Thursday, April 30, 2009

Starbucks on the Riviera

The Astor Riviera Cafe closed in 1994, a shuttering that the Times cited as evidence of the de-funkification of Astor Place. The reporter got the scoop about the coming tenant: "Starbucks, the Seattle coffee chain."

That was back when Starbucks still had to be explained. Oh, right, from Seattle. Not long after, a second Starbucks opened at Astor Place (and a third in the now-defunct Barnes & Noble). In a miraculous turn of events, that second Starbucks is closed.

photo from EV Grieve

But, as the sign above attests ("across the way"), a Starbucks yet remains at Astor Place. The big one. The one that replaced the Riviera. When it opened in 1995, it was the largest in Manhattan and maybe the whole country. It represented a tipping point--a point of no return from which we may actually be returning at last.

It's been the site of several Reverend Billy protests--and arrests. It is reviled by many and inexplicably loved by others.

The Riviera diner, on the other hand, is like a ghost. I can't find a single photograph of it. All I could uncover was this screenshot from the film Downtown 81. Here, Jean-Michel Basquiat stands in front of a sign that says: COMING SOON THE REVIERA [sic] RESTAURANT AND COFFEE SHOP.

A deeply distant time. Since then, the Riviera came and went. Astor Place got not just three Starbucks, but a K-Mart, a Walgreens, a David Barton, a Cemusa newsstand, and a luxury glass tower.

Today, two of those Starbucks have vanished. How long do we have to wait before the rest of it goes?

If you have a memory of the Riviera, or a link to a photo, please share.


Alex in NYC said...

Ha! Nice work with the "Downtown 81" shot. As flawed as that film is, it's night on priceless in terms of capturing a since changed-beyond-all-recognition downtown.

Alex in NYC said...

Oh, in terms of a Riviera memory: Some time in the late 80's, I remember going there with a friend on a very hot day. Given the temperature, we decided to treat ourselves and ordered a couple of milk shakes. Very surly waiter delivers them -- but neglects to include straws. We wait for a moment, expecting him to come back with some. He doesn't. We politely ask. He sighs, disappears again, and then comes back with two straws, which he blithely tosses on our table as if into the garbage. It was a truly endearing display of genuine NYC insouciance.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks alex--i figured you'd remember the riviera. no pics from your vast collection?

i have a handful of downtown 81 screenshots, just waiting to figure out what to do with them.

Andrew Gardner said...

Nice article, I remember the Riviera well, certainly ate there a number of times, although I don't remember what was there before it. I think I ate there before the only Mets game I ever went to in 1986 (that's the only Mets game I ever went to ever, not just in 1986!)

This Times article is interesting though:

EV Grieve said...

I can close my eyes and picture the Riviera.... then I just start seeing a large green Starbucks sign.

Speaking of Starbucks, their second-quarter profits dropped 77 percent. Revenue at Starbucks locations that have been open for at least a year are down 8 percent the first three months of 2009. Reports the Times.

Jeremiah Moss said...

great article, thanks amgphoto!

Carol Gardens said...

Yeah, Downtown 81 has many great shots of the East Village/Lower East Side. Hard to believe it ever looked like that, but it did. Another recommended film for time-sensitive scenes filmed in the crumbling EV is Smithereens by Susan Seidelman.

ultraviolet said...

I remember the Riviera, but at this point alot of those vintage memories from 20 some years ago are starting to get a little fuzzy. I don't remember it being particularly weird, but that's relative. Compared to the environment then maybe it wasn't. I do remember some other lost details of Astor Place/St. Mark's that I miss from back then. The big 'Gringo' mural on the building on St. Mark's for example. i also remember when the Continental was called 'The Continental Divide', and if i'm not mistaken they served food there during the day and cleared the tables for music at night. I think the first show I ever saw there was Sylvain Sylvain from the NY Dolls. There was a tiny stage in the back corner where the bands played before they built the bigger one. The other thing that I miss is that giant lightning bolt mural that was on the wall behind the parking lot on Astor, before the dumbass hi-rize that's there now. I used to think that thing was so freakin cool. I looked for a long while to see if there was any photos of it online, and apparently the mural was put up there in the 60s. It looked so contemporary in the 80s and 90s. The photographer Ben Packer took a great shot of it in 1985 and it is available at some downtown framing stores. I got one as soon as possible. Wow, I took so much for granted back then, I never thought it would change.

the G said...

I too remember the Riviera! It was open 24 hours... I went there alot circa '82-'84 with my little posse of teen punks--Viva is correct, it was not a particularly weird or funky place. But we'd order 1 cup of coffee apiece (when coffee was 50 cents a cup) and they'd let us sit in there for HOURS! Great during the colder months when sitting on someone's stoop all night was not really an option.

--the G

KnicksBasketballNY said...

I am a self proclaimed expert when it comes to 1980s and 1990s rap videos filmed in my native New York City and Washington DC metropolitan areas.

Right off of the top of my head there are 2 videos I know of which have scenes that were filmed in that general area.

One was filmed in the 1988 and the other in 1991.

Mc Lyte - Paper Thin

Cypress Hill - How I Could Just Kill A Man

The background shots are brief so one has to know their locations very well in order to spot them in the videos.

Unfortunately viewing the videos on the internet takes away much of the quality as opposed to vieweing them on a 27 inch television at home.

I am positive lots of extra video footage from these 2 videos and their locations exists due to the fact that 90% of the footage shot usually does not make it on to the final cut of the actual music video.

Unfortunately I do not know how one would be able to obtain this extra footage. Most of it is owned by record companies and from my personal experience most people who work for the record companies are major assholes.

Here are links to the videos.

Go to
Type "jtKfdS9aE94" into the search browser.

Go to
Type "837522064" into the search browser.

Anonymous said...

Nice remembrances! (Strange no other photos...?)

Actually, I was walking by the Chase Bank around there last night and a tour guide was leading a walking tour. He was telling the group that on the site of that bank used to be a garden...? Is that so? (Maybe it was a very long time ago...)


ultraviolet said...

great photo of Astor Place (across from where the Riviera was) here. AMAZING shot from 1967

The Vidiot said...

One time I ate there, I sat right next to a booth where Mark Lenard was eating a bowl of soup. He's the actor who played Spock's father, Sarek. Being a dorky Trekkie, I was thrilled! Though I didn't bother him, because that's just too dorky, even for me.

clr said...

The Riviera was post-show central, close enough to the Ritz and CB's and people going home on the 6 or the N/R. It was Just Another Diner, but it was huge, it was never full, so they didn't care if you sat there for hours.

When I left NYC for a little while, I'll never forget the day I came back on business, met a client on Broadway & Houston, and finished early. I wanted breakfast, so I headed for the Riviera. Turn the corner and am confronted with - Starbucks. Which wasn't a novelty to me because I was living in Seattle.

But I write the Riviera into almost everything, because it was so omnipresent if you hung out down there in the 80s.

Anonymous said...

I remember the Riveria--sort of a blurr--those days were sort of a blur---
passed it often--hardly ever went inside.

Carol Gardens said...

More on the Gringo (Spacey) mural:

Anonymous said...

Okay, I am so old I remember the old place BEFORE the Riviera. The Riviera was the "nice" new place. Ha.

That big Gringo painting? It was a guy named Spacely. He was in a movie of the same name. He was friends with a couple called Banger & Trixie (I don't remember why I remember they were friends? Maybe they did a magazine together?) Anyway, Banger went into the Soho Weekly News and as a protest cut off a couple of fingers (with an axe?) to protest the paper. Very punk rock.

The Continental was the Continental Divide, and if memory serves it was first a place on Canal Street (west side?) and it was named the Continetal before and after it was named the Continental Divide.

St. Marks Bookstore was on St. Marks Place. The building that is now is the Cooper Union dorms used to a giant 2 floor hardware store called Kamenstein's - which since I was a very cute 19 year old was a great place to pick up guys.

Behind the Riviera where Kinko's is used to be a giant bookstore with a huge occult section (very big in the EV of the 70s and early 80s).

There were like 5 or 6 bookstores (at least) from Astor Place to 4th Avenue.

And to bring it back to Starbucks, on 4th Ave & 9th Street there was little factory called the Charm coffee factory. There used to be a brand called Charm coffee. It came in those little squat cans that needed a key to open.

Ha. I am so old.

Sarah said...

I remember one night in 1993 or 94 I was at a NASA rave and fried A started having a bad trip so friend B got us in a cab and took us to the Riviera. We were going back to friend A's place in CT in the morning and were planning on staying at the NASA party until the trains started up again in the morning, so we had to wait at the diner for hours for the trains to start back up. And we'd spent most of our money on drugs and were disgusted by food so they wouldn't let us have a table, even though the place was empty. We sat at the counter nursing coffee and drawing on rave fliers for hours. Ahh, youth.

PHD said...

There is a photo here:

Unknown said...

My Riviera memory - 1989, prior to seeing Mandy Patinkin and Christopher Reeve perform in "A Winter's Tale" at the Public, I was sitting with my girlfriend at a table right inside the door of the Riviera. As we were talking about the play we were about to see, I looked over her shoulder as Christopher Reeve walked in and went straight to the counter to get a coffee and a pastry. I was starstruck, and my theater major girlfriend told me in no uncertain terms to cool it and not take any notice of him. I tried to act nonchalant, but as he was on his way out of the door, he saw me looking at him. He smiled, put a finger to his lips, and headed over to the theater. The best part was that at the end of the show, the rest of the audience was politely clapping, but I was standing cheering and clapping like a loon. My girlfriend was embarrassed, but it was worth it when Christopher Reeve saw and recognized me. He gave Mandy Patinkin a nudge, said something in his ear, and motioned in my direction. Patinkin smiled and they both bowed in my direction. Even my girlfriend was impressed.

Unknown said...

re: The Continental Divide - I have to pull "age rank" here. Previous to The Continental Divide (the Brontasaurus logo of which thrilled me because I was a childhood dinosaur fan)that space was Jack The Ribber, a ribs joint and bar. It was unfathomable to me when I saw the posting in its window, but Screamin' Jay Hawkins was to perform there - no admission. Well, he did - skull on a stick and all - and I was there.