Monday, September 30, 2013

Colony Gets Halloweenied

Recently, I wrote about the gutting of the venerable Colony Music in Times Square, after their new landlord hiked the rent to astronomic proportions hoping to attract a big-box chain store to replace the 60-year-old independent business.

Well, now they have a tenant.

One of those ubiquitous, opportunistic Halloween shops has moved in, filling the place with Jason masks and slutty nurse costumes. It's an indignity that many of our vanished have been forced to suffer in the fall. Of course, it's just temporary. Undoubtedly, something far worse will come along.

Thanks to Marion who sent in the photo. She writes, "The landlords will make a quick buck on the depressing 'Spirit' Halloween pop-up from now until October 31. Will the space finally be taken over by a TD Bank? A Rite-Aid (Duane Reade is on the same block up Broadway)? Fucking New York 2013."

Friday, September 27, 2013

*Everyday Chatter

After being on its last legs for awhile, El Sombrero, aka The Hat, is leaving Ludlow Street. [BB]

Remembering the Ludlow Street Cafe. [FP]

Take a look at Ludlow Street 10 years ago and today. [J&KM]

The Back Fence shuttered before it's officially shuttered. [DNA]

Some guy is selling Brooklyn rocks as artisanal souvenirs. [DM]

On the vanishing of the Blarney Stone. [GAF]

10/10 at Bluestockings: Join Cathryn of the Washington Square Park blog for the official release of Tales of Washington Square Park and a discussion about the city's privatization of public spaces. [BSB]

23-year-old Stuyvesant Stationery Shop to close. [EVG]

Don't miss the latest installation of "Dirty Old New York"--a painstaking compilation of 1970s NYC movie scenes. [OOS]

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spirit of '76

I received the following note from reader Jim Duffy, along with photos from his friend Amy L. Anderson:

In Lower Manhattan, at the corner of Broad Street and South Street, is a wall about six feet high that faces out to New York Harbor. It's part of the office complex of 125 Broad Street. The wall is being repaired, and as the white facing material is being removed, we can now see a silvery, fiberglass-like building material that is covered with graffiti -- actually "scratchitti" -- from 1976.

On July 4, 1976, bicentennial day, as thousands of people crowded to watch the tall ships in the harbor, some of them, most likely teenagers, were carving hearts, names, zodiac signs, phone numbers, and messages.

"Grace + David," "Sophia 'N Harvey," "Happy Birthday America," "July 4, 1976," "I Love My Mother," "Diane '76," "Gerald Ford, Op Sail and Queen Liz Were Here."

It had all been covered up for 37 years, and once again, it is seeing the light of day, for a limited time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mayfair Barber Shop

Don't worry. It's not vanishing yet.

The Mayfair Barber Shop sits around the corner at one of the city's best little overlooked corners--best because it's a slice of the old city, miraculously preserved. Walking up 8th Avenue, as you approach 39th Street, after you pass the Peep Show Video joint, you see the lovely LIQUOR STORE neon sign, and then a hand-painted sign for the Mayfair that says "around corner," with an arrow pointing the way.

See all my Mayfair photos here

You turn and pass a SHOE REPAIR shop--zippers replaced, orthopedic work, while-u-wait.

Pushboys, too old to be called boys, heave past with racks loaded with bolts of fabric, the last remains of the once bustling Garment District. Here and there, you find the old, true city hidden in the weave of the new.

When you step into the Mayfair, the air is cool and smells of Pinaud. Two barbers vie for your business, directing you to their chairs. You follow the one who reaches out, almost taking your hand. His hair is as white as his smock.

As he works around your head, he explains, "You gotta eat the black grape. It's better for you. The white grape is okay, but not as good. Dark food is best. Better than white food. I like the dark grape in juice. I drink the Welch's."

The barber shop is 60 years old, he says, though other sources put it at 50 or 75. One of the barbers, Mr. Cruz, has been cutting hair here for over 30 years.

I was there on a quiet afternoon, but Zachary Levin captured the busy flavor of the place in a piece for Mr. Beller's Neighborhood:

"'The city can be a lonely place,' the old black man says, looking down at his shoes. 'Most of the good joints closed down.'

Downtown billiard halls and late-night diners were where many of Mayfair's customers used to hang out.

'It is the Yuppster wiped out all the class in the city, isn't it, Rocco?' says the young Russian. 'They call it sanitation, huh?'

'Sanitization,' Rocco corrects him, his eyes on his client. 'People don't change, only the words.' 'Yuppsters! I don't know from Yuppsters,' the garmento interrupts. 'All's I know is I'm a pastrami on rye with a malt.'"

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Crime Tales 1982

Talking to male prostitutes and drug addicts in Union Square Park, 1982. On hustling tricks, getting bashed, kicking dope, and the risks and benefits of Methadone.

Created by Robert Burden and Dictelio Cepeda, this video, according to Communications Update, "was made as a program segment for the Spring 1982 series of Communications Update, and subsequently shown at the Kitchen (February 1983), at the Jon Leon Gallery (June 1983), at Mr Dead and Mrs Free's Café (July 1983), and at The Museum of Modern Art (November 1983)."

Monday, September 23, 2013

Special West Chelsea

In June of this year, the Department of City Planning, under Amanda Burden, released a quiet little report entitled "Study for the potential expansion of the Special West Chelsea District."

If you've never heard of the Special West Chelsea District, that's because it didn't exist until 2005, when Burden and Bloomberg created it, rezoning the neighborhood around the upper High Line with the purpose of encouraging real estate development and supporting the growth of the luxury park (which also encourages development).

The city surely wanted to claim this chunk of Chelsea for the rich because it connects the fashionable Meatpacking District with the glittering neighborhood of the future--Hudson Yards. It was a vital piece of their ever-expanding map.

Immediately after rezoning, this long untouched part of town was evicted, demolished, scraped, and slammed with massive new condo towers.

Construction, manufacturing, and warehousing businesses have almost completely vanished from this area, while food, retail, real estate, and technology companies have flooded in, as shown in a chart provided in the study. But that's not enough for the City. In their 2005 rezoning, they left out a couple of pieces--and now they want to take them over.

In the June report, they praise the 2005 rezoning, crediting it for the influx of new, high-end office, hotel, and residential space, and they look at three "Study Areas," called A, B, and C.

In A & B, the southern study areas close to 14th Street, they recommend no change, except for the demolition of Prince Lumber (they got their wish) and its neighboring buildings for commercial re-development.

Study Area C is another story. 

Located to the north, this area contains a few valuable chunks that the city believes are being improperly utilized. The tone of the study is dripping with such paternalism--they know better and have ways of getting what they want.

The first chunk of Area C is the block framed by 11th and 12th Avenues, and 25th and 24th Streets. It contains the US Postal Service's Vehicle Repair Facility, built in 1988. The USPS, notes the study, "has expressed no intention to relocate the facility." However, the study also notes that the USPS is struggling financially these days and probably won't be able to stay much longer.

"It is prudent" to develop a plan for this site, especially because it's between a nice park and "valuable residential developments." Plus, the USPS site offers "unobstructed views of the Hudson River." God forbid those views should be wasted on postal workers.

How long before the USPS is made an offer it can't refuse?

Area C also contains the city-owned Department of Sanitation Repair Shop. They don't want to move either, "citing the considerable difficulty in finding manufacturing districts to locate such operations." The study says, in essence, let's leave it alone (for now).

Next up, some older buildings such as the Starrett-Lehigh and the Terminal Stores, are deemed to contain "vital commercial uses," "high-profile design companies" and "creative firms." Some of the Starrett-Lehigh's tenants include Martha Stewart Omnimedia, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger.

No mention is made of them refusing to relocate, probably because they weren't even asked to do so. The city has decided to let them be--because their tenants provide vital services, unlike delivering the mail and picking up the garbage.

Further north, the City also has their eyes on the block between 11th and 12th Avenues, and 30th and 29th Streets.

This block is under mixed ownership, including a gas station, a mechanic's garage, a parking lot, a loft building, and more. According to the report, this section is "underbuilt and underutilized," bogged down by properties that are "constrained by legal agreements that will terminate in the next decade."

Well, there's always eminent domain--let's see if the City can wait 10 years.

With the "High Line across the street to the north," says the report, "new residential development on Eleventh Avenue to the east, landmark buildings to the south and the Hudson River to the west, this block requires a structured approach to planning its future." In other words, bye-bye!

These aren't pretty blocks with pretty businesses on them, but they weren't meant to be. Before Bloomberg, this whole part of town was at the edge of nowhere. For decades, from the Meatpacking District up through Hudson Yards, it's where the undesirables went to do their business, chopping meat, fixing cars, pumping gas, parking trains. Out of sight and out of mind.

But Manifest Destiny moves ever outward. The towers will not be stopped. The High Line must have its views unsmudged by grime and grease. Only the pretty can stay.

Friday, September 20, 2013

*Everyday Chatter

The Village Voice has left the Village. [GVSHP]

Volunteer for St. Mark's Books advisory committee--and help them fix their business so the East Village can have a bookstore for a long time. [SMB]

Bloomberg "revitalizing" the Lower East Side--with a bunch of big, glass nightmares. [NBC]

The hideous redesign of Astor Place has begun--the sterile corporate office park is on its way. [Curbed]

RIP LES Jewels. [EVG]

What's it like to be born in New York--and then priced out? [Salon]

Check out the Coignet Building documentary tonight at the Greenpoint film fest. [GFF]

Watch this movie about seltzer man Walter Backerman. [MS]

The Lyric Diner has returned to Gramercy:

Photos: The daily life of the NYPD--in the 1970s. [VE]

Welcome to Fear City--a survival guide to 1970s New York. [Gothamist]

Willets Point on hunger strike against the city's eminent domain. [youtube]

Bloomberg's Last Dump: The Great Upper East Side Garbage Swindle [Huffpo]

The NYPL rethinks its hideous, book-hating design. [WSJ]

10/20: Take a tour of Striver's Row. [SRHT]

We don't need another Starbucks:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Old Duplex

Photographer Efrain Gonzalez shares with us some of his 1979 photos of The Duplex, back "when it was a tiny little bar on Grove Street."

The original Duplex was at 55 Grove from about 1951 until 1989, when it moved to its current location on Christopher. Joan Rivers and Woody Allen got their starts there--and it was loaded with aspiring singers.

(the limp wrist, another of the vanished)

Gonzalez recalls how "each night it would fill with young kids who had dreams of singing on Broadway. So much young talent in a tiny, seedy bar. It was so beautiful to be there and enjoy all that talent for the price of a beer. And who could forget Ruby Rims?"

(Ruby is still out there--watch this documentary on the local personality--and with a Facebook page, no less.)

As for 55 Grove Street, after The Duplex left it became Rose's Turn, another beloved piano bar. Then, after 56 years of providing a space for singers and comedians to launch their careers, or to simply be heard, it shuttered.

Today it's the office of interior design firm S.R. Gambrel, whom Town & Country called "the darling of young Wall Streeters...the go-to decorator for a great many of today's young titans of finance and technology."

Efrain's Underground New York

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Harmony Burlesque

Tribeca does not often compel me to visit, but I went not long ago to see what's there. Standing on a once-familiar corner, I noticed something I hadn't noticed before. At 279 Church St., a lonely BURLESQUE sign is still bolted to the bricks.

A remnant of another age, when this part of town hosted adult clubs and bars like the Baby Doll Lounge, the sign might have belonged to the Harmony Theatre, a place I remember as a cramped, womb-like room where men sat around in plush, red chairs while women writhed in their laps.

Author and former stripper Lily Burana called it "rough trade central" when she recounted her experience at the Harmony in a 1995 article for New York magazine: "Martha Stewart would have a coronary if she ever saw this place. The walls are covered in chipped red paint and promo stills of porn stars circa 1985. Garbage and stray butts collect around the legs of the chairs... The Harmony is commonly regarded as the bottom of the barrel, but I like it here. The money's good, most of the customers are sweet, you can work at your own pace, and there are no pretensions of gentility or illusions about the club's purpose."

The city shut it down in 1998, when Giuliani "proclaimed the Harmony, which employed 250 women, a ''corrosive institution.'" The dancers had few options, as the city made it impossible for small strip joints to operate, while glitzy "gentlemen's clubs," with airbrushed dancers, survived. As one Harmony performer told the Times, "I don't have that Barbie doll look, and I'm afraid of rejection. What am I going to write on a job application, that I was a lap dancer for the last four years?''

In 2006, non-profit theater group Collective Unconscious moved in for two years, and Pinchbottom Burlesque held regular shows. When Collective Unconscious shuttered, Trav S.D. wrote in the Voice that it meant "the demise of one of the last physical ties to a now-vanished time and place—the Lower East Side of the ’90s and early ’00s."

In 2009, the Harmony's manager, who owned the building, placed an ad seeking a new tenant. According to Downtown Express, the ad read: "‘Anything goes’ uses include bar/night spot/party space/restaurant/live theater/store." The neighbors opposed the liquor license and "anything goes" did not pass go.

The space is now occupied by Italian winery Mulino a Vino. Said the broker on the deal, “It’s pretty exciting. While [the patrons] taste wine, there will be cellists and violinists. It’s very classy."

But the sign remains--and so do the memories. On my Baby Doll Lounge post, many former dancers and customers of the Harmony shared recollections of the place. The comments are worth reading for their detail and vividness, but here are a few choice quotes:

"The place was filthy, dark, and the stuff that went on in there was raunchy on a slow day." --L'Emmerdeur 

"I guess the best way to describe the stuff that went on there was 'Medieval.'" --GMONEY

"We 'd pay the $10 at the booth and enter the dark Harmony illuminated by the faint red lights. We 'd recognize the same cast of characters week after week, the fat mailman, a wild old man, and the little man with the beard. Of course, there were the women. Fifi, Suzie, Faye, Claudia..." --Anonymous

"I do have many fond memories of being close to the other women who were also just trying to make a living, go to college, raise their kids, etc." --Anonymous

"Working there was soooo much fun--grimy but fun." --Anonymous

"One time Time Out did a write up about Harmony, and they actually wrote about my amazing lap dance, and how I washed their hands before with baby wipes or they could not put their hands on me." --Maggie

"It was a place we could be ourselves and not have to conform to the Barbie image they expected at the flashy clubs. It was NY through and through." --Katie

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Colony Gutted

Last summer I shared the news that Colony Music was forced out of business after 60 years in Times Square. The new owner of the Brill Building, Stonehenge Properties, had quintupled the rent--to $5 million, according to the Post.

I went by Colony recently and found it papered in the landlord's advertising, "Retail space for lease," and "Prominent billboard signage opportunity." In their rendering, the landlord has the historic Brill Building choked by garish jumbo-trons.

Colony's door was open, still with its treble clef doorknobs. I looked inside. Nothing but the guts.

Click to enlarge

Someday soon, this will be the home of an obnoxious shopping-mall flagship store, a poundingly loud Abercrombie & Hollister Eagle-Postale. Or a corporate theme "experience": Pop Tart World! Mountain Dew Planet! Red Bull Adventure! Or maybe it'll be a steroid-pumped suburban chain restaurant. Denny's has yet to penetrate Manhattan, so maybe we'll get New York City's first ever Denny's! And not just any Denny's, but a super-jumbo Denny's, complete with a New York theme to give it that All-American local flavor.

Even better, how about the world's biggest frozen-yogurt shop--with a Colony Records theme? They'll alter the neon sign, keeping the O's and the NY as homage, and use it to spell out FrO-yO-NY for Fro-Yo New York. Hey, they're doing it to Bleecker Bob's.

Announcement of Colony's closure
Quintupling the rent

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pino's Saved!

Back in May, we heard the upsetting news that Pino's Prime Meats might be evicted from Sullivan Street after several decades in business. You rallied around, gave support, and signed the petition (over 1,600 signatures). And now there is good news.

photo: Tim Schreier

Pino's son Leo let me know that they have settled the case with the landlord. He said, "Pino's is here to stay. My father is so happy we can stay for the remainder of our five-year lease (hopefully longer)." They are still working on extending their lease, which will end in 2017.

Leo writes, "The store has really become a part of us and the neighborhood. Thank you for all your help! We appreciate the support of our community, friends, and neighbors. We are at a complete loss of words for how grateful we are to everyone who helped keep Pino's a part of the community."

Sometimes, we really can help to keep the city from vanishing. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Overheard at Arturo's #2

If you get to Arturo's early enough, before the evening rush, you get to sit at the bar with a group of old Italian men from the neighborhood.

I heard this from one of those guys during the last heat wave:

"It's too hot to eat. You know what I had yesterday? A couple pieces of Iceberg lettuce, one thick slice of cheese, and four or five crackers. That's it! All day! Jesus, it's too hot to eat."

Also see:
Overheard at Arturo's #1

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lukoil Lawn

If you're a developer waiting to erect a luxury condo tower along the High Line, what do you do in the meantime with the unsightly gas station you plan to demolish?

First, you plant some hedges around it. But that just isn't good enough. What's better is a rolling, green, suburban-style lawn with a white fence around it.

B.H. Grossman sent in these shots of the Lukoil station on 10th Avenue and High Line, slated to become "an art-themed, mixed-use condo and retail development" by Michael Shvo.

The texting preppie on the Citibike just brings it all together, like some fever dream of a futuristic Mayberry, U.S.A.

Update: Our friend Tricia writes, she was walking by and: "A retired cop dressed like a museum guard explained it was going to have sculptures of sheep on the 17th, for a month." Sheep!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New Work from Randy Hage

You might remember the work of miniaturist Randy Hage from my original interview with him, followed by my posts on his versions of Ideal Hosiery, Mars Bar, and a bodega.

Now, Randy has done it again--with three new pieces in which he shrinks New York City to 1/12th of its actual size.

One sculpture features the still extant Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery (yes, the real sign is spelled without the "C"). Click here to see the real thing next to the model.

The second piece is of Zig Zag Records, vanished from Avenue U in Brooklyn. The third new piece is of Ray's Grocery on Flatbush in Brooklyn, shown in the flyer below. See close-ups and more of Randy's amazing work on his Flickr page.

Randy has a new solo show of his artwork going up this fall in Los Angeles. A charity event, 100% of the sales will be donated to the Rachel Ann Hage Neuro-Oncology Research Fund, benefiting Children's Hospital Los Angeles, in honor of Randy's daughter who passed away in 2000 from a brain tumor at the age of 4.

Randy writes: "In 1998, I had started photographing New York City, and was about to start working on some New York inspired projects. This was shortly before our daughter became ill. For a few years following her passing, I put my project on hold, but continued to make trips to New York to photograph storefronts. I was strangely drawn to them, and was becoming ever aware of their rapid disappearance.

My wife told me that she thought my attachment to the loss of the New York storefronts was somehow birthed from emotions surrounding the loss of our daughter. They say that time heals all wounds. That's BS. The passing of time did, however, allow me to begin to focus on my passions again. And the work was healing for me."

The show is called "Fleeting Moments." It will be at the Flower Pepper Gallery in Pasadena, California, from October 5 until November 15. You can purchase Randy's work by contacting the gallery at 626-795-1895.

If you would like to make a donation to the hospital fund, please send a check to:
The Rachel Ann Hage Neuro-Oncology Fund
Children's Hospital Los Angeles
4650 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Monday, September 9, 2013

Union and North 10th

Reader Sam writes to us from Williamsburg, where the T Quick auto body shop has closed at Union Avenue and North 10th (leaving behind a nice telephone exchange sign, I might add: EVergreen-7). Moving into the little brick building, according to Sam's source, will be a new venture from the trendy restaurant Five Leaves.

Five Leaves was originally planned by Heath Ledger, and was funded by his estate after the actor's death. Hugely popular, they then opened a bar called Nights & Weekends, what the owners call "the Times Square of Williamsburg," and are expanding into the new Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. The restaurant also became the center of what Eater called the "Brunch Wars," fined--and later exonerated--for putting tables out on Sundays before noon and having their mobs of hipsters interfere with local churchgoers.

Sam heard the new project going into the former auto body shop will be "another restaurant, Five Leaves style, but with a bigger bar component." He calls the intel "unconfirmed gossip from a very reliable source."

Meanwhile, that little brick building has rapidly been surrounded by giant luxury boxes, a glittering sea of glass, welcoming hundreds of well-heeled newcomers to the formerly simple corner.

Dwarfing the brick building on one side, there's the brand-new 250 North 10th, a massive development offering 234 luxury rentals--it's "Brooklyn refined." On the other side, there's The Union at 568 Union with 100 units ("The ultimate lifestyle has arrived"), and then a third, 544 Union, with 84 new luxury units.

That's going to mean big, hungry mobs for the new restaurant and bar, should it move in.

click to enlarge panorama

But behind the brick building are lots of regular, old homes belonging to non-luxurious, apparently non-refined Brooklyn people. How will they deal with the crowds, the noise, the flood of new residents?

Sam says they may not have to for long.

He writes, "Rumors abound that a developer has approached the owners of all those little buildings on Union, all the way around the corner to include the 3 buildings on North 11th., to buy the rest of that block to do a giant project."

It could all be wild speculation, but it does sound awfully true the way things are going around there.

UPDATE: Reader Meredith did some sleuthing after this post and brings the news:

"Five Leaves is not doing a bar at Tony's garage. Tony's wants to do something like that, but they are waiting for better deals to come along. Five Leaves was being too squirrelly and procrastinating, so the deal is off. They are not selling the garage. Rappaport bottling (on N. 10th) was offered 15.5 million, and are getting offers pretty close to the amount they want; but they are not currently selling. Millie's cousin around the corner, Rosemary, is not selling and doesn't intend to. She painted her house in protest. Frank on the corner is not selling. He laughed at the 1.1 million dollar offer, and will stick around as long as he has to to make serious bank. The whole block has heard about Millie being in negotiations with the Hasids. Tony's son has cases of Cabernet for 45 bucks. I'll let you know how it is."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

J. Crew for High Line

The High Line now has a capsule collection by J. Crew. All proceeds from sales go to the High Line. Think they'll do a Flushing Meadow collection next? Doubtful, though that park actually needs the money.

From City & State:

"The organization that built and runs the park, Friends of the High Line, is dominated by a wealthy and politically connected coterie of real estate developers and property owners, which has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars, directly and as intermediaries, into Christine Quinn’s mayoral election campaign. Friends of the High Line, formed in 1999 as a tiny nonprofit by two civic-minded fans of urban decrepitude, has quickly become the richest park conservancy in the city, after the Central Park Conservancy. Friends of the High Line raises double the revenue of the Prospect Park Alliance, for instance, and takes in more than 20 times as much as the Friends of Hudson River Park.

...The City Council, first under Gifford Miller and then Christine Quinn, has doused the High Line with cash. Estimates of city funding for the High Line before it even opened range between $130 and $170 million...

The real question is, why give money to the FoHL at all? They don’t need it. The organization is awash in cash from its board and corporate sponsors. The High Line floats in the center of billions of dollars of residential real estate that was built specifically around it. One of the highest paid staffers for the FoHL is a person listed officially as 'Director of Food,' who makes more than $100,000 per year."

So how about a capsule collection for the Director of Food?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013



The dark one, not the light one. The old one, not the "new" one. Gone.

Gone the blood-red shag ceiling.

Gone the big booth with its view of the avenue's drama.

Gone the bullfight "art."

Gone the Disco Fries.

Gone my last supper.

Odessa has been here since 1965. I've been eating there for the past 20 years. There used to be lines to get in the door, if you can imagine that. And now it's gone, soon to be an "American brasserie." Because what the East Village needs is more "America."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bronx Shots, 1960s

A reader sent in these lovely shots of "the Vanished Bronx in 1967-68." She writes, "The photographer's name is Steve Rowles. He was just a student, walking around with his camera." Today Mr. Rowles is a violin and guitar maker, who makes beautiful one-of-a-kind instruments.

The photographer describes this first shot: "You've just gotten off the train at the Burnside Avenue stop on the Lex Jerome #4 IRT, and you're looking right, to the east, before going down the steps from the El to the street."

"This grocery was on Fordham Road, University Heights. 'SE' stood for Sedgwick."