Monday, February 29, 2016

Last Meal at 69 Bayard


As I reported last week, the restaurant 69 Bayard closed in Chinatown this weekend. I went in for a final meal--and also a first.

The line went down the block and around the corner. Most of the patrons were young Chinese people, long-time regulars, and a few older folks.

According to NPR, 69 Bayard had been here for 80 years. They closed because the landlord hiked the rent, denying them a new lease. It's the story we've heard now a hundred thousand times.

Inside the busy restaurant, I shared a table with a Chinese family.

The mom told me how she used to pick up her son from school and bring him in every day for a good, affordable meal. "Lots of memories," she said.

We talked about Chinatown and changes. "Everything in Chinatown," she said, "is going up. Everything's more expensive."

I ate my chicken wings while regulars came in and out, hugging the waiters, taking pictures, saying goodbye.

On the wall near my table, a pair of dollar bills read: "Sweetness was here. 69 Bayard 4 ever." It's quite possible that Sweetness is somebody's name, but I prefer to think it refers to the flavor of the place, which is sweet--and warm and friendly. I don't know if there's a word in Chinese for the Yiddish word Haimish, but if there is, it applies to 69 Bayard.

If you'd like to try and stop the bleeding, join #SaveNYC. Help pass the Small Business Survival Act. Let the city know we need protections for our beloved small businesses.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Club Escuelita


Escuelita, the legendary Latin LGBTQ nightclub, has closed. A notice on their website says thank you for 49 years and "it's time to say goodbye for now..."

That's all the information I can find on the closure. The club's phone has been disconnected.

Two days ago, DaGrapevine called it "Truly The End Of An Era For The New York City Underground Gay Night Club Scene... However Tbh We At #DGV Aren't Surprised About This At All," due to the club's struggles with the State Liquor Authority.

In 2012, the Post reported on Escuelita's fight. "In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Escuelita charges the SLA is cutting corners in a bid to take away their license, a move the club charges is clearly aimed at clearing gay, lesbian, transgenders and minorities out of the gentrifying area."

Said owner Sayvon Zabar in an affidavit, "I also believe that we are no longer welcome on West 39th Street as minorities scare the mostly white tourists who patronize the newly built and expensive boutique hotels on the block."

Zabar also told the Daily News that " not fit into the gentrification plans of the city."

Escuelita won that fight--and the fight went on.

Located on West 39th Street near Port Authority, Escuelita is, in fact, surrounded by a crop of new hotels. But the harassment isn't new.

Writing about queer club culture of 1990s New York in her book, Impossible Dance, Fiona Buckland reports on the surveillance, undercover actions, and raids that Escuelita had to deal with. She recalls a police cruiser parked outside the club. "I bet they ain't hanging around outside straight, white clubs," remarks someone in line.

When the old Escuelita closed in 1995, the final night was a scene of tears. "All of the drag queens, the transformistas, and impersonators," reports one regular in the book Puerto Rican Jam, "gathered on stage for the grand finale. They sang 'America the Beautiful.' They cried. Their makeup ran. An American flag unfurled...upside down."

Lady Bunny with Jerry O'Connell and Andy Cohen backstage, via Daily News

For decades, Escuelita was an important part of the queer scene in the city, providing a space for drag performers like Lady Bunny, and--in the words of 60by80--for "fierce trannies, homo thugs, papichulos and voqueing pier queens from all 5 boroughs."

A list to which New York adds, "Dieseled-out hip-hop gays, sweet cocoa go-go boys, and a handful of blanquitos, all of whom stick around for the truly fierce after-midnight drag competition."

In Queering the Popular Pitch, the authors recount how Escuelita got its name. It was originally located in the basement of a language school. And from "the use of diminutives by Puerto Ricans when giving directions--the club was, thus, the place under the 'little language school.'"

Escuelita has closed and moved before, and it may do so once again. "Goodbye for now," they say. But where in the white-washed tourist city will they be welcomed? My guess--Jackson Heights.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

69 Bayard


69 Bayard is the little restaurant in Chinatown where the walls are covered with dollar bills.

photo: Winston Wanders

It's been there a long time--I don't know how long and the man who answered the phone was too harried to answer that question when I called, but he did tell me that this Saturday will be 69's last day in business.

I also don't know the reason for the closure.

The restaurant is known and loved for being a late-night nosh.

It will be missed by many.

photo: Larry C. on Yelp

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Panda in Hell

Reader Cat McGuire sends in pics of something new moving to Hell's Kitchen at 46th Street and 9th Avenue.

It's a Panda Express -- a suburban shopping-mall, food-court restaurant with over 1,500 locations around the globe. It's run by this billionaire CEO.

And the chaining of the city continues. Anyway.

An angry New Yorker with a Sharpie has a message for the mega-chain: "Panda Express?!? A mall restaurant?!? Get the fuck out of Hell's Kitchen!!"

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Left Bank Books


Some terrible news from this fantastic little bookshop:

"We regret to announce that after nearly 24 years in business Left Bank Books is closing up shop. It's a familiar story by now: the costs of maintaining a brick-and-mortar used and rare bookshop in Greenwich Village are simply no longer tenable. We expect to close our doors sometime in early-to-mid-March...

We couldn't have lasted as long as we did without the patronage and support of our many loyal customers. We're grateful to you and will miss you and the neighborhood. Please visit us over the next few weeks to take advantage of our sale, get some great books, and say goodbye. And please spread the word."

Until the closing, Left Bank's books are 30% off.

Left Bank is on 8th Avenue, between 12th and Jane. It moved there in 2010 after its 4th Street landlord hiked the rent on its former location. I wrote about that here.

This entire block of small businesses is being emptied out. Chocolate Bar got the boot. And then the House of Cards & Curiosities shuttered. You simply cannot survive for long as a small business in this city anymore.

And now we have to lose yet another bookshop? Manhattan is getting stupider and shallower every day.

The Magic Shop

The Magic Shop recording studio on Crosby Street is closing in March.

via NY Times

Founder Steve Rosenthal writes on the studio's Facebook page:

"After an amazing 28 year run, I will have to close The Magic Shop Recording Studio. March 16, 2016 will be our last day open. Everyone knows why I have to close, so there is little point in rehashing my story."

He thanks Dave Grohl, The Foo Fighters, and Lee Johnson "for stepping up big time last year to try and save the studio." As the Times reported yesterday, the legendary studio was in a landlord dispute. Rosenthal tried to buy the property, but the co-op board said no. Lou Reed, David Bowie, and many others recorded here.

via Magic Shop Facebook page

In his Facebook note, Rosenthal adds:

"One last thing, I get that New York City is always changing and adapting like the living city it is. Maybe what I believe in is no longer of value, but it was for us and we lived it.

As the city becomes more of a corporate and condo island, some of us wish for a better balance between money and art, between progress and preservation, and we hope that one day we will see a reversal of the destruction of conscience and community we are witnessing.

Or maybe not...

After all I'm just a guy from The Bronx."

Monday, February 22, 2016

Truemart Discount Fabrics

Chelsea's Truemart Discount Fabrics is for rent.

They've been on the corner of 7th Avenue and 25th Street for a long time. Maybe 40 years. Luckily, they're not closing--only moving off the corner and into the block. So that's a good thing.

Still, I'll miss seeing their hand-painted sign on that corner. And I like the old feeling inside the cluttered shop.

Now and then, I'll go inside to be among the bolts and the kids from FIT buying fabric for their designs.

The shop felt like a survivor, an anomaly in a neighborhood rapidly homogenizing.

Winick has the listing. In the rendering, they've slapped their own name over the antique sign. The neighboring businesses they crow about include: "Whole Foods Market, Buy Buy Baby, Papyrus, Astoria Bank, FIT, Caffe Bene, Starbucks, TD Bank, Argo Tea, GNC, Chase, Jamba Juice, Chipotle, and many more."

I bet none of them have Frank Sinatra's mugshot taped to the wall. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Il Vagabondo


The Italian restaurant Il Vagabondo has been on East 62nd Street since 1965--and longer than that as a bar. It has the only in-restaurant bocce court in town--it was built in 1910. And now we hear it might be closing.


Restaurant critic Gael Greene tweeted today that Il Vagabondo will be forced to shutter in the spring because the "townhouse it didn't own was sold":

I called the restaurant and the woman who answered was unaware of any upcoming closure. That's not always solid, but let's hope this one is just a rumor.

For more on this classic red-sauce joint and its bocce court, watch this.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Vinyl's Brill Building

Martin Scorsese's "Vinyl" aired on HBO this weekend, recreating New York City in 1973. Here's an incredible shot of the Brill Building, with a sliver of Colony Records on the left and Jack Dempsey's bar on the right of the gilded entrance.

How did they do it? Looks like they surgically dropped segments of the following vintage photo into the film. The miracle of computers!

I'll look forward to more recreations of the lost city, but for a review of the show, read Richard Hell's take.

And here's what's happening to the Brill Building these days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Future of St. Mark's Books

After last week's hubbub about the impending closure of St. Mark's Bookshop and the "mystery men" hoping to keep the store alive, albeit in a new form, I spoke to Rafay Khalid, who has been quietly working behind the scenes to make sure the East Village still has a bookshop here tomorrow--and for a long time.

"When I first came to New York," Khalid told me, "a friend introduced me to St. Mark's Books and it immediately became my favorite bookstore in the city. They gave small, local authors and poets a platform to have their voices heard. That's so important. It's a cultural icon and their legacy should be able to continue for the next 100 years."

Khalid has done other work "saving bookstores on nights and weekends," as he has watched shops across the country being decimated by Amazon. "We're looking at how St. Mark's 2.0 can survive Amazon," he said. "Bookstores can be the 'third place,' an idea I'm borrowing from the people at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn. There's work, home, and then the bookstore--the third place that can be the focal point of the community."

This means opening up the shop to offer a more diverse experience, with food, events, and activism, much like Red Emma's bookstore in Baltimore, which Khalid has also supported. I visited Red Emma's not long ago. When I arrived, the employees were inviting a group of homeless people inside from the cold, young queers were making lattes, and a group of activists gathered around a table to discuss gentrification. As for the books, the selection was excellent and the staff helpful.

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

Unfortunately, it's just too late for St. Mark's Bookshop to continue. They've had nine lives and there are no more left. Investors, saviors, and neighborhood people have rescued the shop again and again. As Ada Calhoun recently pointed out in The New Yorker, the owners have been "frustratingly unwilling to seek out new streams of revenue," like events, coffee, and other customer-friendly features that have made bookstores like McNally-Jackson, Greenlight, and The Strand so successful. Now, with lawsuits, debt, and an eviction, this truly is the end.

Before their move, I fought to keep St. Mark's Bookshop at Astor Place. The thought of the East Village without St. Mark's is a depressing one, but the thought of the East Village with no (non-used) bookstore at all, is too much. Khalid, who helped St. Mark's relocate to its new space, hopes to find another indie bookstore to take over the lease.

Empty windows on Astor Place, 2014

Could Red Emma's move into the St. Mark's space? Khalid says it will more likely be a new branch of an existing New York indie bookshop. So while it looks like St. Mark's Bookshop won't be St. Mark's Bookshop anymore, with new management and a mix of old and new employees, Khalid hopes it will carry on the legacy that St. Mark's started.

As he searches for investors to take over ownership, he's looking for book lovers who want to be involved in the local community, who will continue giving voice to local writers, and who will keep the policy of accepting books on consignment from authors without distribution, one of the only ways those authors can get their books out to readers.

While the East Village still has a couple of used bookstores, we need a shop that sells new books and that functions as a cultural space, bringing readers together with living authors.

"New writers," said Khalid, "continue the tradition of the East Village and that can only be accessed through new books. That tradition is a scrappiness, an attitude of 'We're going to make it and show the world what we can do.' It goes back to the history of immigrants on the Lower East Side. The future writers of the East Village need a bookstore here."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Carnegie Reopens

Last week I noted that the Carnegie Deli promised to reopen in 2016. Who knew it would be so soon? They announced on their website and Facebook page yesterday that they are reopening today:

Gargantuan sandwiches and creamy cheesecake! Also, "Dilly the Pickle Mascot" will be in the house.

And here's a shot of life inside from last week via Brian Fitzgerald on Twitter. Thumbs up!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Market Diner Demolition

The lovely, doomed Market Diner is being prepped for demolition. It has now been surrounded by a wall of green plywood.

Thank you to Andrea Kleiman for taking these photos

The Market Diner, opened in 1962, was forced to close a few months ago by its owner, the Moinian Group, who bought the site with plans to demolish the beloved vintage restaurant and erect on its grave a high-rise luxury condo tower -- making a total of three towers they will have on that very same intersection.

The diner is a true one-of-a-kind. What's replacing it is a dime-a-dozen. Once again, we're losing authentic local character for more soulless architecture from the "geography of nowhere." And no one in City Hall is doing a damn thing to stop it. As the proprietor of Chelsea's shuttered La Lunchonette restaurant just told the Daily Beast, "There’s not much integrity left in New York when chains get breaks and small businesses struggle."

The same goes for mega-developers, who have received billions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives, corporate welfare from New Yorkers' pockets, to reconstruct West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen into a glittering city within the city for the super-rich.

It all makes me think of the 1995 essay “The Generic City" by architect Rem Koolhaas.

He riffs on the blankness of homogenization, the “superficial” city that, like a Hollywood studio lot, has no identity and no age. The Generic City is an “endless repetition” of blank facades, offering a kind of sedative to urban dwellers.

“The street is dead,” says Koolhaas. “Close your eyes and imagine an explosion of beige.”

I’d rather not.

In 2011, he commented on his prescient essay: “These days, we're building assembly-line cities and assembly-line buildings, standardized buildings and cities.”

Across the street from Market Diner

That cannot be said about the Market Diner. It is not one in an endless repetition of the same. It is not generic.

But it is dead. And, like much of the city we've loved and lost, it's the victim of murder.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The End of St. Mark's Books

After fighting to stay alive for so long, this finally looks like the end for St. Mark's Bookshop.

They're having a 50% off everything clearance sale right now, and folks are saying the store might shutter as early as the end of this coming week.

Go buy a book. While they last. There's not much left.

I've got no more words for this loss.

Read the story of St. Mark's long fight to survive:
St. Mark's Success
Michael Moore at St. Mark's
Buy A Book Weekend at St. Mark's
Xmas in September
St. Mark's Vestibule

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Carnegie Deli Comeback

Is the shuttered Carnegie Deli coming back?

Reader Brian Fitzgerald shared the following via Twitter:

"We would like to set the record straight," begins the December 17 letter posted in the window, "Carnegie Deli will reopen in 2016. We are ONLY temporarily closed."

It continues: "being closed has been a painful hardship on our family, employees and a heartbreak to our loyal customers. Over the past several months, we have experienced a number of surprise setbacks including: many unforeseen structural complications, months of inspections, and required renovations that have taken much longer than any of us expected."

(Sounds a lot like what happened to the B&H.)

Shuttered by the City last April when a possible illegal gas hookup was discovered, right after the Second Avenue explosion, the Carnegie deli has been closed since. As Ted Merwin wrote in the Post, "The loss of the Carnegie would be an outsized one for New York." It's been here since 1937.

Last month, the upstairs tenants got their gas turned back on--a hopeful sign for the restaurant. And in other hopeful signs, even in the recent blizzard, the neon lights of the Carnegie Deli were blazing:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

La Lunchonette Souvenirs

You can now take home a piece of La Lunchonette. Owner Melva Max is selling many of the items from the restaurant this week. She writes on Facebook:

"Please contact us at with any questions on what we are selling and how to buy! You can also come by the restaurant this week. call ahead 212 675 0342 as the landlord plans to do some work and we may be closed at that time."

The items for sale include art, antiques, kitchen equipment, dishes, and glassware.

La Lunchonette was forced to close by the High Line Effect, when its building--along with its neighbors--was sold to be demolished for a luxury condo.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Trowel and Square

The Trowel & Square Ballroom on Harlem's 125th Street had a great old sign. The typeface. The word "ballroom." And "social functions." Good stuff.

Anyway, it's gone.

The letters have been ripped down and the sign has been covered with a Ripco real estate banner. The Salvation Army thrift store on the first floor has also vanished. The entire building is available. It sold in 2014.

Located in the Croft Brothers Building, the Trowel & Square used to be the Tusken Ballroom, "used at least once as a meeting place by Malcolm X and his recently-formed Muslim Mosque, on June 22, 1964," according to Daytonian in Manhattan.

And next for this space? Probably another chain, as the whole of 125th Street is being wrapped in chains.