Friday, December 30, 2011

Auggie's Coffee


As an Anonymous commenter let us know yesterday, the Thompson Street location of the Porto Rico Roasting Company, more intimately known as Auggie's, has shuttered. Says Anonymous, "I had my last cup of auggie's yesterday afternoon, and this morning the windows are papered over. sad."

Porto Rico Times

Peter Longo at the Porto Rico Times confirms that Auggie's has closed after more than 45 years. Why? "The rent is too damn high." (That seems to be the case up and down Thompson these days.)

I just walked by there recently and took this shot of the great old signage, complete with a New York City phone exchange: WO-6.

These, too, are vanishing fast.

my flickr

Vanished 2011: People

Finally, this week, remembering the people and personalities we lost in 2011.

Bobby Robinson, the proprietor of Bobby's Happy House in Harlem, passed away at age 93, three years after his six-decades-old shop fell to the forces of gentrification.

Lenny Waller, former manager of the Hellfire Club and a well-loved sex-positive AIDS activist, died in March. So did Chloe Dzubilo, transgender and AIDS activist, artist, writer, punk rocker, and East Villager. They were both memorialized by many.

We lost East Village blogger and photographer Bob Arihood in September. He was a friend and won't be forgotten.

memorial at Ray's Candy

In her 90s, the inimitable Fedora Dorato passed away just one year after her restaurant closed and she took her final standing ovation. Tony Amato passed at age 91, two years after his wonderful opera house shuttered on the Bowery.

Finally, she wasn't a person, but she was a unique and storied New York personality--Hijinx the Coney Island cat died last summer at 17.

As with all these lists, I am sure I'm neglecting many. Please add more names in the comments. Grieve has more.

Previous Year-End Reviews:
2009: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rocco's Update

As you know, the 89-year-old, third-generation Village classic Rocco Ristorante is being pushed out by skyrocketing rent, and another restaurant in the popular Torrisi mini-chain will be taking its place.

Over a recent meal, I learned that Rocco's official closing date will be January 2.

"We're taking the sign with us," said the waiter.

Owner Mr. DaSilva also plans to stay in the neighborhood--he's got a few places in mind for the new Rocco's. But go to the original soon, before it vanishes.

Vanished 2011: Structures

Several buildings and other structures fell in 2011.

We're still watching 7 - 9 Second Avenue fall, a harrowing loss of history--including Mars Bar and much more.

35 Cooper Square, despite an outpouring of support for preserving its illustrious history, was turned to rubble.

The gorgeous neon signage from Jade Mountain was ripped away, carted off, and likely dumped.

Photo from warsze

One of the East Village's last bohemians, Edgar Oliver, was booted from his home on E. 10th and the place is being sold as a townhouse.

The home of Premiere Veal, formerly the Gansevoort Pumping Station, was demolished for the new Whitney Museum. And demolition has just begun on the Atlas Meat packing plant.

And we lost a lot of old newsstands--at 14th and 6th, in Times Square, on University Place, down on Water Street, and surely many more.

What else?

Previous Year-End Reviews:
2009: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vanished 2011: Food

We lost many restaurants in 2011.

*Update: Regrettably, we add Polonia to the list, shuttered Christmas Eve after 22 years in the East Village.

*Update 2: We just learned that Auggie's Coffee shop on Thompson has closed after 45 years.

The city's red-sauce joints took more hits as Rocco Ristorante announced they'd be closing after 89 years due to a rent hike and takeover by the Torrisi chain. Rocky's Italian also announced their impending closure, also due to rent hike and takeover by a Nolitan called Balaboosta.

After 52 years in Little Italy, the original Ray's Pizza closed its doors. Less original, but also mourned, Famous Ray's in the Village shuttered.

We lost the second-to-last Andrews Coffee Shop and the Tramway Diner. Also vanished, Niko's on the Upper West Side.

Doyers Vietnamese was shuttered and recently became a trendy hipster spot.

And very quietly, without fanfare, two Latin places disappeared from Chelsea--Cabo Rojo off the High Line and the Cuban Chinese joint La Nueva Rampa.

What have I missed?

Previous Year-End Reviews:
2009: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Vanished 2011: Businesses

We lost a number of businesses in 2011. Today is the latest as 46th Street's drum mecca, Drummer's World, closes its doors after 32 years in business.

Covered in this blog, an incomplete list includes:

Iconic bars like Mars Bar and the P&G. The loss of Mars Bar was met with deep grief, especially from denizens of the East Village. The original P&G had already been lost, but this year its reincarnation also vanished.

We saw the shuttering of the Chelsea Hotel to all but its permanent residents. I spent the night there on its final night in business before it was ruthlessly gutted for a renovation that will surely be a gutting of its soul.

We lost (at least) two bookstores. Bookberries vanished and so did the Atlantic Bookshop, the reincarnation of the lost and beloved 12th Street Books.

West Chelsea's automotive-related businesses were mowed down after the second half of the High Line opened. Firestone Bear Auto was shuttered by its landlord for high-end development, as was the antique Olympia Garage and the third-generation business Brownfeld Auto. Two gas stations went with them--the Chelsea Mobil and the Village Lukoil. A quirky lunch spot for taxi drivers and mechanics, Poppy's Terminal Food Shop closed, and its neighbor 10th Ave. Tires was sent packing.

In other news, the Chinatown Fair, famed for its tic-tac-toe chicken, shuttered and moved away. Elliott Pharmacy was eaten by the many Duane Reades and Rite Aids. Wu-Tang martial arts studio fell along with Mars Bar. And we learned that Lucky Cheng's is on the vanishing list for 2012.

I'm sure I've missed many--please add them to the list. (Restaurants and buildings are coming soon.)

Previous Year-End Reviews:
2009: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lucky Cheng's Update

Hayne Suthon, owner of Lucky Cheng's, commented on the epic history post with some good news: "no worries, the building is absolutely not for sale and my daughter, cats, dogs...and me are keeping our apartment there."

She says she will be "Looking for a great operator to create something truly fantastic, in keeping in the tradition of the building. God forbid someone upsets the resident ghosts."

Keeping those ghosts in mind, what would you like to see here next?

Saved 2011

This week, as every year, I'm doing a roundup of what's been lost over the past 12 months. The next days will cover vanished restaurants, general businesses, buildings and structures, and people. But let's start with the good news.

A handful of businesses were saved or revived this year. The biggest victory has to be the rescue of St. Mark's Bookshop--a major boost for those who fight to keep the city's culture alive.

Caffe Vivaldi was also saved via petition.

The Nom Wah Tea Parlor was renovated beautifully and reopened.

The Waverly Diner, thought dead, came back to life.

Pieces gay bar, down for the count, got a new lease at the zero hour.

And Ray's Pizza on 6th and 11th will not be turned into a Starbucks, but another Ray's Pizza (albeit not the same Ray's, so this one goes into both the Saved and Vanished column).

Previous Year-End Reviews:
2009: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Trees & Canadians

Originally published December 2007:

After every Christmas, we wake to find the trees have vanished. The Quebecois who brought them have left us after a whole month of filling our streets with impromptu forests and the sweet, sticky fragrance of pine. And, every year, I miss them when they go.

“People in New York have a romantic idea about us,” one tree lady told me. “They come by and say, ‘Oh, you must feel right at home with all these trees, like in a forest.’ Then I tell them I live in Montreal. A big city. They look disappointed.”

That romantic idea might come from French-Canadian folklore, where the coureur-de-bois (literally “runner of the woods”) stands as a vivid heroic figure, a carefree adventurer decked out in fringed buckskin and moccasins, trekking and trading across the great northern wilderness. History tells us that the coureur-de-bois have disappeared and yet, every year, truckloads of their descendants head for New York, bringing a little bit of the Canadian wilderness with them.

Many of us go out of our way just to walk past their trees, to press our faces into the boughs and breathe deep. We can’t resist. “New York people like to smell the trees,” the tree lady told me. “They stop and tell me ‘Thank you for being here.’”

People give the tree lady cups of coffee, magazines to read, even the keys to their apartments so she can have a hot shower once in a while (she's out in the cold 16 hours a day and sleeps in a van). But not everyone loves the tree lady. Some people let their dogs urinate on her trees, and some call her a tree killer. She doesn’t get that.

“The tree is grown in a farm, like the food we eat, like potatoes. If I eat the potato, are you going to say, ‘Hey, potato killer’?"

The tree lady explained, "The tree is like flowers. It’s a simple way to make happiness, to bring some warmness in the house. Plus, it’s good energy. Feng Shui recommends to have real vegetables in the house. Like flowers. It’s better to buy a tree than to say ‘Oh, I feel sad, I want to buy a sweater or I want to buy shoes.’ We’re consumers, yes, but I think this is a good part of the consummation about Christmas. The tree is something everyone can share.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New York Bound


This month marks the online launch of New York Bound Books, an interactive site that resurrects the spirit and resources of the late, lamented New York Bound Bookshop, the last independent shop in the city dedicated solely to all things Gotham, out-of-print and new. It lost its lease in 1997.

As the proprietor of a Brooklyn bookshop that tries to approximate one-tenth of what New York Bound achieved, I was eager to sit down with founder Barbara Cohen to talk about those years behind the counter and her new incarnation on the web

--Peter Miller, Freebird Books

How did your store begin?

About 1974, I got interested in New York history and did research at the New York Historical Society thinking I would write a book about Dutch New York. I looked for used books locally, but no one, not even the Fourth Avenue shops, had much of a New York City section.

About the same time my husband and I bought a weekend house in Columbia County. I found a wonderful book barn near us and I went there all the time and became friendly with Maureen Rodger, the owner. I always loved books, history and bookshops, so I thought about starting one devoted to New York. From the beginning I carried out-of-print and rare books, old maps, photos, prints, and ephemera. Then I made book-buying trips to shops up the New England coast, New Jersey, and even California, as well as buying individual collections. I bought a lot of books at book fairs. I was lucky that in these years books about New York weren’t as coveted as they are now, and other book dealers would save their New York books for me.

In 1976, neighbors of ours who were city planners told me that I should look down at the South Street Seaport in the old Fulton Market. This would have been in the pre-Rouse days. It was just stalls and different shops, I think only $300 a month. There was a lot of traffic, I didn’t have to worry about anything. The stall was 10 x 10. I set up there thinking I didn’t have anything to lose.

How did you build the business in those days?

Publicity was key. I got reviewed in the New York Times and New York Magazine early on and they brought in a lot of curious people. The Seaport also brought in a lot of people before Battery Park City and the west side was developed, so I would get government workers, city planners, people interested in the city, plus Wall Street people, all guys, who wanted old books. I built a very nice business there. It was great. I lived on the Upper West Side on 96th and I drove down every day to a whole other world. I met Joseph Mitchell, who really went there. Sloppy Louie’s was still there.

How long did you occupy that space?

About 3 1/2 years. I left in 1980 because the Seaport was going to be developed. I knew I couldn’t afford to stay there. So I went looking for space. The real estate market must have been becoming more valuable because I would look at a space and agree to take it, but then it became a game of “Well, the price just went up.”

Eventually, you moved to the lobby of the AP building at Rockefeller Center and partnered with Judith Stonehill. There was a lot that was affordable in your store. You seemed to want these books to go to the right people. These were not just investments.

That’s how a real bookseller thinks rather than just moving merchandise. Interacting with the customers, educating them on the best books in their interest, not just moving merchandise, which is why I didn’t want an online business for just selling books.

Tell me about the last couple of years.

Rockefeller Center wanted us out and cut short our lease by a year. When we moved out, the shop was sealed by a wall, and we were replaced by a faux art deco glass panel.

It never became another shop?

No, just decorative. We were lucky because when we moved in there it was still owned by the Rockefellers and the atmosphere was genteel. It felt like an earlier time. The shops in the basement were little businesses. Now it’s all chains.

What did you do after the bookstore closed in 1997?

I decided to write a bibliography and reference to books about New York. I knew there was nothing like it. Because I specialized in New York, I know the literature very well, and I’ve handled a vast amount of books. Over the years I collected dealers’ catalogs from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, newspapers articles that were unusual and relevant, and illustrations and ephemera that I found especially interesting and informative. I applied and received a grant for the publication. The book turned out to be problematic and, at the same time, the word “bibliography” made publishers and agents roll their eyes.

Is that when you came up with the website?

The idea to make it much more than a vehicle for selling came about a year or so ago. I want to be relevant, to offer things that people don’t generally know about. Even people who do research about New York. For example, I was looking in one book and saw a credit for HarpWeek. This man came into the bookstore about 15 years ago and bought a complete run of Harper’s Weekly and ended up having it digitized and, with the help of scholars, creating an updated index. So if you wanted to know women’s rights or issues in 1860 you could find it in an index which you couldn’t do in the original Harper’s Weekly. So I thought Wow! I asked a lot of people and nine out of ten who know New York material didn’t know about HarpWeek. And I said, Great, this is the kind of thing I want to put in there.

You point out something that is really important, which is that I’m quite often amazed what resources are not available on the internet when I research New York-related titles

Absolutely. You can Google and engine search all you want, but some more obscure material will never turn up. That’s the point of the bibliography. I have spent all of these years telling people what were good books on certain areas. I had all this knowledge and I was frustrated after the bookstore closed. I knew I didn’t want to just sell online. I enjoy talking with customers, sharing my information and learning what they offered.

Then in 2010 I went to a bookselling course in Colorado taught by leading book dealers whom I started out with 40 years ago. I realized people remembered me, that I still had a reputation. It made me think about what dealers who specialized in one area and had all this expertise do today? It’s a shame to let it be lost.

I’m glad the print version of the bibliography never worked out. If it had been published on schedule it would have been out of date today. The website is organic and slowly evolving.

Was the greatest pleasure about being a bookseller the interaction with customers?

Yes, talking about the books. That’s what I have in mind on my website. To make more of a dialogue, we'll eventually have a forum, and interview people, sponsor an occasional event and publish some books. I published four books in the 1980s and that was very satisfying. I didn’t go into online to move merchandise.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Since the second part of the High Line opened in June 2011, the neighborhood's small businesses have suffered and dropped like flies, especially those blue-collar businesses catering to car, truck, and taxi drivers. Here's a quick roundup:

6/2011: Poppy's Terminal Food Shop changes hands, later shutters
6/2011: 10th Ave. Tire Shop is pushed out for High Line development
8/2011: Bear Auto forced out by landlord for upscale development
8/2011: Olympia Parking Garage closes when landlord quintuples the rent
9/2011: Village Lukoil shutters
9/2011: D&R Auto Parts reports 40% drop in profits since High Line opened
12/2011: Brownfeld Auto pushed out by landlord
12/2011: Chelsea Mobil sold and shuttered for upscale retail

We can add Kamco Building Materials to the list, as it will be replaced by a pair of giant, $40-million condo towers.

The Real Deal reported the news in October but didn't mention Kamco. They said, "The two-towered project will have about 90,000 square feet of residential space--condominiums with the possibility of some rentals as well--rising both east and west of the tracks," because "apartments looking directly on the High Line are more valuable."

It's possible that few people will care about the disappearance of a business that sells plywood, drywall sheets, insulation, and some pretty snazzy hardhats.

Still, it's part of a larger story, one in which the High Line is like the asteroid responsible for the K-T Impact Event that wiped out the dinosaurs in a mass extinction, but the High Line is wiping out a neighborhood and its long-time dominant businesses.

One other thing--all these businesses are in open lots or single-story buildings. Above them, there's nothing but blue sky, blocked only by the ever-rising luxury towers. That will soon be gone, too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fedora Cocktail

The new Fedora has added a new cocktail to its menu--the Fedora Dorato.

2011, photo by reader Beck O.

A mix of Grouse Scotch, Cynar, and Cocchi Americano, a trendy aperitif among "craft" bartenders, the drink is listed at the bottom of the cocktail menu, under the Black Squirrel Old Fashioned (an ode to a motel in Wisconsin), where it replaces the Mr. Graves Pendleton cocktail--"The spirit of the South and our pal Alex's grandpappy."

The Fedora Dorato's tagline reads: "The spirit of the West Village." It's named after the longtime owner of this once legendary place, recently deceased.

It costs $12 (like all the cocktails on the menu), just $1.95 less than the old Fedora's dinner special, which included appetizer, entree, salad, dessert, and coffee.


Further reading:
Fedora's Goodbye
A Night at Fedora
A Regular Remembers
Fedora's Last Days
Fedora Returns
Oscar & Fedora

Monday, December 19, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Spotted at the Union Square Craft Fair: "You Killed Brooklyn. Yeah, you." You know who you are. But what would Woody do?:

see more at Urban Cricket

Riding the Nostalgia Train. [FNY]

The demolition of Mars Bar continues. [EVG]

Gowanus Whole Foods--and inevitable hyper-gentrification of the Gowanus wilderness--has been suspended. [Racked]

NYU "has bent over backwards to create a Franco-friendly environment." [Gothamist]

The story behind the little abandoned terra-cotta building. [SNY]

Take a trip back in time to S. Klein's "on the square." [OTG]

Report shows Harlem Wal-Mart would shut down 25% of grocers in vicinity. [Gothamist]

Tonio's of Park Slope now officially another Dunkin Donuts. [HPS]

Mobil Gas


In 2008, we heard that the Mobil gas station on Chelsea's 10th Avenue, just at the edge of the Meatpacking District and nestled under the High Line, was sold for high-end development. Still, it lived on. Last week, we heard that it was sold again.

This time, the new owners aren't screwing around--they want their 17,000 square feet of luxury retail and they want it fast.

I took a walk by and found the station has been shut down.

Yellow caution tape is strung across it and "SORRY CLOSED" signs are on all the pumps. The Lube Center is shuttered. No cars are being washed. The Market has been emptied of all its snacks.

Forlorn drivers roll up, look at the place in disbelief, then roll away.

It's another loss for old Gasoline Alley--and another win for the new High Line.

More of this:
Poppy's Terminal Food Shop
10th Ave. Tire Shop
Bear Auto
Village Lukoil
Brownfeld Auto

Thursday, December 15, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Sad news--Anthony Amato of the Amato Opera House has died. [EVG]

Thinking about Frank O'Hara. [PRD]

The Village's Casa Oliveira liquor store gets a fresh-painted neon sign. [NYN]

Tasting the chicken wings at the renovated Waverly diner. [MAD]

Trying out breakfast at the Waverly diner. [FIR]

Gansevoort Square

If you're wondering what giant development is going up like gangbusters on 14th Street near 9th Avenue, here it is.

It's DDG Partner's "Gansevoort Square." The name pulls the Meatpacking District into what is not the Meatpacking District, tugging the neighborhood's glamor eastward.

In case you think it's too far from MePa, the copy reassures that it's "no more than a stone’s throw away from the many amenities the neighborhood offers."

It's topped with five penthouse apartments and "will also feature some of the Meatpacking District’s newest ground-up luxury retail, creating a natural transition into the vibrant shopping and cultural district."

The rendering, covered with runaway greenery, brings to mind a post-apocalyptic scene. I can't help but think of Lori Nix's dioramas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

David Cross, comedian and EVGrieve reader (what am I, chopped liver?), is fed up with life in the East Village: "...there's a big, huge 7-11 with big, beautiful 7-11 signs. There's an IHOP on 14th Street, Subway sandwiches all over the place. The thing is, I left Atlanta a long time ago and I'm spending way too much money to live in Atlanta again, you know? I mean it really's just... It's mildly heartbreaking. It's just becoming more and more like a mall. I might as well be in St. Louis. It's very, very quickly, rapidly losing a lot of its character." [Gothamist]

Upper West Siders are nauseated by the "garish" and "too suburban" new candy shop coming to their neighborhood--and it's called Sugar & Plumm Purveyors of Yumm. [DNA]

Thomas Beller tells of life in the laundry room of a half-gentrified old NYC building. [PRD]

BMW Guggenheim Lab feels very proud of itself. [EVG]

After a painful, 5-year struggle, Our Lady of Vilnius is coming down. [NYT]

Visit the most adorable abandoned building in the city. [SNY]

Waverly Reopens

This morning, the Waverly Restaurant diner is serving its first breakfast in months.

It's their first day open since the renovation.

Long-time customers walking by are surprised and excited to see the lights on and people dining in the windows. They step inside and shout, "Welcome back!" One customer hands money to the waiter behind the counter and says, "This is just to say welcome back."

Every time someone says "Welcome back," the people dining over plates of bacon and eggs pump their fists in the air and shout "hooray!"

It's a good day at the Waverly.

Waverly Diner
New Waverly Revealed

Atlas Meats & Interstate

Plywood, scaffolding, and an official death shroud have just gone up around 437 West 13th Street. Despite controversy and a landmarking battle, the longtime home of Atlas Meats and Interstate Foods is coming down.


I've taken a lot of photos of this building over the last few years--you might say too many photos. But when you know something's about to vanish, you can't help yourself.

I loved its crumbling beauty, its sidewalks slippery with animal fat, its meatpackers in bloodstained smocks.

undated, via GVSHP



Meatpacking stopped here in 2009
, at the same time that the High Line opened and the Standard Hotel went up next door, casting its giant shadow on the plant's swinging slabs of beef and buckets of inedibles.

We knew it couldn't last. The powers that be would never permit it to survive--the blood! the fat! the smell! When Diane von Furstenberg moved in next door, she pumped perfume into the street from her flagship boutique, making passersby "dizzy."




After the plant shuttered, Meatpacking cats still lurked in the doorways and the brick walls were taken over by street artists and graffitists. Details magazine caught on and took the walls for their own "Details Guild" urban artvertising campaign. (The building also became a billboard for iced tea and Adult Swim.)

Walking by, there was always something new to see.



Now the old bricks will be demolished so a 175-foot glass tower can rise--and what's left for us to look at?

Interstate Foods
Details Guild
Meatpacking Cats
71 flickr shots
Meat on Hooks
Life in the Triangle

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

History at Lucky Cheng's

The rumor has been floating for a few years, but by now you've heard the official news that, after nearly two decades, Lucky Cheng's is leaving the East Village for Times Square. Rumor says the building at 24 First Avenue will be sold, and that means either demolition or renovation--either way, we're going to lose a significant piece of history, and you can bet that whatever comes next will fail to be anywhere near as interesting as the last half-century here.

Formerly a Lower East Side Russian baths, the Lucky Cheng's building was home to Club Baths, the first openly gay-owned bathhouse, from 1971 - 1983.

from Vintage Gay--more NSFW pics inside

Keith Haring was a regular and preferred the Monday and Friday Buddy Nights.

Former manager Bob Kohler recalls the scene, "We had these huge palm trees, real live trees. For the people coming, you pay your money, there’s going to be sex. Boom, boom. You walk in and there are birds singing. Here you are, you came to fuck. And suddenly you are sitting there and there is a jungle, there’s parrots, and palm trees and exotic flowers."

In 1975, lesbian author Rita Mae Brown snuck into the bathhouse disguised as a man in fake mustache and codpiece. She wrote about her adventure in the essay "Queen for a Day: A Stranger in Paradise."

In his book Make Love, Not War, David Allyn notes how Brown wondered if the "fuck palace" of the gay bathhouse meant total "erotic freedom" or "the ultimate conclusion of sexist logic." In the end, Brown decided that lesbians need bathhouses, too. She wrote: "I want the option of random sex with no emotional commitment when I need sheer physical relief... Our Xanadu would be less competitive than the gay man's baths."

from Back in the Gays

After Club Baths was shuttered during the AIDS crisis and ensuing municipal panic, Hayne Suthon and her family bought the building in 1986 for $2.9 million--money earned from their natural-gas wells in Louisiana, according to New York magazine.

Once a labyrinthine maze of small rooms filled with parrots, palm trees, and orgies, the interior was opened up with help from a crew of "neighborhood skinheads, models, and graffiti artists," wrote New York in 1988. "We found all these artifacts," said Suthon, "huge rubber dildos and everything--it would have made a great museum."

Suthon at Cave Canem, New York Mag., 1988

The New Yorker reported that Suthon "hired a Harvard food historian and converted" the bathhouse "into Cave Canem, a restaurant that served ancient Roman dishes. 'We had a lot of glamorous lesbians working here,' Hayne said."

Guests at Cave Canem sat in oxidized-metal chairs and ate lobster dumplings, but some bathhouse features remained, like the vaulted tile ceilings and a five-foot-deep empty jacuzzi surrounded by dog statuary. NY Songlines also reports a basement full of lesbian orgies--so maybe Rita Mae got her wish.

In the 80s, Cave Canem was called "a real hot spot for the chic-est of the yuppies" and "the place for downtown's hip art scene." (They threw a party for Bret Easton Ellis on opening night.) You could also take a dip by the dance floor. Said Suthon to TIME in 1989, "It's the only place you can go swimming in New York without cement shoes and garbage bags."

At Cave Canem, New York Mag., 1989

But Cave Canem didn't last. In 1993, Suthon turned it into Lucky Cheng's--named after a business partner and former busboy named Cheng who later went on to run the neighboring S/M-themed restaurant La Nouvelle Justine (Hayne took him to People's Court for stealing her chocolate shoe molds but they've since worked it out).

Prince Albert of Monaco dined at Cheng's in 1995 and the place became hugely popular. Still, it wasn't yet the "Bachelorette Party Capital of the Universe" we know today. In a 1994 New York profile of the place, the clientele consists of "nightcrawlers and voyeurs," some Wall Streeters, "waves of the aren't-we-trendy," and Yoko Ono.

New York Mag., 1994

Back then, all the drag queens at Lucky Cheng's were Asian. One described her style as very different from American drag queens--not Brady Bunch, but futuristic Asian sci-fi goddess.

New Yorker, 1994

The tide turned in 1998--Sex & the City premiered and used Lucky Cheng's as the location for their first ensemble scene in Episode 1: "another 30-something birthday with a group of unmarried female friends."

In the scene, the uber bachelorettes set the tone for the next decade in New York. (Says Miranda, "It's like that guy Jeremiah the poet? I mean, the sex was incredible, but then he wanted to read me his poetry and go out to dinner, and the whole chat bit and I'm like, let's not even go there." Not me, I swear.)

In the past decade, Lucky Cheng's has been taken over by screeching bachelorettes. I'll take the orgiastic, omnisexual art yuppies of the 80s over these gals any day. Limo'd in over the bridges and through the tunnels, they come like locusts for a night of suckling phallic lollipops, drinking to blackout, and puking in the streets. On their heads they wear giant penis balloons, complete with shooting semen (provided by John the erotic balloon man). It all seems like a pale parody of the erotic acrobatics that came before.

As blogger Tony Whitfield asked, "Do the straight girls know that they're celebrating impending nuptials among the ghosts of thousands of naked gay men? Do the trendy straight hipster boys fingering the Koi have any idea what else was once fingered in that pool?"

Once Cave Canem's "pit," and the Club Baths' Olympic-sized jacuzzi, and perhaps a cold plunge for the Russian Jews of the Lower East Side, the goldfish pond was drained some years ago. The customers at Cheng's kept throwing beer bottles into it and dumping in booze that harmed the fish.

The jacuzzi is now covered by a stage that hosts bands for avant-garde club Nublu. Overhead, you can still see the vaulted tile ceiling of the old bathhouse. Painted bright red, it's one of the last visible remnants of what used to be.

At the entrance to Cheng's, you can see the tile floor of the old baths and the guard dog of Cave Canem.

We will not miss the bachelorettes, but we will miss Lucky Cheng's. It won't be the same in Disneyland Times Square. It won't be scruffy and sagging, with worn carpets littered with years of glitter, and brick walls that could tell you stories. What will happen to the butch coat-check woman in her weary red blazer? What will happen to the foul-mouthed, big-breasted fortune-teller?

What will happen when the building is sold to someone with far less imagination and flair than Hayne Suthon? All that history--down the drain.

Monday, December 12, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

The marketing of New York City's facial hair--"Rep your borough" with the Braun Cruzer. Why does Manhattan get the hipstery curly one?

Finally, some good news for Coney Island--Paul's Daughter has signed a 10-year lease: "Both Papa and Mama Burger and a mix of new and old hand-painted signage as well as a neon sign are expected." [ATZ]

And Ruby's has signed an 8-year lease: "We look forward to seeing our loyal friends and customers for many years." [FB]

Tom's comes to Coney. Says Zamperla, "We are learning a little bit. After a year and a half, we understand how important Coney Island is to the Brooklyn community." [Gothamist]

Yet another death for Gasoline Alley--the Mobil station in Meatpacking will become high-end retail. [Racked]

Hotel Chelsea is evicting long-time tenants. [Curbed]

One reason to love New York: "St. Mark's Bookshop Lives." [NYM]

Amazing film footage of Times Square at its sleaziest. [VS]

Loathing the SantaCon hordes on Second Avenue. [EVG]

Touring Calvary Cemetery. [FNY]

20x200 is having an open house tomorrow night--check out the affordable art, including some framed CBGB prints from Joseph O. Holmes. [FB]

Brownfeld Auto


The High Line has just claimed another victim. Since the luxury park opened into the upper reaches of Chelsea, the existing long-time businesses have been under siege. The 10th Avenue Tire Shop was pushed out. Poppy's shuttered. Bear Auto was forced to close. And now Brownfeld Auto Service, after over a century in business, will be gone by Christmas.

When I walk into the Brownfeld autobody shop, a noisy garage surprisingly decorated with a gallery of paintings, I am greeted by its third-generation proprietor, Alan Brownfeld. A biker with a thick handlebar mustache and oil-stained hands, he's warm and welcoming. You can just as easily imagine him drinking with Hell's Angels as putting on a Santa suit for a roomful of needy kids--which he does every year on his motorcycle with Toys for Tots.

Alan is a busy and popular man. He answers my questions in between catering to customers and greeting the many friends who come by to spend time with him. As Alan says, "This is more than just an autobody shop, it's a social club for friends, family, and customers to hang out morning, noon, and night. People don't go home after work." They'd rather be at Brownfeld's.

A businessman on his way home to Jersey stops in, then a firefighter in uniform and a biker in leathers come by. A young woman customer visits after her dentist appointment and opens a beer. Her name is Amy and she says, "You come here and feel like part of a family. Alan is a New York City icon. Everybody knows his name. He's got a big heart and what's happening to him is an injustice. The neighborhood will suffer greatly."

"Even people without cars will miss us," says Alan. "They'll miss our Friday barbecues. I feed the whole neighborhood--homeless people, anyone who comes by." But this Friday will be the last of the famous Brownfeld cookouts.

Alan's landlord can get much more money for this spot, thanks to the High Line. Alan has been fighting in court for seven months--"as a true New Yorker, I don't go down that easy"--but he knows he can't win and he's decided to take a deal. While he has hung his garage with found paintings, "to be part of the trendy art block," his type of business is no longer welcome here by the powers that be.

"This business has been a landmark since the 1890s," he tells me. "When my grandfather built it as a horse and buggy business, we were fixing wooden wheels and the springs on stagecoaches." He pulls a chain from his neck and shows me the gold replica of a stagecoach spring he wears in honor of his heritage.

"The New York City streets have been good to me," he says. "The potholes have been good to me. Things were great until Bloomberg came into office. He fixed the streets, he took away my prostitutes, he raised the tolls--and that all meant less business. The he decided to build his own fucking park and he called it the High Line. It's for the city's glamorous people--and it's pushing Gasoline Alley out of Chelsea."

"It's gotten so bad," he adds, "last week the son of the guy who ran Bear Auto killed himself, jumped from a seven-story window."

Alan is a survivor--and a real mensch. He has placed every one of his employees in new jobs and he's looking to the future. "I'm leaving on my terms," he says, "not being pushed out. To hell with Bloomberg. I'm leaving with my head held high."

He hurries off to take care of a customer--they don't all know he's closing and he hasn't had the heart to tell them. A big guy named Harvey, Alan's friend and sometimes business partner, says he's not sure what's next, but he knows Alan will figure out something. He tells me how they planned to open a roll-your-own cigarettes shop called Okee-Dokee Smokee. They got the licenses and everything, but then the city cracked down and the plan fell through. It's hard to think about the end.

"I'm sad," Harvey says, his eyes tearing as he looks around at the place. "Alan puts on a good face, you know, 'life is good' and all that, but--it sucks. It's just really sad."

Further reading:
Bear Auto
Goodbye Poppy's
The Upper High Line
New High Line
Eagle Under Siege
Folsom Under High Line