Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Remembering Kiev

Thinking recently about the old Kiev, formerly at 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, I got a lovely circa 1980 shot from photographer Michael Sean Edwards.

I took a shot on the same corner for comparison. At first glance, not too much has changed. The alterations seem subtle enough--the street signs have gone from yellow to green, the WALK/DON'T WALK is now an illiterate hand and man, Moishe's Bake Shop has a new sign that is today far from new.

photo: Michael Sean Edwards, c. 1980

But other shifts are considerable. A giant glass condo tower rises in the west. And, of course, Kiev is gone a decade now.


The Kiev opened in 1978 and was a favorite of Allen Ginsberg, who dined there regularly. In 1982 he put it in a collaborative poem with Ted Berrigan:

"I stood outside the Kiev tonight, nose pressed
to the plate glass, feet freezing
in city mush, and watched two aging lovers
inhale their steaming bowls of mushroom barley soup."

Then again in his own poem in 1986:

"I'm a fairy with purple wings and white halo
translucent as an onion ring in
the transsexual fluorescent light of Kiev
Restaurant after a hard day's work."

Ginsberg photographed many people in Kiev, including Philip Glass, Robert Frank, and Peter Orlovsky. He was also photographed in Kiev--here with East Villager Quentin Crisp in 1995:

photo source

A June 1986 New York magazine article recalls the days when, on a Sunday morning, you could not get into the Kiev because the tables were jammed with customers. This was during a boom in Polish and Ukrainian coffee shops in the East Village, what they called a "Blintz-Krieg." Today, it's hard to imagine cheap Slavic food being a culinary goldmine here. "Though the East Village seems in danger of becoming one huge art bar," says the article, "ethnic coffee shops prove that people there do not live on attitude alone."

At that time, three Polish coffee shops had opened in the last six months, bringing the neighborhood's total to over a dozen Eastern European diners. The magazine lists old-timers Leshko's and Odessa (a crowded "money machine"), then Polonia, Christine's, Lilian's, and K.K.'s, plus Bruno's, Teresa's, and Jolanta.

"They see us getting rich," said the co-owner of Christine's about his competition. Bruno of Bruno's agreed, "There's a lot of money in Polish food."

Today, how many are left?

The Kiev closed in 2000 when the owner "got bored with it," according to an article in the New York Times. He offered it to Tom Birchard of Veselka, who turned it down. "Things changed," said Birchard. "I don't want to use the word yuppie.''

After that, I don't know exactly what happened, but the Kiev became a mysterious Ukrainian-Asian fusion joint, likely under new ownership, followed by some failed permutations called Go! Go! Curry! and The American Grill.

The old sign finally came down in 2008. Now it's not Kiev at all, but a Korean BBQ that no one (as far as I know) is bothering to write any poetry about.

See also:
New Polonia


Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

When I was a kid before the Kiev was a soda/egg cream store, Mindy's Soda Shop, where the tough boys from the Lower East Side used to hang out. Jeans during the week and dress-up clothes come the weekend. We used to stand on 7th Street watching the people going to Ratner's Restaurant, near 6th Street, and make tough boys remarks at them. What an asshole time that was...

Karen said...

Oh how I loved it. Spent many, many hours there.Couldn't believe it when it closed.Leshko's was always first choice though because of the rock bottom prices,booth's and open 24/7.
Do you remember a little Polish joint called Brunetta's on St. Mark's near the corner of A ,south side of street?

Anonymous said...

Oh Keiv, oh how I miss you. Such yummy food, such interesting people.

It was my only destination after late night punk shows in the very early '80's.

SpragueD said...

Kiev for breakfast after a night at Pyramid in the 80's. Heaven. Matzoh ball soup and kasha varnishkes on Friday. Borscht with a boiled potato anytime. I mourn its loss like a family member, because that's what it was for almost 20 years.

Anonymous said...

After a long night the Mudd club... 5 am, two choices, Daves Luncheonete or Kiev, , I miss my city.

Carol Gardens said...

MANY late nights there. Back in art school we somehow convinced the school paper to pay for a "pierogi taste test". A bunch of students visited about four of the Polish joints, stuffing our faces with pierogis using money from the newspaper's petty cash. We DID get around to writing the article.

I can still conjure up the eggs with kielbasa, kasha, and the big hunks of challah with butter.

Anonymous said...

I loved the COMPOTE drink at Kiev.
I don't recall Brunetta's but I also loved a little Polish diner on Ave A I think it was between 2nd and 3rd Streets. A cup of thick split pea soup with a piece of Challah, less than a dollar in the late mid-late 80's.

Anonymous said...

I lived on the block from 1989-2007. My Kiev favorite was cold borscht with a boiled potato and a hard boiled egg on the side.

Veselka was fun, too - especially before they renovated. The food there was (and is) better than Kiev, but Kiev had it's own charm and specialties. Remember the soup selections?

But the neighborhood is really gone, no? I saw the tag end of it - from the crack epidemic to the beginning of whatever it's become now...

Unknown said...

Something I have never been able to find is a photograph of the old Baltyk restaurant on First Ave. Anyone know of one?

Melanie said...

It was a cool place--with great apple fritters with powdered sugar.

Filmatix said...

For us not-quite-old-school New York Hardcore kids from Stuy High coming of age at the turn of the 80's/90's, Kiev was the best late-night, post-show meal spot. The apple pancakes (really fritters), matzo brie, and soups hit the spot. And the flood of memories bringing up Leshko's and K.K., too! For cheap eats, ABC/LES/E-ville will be a wasteland in the not-too-distant future. Shame.

Anonymous said...

This anonymous and the above anonymous share the same taste in borscht. I remember slurping mine down one night sitting next to a table at which Ethan Hawke was describing to Julie Delpy a book that was very important to him, but he couldn't remember the author's name.

The book was On the Road. I kept my mouth shut.

Anonymous said...

The first time my now-ex came to visit me, he nearly burst into tears of joy when he saw where we were going to lunch. "Kiev? You mean...THE Kiev? The one in "Detachable Penis"?!"

JaWz said...

Oh what I wouldn't do to taste their Chicken Kiev again. A crunchy fried breadcrumb-battered chicken cylinder filled with dripping butter and parsley. Corn and mashed potatoes on the side. It was heaven! In the 80s, my crew would head there after seeing a band at The Cat Club or Pyramid, or to recover from drinking at Alcatraz or The Wah Wah Hut. Our intricate hairdos, black stretch jeans, spandex, spikes and sparkly eyeshadow did nothing to disguise our true NYC Jew selves whilst we inhaled Kasha Varnishkes and Pierogi. Often we'd sit next to that back room where they kept racks and racks of Challah. The smell was insanely divine.

It seems wrong to write a tribute to the Kiev without mentioning the lyric from the 1992 King Missle song "Detachable Penis" which describes the vibe of the East Village at that time quite well:

"I was starting to get very depressed,
so I went to the Kiev, and ate breakfast.
Then, as I walked down Second Avenue towards St. Mark's Place,
where all those people sell used books and other junk on the street,
I saw my penis lying on a blanket
next to a broken toaster oven.
Some guy was selling it.
I had to buy it off him.
He wanted twenty-two bucks, but I talked him down to seventeen.
I took it home, washed it off,
and put it back on. I was happy again. Complete."

Marty Wombacher said...

@Anonymous 10:39 AM: Great story and generous of you to keep your mouth shut!

Melanie said...

Leshkos was great too--endless refills of coffee with the $1.99 breakfast special. Great corner hang out of yore. It would definately be on my corner now if it were around. Both of them for that matter.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Like many others, Kiev was my late-night spot...and the first place I ever tried kasha.

Anonymous said...

'little poland" sill there? 2nd between 12th/11th.

Anonymous said...

I loved Kiev and leshkos! I remember when the waitresses at Kiev went on strike. I used to go to the baltyk. That was a strange place. I was a big fan of teresa's too.

Roberta said...

Pierogis and sour cream. With fried onions. After too much scotch at A-7.

Bruce Kersten said...

I'll never forget Kiev kielbasa and French toast at 3am after too much east village alcohol.

Anonymous said...

@jawz, of course gotta mention "detachable penis". I remember hearing that song in high school, all the way in California. I remember that line about going to the Kiev for breakfast. Odd to think that years later I would end up being neighbors with some strange diner mentioned in a very bizarre song.

Good to see that Moishe's is still going strong. Does anybody even know or care about Moishe's? It is a real throwback and they have good stuff cheap--old-school cakes and cookies and macaroons. Their sponge cake is wonderful and you buy it by the pound.

Anonymous said...

I still get nostalgic every time I pass that corner. Now it's a sorry series of apparently failing restaurant concepts with no customers.

Uncle Waltie said...

Kiev, 103 2nd Avenue, The Bini Bon, and later on Sugar Reef (even Bamboo House) made 2nd Avenue a culinary refuge for hungry night workers. And yes...the Mushroom Barley Soup at Kiev was unsurpassed at 3AM.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't that "Jerry's 103" on the corner where Vandaag is now?
Kiev, Theresa's, Leshko's those days it was cheaper to eat out.
I remember Sugar Reef.
Once I went into Moishes, next for to Kiev, and the ancient woman working there was very friendly and we began talking a bit. I noticed that she had digits tattooed on her arm. I some how mustered the courage to ask her if she was a survivor of the Holocaust and of course she was. I asked her if I could touch her and graciously let me and proceeded to tell me a story about a doctor some years back that had a similar reaction.

That section of 2nd ave. With all the late night stuff for sale on the sidewalk was called "thieves market" as far as I remember. One time I remember reading in the NY Post back then that a guy had broken into a car in the Dr. Parking lot at the Eye & Ear Infirmary (14th St.) and stole a box. He went straight to the thieves market to sell whatever was inside. When he opened it there at the curb, he saw it was a human head. He freaked out, the box fell over and the head rolled out onto the sidewalk, or into the gutter! The guy went screaming crazy and ran away . I really wish I had seen that! .....not quite a detachable penis but certainly as bazaar!!
Ah, the good ole days!

Anonymous said...

Mykola mentions Baltyk. I had almost forgotten that place. They had music. Definitely an accordian player, I can't remember was there a whole band too?

Also, for the commenter that likes Chicken Kiev - Ukrainian National Home does a similar version.

Jeremiah Moss said...

love that Ethan Hawke story. thanks for all the comments--you're making me hungry.

Jeremiah Moss said...

oh, and that head story...there are no words.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if that guy with the severed head ever stopped running. He's probably living in Oregon or something right now, still trying to forget that awful day in the East Village all those years ago.

SB said...

I'm hungry thinking about Kiev. big potato pie type dishes. They also used to have these little chocolate looking things that they called "cheesecake." They looked like bonbons & I was completely addicted to them. What the hell were they, and where can I find them now? Anyone?

Tim Milk said...

Great post. Ted Berrigan was my poetry teacher. Kiev was like a protective haven in a dark world. Used to practically live in that place. How lucky I am to have been here at a time when we had these marvelous places.

Anonymous said...

Alan J. Pakula and Meryl Streep next to us eating pierogies at Leshko's. Next year: Sophie's Choice.

Anonymous said...

Oh How I miss Kiev.

Late at night, after a Romones, Johnny Thunders or another punk show, there standing in the soft quiet of the busy night, the home of blintz beauty: Keiv.

Oh How I miss Kiev.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the Kiev! The only place in NYC I managed to loose my wallet and it was actually returned to me. I usually went to leshko's because it was more affordable but I decided to splurge one nite and go to the famous kiev with the big sign with its glittery lights. Had no idea I had even lost my wallet (never had much in it) until it was found by the nicest guy in the world who tracked me down and called me the next day. Gotta give him credit, couldn't have been easy to do back in the pre-Internet 1980's.

Unknown said...

Hey my old roomate Tim Milk! Felicitations from Erik Ivan; was great to run into you a few years ago. You are a unique talent I was glad to know you. Oh and how I miss kasha varnishkas at kiev.

Anonymous said...

@Karen said: "Do you remember a little Polish joint called Brunetta's on St. Mark's near the corner of A, south side of street?"

A very late reply, sorry, but for future readers who are trying to recall it: I believe you're talking about the cute little polish place called Elke's, on St. Marks near A, which I went to often. Brunetta's was on the east side of 1st Avenue I believe in the space that the restaurant Tree now inhabits. Always a pretty cake in the window.

Loggus said...

Does anyone remember a ramshackle place on the bowery somewhere that had a woman's name--lotta actors went there after shows, they had a pint of gard cider for a buck!

Pat said...

@John Nichols: Phebe's? Once "the Sardi's of Off-Off Broadway." Still there and renovated, more upscale and not so ramshackle. I loved their burgers.

Unknown said...

Ah, yes!

Unknown said...

I hadn’t thought of that mushroom barley for years, but the mention brought the flavor right back. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Does anyone remember the vegetable soup at Kiev? I see everyone talking about the borscht and the mushroom barley soup, but they made the best vegetable soup I ever had and I'm trying to remember what was in it. The last time I was there was in the early 90's and ran into Sid Bernstein of Beatle fame there!

Now I want a piece of challah and some butter!

Moshe said...

How I loved the Kiev! Even before I remembered that my mom's family had come from a shtetl near the city it was named for.

It was always there, 24/7, to comfort you with Eastern European soul food at wonderfully affordable prices. I had many favorites on its menu, and probably had the pierogis more than anything else. But what I miss most is the borscht, the best I ever ate. I go to Veselka now (which has gotten much more expensive) and both their meat and non-meat borschts are good, but still not a match for Kiev's.

The Kiev was the default rendezvous whenever my girlfriend and I were doing anything in that part of town. That's how I got the sad news it had closed, showing up first for such a meeting. She joined me a few minute later, finding me standing there with my forehead against the window, mute with shock.

Unknown said...

I so miss Kiev. After performing at Amato Opera (also closed), we would all go there for the delicious kasha varnishkes, stuffed cabbage, pierogies, and various other meals along with countless cups of coffee, and spend hours just talking into the early morning. One day I broke up with my boyfriend there, and he left in a huff without paying. I put my last $20 (starving artist) on the table as I was preparing to pay the check, when all of a sudden it disappeared. I turned around and there was a guy sitting alone at the table right behind me. After such an emotional time with my now ex-boyfriend I was not in a good mood, to say the least. Assuming he had taken the $20, I stood up and put my hands around his neck, shook him and screamed "GIVE ME BACK MY MONEY!!!!". The guy started choking and the manager, who knew me, came running over. I released him, grabbed the guy's backpack, and there was my $20, which I took back. Then the manager threw him out of the restaurant. Ah, such memories!