Monday, June 30, 2014

Antiques Garage


On the last weekend of the Chelsea Antiques Garage, before its 1920s-era garage is demolished for a towering luxury hotel, the mood was resigned. This closure had been a long time coming.

Dealers sipped champagne for a farewell toast. Many talked of moving--there's some room at the outdoor flea in a parking lot on 25th, and at the Hell's Kitchen flea further uptown--but it's unclear exactly how so many vendors will fit. Space is limited and being outside is not ideal.

"Paper doesn't do well outdoors," said one vendor, a hawker of vintage nudie photos and other ephemera. "The moisture!"

Most dealers, when asked if they'll move to the other sites, said they'll probably take some time off, travel for the summer up and down the flea market circuit, until the kinks are worked out. Flea market people are gypsies at heart. Whether or not they return to the city is anybody's guess.

This group of flea markets got started in Chelsea in 1976. They were hugely popular with people across the city. Then, in 1995, the City Planning Commission re-zoned 6th Avenue from 24th to 31st Streets, changing it from a manufacturing district to residential and commercial. Immediately, reported the Times, plans were drawn up to put high-rise towers on the flea market sites.

Today, the once low-rise neighborhood has exploded with luxury towers, dull shafts that block the sun and add nothing to the neighborhood, but only take away. At the Garage, many people talked about real estate, the insane prices, and the awful feeling of being pushed to the margins--and then off a cliff. "Where can we go?"

Where can any of us go to get the feeling experienced here?

Drifting through the Garage, you are immersed in the stuff of memory as you shuffle through a bin of records, a box of buttons, a shelf of books. Walking from booth to booth, past glass candy dishes and salt and pepper shakers, everything conjures some association to the past.

You don't know which object will trigger which memory--the process happens so fast--but here come mornings at your grandmother's Florida house (a dish, a spoon), her hand sprinkling sugar onto a half of grapefruit just plucked from the tree.

Turn a corner and here's the album cover that brings back the music of first kisses. Then your big brother's Zippo lighter appears, battered from a tour of duty overseas, and you don't have to hold it to your nose to recall the tart scent of its metal. A cartoon jelly jar takes you back to Kool-Aid. A swizzle stick printed with the name of a long lost cocktail bar cries "Father," while a floral polyester dress brings back Mother, 1978, young and a little bit wild.

When we lose remnants of the past, we lose access to our own memories. Who are we without the antiques to remind us of details lost?

So much is lost.

With the towers have come a different class of people. Unique characters, once plentiful in the city, have diminished in number. For years, the Antiques Garage was their safe haven.

Like the Chicken Lady, a gray-haired woman who walks into the garage squawking like a chicken, loud enough for everyone to hear. People squawk back at her. She calls out, "I'm very sad! I'm very, very, very sad!" She's greeted with kisses and hugs. Asked why she's a chicken, she replies, "I'm the Chicken Lady. That's what they call me. I don't know, maybe it's because I go bawk, bawk, bawk!"

Larry Baumhor takes wonderful photos of the Garage people. There are jewelry designers in bowler hats and antlers, there are punks, fashion critics, and vintage-wear anachronisms.

There are the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, a pair of women who do their own thing--and do it wonderfully.

And there's the incredible "beyond gender" Zondra Foxx, who has explained, "Zondra was the woman I've always wanted with me. I could never find anyone as weird as I am. I found myself, and I'm the woman I've always wanted."

Said one woman to Larry, in a photo on his page, "They are destroying the individual, the non-conformist. The punk scene is gone. The city is being run by chain stores and is becoming like suburbia. If the Garage vanishes it will affect the non-conformists who are the meat and potatoes of the culture."

What we're left with, after so much has vanished, are objects all too new, meaningless in their freshness, unconnected to any past, containing nothing. We are systematically being erased. First they are taking our memories.

Antiques Garage, closing
Antiques Garage close call, 2007

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bereket Turkish Kebab House


Tipster Chris writes in: "today is the last day for Bereket on the corner of Orchard & Houston after 20 years in business. Apparently, the landlord sold the building." Bereket opened in 1995.

I went by to check it out and they confirmed they will be open through tonight, until 6:00 AM, and then shutter. They hope to reopen nearby and are looking at a possible space on Allen Street.

Back in March, Bowery Boogie reported that the building--along with ALL the remaining low-rise buildings on that block of Houston, except for Katz's--were bought by Ben "The Sledgehammer" Shaoul.

Goodbye open sky! Yet another tower of misery is coming.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lucky Cheng's


Word has come in that Lucky Cheng's is closing for good. An employee confirms that their last show will be tomorrow night.

Calls to the club go unanswered, but the employee, who asks to remain anonymous, cites the reason for the closure: "Ridiculously high rent + decline in business = demise."

UPDATE: Gothamist and NY1 have both since verified this news of closure with the club. At the same time, a Facebook commenter writes that he went to a show and "Staff adamantly denies this 'internet rumor' and insists new management is taking over." Another commenter walked by and talked to a couple of the queens. They said, "They are closing then re-opening under a different name in the same location."'s anybody's guess.

For two decades, Lucky Cheng's brought drag queen action to the East Village, attracting queers and art scenesters, then tourists, Sex and the City, and eventually hordes of shrieking bachelorettes. Still, it remained a surviving piece of the old-school, ramshackle, offbeat East Village.

In 2012, the legendary club moved from its long-time, historic home for bigger, flashier digs on West 52nd Street near Times Square. Then Cheng's beloved owner, Hayne Suthon, passed away earlier this month after a long battle with cancer. Her memorial at the club was only days ago.

Steve Lewis wrote in Hayne's BlackBook obituary, "I don’t know what happens now to Lucky Cheng’s. The vultures will see an opportunity to buy low and so it just may go. They’ll pick at the bones of her dreams. It’s hard to imagine it without Hayne, without that twinkle in her eye."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rawhide & Folsom East

After being forced to close in March 2013, after 34 years in business, the Rawhide bar was set to become a California pizza chain. That didn't happen and the space remains empty to this day.

Recently, one of the front shutters was opened. I peeked inside. It isn't pretty.

Meanwhile, Folsom Street East was a success this past Sunday, moved to West 27th Street after being pushed off its long-time home of West 28th by: condo owners, the community board, the High Line, more rising condos.

Kinksters and queers came out in their full leather and latex regalia, the street was packed, and the music was fierce (Michael Tee and the Vanities are a must-see). The fair felt a bit tame, however, compared to years past. It was more easy-going somehow, and less dirty, less edgy, with what seemed like fewer flogging and spanking demonstrations and, regrettably, no ass-pie eating contest. Unless I somehow missed it. It also seemed shorter than in years past.

I wonder if these were concessions to the neighbors, all those luxury condos and hotels that just moved in about a minute ago.

A Jesus freak stood again among the gawking tourists on the High Line, holding up his "SIN" sign, and glossy blondes moved through the fair to get to their booze brunch at one of the luxe hotels on the block. But otherwise, the fair went unmolested, and remained on its best behavior.

Hopefully, the new neighbors won't be offended and will permit Folsom back in the future.

Inside the Rawhide
Rawhide Goodbye
Rawhide Gets Chained
Rawhide: Still Empty

Folsom Vanished
Folsom East and the Eagle
Folsom Under High Line
Eagle Under Siege

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Time Machine

The Mysterious Time Machine has left 14th Street--and moved south. Located for years on the second floor, behind dusty windows printed with the words MEMORABILIA and NOSTALGIA, the shop looked like it had been there forever.

the old space

The large room was packed with cardboard boxes filled with vintage magazines--movie magazines, girlie magazines--and comic books. The walls were covered with posters and magazines, faces from the past. I loved going up there and wading through the ephemera. (I love an odd second-story business, climbing the murky staircase to what feels like a secret spot above the city crowd.)

On a recent trip, I was met with a sign that said, "We moved." I looked up. The place has been cleared out, white-washed, the ceiling hung with cold track lighting. Imagine the wonderful nail salon to come!

I walked to the new address, a basement spot on 6th Avenue, next to Bigelow's drugstore. You walk down now, not up, into a much smaller room.

the new spot

I know I'm supposed be grateful that they were able to find a new space, and I am. Still, everything that makes this city interesting, if it's not vanishing completely, keeps getting crammed into ever smaller spaces, pushed to the margins, relegated to basements.

So I'm grateful, but bitter.

I liked that big room filled with those super-saturated mid-century colors, where you got a good feeling that expanded your insides, and where you could buy a magazine or a comic book and read it downstairs while enjoying a cup of coffee and cruller at the Donut Pub


Time Machine
Donut Pub

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Archangel Antiques


After 21 years on E. 9th Street in the East Village, Archangel Antiques closed this weekend.

The owners decided it was enough, time to retire. Also, the lease was up, and you know how that goes.

Oh That Sherry reported: "They cannot keep up with the increased rent. Besides competition with other vintage clothing stores in the area, East Village’s demographic is mostly students. Generally speaking, students do not have money or taste. Gail argues that to buy vintage, 'you have to have a little sense of adventure, style, and be willing to stand out a bit.' While there is nothing wrong with buying what everyone else is wearing from H&M or Urban Outfitters, she adds that 'Young people just don’t have a sense of personal style.'"

Archangel was a great spot to browse and buy, making selections from their large collection of buttons (over a million), or cufflinks, maybe an old LIFE magazine. It was also fun to chat with its manager Michael Duggan, who certainly does have a sense of style and is unlikely to shop at Urban Outfitters. As he told the Times in 2011:

“The other week I was at the Waverly Inn sitting at a table near Puff Daddy and Ivanka Trump, and people kept looking over at me and asking, ‘Who is that guy?’"

Another piece of character gone from the neighborhood.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Alan's Alley

Back in March, I reported that the locally beloved Alan's Alley video store would be leaving Chelsea, its home for over 25 years.

At the time, I talked to Alan, who told me, "We don't have any plans to close. We go with the flow. But the landlord's got plans. He's looking for a new tenant." The store was on a month-to-month at that point, hanging on until a new tenant came along.

Well, some Starbucks or Chipotle or nail salon must have grabbed the space, because the time has come.

Reader Eileen writes in to let us know: "Alan of Alan's Alley just texted me that he has to be out by the 15th and is closing on the 7th." Of July.

Alan has not been able to find a new spot. Time to say your goodbyes to another long-time local.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

El Quijote 2

Last month I shared the distressing news, thanks to known and reliable tipsters, that the management of El Quijote would be changing hands. I was told it would be taken over by the new owners of the Chelsea Hotel, in which El Quijote has stood, unmolested, for 84 years. I was also told that the beloved restaurant would never be the same again.

When I shared this information, people panicked. My tipsters panicked, too, and I removed most of the details in the post by request, leaving only the warning: "if you'd like to experience it as it's always been, go have a good, affordable meal while you still can. Changes are coming."

I got some angry comments for sharing the intel, including: "this is completely untrue, as in false rumor. There's not even a hint of truth to it. Allegedly reliable sources should pull their heads out of their a## and Jeremiah you should pull the post. Youre [sic] making El Q's life more difficult." The restaurant denied to the press that any changes were in the works. At Grub Street, one Chelsea resident insisted the information was "completely untrue" and "1000% incorrect."

While this is not the sort of news I like to be vindicated about, my intel has been confirmed as fact. Yesterday, Eater reported that El Quijote "is in the process of being acquired by Chelsea Hotels, the new company that owns the building," run by the controversial Ed Scheetz.

A rep for Scheetz said the new owners will "retain the signature look and feel of El Quijote" while "maintaining its authenticity."

My tipsters were correct about the hotel taking over the restaurant. Should we assume they're also correct about the rest of it? They told me that the expected changes will be similar to what happened to Minetta Tavern. In other words, they hear it will be an upscale reboot with higher prices and a fancier menu.

Time will tell.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Remembering Manatus

With Pride upon us, Manatus has been on my mind, that long-time go-to spot for the LGBTQ communities, unceremoniously shuttered in April, possibly to make room for Calvin Klein. I went by and peeked in the window. Everything is gone. It's still a heartbreak.

Reader Lee Magill sends in this painful shot of the sign being scraped from the bricks last week:

From the few reports that came in, the final night at Manatus was a quiet one. They hadn't announced it, so only a handful of people knew about the closure.

Reader Elizabeth wrote in to say "negotiations with the landlord stalled" a few days before the beloved diner shuttered. "He wants $50,000 for the space. Long-time customers are bereft! Jimmy, the owner, and Eleni, longtime waitress turned manager, patiently took pictures with us and even shed some tears with us as well."

Reader Andy sent in a video of the quiet last moments, and described the final night:

"When my friend, Tina, and I walked in, there were people at four other tables. I think I can safely assume they were gay male pairings (not sure they were 'couples' in the romantic sense). It was rather empty.

I ordered a burger, but they were out of burger buns, so I had it on a roll. My friend Tina had the last slice of cheesecake. There was a woman there with a camera set up on a tripod, but we didn't ask who she was. She left before us. The waitress seemed quite ready to close it up. She was talkative, but didn't say much to shed light on the location's future.

An elderly slender trans woman with a Chanel necklace and delicate feathered hat made the final rounds, going from table to table. When she got to us, she told us about Calvin Klein, but I'm not sure what her source was. The rest of the conversation with her was about Tina wanting to move to San Francisco because New York City is 'dead' (which I don't agree with, btw)."

The Calvin Klein rumor came from me, supplied by a neighboring shopkeeper last summer. It has not been confirmed, but on the Gold Coast of Bleecker, it's completely possible.

Reader David went by after the closure and snapped a photo of the goodbye note on the door. It remains there today. But not for long.

Manatus Vanishing
Manatus to close?
Lunch at Manatus
Bleecker Timeline
Bleecker's Luxe Blitz

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Before it dies, before it is razed to the ground and replaced with skyscraping glass towers of luxury, the Domino sugar refinery has been turned into a work of art.

In "Subtlety," Kara Walker's colossus, the sugar mountain of mammy, commands the space, attended by a retinue of boys molded out of candy in the style of "pickaninny" figurines. The caricatures are familiar to viewers old enough to recall the more blatant racist days when Aunt Jemima still wore a kerchief, and Looney Tunes were filled with goggle-eyed black children ("Inki" comes to mind).

With these lurid, cartoonish characters, Walker is reaching deep into Domino history, when slaves harvested cane for sugar. (Similar practices continue to this day.) "Basically, it was blood sugar," Walker told NPR. "Like we talk about blood diamonds today."

In the heat and humidity, the sculptures are melting. The boys are coming apart, their arms and legs collapsing into sticky puddles. The mammy oozes. Shiny pustules of sweetness form between her bare breasts and along the exaggerated mountains of her buttocks. Beneath her chin, sugar stalactites drip. In whole, it is a startling, soul-shaking sight to behold.

All around the art, the factory is decaying, too. On every rusted beam, gathered sugar remains, clinging like dirty old snow too stubborn to melt. Still, it sweats, glistening in its filth. Overhead, chunks of sugar lose their grip and fall to the floor with a hard crack, shattering across the concrete. The walls of Domino weep. Molasses pours down everywhere.

It's impossible not to step in it, breathe it, maybe even stick your finger into a gritty drift and taste it.

The sculptures speak of deep history, but the building weeps for yesterday and today. Domino was once a processor of sugar, turning brown into white, refining the rough stuff into something uniform and smooth. The coming luxury buildings are factories in the process of hyper-gentrification, turning brown into white, refining neighborhoods and populations into something uniform and smooth.

This is nowhere apparently referred to in the art show. Luxury and wealth are mentioned in Creative Time's curatorial statement, but not the sort connected to gentrification. While Walker's achievement is great, it seems an opportunity has been missed.

Creative Time has long shown art in spaces about to be destroyed and taken over for the purposes of gentrifying neighborhoods, a fact that their president, Anne Pasternak, freely admits. As she told Gallerist, “Our whole history as an organization is to use sites of transition. We know this is going to be a problem for people and that they’re going to be examining our ethics.”

Two Trees, the mega-developer that owns Domino and will be demolishing it, filling the site with massive, glittering towers, is listed prominently on Creative Time's page of supporters for the Walker show. Infamous for turning Dumbo into a luxury neighborhood, Two Trees is led by Jed Walentas. He also happens to be co-chairman of Creative Time's Board. 

In 1993, when Creative Time and the 42nd Street Development Corporation installed the works of two dozen artists in evicted buildings along 42nd in Times Square, critic Peter Schjeldahl called the show a "deathwatch ensemble," explaining, "Urbanistically speaking, the artists are crows to carrion." Another reviewer in Montreal called the project “Bread and circuses for the tourists. Diversion for the masses. Cultural camouflage for a neighborhood in transition.” And we all know the refined, white-washed, Disneyfied Deuce that came next.

Regrettably, painfully, the presence of art often heralds the death of a neighborhood. It can be used by developers to make the medicine go down--like a spoonful of sugar.

What kind of influence, overt or subtle, did Two Trees have over the art chosen and shown at Domino?

This is not to criticize the work of Kara Walker. Her show is impressive and not to be missed. Nor is it to criticize the act of installing art in buildings about to be demolished. I was moved by the 1993 show on 42nd Street and I was moved by the Domino show. But New York needs artists and art organizations, especially powerful ones like Creative Time, to be courageous enough to buck the corporate sponsors and bring large-scale attention to the issue of hyper-gentrification, a devastation that is happening today and impacting all of us.

Walker herself said of the Domino demolition, “It makes me very sad, actually. It’s so deeply embedded with meaning, and to just bulldoze that for the next phase of development is inevitable but it’s tragic.” As to her position on gentrification, she said to Animal NY, "I don’t have a position on gentrification necessarily... Cultures come and go. Condos come and go..."

The tragedy goes beyond the demolition of one landmark building. The hyper-gentrification that rises on Domino's dust will ripple across Williamsburg, binding with already existing strains and growing stronger, expanding to nearby neighborhoods, across the entire borough of Brooklyn, onward and outward until it swamps the whole lot.

Along the way, as we have witnessed, that refining process whitens and sugarcoats the city, scouring away history and culture with the grime, evicting the non-rich, people of color, and artists as it blankets a once vibrant city in dull uniformity--one that will certainly taste sweet to some.

We need art like Kara Walker's. We also need big, attention-getting works that comment on, criticize, and shine a fiercely bright light on the major human tragedy that is unfolding all around us, every day, right now. Creative Time had the chance to do that at Domino, but they didn't. When arts organizations depend on the deep pockets of developers, they will never bite the hand that feeds them.

Read: "On Hyper-Gentrification"

Monday, June 16, 2014

Antiques Garage


We've been hearing about the end of Chelsea's Antiques Garage flea market since 2007. And now, after lost leases, new leases, sales, and financial acrobatics, the end has finally come.

Crain's reports: "After two decades of business and several last-minute reprieves, Chelsea's Antiques Garage has finally set a closure date. The flea market, which began in a parking lot on West 25th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues in 1993, will operate its last weekend on June 28. The site will be developed into a hotel tower."

I have often enjoyed the Antiques Garage, but will let Larry Baumhor from Larry Baumhor Photography's Facebook page wax eloquent about it, as he does so well:

"The Garage has a legacy for collectors and dealers that will never be duplicated. When you walked up and down the ramps at the Garage, you entered a grimy, dilapidated, concrete building that seeped into your pores with its lack of ventilation, and no heat, or air conditioning. You felt a voltage of electricity, with endless possibilities, anticipation, and excitement. You became alive! Your troubles evaporated as you gasped for air in the summer, shivered in the winter, and breathed in carbon monoxide from the cars unloading and packing. Chips and chunks of concrete fell from the ceilings and walls, rats scampered across the floor, and on snowy and rainy days water dripped from the ceiling from the cars parked on the third floor. And yet this was our home, and this was our family. The buyers and sellers were eagerly seduced by the romance of nostalgia and the lure of discovery."

"It was entertaining theatre, a community of artistic and creative people sharing a common bond, a cultural phenomenon. It’s where eccentricities were nurtured, cherished, and admired."

photo: Larry Baumhor

Larry Baumhor takes photos of the people of the Garage and features them on his excellent Facebook page. ("Like" it and see many more there.)

photo of Lynn Yaeger: Larry Baumhor

photo: Larry Baumhor

It's as if all of New York's most glorious freaks, artists, and outcasts, banished and vanished since the late 1990s, re-emerge from hiding each weekend to walk and strut and shop the Garage in all their finery.

Now where will they go when the Garage is gone, replaced by yet another glass box, another hotel for tourists?

photo: Larry Baumhor

photo: Larry Baumhor

And how does a Chelsea real estate broker respond to this sad news, to the loss of yet another place beloved by eccentrics and artists, a place embracing and strange, original and wild?

"This whole area is rapidly changing," said one Aaron Gavios to Crain's. "Schlock is on the way out, and the trendy clothing boutique and restaurant scene is on the way in."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sound & Chaos

Sound & Chaos: The Story of BC Studio tells the tale of Martin Bisi and his sprawling Gowanus music studio where he recorded Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," along with Sonic Youth, John Zorn, the Dresden Dolls, and many more. All back in a time when girl gangs (!) and packs of wild dogs (!) roamed the Gowanus landscape.

Much has changed in the neighborhood--and mostly in the past few years--with more major changes to come. Watch the trailer here, see the film at Anthology Film Archives on July 17, and enjoy this special clip below (thanks to co-director Sara Leavitt for cutting it at my request), in which Bisi tours Whole Foods and explains how one "damn grocery store" is bringing on a major land rush that will likely push him out, along with the rest of the artists.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vanished Spaces

There's still some time to see the Vanished Spaces exhibit at ABC No Rio, today and tomorrow only. It's a fascinating look at the homegrown artist spaces that once thrived in the East Village and Lower East Side, only to be destroyed, mostly by gentrification.

Here's a sneak peek.

Julius Klein's XOXO was at 19 Second Avenue, across from Mars Bar, from 1990 - 1997.

It was demolished to make room for the massive, sprawling, hollow-eyed Avalon luxury apartment complex. In its space today is Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, complete with a view of another luxury apartment complex and a TD Bank where Mars Bar used to be.

Gas Station / Space 2B stood on 2nd Street and Avenue B from 1986 - 1995, when it was evicted (thanks to a 900% rent increase) and demolished. Wrote the Times at the time:

"For 10 years, the Gas Station, with its towering sculpture built from discards ranging from a 1970 Plymouth Valiant to department store mannequins to television sets, has been a symbol of the Lower East Side's Bohemian ways and artistic resolve."

It was a gorgeous, haunting sight, a space filled with creativity and chaos. Now it's a Duane Reade.

See these and many more at the Vanishing Spaces show--this is the final week. To get in the mood, watch Rik Little's documentary of No Se No and Rivington School. And to think the neighborhood used to be a stimulating and alive place to be.