Friday, August 29, 2014

Arthur's Tavern


Some terrible news to kick off your holiday weekend: It looks like the great and venerable Arthur's Tavern is about to vanish.

A reader alerted me to a new real-estate listing, where the jazz club's building is for sale at $6,250,000.

This "Newly available mixed use building in the heart of the West Village," writes the broker, is located "off the high-end retail district of Bleecker Street." It will be "delivered 100% vacant" and includes a "ground floor commercial space."

Of course, that ground-floor space has been Arthur's Tavern since 1937. "Called the 'Home of the Bird,'" reads the website, "this historic West Village entertainment nightclub is the last continuously operating New York City jazz club once regular host to the legendary Charlie Parker and the great Roy Hargrove."

There is no cover charge at Arthur's Tavern and it's a wonderful place to just sit at the bar, listen to good music, and talk to interesting people. It's truly one of the few spots left in the Village that still feels like the Village--and still feels like New York.

I've worried about it for some time, ever since its neighbor Rose's Turn was turned into the digs of a luxury designer (known as "the darling of young Wall Streeters ... the go-to decorator for a great many of today's young titans of finance and technology"). Next to that, how could scrappy, divey Arthur's hold out?

In 1978, New York magazine's Paul Gardner described a night here with piano singer Mable Godwin:

"Her syncopating rhythm and honeyed voice make Arthur's Tavern the kind of storybook joint where characters from a John O'Hara novel, caught between despair and desire, might perch on a ragged bar stool all through the night... The liverish yellow lighting and glitzy mirrors behind Mable's piano make everyone look positively sleazy. And that's exactly how it should be."

Mable is gone, but not much else has changed. The bar stools are ragged, the light is good and sleazy, and the music plays on. The Grove Street Stompers are still here--every Monday night for more than 40 years.

In his book, Discovering Vintage New York, Mitch Broder writes about Arthur's history. He notes that it was owned for decades by the Maisano family, and then sold--along with its building--to Danny Bensusan. The Bensusan Restaurant Corporation runs several clubs, including the Blue Note and B.B. King's.

A phone call to the bar yielded no information or confirmation about the sale. From the listing, which also includes a shot of the bar's interior, it looks like this will be the end for the historic Village spot. The realtor calls it "an ideal property for an individual seeking a great rent roll, an ultra private live-work space, or a renovation project."

A second listing on the same property hails the club, and notes that it is currently on a "month to month lease rented at $10,000/month." The listing reads: "The possibilities are wide open to create a dream owner’s duplex apartment in the heart of the Greenwich Village with your own private patio and rooftop terrace, plus generate income from the prime commercial space/retail on the ground floor!"

Of course, a community-minded multi-millionaire who loves jazz and New York history could buy the building and choose to maintain Arthur's Tavern at the current rent, right?

With that unlikelihood in mind, here's another one to worry about: With Rose's Turn gone and Arthur's going, what hope could we possibly have for good old Marie's Crisis?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rebranding Harlem

Hyper-gentrification--the jet-fueled process in which city government and corporations collude to displace the existing culture and population of New York and replace it with something shinier, wealthier, and homogenized for your safety--is often used by real estate agents to rebrand and sell "newly discovered" neighborhoods.

Sometimes, the sell can be unabashed in its revanchist rhetoric. A reader sent in a newsletter from one real estate agent working to sell Harlem. I'll let the text speak for itself.

- "New Yorkers are always debating which hood is the hottest. Is Bushwick the next Williamsburg? NoHo the next Tribeca? It’s Harlem: buy now and you will thank me."

- "Harlem is getting a tech-led makeover, thanks to a new series of economic development initiatives aimed at combating the neighborhood's infamous high unemployment rates and widespread poverty."

- "Blue-collar retirees are watching their neighborhood, once crime-infested and poverty-stricken, being reborn and rechristened as money-hungry real estate investors mine for gold in the pocket between W. 125th St. and W. 150th St."

- "Harlem is facing another wave of gentrification, which will push prices up further than the current median."

- "Call it the Whole Foods Factor. The organic grocery has the power to remake neighborhoods
, and it’s planning a new location at Lenox Ave. and 125th St."

- "That will add to a bevy of bars and restaurants that have opened up in the last few years, like Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster and the 11 commercial banks on 125th Street from Lenox Ave to Morningside Ave. Some of the other retail giants following Whole Foods is H&M and Forever 21."

11 banks! And, ooh look! There's an Olive Garden, too!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

City Opera Thrift

A typed letter in the window of the City Opera Thrift shop says they're working to negotiate a new lease with the landlord. They were sold after the opera was forced to declare bankruptcy. (This after Mayor Bloomberg told the beloved institution to drop dead.)

But even with that big, ominous "Retail for Lease" sign across the front, all is not lost.

I hear that the sign is just a formality and that the negotiations are going well, that the landlord is being patient, until the thrift shop is adopted by another organization, possibly another opera.

Nothing here should change and that's a relief. It's a wonderful thrift shop. The architecture of the interior alone makes it worth a visit, with its second-story gallery and its leaded windows in the back.

The book selection is suprisingly well curated, unlike in most thrift stores where all you find are mass-market detective novels and self-help books. City Opera Thrift knows their books, and they have a very contemporary selection of fiction.

It's also a great spot for people watching.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Night at Forlini's

If you're looking for a good time in the old New York, you have to go to Forlini's on a night when Angelo Ruggiero is performing in the back room.

For one thing, Forlini's is something of a hidden treasure. Cut off from Little Italy by Canal Street, it's tucked away on Baxter, surrounded by Chinatown and unspoiled by tourists. The out-of-towners don't seem to know the place exists.

Established in 1943, Forlini's is pure and authentic. New Yorkers eat there. It's a favorite place for judges, lawyers, and other people involved in the justice system, thanks to its location close to the State Supreme Court house.

The rooms are filled with diamond-tufted, peach-colored banquettes and booths, the walls hung with an odd and fascinating assortment of massive oil paintings in heavy, gilded frames.

The staff -- all family -- greet you with warmth and respect. Don't expect any "fixed-up," "revived" Italian food. Forlini's is old-school red sauce all the way. The food's fine, but I don't go to restaurants for the food. I go for the place itself, for the history and the people. For the emotions that the space generates.

And--especially on the nights when Mr. Ruggiero sings--Forlini's is loaded with history, emotion, and wonderful people.

The crowd of regulars shows up early. Italian-Americans, they come in from the outer boroughs, Jersey, and Long Island. They all know each other, and if you haven't been before, you might feel like you're crashing somebody's Golden Anniversary party. But if you're friendly, unfussy, and have fun, you'll be welcomed.

Ruggiero's wife, who looks a little like Liza Minnelli in a glittering tunic and fedora, sets up the music machine and makes the rounds, greeting each person. Then Ruggiero, as bald as Mr. Clean with a big, bright smile, takes the mike. The crowd goes wild. It's all Sinatra, 1950s doo-wop, and Neapolitan folk songs. Ladies swoon. Everyone sings along. During the Italian songs, people swing their napkins through the air.

By the time dinner is done, everyone is dancing in the narrow spaces between the tables (take a look), and you've made some new best friends.

Ruggiero performs at Forlini's about once a month or so. Next up, he'll be there September 5. Be sure to make a reservation.

Monday, August 25, 2014

At Donohue's

For my piece in this week's Metro NY, a visit to Dononue's Steak House on Lexington near 64th.’s the people who really take you back to an older New York, before restaurant chatter was about nothing but money, work, and the latest technological toy—before people became so boring.

At lunchtime, around the bar at Donohue’s, you’ll find the real New Yorkers. The scientist sipping a Manhattan knows everything about everything. The older lady quaffing white wine sounds exactly like Maureen O’Sullivan, with a slight slur that makes her only more elegant. The bartender, with his German accent, referees the conversation with jokes.

In a discussion that bounces from George Orwell to life in India, a newspaper headline shifts the talk to Robin Williams. Comedians really are unhappy people, the group decides.

“It’s the old Pagliacci thing,” says the scientist. “The weeping clown. It’s the misery behind the laughter.”

Jerry Lewis? Miserable. Lenny Bruce? Wretched. Milton Berle? He might have been okay, but Lucille Ball was decidedly unpleasant. They move on to other celebrities with difficult personalities. “Hey,” says the bartender, readying a joke, “you know what Sinatra said when he introduced Mia Farrow to his mother? He said, ‘Mama, Mia.’ You see? Mama Mia!” ...

Please read the rest of the essay in the paper here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

C'est Magnifique


After 56 years in the Villages West and East, the legendary vintage and custom jewelry shop C'est Magnifique closes tomorrow.

Thomas Paladino writes in:

"My family has owned and operated a small downtown jewelry store called C'est Magnifique since 1959, and it will be closing permanently this weekend. We were originally located on MacDougal street in the West Village up until two years ago, when rising rents forced us to move to East 9th Street. Unfortunately, the new location was not as lucrative as our previous one, and combined with a death in the family of my uncle (who was the main proprietor of the shop for the last thirty years), the store will have to close its doors.

We have a rich and interesting history, having sold our wares to over five generations of the most interesting New Yorkers you can imagine, from all walks of life, including celebrity clients like Iggy Pop, Madonna, and Johnny Depp (among many others)."

At the shop's Facebook page, Alfred Albrizio III says farewell. He writes: "I learned so much from working with my father, and I plan to continue utilizing those skills and making jewelry. Although the physical space of C'est Magnifique will be gone, my family's legacy will live on. I am devoted to my craft and customers. I'll still be doing custom work and selling my original designs from my website which should be ready soon."

C'est Magnifique will be having a farewell party tomorrow, at the shop (328 East 9th St.) from 1:00 - 7:00pm. Light refreshments will be served. All are invited to come and say goodbye.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

3 Star Coffee Shop

Recently, I was disappointed to read about the shuttering of the Upper West Side's 3 Star Coffee Shop.

On her Tumblr blog, Raven Snook took a photo of the papered-over windows and noted: "Apparently, 3 Star Coffee Shop went out with a whimper in February when it failed to reopen after being closed down for a third time by the Health Department due to violations."

West Side Rag went inside for a look at the trashed interior.

Located at Columbus and 86th, across from a Starbucks, next to a Chase bank, and down the block from new luxury condo 101 W. 87, the modestly named 3 Star (why not 4 or 5?) Coffee Shop had that look of something that could not last.

3 Star had an A rating at the time of its closure. Do city agencies like the health department target these old joints, especially when they're located on desirable corners? It often makes me wonder.

Most of the reviewers on Yelp loved this place, citing it as one of the last old-school coffee shops left in the neighborhood.

3 Star's shuttered storefront means one more for a stretch filled with long-shuttered businesses. As West Side Rag noted, "The south half of the block is now almost entirely shuttered, except for one remaining dry cleaners. The Olympic deli on the North corner is also closed, but is seeking a new tenant. Some of the businesses have been empty for years, and they don’t seem like they’re looking aggressively for new tenants."

All in the same building. We have to wonder if the landlord is holding out for a block-long chain to move in.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Death of a Block 6

We've been following the death of one block, 9th Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets, since 2008. One building, filled with several mom-and-pop shops was sold and sold again. Then all the businesses were evicted, their spaces gutted and upscaled.

The empty retail space has been on the market for several months, and now a local tipster reports they've got their first shiny new tenant.

It's a bank. Another bank.

Multinational Wells Fargo is one of the "Big Four" banks in America, with about 25 locations in the city, all in Manhattan.

The two spaces that this branch is taking over once belonged to Tamara Dry Cleaners and the New Barber Shop. Those businesses were an integral part of the community. They didn't only provide important services, they held people together and gave them a place to go, to connect. A bank branch can't do that. Neighborhood people fought for those businesses. They loved them and the people who ran them. A bank branch won't be loved--and it won't give love.

We are losing too much--and for nothing. The sterilization of the city continues.


Follow the whole story:
Death of a Block: One

Saving 9th Avenue
Sweet Banana Candy Store
New Barber Shop
Chelsea Liquors
New China

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another Newsstand Gone

For many years, by the northeast corner of 23rd and Park Avenue South, there stood a lovely little newsstand. It was bright blue. It remained, until very recently, an unlikely survivor of Bloomberg's Cemusa onslaught.

I wish I could find my other photos of it

Here it is (was) on Google maps, surviving defiantly in front of Pret A Manger, Bank of America, 7-Eleven, New York Sports Club, and Baked By Melissa cupcakes, across from Walgreens, Bath & Body Works, and the Vitamin Shoppe.

It was crooked and quirky, just like all our newsstands used to be. It had character. Really, it was the only bit of original New York character left on that chain-strangled corner.

I always admired it when I walked by, grateful to it for still standing against the dull tide of glass and chrome. But on a recent walk past, I found it was gone. Some construction is being done to the subway entrance.

"Where's the newsstand?" I asked a nearby construction worker. "Disappeared," he said. "They got rid of it."

I asked another, who told me, "The City took it away."

Then I asked a neighboring newsstand vendor.

"I don't know. Maybe they're putting in one of these," he said, gesturing to his generic Cemusa box. "They did it to me."

He explained how the City removed his newsstand and then took two years to get him a new one. During those two years, he had no business. It's important to understand that the city's newsstand vendors used to own their stands, some passed down for generations, but Bloomberg took them away and gave them to Cemusa, a Spanish corporation that now leases them to the vendors who used to be owners.

"I consider that stealing," I told him, paying for my peanut M&M's.

"Yes, well," he replied with a shrug, "the City doesn't see it that way."

See Also:
History of the New York Newsstand
More Newsstand Deaths
Newsstand Slaughter
Hojo's Lost Newsstand
Another Newsstand
Union Square Newsstand

Monday, August 18, 2014

Leo's Latticini

For my column in today's Metro NY, a visit to Leo's Latticini in Corona, Queens.

“Is this your first time here?” she asks from the kitchen, her hands over a basin of milky water where she’s pulling mozzarella like it’s taffy.

I nod. I must look lost.

“You like mozzarella? Come. Taste.”

She rips off a hunk of the soft cheese, squeezes it in her dripping fist, and thrusts it towards me. Like a good Catholic faced with the Eucharist, I take and I eat. The fresh cheese is warm, silky, and delicious.

“Chew it good,” she says.

This is my introduction to Irene DeBenedittis of Leo’s Laticcini, also known as Mama’s of Corona. Irene makes the mozzarella and her sister Marie does the cooking—turkey with gravy, roast pork, manicotti, you name it.

“I don’t use recipes,” says Marie. “I just go on instinct" ...

Please read the rest of the essay here.

Unchain the City

From my most recent Op-Ed in the Daily News this weekend:

Soon there will be no New York left in New York. The city is becoming, for the first time in its long and illustrious history of exceptionalism, just another Anywhere, U.S.A. What has de Blasio done to protect New York’s small businesses and control the virulent spread of national chains? Nothing much.

Before he was elected, I asked him in an online Q&A what he planned to do. In his answer, he called small businesses “incredibly important to the character and strength of our neighborhoods” and said he wanted to follow the example of the Upper West Side’s “mom-and-pop” rezoning, designed to protect small shops from being forced out for chains. That’s actually a fairly weak rezoning, but it’s a start — one that de Blasio has yet to follow through on. It’s time for the mayor to step up and take action against the destruction of the city’s character.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mezza Luna Pizza

Reader Tommy Raiko writes in to let us know that the Mezza Luna Pizzeria at 8th Avenue and 15th Street has shuttered.

Tommy writes: "It was just a typical get-a-slice-and-a-soda kind of place, but that's the kind of pizza place you think of when you think of NYC pizza, so I was sad to walk by the other day and see that it had been closed, emptied, and gutted.

Just next door, to the north, what was once a deli is now behind scaffolding and green plywood--who knows what's coming there. And a few doors over to the south is the building whose facade infamously collapsed during Hurricane Sandy and has not yet been restored.

I may just be thinking pessimistic thoughts, but there's something about this stretch of 8th Ave that seems ripe for some developer's something. Even if that's not true, I don't imagine that whatever's going to show up in that spot will be a cheap-and-easy eatery like Mezza Luna."

Last time I walked by, the guys who sell socks on the sidewalk had set up a makeshift (very makeshift) shop inside the dark and empty pizza place.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DVD Depot


Thomas Rinaldi of NY Neon writes in to let us know that DVD Depot, an adult establishment on 8th Avenue and 45th Street, has closed. Its doors and windows have been stickered over with Thor Equities' "Retail Space Available" signage.

Thomas Rinaldi

Last year, as Crain's reported, Thor paid $12 million for the two-story building:

"The building's sale is a sign of the area's changing face from the seedy video shops and fast-food outlets of yesterday to Times Square's newer breed of trendy tenants. The current tenant in the space is DVD Depot, which deals in adult films and has been there for more than a decade. It is on a month-to-month lease and not expected to remain at the site."

Thor's rendering

Thor's rendering of what they'd like to see here is the usual dull storefront, ideal for a suburban shopping mall chain. In fact, Thor names many of those chains as selling points in the listing for the space:

"Across the street from the newly renovated Milford Plaza Hotel, and neighboring popular retailers American Apparel, American Eagle Outfitters, Forever 21, MAC, Oakley, Levi’s, Sunglass Hut, and more, and nearby Shake Shack, Chipotle, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Pinkberry, PieFace, Au Bon Pain, 5 Napkin Burger, Jamba Juice, as well as a multitude of restaurants well known in the Theater District, 725 Eighth Avenue is surrounded by only the most successful national and international retailers."

The newly renovated Milford Plaza--also bought by Thor--now has a glassy shopping arcade on its first floor, called "ROW NYC."

Thomas Rinaldi

As for the Depot, it wasn't a famous old-timer of 8th Avenue, but it held its ground and kept the avenue honest. And it got some good press.

Vice awarded the place three out of five chubbies, and Cruising Gays gave it a solid review: "Clean, newer, safe, attendants not too aggressive. Crowd: Very diverse, suits after work and regular guy types most of the time. Not too many trolls or hustlers."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Marquet Cafe


A tipster wrote in a few weeks ago to report that Di Fiore Marquet Cafe on East 12th had its last day in business after 22 years.

While there has been no official word from the owner, no goodbye sign on the door, Marquet has remained shuttered and untouched since, the tables all set for customers who will never come again.

An employee has posted on their Facebook page: "Out of business, thanks for your patronage."

I don't know why Marquet closed, only that it's been darkened under scaffolding for quite some time, due to the construction of parking garage turned high-end luxury condo building 17 East 12, where the owners consider 12th and University to be "one of the most sought-after areas of the city," reminiscent of "the historic Gold Coast."

The block is changing. In addition to 17 East 12, the Bowlmor building is going luxury condo, too. The stationery store shut down recently, chains are moving in. And let's not forget the loss of 12th Street Books back in 2008.

Celeste di Fiore, via Homegrown

I never went to Marquet, so I will leave its description to this article from The Examiner's Leann Lavin a few years back:

" is owner Celeste Di Fiore who is the real-deal charmer – the Elaine of the downtown, Village cohort. For more than 10 years, she's looked after her customers like a doting, sometimes worrisome, always supportive, can’t-help-herself favorite friend or aunt. The customers are neighborhoodies: from the nearby Forbes magazine staff, the creative artists and patrons of the Salmagundi artist colony; writers and authors; along with students and professors from the Cardoza law school on the corner, or NYU. There are the quiet celebrities: Meryl Streep, Sean Pean and Giada De Laurentiis' mom, to name a few. Like a butterfly, Celeste can be seen alighting at a table to ask about the customer's latest book, or another’s health, or to agree with another about the neighborhood’s lack of a grocery store due to changing real estate."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Park Slope Barber

For my latest essay in Metro NY, a haircut at the Fiumefreddo brothers' barber shop in Park Slope.

On a weekday morning, the Fiumefreddo brothers’ Park Slope Barber shop is quiet and easy. Ella Fitzgerald sings from the speakers, followed by Sarah Vaughan. “Hey,” says the barber, “this one could give Ella a run for her money. Her voice has a lot of, what do you call ‘em? Octabels. Is that the word?” Octaves, decibels, the word doesn’t matter. What matters is the sound—and the feeling. The place provides a honeyed sense of calm and connectedness, of being rooted through time, past to present.

At this time of day, in high summer, with the door open to Seventh Avenue and a sweet breeze lilting in, the shop is a gentle country of old men. Their silver heads, with fringes of hair, are lovingly palmed and petted by the barber before his scissors start.

“How short do you want it today?”
“Same as always.”
“Sarah Vaughan. What a voice.”
“I remember when she died,” says the customer, holding still...

Read the rest at Metro NY

Friday, August 8, 2014

Save Subway Inn

As we recently heard, Subway Inn, the beloved dive bar by Bloomingdale's since 1937, has been given the ax by the building's new owner, World-Wide Real Estate Group. The building is scheduled to be demolished, possibly along with its iconic neon sign, for luxury condos. As of now, they're being forced out by August 20.

But Subway Inn is not going down without a fight. They've started a petition and an Indiegogo campaign to help pay for lawyers.

"Save Subway Inn! For our Neighborhood and our Family," reads the Indiegogo page. "We believe that New York City is about more than rich investors gobbling up small family businesses to make a quick buck thereby destroying the integrity of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. For more than 40 years -- the ENTIRE Salinas family has poured its heart and soul into this neighborhood landmark."

"We call on lawmakers and concerned New Yorkers to STAND UP to these actions, and to stop World-Wide Real Estate from destroying our home by ripping it away from those who helped build this city -- and who would never be able to afford the multi-million dollar condos that they are planning to put in place of a neighborhood treasure."

Please sign the petition, consider a donation, and pass the word. Watch the story of the Subway Inn and Salinas family here:

If you would like to make a plea to the source, the CEO of the World Wide real estate group, the new owner of Subway Inn, is Victor Elmaleh. His corporate contact information is:

World Wide Holdings Corp.
150 East 58th Street
New York, NY 10022

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chumley's Door

The collapsed and (almost) resurrected Chumley's just got a piece of its old self back. The front door was re-installed just yesterday.


The door looks to be the original antique, albeit with a new green paint job.

photo: Paul Rush NYC walks

A peek inside the building revealed that the work is coming along slowly. The fireplace is in place, but otherwise it still looks like a hollow cinderblock, not yet the warm and cluttered old joint that collapsed in 2007.

The guy supervising the work didn't know when it would reopen. These days, the new neighbors are trying to stop Chumley's from coming back, saying they don't want the noise from this historic literary landmark.

Maybe the new Chumley's can "86" all the loudmouths and keep the place as peaceful as it used to be:

P.S. The back door has also been re-installed--you can see it through the wide-open windows of the opulent, high-security townhouse next door.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Daily Beast

Journalist and author Tim Teeman just did an interview with me over at The Daily Beast. In "The End of New York," we talk about chain stores, cellphones, suburbanization, hyper-gentrification, and polar bears.  

Read it here.

P.S. You can buy Tim's book, In Bed with Gore Vidal, at Three Lives bookshop in Greenwich Village.

Hair Box Barber Shop


On Spring Street in SoHo, the Hair Box barber shop has closed.

Signs in the window say: "This has been a barber shop for over 100 years and we are sad to see it go," followed by a frowny face emoticon.

Gone are the crazy Styrofoam heads from the window.

Gothamist called Hair Box "The Best Place for a Shave" in 2006, and The New York Times profiled the place in 2010:

"Many businesses in SoHo have come and gone, but 203 Spring Street has housed a barbershop, through several identities and owners, for over 100 years. It has been the Hair Box since 2001, but two of the shop’s three barbers began working there long before that, including Rocco Milano, 79, who had cut hair there for nearly 40 years before having a stroke in September. (He plans to return once he feels up to it.)

Lingering like the combs submerged in dark blue Barbicide is a cast of neighborhood old-timers who sit inside, watching the weather forecast, or outside in lawn chairs chained to a post, surveying the passing shoppers as if guarding the last section of the old neighborhood."

For now, barbers Irina and Aida will be at Anonymous Hair Salon, over on Sullivan Street. "No worries," they say on their sign, "same price! ;)"

No word about why it closed, but one reader was told "high rent." The owner of the Tasti-D-Lite next door said he will be expanding into the Hair Box space. Goodbye 100-year-old barber shop, hello frozen yogurt.