Thursday, September 27, 2012

Neil's Coffee Shop

As we lose more and more diners, Neil's Coffee Shop (not vanishing, don't worry) deserves recognition for being a quality hold-out from the old city.

On Lexington and 70th, Neil's has been here for half a century--and it's got the signage to prove it, from the brilliant pink neon sign to the all-caps COFFEE SHOP on the front, to the cursive Neil's suspended on a white cloud around the side.

Inside, tucked up by the ceiling, above the Greek-themed murals, you'll find framed head shots of mostly forgotten stars. But there are a few luminaries. Jim Fowler, originally of the beloved Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, has a place of honor above the register with two photos, right next to Steve Martin.

There's also Tony Randall, Howard Cosell, and Liza Minelli, who draws a heart and writes "Finally!"

Finally what? Finally, she got herself to Neil's Coffee Shop, after longing to do so for a great while? Finally, she brought in the photo she promised? Finally, she tasted the French toast?

One of the things I like about the Upper East Side is that it remains so much itself. It's not trying to be another neighborhood and it's not trying to be cool. It's filled with all kinds of tacky, expensive shops, and none of them are ironic. The rich people there, walking around in full-length furs, look like New Yorkers, and not like Europeans or Midwesterners trying to look like Europeans in New York.

There are also lots and lots of ancient white ladies toddling around, complaining about life, with their hands heavy with diamonds and their eyelids painted pink. They have great faces, and you can watch them go by from the window at Neil's.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dirty Shoes

These shoes appeared recently inside the fence at the spot that was once Billy's Antiques on Houston Street. They have since vanished. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Dugout

In 2009, I did a post about 3rd Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. In the comments section, people started talking about the Dugout, an old dive bar on the block. I asked if anyone had a photo of the bar, but nothing turned up.

Just a shadowy glimpse of it in a quick scene from Taxi Driver.

Ask, be patient, and ye shall receive.

Three years later, Jason Fernau sends in the following photo.

circa 1983

Jason also shares his Memories of the Dugout, 1982-1984:

The Dugout was halfway underground, you had those 3 steel plate covered steps descending down to the doors, wide steps like on a loading dock. Then one more step down and you were in. My recollection is that the lighting was all fluorescent, and was really bright as well, much brighter than a bar should be. Daytime it was bright fluorescent and the view out the doors was the vista of the sidewalk with the traffic behind it. People walking by were viewed from the thighs down. So you might see a miniskirt and great legs, or a shuffling older person, or a whole dog pulling a pair of legs. Nighttime it was brighter fluorescent. But somehow that never was an issue. I guess it just fit the place, or kept out those who couldn't stand it.

The Dugout had one night bartender, Bob from NJ. It seemed like he worked every night, though he must have had a day off. The place was never busy enough to need more than him. I think sometimes in a crunch there was somebody else who would rinse mugs and put them in the freezer. Nicest guy you could ever imagine. Ready with a smile, did what was needed, when it was needed, and we thanked him every time and he thanked us every time for coming in. From the first to the thousandth time you ordered a beer from him, Bob would say "Frosted Mug?" as if the answer could ever be anything but "Yes."

When you entered, bar on the left, tables in the middle, an old steam table lunch counter on the right hand side, looked like it hadn't been used in decades. I just heard from a fellow patron who said you could get a Liverwurst sandwich there for $1.50. Bob must have made it behind the bar.

There were frames on the walls filled with collections of snapshots of customers in the place, not old, contemporary to the time, and I remember that I was in one. I felt good about that. Faces seated around the plain wooden tables they had, some with mugs upraised.

There was an older gentleman, Saul, black glasses, stained beard, anchoring the back end of the bar, newspaper in front of him. He was usually there. We always used to speculate if he really owned the bar. I never found out one way or the other. he used to let us buy him drinks and he never bought drinks for anyone. Maybe that was the proof that he owned the place, seemed like a good strategy from his viewpoint.

50-cent draft in a frosted mug. What a deal.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Little Katz's

Alan Wolfson is a master of the miniature. He has shown us a miniature Canal Street and talked with us about his tiny Times Square. Now he shares the wonders of his little Katz's deli.

Commissioned by a former New Yorker who wanted a work to remind him of his childhood days at the deli, the piece is called "Closing Time."

Alan writes, "Since I don’t put miniature people in my pieces how could I justify that a restaurant that is always crowded had no customers lining up for their world famous pastrami sandwiches? I decided to create a scene that takes place right after closing time, during the cleanup. Dirty plates are waiting to be removed, chairs are stacked on the tables and mops and buckets are at the ready."

And this isn't Katz's 2012, either. The exterior wall is papered in posters for Blondie, The Ramones, and Patti Smith. Alan's work comes from the greasy, gritty 1970s and 80s. This griminess is obvious in the mini Katz's, where a layer of exhaust fumes and degradation seems to coat every tiny salami and Lilliputian neon sign.

Looking at it, slipping into its obsessively detailed interior, you can imagine the real thing isn't surrounded by glassy high-rise condos and hotels filled with Country Club kids.

See the whole thing on Alan Wolfson's website.

More miniature NYC:
Little Gritty City
Mini Canal
Model New York
Unreal Ideal Hosiery
Mini Mars Bar

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Save Our Diner

Reader Scott stopped by the University Restaurant last night after it had closed forever. He found this sign:

Scott writes, "A loyal customer, Margaret Laino ( had put up a sign and was urging people to reach out to the landlord to express their desire for a similar establishment to take UR's place. She said UR hadn't paid rent in 6 months. Landlord's contact is as follows (; 646.300.4891)."

Margaret's sign reads: "Neighbors for a Viable Village want to save our neighborhood diner. After 60 years of continuous service it is closing on Wed. Sept 19, 2012. Please join us in strongly urging Sutton-Garret Real Estate (212-593-3388) to only consider renting to a similar diner/restaurant: one that is low-key (soft lighting), affordable, with the same welcoming, friendly feeling. NO! to franchises, bankfronts, noisy bars, phone stores. NO! to pizza fronts with garish lighting.”   

It's a voice in the wilderness, but Margaret is not alone. Why not give Sutton-Garret a call and let them know what you think of them jacking up the diner's rent to $40,000 a month? We won't ever get anything friendly, welcoming, or low-key in this space--and it will become a chain, a bank, or a phone store, but at least they'll know how you feel. And maybe that's worth something.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

University Diner


It Was Her New York and Alex in NYC both shared the upsetting news yesterday that the University Restaurant diner, on University and 12th Street, is closing. Today is their last day in business.

I went by for a quick cup of coffee. This is one of the last--if not the last--diners in the neighborhood. It was my go-to place in that area, and I will miss it.

The last time I went, I sat next to a crotchety, older New York couple. She was counting out her vitamins and he was helping. Sort of. I wrote down everything they said on a Milky Way advertisement in the magazine I was reading. It's the kind of scene you just don't get except in diners like this one. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

(this is not the crotchety couple)

Woman: There's something wrong with Sunny. She's eating too much cat food. She doesn't sleep with me anymore.

Man: No, she sleeps with me.

Woman: Does she? Seriously, tell me, where does she sleep? Tell me the truth so I know!

Man: Yeah, she sleeps with me. I'm cheating on you with the cat.

Woman: Oh, be quiet and help me with these vitamins.

Man: You have to take them all, because--

Woman: I told you to help me, not lecture me. Now which one's which?

Man: Don't you remember?

Woman: No, I don't remember!

Man: And they call you a genius.

Woman: ---

Man: Okay, this one's the probiotic. This one's for your skin. This one--

Woman: I don't care what it's for! Just tell me the name!

Man: You're not nice to me. I'm going outside.

The Man leaves and then returns.

Woman: I've got two tickets for the movie tonight, with Daisy, but I don't feel up to it. Can you take them back and get my money?

Man: You should go. She's your daughter.

Woman: She's too much to deal with.

Man: I wish I could go to the movies.

Woman: So go.

Man: I can't! The house is a disaster and I got to clean everything. You go. I'll be home waiting for you with your grapefruit juice, just like you like.

Woman: Oh, be quiet.

Man: You love grapefruit juice.

Woman: I said BE QUIET!

The Woman throws her balled-up napkin at the Man. They get up to leave. The Man turns to me.

Man: [stage whispering] I have no idea why I bother to love this bitch!

More vanished diners:
Joe Jr's
Chelsea Gallery
Rockaway Sunset

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

San Gennaro 2012

The Nolita foodies may be encroaching from the north, but the feast still reigns on Mulberry Street.

This year, the Grand Procession was led by Italian-American sweetheart Connie Francis. The lady once known as Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero rode in the back of a red Cadillac with a beauty queen. She later signed autographs on the Main Stage, greeting a long line of fans with warmth and patience.

I was a big Connie Francis fan as a kid.

Gennaro Class War
Nolita vs. the Feast

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tiles for America


Last week, the 9/11-memorial "Tiles for America" was removed from the chain-link fence at the corner of Greenwich Avenue and 7th Avenue.

Volunteers carefully clipped the tiles' wires and placed them into boxes. The tiles came down because the MTA is ready to build their controversial ventilation plant at Mulray Square (the non-Edward Hopper corner that still has an interesting history).

The Tiles for America Preservation Project has a website and a petition you can sign to ensure that the tiles don't end up sitting in a basement in Albany. The organization has a plan to move them nearby, on display, so they stay in the Village, but they need help with donations.

Find out more from this video:

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Check out three new dreams on the Vanishing NY dream blog. One about a man dancing in a thong by the going-out-of-business electronics shops, another about E.B. White and Maeve Brennan, and one from Goggla about frat boys turning the shuttered South Street Seaport into a "floating beer garden."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blondie, Sweet Banana, High Line

I ran into our friend Romy Ashby, author and blogger at Walkers in the City, right in front of the Sweet Banana Candy Store on the doomed block of 9th Avenue in Chelsea. She told me a story about Debbie Harry and how the candy store almost became a Blondie song.

not in the mood to have her picture taken

"Debbie lived in the neighborhood too, and she used to walk by here all the time. If memory serves, she liked the little scene happening out in front of the candy store every afternoon, all the kids hanging out enjoying themselves, and she loved the name Sweet Banana. It must have been the late 90s, and I remember her saying, 'You ever go by the Sweet Banana Candy Store? I want to write a song and call it that.'"

"We were writing songs together for the upcoming Blondie record, and we had some melodies that Chris Stein had put together. So we tried writing one about the Candy Store and we got some lyrics with 'Sweet Banana' in the chorus and we sang it, sitting in Debbie's living room. But ultimately the song didn't happen. Not because we stopped liking the idea, but because it just didn't come together, which happens sometimes with songs. The melody ended up as another song on the record, and I wish I remembered which one, but I don't. Now I wish we'd stuck with it and done it so there would be a Blondie song about the Sweet Banana Candy Store."

"Did I ever tell you about the time when Debbie and I went up on that High Line and she had her little dog with her, all zipped up in a bag on her shoulder? The guards were so mean to her about it. Not only did they kick us off the High Line, they gave Debbie a $150 ticket."

"I wanted to like the High Line, I really did, but after that, forget it. And now it's just too crowded."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

The coming death of NYCHA: "New York is big, but not that big. The pressure increases each time a fresh-faced college grad steps off a plane to drink in the cool new bar on the (formerly) sketchy side of town. Ten years ago, the sight of the Bushwick projects was a signal to lock the car doors and drive faster. Now they are the backdrop for the romance of the struggling artist con condo. Robert Moses might have done his best to place the developments as far from the main stem as possible, but now the city is coming to the projects." [NYM]

That was fast. Recently shuttered Lafayette French pastry shop already re-branded by Bao:

Check out Chris Arnade's lovely photos of the city's pigeon keepers. [Flickr]

Narratively NYC is now live--learn about a piano mover and the city's female taxi drivers. [NNYC]

Pick up a copy of New York Originals, the book about NYC mom-and-pop shops. [youtube]

Enjoy Chekhov for Children--and 1970s NYC. [Fandor]

Maira Kalman responds to the closing of Colony Records with artwork in this week's New Yorker. She writes, "No more 12x12 inches of graphic glory. Big surprise. So where are we? No more vinyl. No more books. No more bookstores?" [NYer]

Adrian Tomine is selling some fantastic New York-centric prints. [AT]

Help protect the Merchant's House Museum. [EVG]

Designer Jil Sander is selling a crumpled paper bag man purse for $290. [NYDN]

City's ban on XXX is not legal. [Curbed]

The panel reflector signs of NYC. [NYN]

Ray's After 9/11

Awhile ago, when The Famous Ray's Pizza at 6th Ave. and 11th St. shuttered (then bounced around in limbo, later revived by the original owner as Famous Roio's), I thought about how the little pizza shop served as a memorial for the missing in the days after 9/11.

At the time, I wrote up this post, but never published it. Today seems like a good day for it.

The Atlantic, 2001

I remember walking down that block and seeing all the flyers, but I'm not sure why Ray's Pizza, and not another place, became a memorial site, only that it was a block away from St. Vincent's Hospital and that maybe families stopped here to take a break, have an inexpensive meal, and share information.

The 9/11 flyers taped in bunches to the bricks of St. Vincent's were so many, they spilled over, running down the block--taped to the London plane trees, to light poles, to No Parking sign posts--until they reached Ray's where they gathered again, like water running into a pool.

sarj, 2001

At the time, the Times reported:

"There were 68 handbills taped to the windows and brick wall of Famous Ray's Pizza at Avenue of the Americas and 11th Street and 24 on nearby lampposts and traffic light boxes and 17 on a phone booth up the block at 5 o'clock when Detective Michael Meehan of Midtown South, a mourning band over his shield, stopped by with a thick roll of tape to affix three more... One was for his brother Damian."

sarj, 2001

Now Famous Ray's is Famous Roio's [UPDATE: Roio's is gone, too], but St. Vincent's is gone to make room for evermore luxury condo dwellers. We live in a different city from 11 years ago.

As one New Yorker wrote in to the Daily News last year at this time: "Our city suffered two tragedies a decade ago: the 9/11 attacks and the election of Mayor Bloomberg. The former tried to destroy New York City; the latter succeeded."

September 2011

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rocco's & Bill's

Recently, New York magazine featured a story about the Torrisi restaurant team going "old-school." In the photo, the entrepreneurs smile and toast their new endeavor, "Carbone," under the stripped neon sign of vanished Rocco Restaurant.

New York

For those with short memories, the 89-year-old Village restaurant was pushed out last year, even though business was thriving. Torrisi signed a lease, with a massively hiked rent. Third-generation owner Antonio Da Silva fought and lost.

As one commenter says at the online article: "How can you write that they are paying tribute to the 'vanishing relics' when they are the reason one of the real relics (Roccos) vanished? I am very close with the former owner, and they were pushed out only to be replicated and paid homage to? I find it to be so distasteful."

On the next page of the magazine, there's a featurette entitled "History Buffs," about how trendy, monied restaurateurs "seem to be in a race to acquire New York’s oldest, most storied properties."

They write about the Beatrice Inn, which was already Vongerichtified years ago, and about the recent tragedy of Bill's Gay 90s.

Bill's landlord denied a new lease to the 88-year-old business, and handed it over to John DeLucie, who hoped to obtain the wonderful interior details. But owner Barbara Bart took the memorabilia with her--after a fight with the landlord who wanted it all for his new tenant. As New York wrote, "When chef-restaurateur John DeLucie took the space, he kept part of the prior tenant’s name, but was less successful hanging on to all the furnishings and artifacts that gave the place its character."

Minetta before and after (you can't get in)

We've been watching this trend for a few years now--the "race" to snatch the city's classic places and claim them for the new guard. We witnessed the redo of Fedora ("fauxstalgia joints are tres chic these days," said Grub Street) and the cleansing of Minetta's (much of the city has become "like a theme park of the past, as these restored standards offer a vision of a lost bohemian New York--albeit with a well-heeled clientele and prices to match" said the Times), the "preservation" of CBGB, and much more.

It's bad enough that we lose our classics through death by natural causes, but now they're being hunted.

Bill's Gay 90s

Thursday, September 6, 2012

J. Yormark Shoes

Last spring, I noted the reappearance of a glass sign for J. Yormark Shoes over on 8th Avenue near Jane. A barber shop had moved in and saved the old sign. At the time, I couldn't find any photos of the original shoe store.

Now family member Cindee Weiss sends in some wonderful shots of the old shop, its workers, and clientele.

15 8th Ave.

68 Clinton St. (later Falai)

The photos and their story came to Cindee from Ken Yormark and Renee Yormark Entin, the grandchildren of Harry Yormark, nephew of Jacob and Joseph, the shoe store's founders. They write:

"In 1886, 17-year-old Jacob immigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (later known as Poland) to the United States, where he and his brother Joseph, who immigrated in 1889 at age 19, opened two shoe stores. Somewhere between 1892 and 1897, Jacob’s store became J. Yormark Shoes at 15 8th Avenue. Joseph’s store, J. Yormark Fine Shoes, also pictured here, was located nearby at 68 Clinton Street. Harry eventually took over the store from Uncle Jacob, and ran it until it passed out of the family’s hands in the 1940s, during World War II when it became increasingly difficult to obtain shoes."

They also note: "Pee-Wee Herman is also a great-great nephew to both Jacob and Joseph Yormark, of J. Yormark Shoes.”

Though I doubt Yormark ever sold shoes like these:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Third Avenues

One More Folded Sunset discovered this incredible little documentary--6 stories of people who live on various Third Avenues in 1980 New York City.

It begins in a junkyard, then moves to the Bowery (13:00)--where a bum reclines in the street and tells the camera, "Do you know who I am? I'm an eccentric millionaire," before we go into a bar where not a single fashion model is sipping a Pimm's Cup. Next, a deeply sad trip to a tenement in the Bronx.

Meanwhile, a young gay hustler washes down his illegal prescription drugs with a can of Yoo-Hoo before taking us into seedy Times Square (36:00), including a glimpse of the vanished Playland where boys as young as seven sell their bodies.

While Mr. Lopez works hard and spreads the word of God, his kids are doing drugs in the streets. At the end, we meet an Italian family and the mother is fan-fucking-tastic--don't miss her.

It's all good. Watch the whole thing...