Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Eisenberg's? U-Bet!

I went back to Eisenberg’s recently for yet another perfect tuna sandwich on toasted rye. This time, owner Josh Konecky was there, presiding over the cash register in Hawaiian-style shirt, writing out to-go orders on brown paper bags. I had one question I really wanted to ask him: “Most people nowadays when they buy a place, they change it,” I said, “Why did you keep this place the same?”

He looked at me like I had just asked the most ridiculous question in the world, then he shrugged and said, “Why change it? When I bought the place, people kept saying, you’re not gonna change it, are you? I told them, I’m just gonna clean it up a bit. And they’d say, Don’t clean it up too much!”

Josh did have to make a few changes. The exhaust system used to blow out the front and legally it has to blow out the back, which is too bad, because blowing out the front was good for business. “Fifteen years ago it was the smell of bacon on the street that brought me in,” Josh said. He’s also got a broken seltzer fountain that he’s trying to get replaced without losing the vintage 1940s look of it. Sadly, that means (for now anyway) all egg creams have to be made with bottled seltzer. But what syrup does Eisenberg’s use?

“Fox’s, of course. U-Bet,” Josh told me, as if there could be no other syrup.

“Did you know," I said conspiratorially, "the Stage Deli uses Hershey’s."

“Hershey’s?” he said, incredulous, “And what do they charge, four dollars for an egg cream?”

*Everyday Chatter

One of my faithful tipsters, Kingofnycabbies, sent in a few news items, including one about another long-time restaurant shutting due to quintupling (!) rent. After 37 years, the Delphi Restaurant in Tribeca has closed. Again, a place and people with strong ties to the community, in good relation with the neighborhood, must fall to make room for the upscale and the oversaturated. [NY Sun]

Queens residents are kicking themselves for not landmarking the LIC Savings Bank gem. [NYDN]

They're trying to evict a long-time resident musician from one-time artist enclave Manhattan Plaza for being too noisy. [NYDN]

Some good news: The city is set to landmark 7 buildings -- and 2007 has the highest number of preservations since the good old year of 1990: "it is the very speed of development that may have sparked the current wave of landmarking activity." [AMNY]

How about a little vanishing San Francisco? "Gayborhoods" like the Castro and NYC's West Village are vanishing as young queers seek cheap rents outside the city centers and the dominant monoculture rolls in like the Blob, swallowing all in its path. Such is life in America's melting pot. [NY Times]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Condo-pocalypse Is Coming

after the condo-pocalypse...

I love a New York City apocalypse fantasy and these images by photographer Lori Nix are right up there. They're from an article in this week's New York Magazine in which they enumerate the ways in which our exuberant economy might be tanking. To the catastrophists, they say, "it sure smells like the seventies all over again."

My dream? To see these luxury condos fall vacant then fill up again, but this time with working class families, artists, small business owners, novelists, filmmakers, teachers, nurses, PhD students, a few trust-funders trying to make it on their own, poets just bussed in from small American towns, the bus drivers, too, and blind piano players, crazy cat ladies, neo-burlesque dancers, retired vaudevillians, feeders of pigeons and wearers of tinfoil hats, drag queens and kings, taxi drivers, butchers, bakers.

In short, New Yorkers, the people who live here -- whether born here or drawn here -- not because they want to live in a shopping mall, but because, of all the places on this planet, New York is the only place where they can truly feel at home.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Arnold Hatters Revisited

Arnold Hatters used to be on 8th Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets, right where it had been for the past several decades, until the government declared the entire block blighted, seized it, and passed the property on to the New York Times in a sweetheart deal.

As Times writer Dan Barry wrote, “Someone invoked those magical words, ‘eminent domain,’ and presto: say goodbye to several small businesses on Eighth Avenue.” Thankfully, for Arnold Hatters that goodbye didn’t mean forever. The shop moved to 8th and 37th in the shadow of the Times tower that displaced it.

Times tower risen

I tried on a herringbone fedora and talked about the blighting with Peter Rubin, son of Arnold Rubin, after whom the shop is named.

“I never used to be political,” Peter told me, “I voted and figured everything just took care of itself. But then this happened. It’s changed everything for me.” Disillusioned, betrayed by the city of his birth and a government that bulldozes small business owners, he reminisced about the former shop.

“My great uncle built all the shelves in the old place. They were solid. If you fell against them, you felt how solid they were. He made them with white oak. We wanted to take them, for the new place, but the city wouldn’t let us. They said the shelves were permanent fixtures and we’d have to buy them back.”

The Rubins didn’t go for that ridiculous deal and their great uncle’s solid white-oak shelves were destroyed in the demolition. “I wish I was the city,” Peter said, “I wouldn’t do stuff like this. A lot of people would be mad at me, but not the people who live and work in this town.”

His brother Mark finished up with a customer and came over to join us, unlit cigarette in hand. I asked him how business was doing since the move. He told me they still get the theater people and the faithful customers, but they’ve lost the important Port Authority traffic. “Manhattan’s funny,” Mark said, “We’re just four blocks away, but it’s another world down here. We’re down 40% of what we did in our last year in the old location.”

Mark, Peter, and their father Arnold were all named Rubin, but that was also a forced change. Their family name was originally something very Eastern European and difficult to pronounce, so the officials at Ellis Island decided to make it easier on themselves.

“The city screwed us back then, too,” the brothers joked, trying to see the humor in it all.

Mark wearing the Arnold Hatters "Raider"
Peter in the Stefeno Cagney

*Everyday Chatter

Chase Bank hires a friendly fursuiter to attract customers and Trader Joe's uses cute artsy kids to do the same. Somehow, the two don't seem so different to me. [Racked] [NY Mag]

Here's a New Yorker after my own heart, "I see a city that's losing its texture, its character, its grit. Yes, New York City is still the greatest city in the world. But it is no longer the most exciting and surely, it now ranks as the most heartbreaking." [NYDN]

Over 100 Harlem residents got together this weekend to protest the destruction of their neighborhood by Kimco, set to demolish over a dozen shops. Fox 5 News showed a brief clip of angry people carrying signs that said: "Stop cultural genocide." [Columbia S.]

After 80 years, the city decides this newsstand is suddenly in the way -- but the neighbors aren't having it. [NY Post]

A landmarked building -- and piece of city history -- collapsed in Chelsea. You just know some condo developer is jumping for joy. [Video on News 7]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vanishing NY in the NY Times

October 28, 2007
New York Times, City Section
Witness to What Was, Skeptic of What’s New

By Paul Berger

From the island at the center of Astor Place, a frustrated man who goes by the name of Jeremiah Moss can see three Starbucks. Towering overhead is Charles Gwathmey’s Sculpture for Living, a 21-story, aquamarine-tinted glass building shaped like a wave. Almost directly opposite, on the former site of St. Ann’s Church, rises a steel-and-concrete skeleton soon to be a 26-story New York University dorm.

When Mr. Moss moved to the East Village, the island at the center of Astor Place was a hangout for squatters and punk rockers. Now, the rapid loss of such places fuels a despairing blog called Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York that offers a running commentary on what many regard as the city’s grim metamorphosis.

The scheduled departure of Astroland from Coney Island, the move from Greenwich Village of the fabled Shopsin’s restaurant, the ouster of the Playpen sex shop from Times Square — the gentrification of swaths of New York is hardly new. But when the changes are chronicled in one place, their pace is staggering and, seen through Mr. Moss’s eyes, alarming and depressing.

Those who contend that an unprecedented influx of money, combined with rapid development, is causing the city to lose its soul need look no further for evidence than Mr. Moss’s blog. It reads like an obituary to a disappearing city, with Astor Place as the “epicenter of evil.”

Until a few years ago, Mr. Moss used to exit the No. 6 train at Astor Place. On his way to his apartment, he cut through a parking lot where the Sculpture for Living now stands.

"There used to be such a great view from here, and now there is this glass wall,” says Mr. Moss, who conceals himself behind a pair of tortoise-shell sunglasses and a gray Fedora, bought 15 years ago in a store in the Village. (“The shop has gone,” he said, “but the hat remains.”)

He also conceals his real name, worried that disclosing it will jeopardize his day job as a freelance writer. He chose the first part of his pseudonym, he said, because Jeremiah “was the prophet of doom who nobody listened to until it was too late.”

In recent years, still more of Astor Place has changed. The first floor of Astor Place Hairstylists has been replaced by a Cold Stone Creamery. Astor Wines and Spirits has moved down Lafayette Street, to be replaced as early as next month by a Walgreens.

One of the only holdouts from Mr. Moss’s quirky Astor-Place-of-old is Jim Power, a homeless mosaic artist who is often found working next to the huge cube-shaped sculpture on Astor Place titled, perhaps fittingly, “Alamo.”

As Mr. Moss wanders the neighborhood pointing out landmarks on his Vanishing New York “death watch” — the Polish-Ukrainian East Village Meat Market on Second Avenue and the B & H Dairy restaurant one block away, “another last of the Mohicans” — he ponders the most unfathomable aspect of it all.

“These places are always packed, and then you walk by one day and they are gone,” he said. “How can that be possible?”

Copyright New York Times, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I am hereby coining a new word: Condoschmerz. Literally "condo pain" or "condo weariness." Inspired by the German Weltschmerz. Describes the psychological pain and existential hopelessness experienced when one's city is overcome by rapid, ubiquitous, luxury condo development. Often accompanied by disorientation due to a suddenly changing, once-familiar landscape. Before depression sets in, can initially lead to a sense of powerless rage which may inspire those suffering from Condoschmerz to perform acts of vandalism.

Which leads me to this latest find. Clearly, a Chelsea neighbor suffering from Condoschmerz has become tired of the pain caused by the condo at 18th and 8th. They have used some kind of massively sticky goo (perhaps egg yolk?) to paste these notes to the front doors:

The barriers have been up for some time, originally erected to keep the nearby high-school kids from congregating. The tactic has failed. The kids still congregate and the barriers have become a haven for junkies on the nod, drunk homeless guys, and weary dogwalkers looking for a place to rest. The condo continues to use the sidewalk as its personal garbage dump.

Another prime example of the manifestation of Condoschmerz is the current rash of anti-condo graffiti in Williamsburg. At some point, however, these protesters will give up. Once Condoschmerz reaches a certain critical level for an individual, the existential dread felt by its sufferer leads only to inaction, malaise, and a crippling sense of alienation.

*Everyday Chatter

Another good bar, the All State Cafe, gets crushed beneath the bootheels of progress. Read these testimonials and weep. [City Room]

Rejoice! Coney gets one more summer...but next August we'll be sobbing again. [Kinetic C]

I've been trying to remember what they demolished on the corner where the 8 Union Square South condo now stands. Oh, was that funny little Paterson Silk building.

...and on the opposite corner: Here's an old TV commercial for New York's now-defunct J.W. Mays department store. There used to be one in Union Square, where the Whole Foods is today. [Malls of America]

Finally, high-end Hamptons shop Blue & Cream moves into the Avalon Chrystie and puts up a bunch of posters in their window filled with photos of grinning, toothy consumers: my flickr. Over the door it says, "Welcome to the Bowery."

The Condo Shall Inherit the Earth

When you take a walk around the western edge of Chelsea, you can feel the ground shake with the rising of condo towers. Every day, more and more. Here is a selection seen while walking from 10th Ave. and 18th St. to 11th Ave. to 24th St. and down again. Just a few short blocks, but oh so many ticky-tacky glass boxes. More heave up from the south, the north, the east. If they could, I am sure they would rise from the Hudson's riverbed. They sprout like an overnight invasion of fungi. So I'll let Sylvia Plath say the rest with her creepy poem "Mushrooms."

Chelsea Modern

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

459 W. 18th

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

unmarked site guarded by svedka fembot

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Nouvel Chelsea with "mechanized oculi and veils of glass and steel."

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

200 11th Ave.

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

245 10th Ave.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

La-Rosa Cubana Cigars

Much is changing along 6th Avenue in the upper 20s and lower 30s, but there remains a fascinating assemblage of small businesses -- holdout flower shops, wig shops, and assorted wholesalers. Sadly, many of them are vanishing as luxury hotels, condos, and retail towers flatten the neighborhood.

On the second floor of 862 6th Avenue is a small cigar factory and shop that’s been in the area since 1958. La-Rosa Cubana Cigars was founded by A. Antonio Almanzar, a cigar maker from the Dominican Republic. It is now run by his son Frank.

When you step inside the shop, you are pleasantly overcome by the deliciously strong, organic fragrance of tobacco leaves. It feels like another place, another time. Bales of tobacco just shipped from the Caribbean wait by the door. Three master rollers make cigars in stages. Their work area is littered with brown leaves and brings to mind images from Lewis Hine’s Lower East Side, though La Rosa’s shop is more cheerful -- and those old Lower East Siders didn’t have posters of pin-up girls on their walls to keep them company.

La-Rosa has a packed humidor and 70-year-old wooden molds that belonged to Frank's father. Once inside the molds, the cigars are pressed for about an hour then wrapped in a sheet of Connecticut light, a soft leaf that feels like silk from being aged for five years. “Tobacco is like wine,” Frank told me, “When you age it, it gets a vintage taste.”

Frank knows cigars. He began working in his father’s shop when he was 9 years old. His job was to vein-strip the leaves until he learned to roll, beginning with mini-torpedoes. He still enjoys rolling these mild little cigars and generously gave me a handful. We lit up in the shop and it was a treat to smoke indoors. Since Bloomberg’s smoking ban went into effect, Frank has had to cut his production — and his workers. He used to have 7 rollers, now it’s just the 3.

Frank holding mini-torpedoes before a photo of his father

The view outside his window is changing, too. Where once there stood a mixed assemblage of low-rise buildings, there soon will rise a glass tower, with yet another giant coming one block north and several more just to the south. Like many of New York's remaining small businesses and longtime residents, La-Rosa is rapidly being surrounded by "revitalization." But what could be more vital to our city than shops like Frank Almanzar's?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Flower District & Superior Florists

Walking down 28th Street in the flower district is like walking through a tropical jungle – you duck under broad green leaves and breathe in the earthy smells – but it’s a jungle that’s being mercilessly clearcut for development. I wondered about the rumor that this traditional Manhattan market might be moving to the Bronx, so I asked around.

One longtime plant seller told me, “10 to 15 years ago, it was all flowers. Now it’s dead. They’re putting up 22 new hotels in a 5-block radius. Only those of us with a good lease will stay.” Another echoed the sentiment, “Some will leave, some will stay. All the city wants is big business. There are 3 hotels going up on this block.”

once a garden, now the Hilton Garden Inn...
and another one coming...

Thankfully, Superior Florists isn’t going anywhere. The shop has been in the same building since the 1940s and they own the property. “That’s the only reason we’re still here,” owner Steve Rosenberg told me.

Steve remembers when his whole block, from north to south, and 28th Street from Broadway to 7th Avenue, was all flowers. He remembers the characters, men who were like family, men who shouted curses and tossed their wares from one side of the street to the other. And he remembers the colors, “flowers piled up as far as the eye could see.”

His grandfather, Louie, opened the business in 1930. When I asked him how long he’s been working in the shop, Steve said, “Since I’m in diapers.” He started out sweeping the floors, then moved up to folding rose boxes and wiring flowers. He loved the shop and went there every chance he got, stopping in after school and later going home with his father, Sam, sometimes not until midnight on a Friday after spending hours “making weddings.” He wonders if he learned more in the shop and on those streets than he ever did in school. “You learned how to haggle,” he told me, “You learned when to open your mouth and when to keep it shut.”

Louie Rosenberg, founder

Haggling was a sport and an art. Steve used to go out early in the morning with his father and grandfather to buy from the wholesalers. “If a guy told you a dollar, you told him 50 cents and you walked away. The guy always came running after you, shouting, Okay, okay, 50 cents!” But there’s no haggling in the flower market today.

“The whole neighborhood,” Steve said, “has lost its character.”

*Everyday Chatter

I went by to check out the CBGB gutting the other day, but all I found were these giddy Chase suits, deliriously shoving flyers in my face and announcing that "a new Chase is coming," like it's cause for celebration.

pic from my flickr

Remember the old Second Avenue Deli and welcome in the new with the Lebewohl family. [NY Times]

This may have finally been the final weekend for the endangered Red Hook ballfield vendors. [Gothamist]

Cooper Union has sold the remaining soul of Bowery between 5th and 6th to the Cooper Square Hotel moguls. What does this mean for the Federalist building at #35 and what about Hettie Jones? [Daily Intel] [JVNY]

Something's going up in the empty lot on East 13th [Curbed]. Here's a peek behind the wooden fence -- whatever's coming will blot out the graffitied Dominican flag and no doubt contribute to the blotting out of the Dominican people in the neighborhood. Unless, of course, it's affordable housing (cue the evil madman laugh).

more pics on my flickr

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chatty Conductors & Ferry Shines

There are those who make our dreary daily commutes a little more interesting. Surrounded by androids tuned out on ipods and handheld video games, cell phones and Blackberries, a flash of humanity can mean a lot.

Conductor Jason Lewis has been making life on the #2 train more human by adding his own words to those of the automated robot voices, wishing his riders good morning as he cracks jokes and waxes philosophic. This all may end, however, as he was passed over for a job as dedicated announcer. The MTA was afraid he would not conform to their official script. "I'm done," Jason told the New York Times.

In 2003 Carmine Rizzo said he was done, after shining shoes on the Staten Island Ferry for 35 years. He was the last of the ferryboat shoeshine men. I remember him as a stooped little man with an oily wooden box in his hand and a tired voice that called out, "Shine, shine, shine." He said not another word to me when I got a shoeshine from him, but it was a pleasure to prop my foot on his box and feel the thrum of his brushes while I watched the harbor flow past.

I haven't thought much about that man until this weekend when I visited the Staten Island Museum's ferry exhibit where they have Carmine's retired box and brushes on display.

Although the newspapers all say Carmine quit, the guy taking admission at the museum told me he was more or less pushed out by Bloomberg's post-9/11 city and its need for monotony in the name of security. The bands that used to play on the ferries were banned and so was the "rhyming salesman," deemed a "quality-of-life problem" according to SI Live.

New York used to be full of characters, but these days not everyone wants a city with character. Some commuters on the #2 train wish the happy conductor would just shut up and at least one ferry rider had this to say about the shoeshine men, "To me, it just gets annoying putting up with them yelling 'Shine' all the time...I'm glad to see them go."

Such is life in today's vanishing New York. I wish Carmine would come back.

ferry sketch with shine man by Cecil C. Bell

Friday, October 19, 2007

Westpfal's, Continental Die, Lamp 25

I took a walk today down West 25th Street and stumbled back into what has to be one of the last holdouts of the Industrial Revolution in Manhattan. A giant pair of scissors gleaming over the street pulled me in to Henry Westpfal’s, a company that has been sharpening and selling cutlery since 1874. They began on Houston Street and until this summer had a shop on 30th Street, but a massive retail/condo complex is going in, so they had to move.

I found them at 115 West 25th in an odd little space shared with two other anachronistic businesses, Continental Die, Inc., and Lamp 25. The lamp repair shop is moving soon and Westpfal will expand from its current cubby, a counter jam-packed with scissors, nippers, and other sharp things, including Wusthof knives and C.S. Osborne leatherworking tools, objects with ancient names like awl, haft, and stippler.

Carmela and her red-handled bestselling shears

Carmela Wiegmann has been working at Westpfal for over 50 years. “We sharpen the old-fashioned way,” she told me, “using the wet method, with water running over big wheels just like in the 1800s. We’re the last ones to do it that way.” Dry sharpening is no good because you can burn the blade, take the temper out, and then it’s too soft to cut properly. When sharpening scissors, they don’t just open the scissor and run it over the wheel, they do it right, they take out the screw.

Their customers are often chefs who come in with rolls of knives for sharpening, manicurists with dulled cuticle nippers, guys who like to use straight razors, and fashion people who work with fabric and leather. Their bestselling scissor is the Mundial 8” pair of dressmaker shears. Carmela had me use them to cut first through a hunk of leather, then a wad of fabric two inches thick. It went through just like butter. Said Carmela, “This is a wonderful, wonderful scissor.” It sells for $32, but Carmela will let you have it for $28.50.

Continental Die, Inc., (“manufacturers of labor saving devices”) occupies the bulk of 115 West 25th, just behind Westpfal’s. It’s been run for the past 23 years by a Korean man named Mr. Yi. Carmela Wiegmann introduced me and sang the praises of her neighbor’s tool and die. “Mr. Yi has a very fine reputation,” she told me, “He’s known as an honest and reliable man.” Mr. Yi smiled and showed me around his clanking shop, a crowded place with a tin ceiling and big machines that seem to have come straight out of an older New York.

Customers bring Mr. Yi rough, hand-drawn sketches of the dies they want and he creates them. He just finished a job for a menu manufacturer. You know those little filigreed metal corners that come on plastic menus? They’re the sort of thing you rarely notice. Mr. Yi makes the die that stamps those corners into existence. He also makes dies for stamping leather belts and handbags, ornamental doorknobs, novelties, and the tiny rivets on denim jeans.

Mr. Yi with his menu-corner stamping die

While Westpfal's and Continental seem to be doing alright, I can't say the same for Lamp 25. As Carmela told me, "It's a real gem. I mean, where do you find a lamp repair shop like this one anymore? You don't. Now everything's Duane Reades and banks. But there's not enough business. The lamp man will be gone by the end of the month."

vanishing lamps

Unstolen Bike

When I saw the young woman park her bike against the outside wall of the Chase bank (formerly the Second Avenue Deli) then go inside to withdraw cash without locking the bike I thought it was strange that she felt so secure. But since she could easily turn around and see her bike from the ATM, maybe she figured she could keep an eye on it.

After she took out her cash, however, she breezed right past the bike and headed across the avenue to the farmer's market in the courtyard of St. Mark's Church (called Abe Lebewohl Park after the Second Avenue Deli owner who was murdered nearby in 1996). She shopped among the apples and squashes for 10 or 15 minutes and never looked back to check on her bike.

She owns locks--you can see them (more than one) in these photos--so she cares about keeping her bike, but she obviously doesn't believe she needs to use the locks in the East Village.

I felt an inexplicable rage at her blithe sense of security and must admit, I was tempted to hop on that bike and pedal away, just to teach the girl a lesson. The East Village is not Mayberry, where you lean your bike against the drugstore without locking it and go inside for a Slush Puppy and a lazy browse among the comic books. But what if I am wrong about that?

I didn't steal that bike and neither did anyone else. The girl came back, her basket laden with greenmarket produce and flowers, climbed on her unlocked bike and rode away.

Welcome to Mayberry.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Autumn in New York

It's warm again. 74 degrees today. It's mid-October and the air ought to be crisp, but it's muggy. With global warming ramping up, what will happen to autumn in New York?

Diesel answers that question with their image of a vanished city -- and a vanished world -- in their new ad campaign. Gothamist comments on Wired's open question: Are these ads evil or fun? I think the answer to that is obvious.

The campaign's website features a video that outlines the dire consequences of global warming then says, "Hold on! Global warming cannot stop our lives." Cue the party music. Just like George Bush's hideous insistence that if Americans stop shopping and going to Disneyland then "the terrorists win." Now Diesel tells us: If you stop partying (e.g., burning fossil fuels) then you're letting global warming win.
  • The Washington Post mocks, "You can't be too well-dressed for the apocalypse."
  • Torontoist calls the images "vomit-inducing adverts for the masses."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

*Everyday Chatter

Here's coverage of Brooklyn's hotel development panel, where Le Bleu's manager cries sour grapes at bloggers who, he thinks, are critical only because they can't afford the $400 rates. [Brownstoner]

A movie about the death of Coney Island. [Hotel Chelsea]

More trees are scheduled to die in Queens. [Queens Crap]

H.W. Ramberg, Brooklyn ship repairer since 1925, is leaving its Red Hook home for Jersey now that Ikea's come to town. As Ikea says, "Home is the most important place in the world." Right. [Gowanus Lounge]

A little homage to Brooklyn's Schrafft's. [mcbrooklyn]

A choice quote from Reverend Billy: "In 2007, in New York City, a healthy neighborhood is radical. The law firm of Bloomberg, Doctoroff and Kelly are dedicated to the swallowing of neighborhoods by the mono-culture. We’re turning into a traffic jam next to a glassy tony condo-front. But we love the apple for the bluster and bombast and gossip and happy lies – all that comes from bodies colliding on sidewalks, a lazy hour on a stoop, shouting first names in doorways. Eccentric proprietors of shops that maybe need a wash. The mono-culture that fills the streets with packs of 28 year old stockbrokers is then the same issue exactly as bombing Iraq and heating the arctic." [Gothamist]

Times Square Sleaze

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jade Mountain Update

Something is happening at Jade Mountain, the former beloved Chinese restaurant on Second Avenue. For the past several mornings there has been quiet activity going on behind the metal shutter. Yesterday I was able to ask one of the workmen what's in store for the old favorite.

a peek inside jade mountain

"It's going to be a restaurant," he told me, but he didn't know what kind. I hope it's another Chinese joint and that they keep the beautiful neon signage. Either way, let's be thankful it's not turning into yet another bank or Starbucks.

Sally Young & Cooper Square

cool stuff from sally

Artist Sally Young makes t-shirts, stickers, postcards, and lots of other things -- including what she calls “goofy little pamphlets” -- about the destruction of the East Village where she has lived for the past 27 years. And while she is currently putting together an accordion book of images taken from the demolition of Cooper Union’s Hewitt Building, she’s been most interested lately in researching a building that was destroyed to make way for the Cooper Square Hotel, that glassy monstrosity at 5th and Bowery.

the hotel today, a giant above the bricks
click to see chimney stains on left-most building

Previously owned by Peter Cooper and built on the Stuyvesant Farm property, Sally told me, the building was once a Colonial. After it came down and before the hotel went up, you could see the outline of its gambrel roof. The demolition also revealed wooden walls and stone foundations. A pair of dark smoke stains from the building’s twin chimneys could be seen snaking up the bricks of the house next door, artifacts from long-ago nights spent by the fire.

Sally took photographs of these revelations before they disappeared. She loves the rich history of the neighborhood and has created a little book called Deconstructing Bowery in which she has listed the names and occupations of the people who made Bowery their home in 1825. It’s a collection of chairmakers and watchmakers, butchers and bakers, hatters, tobacconists, and makers of sandpaper.

27 Cooper Sq, future nightclub

When towers go up, we lose all of our history, near and far. Poet Hettie Jones (ex-wife of Amiri Baraka and one of the last beatniks) lives at 27 Cooper Square, one of two still-standing original buildings on the block. She refused to leave when the hotel came, so the hotel built around her. Her little brick tenement looks like it’s being ingested by glass and steel.

There are controversial plans to install a club and two bars in the hotel, one of which will be outdoors and end just 30 inches from a neighboring building's windows. The hotel lounge is going into the tenement's first floor space, currently shored up by wooden beams. This amoeba-like incorporation of the smaller building is a potent symbol of the way development is devouring, decapitating, and disemboweling our city.

Like Sally Young’s t-shirts say, visit the East Village and “come see what’s left.” Every day, there is less and less to see of what the neighborhood used to be. What will remain to remind us of how we got here and the people who came before us? Without a past, how will we even know ourselves?

You can order your own t-shirts and more by contacting Sally at

Monday, October 15, 2007

*Everyday Chatter

Giuliani admits guilt (or takes credit) for murdering the soul of New York City. (P.S. Avoiding eye contact is still a good idea.) [NYT] [Gothamist]

Harlem braces for Bloomie's big rezoning bomb. [NY Sun]

Here are two ways to avoid eviction when Barb Corcoran's breathing down your neck: drop dead or move to New Jersey. I'm not sure which choice is better. [NYDN]

Mosaic Man Jim Power has sold his URL,, to a real estate company. Jim desperately needs the money so he can rent some real estate of his own and stop sleeping outside. The irony of this situation is painful. [Scoopy's]

The Pennsylvania Hotel, the one that inspired Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000," is coming down and only, like, two people care. [NYO]

With all the talk of Manhattan's soul these days, what about Brooklyn's? [Kinetic C]

Stage Deli

The Stage Deli is celebrating its 70th anniversary tomorrow with klezmer music and reduced prices on its astronomically priced sandwiches. That's good because who in their right mind pays 20 bucks for a pastrami on rye? Anyway, the place has been around for 70 years and that's saying something.

The waitstaff is seasoned, but the "flair" on their vest fronts reminded me of the kids at TGI Friday's. In fact, the whole place kind of reminded me of a suburbanite's idea of "New York deli." The counter, where I sat, was not a lunch counter. There was no Formica, no chrome swivel stools. It was a shellacked wooden bar with high chairs, the kind of setup you find in an Outback Steakhouse.

And the joint is lousy with tourists. They line up around the block so they can order matzo ball soup and talk about it like it's something exotic. The Mom seated next to me could not stand the fact that the sullen counterman had failed to inquire about which state in the union she hailed from.

"Don't you ever like to ask people where they're from?" she asked.

"Sometimes, but not all the time," said the counterman, mixing an egg cream with Hershey's chocolate syrup. 

"But aren't you curious?" she pressed.

"I know where you're from," he said, "I can read your t-shirt."

"We're not from Boston," she gloated, "I got this shirt on a vacation. We're from the capital of the United States of America. You know, Washington, D.C."

The counterman looked suitably unimpressed.

According to Time Out, the Stage pays about a million dollars a year in rent, so I guess they really do need to sell those pastrami sandwiches for $20.