Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mitch Broder's Vintage NY

Journalist Mitch Broder has been writing the blog "Mitch Broder's Vintage New York" since 2011, covering the "classic old haunts" of Manhattan, from Katz's to Eisenberg's to Bill's Gay 90s. Recently, Mitch published a book on the topic. Filled with full-color photos and detailed descriptions of each classic place, Discovering Vintage New York is a must-have guide to what remains--before it vanishes.

Mitch will be talking about his book this Thursday, July 18, 7:00 at the Strand--go see him. We had the chance to chat a bit over email, and I asked Mitch some questions.

How did you go about choosing the vintage spots for this book?

To start with, they had to be at least 50 years old (though I let one slip through at 45). But atmosphere was as important to me as age. My idea was to create a collection not just of old places, but of old places that take you back in time. I chose places that look the part, so that you could go to any one of them and encounter another way of life in New York. As you know, there are plenty of places with legendary names but without much more connection to their past. I try not to judge them (though I do), but I did not include them. I sought authenticity. I saw this book as a kind of time machine.

Did you have any worries that putting them in the book might jinx them, causing them to vanish? (I sometimes have this irrational concern myself.)

You have correctly deduced that I am the kind of guy who would worry about something like that. But here I was more specifically worried that I would finish a place's story and then see the place's name pop up in your blog beneath the word VANISHED.

It happened in one case--the Primeburger Coffee Shop, which I eulogize in my introduction as a cautionary tale. The Primeburger was a Museum of 1965, from its conical space-age light fixtures to its box seats with swiveling tray tables. It was one of the last places that had stayed nearly unchanged for decades. But I didn't cause it to vanish. A sixfold rent increase caused it to vanish.

photo by Wellington Lee for Discovering Vintage New York

What is the value of vintage places in the city? Why should people care about preserving them?

Maybe it's the same value as that of vintage people in the city. Our society tends to devalue age, but can you imagine a world filled with only people under 25? (Yikes!) A great city is a city of contrasts. An insufferable city is a city where everything opened last week. What could be more fascinating than a metropolis sprinkled with places that allow you to experience life throughout much of its history?

People should care about preserving them for the same reason that they care about preserving historical landmarks and museums. These places are landmarks--and they are living museums. New York has been New York for only about 350 years, so a 70-year-old store has lasted for a fifth of its life. To me, that makes it part of the city's history. Keep losing places like that, and your city becomes a mall--which, as you know better than anyone, is what seems to be happening.

You say in your introduction that your original title was "True New York," then you changed your mind because old does not necessarily equal true. But there is a sense, especially lately, that the true--or real--New York City is being replaced with something false or fake. What are your thoughts on that?

For some of us, the "true" New York is found in places like the ones in this book. For others, apparently, it's found in places like Toys "R" Us Times Square. This may confound me, but rather than subjectively dictate what is or isn't "true," I switched to "vintage," which is more precise (and more expressive).

I don't see quite all new places in the city as false or fake--on my blog I include quirky new spots that I think evoke old New York spirit--but I do see an awful lot of new places as pretentious, predictable, unoriginal, uninviting, and devoid of character. The good news is that many of the old places are still appreciated by people of all ages. So there still seems to be room for a little of everything. For now.

photo by Wellington Lee for Discovering Vintage New York

Were there places you wanted to include but weren't able to--and will there be a sequel?

Along with the 50 featured places, I covered 50 more with short descriptions. A few of those short descriptions were dropped for space in the final book design. But just about every place that I think should be in this book is in there. And no one turned me down, for which I was very grateful.

I'm considering sequels of several sorts. What comes next will be partly determined by the response to what has come first. In a way, I'm in the same boat as many of the places I've written about. These days, books are bygone, too.

photo by Wellington Lee for Discovering Vintage New York


Laura said...

This is right up my alley, going to request it from my local book store.

Dan said...

I'm traveling to NY in September, and this book will be my tour guide. I just ordered it from Amazon. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Mark Satlof said...

Thanks fore the tip, I just ordered a copy. - Mark

onemorefoldedsunset said...

"A great city is a city of contrasts."
Yes! It's encroaching sameness that is so dispiriting. Looking forward to checking out the book.

Scott Leonard said...

Ordered it today!!