Thursday, July 31, 2014

More at 12th and University

The last business to remain open in the former Bowlmor building on 12th and University has closed, leaving no more. University Pita has shuttered.

In their goodbye note, they say they are not relocating.

Around the corner, similarly displaced Japonica is relocating. Their plywood is up with a "coming soon" banner.

Meanwhile, back at Bowlmor, flowers have appeared in the shuttered gate, along with a note, "In loving memory of Marky B."

Mark Braunreuther was Bowlmor's greeter for 16 years. In the Times recently, Jo Certo wrote a memorial goodbye to him, calling him a "benevolent minder, gentleman greeter, peacekeeper on the rowdy corner" and "the mayor of University Place."

Now that every single one of the many small businesses in this building have been pushed out--from Bowlmor to Stromboli Pizza--the luxury condo construction can begin. Already, the hardhats are revving their engines.

University Stationery

Chat 'N Chew

As neighborhood-changing high-end restaurants are shuttering due to high rents that they themselves helped to elevate, the trendy little places that followed in their wake will inevitably follow in their demise.

In 1994, the trailer-park, white-trash, small-town theme restaurant Chat 'N Chew opened right across E. 16th street from Union Square Cafe, which opened in 1985. Union Square Cafe is shuttering--and it looks like Chat 'N Chew is already down for the count.

Reader Ben writes in, "They closed down for 'renovations' a year or two ago and re-opened with an updated menu and look. Some of the old comfort food was still on the menu but much had been replaced with more upscale, trendy items. They were trying for a new and different crowd. It didn't work. I guess Sunday was the last day because Monday the paper went up on the windows. There is no sign or any indication that the space will re-open or if it's becoming something else."

The restaurant's website is still up.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From Vinyl to Dunkin'

Recently we saw the former Bleecker St. Records turn into a Starbucks. This week, the former Norman's Sound and Vision record shop has become a Dunkin' Donuts. Monday was their grand opening.

Located on Third Avenue between 7th and St. Mark's, Norman's closed in 2012. The rent was too damn high. "The landlords pushed us out here," said the owner in a video interview, referring to Williamsburg, where Norman's has since moved.

According to the Center for an Urban Future's 2013 "State of the Chains" report, Dunkin Donuts is New York's most plentiful:

"For the sixth consecutive year, Dunkin Donuts tops our list as the largest national retailer in New York City, with a total of 515 stores. Over the past year, Dunkin Donuts had a net increase of 39 stores in the city (an 8 percent gain)."

Add one more to the growing pile.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lunch at El Quijote

Starting this week, I'm trying my hand at a weekly column over at Metro NY on any and all things New York City. For my first essay, it's lunchtime at El Quijote.

Read the piece at Metro here

Lunchtime at El Quijote is a quiet affair. Classical music plays overhead, a series of waltzes, giving you space to hear yourself think. Patrons are gray-haired, hushed, some of them in singles, sitting with white napkins on their laps, not reading, just sitting. No one, not even once, takes out a cell phone. They sit without anxiety, self-contained.

The waiter, dressed in his admiral's jacket, glides silently among the tables, bearing platters of meat and fish, cocktails, and salads. Bread arrives in a wire basket adorned with a paper doily.

At the far end of the dining room, mounted on a wall painted with sky, a group of windmills slowly turn. The dreary ceiling, scalloped in stucco, brazenly shows its age, untroubled by the dark spots and cracks. Dim chandeliers hang by threads. The oxblood booths wear their frayed shoulders with a shrug of acceptance.

"Laugh and the world laughs with you," a man says to his lunch companions, "Cry and you cry alone. Understand? Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry all by yourself," as if the word "alone" is too difficult to grasp.

No one is talking about real estate or technology. No one is screeching with performative delight.

"The Nazis were very, very strict," says a wild-haired woman as she explains her trip to the Degenerate Art show at the Neue Galerie.

"I had a library of 5,000 books," says another man at another table. "But I had to give them up when I moved. I didn't have the space."

The salad is simple and unpretentious--lettuce, tomato, slices of radish. The pork chops are simple, accompanied by a stark smattering of plain peas. Your mother might have served this to you, back in the dark ages of the 20th century. The simplicity and plainness of the food acts as the opposite of a stimulant. Like the quiet, it calms the nervous system. It is just: pork chop, peas, lettuce, bread. It isn't trying to impress anyone. It has been this way for a hundred years and sees no point in changing. Take me or leave me, it says. I am what I am.

"In some countries, people will eat leftovers for breakfast."

"They're all in Bushwick now, the artists. No more in Manhattan."

Lunchtime at El Quijote is a protective bubble. The urban cymbal crash is kept far away, outside. Time slows down here. You are among the New Yorkers, the old guard, the ones who are awake, not locked to a screen's hypnotizing gaze. They know who they are, like the pork chops on the plate, and have no interest in putting on a show.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rodeo Bar


By now, most of you know that Rodeo Bar was closing. It shuttered yesterday, after nearly 30 years on 3rd Avenue.

In a farewell profile to the popular honky-tonk, the Times writes today that the closure came "after 27 years of holding out, Alamo style, against rising rents and marching chain stores."

I had never heard of Rodeo Bar until some readers wrote in, weeks ago, to tell me about the closure. I'm really not the Urban Cowboy type.

Recently, I went for the first time, for lunch, which is probably not exactly prime-time to go. It was quiet. I had a burger. While a western-style bar is not the sort of place I generally frequent, Rodeo was a survivor, a long-lasting small business standing since 1987 against the corporatization of the city, and that's something.

It is yet another casualty of New York's massive, homogenizing shift.

From the Times:

"The owner, Mitch Pollak, said changes in the neighborhood had made him decide to close. When he bought the Rodeo Bar in 1996, his monthly payments for rent and insurance averaged $10,000, he said; today they amount to almost $50,000. Chains occupied many of the neighboring storefronts, including 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, Starbucks and Duane Reade Express, and they made the block feel sterile, Mr. Pollak said."

"Young customers have also drifted off in recent years to new, local bars that offer sports on flatscreens, rather than honky-tonk tunes and Texas beer. 'The neighborhood changed a lot,' said Mr. Pollak, 55. 'We didn’t change at all.'"

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ding Dong Lounge


The Ding Dong Lounge, a 21st-century dive bar up by Columbia, is closing.

Ding Dong DJ Linda Rizzo writes in: "The Ding has lost its lease. Victim to landlord greed, avarice, and douchebaggery. The Ding Dong Lounge at 929 Columbus Avenue will close its doors (hopefully only until a new location is found) on Thursday, July 31. It was a real pioneer being a rock & roll dive bar/music venue above 14th Street, and one with nary a television."

photo: Linda Rizzo

Opened by Bill Nolan, former owner of Motor City Bar (also just vanished), the Ding Dong got started in 2001, so not a very long time ago, but it gained a reputation. Gothamist called it "dirty in all the right places," a "blissfully local" "cheap dive with oodles of personality that is almost never filled (and certainly never with Columbia kids)."

The Village Voice named it the Best Cheap Manhattan Dive New York 2013. They described it: "There is not a single television set. The bathrooms are—well, the place has bathrooms. There's usually a DJ who likes classic punk and new wave."

In 2002, the Times credited the bar with helping to revitalize the neighborhood. And you know what that means. Said Nolan at the time, "I think this neighborhood has real potential, especially for entrepreneurs. There aren't many places left in this city where you can be the first of anything. I just need some more adventurers."

There's just one week left to check out the Ding Dong before it joins the rest of dirty, cheap New York--under the boot heels of the latest adventurous entrepreneurs. Linda will be spinning tonight and on 7/30, when, she says, "to quote Parliament, I will ‘tear the roof off the sucker.'"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

El Paso Restaurant


Reader Carol Gardens lets us know that the old El Paso restaurant on West Houston Street has closed. The place has been emptied and abandoned, with no explanation of when or why. The phone number has been disconnected and the website is gone.

A Yelper wrote on July 11: "Went there tonight and it's closed and it looks like for good. Menu is down. Metal grates over door and windows. RIP."

El Paso served Mexican-Spanish cuisine here since--well, I don't know since when. Possibly the 1960s. Maybe the 1980s. They had a big anniversary recently, with reduced prices, and I meant to go back but never did. Now I'm kicking myself.

They specialized in a cheap lobster dinner.

From Vinyl to Starbucks

The Starbucks that took the place of Bleecker Street Records has got its signage up, sans Mermaid, according to Richard Morgan who shared this shot:

Luckily, the record shop successfully relocated to 188 West 4th Street, along with their big kitties, Skuzzball and Creeper. But still. They lost their last spot after 20 years when the landlord jacked up the rent to $27,000 a month.

Village Voice

At the time, on 1010 WINS, Chris Simunek (of High Times) predicted, “what’s going to go in there is a Starbucks or something, or just something that we already have plenty of.” I thought it would be a frozen yogurt or candy shop, but Mr. Simunek wins the prize.

This is the city's 9,000,000,000th Starbucks location. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Last Days of the Last Kim's

As you may already know, Kim's Video & Music on First Avenue is not long for this world. They've just increased their goodbye discount with a 50% off "Everything Must Go" sale. I was told they expect to close either by the end of July or the middle of August. 

As for reopening elsewhere, I was informed (in typical Kim's style): "The sign says Closing Sale. If we were relocating, it would say Relocating Sale." So, no.

This is the last location of the once great Kim's mini-empire. Originally on Avenue A, opened in 1987 in Yongman Kim's dry cleaners, it expanded to multiple locations, including two on St. Mark's Place, two on Bleecker, and one uptown.

The 21st century has not been kind to Kim's. The Avenue A location, known as the "mean" one, shuttered in 2004. Kim's Underground on Bleecker is now a Duane Reade. In 2008, Kim's Mediapolis uptown closed, thanks to a rent hike from Columbia University and the popularity of Netflix. Also in 2008, Mondo Kim's on St. Mark's shuttered. The inventory shipped to Sicily--and was never heard from again. That was the end of rentals from Kim's.

At the same time, we learned that Kim's would open a retail establishment in the former Kurowycky butcher shop. Many of us were relieved to hear that Kim's would continue--and that a planned upscale celebu-chef restaurant would not open in this space. (Though I was rooting for the XXX rumor to be true.)

Kim's Grand Opening: 2008

Who knows what will come next? But you can bet it will have deep pockets. The listing says "Ideal for Bank, 711, Starbucks."

Yongman Kim let his newsletter subscribers know the score: "We are NOT closing because record stores are dying, business is bad, it's not like it used to be and oh terrible world. The lease is up in July and the rent is being raised to an amount we simply can't work with."

Once again, the rent is too damn high.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Roxy Luncheonette


In 2012, I checked in with the Roxy Luncheonette, a little swivel stool and counter place down on John Street that had survived since 1944.

Now, in its 70th year, the Roxy has shuttered.

Roxy egg cream, 2009

Reader Frank writes in with the sad news and recent photos:

"At some point in the last 18 months or so, the owner sold it to new operators. They modified the name, calling it Roxy's East West Diner. It was basically the same--still a diner--but not quite as good."

"Worse," Frank adds, "the ongoing, hellish construction on John Street kept the Roxy (and its neighbors) hidden under a sidewalk bridge. Tragically and ironically, workers carted off the sidewalk bridge last week--just in time for the Roxy to close."

Roxy today

In 2012, a reporter asked the Roxy's long-time owner how long he thought he'd be able to stay open with all the construction outside. "Couple more months," said the owner. "Maybe a few more months."

The little Roxy lasted two more years, and yet succumbed--another victim of hyper-gentrification. The construction that killed it is due to: A new Pace University dorm with a TD Bank and an Urban Outfitters, a new hotel, and the Fulton Center, "with an increased focus on retail."

An auction was held at the luncheonette yesterday.

An egg cream at the Roxy
Roxy suffers under John Street construction

Monday, July 21, 2014

St. Mark's Bookshop: Open

This weekend, the new St. Mark's Bookshop opened for business on East 3rd Street between 1st and A. They opened for a few hours on Saturday, then went full-time yesterday, noon - 10pm. Traffic flowed steadily in and out of the shop, and people were buying books.

The new space is smaller than the one on Astor Place, yet roomier, with white undulating shelves that curve around the perimeter in "a continuous series of horizontal bands which allow the eye to glide around the space without visual friction." Book subjects are carved into the wood.

In the center of the shop is an assortment of stacked roll-away tables. The design is meant to better accommodate readings and other events. The rear part of the shop bends to the right into an alcove-like space.

You can take a look at the design here.

I will miss the old space, its many sections and its spaciousness, along with the vestibule filled with fascinating local announcements. I'll miss the big, enticing windows off Astor Place. But I look forward to St. Mark's new lease on life and their plans to hold more events.

It took a lot of work, from a lot of people, to get here.

Back in 2011, struggling to pay high rent, the bookstore's owners asked landlord Cooper Union for a break. Cooper Union was not "particularly sympathetic."

Over 44,000 people signed a petition urging Cooper to help keep the bookstore in place, much like other universities have done. No dice. Michael Moore visited the bookstore and gave a rallying cry, saying, "It's not asking for a free lunch. Oh, God forbid! It's just asking for some decency."

I organized a Buy a Book Weekend, then another, and many of you went and bought books.

In November, Cooper Union agreed to a deal, but it wasn't enough for the bookstore to survive on. By April 2012, St. Mark's was back on the ropes. I organized a cash mob, and again many of you showed up to buy books. The bookstore ran a crowd-funding campaign, raising a pile of money for their move.

In March of this year we learned they'd be relocating to E. 3rd Street. And now they're there. Finally, we can relax--St. Mark's is settled in. Through hard work, patience, protest, and a lot of complaining, we got our bookstore back. St. Mark's still remains one of the longest surviving bookstores in the city.

Now--dump that miserable Kindle, cancel your Amazon account, and go buy some real books!

St. Mark's earlier plea for help, 1980s

Inside the old St. Mark's, 1984: New York Magazine

Friday, July 18, 2014

Clover Barber Shop Sale

For many years, Park Slope's Clover Barber Shop was a lovely spot for a haircut. It shuttered in 2008 and its proprietor, Mr. Riccardelli, passed away last year. Earlier this year the shop got a new tenant--a wine store from down the block. I worried about the fate of the sign, but was unaware that the shop had remained untouched and intact behind its shutters.

Now we hear from a reader that the contents of the shop are currently on sale.

The letters have been removed from the sign and gathered in an old trunk. They're selling for $25 apiece.

There are chairs, mirrors, tables, dishes, vases, lamps--the contents not only of the barber shop, but of the entire "1930's tenement," as the sign says.

And this might be the best treasure of the bunch--a barber chair for children's haircuts, in the shape of a mid-century automobile. Gorgeous.

I hope the barber's things will find good homes. The sale is at 387 7th Avenue and runs through the weekend, until 4:00 each day.

Clover to Wines
The Clover Barber
A Haircut from Mr. Riccardelli

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shakespeare & Hipsters & Tourists

Shakespeare and Co. is still open at 716 Broadway, unsure of when the closure will come. Visit them before they're gone--they've got a packed New York table just waiting for you.

Meanwhile, the space next door is for rent. The advertising makes it clear: Who is New York for? American and foreign tourists.

Who are the "new village people"? Hipsters and business!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Help Punjabi Deli

The Punjabi Deli has been tucked in a corner on 1st Street near 1st Avenue since 1994. Open 24 hours a day, they serve mostly cab drivers, but many locals have also discovered the deli's delicious and inexpensive vegetarian dishes of Indian cuisine.

Punjabi offers cabbies a place to rest and refuel, and to socialize and create connections. Sometimes, one of the workers will break into spontaneous song.

But business has been declining for Punjabi. Owner Singh told the Lo-Down last year that he "lost half his business over the past few years with less parking available in the area and construction on Houston Street making it harder for taxis to stop at his deli."

It used to be you'd see a yellow stripe of taxis lined up in front of Punjabi. Now you see construction materials.  

Punjabi is petitioning the city to bring a taxi relief stand to the front of the deli, a place where taxis can park for an hour so drivers can get a meal, use the rest room, and relax before getting back behind the wheel.  

You can sign the petition at the deli or go online here to sign.

The petition reads, in part:

"Since last 21 years all taxi drivers go to this particular area to have break from their hard work for a cup of tea or breakfast, lunch or dinner. They use Punjabi Dhaba, located on 1st street and Avenue A, facility as quick washroom and relief...  Though the City and state government collect taxes for each trip from commuters in the form of surcharge through hard working of drivers, they do not create or give much facility and respect to taxi drivers... The Punjabi Dhaba is loosing its business and local area customers also and running their operations is getting very difficult for them."

Monday, July 14, 2014

Snack Dragon

Josephine Jansen, proprietor of the Snack Dragon taco joints, let me know last week that the location on East 3rd Street is closing by the end of July. She writes that the closure is "due to the fact that Croman wants to triple the rent to $3900 for 100sq feet of public space and a tiny basement. Snack Dragon has been serving delicious tacos, great music and eclectic vibes to the EV set for 10 years now. They will not negotiate the lease."

A decade is not a very long time, but there's always been something comfortingly offbeat 1990s about Snack Dragon. Jansen once told NYPress, "I’m a diehard East Villager. I like it here; I get mad at people for moving to Brooklyn—the neighborhood is changing cause the people are leaving."

I visited Snack Dragon, had some of those delicious tacos, and found myself immediately in an intelligent and entertaining conversation with waiter Conrad Ventur and his friend Timothy Dean Lee.

We talked about the demise of the bohemian East Village, the demise of gay Chelsea, the rise of tyrannical drunk girls (they come in, force themselves behind the counter, and ask, "Am I pretty? Do you want to hit this?" before passing out on the floor), the sociopathy of people who walk and text, the problems of Bloomberg ("I know for sure he's a closet case," said Timothy), and other such favorite topics.

Timothy also waxed nostalgic for his days running around with the likes of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, hanging out at the Mudd Club and Paradise Garage, venturing into the Mineshaft, and making art. He and Conrad are both artists.

Conrad explained how Snack Dragon was originally conceived as "an art installation that also sells tacos," each one staffed by working artists. Conrad is the only remaining artist manning a Snack Dragon counter. When he's not making tacos, he's making films.

His project "13 Most Beautiful / Screen Tests Revisited," in which "the original subjects of Andy Warhol's screen tests re-perform them 45 years later," is now in the collection of the Whitney Museum. And don't miss "Montezland," stunning shots of Warhol superstar Mario Montez in her dotage. Timothy's most recent work includes some startling images of nude men in masks--including himself sleeping in a CPAP mask.

As I ate my tacos, Timothy recalled the old East Village, and we shared our love for--among other things--DeRobertis' Pasticceria, hoping the rumor about its sale proves untrue.

"I remember DeRobertis," he said, "from back when the old lady called Madonna a slut and told her never to set foot in the place again. Well, Mrs. DeRobertis was a real Catholic lady--she went to Mass every Sunday--and everyone knew Madonna was sleeping with everything that moved, so..." Did you know that Lucky Luciano put that silver dollar in the floor tiles? And that Woody Allen wrote Annie Hall in the back room?

Anyway, Snack Dragon on E. 3rd is leaving. Bottom line: You don't meet these kinds of people, hear these kinds of stories, or have these kinds of conversations in a Starbucks, or a bank, or an artisanal mayonnaise shop.

Alan's New Alley

After being forced to close due to rising rents and changes in technology, Alan's Alley video store has found a new home.

When I spoke to Alan in March, he told me he did not think he'd be able to find any place in the city with affordable rent. "It's been a nice 25 years," he said, resigned to closing.

But now he writes on Facebook: "Alan's Alley has happily risen from the ashes. A fortuitous turn of events has given us a new lease on life! We will be moving with D.J. to 164 West 25th Street, Suite 5D. We will be accepting calls starting Friday, July 18th. We should be back in business the following weekend of July 26-27."

Alan's Alley has been in Chelsea since 1988. This weekend they had a wine and cheese party for their customers, to say goodbye to the old place and to thank the many volunteers who showed up to help Alan pack.

Alan's Alley for rent
Alan's Alley closing

Metamorphosis: Meatpacking

Brian Rose's book Metamorphosis: Meatpacking 1985 & 2013 is about to come off the presses. It features incredible photos of the meatpacking district before and after hyper-gentrification.

Some of those shots were first featured on this blog in 2013, and I got the chance to write the foreword for the book. I recommend it to anyone interested in the city's transformation during the Bloomberg years.

Brian's photographs will appear in a show at Dillon Gallery, from July 15 - August 15, with an opening and book launch party tomorrow, July 15. Don't miss it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

El Sombrero Makeover

El Sombrero, aka The Hat, on Ludlow and Stanton is getting a major makeover.

After 30 years in business, after struggling in the changed neighborhood, after attempts to save it failed, El Sombrero closed a few months ago. It was supposed to turn into yet another outpost of the Artichoke pizza chain, but that fell through.

New owners took over in March, promising the keep the El Sombrero name and the old vibe, with a bit of sprucing up. That has meant a total gut renovation. I recently took a peek inside, where it seems to be that "rustic" wood look. Can white subway tiles and Edison bulbs be far behind?

But, oh, there's the old El Sombrero sign, tucked way in the back. Will it be making a return appearance? More importantly, will the margaritas (now in 13 flavors, the new owner told me) still be available in to-go cups?

The Hat on Its Last Legs
Mob the Hat