Friday, November 30, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

The Lucky Cheng's building has had a wonderfully weird history--so what's moving in next? "the darn best ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and wings you've ever had." [EVG]

The sad, sad, miserable reality of what has come to replace H&H Bagels. [WSR]

In Williamsburg, brand-spanking newcomers complain about a pair of 50-year-old record stores: "owners of the shops...insisted they have done nothing wrong and that they never received complaints until a recent batch of new young people started arriving on the street. 'How would you feel if somebody came to your block and started telling you what to do?" [DNA]

Enjoy this 1969 film of Kenneth Koch teaching poetry to kids at PS61 in Alphabet City. [OMFS]

Night on Orchard

Check out the latest Walker in the City. [WIC]

Enjoy the Brooklyn Holiday Book Fair this weekend. [FB]

1973 NYC on film. [Gothamist]

A new video game teaches girls how to become Upper East Side socialites: "prepare for a day out in the city or for a night out with your bffs looking chic and elegant like a true upper east side fashionista"! [DNA]

"Whether in 50 or 100 or 200 years, there’s a good chance that New York City will sink beneath the sea." [NYT]

"Hurricane Sandy ran roughly through cemeteries around New York City, but it devastated Green-Wood in Brooklyn." [NYT]

Checking in with Coney Island after Sandy. [ATZ]

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Old Sign in Harlem

On a bus ride through Harlem (Manhattan Ave and 116th), a piece of the past glimpsed from the dusty window.

An awning wrecked and ripped to reveal a hidden sign for a forgotten grocery store. The rusted Coca-Cola logo. The clicky metal letters.

Underneath the city, another city awaits.

Camera to the window--and gone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

17th and 10th: Then & Now

I've been thinking about Yvonne B's forlorn and ghostly shot of the corner of 17th Street and 10th Avenue in the 1980s. There's the abandoned High Line and a gritty little luncheonette, alone with a single-story garage. There are no people.

And here's my shot of the same corner today. The luncheonette is now a Comme des Garcons "concept store." The High Line is renovated and full of tourists enjoying the views from what they call "10th Avenue Square." The garage has been demolished for a luxury condo tower with an Equinox fitness center on the first floor.

The streets below are not unpopulated--there are a couple of people making cell-phone calls, two women pushing a shopping cart, and a Skyliner bus full of tourists.

The first scene brings to mind some lines from "Minority Report," a sort of love poem to America by John Updike:

But it is you,
really you I think of:
your nothing streetcorners
your ugly eateries
your dear barbarities and vacant lots

Updike could have been writing about New York City, in the late mid-century, amid the pleasures of urban decay. And I can't help but look at these two photos and wonder: What possible love poem could be written today about high-concept boutiques, high-tech gym goers, and High-Line tourists cramming the so-called 10th Avenue Square for a photo op?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

W. 18th Then & Now

A little "then and now" on West 18th Street. Here is 461-463 West 18th Street, photographed by Berenice Abbott in 1938 (via NYPL).

And here is the same address today. The bar and restaurant is still a restaurant, now the back end of La Lunchonette. The junk shop has been replaced with a luxury condo.

The crummy little house is now a townhouse that rents for $6,400 a month. "Harry Potter should live here!" crows the listing--but the "super needy need not apply." It appears, in photos, to be combined with the loft space next door.

It's hard to say that the people are different, but we know they are. In each photo, there is a couple, a man and a woman. Imagine that they live in the little house, then and now.

In 1938, the wife follows her husband to the street. He's going out to work on the docks and he forgot his lunch pail. She will spend the day in the crummy house, with the wooden boards nailed across the first-floor window, and the grimy curtains, and the babies crying, and the filthy floor waiting to be scoured. She thinks about the things she needs: an ice box, decent shoes she doesn't have to stuff with cardboard, a roof that doesn't leak every time it rains. But it could be worse. At least there's a roof.

In 2012, the husband and wife walk out together, heading to the lot where they keep their cars. They both work. They don't bring their lunch. The house sits quiet and empty during the day, its floors gleaming, its upholsteries quietly off-gassing volatile organic chemicals. The man and woman pride themselves on not being "super needy," just like the real-estate listing requested--even though, as the wife takes her husband's arm, she thinks for a nanosecond, "I am a bottomless well of needs." But the awful thought vanishes quickly, the High Line rises reassuringly up ahead, and she settles her mind on something simpler to worry about.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sarge's Deli

Sarge's Delicatessen has been ravaged by a three-alarm fire.

Reports the Daily News this morning, "The blaze started in Sarge's Delicatessen Restaurant on Third Ave. between E. 36th and E. 37th Sts. around 6:50 p.m. and spread with vicious speed throughout the four-story building." There were minor injuries to firefighters, no deaths. "More than 150 firefighters battled the blaze for 90 minutes."

As for Sarge's, "The restaurant sustained some severe damage and will not be open for a while."

All photos: June 2012

Family-owned Sarge's Deli has been around since 1964. On their website, they proudly announce that they are "the only deli in New York that currently cures their own corned beef and pastrami on premises."

They don't get the attention that other survivors of the Great Delicatessen Die-off get, like Katz's or Carnegie. I didn't know they existed until this past spring, when I wandered by (I rarely go to Murray Hill) while walking up to Prime Burger for its last day on Earth.

I was dazzled by the old signage and the walls covered with celebrity headshots. I figured I'd go back one day.

Now I hope we all get the chance to visit Sarge's and enjoy that just-cured corned beef.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Some good news has come out of the tragedy for the block of 9th Avenue between 17th and 18th--that collection of small, long-time businesses evicted by the Stonehenge Group to make room for what will probably be a combo Chase bank and frozen-yogurt joint or some other awfulness.

The New Barber Shop was forced to shutter last month, but barber Willie has survived to scissor again.

Willie has opened his own shop, under his own name. Thanks to reader Richie Cohen for sharing this photo and the good news. Willie's Barber Shop is now open at 235 West 18th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. Bonus: The business it replaced was a realtor's office.

Be sure to go in, get a haircut, and give your good wishes to Willie!

New Barber Shop
Death of a Block 3
Death of a Block 2
Death of a Block
Saving 9th Avenue
Sweet Banana Candy Store
New China
Chelsea Liquors

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Carmelita's Reception House

Some years ago, on the southwest corner of 14th St. and 3rd Ave., above Disco Donut, there was a place called Carmelita's Reception House.

Walter Grutchfield at 14to42 writes, "I'm not sure what it was, but Carmelita's Reception House dates from the late 1970s and derived from Carmelita for Bridal, Corp., (bridal gowns and such?) from the mid-1960s."

Lori Horvitz recalls in her non-fiction story "The Last Days of Disco Donut," "I thought Carmelita's was a massage parlor that doubled as a house of prostitution. Only years later did I find out it was a legitimate bar that frequently held parties for gay women."

Filling out the mystery, reader Yvonne B. sent in the above ad for "Girl + Girl" at Carmelita's, and we got an informative comment to my post on 14th and 3rd from "SF," who writes:

"If anyone cares to read more about Lite Lounge at Carmelita's contact me. I rented Carmelita's Reception House at 150 E.14th St., NYC from 1988-c. 1990 with my dear friend Miss A. We founded Lite Lounge together and made parties for our downtown friends with 'lite' music like Bacharach, Beatles muzak, and our 45's collections to heighten the crazy sensation of cocktails & dancing, mirrors and Christmas lights beneath a whipped cream ceiling. One claim to fame of LL@Carmelita's was that 1,000 people on a Monday night could walk through those doors and have a blast. Yes, it was a watering hole for Mr. Forbes, but he drank club soda, nothing else. I know the correct answer to bordello rumors, which celebrities came there, and how the night became a huge success. Including tidbits like James White came out of his remote/quiet phase to perform there twice, and opening night was attended by the Beastie Boys and Alan Vega. It was truly fun for all and came together because of many friends' input and camaraderie. The club received a ton of press and was first covered by WWD, then Paper Magazine, which remains a huge support for all things 'Downtown.' -SF"

SF has not responded to follow-up comments, and I hope she does. I have to assume that she is Stacy Fine, co-founder of Lite Lounge, held in what New York magazine called the velvet-and-mirrors room of Carmelita's.

At Sabotage Times, James Brown recalls with Bret Easton Ellis:

"J:...We met in Carmelita’s, in the light lounge (Bret laughs loudly), and it was my first night in New York, I was 22 and I went to interview Sonic Youth for the NME.

B: You’re telling me about that dive… but it was a cool dive. Up the stairs. Christmas lights all over the place.You had to know people to get in I think. My house was around the corner, it still is, I still have that apartment."

The New York article describes a scene featuring Rockets Redglare, along with Jay McInerney. Very 1980s Downtown, indeed.

If anyone else has memories or photos of Carmelita's to share, please leave a comment or email me at jeremoss[at]yahoo[dot]com. Thank you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The New Bill's

Last week we heard from the decorator of the new Bill's, formerly the wonderful Bill's Gay 90s. Now we hear from an anonymous tipster who was at the new Bill's this weekend for their soft opening.

He sends in this photo of the sign being removed, on which he writes, "The destruction is complete."

He also offers this review of the new place:

"I went there for drinks on Friday night for their soft open. If the flagship stores of Pottery Barn and Ann Taylor Loft had passionless sex and produced offspring, the result would look a lot like the decor inside the new Bill's. Absolute abomination. They replaced actual authentic for fake authentic. And the drinks cost 14 bucks--up significantly."

Bill's Vanishes
Bill's Carted Away
Bill's Gay 90s
Bill's in Boardwalk Empire

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Toll on 22

As another Toll Brothers' tower gets ready to rise on 22nd St. and 3rd Ave., a (presumed) local has responded with a bit of pointed graffiti.

What's Going On Here?

Armed with a Magic Marker, the graffitist has line-edited the explanation, and remarks, "you got a lot of nerve thinking people will believe your bullshit!"


The graffitist continues around the corner, remarking on affordability and inequality.

And here's what's coming--the thing that ate Gramercy, a mountain of glass enveloping a small brick tenement. It is celebrated, in the renderings, by striving, smiling people laden with shopping bags and briefcases. The people of New York. More familiar every day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Own a Piece of Lucky Cheng's

You can own a piece of Lucky Cheng's. As you may already know, the East Village Lucky Cheng's has moved to Times Square. Now they're selling off some of the drag bar's relics before it turns into the next hip whatever lounge.

There are many booths and chairs, tables, and bar/kitchen equipment up for grabs. But the best item has to be the $150 "Tiki canoe." God only knows what went on in that boat.

What I want to know is: Are there any artifacts leftover from the sex club days? Or does that canoe go way back? (Seriously, click this link.)

See more on the sale at Flickr and Lucky Cheng's Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back to Bill's

The New York Times recently published "Making It Clubby," an interview with the decorator of the new Bill's, formerly Bill's Gay 90s. (The place opens next week.) A reader also sent in a bunch of photos some weeks back showing the state of poor, old Bill's in between the gutting and the redo. So, photos interspersed with quotes from the article:

"Her specialty is taking a space with New York history and breathing life into it by buffing up old surfaces and adding cool touches."

"the five-story 1890s brownstone had gone shabby in recent years, and the taps slowed to a trickle before the place closed nine months ago. 'It wasn’t living up to its potential,' said the decorator."

"'Often with restaurants, they don’t have a long life,' Ms. Sharpe said, taking a seat in a brown leather banquette upstairs. 'My job is to give them a classic aspect so people will come back.'"

Let's remember the real story of what happened here, shall we?
  • Bill's Gay 90s was not shabby at all when the landlord refused to renew their lease this past spring--it had an already clubby, old-world atmosphere that was earned, a collection of antiques and real history amassed over a near-century of existence. 
  • It didn't need to be given a classic "aspect," because it was an authentic classic.
  • Business was brisk--the place breathed with life every night. 
  • The restaurant had enjoyed an exceptionally long life, thriving since 1924. It lived up to its potential and then some. 
  • And it didn't close--it was pushed out. As the owner wrote on the website, "Our landlord refused to renew our lease and after an 88 year run, we were forced to close." 
One more loss in the breakneck "race to acquire New York’s oldest, most storied properties." Let's hope this trend dies before we lose all of our greatest places.

the new Bill's

Bill's Vanishes
Bill's Carted Away
Bill's Gay 90s
Bill's in Boardwalk Empire

Monday, November 12, 2012

Post-Sandy Mood

Two weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit and the malaise hangs on. The atmosphere itself seems saturated with it. I walked through the usually busy streets on Saturday and everything felt muffled, wrapped in gauze, quiet and restrained. It felt like the feeling before a storm, when strange things happen to the air pressure and everyone sits back, waiting for the skies to drop.

I wondered how the rest of New York City and surrounding areas were feeling. What's the mood out there? So I asked on Facebook and Twitter, and I talked to people, and here's what they said.

all the words: the bigger the word, the more people said it

"Tired" is the predominant feeling--represented by the largest type in this word cloud (I collapsed synonyms like "exhausted" into it, as with others). This tiredness is a tiredness that seems to go on and on, for those hit hardest and for those barely impacted. Most of us are tired.

Curiously, no one said they feel angry. They're frustrated and annoyed, resentful and cranky, but what about angry? Anger takes energy, and when you're exhausted, it's not easy to be angry.

Along with feeling exhausted, depressed, and worried, unmotivated and annoyed, many people are also feeling grateful and lucky--for not losing their homes or for just being alive in the midst of loss. Many feel hopeful. Several said they feel empathetic for those who are suffering.

just the "up" words

Despite some optimistic feelings, comments and conversations revealed a sense of surprise and discomfort with the post-Sandy mood. "It scares me how unmotivated I've become after Sandy," said one commenter. "I've been unusually tired," said another. "Strangely depressed," said another. People aren't feeling like themselves. It's as if we've been knocked out of our selves and turned into other, wearier, sadder people. This is true for those hit hard by Sandy, and for those barely touched. We're all impacted to some extent.

Many people said they felt guilty. Survivor guilt is a common occurrence "when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not."

A number of people expressed worry about continuing climate change and future problems. (Interestingly, squirrels and nuts came up a few times. Some discussed the abundance of acorns and the bushiness of squirrel tails and their relation to the climate. One commenter feels like a squirrel herself, saying it seems like "I need to collect a lot of nuts for a winter with no definite end." Of course, it makes sense that a destructive hurricane and a coming winter would make people concerned with the business of gathering and nesting.)

just the "down" words (some could go either way)

I keep thinking about the days and weeks after 9/11, how anxious I felt, and how anxious the city felt around me. We were mostly worried then. An exploding manhole cover could send pedestrians screaming "terrorists!" We were vigilant and jumpy, waiting for the next shoe to drop. But Sandy isn't goosing our anxiety in the same way. Mostly, she's bringing us down.

If you're feeling hopeless and sad, guilty and grieving, if you're thinking about hurting yourself, please talk to a friend and reach out to a professional. (Call 911 in an emergency.) As you can see, you are not alone in your feelings. And help is out there.
  • If you don't have a therapist, find one near you on Psychology Today. You can also call your neighborhood clinic.
  • The Mental Health Association of New York City has an excellent post-Sandy resource page on their website.
  • Call 1-800-LIFENET for more resources in your area.
  • Dial the national Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990.
  • Samaritans is a 24/7 suicide hotline: 212-673-3000.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

10th St. Glass

In 2007, we first heard that a string of buildings on East 10th Street would be razed for big-box construction. These buildings between Third and Fourth Avenues were once the epicenter of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the 1950s. They were not torn down. 

In 2008, we got word of more destruction--the corner was shuttered and gutted for an eventual teardown to make room for a luxury hotel. That still hasn't happened.

But there is some action on the block. Scaffolding recently came down off 84 E. 10th -- its bricks have been transformed into glass.

Containing an art gallery for many years, part of the 10th Street gallery "scene," this was once the home of the Off-Bowery Theater, where the New York Poets Theatre performed in the early 1960s, featuring Diane Di Prima, LeRoi Jones, and Michael McLure.

before photo via EV Grieve

The realtor's listing begs for a restaurant, or if not a restaurant, then a wine bar, gallery, fitness studio, or salon/spa.

And in the 1950s...

photo: James Burke for LIFE

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Village Chess Shop


The Village Chess Shop has been at 230 Thompson Street since 1972. And now it's gone. A tipster sent in these photos of the empty windows and the "for sale: everything" signs. "They were cleaning out everything on Sunday and this is the empty storefront today," writes the tipster, who heard from the management company: "They were evicted."

The Chess Shop's Facebook page has officially announced: "Chess Shop is now closed however, it was a great 40 year run but while we attempted to preserve it, The Chess Shop became more of a curiosity or portrait than viable retail environment...Indeed, those who thoughtfully bid us farewell in the final days, admittedly had never set foot in the place lol...The Chess Shop lives on though. We'll be opening several smaller different type of sites for play, learning, competition and laughter...stay tuned."

photo: New York Magazine

I don't know how to play chess, but I always marveled, when walking on Thompson Street, that a little block could sustain not one, but two chess shops. I thought it made the street seem more gemutlich. Turns out, the two stores were bitter rivals. A former Chess Shop partner opened Chess Forum in 1995. Reported the Times, "Not since Bobby Fischer declared his last checkmate in 1972 has the downtown chess world been so torn asunder."

But The Chess Shop was there first, a classic. Its sidewalk was lined with battered tables and chairs for players to come together, its windows cluttered with odd and interesting chess sets. It had character. It felt like New York.

Here's how The Observer described The Village Chess Shop's owner: "Well into his 70′s, Mr. Frohlinde walks with a cane and speaks slowly with a thick German accent. He wore a brown leather jacket and the kind of bulky nerdy glasses sported by hip 30-somethings in the neighborhood; his thick, shoulder-length white hair hung messily under a wool hat. The outfit is one you’d see all the time in the East Village, but you get the sense Mr. Frohlinde was wearing the same thing well before it was cool. He was friends with Yoko Ono; casually references a conversation with Bertold Brecht; and had no idea who Russell Crowe was when the actor bought a $500 board a few years ago."

photo: Anomalous A's Flickr

The owner of the rival Chess Forum is hanging on, but as their owner said in 2008, "We are en route to vanishing." The Internet, of course, has been devastating--many people would rather play digital chess than to put their hands on the real thing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ghost Signs 1997

Reader Steve Fitch recently put together his slides of ghost signs from across the city, all taken in 1997, then he scanned them and got them up on Flickr for us to enjoy.

Some of my favorites: "Cooped Up? Feelin' Low? Enjoy a Movie Today." The best.

A lovely pawnbrokers' shop.

And our lost Amato Opera House--the mural vanished when NYU put up their dorm alongside it. Check out Steve's Flickr page for many more.

Monday, November 5, 2012

After Sandy

It's Monday and many of us are getting "back to normal" after the hurricane, while many others have a long way to go to normal.

You've seen the photos and the news footage: the buckled houses, homes sinking as if into quicksand, the boardwalks ripped up and scattered like busted piano keys, cars leapfrogging each other down the streets. You've seen the East River lapping, almost gently, over its barriers, and then the floodwaters that swamped Avenue C. You saw footage of the Con Edison plant on 14th Street explode into sick, green flashes of light like the coming of the alien invasion. You've seen the post-apocalyptic devastation in the Rockaways, like the bombing of Dresden, and the misery in Staten Island. And you've seen the people crying, digging through Dumpsters for food, begging Bloomberg to do something.

Maybe you are one of those people. Maybe you're among them, helping. Or maybe you spent the night looting their homes. This week we've seen both the horrors and the wonders of humanity.

But there is one burden we all share: We invited Sandy to our shores. The product of human-induced climate change, we invited her with our burning of fossil fuels, our hunger for convenience and speed, our selfishness. We're all guilty to some extent or another. We must not turn away from this painful truth.

Diesel Jeans ad

We also invited her by voting for politicians who don't put the environment at the top of the priority list. Tomorrow, we have a chance to at least vote against a man who thinks the rising of the oceans is a joke, who believes global warming isn't happening, and who probably doesn't care what happens to Earth when he's gone because he'll be the God of planet Kolob by then.

Avenue C and 8th St.

It's time to get our heads out of the sand, as we dig out from Sandy, and face reality. Our planet is warming, our oceans are rising, we will be inundated again and again if we don't take action.

On Avenue A