Friday, November 30, 2007

International Bar

Since at least the 1980s, the International Bar on 1st Ave. and 7th St. was a haven for neighborhood drunks and punks. It closed in 2005 under mysterious circumstances and the space has been for rent since. I happened by one day when the realtors were showing the place to a group of entrepreneurs armed with measuring tape and plans to turn the International into a more upscale-sounding bar -- I heard them muttering something about "wall sconces." But that was a while ago and the FOR RENT sign is still there.

In its lifetime, there was nothing upscale about the International. I spoke recently with Rebecca, a long-time habitué and graduate of the old Stuyvesant High School (when it used to be on 15th and 1st), who recalls going to the bar after school with friends and being served alcohol as a teen.

“It was my entrĂ©e into the adult world, where I first met the people I wanted to become. But when you took a step back, you saw they were fucked up people. I mean, what kind of 40-year-old really wants to hang out with a teenager? It took me awhile to figure out that these were perhaps not my best role models.”

She recalls a dark room strung year-round with Christmas tree lights, a long bar with rickety tables in the back, and patrons who brought in their scruffy dogs. “It was one of those friendly not-friendly places—the bartenders were bristly but ultimately welcoming.”

After graduating high school, she had rare occasion to visit the International, but found herself there the night of the 2003 blackout. “It was exciting. People were on the streets, sitting on stoops, drinking beer and actually talking to each other. The International was open. They had candles burning. They were serving beer and letting people smoke at the bar, although smoking was already illegal. It felt like the 80s."

When the bar shut down, its fans were left without a sense of closure. Said Rebecca, “It was unceremonious. There was no warning. I would have liked to go in for a last drink. But it was just over. No nothing. It was just goodbye. But that was totally in character. At the International, it was always no frills.”

View more remains of the International on my flickr

Thursday, November 29, 2007

*Random Shots

The Apple Store in the landmarked Western Beef building is getting ready for its Dec 7 opening, but the most interesting part of the building (to me, anyway) is this odd sign for World Examining Works. The name comes up at another address in a 1930 directory and may have been a cloth sponging works. If anyone knows more, do tell.

More glass for Balazs...

...less meat scraps for the seagulls, here seen hunting for remnants between Balasz and Von Furstenberg.

I found this photo in a great flickr stream, everystreetinmanhattan: Here's what used to be before the Cooper Square Hotel knocked down the block:

New York Lost

As our city continues to vanish, more and more people are asking the question, “Has New York lost its soul?” And discovering the answer is yes, they are working to preserve whatever is left – through writing, photography, filmmaking, painting, etc. Documentary filmmaker Reed Fulton Korach is one of these people and his short film, New York Lost, is his attempt to hold on to our city.

In Little Italy: "I expected something like Goodfellas’s more like You’ve Got Mail."

In the film, Korach interviews everyday New Yorkers on the street, small-business owners, as well as public figures such as Sion Misrahi, the developer who is transforming the Lower East Side into a luxury locale. Through it all runs the question, “Has New York lost some of the magic and verve it once had?”

The answers are mixed, depending on who’s doing the talking. Misrahi seems to disagree, envisioning a future filled with “air and light” and “tall buildings.” I guess people who live in his tall buildings will have air and light, but what about the rest of us? Mike Rizzuto, a Fulton Fish Market worker, misses his air and light. The new market at Hunts Point, he says, “is basically a prison. We lost a lot in that fish market.”

"I invested 35 yrs down in that fish market and it became a part of me."

Korach was inspired to make this film after the old Fulton Fish Market closed down and he realized that the city of his birth was slipping away. His mission, he told me “is to make people aware of what's going on in a visual way, and let them decide for themselves whether or not the change is good.”

Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, responding to the corporate homogenization of the city, says, "Maybe the trendoids, jetsetters, and freakazoids of Manhattan...can dig on that, but if you're a borough just take umbrage to this."

Mike Gallagher of Gallagher’s Gallery and Archive on East 12th is firmly in the “not good” camp, as he says, “It’s like they’re raping the landscape… It’s a lost, lost, lost place.”

"The Village is not the Village anymore."

It's always comforting to hear my own sentiments echoed by others, but I like the fact that Korach doesn’t just speak to the nostalgists, he also interviews people who believe these devastating changes are for the better. I find it fascinating to hear from these people and I’d like to see someone make an entire film that investigates their thinking and behavior.

One guy on the Lower East Side, for example, really wants the city to be “nice.” He says, “I think it’s great to have a lot of restaurants. It makes things convenient and nice... It would definitely be very nice if the city and developers were to take an active role in making everything nicer.”

"Everybody likes Whole Foods down here, I’m sure, except for a few renegades."

It's true that there are only a few renegades left around here. And if a renegade is someone who hates to see New York turning into Cloneville, then Reed Korach is one. He told me, “Change can be good, and I am all for change, but when change means replicating every block to look the same and wiping out family-owned businesses and raising the rents so high only the super wealthy can live here, this is not the kind of change that is for the better.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

*Everyday Chatter

Can Chumley's really "put the inside back in" the way it was after the devastation? [Observer]

The real New York just isn't New York enough for the big screen. As the city's authenticity vanishes, we'll see more and more of this. [Gothamist]

The Times profiles the machers who are frantically smoothing the Bowery's "rough edges." The Cooper Square Hotel expects to open next summer. The Bouwerie Lane Theater will be condos and retail. The broker for the "other" part of CBGB's hopes for a jewelry shop or "a nice little place that will stay open late." But, no matter what, these down-to-earth folks all want to preserve the funky, rough-edged character of the Bowery. [NYT]

Unleashed, Columbia University takes aim at Harlem's Cotton Club. Said the club's owner to the Voice, "I want it to go down in history, go down through my family. That's the American way, right?" [Queens Crap]

Tell New York magazine why you love the city -- I know, it's getting harder, the reasons are fewer and fewer, but something's still keeping us here. I'm also curious.

A panel of developers is asked if the city is becoming only for the rich -- and they kinda, sorta don't really answer the question. [City Room]

The NYPD is entrapping lucky finders and do-gooders as thieves. I've returned every lost wallet I've ever found. If there's ID, I track down the owner. No ID, then it's mine. Fair and square. Whatever happened to finder's keepers, loser's weepers? [NYT]

1551 Broadway

A magazine writer emailed me yesterday in a search for the lost buildings of 2007. Many buildings come to mind. The smaller ones seem to fall away from memory -- they go so quickly and without warning. It's hard sometimes to remember what was where. But the one that stands out in my mind, perhaps more than any other, is 1551 Broadway, the former home of Times Square's last Howard Johnson's and the Gaiety Burlesk.

photo: my flickr

The 112-year-old building was not a beauty, but it held a lot of New York history -- right down to the bricks, which came from the Shultz Brick Company and probably traveled down the Hudson River to get here from a once-thriving industry now vanished.

The Childs Company bought the property from the Martel family of France in 1920 for $400,000. In this photo from the same year, it held Park Taylor clothing and, upstairs, Wilson's Dancing Studio, where Henry Miller fell in love with June Edith Smith in 1923.

photo source: NYPL

Wilson's later became the Orpheum Dance Palace, a taxi-dance hall that closed in 1964, soon after journalist Liz Trotta went undercover there, posing as a dancer to write an expose (which I would love to read, if anyone can find it). It then became the New Paris, which went from the "All-Live Whirly-Girly Revue Big-Time Vaudeville" house to a 1970s swinging place where live sex acts were performed on mattresses fragrant with bodily fluids. The Gaiety also most likely opened during that same sticky decade.

Thanks to owner Morris Rubinstein, Howard Johnson's came to the corner in 1959, around about the time this photo was taken:

photo source: hojoland

In the New York Times in 1988, Morris Rubinstein (then 79) said of 1551, "As long as the Lord will spare me in this world, it's not for sale...What am I going to do with the money? I already give to charity. What else do I need? What would I do with $20 million? Would I have a better cup of coffee? Would I get a better sandwich?" But the Lord could not spare Morris forever and in 2005 the building was sold by the Rubinsteins, along with two other properties, for over $100 million. The Gaiety closed and was soon followed by Howard Johnson's.

For two years, 1551 stood partly fallen, the demolition halted by the intrusion of a refreshment bar belonging to the Lunt-Fontanne, formerly the Globe Theater, whose Broadway lobby stood next to 1551.

photo source: NY Times

Globe in 1930s with Orpheum sign on 1551

It wasn't until sometime late this summer that the demolition continued to its completion and 1551 fell back into a pile of bricks, each of them holding untold secrets and sensations, each one stamped over a century ago with the name Shultz.

my flickr

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

P&G Bar

We've been hearing about the P&G Bar's impending doom for a while now. Recently, The Observer observed that the storefront is being torn apart. And yesterday, the Metro had a story on the old neighborhood saloon and its probable closing. This is sad news for the Upper West Side.

I went into the bar not too long ago, had a few drinks, and took a few pictures of what owner Tom Chahalis calls the "ambiance." It's the ambiance of old bars, places like McHale's and Corner Bistro. It's soft, worn wood, walls turned brown by tobacco smoke, the ocher glow of dim lamps. It's the smell of beer and the silence of solemn drinkers. It's an old-shoe feeling, a broken-in comfort you can't get from the new. And it's going fast from every corner of our city.

At the P&G, they've got a petition you can sign, but as we know, petitions do little in the face of 80% rent increases. Still, it's worth going in and adding your name to the list of people who want to save a place filled with history and meaning, a place that provides free turkey on Thanksgiving, a place its patrons call "my church."

“I’m kind of hurt," Mr. Chahalis told the Metro, "after all these years, to feel like you’re not wanted anymore." Sadly, in today's New York, Mr. Chahalis is not alone in that feeling.

photos from my flickr

*Everyday Chatter

The 18-year-old bodega at 14th and 3rd is moving. The whole low-rise building looks doomed. I predict that we'll see it all go -- the tanning salon, the cell-phone store, even the XXX DVD shop, which happens to have the last peepshows/buddy booths on a corner that only a decade ago was loaded with porn and frequented by hookers:

How do they say Merry Christmas in the McMansions of Rockaway? With giant toy soldiers overshadowing teeny-weeny Jesuses and some good old-fashioned, plush-on-plush dog humping:

Columbia gets closer to bulldozing Harlem (with likely use of state-sponsored eminent domain) and, as usual, many blog commenters applaud the legalized theft. [City Room]

Barbara Corcoran advises her readers to find up-and-coming, gentrifiable areas by looking for old ladies on park benches. I guess the next step is to wrestle those same old ladies off their benches and boot them out of town. [Curbed]

Jahn's ice-cream shop in Richmond Hill, Queens, is closing down after 110 years. Forgotten NY says there's one left open in Jackson Heights. Looks like it's time for a trip. [Ed's MB]

Here's a little East Village wishful thinking:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ken Friedman at Sucelt

This weekend I went back to Sucelt for another helping of beans and rice, empanadas, and a cup of morir sornando, a frothy milk and juice shake whose name aptly translates to “die dreaming.” While waiting for my beverage I joined a conversation between the owner, Jehnny Novarro, and one of her regulars. They were talking regretfully about Sucelt’s December 24 closing. “Maybe it’s for the best,” Ms. Novarro said with a shrug, “I have to think this way so my heart won’t break.”

The regular introduced himself as Ken Friedman, co-owner of The Spotted Pig, a restaurant I’d never heard of before. “I’m always looking at restaurant spaces,” he told Ms. Novarro, “Maybe I can find something for you in the area.”

“I’m thinking about a place in New Jersey,” she said, “Here the rents are too much. I would have to double my prices — and more. I cannot do that to my customers. They are working people, poor people. I cannot do that to them.” She’d rather go out of business than fail to serve her faithful.

As Ms. Novarro went back to her work, I talked more with Ken, a scruffy, quietly affable guy who loves Sucelt so much he eats there three times a week. It was at Sucelt, he said, that he and his chef found the inspiration for their popular cubano sandwich.

Ken told me he came from California and has a passion for old New York. (He enjoys reading this blog and gave me an impromptu interview.) The Spotted Pig, he explained, is housed in an 1849 building that lived many lives--as a carriage house, a Dutch flophouse, and a tavern. “We tried to make it look like the Hudson riverside pubs,” he said of his meticulous restoration efforts, “so now we’ve got a nice fake old place.” But he also enjoys the city’s real old places, like Katz’s, Corner Bistro, and Ess-A-Bagel. “New York wasn’t meant to be all banks and Starbucks,” he said, “We need places like this.”

Ken enjoying a magnificent Sucelt empanada

*Everyday Chatter

Remember the too-short Venetian blinds that hung in the condo windows at 110 3rd? Well, the same curtain-challenged tenants are trying yet another ill-advised window treatment--this time it's shrunk-in-the-wash-sized tab curtains hung mid-window by adhesive plastic hooks:

Meanwhile, most of their neighbors at 110 3rd don't even bother with curtains. Why conceal such cookie-cutter condo lives?

The Willets Point Industry & Realty Association is fighting the city's plan to use eminent domain to seize properties in the Iron Triangle of Queens. To help make their case at the City Council hearing on 11/29, they've put together this compelling video about the businessmen in the area: [WPIRA]

On the Upper East Side, motley old newsracks are being replaced by silvery Cemusa-style dispensers. I'm sure the Municipal Arts Society will be happy to see this, after launching their Nasty Newsracks contest, but I worry about yet more uniformity marching down our island (P.S. That pink sign in the background is announcing another Cashmere Mafia shoot):

The removal of a bodega's awning on 10th St. has revealed a set of vintage Cost and Revs wheat-paste posters, circa 1992. I dialed the phone number to find it's been disconnected, but it used to belong to someone who called herself the Grandma of Graff. Where is she now? And whatever happened to the artists' plan to "tear the city to pieces and rebuild it"?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Dancing on the LES

I went for a walk through the lower Lower East Side the other day, to see what had vanished and what still remains. I passed the wreckage of Gertel's bakery, a heap of twisted metal and rubble behind plywood fencing and a stop work order. Next door, not long ago, there used to be a wonderful candy and nut shop called Kadouri & Sons.

The old signage of the area is quickly vanishing, but this cool Bondy sign remains. And at Eldridge and Canal, I was greatly relieved to find that the Cup & Saucer Luncheonette still stands. I had a grilled cheese (on Pechter's rye) and potato salad.

Directly across Canal from the luncheonette, half a block is being demolished. I later did a little research and found that the "BEN" neon sign once stood for Beny's Authorized Sales and Service. In business for 50 years, the shop was run by Jerry Cohen who repaired lighters like Zippos and Ronsons. According to Curbed, once this structure comes down, a 16-story retail/residential tower designed by Peter Poon will take its place. I recommend you enjoy the Cup & Saucer before this happens. Its days are surely numbered.

Click this link for a Before shot of the above

Right behind the Cup & Saucer, I went into 39 Eldridge where a sign for Happy Dancing Club led me up a set of warped and filthy stairs, past locked doors scrawled with Chinese lettering in magic marker. I came to a slightly open steel door that had no knob. Romantic Chinese music flowed out from within. A homemade shrine sat on the floor, candles flickering.

I definitely got a "this is a brothel" kind of vibe and it took me several minutes to get up the courage to pull the door open. Inside, behind a curtain, Chinese couples danced around in an elegant circle beneath disco lights and red lanterns. I thought: Not a brothel, but maybe a taxi-dance hall? And yet some of the couples were made up of two elderly men. Men and women sat in chairs against the walls. They all turned to look at me when I peered inside.

While I later discovered that this same address did, in fact, once house a brothel, I think this dance hall is legit. A kindly older woman waved me in, smiling. She gave me a business card printed with the name "Zhou" and the number 646-662-3828.

If anyone speaks Chinese, I'd appreciate it if you could call Zhou for me and find out what the deal is. If it's simply a matter of paying a fee to spend an afternoon dancing, I'd like to give it a try--before this mysterious place, like many others, vanishes too.

*Everyday Chatter

There's a new sign up at Jade Mountain: In red neon-lit, Germanic-style letters it says SHOOLBRED'S.

At 14th and 5th: A Chase bank is opening soon right across the street from...another Chase bank! You can't have too many, can you?

And you can't have too many Rite Aids, either: "Drugstore shoppers in Sunnyside are seeing double these days... Two Rite Aid pharmacies have set up shop right next to one another at 46-12 and 46-02 Greenpoint Ave., with a third store just three blocks away." [NYDN]

"Well-heeled" yunnies are sucking the marrow out of the bones of the Lower East Side. But that's not news, now is it? [Gawker]

Is it happening? The bodega on 4th Ave. and 10th St. looks like it's being demolished--the big yellow Dumpster has arrived. Does this mean the East Village's latest luxe hotel is on its way--or am I still just spreading scary rumors?

This Elizabeth Currid sounds like she's written a good book. I'll let her words answer the many who like to tell me to give up on Manhattan because art and culture are just thriving like crazy in the outer boroughs:

"Part of what makes art and culture work so effectively in New York is that art and culture thrive in a very dense environment... Also the fact that, historically, creative people tend to like to live in the same neighborhoods... They can’t do that anymore, now they end up at best scattered in some far out place in Queens. And they’re not actually having an artistic community...these neighborhoods are so rapidly gentrifying that the minute an artistic community gets its own space, it’s quickly usurped by Starbucks and investment bankers. Places like Williamsburg are already no longer artistic communities for young artists in the way we hoped they would be." [Gothamist]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sucelt Coffee Shop

VANISHING: 12/24/07

From out of the cold yesterday, I stepped into the warm and cozy hole-in-the-wall of the Sucelt Coffee Shop for a lunch of beans and rice topped with soft plantains, and heard the sad news that, after 31 years on 14th St and 7th Ave, the shop is closing.

Most of the customers in the crowded shop are Spanish-speaking regulars, but there was one new guy at the counter. Like all newcomers, he was warmly welcomed and embraced by the maternal, gemutlich atmosphere created by the waitstaff, a trio of smiling ladies who are easy to laugh and who care for you like kindly, brisk, efficient aunties.

A newcomer laughs with the ladies of Sucelt

This newcomer was so excited by his home-cooked meal, he exclaimed to the ladies as he was rising to go, "I'm glad I found this place--I'm going to come back all the time!"

"You better come back soon," said one of the ladies, "We're closing forever December 24."

"Oh no," said the man, "What happened?"

"We lost our lease. On the day Jesus was born, that's the day we go."

"That's just terrible," the man said, shaking his head, "It's happening all over my neighborhood, too." Then he wished the ladies good luck, put on his hat, and walked back out into the cold, abandoned once again by his city.

Click image below to read New Yorker review 6/12/00:

*Random Shots

According to a tipster on the scene, about 35 people showed up for last night's protest of the Cooper Square Hotel and its plans to add 3 new bars, including a 200-person capacity outdoor entertainment venue. "It's gone too far," they chanted, "not another bar!" Was anybody listening? (See more protest pics on flickr.) Update: Eater's got video.

At Astor Place, as one mega-chain goes out, another comes in next door. Given the choice, I'll take the B&N over the Walgreens (or the David Barton gym that's coming) any day. And look, Walgreens has escalators, how exciting, just like the Kmart across the street!

Speaking of fancy-pants gyms, I love it when yuppies attack each other. And here's one in the East Village taking a piss on another one's Lexus:

Getting more glass, condo Yves continues to turn fishtank green:

The abandoned Bamboo House cat is available for adoption at Social Tees. Says his rescuer, "He's very sweet, but a little sad right now." He also smells like egg roll. Kidding. His teeth have been cleaned, he's been neutered, and tested negative. Why not take home a warm little souvenir of our vanishing New York?