Wednesday, November 30, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Oh no, no, no--Bill's Gay 90s files for bankruptcy in financial rift with landlord. [LC]

Take a look out Harvey Wang's window--at the Tenement Museum. [CR]

Harry Potter to play Allen Ginsberg--a better fit than Franco's Howl? [Gothamist]

Longtime holistic and homeopathic EV Veterinarian shuttered. [BB]

A drink at Rolf's twinkly spectacular. [MAD]

You can rent the last empty storefront in Coney's Stillwell terminal. [ATZ]

When will NYC's massive tourist bubble burst? [NYM]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

On saving Bill's Gay 90s, Brooks offers: "a news flash to Mr. DeLucie: Bill's already has an old-time feel. Don't fuck it up with your vile whoring-after-the-1%, faux-authentic sensibilities. This is not your element. You have no idea what a real New York tavern is. So: Back. The. Hell. Away. From. Bill's." [LC]

Hinsch's saved--reopens to great excitement in Bay Ridge. [NYDN]

French street artist JR covers the windows of unrented retail space at 456 West 19th with his big monochromatic eyes:

Finding an undiscovered clutch of vintage neon in the Bronx. [NYN]

Harlemisms from 1951--you dig? [DTDB]

What's the story with backhouses? (Not to be confused with the Italian back'ows.) [OTG]

7-story condo-type thing to replace countercultural theater on Ave. B. [EVG]

Last Ones Out

As Grieve reported, Nevada Smith's on 3rd Avenue between 11th and 12th has closed and the building that holds it, along with its neighbor, is coming down. Said Smith's, developers are "poised to demolish most of the block and replace our place, and yours, with a new luxury apartment block."

The two doomed tenement buildings have been derelict for some time, a place for mysterious grubby curtains and wondering about weird interiors. They are also the last remnants of the old block.

photo: Mark Kane

In this late-1970s photo by reader Mark Kane, they are the tallest structures on the block. To their left is James Renwick's 1869 headquarters of the New York City Department of Public Charities and Corrections. It was demolished in 1989 for the Loews Village 7 multiplex.

The trio of three-story buildings on their right disappeared, said Mark, "when the landlord pulled some of those 'decorative' columns from the storefronts, only to have the building facades collapse." There's a parking lot there now.

Once this pair of antiques is demolished, nothing will remain from the above photo.

Last ones out, turn out the lights.

photo: Mark Kane, close-up

Before the Village 7
Lost Renwick Found

Monday, November 28, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Zito's Sandwich Shoppe answers the question on every Park Slope parent's mind--and solves the babies in bars problem--"YES! We have Growlers & High Chairs." Feel free to get drunk with your baby:

Bill's Gay 90s (that fantastic spot that is completely unpretentious and accessible) is about to be ruined. [NYP]

Are we losing the famous and wonderful Mike's Newsstand Candyland from Harlem? [HB]

There are now $14 foie gras dog biscuits. [Eater]

Here come demos and condos for the corner of 12th and 3rd. [EVG]

Garment District standby Spanish Taverna has shuttered. [LC]

Tour along the Harlem River. [FNY]

Epic article on the leaders of OWS. [NYM]

Inside the kitchen the night of the raid on Zuccotti: "the ruling class doesn’t want us carrying soap and deodorant, they want us to smell bad." [POW]

Best Vill Boogie

The big plywood wall surrounding the vanished Village Lukoil on 8th Avenue and Horatio has a bright, bold new look, thanks to Jay Shells, aka Jason Shelowitz, creator of guerrilla urban etiquette signage and other street art.

photo: JVNY

He spent the whole weekend working on it, first outlining it, then filling it in with blue, purple, and black. I asked him a few questions about it.

photo: Jay Shells

What made you pick this stretch of plywood?

i picked this because i live up the street and saw it as a giant blank canvas. who wants to look at plywood covered in stupid fly-poster ads for months anyway?

What's the work about--waves? giant squid tentacles?

just some abstractions from my bag of tricks. i've done a bunch of paintings like this before. the fluid motion of the lines help me think. since it's not really about anything in particular, it's just real therapy for me. get to just flow with the paint and not worry about it looking like anything in particular. it's more about the medium and fluidity.

Does it have a title?

if i must, i would name it "Best Vill Boogie"

photo: Jay Shells

How many cans of paint did it take?

i didn't keep a perfect tally, but let's say 32 cans.

How many hours did it take you to do?

i've spent 12 hour so far, and have some more shadow work to do that should take another hour or two. then, it's done. also, i walked my dogs by it before and realized i signed it 2001 instead of 2011. d'oh. i'll have to fix that.

photo: JVNY

Vivaldi Saved

First St. Mark's Books and now Caffe Vivaldi.

Originally aiming to triple the rent, landlord Croman has made a deal with Vivaldi to keep it in its Greenwich Village home for another 10 years. But they need major donations to stay afloat.

Here's the Facebook update:

Dear friends of Caffe Vivaldi,

Congratulations to all of you, the members of our "Save Caffe Vivaldi" family.

We have an agreement with our landlord. Without your overwhelming support this would not have been possible - almost 5,000 signatures in less than four weeks!!!

Our rent is going to be high, but manageable, provided we raise our revenue by soundproofing and renovating our premises.

Towards that end we have launched a fundraising drive. Our goal is to raise $75,000/- by the end of December. We have already raised $7,000/- in the past few days. We are very proud to note that our support is very broad, ranging from $5 - $1,000/- donations so far.

This enthusiastic response to our fundraising drive makes me certain by the hour that we will reach our target before the New Year. With your support now, we can continue this momentum and make the dream of preserving our beloved Caffe Vivaldi a reality.

Please go to and make a donation today.

With Love and Gratitude,


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

If you haven't yet been to visit the All City Student Occupation at the New School, go now--before they're booted out. [Gothamist]

Oh God, the miserable new individually wrapped Ritz crackers of DOH'd Sardi's! [MAD]

First they came for the cheesepots. Now Matilda the Algonquin cat has been banished by DOH. [Gothamist]

If you enjoy complaining that "New York just isn’t what it used to be," check out these links. [P&W]

Saying goodbye to the Coney Island Souvenir Shop--shuttered by Zamperla after 25 years in business. [ATZ]

Uncle Moe's burritos of Park Slope shuttered after 20 years. [HPS]

Walking on Waverly. [FNY]

Times Square's Rialto in the 60s and 70s. [VS]

Damaged book press conference from the OWS librarians. [RS]

Sign the petition to help keep libraries open and running in NYC's public schools. [THS]

How to Be a New Yorker

In this week's Village Voice, on stands today, Jen Doll publishes a big cover story entitled "How to Be a New Yorker." It's a follow-up to a 1964 book with the same title by Joan and Leslie Rich and it's good fodder for debate about what being a New Yorker really means.

I offer the following excerpt, not just because I'm quoted in it (and get in a dig at Little Wisco), but because it covers the nostalgic part about living in the city, from both sides of the story. Which side do you take?

Jen writes:

Lament the way things change, even as you know it is inevitable. Despite our hard-edged reputation, we are, in fact, a bunch of nostalgic saps. Tough guys on the outside, pure mush in the middle. And we hate change, we really hate it, even though change has been a New York constant since before New York was born. In How to Be a New Yorker, the Riches write: "Long ago we realized that New York is the only place for heart-on-the-sleeve romantics like us, who shed tears over old monstrosities coming down, like Pennsylvania Station, and new ones going up, like the World Trade Center. Far from choosing Manhattan for its rigors and challenges, we live here because it's the only place we've ever found that's sentimental enough for us."

To be a New Yorker is to complain about how things are not the same as they used to be, whether you're Theodore Dreiser writing in the 1900s or Sandee Brawarsky writing about the Bowery in an essay titled, precisely, "Oh, It's Not What It Used to Be" in The New York Times in 2000. (Now, in 2011, it is even further from what it used to be.) As Colson Whitehead puts it in "City Limits," his intro to The Colossus of New York, "You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now."

Maybe we're losing our edge, our character, our authenticity. Or maybe we're just being New Yorkers. As Whitehead writes: "To put off the inevitable, we try to fix the city in place, remember it as it was, doing to the city what we would never allow to be done to ourselves. . . . New York City does not hold our former selves against us. Perhaps we can extend the same courtesy."

Do no harm. Jeremiah Moss, the writer behind Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, expresses a frequent complaint: "Newcomers to New York want backyards, bicycles, and barbecues. They want Greenwich Village to be like their hometowns in Wisconsin," he says. "Underneath this—and not very far underneath—there's a seething hatred of urban life. They don't like the dirt or the smells. They don't like the kvetching and the neuroticism. They don't like the layers of history. They want to tear it all down and make it clean and new."

In some ways, New York is the Madonna (Ciccone, not the Virgin) of cities, constantly re-envisioning itself—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, and always in a way that draws a crowd of people who follow their city's lead and reimagine themselves as well. "What's new," says NYU professor of English Bryan Waterman, "is the rate at which the old is being wiped away and replaced with this homogenized reality with a really high entry point."

Progress is varied and debatable, as is what we have to lose through change, and the two will be in conflict until the end of time. Until then, it's up to us to defend the stories and histories we see as integral to our future, whether that means standing up for art, architecture, businesses, neighborhoods, culture, people, politics, and ways of life, or simply not doing anything to hurt them. Let the layers of history exist. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that the most anti-New York behavior of all would be stagnation.

"The thing about New York is it's based on the idea of change," [Milton] Glaser says. "It doesn't cling to its own history and has been free to invent new ones. Some changes are horrible, others lead us somewhere. They're discomfiting because no one likes change, but eventually, you end up somewhere else, and you discover you like that place. You may hate Starbucks, but it's done something, and eventually it, too, will disappear. This endless capacity for reinventing itself defines the city and also the opportunity that exists here."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mayfair Neon

We've lost another vintage neon sign.

verplanck's flickr

Mayfair Chemists on 7th Avenue at 12th Street, felled by Duane Reade in 2006, just had its chrome and neon sign removed.

What's moving in? The Duane Reade on the corner is expanding southward--now it will take up the entire block.

Let's hope Mayfair doesn't suffer the same fate as Jade Mountain--unknown but likely disastrous.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Auster in Green-Wood

Married Brooklyn authors Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt have just purchased a pair of plots in Green-Wood Cemetery. They will one day become "permanent residents," sharing prime real estate with the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Bowery Boy bare-knuckle boxer William "Bill the Butcher" Poole. (Writer Pete Hamill will also be a neighbor.)

They made the purchase this weekend when Auster appeared at Green-Wood to read from his novel Sunset Park, answer questions, and sign books. Originally, he was to give a cemetery tour via trolley, but that part of the afternoon was cancelled--a disappointment, as I was looking forward to the weirdness of riding a cemetery trolley with Paul Auster as guide.

It was my first time at Green-Wood and a perfect day for it, crisp and autumnal, with the green monk parrots chattering madly in their nests high up in the nooks of the big entrance gate.

Immediately lost, I wandered into a building that looked like it could host a literary event and asked a man there if this was the place. "This is the crematorium," he said. "If you need cremation, I can help you." Then he laughed uproariously. Not to seem uninterested in his craft, I helped myself to a pamphlet called "Cremation Explained" and an urn catalog (for $1,200 Green-Wood will inter your cremains in a dolphin-shaped urn made of bronze).

The chapel, where the reading did take place, was built in 1911 and designed by the architectural firm that designed Grand Central Terminal. It was based on a bell tower in Oxford, England, and has that spooky Gothic look.

Luckily, I wasn't too late. The place was packed, with people standing at the back. They served coffee and cookies. Mr. Auster stood at a lectern positioned on a rectangle in the marble floor marked with the Christogram IHS--the spot where countless bodies waited in their coffins over a century of funerals here.

It's a great place for a reading.

He read the passages in Sunset Park that take place in and around the cemetery, then kindly and patiently answered questions from the audience:

What makes Brooklyn appeal to you as a setting? "I live in Brooklyn," he said simply, and "one tends to write about the places one is deeply familiar with."

Why do you use a typewriter and not a computer? "Habit," he said. "I'm not tempted to change." He uses an Olympia.

Do you think Brooklyn will always be a literary borough or will that be gentrified away? "When I moved here in 1980," he said, "there was just Norman Mailer and Paula Fox... Writers gravitated to Brooklyn because it was cheap... Brooklyn is very vast. It's been gentrified, but there are still territories to conquer. Maybe we're in the next world depression and it will all collapse again."

Then he told a story about going to see Elia Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and crying like "a sap" through the whole thing.

After the reading, I walked out into the cemetery, wandering along winding paths covered with fallen leaves. There's nothing like a cemetery for peace. No radios, no cell-phone screamers, just peace. You don't get that in the city parks.

I almost caught a dose of real-estate envy for Auster and Hustvedt, thinking it might be nice to have a plot here. That view! But then I remembered I don't want to be buried to rot. When it's my time, I'll go back to the crematorium.

Besides, my corpse would be annoyed by the cemetery's newest neighbors--along the margins, condo buildings are cropping up. A clump of controversial nouveaux townhouses, known as the Minerva building, casts a modern backdrop for the ancient angels of the grave.

Moms with big-wheeled SUV strollers go charging past and kids climb the pyramidal tombs, squealing and whooping. Wherever you go in New York, there they are. Even in the city of the dead.

Sunset Park is out in paperback and available at St. Mark's Bookshop.

Friday, November 18, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

The Torrisi guys taking over Rocco's are now offering a "gastronomic tour of New York City that runs $125 a head" and represents the current NYC moment with a tribute to Jay-Z: oysters in Armand de Brignac champagne and pieces of broken bottle. [F&W] via [Eater]

No more delicious cheese pots and crackers at the bar at Sardi's! [Eater]

Is this finally the end for Mary Help of Christians Church? [EVG]

"Years ago I used to see Johnny Ramone in Old Chelsea Station all the time, in his holey jeans and leather jacket, opening up his P.O. box. Back then the notion of any post office closing would have been as hard for me to imagine as imagining Johnny Ramone as a conservative Republican, which, I just recently learned, he was." [WIC]

Racugglia Funeral Home in Carroll Gardens takes down its great old neon sign--hopefully just temporarily. [LC]

A play-by-play of yesterday's Occupy Everywhere. [NYM]

Don't miss the Woody Allen documentary on PBS Sunday. [NYT]

Donate to Renovate Vivaldi

Earlier this month we shared the news that Caffe Vivaldi would be forced to close due to a massive rent hike from its new landlord, Steve Croman. The petition to save Vivaldi gathered steam, with thousands of signatures, recently getting a boost from Move On.

Your support has helped get Croman to reduce that rent hike--temporarily. Now Vivaldi needs us to back up the support with cash so they can keep going.

Yesterday, the owner of Vivaldi gave the following update on the cafe's Facebook page:

"Here’s the latest: my last discussion with the landlord was yesterday, 11/16. My next meeting with him is on Monday. He is willing to come down substantially from his asking price of $16,000/- per month, but only for the first year. Even if he comes down to $9,000/- or $10,000/- It is a huge rent escalation. The fair market rate in our area is $100/- a sq. ft. So, the rent for 685sq. ft. that we have, should be $6,850/- per month. After 6 meetings with the landlord, I know this is not going to happen.

After almost 4,500 signatures, so far, on our petition, I know you are with me in keeping Caffe Vivaldi alive. I drive my determination and strength from you. Our solution is to renovate and sound proof Caffe Vivaldi and extend the live music playing hours and fully utilize the space in the daytime. If we succeed in doing that, I am confident we can meet the increase in rent in the range of $9K-10K the first year."

Vivaldi has put together a team of architects and builders, but renovations are expensive, so they've started a donation drive. You can visit their website to make a donation via paypal--and help keep a Greenwich Village institution from vanishing.

Save Caffe Vivaldi
Jones Street

Thursday, November 17, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Blayze sends in this pic and the good news--the Waverly Diner's neon lights are shining again:

The fight to save Caffe Vivaldi moves on to Move On. [BB]

Go behind the scenes at the great DeRobertis pastry shop in the EV. [RNYE]

The big M over the Milford Plaza has vanished. [NYN]

Before and afters for the Coney Boardwalk. [ATZ]

Joe's Bar has reopened. [EVG]

NYC's delightful decorative squirrels. [ENY]

Avenue Jew appears in Midwood--as anti-semitism is on the rise across the country. [NYM]

OWS tries to shut down Wall Street. Occupy everywhere--today. [Gothamist]

Coney Island whitefish, way off course, stuck to the floor of the C train:

Miller Fish Market

City of Strangers recalled our attention to the photography of James Jowers. We'd first seen these shots thanks to E.V. Grieve and Stupefaction, but they bear looking at again--and again--for the fantastic shots of the East Village, its people, and environs in the 1960s.

This one, especially, caught my eye. It's a recognizable location, if you live around here, and the number 91 clinched it.

James Jowers, 1966


In 1968, two years after Jowers took that photo, New York Magazine wrote about the Miller Fish Market. It had been there since 1898 and was presided over by the brother and sister Miller, ages 72 and 81, respectively. They weren't so crazy about the Village View housing project that opened up across First Avenue in 1964.

There's a great shot in the magazine of Fannie Miller, "81-year-old fishlady extraordinary."

New York Magazine

Since 1989, 91 First Avenue has been home to the Dual Specialty Store, a beloved Indian market. This is the kind of change that makes sense--one neighborhood store becomes another, one immigrant group replaces another, it's accessible to all. Shoppers still climb up those stairs carrying bags full of goodies (though the entrance is now on the other side of the stoop.)

A kind of urban equilibrium we don't see much of in today's change.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The People's Library

VANISHED (and then, partly, not)

"The books have been seized, librarians have been gassed and jailed." If this message wasn't coming over the Occupy Wall Street Library's Facebook page, you might think you'd been hurled back in time, to 1933 Berlin when Goebbels "consigned to the flames" thousands of books.

But this was yesterday in New York City and Bloomberg was the leader giving orders.

all photos November 2011

Just a few days ago, I made a visit to Occupy Wall Street and was impressed with the growth of the People's Library, which I'd seen evolve from a few cardboard boxes of books perched on a ledge to a lighted Quonset hut (donated by Patti Smith) loaded with well-organized titles in every genre. So it was with great sadness and outrage that I heard the news yesterday morning about the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park and their destruction of the People's Library.

After the initial shock, we learned that the NYPD tossed more than 5,000 books into a Dumpster and demolished the library tent. One occupier and dedicated bibliophile ran into the library during the raid and strapped the homemade OWS Poetry Anthology to his body to save it from destruction.

Librarians gassed and jailed. Heroes strapping books of poetry to their bodies. Here's something: Nobody's doing that for a Kindle.

But Kindles are not books, because books are more than collections of words. Those creaky paper bodies, rejected today by so many future fetishists, have meaning. They take up space. And that space-taking matters, because it functions both to agitate and to bring people together.

Seeing books has an impact. Whether it's in a library or through the windows of a bookshop, just seeing large numbers of books together in one place has the power to stir emotions. And the People's Library was this kind of powerful place--not virtual, but real. E-readers like the Kindle do not have this power. "Vooks" don't gather. They don't mass. They don't burn and therefore do not, by the spectacle of their burning, shock us into action.

In their physicality, and thus vulnerability (like human bodies), books have the power to make us righteously outraged when they are threatened with destruction. When all books are electronic, we won't witness their destruction, a silent deletion, and so we won't feel it as much when they vanish.

And that's why the wanton Dumpstering of the People's Library could be a good thing for books.

The makers of Kindles and iPads and Nooks have been trying to make books uncool for years now--and they are succeeding. Only dinosaurs read real books, says Amazon and Apple. Only sullen necrophiliacs cling to those "dusty tomes," say even our Pulitzer Prize-winning authors.

But what if bibliophiles became, again, radical revolutionaries in the collective imagination? What if the borrowing, lending, buying, selling, and reading of real books became a renegade act?

The People's Library was started as a small stack of random books by Brooklyn librarian Betsy Fagin, then grew exponentially as book donations poured in. It hosted authors like Jonathan Lethem and Jennifer Egan. It hosted readings and took on the resistant mantra of Bartleby the Scrivener. Most of all, it served as an urban base for guerrilla librarianship.

I learned about guerrilla librarianship from a young student of Library Science in Zuccotti Park. He and his cohorts were so excited to talk about books. They wanted to spend their days in the presence of books, in the cold and damp weather, to catalog and organize these supposedly irrelevant objects, to provide pleasure and inspire thought in others. All of this human activity is unnecessary with e-readers. There's nothing to organize because there's nothing to put your hands on.

By yesterday evening, the People's Library blog reported: "The Mayor’s Office claims our books are safe," and included a photo from officials as proof. Most of the books might be returned to the librarians today--this morning, four books occupy the park--but the deed was still done. (Click for update on the destruction and loss--the poetry-book hero tells Gothamist, "we're pretty sure 90% of the books are destroyed.")

Librarians were gassed and jailed.

Books were seized.

It's time to start burning the Kindles and get back to the real thing.

Read Burn the Kindle at The Grumbler.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

From the Occupy Wall Street librarians: "Call 311 or 212-639-9675 now and ask why Mayor Bloomberg is throwing the 5,554 books from our library into a dumpster." [BB]

Rebuild the library tonight at 6pm. [OWSL]

The Houston Wall shows up in a Scorsese fight scene--it's "an architectural extra in two classics of American cinema." [BR]

Sad scenes of the dismantling of Paul's Daughter at Coney. [ATZ]

Spend a week in New York culture with the Paris Review's Sadie Stein. [PRD]

Don Delillo talks about his new book. [AP]

Peek into the home libraries of six authors who still love real books. [FT]

RIP John Leeper, bartender at the Grassroots. [EVG]

Walking on Williamsburg's Berry Street. [FNY]

Park Slope's Dunkin Donuts conversion of Tonio's coming along. [HPS]

11/20: Union Docs presents "Block by Block: New York Street Historians." [UD]

11/30: Harvey Wang's photo show opens at the Tenement Museum:

Red-Sauce Joints


The recent announcements about the coming death by rent hike of Rocco's and Rocky's--along with the closure of Aunt Suzie's in Park Slope--has me wondering if we've been witnessing a mass extinction of the classic "red-sauce joint." Looking back, the answer is obvious.

Rocco ravioli

The Beatrice Inn closed in 2005 after about 80 years. The new owner promised "Monday Scrabble sessions and Italian-food specials will cater to the old regulars." That didn't happen. It became a celeb hotspot that enraged the neighbors and eventually shuttered.

The Minetta Tavern closed in 2008 after 71 years when the rent skyrocketed. Keith McNally took it over, changed the Italian menu to French, fancied it up, and stashed Joe Gould somewhere he may never be found.

Gino closed in June 2010 after 65 years. Once a favorite of Frank Sinatra, it's now a cupcake chain store from Beverly Hills.

Fedora closed in July 2010 after 58 years. The new owner had said it would remain almost exactly the same as it was, but that didn't happen. Like Minetta's, they also serve French-ish food.

Carmine's at the Seaport closed in July 2010 after 107 years. The rent was jacked up.

With Rocco and Rocky's both closing at the end of 2011, counting 90 and 30 years in business, respectively, that makes about 500 years of Italian-American cuisine and culture vanished in just the past 6 years. And I'm sure I've neglected to mention others.

Last meal at Minetta Tavern: Tortellaci Minetta

Interestingly, just as these classic places are vanishing, we're simultaneously seeing the rise of the hipster or foodie faux "red-sauce" joint, run by chefs who aim to "elevate" Italian-American cuisine from its apparently lowly position.

To wit: meatballs. They're everywhere, from the ever expanding Meatball Shops to the Meatball Factories. But they're not mom-and-pop meatballs. They're made by young, hip guys who attended culinary institutes and came up through French bistros and Hamptons clubs. They're made by guys from Top Chef, who top them with BBQ sauce or truffle cream.

The Torrisi team, though mostly Italian-American, caters to the foodie crowd as they perform "gourmet riffs on classic red-sauce fare" and create "upmarket versions of humble Italian-American deli favorites." They will soon plant their flag in Rocco.

Adam Platt called Danny Meyer's Maialino both "authentic" and a "painstakingly rendered facsimile" of a Roman trattoria.

Maybe that sums up the kind of place that is replacing the red-sauce joint--authentic facsimiles. Which is to say: ersatz.


It wouldn't be so bad, having these upscale places around, if they weren't helping to send mom and pop--or should we say Nonna and Nonno?--into retirement.

For awhile now, there's been something about "red-sauce" that inspires scorn from the foodie elite. A Wikipedist says the term is pejorative, and that the mom-and-pop image of these restaurants is a cliche. Italian-American food has been maligned in this city since at least the 1980s, according to Anthony Bourdain, who writes, "We were almost made to feel bad about any secret appetites we might retain for spaghetti and meatballs" once the gourmets took over.

Call the culprit classism, class climbing, or murderous Oedipal rage, either way, real Italian-American food, made simply and inexpensively, is vanishing from the city.

Last meal at Gino, ravioli and meatballs

For true authenticity, not the painstakingly rendered kind, we still have John's of 12th Street and Manganaro's, which are my two favorites of what remains. We also have Monte's and Villa Mosconi. We have the dwindling fragments of Little Italy. Outside Manhattan, you might have better luck.

If you have a craving for meatballs, or for anything Italian-American, find your way to these places. They survived the 20th century--help them survive the new New York.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rocco Ristorante


89-year-old Rocco Ristorante at 181 Thompson is about to vanish from Greenwich Village. "Rocco's lease is up at the end of 2011," reported Eater, "and to renew, the landlord is demanding $18,000 in rent, a hefty jump from the $8,000" they currently pay.

Many landlords are doubling and tripling rents these days. If no one takes them up on it, the existing businesses might stay, or else the spaces lie vacant. But someone is saying yes to Rocco's landlord.

Taking over the lease is a duo of young restaurateurs, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, known collectively as "Torrisi." The group (there's a third partner) has a mini-chain of restaurants with two popular spots in Little Italy and a stand at Yankee Stadium. Formerly of high-end Cafe Boulud, they started small and have become quite powerful. Frank Bruni dubbed them "the newest darlings of the New York culinary set." Time Out called them the "savior" of "good old-fashioned Italian-American food."

According to Eater, they've made the deal with Rocco's landlord and quietly advertised the takeover on their website with a photo of the antique neon sign as if it were their own, all while Rocco's proprietor Antonio DaSilva was still trying to negotiate his lease. He told Eater, "We're fighting it." But the deal is done. Said one of the Torrisi partners to Grub Street, "We have a signed lease and we're going to be taking over next year."
A new business calling itself "181 Thompson Restaurant LLC" was formed back in June. Assuming that's Torrisi, it looks like the plan to move in to Rocco's has been in the works for some time.

Torrisi website

Why, when they can presumably afford any one of the many empty locations in the Village, did Torrisi choose Rocco's spot?

One Eater commenter said, "This is very sad, almost Oedipal."

Rocco has been here for almost 90 years, opened in 1922 by Rocco Stanziano. Mr. DaSilva is the great-nephew of Mr. Stanziano, making this a third-generation business. And the place still receives Village crowds.

Rocco ravioli

I wrote to Mr. Carbone and Mr. Torrisi to get their side of it. I asked them the above question and also inquired if they are planning to maintain any of Rocco's history, including the neon sign. They have not responded. If they do, I will post their answers in an update.

Update: I never did hear from these guys, but in 2013, the Torrisi team had this to say to Eater:

How did you end up getting the space? Jeff, you've told me before that it's a misconception that you took this from the Rocco people. Why would you argue that's not what happened?

JZ: Yes, it is a total misconception. Basically, we were brought to this space by a landlord. We never had anything to do with the Rocco people. What happened was that we were in negotiations for the Parm space, and that went on for a really long time. It went on forever, so we had brokers start looking for other places in the neighborhood while that was going on. The landlord for this space was also the landlord for what is now Taim, on Mulberry, and he showed us that space. He mentioned in passing that he also had another space on Thompson Street. He said he had banks and pharmacies and other big tenants interested, but that he wanted to keep it a restaurant.

MC: Jeff told me he was coming to look at a space on Bleecker and Thompson. I opened Lupa when I was 19, so I immediately said, "Oh, shit, is it Rocco?"

JZ: This space stood for everything we wanted to do. We knew it was right. The idea of bringing that space back to life was perfect. The misconception is that we came in and said, "We're going to pay you more money, get out."

MC: And I'm gonna slap my name on the sign!

JZ: What happened was, in all honesty, that unfortunately, this restaurant was closing one way or another. What shocks me is that, given all the other things this could have become, you would think that someone that pays tribute to its history is the best use of it. It's not a Duane Reade. That's something that I think is a big misconception. We didn't kick them out. The landlord and Rocco had their own thing, and we never, never got involved with it. It's those details that some people forget.

Friday, November 11, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Jonathan Lethem says no to Citi (bank) Field--at Occupy Wall St.


Celebrate our victory to save St. Mark's Bookshop with a party at the store. There will be treats: 12/1, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. [Villager]

Rents in the East Village going sky-high. [EVG]

The legendary Algonquin Hotel is closing in January for a major renovation. [Crain's]

Read about R. Crumb's beef with the New Yorker. [Gothamist]

Remembering the Tunnel Garage. [GVSHP]

Faile on Houston

I've got issues with the Houston mural wall, but I can't hold it against this new one by Faile. It's my favorite so far. Maybe that's because I like comic books and movie posters and the ephemera of pop culture. Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for the gorgeous decay of urban street art and advertising, how the paper rips and tears, revealing layer upon layer underneath.

Anyway, I can see the trouble with something and still enjoy it--as I did a couple of weeks ago when I stopped to watch Faile--also known as Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller--put the finishing touches on their mural.

I wound up talking to one of the Patricks while the other Patrick was pasting a Chairman Mao to the wall. He explained the way that many different existing designs had been incorporated into the collage. The woman shooting the bunny rabbit is from "Heartbreak in Brooklyn." The bikini girl in the dinosaur's mouth comes from "It Happens Everyday." And the Asian lady with the dragon is a piece of "Seduction of the Mask."

He told me how the images and text have all been pulled from found sources, saying, “We consider ourselves scavengers” of pop culture.

As the Chairman Mao needed direction, Patrick stepped up, telling the other Patrick, “Tear it a little more. A little more. A little lower. That’s right.”

How do you put together a giant collage on Houston Street? Piece by piece. Taped to the railing of their Skyjack scissor lift was the map to the work, showing the final layer they were applying.

Each piece is hand-painted in their studio, then torn, pasted to the wall, and torn some more. Many of the large tear lines, those ragged boundaries between one paper and another, are then painted white to help delineate one piece from the next.

The city itself is like this in places, one stratum revealed beneath the next. It used to be more this way. A rusted Automat sign perched atop a McDonald's, layers of ghost paint selling girdles next to beer ads, the name of a movie house half-covered by a XXX sign with "souvenirs" tacked over that.

Now, more and more, they're excavating right down to bedrock, erasing the strata to make us forget, to make the past disappear, as if the city had been born into glass from the start. And the Houston Wall? It began life as part of a handball court.

Finished product

Read More:
The Houston Wall
Billy on the Wall
Clayton on the Wall