Monday, August 31, 2015

Strip Street

Today, a repeat of an old favorite: The once wild life of 52nd Street -- speakeasies, jazz, strippers with monkeys!

It was known, simply, as The Street. Arnold Shaw, its main historian, wrote in 52nd St., "If you flagged a taxi in NYC and asked to be taken to The Street, you would be driven, without giving a number or an avenue, to 52d between Fifth and Sixth avenues."

William Gottlieb, 1948, looking east from 6th

Click here to read the entire story.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Palm


Back in June, thanks to a tipster, I first reported the intel that the original Palm restaurant was gone for good.

Earlier this week, The Real Deal confirmed that the owners have sold the building for $5.9 million. But will it be preserved? Will the historic, priceless murals be cherished and maintained for the next generations? Don't hold your breath.

Yesterday, Eater posted photos of the restaurant's interior, its wonderful murals painted over, destroyed. One of the buyers, Steven Kachanian (of the apparently not ironically named Klosed Properties), told The Real Deal, “We’re working with some high-end tenants looking to do some major work to the property."

This was the original Palm restaurant, 90 years old, gorgeous, storied, beloved, its walls covered in caricatures hand-drawn by some of America's most celebrated cartoonists. This was a one-of-a-kind treasure, never to be reproduced. You can't buy this kind of uniqueness, it has to grow organically and mature over time--over a century of time.

If people can't see the value in preserving something so obviously exquisite and exceptional like the Palm, there is no hope. Just put in a cupcake shop already and call it a day.

The Palm is Vanishing

Update: Zagat published a statement from the owners. In part, it reads: "The beloved hand painted caricatures were housed on walls made of plaster, which made it impossible to remove the caricatures for preservation purposes. Photos and videos have been taken of the famous walls prior to the sale for our internal preservation purposes."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Before & After

A black-and-white photo of the northwest corner of 11th and University in the Village recently came to my attention. Shot by Edmund V. Gillon in 1975, it shows the Village Voice offices next to the Cedar Tavern.

I thought it deserved the "before and after" treatment.

After the Village Voice, there was Jack Bistro. Villagers wept when they were forced out by a rent hike in 2013. Long a home for artists and poets, the Cedar was shuttered in 2006, demolished, and turned into condos.

Today, in their places, there's yet another TD Bank branch and yet another outpost of a chain salon that specializes in the removal of body hair via hot wax.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blatt Now

Just south of Union Square, on Broadway near 12th Street, Blatt Billiards sold their building in 2013 after 90 years in business. IDM Capital, a "syndicate of Israeli investors," paid $24 million for it.

Now it's being destroyed.

In 2013, Curbed reported that the new owners would be adding ten floors to the existing building, but that plan must have changed. More recent reports state that the "two-phase project entails the construction of 10 floors above a five-story office building...followed by the conversion of the existing structure."


The latest renderings show the historic structure is nowhere in sight, replaced with yet another chilly monstrosity. 

In the architect's images, the cast-iron building has been swallowed up in a sleek glass tower with the words "new style" written across the front. No cast-iron facade, no spandrels, no colonettes.

Today, at the 809 Broadway demolition site, passersby have written their opinions of the development on the poster tacked to the plywood.

"UGLY WORK IN PROGRESS," says one. To which the opposition has replied, "You're [sic] taste is in ur [sic] ass."

"YUCK," says another. 

An arrow points to a neighboring antique building and says, "Beautiful Building." While up above, in a speech bubble, the new tower speaks: "I'm judging you."

The Blatt building was constructed in 1887, a cast-iron beauty among others of its type. It's listed on the Endangered Cast Iron Buildings in NYC list, where it is noted that the Times once described the building as "perfect in all its details."

Was somebody not paying attention here?

I liked looking up at that old building, especially on warm days when the big upper-floor factory windows were open and you could look in to see the men making pool tables, sawing and sanding the rosewood and maple.

I liked seeing that funny name, BLATT, written across the front ("since 1923"). And, now and then, I liked going inside and looking at all the things they sold -- stained glass pub-style chandeliers, dart boards, boxes of shimmering dice.

It was a beautiful thing.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bicycle Habitat

The original Bicycle Habitat opened on Lafayette Street in 1978. It is now being forced to close due to a massive rent increase.

photo: Andrew Burton, NY Times

Reader Wendy points us to a report from Bicycle Retailer: "Rent for the 244/242 Lafayette Street store, which encompassed two storefronts and about 2,300 square feet of space, was $21,000 a month. And [owner Charlie] McCorkell said his rent was going to increase by nearly 3 1/2 times to $72,000 per month, which wasn't sustainable with the revenue from bicycle sales."

The shop and its owner have long advocated for a bike-friendly New York. It is also a favorite of celebrities. Wrote the Times in 2012, "On any given day, you might see Jake Gyllenhaal. Or Matthew Broderick or David Byrne. David Beckham has been said to swing by, just for some much-needed air."

But in today's New York, doing good business and making money won't keep you afloat. Not when landlords can hike the rent to enormous heights--and favor national chain stores.

"I am concerned about the future of SoHo," Charlie McCorkell told Bicycle Retailer, "as more and more of the stores, galleries and artists who transformed the area are being replaced by eateries and high-end chain stores. Will SoHo become another high-end suburban-like mall, lacking local flavor?

Bicycle Habitat's last day will be September 30. The store will merge into its other location three doors down.

If you want to the city to put a stop to these insane rent increases, join #SaveNYC and support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.

Charlie Mom


Charlie Mom Chinese restaurant has been in the Village since 1983. This coming Wednesday, August 26, will be its last day.

Why is it closing? I called to ask. "Rent going too high."

photo via Mitch Broder's NY

In 2011, Eater paid a visit to Charlie Mom.

"It's the sort of Chinese restaurant that was once seen in abundance in New York," wrote Robert Simonson, "the kind that makes cocktails and offers choices from Column A and Column B, and a Peking Duck meal for $19.95."

He continued, "Who comes here? I asked my waiter. 'Old man. Old woman,' he said with halting English and stunning frankness. I looked around. My eyes confirmed his blunt assessment. Nearly everyone was old. Very old. They talked of ailments and pensions."

photo: Daniel Krieger, via Eater

So another place that caters to older folks is getting the boot. Once again, it's not a lack of business. It's not because "people" don't eat Chinese food anymore. It's the rent. It's the rent. It's the rent.

Have a last meal at Charlie Mom between now and Wednesday at 464 6th Avenue near 11th Street. And if you want to the city to put a stop to these insane rent increases, join #SaveNYC and support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Still Empty

It's depressing to walk home to the East Village and see the old St. Mark's Bookshop space still empty after they were forced to move by a rent hike. I try not to walk by there anymore.

With the space vacant for over a year, landlord Cooper Union is contributing to the high-rent blight of the neighborhood, presumably while they wait for a Chipotle or Starbucks to take the spot. As I've said before, there ought to be a law.

You may recall that many of us tried to keep the bookshop here--with tens of thousands of petition signatures, protests, letters to Cooper Union, visits from Michael Moore, and book-buying weekends. But without protections like the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, there really is no hope for any mom and pop. Now the bookshop is on E. 3rd, where the foot traffic is low and business is down. Shelves are bare. They're looking for investors to help keep them going.

But this is what typically happens when a long-time small business is forced to move, especially from a prime spot. They struggle in their new location. They often don't make it.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

B&H Reopening Party

The B&H Dairy has reopened after five long months, and they are celebrating this Friday at 6:00pm.

From the Facebook invite:

"Come celebrate the reopening of B&H after nearly 5 months closed in the wake of the March 26 Second Avenue explosion and fire. Cakes, coffee, and challah! Standing room only (putting the chairs and tables in the basement for the event). Joining us will be guest of honor, Florence Bergson Goldberg, daughter of the original owners, Mr. & Mrs. Abie Bergson Goldberg. Thanks to #SaveNYC for their support!"

Read about Ms. Goldberg's family here.

And you can still donate funds via YouCaring.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ices of the LES

A summer re-run from 2011: A guide to ices of the Lower East Side. Know your piragueros.

Click for the story.

Friday, August 14, 2015

B&H Reopens

As promised, this morning at 9:00, the B&H Dairy reopened after many weeks. Dedicated East Villagers waited in line for their breakfasts, desperate to reunite with the beloved luncheonette.

photo credit: Lois R.

In business since the late 1930s, the B&H is a long-lasting local favorite. When it was shuttered after the Second Avenue gas explosion, neighbors and fans rallied around, raising funds and advocating with the city to push through the permits necessary to keep this place going.

photo credit: Lois R.

This is a victory in a city where such victories don't come often. Savor it. Go get some challah.

You can still donate funds to B&H. On August 21, they will have their Grand Reopening Party.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

B&H Reopening & Party

After being shuttered since the Second Avenue gas explosion, and struggling with bureaucratic red tape, the East Village's beloved B&H Dairy is finally set to reopen tomorrow morning for breakfast at 9:00 AM.

In addition, Andy Reynolds, the local neighbor and dedicated advocate who has been working tirelessly to help keep the place going, lets us know:

"We are planning a grand opening party on the following Friday, August 21. Details to follow, but from what I understand, they will clear out the tables and chairs, and just be serving cakes and coffee and challah."

Fawzy and Ola, today's mom and pop of the B&H, photo from GVSHP

#SaveNYC will be there. With many of you, we've supported B&H since their closure, pushing City Hall to take action to speed up permits and get this place running again. We hope you will join us and everyone who loves the B&H to celebrate the (miraculous, really) saving of this priceless mom and pop.

In addition, B&H is almost at their crowdfunding goal. But expenses keep piling up. Says Andy, "Last night they were told out of the blue they needed a new gas meter, $500!" Please donate at You Caring.

For the latest news on B&H, visit their Facebook page.

History of B&H
Save the B&H
Second Ave Small Biz Crawl

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hollow New York

Hopefully by now we can all agree that the rent in New York is too damn high. For residents, yes, but also for small businesses. The city is becoming a hollow shell.

In a story last week about our dying bodegas, the New York Times reported: "According to a report from the Real Estate Board of New York, the average commercial rent in Manhattan rose 34 percent from 2004 to 2014."

And what's coming in to replace the bodegas (and everything else)? National and international chains. "In 2014, the city experienced the largest increase in chain stores in four years, and the sixth straight year of growth in chains."

In a story about our dying laundromats, which are vanishing from expensive and hyper-gentrified parts of town, the Wall Street Journal reported that rents are going up--by large percentages--and forcing out the laundromats. In addition, apps like Cleanly and Washio are taking business and killing the mom and pops.

The problem is happening in San Francisco, too, where techies have completely taken over. Writes Jack Smith at Tech.Mic, "As wealthy startup employees drive up rent and force out residents who depended on the convenience of nearby laundromats, those laundromats are now closing down... Services like Washio act like handmaids to wealthy young elites."

One Google employee's response to the problem was to dismiss it as "the cost of disruption," saying laundromats are no longer necessary. (Except, of course, for those of us who still need them.)

It's not just New York and San Francisco that are suffering from mass corporatization and murder by rent hike, it's the whole country (and the whole Western World). Grub Street just pointed to data that shows that, in another year or two, the majority of America's restaurants will be chains.

When landlords know they can get chains to pay high rents, they kick out small businesses--and leave the spaces empty for years. This creates what Tim Wu at The New Yorker called "high-rent blight." Entire neighborhoods are being wiped out and left as ghost towns. Think it's an exaggeration? Check out this piece over at Tribeca Citizen -- 100 vacant storefronts, all photographed, one after another, all pushed out by landlords demanding too-high rents.

Here's how Alan Ehrenhalt at Governing explains the issue: "Landlords sometimes jack up the rent not because they have a chain tenant in the wings, but because they hope to snare one. The landlords call them 'credit tenants.' In the meantime, there are tax deductions to be claimed. And if the building was a recent purchase, the landlord is paying off the acquisition at interest rates much lower than those that would have prevailed at any time in recent history.

In any event, the die-off is real. The question is whether the local government has the power and the political will to do anything about it."

Tribeca Citizen

Plenty can be done about this problem. And City Hall has the power. But no one is doing it.

This is a crisis of culture. It is a crisis of individuality and diversity. We can't save the world from this mind-numbing, soul-killing wave of monoculture, but we can #SaveNYC. And New York has been a driver of global culture from its beginnings.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Let's put a stop to exorbitant rent hikes on mom and pops by passing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. Let's stop the spread of chains by passing a city-wide ordinance to control them. Let's fine landlords who leave their spaces open for longer than six months.

Here's what you can do to help. It's really not that hard. This city is worth saving.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Block Drugs T

Block Drugs, the great old (since 1885) pharmacy in the East Village, with the great old neon sign, now has an official t-shirt.

It's black and it features that gorgeous neon. Perfect.

Why not show your neon-loving, local mom-and-pop pride and support this business by dropping 20 bucks on a shirt? Get it at 101 2nd Avenue.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Christopher's NYC

You know that odd little t-shirt shop on the corner of Christopher Street and Greenwich Avenue? The one with all the pre-faded Blondie and Bowie shirts in the window? It appears to be gone. Unless they're just renovating, but it doesn't look like it.

It was called Christopher's NYC and it had been there for some time. The reader who tipped me off says it was there for decades. Another said for 41 years.

It was praised a few years ago on Racked: "This obscure and random T-shirt shop gives you the feeling you're walking into a tourist trap but once inside, you realize you've stumbled into something special."

The inside of the shop today looks ransacked, the floor covered with papers, signs, junk. John Lennon wearing his New York City t-shirt. A suit jacket hangs from the ceiling.

This block of Greenwich Avenue is vanishing fast. Many of the storefronts are sitting empty, including recently shuttered Grano Trattoria and the Firestore. I don't know why Christopher's closed, but I bet it will sit empty for awhile, adding to the high-rent blight of the area.

You can still buy their t-shirts online.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Art Brut on Hudson

Up along the Hudson River Greenway, somewhere around Harlem, if you're going on foot or by bicycle and you're paying attention, you'll find some odd pieces of art.

Gathered from the detritus that washes up from the Hudson, they don't seem to be commissioned and have no sense of permanence.

They're built from driftwood, sticks, chunks of rope and floating bits, Styrofoam and lengths of corrugated tubing.

I wonder who made them and why. I wonder how long they'll last before they're washed and blown away, and if their creator will make something new in their place once they're gone.

A man named Tom Loback used to make them. He said there were other artists, too. From the Times:

"Mr. Loback said he does not have his open-air gallery to himself, noting that there are other artists who make something out of logs and tree branches gathered along the riverbank. He calls them El Ropo and Doodad because one’s signature element is rope binding the wood together, and the other’s distinctive touch is some little plastic object atop the sculpture. Mr. Loback said he does not know who El Ropo and Doodad are, though he suspects he has met them along the riverbank."

Here's Tom's work on video.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Found Dope 2

In the 1980s, artist Candy Jernigan collected detritus from the streets of the East Village. For her piece Found Dope 2, currently hanging in the new Whitney Museum, she collected 308 crack vials and their colorful caps, along with a map of the streets where she found them. She recorded the location and the time of collection.

"The first day I went out," she told New York Magazine in 1989, "I picked up 70 caps. If I was going anywhere, even to the store to buy milk, I'd pick them up."

Wrote New York, "Neighborhood kids whom dealers employed to recycle discarded vials were not happy with Jernigan." They sometimes chased her down the street.

Found Dope 2 is a meticulous archive of a despairing moment in East Village history.

I remember those colorful caps, on those same streets, sprinkled like confetti under the trees. I never fail to think of them when I walk on East 2nd Street.

I remember when they began to disappear, too. It was a sign of something new coming--and it wasn't sobriety and redemption.

When I think of that grim confetti and my attendant feelings, I think of this Adam Gopnik quote: "People who refuse to be sentimental about the normal things don't end up being sentimental about nothing; they end up being sentimental about anything, shedding tears over old muggings, and the perfect, glittering shards of the little crack vials, sparkling like diamonds in the gutter."

I'm not sure I agree--or disagree. Something here is not understood. (And what are the "normal things" about which one is supposed to be sentimental?) There is something still to get at. I can't quite put it into words.

Earlier in the essay ("Through the Children's Gate"), Gopnik paraphrases the querulous nostalgic: “What happened to all that ugliness, all that interesting despair, all that violence and seediness, the cabdrivers in their undershirts and the charming hookers in their heels? This is standard-issue human perversity. After they gentrify hell, the damned will complain that life was much more fun when everyone was running in circles: Say what you will about the devil, at least he wasn’t antiseptic. We didn’t come to hell for the croissants.”

Nostalgie de la boue gets a bad rap. But what if we look at it not as a longing for the lost thing itself--a crack vial, on its own, is not a loveable object--but as a response to the current moment? Maybe it's a psychic resistance to what is. A refusal to accept the anticepticism of the day. Perversity? Sure. Freud said the pervert both "rejects reality and refuses to accept any prohibition." The pervert attacks reality and fights for a different one, less boundaried and ruled. Not so normal.

New York needs more perverts.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Terra-Cotta Works

Tucked close to the Queensboro Bridge, on Long Island City's Vernon Boulevard, there's a little jewel of an abandoned building: the offices of the once-sprawling New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works.

When the company closed in the 1930s, these offices continued to function in various capacities until 1965 or so. Citibank bought it, boarded it up, and forgot about it for decades. In old photos, the building sits forlorn and mysterious, its gorgeous ornamentation covered by plywood.

In 1987, Christopher Gray described it in the Times as "a burnt brown riot of pressed and shaped brick, chimneys with spiral designs, stepped gables and round-bottomed roof tiles... The entire building is a rich symphony of hard-burnt brown, cream and umber."

The building was landmarked in 1982 but nothing was done to protect it from the elements. The plywood on its doors and windows was left to rot and warp.

A couple of years ago, the building was wrapped in scaffolding and netting for "remedial repairs," noted Brownstoner. "Silvercup Studios planned to build a studio on the lot behind the building and restore the Vernon Boulevard landmark. Plans stalled after the economic downturn."

In old photos, the little building stands in front of a large factory and next to a yard for storing terra-cotta sculpture. (In the background, the cantilever Queensboro Bridge is half built.) In his 1891 book Terra-Cotta in Architecture, Walter Geer described the factory in detail. "The first story contains the engine, boilers, machinery for preparing clay, and the clay, coal and grit pits." This machinery included washer and slip tanks, crushers and mill stones, as well as some items known as pug mills. There were 12 kilns.

The clay came from New Jersey. It was mined, seasoned, and delivered to the factory, where it was crushed, ground, washed, and mixed with grit before being molded and sculpted. From there, the terra cotta got shipped off to adorn some of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

Today, the scaffolding and netting has been removed from the terra-cotta works office building. The windows are properly protected. The bricks, many of them made of textured terra-cotta, along with all the scrollwork, are looking clean and fresh.

What's next for this historic site?