Friday, March 29, 2013

Capucine's Restaurant


I don't know Capucine's Restaurant on 2nd Avenue and 19th Street, but I passed by last night and saw this sign in the window:

Thirty-three years in business, but now the rent is too high to afford. It's the same old story all over again. And what kind of place is this? The kind of place that keeps getting the boot in Bloomberg's New York.

The description from New York Magazine makes it sound like a place I'd like to visit, with its shopworn tuxedos and dolled-up seniors:

"So enamored was he of Capucine, the French film beauty, that Gino Bossio named his old-school Italian restaurant for her in 1982. When Bossio passed away in 2005, wife Daryl assumed the reins, taking courtly two-decade veteran waiter Henry Julevic as partner. Aside from those personnel changes, a new TV at the bar, and a few coats of paint, Capucine’s hasn’t changed much since it was founded. It’s the kind of continental place you might take your parents, with middle-of-the-road Northern Italian staples delivered by deferential servers in slightly shopworn tuxedos. Iceberg lettuce dominates salads, olives taste canned, and entrees such as chicken cacciatore and shrimp scampi lack any kick. But pastas arrive perfectly al dente, and meats are cooked to buttery tenderness. In any case, diners return here for comfort, not culinary wizardry. Dolled-up seniors from nearby Peter Cooper Village and Stuy Town fill up the room on weekends, along with neighborhood families marking birthdays and anniversaries."

That's not going to happen at the next 7-Eleven.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

XXX on 14th and 3rd

Back in 2011, I wrote up an extensive post about the Sahara Hotel that once stood on the northeast corner of 14th Street and 3rd Avenue, along with the prostitutes that used to roam the neighborhood.

In the post, I refer to the XXX peep joint on the first floor of the Sahara (now a Duane Reade in an NYU dorm). Photos of that peep joint are rare finds, but I just came upon two of them in the magnificent online archive of photographer Gregoire Alessandrini who maintains the blog New York City 1990s, a must-see.

photo: Gregoire Alessandrini

Sometimes, when I find images of a lost place that is hard to find in photos, I like to post them, to sort of reconstruct the place as much as possible. The one photo I found prior to these was black and white, but here we see the lavender hue of the ALL MALE ADULT VIDEO shop.

In the next shot, we see the western side of the peep joint, along 3rd Avenue.

For more about this corner in the 1990s, read my post on the Sahara Hotel. For more amazing images of New York at that time, see Gregoire's New York City 1990s.

photo: Gregoire Alessandrini

And one more, sent in after this post was posted, from Gregoire. A wider view, it shows the whole corner with its--not one, but two XXX video joints:

photo: Gregoire Alessandrini

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Snowy City

If you're not quite ready to let go of winter in New York, check out Michael Magill's snowy photos of the city in the 1980s and 90s.

In the gusts and the drifts, you can't make out many businesses, but a few stand out, like the neon and awning of the old Fedora in 1993, before Gabe Stulman upscaled it.

Now another Stulman restaurant (Joseph Leonard), in 1991 this snowy corner of Waverly was Pierre's Les Douceurs de Paris.

In a blizzard, the pre-upscaled Minetta Tavern shines with its neon sign in 1998, before McNally got his hands on it, back when you used to be able to just walk in for a drink, enjoy the neighbors, the comfort, the peace and quiet.

There's nothing quite like sitting in a quiet bar or cafe on a snowy afternoon in New York City. Until next year...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Children's Zoo

The following is a guest post, written by JVNY reader Donica O'Bradovich, a writer and "lifelong New Yorker who can't quite get the city out of her despite a desperate desire to move to California."

Back in December, the Daily News reported on yet another victim of Hurricane Sandy, a demise that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone except the baby boomers who grew up in the New York City in the 60s and 70s. Jonah’s Whale, AKA Whaley, the one-time centerpiece of the 1961 Central Park Children’s Zoo, and unofficial Rockaway Beach mascot since 1996, had been swept out to sea, leaving only its tail behind. I hadn’t thought about that old zoo for years, but lately, I’ve been on a quest to bring it back, if only in my mind. I kept wondering what had happened to all the other gloriously whimsical Disney-like structures, which were lovingly financed by former Governor Herbert Lehman and his wife for their 50th anniversary, and if anything had been preserved.

When it first opened, the Lehman Zoo was a big hit. Walking through the ornamental Lehman gates (which are still there) and then through a small pavilion, kids were deluged with eye candy. Culled from Biblical tales, fairy tales, children’s songs, and even great literature, the zoo’s gorgeous structures were interactive and housed many small animals. You could walk up the plank to a Noah’s Ark sitting on a duck filled pond; visit a the Three Little Pigs house; climb up through an "enchanted" castle; wander through the Hansel and Gretel cottage; pet some animals at the Old MacDonald’s farm; or wrangle an invitation from the White Rabbit to the Alice in Wonderland tunnel.

Screen captures from an episode of the 1960s series “Naked City”--a treasure trove of vanished New York--show just how beautiful the zoo once was. And besides, where else could you find Robert Duvall and Whaley onscreen together?

But alas, time wasn’t kind to the zoo. By the time I was visiting in the 1970s, it had fallen into shocking disrepair. Whaley’s mouth aquarium was empty and broken, and the place was covered in garbage and filth. The animals that were still there had fallen into the same gloomy despair that had overtaken the entire economically strapped city. It was so badly decomposed that the city shut it down in the early 1990s. 

As it lay in ruins, financing came through and it was decided that a new children’s zoo would be constructed. But controversy soon swelled around the little old zoo, as battling factions tried to decide what would be best for the kids. Modernists wanted a dignified educational space, while preservationists pleaded to save the old structures. Others even made the absurd argument that the Jonah’s Whale and Noah’s Ark were inappropriately religious. Modernity eventually won out, and in 1997, a new zoo opened. Baby boomers were heartbroken, life moved on, and the old zoo became a forgotten relic of a bygone era. Or did it?

A New York Times article from the 90s gave me a hint: “Some of the zoo's old structures were given to the Museum of the City of New York, but the two largest, the whale and Noah's Ark, were promised to the Rockaways. The Ark crumbled to a heap of memories before it could be moved. But on an unusually cool and windy summer night, a truck carrying the whale left for the Rockaways.” Indeed, two photos in the Times archive show just how badly decomposed the Ark and the enchanted castle had become.

I emailed the Museum of the City of New York to see if they really had anything left. Much to my utter shock and delight a very informative archivist worked with me to provide another piece to the puzzle. Sure enough, the museum has quite a few items in their collection: a “Do Not Feed the Animals” sign; some tulip-shaped street lamps; and, best of all, a fully intact White Rabbit.

But after that tiny victory and many more dead ends, I decided to stop. I was getting more and more angry at the way the zoo was dismissed as a silly, outdated artifact instead of the charming wonderland that made generations of us kids very very happy. If all I have left are Google images, “Naked City” screen grabs, and some lovely memories, then I’m satisfied.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Clocks to Cupcakes

In business in the city for over 60 years, the Sutton Clock Shop had perched above Lexington and 61st since 1967. They lost their lease in 2012 and have since moved north to 82nd Street. (Watch author Douglas Rushkoff in the new store.)


At the time, the second-generation owner told NY City Lens that the landlord had "plans to merge the space with its downstairs neighbor and anticipates a large franchise to move into the building."


The first-floor jewelry shop was also forced to close. From an old photo on the Sutton Clocks site, we can see there had been a jewelry shop in the space for many years. It made sense, the shops went together: jewelry and clocks. Solid objects that last, that get passed down through the generations. Treasures that aren't consumed and then flushed away. But so much for all that.

What's moving in? It's yet another link in the ever-lengthening, sticky, gooey cupcake chain that continues to constrict New York City.

Baked by Melissa has its plywood up, all wrapped in a vinyl sheet dotted with mini cupcakes like a measles outbreak. Melissa has only been around since 2009, but her shops are spreading like wildfire (maybe because her cupcake-making ethos draws "on inspiration from the care-free rock 'n roll culture of the 60's and 70's").

Just half a block south there's already Sprinkles, the Beverly Hills cupcake chain that replaced the great and unforgotten Gino. Cupcakes beget more cupcakes.

The Sutton Clock Shop signs are down, with their "PL8" telephone exchange and their invitation to "please come up." You can't walk on Lexington anymore and look up to see something rare and wonderful, a window cluttered with clocks, a shop where a son has taken over his father's old-world craft, where the room ticks with the heartbeat of time. (Watch this lovely film for a look inside.)

Since the landlord planned to merge the spaces, I assume Melissa will be selling her cupcakes in the clock shop's space, too, but I don't know.

“New York is always changing,” the shop's owner told NY City Lens last year. “When I was growing up there were all these little ‘mom and pop’ shops up and down the avenue with hot dog stands and now they are all being replaced with banks and national chains.”

And cupcake shops. Don't forget all the goddamn cupcake shops.

More cupcake mishegoss:
King Kong and Cupcakes
Make Way for Sprinkles
How the Cupcake Crumbled
Cupcake Trash

Friday, March 22, 2013

*Everyday Chatter

Bravo's Andy Cohen tells the Times, "I hope that the incentives for small businesses in Manhattan improve so that we can maintain the fabric of what makes this city great, which is originality... I can’t stand going on and seeing what’s next to go." [NYT]

Scorsese on the development of more Bowery high-rises--they "only create more chaos, more disruption and ultimately offer The Bowery up to the elements of conformity." [DNA]

Alec Baldwin fights the Mighty Quinnberg. [HP]

A history of the Meatpacking District's death by retail. [Racked]

Check out Alan Wolfson's miniature Village Cigars. [AW]

Hear the stories of Midwood's senior citizens. [TLP]

No more Hong Wah for MacDougal St. [WSP]

"It is safe to say that the place will not be turning into an artisanal cocktail joint any time soon. Donovan’s is going to be, more or less, Donovan’s." [NYT]

At the Met, punk as couture. [Met]

The creative class strategy has only made cities better for "the hip and cool." [DB]

Richard Florida replies. "Enough already with this tired and divisive debate about families versus hipsters." [DB]

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gowanus Balloons

Now and then, I get over to Gowanus and wind through its desolate streets. You never know what you're going to find in that strange industrial wasteland.

For example, a bunch of silver balloons, filled with helium, rising and falling in the wind. They look like an organism on their own. They call to you, making you wonder how they got here. Did they get lost, drop, and snag on a tree's fallen limb? Did a jilted lover leave them behind?

Venturing down a muddy "do not enter" driveway, past a row of crumbling buildings, a cracked patio where a greasy cat is stalking prey, you come to the toxic waters.

There the balloons are tethered--to an inflatable, gold-painted dolphin, itself tethered to a half-sunken boat stuffed with bright beach balls. (An homage to the dolphin who died here?)

There isn't another human being anywhere in view. It's just you and the balloons. A moment of quiet mystery.

Not for long. More condos are coming. The cafes and Whole Foods. There is little space left for quiet mysteries.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Italian Food Center

Since 1954, the Grand Italian Food Center had served Little Italy--sandwiches, breads, pasta, pastries, olives, cheese. Then it vanished. It lost its lease and shuttered either in late 2010 or early 2011.

Now there's a new "Italian Food Center" in its spot.


This new Food Center doesn't look anything like the old Food Center. It's been made to appear old, however, with scrubby bricks and a faux-rusted sign that will likely convince the tourists into believing it's been here since there were actual Italians still living in Little Italy.

The level of decor, with windows vaguely reminiscent of the High Line's colored window art, subway tiled walls, and a ceiling hung with those trendy silver bowl lightbulbs, makes me think this is not a rebirth of the Italian Food Center we once knew.

But I could be wrong.

There's a website. Sort of. I've tried, but I can't find anything out on this one. Any clues?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

6th Ave. Car Wash

According to a commenter here, the 6th Avenue Car Wash has been closed and boarded up.

Located at 6th and Broome for at least 30 years, the car wash was sold recently, much to the dismay of its employees who walked out over the sale. They made the case that the sale was made as retaliation against their unionizing. They have since been given new jobs at other car washes.

So what's to become of this prime Soho space? Permits on file reveal that it's in the hands of developer PMG, a company "dedicated to its core business strategy: aggressively acquiring land and properties and successfully transforming them to high-end luxury properties."

This spot is zoned for light manufacturing. But, pending zoning approval, PMG has an application on file with the Department of Buildings for a new residential high-rise building here --18 stories high, 27 units. (We don't know what it will look like, but here's what they just developed in Gowanus.)

If you're feeling nostalgic for the 6th Ave. car wash, enjoy this film from a guy with "nothing bettah to do" in his SUV:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Loews Mayfair Building


701 7th Avenue, former home to the Loews Mayfair Theater, is coming down. And it will take one of Times Square's loveliest buried secrets with it.

photo: Kevin Adams

Reader Kevin Adams sent in the sad news with a shot of the building at 7th and 47th, where recently the signage came down, revealing a relic of the 1980s--the old Panasonic sign.

That's not the lovely buried secret I'm referring to. As far as re-discovered signage goes, the Panasonic lacks a certain romance. It's no "All Live Whirly Girly Revue Big Time Vaudeville." But it does hold the outline of the past--and it's a tantalizing reminder that, underneath all those dumb jumbo TV screens and flat LED panels, there lies treasure just waiting to be found. Imagine stripping Times Square to the shale. What fossils would we find there?

But those treasures are destroyed forever when old buildings are torn down.

photo: Matt Weber, 1984

701 7th Avenue was built in 1909 with a theater inside it. Originally known as the Columbia, a vaudeville house, it was probably known best as the home of the Loews Mayfair, where that wraparound corner sign featured some of Times Square's most spectacular movie billboards.

Today, gorgeous little remnants of the Mayfair remain (I photographed and wrote about them here in 2011): terracotta details on the exterior; a vaulted, star-studded lobby ceiling; decorative grillwork; bits of banisters; carvings atop what was once a balcony. (And there's more.)

Later, it became the DeMille theater, and then the triplex Embassy 2-3-4. When movies died here, the Phantom of Broadway Gift Shop moved in. That's where you can go to see the artifacts of the Mayfair. But go now, because the Phantom of Broadway has already put up the "Going Out of Business" sign and all will soon be dust.

(The hidden "Toys, Souvenirs, Jokes" sign will also go with it.)


The Times reported last week that 701 7th Avenue will be "replaced by 85,000 square feet of retail space and a 500-room Marriott Edition boutique hotel." The retail space "will feature 25-foot glass storefronts" and "The building will have a 20,000-square-foot LED sign on its facade."

Take a look at the $800 million misery to come. The wraparound corner billboard that kept its shape right through the Panasonic days, and remained mostly the same up to today, will be replaced by a new wraparound--another dead television screen (the largest in Times Square) on another glass tower.

The new building is called 701TSQ--visit its website for more renderings and enthusiastic marketing copy. (There's a promo video celebrating "24/7/365 NON-STOP CONSUMER DEMAND" with a song that goes, "Never stop, never stop, never stop.")

They've included a Uniqlo on the ground floor where the Mayfair used to be.

What's next? I worry for this whole block.

As I said when I explored its history in 2011, "it's one of the few blocks in Times Square that has not been recently demolished for glass towers. Every building standing on it has been standing for a long time. You can actually imagine the past here."

After 701 falls and the new tower rises, the rest of this block's grubby little low-rises will become low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking. Of the three to remain, one of those buildings includes the hidden remnants of an underground porno theater, formerly the Show Follies Center.

No one will be landmarking that one.


I also worry about the building across the square that once housed the greatest, grandest Automat and still contains fossils of that lost grandeur. It the Times article (which is just filled with horrors), the owner of its neighbor "is planning to refurbish or possibly demolish the building and replace it, and will expand the current two-story sign into a large 14-story LED sign."

These people won't be satisfied until they tear down all of old Times Square, until every cornice, lintel, and brick is replaced by the cold sheen of glass.

Bloomberg's monstrous tourist machine drives this destruction. And tourists will eat anything you put on their plate, as long as it's shiny and loaded with empty calories. As 701's developer told the Observer this past fall, “Our completed project will be the first building delivered in Times Square that is programmed and designed for the current massive consumption."

More history:
Loews Mayfair
Between 47th and 48th
Toys, Souvenirs, Jokes 
Show Follies Center
Automat Fossils
Secret Porn Theater

Friday, March 15, 2013

*Everyday Chatter

Today: Go to the Broken Angel Eviction Party. [FB]

Su Friedrich on the decimation of Williamsburg. [NYT]

Papaya King is coming to St. Mark's Place. We approve. [EVG]

Russ & Daughters on Leonard Lopate. [WNYC]

The East Village is now the noisiest neighborhood in town. [AMNY]

St. Mark's Bookshop on their story, e-books, and the East Village: "It’s not the neighborhood for poor, struggling artists, which it always had been. No matter if you were a filmmaker, an artist, a writer, or theater person, you gravitated towards the East Village because it was community of like-minded souls. You could be poor here." [PS]

Domino Sugar factory cuteness on film. [ANY]

Before he's done, Bloomberg races to rezone about a million more blocks of Manhattan for about a million more glass towers. [DM]

A Greek souvlaki tycoon is saving Hinsch's. [BP]

What if Bleecker Bob's gets sucked into a fro-yo vortex? [DNA]

Gentrifying the deeper reaches of Brooklyn. [NYT]

Neon at the top of the Rock. [NYN]

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Clocks of Grand Central

Wandering around inside Grand Central station late on Saturday night, I noticed that the place is loaded with clocks. I might have noticed this before, but it's hard to pay close attention in swarming crowds. When it's late, the terminal is (relatively) empty. The peace and quiet is wonderful. And you can see things. Like clocks.

I'm sure I did not capture every clock in Grand Central.

As you can see, they run on time.

Which makes me wonder.

Who's got the job of going around and setting all the clocks forward one hour for Daylight Savings Time?

Nothing so romantic. It's just an automatic "master clock."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bent Pages


Billed as "NYC's only remaining LGBT bookstore," Bent Pages of Staten Island has shuttered. On their Facebook page this weekend they wrote, "Well, It was a good run, wasn't it? Thanks to all who made the experience so rich and meaningful. Heart's hurting a little bit just now, but we'll be alright."

Opened in May 2008, Bent Pages held many community events, including "read-alouds, musical performances, sit n' knit, Scrabble Tournaments, and more." On their Yelp profile they wrote, "We are lesbian-owned and value the memory of small bookstores and mourn the loss of so many bookshops in New York City."

Co-owners Robin and Katie told me:

"People loved the idea of Bent Pages, but had a hard time getting off Facebook to actually come in. People simply did not come in to buy books. We were a used bookstore, specializing in LGBT titles, many of which were rare and out of print. There seemed to be little appreciation for this. We heard everything from, 'Just books?' to 'Oh, I don't read' to 'Oh, are they all free?' After almost 5 years, it got harder and harder to walk in the door. We are giving ourselves time to breathe, listen to the universe, and see what happens."

Oscar Wilde's old space

As for lost LGBT bookshops in the city, A Different Light vanished in 2001, and The Oscar Wilde Bookshop, the first gay bookstore in America, followed in 2009. Oscar Wilde was in business for 41 years. Its empty space in the Village was quickly filled with an upscale boutique, but that didn't last long at all. Oscar Wilde's space is empty, up for rent again.

Maybe The Bureau of General Services Queer Division can move in. They now have the lonely distinction of being New York City's one and only queer bookshop.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Casa Havana


Casa Havana, the Cuban diner on Chelsea's 8th Avenue, shuttered yesterday. Suddenly and, it appears, completely.


A reader sent in the above photo and reported that the place is empty inside. I was just there a week ago, filling up on delicious empanadas served by a tough young woman with a scorpion tattoo on her neck. Their phone is disconnected and there's no notice on their Facebook page or website.

A week ago

This was an authentic and inexpensive spot, but it was not the original Cuban diner that was in this space. That was Havana Chelsea, an "old-school Cuban greasy spoon that...managed to survive the area’s influx of trendy restaurants."

New York Magazine wrote of Casa Havana: "When Havana Chelsea, the scruffy, long-time Cuban joint that used to be here, closed down, locals were bereft. For his spiffy successor, [owner] Vicari kept the old chef, and continues to peddle rustic Cuban fare with the same menu, prices, and humble roots." They kept the neon "Best Cuban Sandwiches" sign, too.

Another shot: Last night, from Richie Cohen

The new Casa Havana was not without controversy. The Village Voice published a comment from the presumed owner of the old Havana Chelsea, calling Casa Havana a fake. To which the owner of Casa Havana responded that he wasn't trying to copy the old place at all. But many people believed it was the same business with a new name. (If it had gone upscale, it might belong in the annals of the fauxstalgia trend.)

A couple years ago, Grub Street reported: "Restaurateur Tom Vicari is battling to stave off eviction from the Chelsea space he leased in 2007 for his popular Casa Havana Cuban luncheonette, and claims that his landlord, the leader of a low-income housing cooperative board next door, is engaging in strong-arm tactics to remove him."

Maybe now we'll get that additional 7-Eleven that Chelsea really needs--oh, but that'll probably go into the Rawhide space, right?

inside Casa Havana

Once, there were many Cuban diners in Chelsea. One by one, they have vanished. Pray this doesn't happen anytime soon to La Taza de Oro.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Inside the Rawhide

After announcing the miserable news last week that March 30 will be the last day for Chelsea's 34-year-old Rawhide bar, I went by on a quiet and snowy afternoon to talk with the bar's owner, Jay Goudgeon. We sat at the bar and he told me stories.

The Rawhide, Jay explained, is important because it's part of gay history in New York City. It's the type of bar where people know you, a neighborhood place. "For a lot of guys, it was the first gay bar they ever walked into, and they made a lot of long-lasting friendships here."

Back in the day, he said, "you were kind of an outlaw if you came in here. And you sat next to all kinds of people. Famous people, busboys, everybody. We were here before Chelsea was 'Chelsea.'"

"When the Rawhide opened in 1979, it was the first gay bar in Chelsea and the neighbors were incensed. At 8:00 in the morning, they'd start throwing bricks at the windows. Every day. Then some of the customers brought cartons of eggs, and they'd throw the eggs at the brick throwers."

Eventually, the brick and egg wars stopped and the neighbors grew to appreciate the Rawhide, a friendly bar that kept its lights on late into the night, protecting the corner from drug dealers and hustlers.

But times have changed in Chelsea.

While most neighbors still appreciate the Rawhide, "the people in the new multimillion-dollar apartments complain about noise and people smoking out front," said Jay, "but we've always run a tight ship. It was funny what Christine Quinn said in that magazine. I doubt she's ever set foot in this bar. I would know if she did. It's hypocritical. Bloomberg is chipping away at the fabric of this city. People used to come because it was a 24-hour city, and now it's becoming a 9 to 5 city. We fought against that. We like to be open. We stayed open through blizzards, hurricanes, blackouts. We stayed open not to make money, but because people needed a place to go and be with their friends. That's our tradition. Because it's New York, and New York is not supposed to shut down."

The Rawhide was open on 9/11, too.

"We were open that day," Jay explained, "because we used to open at 8:00 in the morning, back when people packed in after the after-hours clubs. We had no TV, just dance music on. We had no idea. And then, outside the windows, all the traffic on 8th Avenue just stopped. One of my barbacks had a radio and he said that one airplane, then another, had flown into the towers. A lot of our customers worked down there. Slowly, they came drifting in, just covered in ash. One of our regulars came in to wait for his partner, who worked in the Trade Center. 'I know he'll be here,' he said, 'because this is our bar.' He waited all day. Eventually, we all realized that his partner wasn't coming. After that, every year on 9/11 that gentleman comes in. He has one drink, just one, and I know he's still waiting. But on that day, that's when I learned what this bar is all about for people."

Jay hopes to open a new Rawhide in an undisclosed location on the East Side. (The deal is not yet done.) He plans to bring the Tom of Finland prints--the originals are in storage--and the wooden Rawhide sign that once collapsed from the bar's facade, but the motorcycle that has hung over the pool table since no one knows when is being raffled off. A sign on it reads, "Own a piece of Rawhide history." Raffle tickets are $25 and the winner will be announced at the bar's big goodbye bash on March 30. All are invited. They open at noon.

"If that motorcycle could talk," said Jay, smiling. "One time, a customer told me he woke up chained to that bike first thing in the morning."

I asked Jay what will be lost when the Rawhide closes for good. He said, "Life will go on. It's the end of an era and the new place won't be the same thing. Everybody's sad at the moment. But it will become a part of people's memories. It'll live on."

goodbye to the dogs who stopped at the water bowl