Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Barry Supply Co.


The Barry Supply Co. has had this enigmatic storefront on West 17th Street for the past 40 years. It reminds me of something from a Ben Katchor comic. Sadly, this week there's a FOR RENT sign in the window. I don't know what that means. But it is amazing they've lasted this long with such a gloomy and poignant window display of "hard to get items."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bright Food Shop

VANISHED: June 2007

Photo credit

Rising rents closed the Bright Food Shop after a couple decades in Chelsea. Honestly, I never ate there, but I loved the fantastic neon sign. It has been there since 1938 and the place has been a restaurant of one kind or another since 1907 (the original tin ceilings are still there).

Walked by today and noted the lovely neon sign is gone. According to this article, the owners have salvaged it—maybe they’ll make use of it somewhere down the road, should they find a spot in New York City where they can afford the rent.

Hotel Allerton

VANISHED: July 2007

Photo credit

Walked by the Allerton in Chelsea today to find one of New York’s last welfare hotels is being gutted. According to this report, the one-time home of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith was sold to a developer for $17 million. The demolition crew says it's turning into a swank hotel. In the pic I took below, you can just see the ornate stair railing and a chandelier still hanging in the background:

The Allerton has been called a “tinderbox for the homeless” by the New York Times: "For decades, Chelsea residents have tried to stop the noise, crime, drugs and harassment they say come from tenants at the Allerton Hotel, at West 22d Street and Eighth Avenue. And a recent murder there, some say, is proof the situation is getting out of hand. ‘The Allerton has probably been the biggest problem that lower Chelsea has had for as long as I can remember,’ said City Councilman Thomas K. Duane, whose district includes the hotel."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Teresa's (and others in the EV)

VANISHED: May 2007

Teresa's closed a couple of months ago.

We long ago lost Kiev and Leshko's. The Odessa still stands on Avenue A. Everyone and their mother loves Veselka, but I loved it better before the renovation. We still have Polonia. Or do we? The gate's been closed awhile, but the guy at the neighborhood video store assures me they're only renovating. Let's hope that's true--and that they keep it greasy.

Thank God we've got the B&H Dairy. After a close call a few years ago, they're still churning out the most delicious loaves of fresh-baked challah bread.

And the Stage was closed for awhile, for renovation. It's open again and I don't know what they renovated because, thankfully, it looks exactly the same as before.


VANISHED: July 29, 2007

Harlem's landmark soul food restaurant Copeland's closed today. When it comes to closing businesses that have survived the worst, what has more destructive power than AIDS, crack, crime, and arson? Gentrification -- according to the story in the Times.

From the New York Times:
Calvin Copeland was there when rioters burned and looted stores in 1964, when crack cocaine and AIDS tore families apart, when brownstones were for sale for $50,000 and few outsiders dared move in. He endured fire and financial ruin, yet each time he picked up the pieces and prospered, as bold and resilient as the neighborhood around him.

If he could be the master of his fate, he would live out his days in Harlem, Mr. Copeland, 82, said yesterday, serving soul food from the restaurant he has owned for almost five decades, Copeland’s, a relic of the past anchored in a place fast in transition.

Gentrification has pushed away many of the black families who used to patronize his business. “The white people who took their place don’t like or don’t care for the food I cook,” he said. “The transformation snuck up on me like a tornado.”

Photo and text copyright, New York Times, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Playpen & The Funny Store Revisited

VANISHING: July 29, 2007

Two days until closing and the Playpen is having a "blowout" sale on all sex toys and DVDs. The live girls, however, are not on sale.

For $10 + $20 you get a strip show, and for $10 more, you get the "full masturbation show." Since this would be my last visit, I let Marilyn, the girl behind the plexiglass, talk me into the full treatment. She sat back in her chair and did her routine. I asked her what her future plans were, now that the Playpen would be closing. She told me she was depressed to see the Playpen go, and that she planned to move down the block to the peep booths of Gotham City while she looked for "something legit." Together, as Marilyn kneaded her breasts and touched herself, we lamented the changes that have leveled Times Square.

Next stop, the Funny Store. The owner, Arnold Martin, was there with his assistant, Stephanie. They were kind enough to chat with me and let me take plenty of pictures. Stephanie worried about what she would do after the Funny Store is gone. "I can't work in a magic shop," she said, "I'm not a professional magician, and there's no more stores like this one anymore." I asked her to recommend an item for purchase and she suggested the 24" Horror Rat, a popular item. "This is the last one," she said, "You can say you got the last rat at the Funny Store." I opted instead for an ice cube with a bug in it and a pair of X-Ray Specs.

"You know these don't really work," Arnold warned me when I made my purchase, "When I was a kid these were a major disappointment. We thought we were gonna see through girls' skirts, see right through our skin. You remember? The ads said 'An amazing illusion.' What kid understands the word illusion?"

Arnold pitched the fake vomit to me, "It's great for airplane rides. You're stuck in those tiny seats, right? You don't want some smelly person crowding you. So you just put this on the seat next to you and no one's gonna sit there."

"The stewardess would try to clean it up," Stephanie countered, "and they'd see it was fake."

"No, they wouldn't," Arnold said, "The stewardess would just throw a paper towel over it and leave it for the clean-up crew to deal with after they land. It's perfect. It'd go right through security, too. You just tell them it's an artistic sculpture. They won't give you any trouble." Two customers walked in and asked for a shocking hand buzzer and Arnold directed them to the shocking section by the register, the same area where he keeps the phony knives, mustaches, and beards.

The beards became a big seller a while back when Arnold closed the passageway that led next door to the Playpen. Men liked to enter the adult emporium through the Funny Store, to be discreet, but sometimes when the door opened Arnold's younger customers caught glimpses of things they shouldn't have. After he closed the passageway, he pitched fake beards and dark glasses to the men, a move that gave his business a boost.

A customer came in and asked for a whoopie cushion. Stephanie pointed out the rubber chickens hanging from the ceiling and made sure I got a picture of them. I considered buying a whole bag full of items: squirt lighters, packets of itching powder, fake bloody fingers, snake nut cans, fart candy and sweaty cheese sweets, snapping gum and books on how to deal guns, grow marijuana, become a secret agent, or change your identity and disappear overseas. But I held myself back. You can't take it all with you.

When Stephanie left to get her nails done, she hugged Arnold goodbye and he told her everything would work out and not to worry. He and I talked a while about the lost Times Square, how every low-rise building was slated for eventual destruction. "Soon this will all be nothing but towers," he said, "You won't even be able to see the sun."

I told him I didn't want to leave, that I wanted to spend all day at the Funny Store. He joked, "Why don't you come back on Sunday when I block the wrecking ball with my body? You can help me." I told him, "I wish I could." On the way out, I snapped this last picture, a phony eviction notice that seems a bit too real.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Funny Store & The Playpen


According to the New York Times, The Funny Store—“must-stop shopping for fans of rubber rats, mice, snakes and chickens; fake excrement of all shapes and sizes; and trick playing cards and whoopee cushions”--on 44th Street and 8th Avenue is closing next month. The building has been sold to a condo developer. The shop owner, Arnold Martin, cannot afford to remain in Times Square where the store has been, in various locations, since 1957 and where rents have risen 400%.

Presumably, this also means the tragic demise of the Playpen, which occupies the same beautiful 1916 theater building at 693 8th Avenue. It was formerly known as the Cameo Theater and still has many of the original details. There's not much time left. Take a tour of the upstairs and view the goddesses on the walls--and, downstairs, view the live goddesses behind glass partitions--before they're turned to dust.

This from the Times:
According to Mr. Martin, the most popular item, hands down (or is it feet down?), has been the fake dog excrement. "It’s imported from Spain," he said. "So real it even fools the dog." Other top sellers include hand buzzers, whoopee cushions and rubber chickens.

...One prop no longer in stock is "the magic curtain" for grown-ups, which hung on the left wall. It attracted a businessman crowd, always in a rush, with serious faces. Pull back the curtain and be entertained with a much different selection of props.

The Funny Store had an agreement with the Playpen, a shop selling sexually explicit materials next door that provided an entrance through the magic shop. The arrangement was drawn up after a 1995 antipornography law limited the amount and display of such materials sold in parts of the city to 40 percent of a store’s inventory or floor space. That agreement ended last year, and now a wall has replaced the curtain.

"Just about every day someone comes in, looking for that curtain, trying to avoid embarrassment," Mr. Martin said. "But I suggest that they buy one of our fake beards and a pair of sunglasses so no one would recognize them going into the adult shop."
Copyright 2007, The New York Times, article by Joe Brescia

Shea Stadium & Willets Point

Shea Stadium in Queens was named for William A. Shea, the man who brought National League baseball back to New York after the Dodgers and Giants went west. Citi Field has been named for Citigroup, Inc., the multinational corporation that helped Enron steal money. In the bizarro world of the New World Order, Shea is coming down and Citi Field is going up.

photo from Loge13

This summer, enjoy a game at Shea before the retro blue and orange stadium is demolished. Before the first pitch, head over to Willets Point, also slated for demolition.

If you’ve never been to the Iron Triangle, as this working-man's neighborhood of 250 small businesses is fondly known, now is the time to go. The officially blighted area around Shea Stadium is picturesque for its shanty-style mechanic shacks, chop shops, and junkyards. Think stacks of rubber tires, corrugated tin walls decorated with hubcaps, stray dogs, and guys hanging around in grease-stained wifebeaters. But it’s not as scary as it looks. There are also some cheerful men made out of old mufflers.

Wander around. You’ll soon find a welcoming little place where you can get a delicious plate of chicken, beans, and rice. And someday, when the Iron Triangle has a new family-friendly name and is filled with condos, Starbucks, and Cold Stone Creameries, you’ll have this memory to remind you that, one time, a long time ago, New York City wasn’t so stultifyingly dull.

One thing you can do, however, is sign a petition to save the homerun apple.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mars Bar

VANISHING? (not yet)

Had a drink at Mars Bar this weekend. Without the overflow from CBGB's (vanished 2006), Mars misses the business from hordes of punks. Still, there's no indication that the bar is closing--according to The Voice, the owner has a "long-standing agreement" with the city and "It's here as long as the owner is alive, and that will be for some time."

However, Mars Bar is literally surrounded by brand-new luxury condo towers and that does not bode well. You never know around here when the next good place is going to vanish without warning.

A very drunk and friendly patron warned me not to take pictures inside the bar because, if he caught me, the owner would "go ballistic." I did not want that, especially after overhearing how the guy had recently beat someone bloody. I had to settle for a surreptitious snap of an infamous Martian toilet.

As scary as it looks, Mars Bar is a comfortable and affable place. I even got some good advice on how to stop my pulse, should I ever need to appear dead: "Stick a balled up handkerchief in your armpit and then just squeeze it real hard."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"Taxi Ray" Kottner's Free Taxi Rides

VANISHED (temporarily?): July 2007

Photo source

Gothamist and the New York Post report that “Taxi Ray” Kottner has had his Checker Cab impounded, taken off the streets where it used to give anyone who hailed it a free ride. Here’s a story about riding with Ray in July of 2005:

We were lucky enough to get into Ray Kottner’s cab the other day at 5th Avenue and 18th Street. The taxi, a 1982 Checker Cab built in the final year the Checker Cab Company manufactured such cars, is outfitted with a row of license plates across an ample front bumper that read RIDES 4 U R FREE. Its roof-top billboard advertises “Bloomberg for President.”

Inside, the backseat is spacious, upholstered in weathered blue velveteen. There was no bulletproof plastic to divide us and no seatbelts to hold us. Unbelted and unobstructed, in the wide-open space of the car, we had the feeling of swimming. The windows were rolled down and the cab had the tired smell of old cars, musty sun-warmed vinyl, a smell you don’t get much anymore and which can bring back memories of other cars, other backseats. A wall clock, hanging where the meter ought to be, had the words dreams and memories written across its face. Parked along the dashboard, a fleet of die-cast toy Checker cabs sat at their own miniature taxi stand, as if waiting for fares.

Photo source

Behind the wheel, wearing a yellow and checkerboard-patterned cap, septuagenarian Ray Kottner slowly guided his rickety vehicle southward, complaining joyfully about the Taxi and Limousine Commission and how they confiscated his cab last year, punishing him for operating independently of their regulations by giving away free rides. Kottner is in the middle of a major lawsuit and he dreams of dismantling the taxi commission completely. “Don’t worry,” he assured us, waving at the impatient new cabs that honked and shoved from all sides, “I’ll get rid of them someday.”

With the breeze riffling the white hairs on his forearm, Ray stuck his hand through the window and pointed out the Orpheum Theatre where Stomp bangs out night after night for the ever-flowing tourist trade. He told us, “I had the owner of that theatre in my cab 20 or 30 years ago. She wanted to do a play about taxi drivers. Who wants to see that? All we do is go around in circles. It’s boring. But I did have a guy murdered in my cab once. Back in the sixties.”

“Two guys were fighting over the cab,” said Ray, “One stabbed the other and dropped him in between two parked cars. What was I going to do about it? I drove home and went to bed. I was glad he didn’t get any blood in my cab.”

Kurowycky Meats

VANISHED: June 2007

On dark winter mornings, the foggy window of Kurowycky Meats glowed warmly, garlands of sausage strung alongside Christmas lights. I bought ham there and chicken breasts that the butcher would trim with great skill, dumping the yellow trimmings into a bucket filled with fat. The place smelled deliciously of bacon and other smoked pork products.

June 3, 2007
An East Village Haven for Meat Lovers Closes Its Doors

There is no more of the best-selling baked ham, which takes two and a half weeks to cure and 24 hours to smoke in the shop’s own smoke pits, and sold for $5.59 a pound. And there is very little left of the second big seller, kielbasa, which takes four hours to smoke, and sold for $4.79 a pound.

There is little of anything left in Kurowycky Meat Products Inc., which was 52 years and three generations in the making. It closed its doors yesterday in the East Village, succumbing to changing times and tastes. Acclaimed among gourmets (James Beard was a fan), it was one of the last sausage makers in Manhattan owned by a family that operated its own smokehouse, about 20 or so steps from the cash register.

Jaroslaw Kurowycky Jr. (“Please, call me Jerry”), the principal owner, decided shortly after Easter that it was time to go. He started quietly drawing down his inventory of bacon, hams, kielbasa and 30 kinds of cold cuts so the cupboards would be as close to bare as possible.

Mr. Kurowycky (pronounced KOO-duh-vitsky), 48, and his staff of four spent the afternoon making two-handed handshakes with the male customers and hugging the women, some of whom, in turn, kissed their hands, a poignant gesture amid the denuded shelves.
Copyright New York Times

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jeremiah's Lamentations

When you walk through the neighborhood, you can’t avoid them. They are everywhere, the predatory derrick cranes, angling over corniced rooftops, ten stories high, the sunlight gleaming on their latticed booms, turning their guy lines to chains of gold, their hooks dangling like baited lures over the streets where moneyed suckers stroll dreaming of luxury condo lives.

Entire blocks have been blocked. The construction crews have rerouted sidewalks into narrow corridors fenced by blue-painted plywood walls and plastic mesh fences printed with the names of the new retail-residential complexes, illustrated with pixellated images of giant youthful bodies power-cycling on gym machines, lifting fizzing flutes of champagne, laughing mightily, toothily, in glass-box penthouses. Up there, the new New Yorkers nest, oblivious in their glossy towers, as down below the lower buildings slump beneath rusted tin entablatures, bricks shrunken and shivering, waiting their turn to crumble to dust.

I could create a long catalog of the lost. Permit me to list just a few of the missing whose faces you won’t find on the backs of milk cartons: CBGB, where punk rockers loitered out front, stabbing the night air with spiked hair; Kurowycky Meats, the windows hung with garlands of sausage, warm-lit on winter mornings; George’s (also known as Bar 81, also known as the Verchovyna) for cheap drinks, a perfect jukebox, the colored glass over the bar that said Have a Happy; Jade Mountain's Chow Mein lettered in pink neon casting a blush across the rain-washed sidewalk at night; Kiehl’s, before they sold out, when the place was still small and filled with antique motorcycles; The Variety Theater, where Travis Bickle met Easy Iris in Taxi Driver and now the Toll Brothers tower; the Gentle Touch Car Wash, where you could get “a whale of a wash” from a grinning Moby Dick; Gertel's, the Bakers of Reputation filling Hester Street with the fragrance of chocolate rugelach; LaRosa and Sons warming Elizabeth Street with the tangy yeast aroma of baking bread; The Second Avenue Deli, once mid-century chrome and Kosher, now a Chase Manhattan bank; and, most recently, Teresa’s, my every Sunday brunch, my challah French toast, my pierogis and borscht, my sad Polish waitresses sliding on rubber-soled shoes across the greasy tiled floor, laughing in squashed syllables. All of them gone.

For a while, I was making pilgrimages to sites that bore the obvious look of inevitable doom, following rumors of closure before the doors were locked for good. I lunched one last time at Katz’s delicatessen, breathing in the gorgeous salty smell of pastrami. I went to Coney Island and rode the Wonder Wheel before they could knock it from its moorings and roll it into the sea. I ate hamentaschen from Moishe’s Kosher Bake Shop, matzoh ball soup at the B&H Dairy, potato knishes at Yonah Schimmel’s, and walked to Guss’s for a final taste of pickles fished from briny barrels. I said a prayer to Jesus in sun-struck, butter-yellow St. Brigid's Church. I even did a memorial load of darks at a Laundromat destined to become another Dunkin Donuts where for years the pretty Polish girls folded my underwear lovingly. I took notes and snapshots and watched them all breathe their last gasps before my eyes. I could not reach them all in time. They passed away much too fast. And then they began to go even faster.

One week, I’d hear about two more places. The next week, three more places. Like the dominoes that old men used to play on the sidewalks here, they dropped one after another. “Lost Our Lease” signs went up everywhere, along with “Thanks for a wonderful 20 years,” or a wonderful 30 years, 40, 50, 60 (Ratner’s deli on Delancey lasted 97 and yet succumbed). And as quickly as the hand-lettered paper signs went up, the old buildings came down.

There were demolition men everywhere, stomping their yellow workboots and clapping dust from their denim, dining in lazy rows on the sidewalk, munching sandwiches from between their knees and making their common comments to women walking past. The streets shook with demolitions. Hydraulic crushers, pulverizers, and shears hammered and ripped and drilled. Bricks spilled red onto sidewalks like body parts scattered after a bombing. Dust hung in the air, giving the East Village its hazy 9/11 look. Rats hustled out of their humming holes. Dreadful smells oozed from ancient basements suddenly uncovered. Newspapers from World War I spilled out of gutted walls where they’d spent a century as insulation. My windows rattled in their decaying muntins.

Now I wait, hiding inside these bricks, blighted and condemned, for the wrecking ball to come for me as it will eventually come for you. In the end, we will all be lost in the pile of this vanishing city.

drawing by ben katchor

Monday, July 16, 2007

Grand Luncheonette


Personal journal entry July 28, 1995:
I went into the Grand Luncheonette today for a Coca-Cola. A little hole-in-the-wall of vintage chrome and orange formica, set beneath the shade of a burned-out movie marquee, its few remaining bulbs still burning. I sat on the swivel stool and watched 42nd Street. I watched the flies hum around the ketchup bottles, the man turning hot dogs, the big cans of sauerkraut and chili stacked under the greasy counter. A fan turned and stirred up the dirt. Nothing much happened.

I finished my soda and walked down 42nd, looking at the things in the windows of all the head shops along the Deuce--Magic Shaving Powder, Spanish fly ointment, corn-cob pipes, Rough Rider condoms. Men called out from shadowed doorways, “One-dolla, one-dolla, one-dolla. Live nude girls." I looked in the window of the Martial Arts Shopping Center, at the mechanical Victorinox army knife, folding and unfolding its blades. I looked at all the knives and the brass knuckles and the swords. I looked into a window full of books with titles like: How to Pick Up Girls, How to Create a New Identity, and How to Build Your Own Bazooka.

photo by Andrew Moore

Luncheonette's Grill Turns Off for Good
The New York Times, October 20, 1997

Most of the regulars could be found at the Grand Luncheonette yesterday, parked on the stools or bellied up to the counter.

There was Abdul El-Amin, who started coming regularly 25 years ago for knishes after kung-fu movies. There was Officer Charles Mitchell, who has patrolled Times Square for a decade and often stopped by for a hot dog (95 cents) with sauerkraut (5 cents extra). And there was Pops, a toothless 42d Street regular who could not remember exactly how long he had been eating there.

"Since forever, why don't we leave it at that," said Pops, who left his name at "just Pops."

As he has for 58 years in the neighborhood, Fred Hakim, the owner, wore his stained white fry-cook's jacket and dished out fare as delectable as it was profoundly greasy. He enforced the prohibitions tacked on the mirror behind the counter: "No Loitering. No Spitting. No Water. No Ice." And he held forth as a humble historian of the Deuce, as he still likes to call 42d Street west of Seventh Avenue.

But Mr. Hakim, 69, had a hard time keeping it all from sounding like a valedictory. After more than 25 years in its closet-sized space at 229 West 42d Street, the Grand Luncheonette spent its last day on 42d Street yesterday.

Still from the film Grand Luncheonette: Watch it here.

It is being closed as part of the Times Square redevelopment project, which has shuttered dozens of the neighborhood's older businesses -- many of them sex-oriented -- to make way for sparkling new restaurants, theaters and retail stores.

...As word spread last week that his luncheonette was closing, Mr. Hakim became a celebrity on the television news. Yesterday, as the cameras returned, his wife, Jane, made a final plea to any Times Square landlord not yet wedded to fancy coffee or Disney outlets.

"There must still be a market out there," she said, "for someone who wants a plain old hot dog and a knish."

text Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company

Verchovyna Tavern aka George's Bar aka Bar 81

VANISHED: New Year's Day 2005

On 7th Street since the 1930s, they could no longer afford the ever-rising rent.

These images are slivers stolen from someone else's pictures discovered on flickr. I cropped out the people and kept the blurry bar backgrounds.

Above, an orange martini glass frames the phrase (unseen here) "Have a Happy." Below, you see the stained glass doors of the cabinetry, decorated with beer barrels.

oh Chumley's we love you get up

VANISHED (for now?): April 2007

Chumley's of Greenwich Village closed recently due to collapse. News has it, the classic speakeasy will be renovated and reopened. Cross your fingers it returns to its former glory, shown here.

more pics on my flickr

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up
--Frank O'Hara