big gay following. Vietnam Vets. Actors. NYU students. Black people. Whatever you were, you got to be a part of it."

She calls Grassroots a "touchstone" in her life. "I germinated here," she says. Like many New Yorkers who've been here awhile, and like many newcomers who come looking for New York, she laments the passing of the city's soul, the vanishing of places that feel authentic and open.

"I don't have any place in my life like this," she says. "When you want to leave your apartment, where do you go? I don't know anymore. But who the fuck am I not to have diaspora? You love what you love. Go forward."

I ask her what she means by diaspora. She means loss.

"You lose your homeland," she says. "You lose your mother tongue. You lose your friends. Who the fuck are we to be excused from loss? And yes, it feels awful. Do you miss your home? Does a fish miss the water? I don't know any place like this."

As the afternoon darkens, more people enter. Younger and older. An older man at the bar says to his friend, "The Times had an interesting article about how more and more stores won't take cash." They talk about this and then it's back to the perverts in Hollywood and how young men, especially, don't know how to talk to women because they spend all their time on smartphones. The friend says, "They need to watch a few Cary Grant pictures."

A trio of hefty young men in flannel shirts walk in and order pitchers of beer and bowls of popcorn. A young woman comes in wearing a brown beret, combat boots, and smart glasses, an unwashed New Yorker tote bag on her shoulder. I think: My people.

"There are kids who get this place," C.O. says. "They're the well-read outliers in this world. This place is their clothing. You know when someone puts on something that looks like they should be wearing it? They're smart, bookworm, rare, unique beings. Look around. This place is inter-generational. It serves your heart and your soul. This is not a bar for an idealized self. This is for when you have nothing left but your heart and your soul. It's no bullshit."

She turns to the young man reading Semiotics of the Cinema and asks him why he comes to Grassroots. He explains that he's always come here, since college, that it was just the right place for him to be.

Though a few suits were walking down St. Mark's Place 40 years ago, the street continued to be a counter-cultural zone for decades. Until now. Today, when she looks at St. Mark's, C.O. thinks, "We're fucked."

"Neighborhood people, who are not one-percenters, people who need to go someplace safe with their heart and soul, have nowhere to go. Look. You go to a place and there are micro-layers a foot long between you and everyone else, distance between your bone and their perception of you. Race, class, gender, all that. Here there is no distance. Here you don't have to defend, validate. At Grassroots, it's like being alone, only you've got company."

We talk about the new bar that is going to replace Grassroots, the one that's been compared to "Euro Disney’s vision of the classic Irish watering hole." Will it be welcoming to the same clientele?

"If it's not," says C.O., "St. Mark's is -- well, maybe it's not dead, but it's deadened. Maybe it's been Botoxed. I feel erased. There's no place that fits me now. So I'm solitary. Yeah, I can be myself without Grassroots. You can be yourself without your mother and father. But a part of you is gone. People want to say New York is always changing? This is not change. This is obliteration."

At night, the bar fills up, mostly with young people. Girls in chunky eyeglasses and more berets. Boys in flannel shirts and tattoos. A few punks with half-shaven heads. The odor shifts again as the bar warms from all the body heat. Now it smells of winter coats wreathed in cigarette smoke, and hot cider from the hot cider pot, and popcorn from the popcorn machine. Someone is fragrant with pipe tobacco. Grassroots smells very much alive.

An older man dressed head to toe in Army camouflage orders a pitcher of beer and one mug. He leans over and asks one of the bartenders, "This place is closing?"

The bartender says, "It's got a new owner. I don't know what's gonna happen. They seem like nice guys, so maybe they won't change it much. Put a kitchen in the back. A few upgrades. It'll be pretty much the same."

I think: We'll see about that. Too many times, I've seen what the new people do--those "nice guys"--how they say they'll preserve a place and then they gut it, raise the prices, change the clientele. So we'll see. Whatever happens, you can bet the place won't smell the same.