Monday, January 31, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Beleaguered Houston Wall now adds security guard detail to surveillance cameras--creating its own private "Ring of Steel"? [EVG]

There are now over 1,000 signatures on the petition to save 35 Cooper Square--and last night the Asian Pub moved out to make room for whatever is to come. Thanks to Sally Young for these shots:

At last Friday's rally to save 35 Cooper Square. [SNY]

Tonight: Celebrate Ray's birthday with burlesque and more surprises. [NSC]

The wonderful Nom Wah reopens: "The goal was to modernize the restaurant without losing its history or original appeal... So we changed what we had to, but kept what we could." [NYDN]

Inside the vacant spaces next to Mars Bar. [EVG]

Where to dine in peace without the plague of piped-in music. [GAF]

Mapping Gowanus with big silver balloons. [PMA]

Third subway rat video surfaces--not for rat lovers. [Gothamist]

In Greenpoint, they just toss the dead vermin out the window. [NYS]

Village East

In 2008, I posted a little bit on the Village East cinema at 12th and 2nd Ave. Now the Museum of the City of New York's wonderful digital collection offers us this shot, showing the cinema when it was the Yiddish Folks Theater in 1930.

Wurtz Brothers, 1930

Close-up details show a cluster of businesses and their heavy, dazzling signage--a Russian restaurant and an optometrist's office with its all-seeing eyes, those outsized glasses bringing to mind Dr. Eckleberg in Gatsby's valley of ashes. Today, in their places under the archways, there's the cinema's ticket window, a locksmith shop, and some closed doors.

Wurtz Brothers, 1930

On the corner of 2nd and 12th, there was once a cigar shop. This corner is now incorporated into the cinema. I imagine all this space was taken when the theater was turned into a multiplex and they needed the room for movie screens and seats.

Wurtz Brothers, 1930

The NYPL archives has a 1936 shot that shows the Hebrew letters on the marquee. (As an aside, I could not resist including this little find of a dancing Russian bear, made of neon it looks like, drinking vodka on a restaurant sign in 1936 just one block north of here, somewhere around where Shoolbred's, nee Jade Mountain, is today.)


When Yiddish left, the theater became a movie house in the 1940s. In the 1950s, it was the important Off-Broadway art theater The Phoenix. From 1965-1969, it was the Gayety, Manhattan's only burlesque house during that time.

Also in the 1960s, the theater offices were turned into apartments--according to the Landmark Designation Report: "three notable gay residents were Jackie Curtis, a drag superstar in Andy Warhol films, photographer Peter Hujar (who lived here from 1975 to 1987), and artist David Wojnarowicz (who lived here from 1980 to 1992)."

The Gayety by Tony Marciante

It became the Village East cinema in 1991. It's one of the better places to see a movie because it's often quiet and uncrowded. If you're patient, all the stuff that plays at the Angelika will come here later and you don't have to deal with the espresso-swilling crowds. Also, it still has one of the last analog marquees in town.

Friday, January 28, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

The San Gennaro Feast continues despite the opposition--with some changes: "This year there will be no karaoke, no booths playing/selling CDs, no mafia t-shirts for sale, and no Dunk the Clown." What's wrong with mafia t-shirts? [Villager][via Curbed]

Reminder to rally to save 35 Cooper Square--today. [BB]

More East Village 1987. [EVG]

Very old snow scenes. [BBs]

Penistrator goes even bigger. [Curbed]

Coney snowmen on the beach. [ATZ]

Wisco Nice

Yesterday, the Times took a look at the new Fedora and the expanding "Little Wisco" of Greenwich Village, a "self-perpetuating machine" in the words of the new Fedora's owner. We've discussed this Wisconsinization of the Village before and how it has come to exemplify the current trend of newcomers longing to recreate their hometowns in New York City.

Ever curious about this trend, I look to the Little Wisco phenomenon for answers. As we learned from The Feast, the new Fedora features a cocktail called the Black Squirrel Old Fashioned, an homage to the bartender's hometown of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, where the Black Squirrel Lounge is the "hip bar...where everybody goes and hangs out" at the America's Best Value Inn-Voyageur Inn and Conference Center.

I searched out the America's Best Value-Voyageur Inn and Conference Center to see if I could understand more about this whole phenomenon.

View from the parking lot

"Fun and excitement await you at America's Best Value Inn-Voyageur Inn and Conference Center," says the hotel's website. "Whether it's after a long day at work, a cocktail after dinner, or a night out on the town, come relax in the Black Squirrel Lounge or at our on-site Marty's Steakhouse."

They feature HBO in every room and are close to many recreational activities, such as the Antique Mall of Reedsburg, Christmas Mountain Golf Course, and something called Wizard Quest, "the leader in computer interactive games played in a live setting," a fantasy-themed labyrinth they call the quadrasphere.

The Black Squirrel Lounge

After a day of antiquing, golfing, and wizard-questing, you can also return to the America's Best Value Inn-Voyageur Inn and Conference Center to enjoy the indoor swimming pool, video games, and the hall of Norman Rockwell. Said one TripAdvisor reviewer of the permanent Rockwell exhibit, "I can't wait to get back and check it out. The restaurant was good, too. On Friday nights they have a seafood buffet that is really good... and everyone is really nice."

Reedsburg, Wisconsin, actually has (or had) a couple of Rockwell-related exhibits. It's a mystery as to why. Norman Rockwell was from New York City and lived later in Massachusetts, not Wisconsin. Maybe they just adopted him as their own, identifying with the wholesome niceness of his work.

The game room

So, is it niceness that newcomers want to bring to New York City from their small Midwestern towns? In the Little Wisco Times article, the author points out the "hyper-sincere" and "disarmingly friendly" nature of these restaurants. These are not traits usually identified with New York City, a town long known for its abrasiveness and aggression, its tough (usually ethnic) way of being warm--in short, its "edge."

As I wondered here before, "What will the city look like as Little Italy and Chinatown give way to Little Michigan and Ohiotown?" Maybe it will be a place where everyone is super nice. Maybe it'll be just like Minnesota Nice. However, says Minnesota playwright Syl Jones, this niceness "doesn't have all that much to do with being nice. It's more about keeping up appearances, about keeping the social order, about keeping people in their place."

According to a niceness study, the people of Wisconsin score very high on the niceness scale--they are sociable, extroverted, and friendly. Said one, "we don't like making waves. We are a very polite group of people." As for New York, concluded the report, people here were "found to be the most high strung, stressed out, and unfriendly." Also neurotic. You could say that, for many years, the city not only bred, but also attracted such personalities. It was a haven for the unsunny.

If we are in a niceness trend, thanks to Midwestern transplants who don't want to leave the Midwest behind (as past generations of transplants did gladly), we could be experiencing a powerful wave that will spread as quickly as the recent "tsunami of cute"--in fact, the two trends are likely related; for example, "cute" cupcakes could also be described as "nice."

What kind of New York will we have once it has been completely won over by the Midwest's brand of hyper-sincerity and disarming friendliness?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nolita vs. The Feast

Recently, the Nolitan attack against the San Gennaro Feast kicked into high gear. As DNAInfo reported, "NoLita residents and merchants seeking to rid their neighborhood of the annual San Gennaro Feast scored a victory last week when Community Board 2 penned a letter to the city's permit office urging them to cut off the 85-year-old festival at Kenmare Street, the de facto border between Little Italy and NoLita."


Nolita, of course, did not exist until it was invented, carved from the body of Little Italy by the Gods of Real Estate in 1996. Coincidentally (?), that same year, Giuliani took "the spirit out of the festival" with a City Hall crackdown ostensibly aimed at organized crime. The die was cast.

Nolita didn't become a powerful lobbying force until the past few years, when its massing troops set out to destroy whatever remained of vanishing Little Italy. Just look at what they did to Elizabeth Street--the forces of upscale retail are fierce. Said one new shop manager about the feast, "You don't want people coming in with greasy sausage fingers. And it always seems to clash with Fashion Week--a busy time of year for us."

It may be inconvenient for the new boutiques, but the Feast has been going strong in this neighborhood a little bit longer than Nolita--since 1926. Of course, many of the newest New Yorkers have a short memory for these things. Martin Scorsese recounted this story from a trip to DiPalo's Food Shop, "Last time I was there, [Mr. DiPalo] told me some student who had just moved to the area came in and asked him, ‘What made you open an Italian cheese shop in a Chinese neighborhood?'"


The main arguments against the Feast ignore history. The opposition says, in sum, "It has lately become too commercial. It's gotten too big and too crowded. It's no longer authentic because it includes foods and products that aren't even Italian. It goes on for too many days." All of that may be true, but none of it is new.

For decades the Feast has been commercial, and has included foods and products of many non-Italian ethnicities, including a mix of tradition and the contemporary.

The New Yorker magazine in 1957 described what was then a six-day feast as "a scene of colossal, assured, offhand pandemonium." It was a cacophony of "zeppolo, hot pepperoni, pizza, Pepsi-Cola, sausage-and-eggplant sandwiches, lemon ice, cat-faced balloons, Confederate campaign hats, Japanese parasols, wedding dolls, chances on stuffed bunnies, chances on a Chevrolet, chances on dyed goldfish."

New Yorker, 1952

The feast is too long, say the new neighbors, but it's always been long. In the 1950s it lasted for 6 days, and by the early 1970s it stretched over two weeks. That bigness used to be a source of pride for the city. Said New York Magazine in 1972, "In Naples, where it originated, the feast only lasts four days. But, like everything else, it's bigger in New York and goes on for almost two weeks. Which leaves no excuse for missing it."

And it's always been crowded, enough to induce a crushing feeling. A 1974 New York Magazine called it "no place for the fainthearted," due to the massive crowding. "Taken in the right spirit, however, it can be the city's most rewarding contact sport."

1984's Guide to Fairs and Festivals in the United States describes this "two-week festival" as a sprawling, jammed, commercial, diverse event: "More than 300 stands line Mulberry and adjoining streets. These stands sell all kinds of Neapolitan foods, pastries, and drinks. Over the years, other ethnic foods have been added, but the annual event that attracts the astounding number of over 2 million people remains a Neapolitan folklore event."

To hear the opposition tell it, the Feast was a quaint, quiet, purely religious, two-day celebration until just a few years ago. Not so.

Close up, Josh Gosfield, New Yorker, 9/20/93

So when did the city's opinion about the Feast begin to change for the worse?

Calvin Trillin wrote a lovely piece for the New Yorker in 1981 in which he outlines everything that irritates him about the San Gennaro Feast (it's crowded, there are too many "rubes" from out of town, it includes the same stands and the same food as other New York street fairs, and it keeps pushing farther uptown), but then he goes on to say that he cannot resist attending it. He goes every year, admitting to himself "I rather enjoy pushing my way down Mulberry" at this special time.

Maybe people have always been irritated by the feast--but they still enjoyed it. (Except for, by the mid-1990s, book editors, movie people, and Chinese restaurateurs, according to this 1995 Opinion piece in the Times.)

Robert Grossman, 2000

The emotional tide against the Feast really turned when the whole city turned, just a decade ago. We see a glimmer of it beginning in a multi-panel comic strip in the New Yorker for September 25, 2000. Among several delightful pro-Feast panels, artist Robert Grossman includes one panel of "minority opinions from neighborhood people." The panel shows a man who avoids the feast, along with an ice-cream eating, dachsund-walking young woman who simply doesn't like it.

This opinion is no longer the minority.

2007 sign at Feast booth: "Be Nice!"

"Nolita" was spawned in 1996, but it was in the mid-2000s, once its streets had been completely changed into upscale shopping malls and the luxury condos were securely in place, that it came into full bloom. And that's when the new, socioeconomically powerful neighbors turned on an already Giuliani-weakened San Gennaro.

The anti-Feast attacks began to really heat up in 2007, when neighbors persuaded Community Board 2 to deny the Feast a permit. At that time, the Medici Foundation of Italian-Americans tried to fight back against the Nolita label, knowing that it meant death. As they wrote, "our ancestor’s neighborhood deserves the recognition and the honor by having their 'historic neighborhood' not be unjustly relabeled as NoLita for the economic gain by various city capitalists."

Said a Community Board 2 member in 2007, "No one likes San Gennaro who lives here." As the Observer observed at the time, "The cultural enrichment provided by this perpetual al fresco experience may be lost on newcomers to the ever-changing neighborhood, where glitzy new luxury apartments are under construction... Still, it’s hard to imagine that the newly transplanted hushers and sanitation hawks could sway officials into yanking the street permits."

Give them time.

NY Post, 2011

One San Gennaro boardmember and long-time resident sees the current move to cut back the Feast as the beginning of the end. As he says, the Nolitans "want to turn Mulberry Street into Madison Avenue—it's a war on our culture."

Little Italy and its big feast will lose that war. The flood has come. Wrote the Post today, "Little Italy is starting to look a lot like the Meatpacking District in its early days... 'In my view the Meatpacking District is kind of on its last legs,' says Mulberry Project partner Nick Boccio. 'The populace is migrating in this direction.'"

And how do members and supporters of that populace feel about the Feast? Some choice comments from Curbed readers:

"All other countried have festivals in NYC that go for ONE instead of the 2 weeks of filth and stench that the residentas of Nolita have to put up with."

"Little Italy is a tourist trap with no real Italians living there. They should move the festival to Bay Ridge or Bensonhurst."

"While I'm not totally against, San G, I think letting them take over a city street for 10 days is absurd. Give them a weekend to have their party."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Have we finally lost the 41-year-old Pussycat Lounge? "Score another one for the white-washers." [Grub]

"Nolita" asserts its power over Little Italy--aim to squeeze the 85-year-old San Gennaro Feast until it dies. Pricey handbags must be sold! [DNA]

A photographic look back at the East Village of 1987. [EVG]

Today in Washington Square Park:

A hoarder at the National Arts Club. [Gothamist]

The Knickerbocker door returns. [LC]

Existential messages appear on subway signage. [RS]

Elaine's apartment on the market. [CR]

I like a deli cat. [EVC]

Strip Street

It was known, simply, as The Street. Arnold Shaw, its main historian, wrote in 52nd St., "If you flagged a taxi in NYC and asked to be taken to The Street, you would be driven, without giving a number or an avenue, to 52d between Fifth and Sixth avenues."

William Gottlieb, 1948, looking east from 6th

It began as a row of speakeasies, which turned into jazz clubs that then evolved into burlesque houses. The speakeasies got their start, Shaw tells us, in 1926 when the city lifted residential restrictions on the brownstones here. Businesses moved in--including Jack and Charlie's 21 club--and The Street exploded through the 1930s.

NYPL, 1940

Leon & Eddie's was the wild star of the block, but at any one of the clubs, you could see and hear the greatest of the greats--Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald. Photographer William Gottlieb captured many of them.

In 1937, Life Magazine took an illustrated walk from one end of 52nd Street to the other--photos of this block featured jazzmen, comics, and an illegal upstairs rifle range. The block was a hive.


By the late 1940s, as the jazz clubs turned into strip joints, many bemoaned the death of The Street. They considered this era to be the block's decline.

In 1948, Time decried the change from jazz to bump-n-grind: "where nightclubs in sorry brownstones crowd each other like bums on a breadline, an era was all but over. Swing was still there, but it was more hips than horns. Barrelhouse had declined. Burlesque was back... There was little jazz left on 52nd Street. Even the customers had changed. There were fewer crew haircuts, pipes and sports jackets; more bald spots, cigars and paunches."

New Yorker, 1948

To others, it was not a death, but a renaissance--burlesque was back, after Mayor LaGuardia had outlawed it from the city. This is the time I wish I could have visited the block. Arnold Shaw provides a map of it in 1954, when several of the existing clubs had nightly strippers. Those included: Club Ha-Ha, the Moulin Rouge (featuring "Melba the Toast of the Town"), the French Quarter, Club Pigalle, the Flamingo, Club Nocturne, Club del Rio, and Henry Fink's Club Samoa with its South Pacific theme.

extrabox's flickr

TV producer Bernie Brillstein recalls Club Samoa in 1955 as "a bust-out joint on Fifty-second Street where guys could pick up broads. We'd eat club sandwiches and drink Cokes, and be treated like kings while the girls jerked off their other customers under the table. The girls would pretend they wanted to meet these losers later, but they never did."

Club Samoa postcard

The dancers at this time were all about gimmicks--parrots, monkeys, cowgirl costumes, and more. Playboy called them "novelty strippers" in a 1954 article, explaining, "There was a time when a girl could count on an enthusiastic audience by simply peeling down to her birthday suit. Not so today. The modern male is a jaded animal."

To hold the attention of that jaded animal on 52nd Street, Zorita danced with her pet python Elmer; Lili St. Cyr did her reverse strip act, starting in a bathtub and ending up fully clothed; and Georgia Sothern ("the Wow Girl"), in the words of Harold Minsky, "did six minutes of bumps and grinds to the fast music of 'Hold That Tiger' and generally came offstage needing oxygen."

St. Cyr in her transparent bathtub

Composer-lyricist Sherman Edwards tells Shaw in 52nd St., "even though the emphasis was on dames and not music, good music was being heard. It was the jazz combos that played for the peelers. You played different numbers, things like 'Temptation,' that were good for bumps and grinds, with a lot of tom-tom stuff."

The most popular tunes were "The Mooch," "The Man with the Golden Arm," and "The Theme from Dragnet." Another favorite was "Harlem Nocturne"--have a listen to how it was done.

William Gottlieb: Lois DeFee at Club Nocturne, 1948

The 1950s on 52nd also marked the time and place of the B-girls, when professional prostitutes were replaced by young amateurs, mostly struggling actresses, who hustled men at the bars and clubs. Jess Stearn writes about the B-girls of 52nd in his fantastic 1956 book Sisters of the Night, reporting that at least one charged "One thousand for the night, five hundred for an hour or so." It might have been the 50s, but she was the headliner of the show, a star of The Street, and could name her price.

Crime flourished. After hours, there were backstage sex shows between dancers. Hit men planned their hits. Jewelry and furs stolen from Fifth Avenue stores were auctioned in the kitchens.

In 1957's Sweet Smell of Success, J.J. Hunsecker and Sidney Falco walk out of "21" and turn to watch a brawl spilling out of Club Pigalle. We see the neon lights of 52nd, we hear the shouts and screams. Hunsecker says it all when he says, "I love this dirty town."

Sweet Smell of Success

Sadly, the B-girls helped give the city an excuse to shut it all down. A 1955 Cabaret magazine reported, "in 1953, the demise of West 52nd as a nitery center was hastened by the police. Many of the places were hauled up on the carpet for permitting women employees to mingle with the guests, for providing insufficient illumination, for fast B-girl practices, and for other infractions. Licenses were suspended for months or permanently."

As early as 1955, demolitions and skyscrapers were already planned for the block.

William Gottlieb, 1948 detail

Throughout the 1950s, petty crime continued as the city fought against 52nd. Liquor was watered, checks were padded, outside barkers doubled as pimps. And the dancers declined--Variety called them "fat, flabby and fortyish."

Arnold Shaw cites the date July 4, 1960 as the end. That's when the State Liquor Authority pulled the licenses on seven clubs in one day. "They're slapping us to death with suspensions," complained stripper Winnie Garrett, "It's such a lousy little street. Why can't they leave us alone?" The brownstones that had been given license in the 1920s, now had their license taken away. Four decades of wild creativity and debauchery was pretty much over.

William Gottlieb, 1948, looking east from 6th

In the 1970s, at least one disco moved in, to the old Leon & Eddie spot, but urban renewal was revving its bulldozers and wrecking balls. Walking on the block in 1977, Arnold Shaw said, "gazing up at the tidy towers of aluminum and glass, no one could possibly imagine what a nighttime whirl of exciting sounds, gifted performers and enthusiastic audiences The Street once was."

Today, the block is almost nothing but those skyscrapers, dead glass and granite, sterile and flat. All that remains of the old street is "21," a Lilliputian among shiny giants, and the last of the "sorry brownstones" that once were so alive.

Google maps, today, same view, east from 6th

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Many commenters agree Bloomberg paying a $115,000 salary to a 27-year-old Facebook guru is ludicrous. I add the question: So whatever happened to our Bed Bug Czar? [CR]

Sign the petition to designate 35 Cooper Square a landmark and save it from demolition.

And then go to the rally this Friday. [EVG]

"Can we please stop bemoaning the loss of 'edgy' New York?" [RS]

Burlesque coming to Red Hook. [Eater]

Check out more scenes of lost Times Square from Jerry Rio. [COS]

Remembering punk at the Paradise Garage in 1978. [Stupefaction]

New Fedora: packed, mobbed, reserved seats at the bar, expensive sweaters. [Eater]

Gottlieb on 52nd

In my recent research on Leon & Eddie's of lost 52nd Street, I came upon the incredible Gottlieb Collection of jazz photos on flickr.

William Gottlieb, says the Library of Congress' note, "was both a notable jazz journalist and a self-taught photographer who captured the personalities of jazz musicians and told their stories with his camera and typewriter." Many of the photos here come from 52nd Street, back when it was known as "Swing Street."

William Gottlieb: Toots Thielemans, 1948

In the collection you'll find many shots of the greats, including Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but it's the faces of the forgotten and lesser known that I find most exciting.

Like Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, the man who claimed to have originally coined the term "hipster" between 1939 and 1945. It was his stage name when 52nd was his musical home. Notes Wikipedia, "His career went into a tailspin in 1947, when his song 'Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine' put him on the music industry blacklist." Too bad, it's a great title.

William Gottlieb: Gilbert Pinkus, 1946

In black-and-white, there's a fellow named Gilbert Pinkus. Down Beat recalled him: "Pinkus, Gilbert G. Pinkus, that is, is the Mayor of 52nd street. Pinkus has been a doorman on The Street for 16 years and his honorary title is a tribute to his fortitude. The Big Cigar with the Little Man has outlasted all other of the denizens of Characters' Alley..."

He died in 1980 after being hit by a truck.

William Gottlieb: Tony Soma of Tony's, 1948

Through Gottlieb's photos, we get a rare glimpse inside the nightclubs that made 52nd Street so famous and beloved.

There's Tony Soma doing a headstand at Tony's--probably singing a Verdi or Puccini aria, as he liked to do upside-down. Dorothy Parker used to frequent his place when it was a speakeasy. In the 1920s, when a bartender at Tony's asked Parker, "What are you having?" she reportedly replied, "Not much fun."

William Gottlieb: Lois De Fee at Club Nocturne, 1948

And there is the lovely Lois De Fee, "Queen of the Amazons." At six-foot-four, she was hailed by Walter Winchell as the "Eiffel Eyeful." She married actor Billy Curtis, one-time Munchkin, for the publicity. TIME announced: "Midget Billy Curtis, 29, 3 ft. 6 in., 79 lb., last January married onetime Manhattan nightclub Bouncer Lois De Fee, 19, 6 ft. 4 in., 190 lb. Last week little Billy Curtis, suing his big bride for divorce, complained: 'She treated me like a doll.'"

There was a popular joke that went along with the wedding:
Q: How did the midget make love to Lois De Fee?
A: Someone put him up to it.

On that subject, Lois said, "We didn't--I mean, we were married at three o'clock in the afternoon in Miami, and the half pint took a plane for New York at seven o'clock that evening, and we didn't--that is--oh hell! We didn't. I applied for an annulment the next day."

William Gottlieb: 52nd St., 1948

Not everyone is named in the photo collection. Here, an anonymous chanteuse sings amid red draperies while nightclubbers smoke and drink at white-clothed tables. The colors are stunning.

And there's more. So many more--over 1,300 photos in the collection. Some notable shots include: A look into a secret booze vault (21's?), an eerie home tour with Mr. Edwin Finckel, the pipe-cluttered desk of one Brick Fleagle, colorful scenes onstage at Leon & Eddie's, the studio of a bohemian painter at work, bassist Vivien Garry of the amazing hairdo, a shot of the Apollo in 1946, three guys named Pee Wee, Muggsy, and Miff (plus one Joe), Louis Armstrong in his dressing room, Billie Holiday with her dog Mister (and a pineapple), Cab Calloway combing his hair, etc., etc., etc.

Enjoy the browsing.

More 52nd Street to come...

Monday, January 24, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

What was the greatest New York year ever? [NYM]

Rally to save 35 Cooper on Friday 1/28. [EVG]

Could the Carnegie Deli be closing? [Eater]

The rent at Ray's must be paid--go buy a beignet. [NSC]

Houston Wall appears in a Scorsese film of 1967. [BB]

Some Long Island people are paying $175,000 to replicate Carrie Bradshaw's closet in their home. Go ahead and weep. [Racked]

Gerritsen Beach blog brouhaha goes big news. [NYT]

Alex puts names to some of those hardcore kid faces. [FP]

Check out new--and old--music from the Slum Goddess. [SG]

Walking from Williamsburg to Bed-Stuy. [FNY]

Leon & Eddie's

Last week I posted about old New York City menus, and one of them, featuring a topless lady, came from Leon and Eddie's on 52nd Street back when the block between 5th and 6th was known as Swing Street for its many jazz clubs, and later as Strip Street when the jazz clubs became striptease joints, creating a mecca of burlesque (more on that in a post to come).

Andreas Feininger, via Getty

Most popular during World War II, Leon & Eddie's (said, but not in the club's signage, with an apostrophe S) was beloved by servicemen. Sailors and soldiers, along with civilians, were invited onstage to play "Boomps-A-Daisy" with the chorus girls, butting their hips together for a cheap thrill.

Boomps-A-Daisy, LIFE

In 1939, Time magazine said of the place, "Its ferocious Apache dance is the next thing to murder, but the crowd really goes to hear Proprietor Eddie Davis, whose smutty jokes and songs like Myrtle Isn't Fertile Any More are subtle as a burglar alarm."

LIFE described the place in 1942, "To the average out-of-towner seeking noisy fun, Leon & Eddie's offers sly ditties, fan dancers, smoky jokes, and a general old-style hot spot atmosphere."

Getty Images

To be more specific, a typical night at "L&E" is reviewed in a Billboard of 1943 when the opener was "Strut Flash, a sepia youngster with a nice grin who pounds out some okay but not outstanding taps. Gets by on strength of personality rather than leg work." Next up, Dolores King, "the show's chanteuse" with "pleasantly pitched pipes," followed by a pair of comedy tappers, a joke Sinatra lookalike, a juggling troupe, then "sexy touches" provided by Patsy Anne Biddle "who does a polite and unrevealing strip" while another dancer performed "a novel and intricate half-man half-woman routine with a dummy."

Hockey players enjoying the show, 1948

Jerry Lewis recalls: "Leon and Eddie's was a mecca for nightclub comics. Sunday night was Celebrity Night: The fun would start after hours, when anybody in the business might show up and get on to do a piece of their act. You'd see the likes of Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Danny Kaye. It was magical. I used to go and gawk, like a kid in a candy store."

Noel Toy, LIFE images, via Softfilm

One of the regular regulars in 1942 was Chinese fan dancer Noel Toy. Said LIFE: "Noel Toy provides a traditional dash of nudity to Leon & Eddie's floor show. Miss Toy majored in French in college, never drinks, goes out with New York dramatic critics. She is named Noel because she was born on Christmas."

But Sherry Britton was the burlesque queen of the street. Wrote the Times in her 2008 obituary, "Sometimes Ms. Britton — at 5 feet 3 inches tall with an 18-inch waist — peeled off chiffon evening gowns to the strains of Tchaikovsky; sometimes she balanced glasses of water on her breasts."

Sherry Britton

One of the best, and only, accounts of "Strip Street" is Arnold Shaw's 1971 The Street That Never Slept. He's got an interview in the book with Britton. She recalls her usual night at Leon & Eddie's: "I used to strip down to an itsy-bitsy G-string and nothing else. Not even pasties. I did this even during the dinner hour when lots of children were in the audience. Please remember that this was March 1941. But my body was so perfect and I did it with such good taste that no one ever thought of complaining--quite the opposite!"

The act didn't last forever. After burlesque, Britton tried singing, but the reviews weren't good. Billboard saw her sing at Leon & Eddie's in 1948 and said, "Sherry Britton is apparently serious about dropping her strip act for singing. The gal looks good... Unfortunately she doesn't have a voice."


Leon & Eddie's didn't last forever, either. Owner Eddie Davis (Leon had gone to Florida) closed it in 1953. L&E manager and bouncer Toots Shor moved his own popular restaurant into the space and ran it until 1971.

By 1977, the space was turned into the New York, New York discotheque, featuring the city's first-ever laser light show. New York magazine said, "this is a place for those who can't or won't cope with a heavy disco scene. (Take your brother-in-law from Miami.)" That club lasted until 1981.

The building was torn down circa 1982, when the Deutsche Bank tower took its place. The glassy tower is known today for its "austere" urban plaza made of granite slabs, a miserably far cry from the "8th wonder of the world" that was Leon & Eddie's.


More 52nd Street to come...

Friday, January 21, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Hideous Jumbotron hotel promises to spawn more like itself on the Bowery, aka "epicenter of cool." [EVG]

See Schmatta, a history of the Garment District at IFC 1/25. [IFC]

Zenith, a Brooklyn "Blade Runner," plays at KGB. [LM]

New Coney investor to bring healthy Luna Park Café to boardwalk and pay "tribute to the long history of Coney Island with memorabilia and tributes from local residents and visitors from around the world." So...they tear down the real thing and put up a fake. [ATZ]

Billy Leroy can't sell real subway signs, but this guy can make and sell replicas. [NYT]

A glimpse back at Dave's Luncheonette on Canal. [D40]

On the Bowery: "Free Stuff, No Bedbugs!" [BR]

"Gene-morphing bedbugs now virtually indestructible." [RS]

Hardcore New York

Reader John Lee sent in a link to an evocative collection of photos from the days of New York's 1980s hardcore scene. Blogger Street Carnage got the shots from photographer Brooke Smith--as he says, the actress "best known for her role as the woman down in the well in Silence of the Lambs."

photo: Brooke Smith

Brooke Smith also has a place in my heart for playing my favorite character in the fantastic movie Series 7, a little-seen reality show spoof that's well worth checking out. She's a gun-toting pregnant lady who does a splendid performance to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Need I say more?

photo: Brooke Smith

Anyway, here are a few of Brooke's shots to whet your appetite (click to see them all), including this one of the northwest corner of St. Mark's and Avenue A--a very different time in the East Village.

photo: Brooke Smith

...and the obligatory Google Streetview "today" shot, complete with a stroller. And lots of bucolic trees.