Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Review

It's the time of year for end-of-year lists and roundups. In 2010, the losses seemed fewer in number, but there were some big ones in there. We lost more of our old newsstands and watched too much of Coney Island collapse or get pushed out (Ruby's and Paul's Daughter and the Shore Hotel...). I'm still in denial about Coney.

Otherwise, at the top of my list of grievances, there's Skyline Books, a great bookshop gone and still mourned. The closure of Gino remains a major heartbreak, as is the demolition and reappropriation of Fedora. I'm not getting over those two. Carmine's at the Seaport was a third Italian joint to go.

While the little bakery Les Desirs was not a place close to my own heart, it was of major importance to many senior citizens in Chelsea. The closure of St. Vincent's Hospital, of course, was a tremendous blow for many Villagers.

The shuttering of Atomic Passion marked another death to vintage and thrift in the East Village, while the fall of the Treasures & Trifles antique shop made more space available to the Jacobsian on Bleecker. At the other end of Bleecker, the Aphrodisia Herb Shop closed this year. And little Alphaville shut down, taking its vintage toys with it.

In bars, we lost Hickey's, and plenty of boozers will miss The Rum House, but Freddy's was the big one, finally crushed by eminent domain. It may yet reopen. Village Paper fell to fire, but reopened on 8th Street. Novac Noury's crazy building was demolished by the city, pushed by the Standard Hotel and the changing Meatpacking District.

There were more, of course. I only listed the ones covered in this blog. With the impending loss of Mars Bar, the Pink Pony, and Max Fish, 2011 is already looking bleak.

For more year-end roundup, check out Lost City's Bring Out Your Dead.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rakoff on New York

I've been reading David Rakoff's new book, Half Empty, and immensely enjoying what feels like a meeting of the minds. He champions the positive power of negative thinking, in general, and here and there, has something to say about New York City.

In his essay "Isn't It Romantic," he goes after the musical Rent for being bad in many ways. This quote from the essay stood out and I reproduce it here because how often does someone sum it all up so neatly?

"...New York was becoming far too expensive and criminally inhospitable to young people who tried to come here with dreams of making art, and how regrettable that the town's vibrancy and authenticity were being replaced by a culture-free, high-end-retail cluster-fuck of luxury condo buildings whose all-glass walls essentially require a populace that doesn't own bookshelves or, consequently, books.

A metropolis of streets once thriving with local businesses and services now consisting of nothing but Marc Jacobs store after Marc Jacobs store and cupcake purveyors (is there anything more blandly sweet, less evocative of this great city, and more goyish than any other baked good with the possible exception of Eucharist wafers than the cupcake?)."

The St. Mark's Bookshop has copies of Half Empty in stock.

See Also:
Fran on NYC
Sante's Lost City

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Donohue's & Subway

Something to do when you need something to do, and you find yourself in the lower reaches of the Upper East Side, or wanting to get away from wherever you are, is to have a meal at Donohue's Steakhouse and then drinks at the nearby Subway Inn.

Grieve has written about Donohue's before, and he's got the history down, so I won't repeat it. Suffice to say, the decor--dark booths, red tablecloths, nautical paintings--are straight out of a certain childhood, back before the term "child-friendly" was invented. It's the sort of place your parents took you because they wanted to go for dinner someplace "nice," someplace grown-up. The sort of place where you had to behave yourself, and God help you if you didn't, because your mother would take you for a dreaded trip to the ladies' room where she'd straighten you out good.

But now you're the grown-up and you can go to Donohue's on your own, order a cocktail and a big plate of food, like meatloaf and mashed potatoes with string beans. Classic. This was comfort food before "comfort food" was a "thing." It was just food.

And there's no need to turn on your cell phone here--the phone in the wooden booth in back works just fine.

Now that you've had your meal and called some friends to join you, head down Lexington to 60th Street and the Subway Inn. New York describes it well, "This hole-in-the-wall has been serving up brewskies since 1937, and it looks as if some of the original patrons haven't left their bar stools since it opened."

Alex has a story about the Subway and its volume. It's still loud. The best part may be the weird green lighting at every table. That, and the Christmas decorations, and the crapped-up booths, the checkerboard floor. The Subway Inn will remind you of other bars that have been lost. Especially, for some reason, the topless dive bars.

You'll get into a long, misty conversation about "Remember the Baby Doll Lounge?" and "God, I miss Billy's Topless," where they also had Christmas decorations, it seemed, year round. And because it is Christmastime, you can't help but recall the night when a Billy's dancer dressed up as Mrs. Claus, took off her top, then licked her nipples and stuck dollar bills to them while she shimmied.

You wonder where she is now. Where did all those dancers go? You order another round. The queasy, aquatic green light casts you back in time and keeps you there.

Monday, December 27, 2010

News Building

New York is filled with beautiful lobbies. Most of the lobbies of the city are rooms you'll never enter. If you don't work in the building, if you never make a delivery there or visit for any other reason, the splendor of the lobby will go unseen. So it's good, now and then, to wander into a lobby. I did that recently in the News Building on 42nd Street.

Long the home of the New York Daily News (no more--why do newspapers abandon their splendid monuments?), the building was completed in 1930. Its facade is carved with a bustling urban scene, the skyscraper above it all, like a god in the heavens--exteriors like this often indicate a lobby worth seeing.

Inside, under a black glass dome, a giant glowing globe seems to float in white light. Decked out for the holidays with faux snow-covered fir trees, it creates an unearthly view of Earth.

On its axis, the globe slowly turns, clunking and ticking like a heavy clock. Along the glass steps of the lighted pit that holds it are pieces of painted text from 1960, each one explaining the distances between Earth and the Sun and distant stars. There is a reference to the 1933 World's Fair, its own relevance a distant memory.

Radiating from the globe, compass points and directional lines shoot across the lobby floor, marking the miles from New York to faraway cities, their names written in bronze. Behind the globe, the white marble walls lead to elevator banks, the numbers lit in Art Deco. The built-in newsstand is heralded by a single sign that says CIGARS in creamy light, a survivor from the time when that's why you visited the newsstand. A memorial lists the names of every Daily News employee who served in World War II.

It must have been an incredible feeling, to be a journalist and to walk through this lobby every day. To feel the importance of your work. To feel a part of the world and its movement.

Although, in this scene from Superman, Lois and Clark seem not to notice. Even a lobby like this becomes everyday when you walk through it every day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Looking back at The Year of Bedbugs. I bet 2011 will top that. [Racked]

From the bartender at Stoned Crow: "You know, I'm done with Manhattan. I'm convinced that in ten years, Manhattan will be a gated community. You'll have to show your ID or a card to get into places. Less than one month's notice! And no job! I moved to Astoria, to the last stop of the N line to get away from it. But it's happening there. It's starting to happen. They'll just keep pushing and pushing until we're all pushed out. I'm leaving after this. If the Mars Bar can close—and that's an institution! I'm done." [Eater]

Gentrific EV vegetarian joint Counter to close. [Gothamist]

What were the 10 Best NYC Events of the year? [VV]

Give the gift of Mars Bar--while they last. [EVG]

Two stories about the kooky things overburdened rich people do for Christmas. [NYT] and [NYT]

Nostalgia Bus

Reader Dimitrios Gazis writes in with a report from Nostalgia Bus #9098: "If you had asked me prior to my ride, I would have probably responded with a big 'Meh.' I'm quite surprised at just how satisfying an experience riding that bus across town was. I hope I can catch another one this month."

Here's Dimitrios' full review:

1. Much more comfortable. People with heavy coats could sit next to each other without squirming and squeezing. Since the 1960s, bus designers seem to assume Americans have shrunk, even though we've all packed on 40-50 pounds of beef.

2. The noise and the stench of diesel was comforting--you felt like you were on a bus, not a shuttle with ion drive and inertial dampeners flying to your nearest zero-sensory Moon spa (not that there's anything wrong with that... IN CALIFORNIA).

3. Other folks on the bus seemed to enjoy it, and the heavy, difficult, completely manual doors actually forced people to interact, as we young 'uns held the doors open for the less able, with giggles and "thank yous" all around.

4. I took off my iPod to take it all in, and then I realized--so had everyone else. I have since made it a point to sometimes go about my daily life without headphones, reserving their use for running and the occasional annoying Wisconsin chick sharing her latest yeast infection adventure on the subway.

An EV Grieve reader also caught the bus. If you'd like a ride, click here to find the Nostalgia Bus at its next stop until December 31.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Kate's Paperie on 13th to close:

Our pal Miss Heather just might be the most ripped-off blogger in town--this time, Fox News takes her wonky balcony scoop to the tube. [NYS]

Cherry Lane Theater up for sale. [Curbed]

Brooks is bringing out the dead of 2010. [LC]

Poems are being removed from the subway, so people can be even stupider and more oblivious. [CR]

Enjoy the pervy collectible figurines of 57th St. [Restless]

EV rents up 46 - 57% since 2000. [EVG]

Walking on Stanton Street. [FNY]

Oyster Bar Saloon

Now and then I like to go to the Saloon at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. It feels like a secret, even though it's far from it. There's an entrance off one of the station's passageways, but I prefer to cut through the Oyster Bar restaurant--to walk through the fish-smell and under the vaulted ceiling's century-old Guastavino tiles...

...past the case of beige and brown, old-timey desserts, all custardy and moussey on their plates, sweets too dull, too 20th-century to be found in trendier locales...

...past the white U-shaped rear counters, the one in back reserved for staff, who, in white uniforms, sit on white swivel stools eating their own meals during breaktime...

...and through the swinging saloon doors into a dark-wood tavern that looks like a place where advertising men used to knock back martinis before hopping on the 7:16 train back to Westport. Indeed, it is commuters, mostly, who fill the room today. They lend a strange suburban feeling to the atmosphere as they talk about making money, golfing, and that new wine fridge they just had installed.

The tablecloths are red-and-white checkerboards. The chairs are all trimmed with rustic brass nail heads. The walls are covered with nautical paintings, mounted fish, and model ships in plexiglass vitrines. At the winding wooden bar you sit on a padded stool and munch oyster crackers with your cocktails.

You can get food at the bar, including oysters, and the knowledgeable bartender will tell you what each one is and where it came from. When someone orders an icy platter full of them, the bartender says that one is called The Naked Cowboy Oyster. Who knew that an oyster had been named after the guy who plays guitar in Times Square in his underwear?

Even weirder (maybe) are the chairs in the co-ed restroom lounge--a baseball glove and a pair of lips in leather. As you enter under the mounted tarpon, teenagers sit lounging, one in each strange seat, legs dangling, chatting before it's time to ride the train and head home to Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, Ossining.

E.B. White said that "Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness." Those words seem right, especially at the oceanic Oyster Bar Saloon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Where Gino used to be, now the plywood for Sprinkles cupcakes stands with the promise of "Coming Soon." Next door, the Diesel store tells the city to BE STUPID.

Tonight at IFC: A screening of They Live with a discussion between Jonathan Lethem and John Hodgman. [IFC]

Papa John's moves into the East Village, decides to change the name of the neighborhood. [EVG]

Marty does Julius' Bar--long may it stand and never become faux-stalgia'd. [365]

"Coney Cretins" threaten boardwalk holdouts with more threats. [NYO]

BED BUGS on Park Slope Pavilion marquee. [FIPS]

A reader sends in this nostalgic video collage of 1970s NYC set to Herbie Hancock. [youtube]

...And another of Allen Ginsberg. [youtube]

Fedora Sign

As I mentioned yesterday, the new Fedora has a new neon sign. The old sign, rusted and hand-painted is gone. The new sign is a replica, a reasonable facsimile thereof, minus the rust, the dings, and the obvious brushstrokes of a long-ago hand. Thomas Rinaldi, author of a forthcoming book on neon signs in New York City, spotted the new sign and offers us a comparison with the old.

Old (on top) vs. new--click twice to enlarge

What made the old Fedora sign important to you, as a neon historian?

I've never been called a neon historian before, but if the shoe fits... There are a number of things that fascinate me about signs like the one that used to hang in front of Fedora. For one thing, they've become increasingly rare, especially as the city has changed so much in the last decade. For another, there's something almost miraculous that an object so fragile could survive so long in a relatively hostile environment, against the odds. Most of all, a good old sign usually indicates a good old business behind it, a place as seasoned by time as the weathered old sign out front--the kind of place that I, for one, really like to seek out.

Fedora's neon sign lasted at least 65 years or so (its exact provenance has eluded me, and I even asked Fedora herself). It was something of a living fossil. The original sign was hand painted on galvanized sheet metal, with a black background beneath a white border and white sans-serif letters, highly typical of many NY neon signs of the mid-1930s (like the sign for Rudy's Bar and Grill, installed in 1937). The slightly awkward kerning of the letters FEDORA and the placement of the electrode housings is the tip-off that this was almost certainly re-lettered (not unusual).

Old (on top) vs. new--click twice to enlarge


At risk of over-simplifying, kerning is a typographical term for the spacing between pairs of letters. A more thorough explanation on the subject can be found at ilovetypography.

In your opinion, how did the new owners do with the replication?

The replicated sign actually carries over the awkward kerning of the original--more than can be said of the hatchet job they did at the Film Center Cafe, which hardly counts as a replica. If the faces had been porcelain enamel, they could have been more easily installed over a new framework (like Let There Be Neon did with its first-class restoration of the Old Town Bar sign).

The new sign looks pretty good but it is completely without the patina of the old one. The same was done over at the Village Vanguard a few years ago.

Old sign lit

What would you have liked to see them do differently with the sign?

Who knows, maybe they moved the original indoors for safekeeping, Statue-of-David-style. Otherwise, seems to me they could have been able to reuse at least some of the original materials, certainly the neon tubes themselves--or fabricate the replica out of the same materials as the original.

The new sign is a thing entirely without the weathered character that the old sign had spent 60-odd years building up! And the new sign, though I wish it a long life, will not weather the way the old one did, because it's made out of different materials. Particularly in the context of what's happened with the restaurant itself, it makes for an interesting little case study in the value of patina and authenticity in the streetscape, no?

Old sign, neon tubing removed, awkward kerning

*UPDATE: Fedora's new owner writes in to explain the sign change: "We tried extremely hard to keep the old sign. In fact, we used the same company that has been servicing the sign for the last 40 years. We had them first come and attempt to just service the neon lights. However, once up there examining the sign they urged me to replace the entire sign. The old sign had suffered so much rust damage they informed me that it was at a major risk of falling apart in the near future. And that if I left it, it could potentially cause damage to the building or to a person if it fell. The rust was so extensive, one could push their finger with hardly any pressure through the sign and parts would flake off and crumble. We have saved the old sign and intend to use it somewhere, somehow."

Monday, December 20, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

The new Fedora has lost its old sign and gained a replica--without the dings and rust spots of history:

Hickey's has closed--the dive bar near Penn Station was expected to shutter in 2008. Now it has. [EVG]

Greenwich Village bar The Stoned Crow is closing. Says Marty of his encounter with the owner of the photo-covered dive: "Betty looked sad... she told me the bar is closing due to steep rents from her greedy-ass landlord." [365]

The Walker finds "real, honest-to-God local entertainment" on the shuttle train. [WIC]

Riding the holiday Nostalgia Train. [BB]

Some people oddly excited about new bank branch. [NYO]

Take a walk from Coney to Midwood. [FNY]

Go back in time on a Coney Motordrome bike. [ATZ]

Along the fence at the 13th Street "mystery lot," a new work of art--clothing and hangers arranged to spell MATERIALISTIC:

Inside Schrafft's

Back in 2008, when they were ready to tear down 61 Fifth Avenue, I wrote here about the building's history--originally as a Schrafft's, then the Lone Star Cafe, then a down-and-out gallery for street art.

Photo by: Samuel H. Gottscho, from MCNY

Now, the MCNY digital collection offers an array of amazing interior shots of 61 Fifth when it was a Schrafft's. And it was a beauty.

You entered through a revolving door to a long cocktail bar on your left and a glass case of cookies and pastries on your right, heaped with floral arrangements, gift baskets, and boxes of chocolates.

Photo by: Samuel H. Gottscho, from MCNY

Ahead, the dining tables draped with white linens surrounded a grand staircase that swooped upward, framed with glistening art-moderne banisters, and burst through a semi-circular opening in the ceiling where second-story diners perched.

Critic Lewis Mumford hated the place. In 1938 he scrutinized this Schrafft's "screwy" curved front, calling it "the new cliche and it will soon belong in the done-to-death department." He goes on to say that the building is "a pretty sorry mishmash" with "ill-assorted windows" and a "crazy little balcony." He liked the interior better, but not enough to say anything good about it.

Photo by: Samuel H. Gottscho, from MCNY

These photos were taken in 1938. By 1969, this Schrafft's was a scene for salad-eating staff members from Women's Wear Daily, New School faculty, and "the loftmen of 14th Street," according to a wonderful description of the place in New York Magazine. At twilight, the dinner hour is filled with "L.O.L.'s"--that didn't mean laughter in 1969, but "Little Old Ladies"--"in wrappy turbans and veiled pouf hats, sherbety pastel and watercolor print dresses. They sit in a row, carving little individual loaves of raisin bread and hoisting Manhattans." (Really, read the whole review.)

This Schrafft's also had its own sex symbol, according to the article, a man who looked like Monty Woolley and dressed in "wheat-colored linen suits." Monty Woolley? They're talking about this dapper fella:

Up the stairs, with the Women's Wear Daily salad munchers, the walls were painted with floral murals and scenes from the 1890s--ladies walking little dogs, men in top hats. I imagine, at this Schrafft's, no matter what you ordered or how little you spent, you felt elegant.

Photo by: Samuel H. Gottscho, from MCNY

According to a 1972 advertisement, you could be a businessman eating steak and drinking gigantic martinis, or a secretary worrying about money and nibbling on a cheap burger special. But, by and large, Schrafft's was a place that women liked. William Grimes writes in Appetite City, "it was the official dining spot for New York women of a certain class." This woman was depicted in New Yorker cartoons as "a plump uptown matron wearing a tiny outlandish hat."

from New York Magazine

The women in Mary McCarthy's The Group go to Schrafft's, and so do Rona Jaffe's female characters in The Best of Everything--those working girls lunched daily at the place, eating "tomato surprise" and drinking strawberry soda. Some men liked Schrafft's--perhaps "confirmed bachelors" like Mr. Woolley, and W.H. Auden, too. He wrote a poem about it, entitled "In Schrafft's." Says Auden of the Schrafft's woman:

"Having finished the Blue-plate Special
And reached the coffee stage,
Stirring her cup she sat,
A somewhat shapeless figure
Of indeterminate age
In an undistinguished hat..."

By the late 1960s, Schrafft's was trying to dump its L.O.L. image. They hired Andy Warhol to make one groovy commercial about an ice-cream sundae and in another featured "a trio of shapely girls attired in miniskirts" with the tagline "Have you seen the little old ladies in Schrafft's lately?"

But it was what it was. And by the 1980s it was gone.

Today, a 10-story luxury condo building is rising on the grave of the Schrafft's at 13th and 5th. It doesn't have a curved front.

Friday, December 17, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Marty visits Max Fish and finds "it stills retains a vibe of the East Village of yesterday." [365]

Fedora is now going to be "more of a bar." Hence the bar extension. [HP]

For the East Villager in your life, the only gift guide you need this holiday season. [EVG]

Restless wrestles with the bike-lane zealot future. [Restless]

Enjoy Benno Friedman's photos of Times Square's once sleazy underbelly of 1979. [VS]

14th St. is losing its Passion:

Looking back at the destruction of Beekman Street. [TGL]

Literary stuff still happens on the increasingly dim-witted Bowery. [CR]

Finding the long lost Translux theater on the UES. [FP]

Adler Elevator Shoes

Digging through the treasure-trove of the MCNY's new digital archives, I found a shot of Adler Shoes on 42nd Street and 6th Avenue in 1922.

Wurts Bros, 1922, MCNY: Close up detail

It's interesting mainly because they sold elevator shoes for short men. They also had great advertising slogans, like “Build up your ego, Amigo! Now you can be taller than she is!”

from 14 to 42

Men who bought these shoes tended to be discreet about it, as this ad promises the Adler catalog will come delivered in "a plain wrapper," the way pornography was mailed.

Adler elevators stayed in the closet, a private affair between a man and his heels, until the 1970s, when TIME announced, "Now, inspired by the fancy footwear of rock stars like the Temptations and the Rolling Stones, the Elevated Look has come out into the open." The elevator shoe was vanishing, but the store managed to stay on 42nd and 6th until the mid 1990s.

As an aside, the full photo of the shop at MCNY is worth checking out as an example of how old-school businesses piled atop the other--a lighting fixture shop, a chiropodist office, Prof. Rohrer's Beauty Parlors above Leo Morse's "Nursery Novelties." There's just something about those old second-floor businesses that appeals.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Demolished and unpreserved Day-O now totally plywooded and padlocked in utter secrecy:

Remembering the old days of Max Fish: "It wasn’t what it is today: chicks with $5,000 bags thrown on the floor drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon." [NYT]

Lower Second Avenue gets a new restaurant with an appropriate name: Heartbreak. [EVG]

As bloggers sell Brooklyn for Ford cars, a borough becomes a major brand. [NYT]

MCNY digitizes portion of photo archives--bloggers cream their jeans. [MCNY]

Bed Bugs make Village Voice top 10 for 2010. [RS]

The latest from the Scribbler Wall:

365 Bars Guy

As 2010 approaches its end, I checked in with Marty Wombacher to see how his quest to visit 365 New York bars in 365 days was wrapping up. With the impending loss of both Mars Bar (#85) and Max Fish (Marty, get there fast!), the timing seems right. I asked Marty some questions, he answered.

Q: You started your quest last January, and 2010 is soon coming to a close. You've probably visited more bars in the city than any other human on earth. As an accidental anthropologist, what have you learned about the city's bar culture as it stands in 2010?

A: The city seems divided in bar culture. When I was growing up a bar was just that, a bar. It was a place to go, knock back a few, socialize, and get to know other people and exchange ideas and points of views. There are still bars like that, but there's also bars that encourage kids and others to get schlocked out of their gourd in five minutes or less and are filled with gimmickry, gadgets, and bullshit. God knows I've had my moments on this bar crawl and throughout my life, but bars used to be more about socializing than getting more out of it than Shane MacGowan on a tear. I applaud bar owners like Shawn and Molly who own the International and just opened the Coal Yard Bar. Those are two good examples of what I think a bar should be.

Marty with Molly & Shawn

Q: What are your Top 5 best bars thus far?

A: A lot of people ask me what's my favorite bar so far and I always say that I've had a good time at so many, it's hard to pick just one. I can't really do a top 5 either, but I can tell you my favorite night so far. It was at the Mars Bar. I've been there before and I knew going in and announcing that I was doing a blog about bars and that I'd like to take pictures would be a tough sell to the regulars in there and I was curious as to how it would go over.

I got permission from the owner to take photos (they're fussy about cameras in there, as I think you know) and decided to go on Easter Sunday afternoon when it would be mainly regulars at the bar. I went in and announced what I was doing and nobody was too thrilled about it. I was pretty much ignored and "no" was the answer when I asked to take someone's picture. I sat down and had a couple beers and took some photos of the walls and drawings in the bar. There was a mannequin in the front window that everybody was drawing on (only at the Mars Bar!) and somebody asked why I wasn't drawing on it, kind of to bust my balls I think. So I went over and drew a self-portrait on it and somebody grabbed my camera and started taking pictures of me.

When I was done a couple of the guys looked at my drawing and told me it wasn't bad. So I asked to take a photo and pretty soon I'm taking pictures and we're all drinking shots and it turned out to be a really good time. Later on in the evening I remembered it was Easter Sunday, so I ordered two large pies from Two Boots and they delivered them to the bar and it turned out to be a real party and a lot of fun. A great Easter Sunday dinner. My favorite night so far, but there's a lot of other stories that have happened along the way.

Marty at Mars Bar

Q: How about your Bottom 5 worst?

A: Again, I don't want to do a list and I've only had a bad experience at a couple places, but the worst of all was at this bar called "The House of Brews." I knew by the corny name it wasn't going to be the greatest bar in the world, but on their website they said they had a 100-ounce bottle of beer for one hundred bucks.

I thought that might be something a little different for my blog, so I got some friends and we went and the waitress acted like I was nuts and said that there was no such beer available. She was really rude and condescending and said she was sure I had looked at the wrong website. I let it go and then went to the bar to take some pictures. The bartender was busy, so I explained to two guys sitting at the bar what I was doing and if I could take their photo and put it up on the blog. They got real excited and said they'd love to do it and then the bartender who had been listening and making faces at me started screaming at me and shouted, "Put that fucking camera down, I don't need any of that website shit in here!" I told him the two guys wanted me to take their picture, but he kept screaming at me and said if I didn't put the camera away he'd throw me out. I asked him why and he said, "Because I said so."

So I went home and wrote an over the top bad review of the place and proved that the pen is mightier than the big mouth. I don't care if a bar doesn't want photos taken, but he could have done it without screaming at me. I mean bartenders should be hospitable, unless you're creating trouble.

House of Brews, photo by Marty Womacher

Q: How's your liver holding up? Seriously, are you having it checked regularly during this process?

A: So far so good, I've had my bloodwork done twice and it's fine. The focus of the blog isn't really about me going out and drinking every night, even though that's what I'm doing. Most nights I just have three or four beers and that's it. For me the blog is more about the bar and more importantly the people that are inside of it.

I've always been somewhat outgoing and interested in people and what makes them tick. I was thinking about this and I figure I average meeting at least four people in every bar. So that's well over 1200 people I've met so far. Some of them are just quick chats and I'll take a picture, but other people I've met I've had hour plus conversations with about everything from rock 'n' roll, to the economy, to politics to books, movies and TV and more. I've met such a variety of intriguing people, it's been an interesting social experience for me. I always feel like if you talk to someone for more than twenty minutes the odds are that you'll learn something new or a different way to look at something and I think that's important to do in life.

Q: What's next for Wombacher when the 365 days are done? Will you continue visiting and blogging about bars, or will this experience be followed by 90 AA meetings in 90 days?

A: Ha ha ha! There hasn't been an intervention yet, so we'll see about those AA meetings, maybe if my liver blows, I'll give it a go. I've got an idea for a new blog which I'm just starting to work on and don't want to talk about it just yet. I'm also going to write a book about the experience. The working title is: "My Year of Beer." Cheers!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

The LES has experienced a 20- to 50-point increase in median income since 2000 alone. [NYT]

Marky Ramone is selling jars of pasta sauce. [LM]

Of lost dive bars, who will remember the Golden Swan? [ENY]

Saturday night: Support P.S. 64/Charas community space. [EVG]

Saying goodbye to the OTB. [LC]

Inside Park Slope's Mega Glass & Sashes. [HPS]

Who's in the Park Slope 100? [OTBKB]

Coney's Shore Theater gets landmarked. [KC]

Rye Playland on a winter's day. [SNY]

New York Aquarium

As the New York Aquarium gets a new look, let's look back at the old Aquarium. It was originally contained within Castle Clinton at Battery Park, where it opened in 1896 and was closed by Robert Moses in 1941.


Described in 1900 as "the only place of amusement to that part of the city's population that lives below Canal Street," the Aquarium was built around a big circle with the walls lined with over 100 tanks, and 6 large pools placed around the largest in the center.

from Guide to the NY Aquarium, 1919

The rendering below shows aquatic mammals in the pools and the Guide to the New York Aquarium of 1919 confirms that dolphins, porpoises, and manatees were sometimes kept in these confining tanks, though it appears they did not last long there.

Sea lions fared better and were kept regularly and for many years here. The Aquarium also had alligators and crocodiles, beavers, frogs, and the usual assortment of fishes.


Proud of its acquisitiveness, like many zoos and natural history museums of the day, the Aquarium issued a special "poster stamp" advertisement in 1914 celebrating the capture of a porpoise, an image based on a photograph taken during the Zoological Society's hunting expedition at Cape Hatteras.

But the joyful brutality of its hunting expeditions did not mar the tranquility of the Aquarium. It was an elegant place, a wavering grotto decorated with palm trees, arched columns, and wrought-iron scrollwork designed by McKim, Mead, and White.

from Castle Garden & Battery Park

Its closure in 1941 was controversial. The city loved its Aquarium, but Moses wanted a bridge at Battery Park. Denied that, he then wanted a tunnel. He would tear down Castle Clinton (he failed) and so the Aquarium had to go. The animals and fishes were moved out, scattered to Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. The sea lions were placed temporarily in the lions' house at the Bronx Zoo.

TIME Magazine recalled the closure: "The last visitors shuffled out into the brilliant sunshine of Manhattan's Battery Park. Inside the Aquarium, the big pool where the sea lions once arched their sleek backs was empty; in the green gloom of the cavernous, dank galleries, water gurgled away, the lights went dark. The world's biggest marine exhibit, its denizens shipped away, was being dismantled."

The old Aquarium was beautiful and it was also free, unlike the new Aquarium at Coney Island, which did not open until 1955, 14 years after Moses destroyed the old one. Power Broker author Robert Caro called the new Aquarium, with its high entrance fee, Moses' revenge on the city for not letting him have his bridge at Battery Park.

Caro recalled the wonderful ambiance of the old Aquarium: "a pungent and warm blend of age and familiarity and long affection and human scale, of busts of old singers and the flash of bright fish, of gloomy corners where one could neck with one's date, of being easy to get to and free, so that people could simply walk in as if it belonged to them. One might admire the new Aquarium; one could never love it."

1940 brochure, ebay

Moses would have disagreed with such sentiment. As he said in 1941 in response to the pro-Aquarium protesters: "There is no resemblance between the removal of the Aquarium and the scuttling of Old Ironsides... In the new plan for Battery Park the Aquarium is an ugly wart on the main axis leading straight to the Statue of Liberty... There is...more honest-to-God romance any early morning in the Fulton Fish Market...than in the Aquarium in a month of Sundays."

Of course, the romance of the Fulton Fish Market (which was the main supplier of food to the animals of the Aquarium) has also since been scuttled in the name of urban renewal and progress. And, as the Wall St. Journal just reminded us, "The aquarium is a part of the Bloomberg administration's push to rejuvenate Coney Island and develop it into a year-round destination." In other words, part of his plan to kill whatever's left of Coney Island. Again, he gets help from the Moses legacy.