Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gino the Royal Tailor

For 40 years, Gino DiGirolamo had a busy, cluttered tailor shop on Avenue A near the corner of 12th Street. In late 2006, his landlord moved him out to a new space on 14th Street between A & B. That’s where you’ll find him now, at the Royal Tailor shop, chatting with customers in English so broken it’s utterly scrambled, peppering his talk with Italian words brought over from his native Palermo.

He wears a measuring tape around his neck. He has two televisions sitting one on top of the other. His walls are covered with pictures of the Italian soccer team, boxer Rocky Marciano, and a poster showing popular lengths of sleeves and trouser legs.

A gray-haired woman sits with him. While customers are present, she is silent. But after the customer leaves the shop, she gets up and berates Gino, telling him what he’s doing wrong and asking why can’t he do things the way she says. The tailor just smiles.

He seems happy with the way business is going on 14th Street, but he liked his old spot better. After a year, the abandoned shop is still empty, a FOR RENT sign hanging overhead. In fact, all four commercial corners of 12th and A have been empty for at least the past year. People wonder what’s happening there.

One Livejournaler who used to live on the corner noticed recently that his building has been almost completely emptied of residents. He also reminds us that Mary Help of Christians Church and flea market were sold “under rumors that the land was being bought for a condo development and/or NYU dorms.”

I asked a man I encountered emerging from the basement and he denied such rumors, saying Gino's old space would be rented soon. (*Read this update for the answer.)

Whatever is happening on those long-shuttered corners, Gino's tailor shop won't be returning. He'll be staying on 14th Street. For now.

Watch Gino on Youtube in these short films by Matthew Handal:

Monday, January 28, 2008

American Psychos

If you have watched American Psycho lately, as I have, you may have noticed that the film and the main character bear a striking resemblance to today's New York. In 1991, when the book was published, and 2000, when the film came out, Patrick Bateman was a caricature of the 1980s Wall Street yuppie with a sleek condo on the Upper East Side. He was specific to a certain time and place.

Watching the movie today, his specificity washes away. In 2008, Bateman's condo could be anywhere in Manhattan (and many places in Brooklyn), he could work in an office in Times Square or Soho, and his malignant narcissism is no longer a pathology of the few.

In today's New York, the American Psycho is an everyman.


Bateman's kitchen is an orgy of stainless steel and overperforming appliances, features greatly fetishized in today's popular condos. Below is the gleaming metallic kitchen from Blue:


Bateman's condo shows off the cold emptiness of luxe condo aesthetic. But his windows are small compared to the floor-to-ceiling "oculi" enjoyed by 21st-century yunnies and seen here at 459 18th Street:


Bateman is obsessed with his looks. He wants his body to be hard. So do the people who will live in The Platinum, according to their advertising images of steely cyborgs:

Friday, January 25, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

Is aspirational shopping finally dead? [NY Times]

Sophie's Bar, "the last peg of a dying neighborhood," is up for sale and here's another inside scoop. [Villager]

Is Florent, the original Meatpacking pioneer, the Queen of the neighborhood since 1985, really to close? Not without a fight. [Eater]

The Wackness
may be the first movie to wax nostalgic for New York in the 1990s: "To transform the city to its less gentrified self, the filmmakers threw more garbage on the street, sprayed some more graffiti, painted a mural to Kurt Cobain and obtained a 'Forrest Gump' bus poster. 'There was this unspoken-of good will toward the time,' said Mr. Levine, who was in production the film earlier this week. 'Is the New York of today, which has a Starbucks on every corner, better than pre-1994?' He was proud of the fact that 'It’s one of the first movies to fetishize the 1990s.'" Oh, and it stars Mary-Kate Olsen, too. [City Room]

More college kids to come bulldozing New York neighborhoods. [AMNY]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Amato Opera

With all the recent destruction on the Bowery, I figured it was time to revisit the Amato Opera house and I went to see La Boheme. I saw the show years ago and not much has changed. Now they have a screen above the stage with English supertitles, a great improvement. That's about it. A lady who might be Ukrainian still sells home-made brownies at the snack bar. A stack of old records and VHS tapes sits for sale nearby. Otherwise, the place is the same.

Founded in 1948 by husband and wife Tony and Sally Amato, they moved to the Bowery in 1964. For years their tenement theater stood between a parking lot and CBGB's, both now gone. If there is one reason to grieve for that parking lot it's because that was where you could see (and hear) the chorus practicing before performances on temperate afternoons.

Another loss, greater than that parking lot, in 2000, Sally Amato passed away, leaving Tony to carry on the tradition of big opera in a small space. She no longer makes her cameo appearance as the silent waiter in La Boheme, but Tony still comes out on stage during each performance's final intermission to conduct a raffle (a buck a ticket) and say a few words.

He's almost 90 years old and I don't know what will happen to the opera house when he is gone. Hopefully, there are heirs who aren't interested in selling the place to developers, who care deeply about continuing the Amatos' work. But who knows? It is best these days to go and enjoy, before it's too late.

Read more on the death of the Bowery:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

A photographic obit for a Tompkins Square Park character, one of a disappearing breed. [NMNL]

Help save the Bowery from luxury development. [SLES]

Juicy Couture's eye-catching window display grabbed me last week and also attracted the folks at Racked. They associated to rats and I associated to scat. In Freudian theory, money is feces. In this window display, money is being eaten. The ultimate yunnie dream? Remember, they do want to shit gold:

Take a look at Astor Place's famous musical note clock--and be sure to check out the link to some great pics of Astor back when it had a parking lot loaded with street vendors. Who was the last vendor to make that lot home? The porno man of Astor Place. [Bowery Boys]

Went to see Cloverfield this weekend--what a disappointment. Like the Times, "For a brief, hopeful moment, I thought the filmmakers might be making a point about how the contemporary compulsion to record the world has dulled us to actual lived experience, including the suffering of others — you know, something about the simulacrum syndrome in the post-Godzilla age at the intersection of the camera eye with the narcissistic 'I.'" But no luck.

Ooh, the History Channel is offering a DVD set: “The Apocalypse and Doomsday Collection.” [Times]

Pick Up Your Shoes

Last month I reported that the East Village's A. Fontana Shoe Repair will be closing after 45 years in business. Yesterday, it became "official" with Mr. Fontana's "Lost My Lease" signs going up in the windows.

You have until February 28 to pick up your shoes. If you don't have any shoes to pick up, visit the place anyway. Buy a can of weatherproofing spray or a pair of shoelaces. Just go. Come March 1, it will all be gone.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Inside Streit's

Adler with great-grandfather Aron & grandfather Irving Streit

Alan Adler, a co-owner of Streit's Matzo factory and great-grandson of founders Aron and Nettie Streit, was kind enough to give me an early-morning tour of the factory, which I'd been wanting to do since I heard the news that Streit's will be moving out of the Lower East Side.

At 7:00 a.m., the bakery is already churning out sheets of matzo. In the basement, silos pump flour up through the building and big heaters stoke the ovens. Everything is covered with soft white powder and the air smells vaguely like a grandmother's pantry. The ceiling is a circuitboard of pipes. "The whole building is like a Rube Goldberg device," said Mr. Adler.

A manual damper system balances the heat in the oven's long hulk, into which a sheet of uncooked matzo streams after being poked by a comb-like device that makes holes in the dough to keep it from rising. Rabbis are on hand to ensure all is kosher throughout the entire process. We asked a rabbi if matzo could be kosher without holes. He said no, because then it might not be cooked straight through and it must be unleavened. Puffy matzo isn't kosher. A customer once wrote in to complain, "Your matzo is hard and dry." Mr. Adler shrugged, "I don't know what she expected." Matzo soft and moist?

Hard and dry is the way it should be. But it's a delicate balance. At the oven's end, where bakers do the picking (breaking the matzo and loading it onto traveling baskets), Mr. Adler pulled a few chunks of broken matzo from a bucket, where it goes to be recycled into matzo meal. He handed a piece to me and took a taste, which he does periodically. "A little heavy," he concluded to the bakers, "tastes a little thick." Matzo, he told me, should be crispy. This batch would need some adjusting.

Cooling baskets circle and criss-cross the building on a moving chain. It is a joy to watch them disappear through doorways and ceilings, while others appear, swinging as they go. We ducked our heads to avoid them and watched the matzos get packed into boxes for shipping out across the country.

Mr. Adler recalls his childhood in the factory, back when people stood on line to get fresh matzo. But things have changed. One of the reasons Streit's is moving from this location is because the building is 10 feet too short to accommodate modern equipment. "If we could get modern equipment in here," said Mr. Adler, "then maybe we'd stay."

Irving Streit with rabbis

If they move to Jersey, I asked, will the matzos taste the same? New York City water is an important ingredient. Mr. Adler assured me they would test the water of the new site, first carrying a truckful back to the Lower East Side to run it through a batch. And if it doesn't have that Streit's taste, I wondered, would sub-par Jersey water force them to stay? There's no chance of that, not in this age of science.

"Our engineer assures me we can get the water exactly the way we want it," he said, "through a process of reverse osmosis." Reverse osmosis? Doesn't sound kosher to me. I guess Streit's will have to stay.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Save Hotel Penn

Rally with Save the Hotel to rescue the historic Hotel Pennsylvania from corporate destruction. Show up at the hotel tomorrow, Saturday, from 9:00 - 11:00 in the morning and you will not only get the satisfaction of doing a good thing, you will also get free donut holes! And you might also get on TV.

I visited the hotel back in November and took a walk around the neighborhood. If we lose this landmark, we will also most certainly lose an interesting block of New York City. Turning the hotel into another corporate tower will change the surrounding businesses, a motley collection of wig shops, bars, odd little churches--the places that make New York different from Disney World.

We could lose Hickey's Bar, an Irish dive that's already changed (or changing) hands, though the owner of 40 years assured me it isn't closing, as the Times reported. When I was there, Neil Diamond was singing "Love on the Rocks" from the juke and the walls were covered with pictures of fighters, like Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, and Joe Louis standing over a defeated Max Schmeling.

"We're not closing," the owner told me, "there's a new owner, that's all." Did he think the new guy would change the bar much? "Oh, he'll do it up a little bit," I was told, "Yeah, he'll do it up a little bit."

Next to Hickey's is an Old Navy and next to Old Navy is Peep World.

We could lose that, too--Peep World, not Old Navy. But the girls standing outside smoking cigarettes hadn't heard any rumors to that effect. Not yet anyway.

Now maybe you're thinking, What do I care about saving a dive bar and a porno shop? Well, it's places like these that keep our city from turning into a total capitalist utopia. They're keeping it real. That's worth saving.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Peter McManus Cafe

One of the best places in the city for a beer and a burger is Pete McManus. On 7th Ave in Chelsea, the bar was opened in 1936 by brothers Peter and James. It hasn't changed much since. The Times has described it as ''an inviting place in a rough-and-tumble sort of way, with a well-worn tile floor, lead-paned windows and a splendid carved mahogany bar.''

New York Magazine notes it's the oldest family-run bar in the city, still under the guidance of grandson James.

The place has all the things that are good about a bar: wood worn smooth by countless elbows, a warm amber glow, crazy but friendly barflies who look as if they've been pickled in the place, which they have. It even has a lovely pair of wooden phone booths that light up when you open their doors as if welcoming you into them.

But, like all good old bars in this city, you have to visit early. After 7:00, the kids come out. These kids are not the well-heeled, yunnie spillovers from the Meatpacking District that clog Corner Bistro, and they're not even the frat boys and girls that murder McSorley's every night. They seem a little smarter and a little closer to 30 than 20. It's not great, but it could be worse.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

As 13th Street Rep proprietor Edith O'Hara predicted here, a giant glass hotel is going up on 13th Street between 5th and 6th. Unless, of course, the neighbors rally and boot the plan in the ass before it can happen. Or is that too much to hope for? [Curbed]

Zoolander comes to Elizabeth Street as the Hollywood-dream, classic-styled luxury condo building rises on the corner at Prince. We should count our blessings it's not another glass box, and yet, I'm not counting them. Because I remember when it was part of LaRosa & Son Bread Co. and, with the smell of baking in the air, you could stop in on a cold night for a hot loaf of Italian bread, fresh from the oven. It melted in your mouth. That was a blessing.

...and the rendering:

The Gertel's sign has been mysteriously resurrected in Brooklyn. [Lost City]

More big-box building for Red Hook? Here comes the 'burbs in all their unwieldy glory--time to install one of those miserable, life-sucking "office parks." God, I hope they put in an Outback Steakhouse and a Chili's, too. I'm just about dying for a Bloomin' Onion. [Racked]

International Bar Redux

Back in November, I posted about the demise of the East Village's International Bar, watering hole of dive lovers everywhere. This week I noticed the windows have been papered over and I wondered what was happening. Tonight, I got the answer via the following very informative tip from commenter "branmasterflash," who apparently has the inside scoop. Branmaster assures us, "The International is in good hands." Finally, some good news!

Thanks, branmaster, whoever you are. I reproduce here your comment in full (if slightly copy edited):

"The International is being restored as a neighborhood bar. It will not be quite as gritty as it was, but it will be very similar to what it always was. There will also be some differences in the layout. The bar has been moved to the other side of the room and there is more room at the front of the bar. The proximity of the old bar so close to the front door was always a problem. Unfortunately the old bar was torn out when the new owners came in. However, and at great pain, the owners purchased the 30-year-old mahogany wood bar from the original Raccoon Lodge on First Avenue and have installed it in the International.

One of the new owners was a customer at the International. Another of the three owners has been a resident of the Lower East Side since 1956. So rest assured, the International is in good hands.

And, yes, the name will remain the same, the gold-leaf lettering in the window will be restored, and Leonard Cohen will still be on the juke. Old fans of the bar will feel at home.

The community board was unusually helpful in their quick approval of the new owners' liquor license application. That's because the new owners are committed to restoring the International Bar as a neighborhood landmark. The East Village has been overrun by 'trendy' bars and the community board has stopped issuing new license approvals. So give credit to the community board for recognizing that this particular application was an exception that deserved approval.

If all goes well with construction, permits, and licenses, the International Bar should re-open sometime in March."

Monday, January 14, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

Now what I want to know is, who pays $18,000 for a belt? [NY Mag] via [Racked]

Save Whole Earth Bakery, on St. Mark's since 1978. [SBT]

The Ukrainian B&M Meat Market and European Products on 1st Ave and 7th St has been shuttered for a while now. A flyer says a restaurant is coming and they're looking for a beer and wine license. The hearing is tonight. I am sure they'll have no problem getting it. My fingers are crossed in futile hope this won't be another wine bar spilling obnoxious yunnies onto the sidewalks.

Do we really need 50 million tourists here every year? I sure don't. [Sun]

A profile of Chelsea's cigar makers, including La Rosa Cubana. The owner, who I interviewed here, says he may have to move his 50-year-old shop to Jersey due to high rents. [Chelsea Now]

Second Ave Subway helps murder the city's mom-and-pops. [Metro]

Check out this amazing found art: Still life with rat and Heineken cap? [NY Shitty]

Friday, January 11, 2008

Extra Place

What's happening behind the Avalon? A whole lotta garbage dumping. Curbed reported last year on Avalon's plans to turn this alley into "a slice of the Left Bank, a pedestrian mall lined with interesting boutiques and cafes." Maybe the left side is poised to be Left Bank, but the right is strictly a slice of the old Bowery.

The alley is called Extra Place and it's behind the defunct CBGB's. Read and see more about its rock-n-roll history from ForgottenNY.

Go further back into its history with Brendan Gill, who wrote about Extra Place for The New Yorker's Talk of the Town in 1952. Back then, the alley housed a garage, a metalworking shop, and an old guy who fondly recalled the speakeasy that used to be there in the '20s.

Click on these to enlarge and read from Gill's piece:

Take a walk back there to soak up its still-seedy atmosphere, before Avalon succeeds in turning it into another trendoid Freeman Alley. It's just up 1st Street from Mars Bar, so be sure to fuel your visit with booze from the holdout dive. Whether in the 1920s or the 1970s, it sounds like Extra Place might have been best enjoyed when drunk.

Here's what the Avalon developers want it to look like when privately owned by them:

photo and more info: Real Deal

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

Roger and Dave are closing up shop after 27 years in Chelsea. I like these guys. Very sad. [Racked]

Cafe Gigi on East 9th is closed and gutted--all but a lonely chandelier. I used to go to this place 15 years ago. I remember sitting there with a friend who told me that a friend of hers would flirt with guys across a crowded room by mouthing the words, "olive juice." Try it.

Ask an expert about immigrants on the Lower East Side. [City Room]

Then take a visit to MTV's virtual Lower East Side, aka VLES. Much more on this later, suffice to say for now, I've spent a few hours there recently and it's a fascinating and bizarre experience. [Gothamist] Here I am, in my avatar, bemoaning before the virtual Katz's:

A sad goodbye from Frank's Steakhouse in the Meatpacking District. [Eater]

I'm glad people are locking up their bikes in the East Village, but this is annoying. I had to walk past this one several times, with that tire crowding out half the narrow sidewalk. Come on people, pay attention. You are not alone in the world:

Monday, January 7, 2008

*Everyday Chatter

Bad news! Like a pioneer who survived the perilous journey west only to succumb to the harsh winters of that new land, our old Moondance Diner has crumpled under Wyoming's snow. [City Room] [AP]

A guy named Matt who takes cool pictures wants to get his hair cut at every subway barbershop in town. He wants to take their pictures, too, before they vanish. Get more info and please give him a tip if you know of any underground tonsorialists. [Subway Barbers]

Wholesome Foods (?) is coming to Essex and Stanton, just a couple blocks from Whole Foods. Think there'll be a showdown on the LES?

The Garment District is dying fast--and the city's hardly helping. [Chelsea Now]

Take another visit to Streit's--this time with the Times. [NY Times]

Gotta love the recent rise in anti-gentrification graffiti: See "Greed is killing the West Village." [Eater]

The Met Food grocery story on 2nd Ave between 6th and 7th used to be a Ratner's deli. I've gone through its doors a thousand times and never noticed this R before, surely an artifact from Ratner's old floor:

Another Bowery Tower

Something big is coming to East 4th Street between 2nd and Bowery. Here's the site today:

pics from my flickr

And here's the near future:

Curbed recently revealed the whole Scarano tower as it rises high above the Bowery -- and, more specifically, above the Salvation Army East Village residence. As the very affluent cavort in their rooftop swimming pool and sip champagne on their terraces, maybe they'll send a few splashes down onto the unwashed masses.

Wired has a few more details and images from this latest luxury monstrosity. The Real Deal says the tower will rise to 22 stories (Curbed says 15) and tells us what's inside, interiors by designer Andres Escobar that will be "comparable to Ian Schrager's luxurious 40 Bond."

Which reminds me, have you walked down Bond lately? There's basically nothing left of the former street, except for the lone Bowery Home Supplies.

Take a look at the website for 52 E. 4. Against a backdrop of downtown-style graffiti, this "Noho like no other" (Noho? That's the Bowery) slideshow gives you a peek into yunnie life, complete with gated driveway, rooftop pool, and robot people.

Reminds me of the Diesel global warming ad campaign -- enjoying their rooftop lounge while the world below drowns.

An anonymous commenter here just called me an "anti-future decay fetishist." When the future looks like this, what other sane reaction can there be?