Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hotel 17


A sort of little Chelsea Hotel, the famous Gramercy lodging spot Hotel 17 has closed down, Town & Village reports.

They have "stopped taking reservations and has been cleared of guests. According to the general property manager of the business, Eyal Siri, this is not due to lack of business but due to the city’s crackdown on illegal hotels, which Siri said he’s been unfairly ensnared in." A few permanent residents remain.

A notice on the hotel's website reads: “We thank you for your patronage and it has been our honor to serve you during the last 67 years that Hotel 17 has been in operation. Unfortunately the city of New York has decided to close down this generations old family business and we therefore can no longer accept any reservations. Our family and employees thank you and all wish you safe travels.”

Over the years, many artists and club kids stayed at Hotel 17. It was a popular place for drag queens and other transgender folks. Madonna reportedly lived there before she was famous. And Woody Allen shot scenes from Manhattan Murder Mystery there.

Lola at Hotel 17, 1994, by Linda Simpson

I asked artist John Toth to share a few memories of his time at the place--the rest of this post is all Toth:

via sexgoddeathandus

My stay at Hotel 17 was during an interesting chapter in my early New York City experience. It was 1992/93 and I was working at (stylist) Patricia Field's store on 8th St., as well as her short-lived location on 6th Ave. I remember I was a bit desperate and frantic the night I moved in, as the girl I had been staying with in the East Village, who also worked at Pat's for a brief time, had kicked me out rather suddenly to make room for her boyfriend. It may have been her who told me to try Hotel 17.

When I phoned the hotel I received a lot of attitude from the manager, who very curtly asked me "who I was" and "where I worked." As soon as I told him I worked at Pat's (aka: The House of Field) his tone changed and he told me yes, he had a room and to come by immediately. My working for Pat, as one "downtown legend" said to me a decade later, "meant something" then. A job in her store was a coveted position because of the "scene" (which for the most part meant "nightlife") that orbited around it. "Downtown" Manhattan was still an adjective then and the manager of Hotel 17 understood that.

I remember him describing his criteria for selecting who was allowed to live there long-term, which was similar to how (notoriously selective) NYC doorpeople used to vet the crowd at various nightclubs: how you looked, how you dressed, and sometimes what you did, all of which had to be "unique" and/or "artistic."

One of the regular fixtures at Hotel 17 was, and still is, the famous transsexual and nightlife personality, Amanda Lepore, whose room, when I was living there, I remember was all red, including the lightbulbs. I also remember stepping into the elevator one night and encountering London-based fashion designer and performance artist, Leigh Bowery (who stayed there frequently), who was heading out to a nightclub with a plastic vagina glued to his face.

The place definitely had a Chelsea Hotel sort of vibe, as it housed a mish-mosh of people and had an easy-going community spirit (including shared bathrooms). Billy, the manager, was very kind to me and helped me out a lot, as I was basically subsisting on the 50-cent hot dogs from Gray's Papaya next to Pat's 6th Avenue location.

That's why places like Hotel 17 are important. It allowed me, and many others, to exist in Manhattan, in between a permanent residence, fairly inexpensively. Something which is pretty much impossible now. New York City was very much about experience then, and the kind of experiences it offered required little money and were incredibly thrilling. The disappearance of places such as Hotel 17, as well as astronomical rents, make it harder and harder for the next generation to come to New York City and live a (chosen) non-traditional life.

Amanda Lepore at Hotel 17--where will she go?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Unitard, "NYC’s naughtiest, nastiest, no-holds-barred comic trio," just announced its new residency "Tard Core: There Are No Safe Words" at Joe's Pub, starting May 3. The group is made up of Mike Albo, Nora Burns, and David Ilku. They poke fun. It has come to my attention that they'll be poking fun of the hyper-gentrified city, so I asked Albo a few questions.

With Unitard, and in your solo work, you've roasted gentrifiers and gentrification. What makes the topic so right for comedy?

Well, greed is always something ripe for satire and parody. Its always amazing to watch, especially in this city, and now elsewhere, how insane and absurd-minded people get about real estate and what they can accomplish by selling avocado toast for 12 dollars.

What's so wrong about 12-dollar avocado toasts?

Oh, they are delicious! Especially when you make it yourself for an eighth the cost! Its just friggin' toast with some avocado on it! We have fabulized ourselves into financial oblivion. Somehow we need to make bad coffee and oily omelettes at diners cool again.

I'd love to hear your suggestions for how to do that.

Get Gigi Hadid or Kendall Jenner to take a pouty Instagram photo? One weird mutation with our food culture now is how people just buy things to take pictures of it. Have you seen the new “Unicorn Frappucino” at Starbucks? It's basically diabetes in a cup. But it's more a photo op than it is food.

I’m afraid diners don’t have eye-catching entrees, so maybe if we opened a diner and stuck a bunch of Smurfs and confetti all over it, we would have a business.

What gentrifi-centric subject matter can people expect in this upcoming show?

Oh, so much! We have “Ruiners,” who are three types of people who come and ruin your city. But then at the same time we also have a sketch of people who sit there and complain about how great things used to be.

So you'll also be roasting people like me! And yourself. When you complain about how great things used to be, what do you complain about?

See above about diners. Most everything I complain about has to do with the affordability of things before, say, 1999. My life “before” was so cheap, but I barely remember it. I made about $1,500 a month tops and somehow afforded to go out, eat out, enjoy myself. I produced a solo show or a play every year, too. I was still poor (I am always poor), but I wasn’t in a constant state of financial panic like I am now. A swarm of hidden fees and costs plague me now--my cellphone, my Netflix, my everything.

And this has affected me artistically. I can’t afford to publicize myself or my work and I feel like I am languishing in obscurity while the moneyed have assistants to tweet and Instagram and get their T magazine sidebar article. Have you noticed that everything is about publicity now? PR and events are what keep this city alive.

We also didn't used to see the rich everywhere. Now they're everywhere--or just about. And they're very conspicuous with their wealth. I think this constant visual has a big impact on how it feels to live in New York and not have that wealth.

Yes. And it sort of creeps into your psyche. I learned a hard lesson on how our culture is designed for the wealthy when I was canned at the New York Times, something I explain in my solo show and Kindle Single The Junket. In a nutshell, I was a freelancer there with no contract or salary, and I was invited on a free trip (which I made sure was on my own time and in no way associated with the Times), and that was “exposed” by Gawker (r.i.p., you bitch!), and I was "let go" for violating their ethics code. Now I totally understand journalistic ethics of keeping your reporters free of commercial influence, but there is a secret system of bread buttering going on that is WAY more egregious than one low-income freelancer taking a trip on his own time. Essentially, if you want to write about anything, especially travel or style, you have to be able to afford to pay your own way, know the right people, have the right access. It's why you see articles like “The Alluring Treehouses of Mozambique” in that insane T Magazine and wonder who the fuck wrote that. They are written for rich people by rich people.

And you are right the rich people are everywhere now! How are there so many?! Do they grow them on trees? After he saw The Junket, my friend, the talented Rob Roth, told me how, back when the legendary weirdo dance night Jackie 60 was happening in the Meatpacking District, there would be just one or two rich people in the mix of queers, trans people, drag queens, and artists. They were just part of the mix.

It’s awe striking how long ago and completely unlike our current climate it was when going somewhere fancy was getting a burger at Bowery Bar or maybe a mimosa at the Four Seasons if you were feeling ironic. But you went to Florent mostly to just feel the energy and be among your artsy peers, and get their goat cheese salad and spend under 25 bucks and feed your soul.

We have this whole repeat gag in our Unitard show about an 18 dollar glass of wine. I love that there are people out there who actually just pay for that breezily. If I did that I would be essentially taking a fork and stabbing myself in the stomach.

Check out Mike Albo and Unitard at Joe's Pub--starting May 3.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fight the Vanishing: Tonight

Tired of watching your local small businesses disappear? There are solutions. Tired of complaining about it while doing nothing? Here's your chance.

Tonight, the Artist Studio Affordability Project is hosting a discussion and organizing meeting on the topic from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. at Jimmy’s 43, 43 East 7th Street in Manhattan.

They write:

"We have a commercial rent crisis in NYC. Bodegas, bookstores and hardware stores are closing. Working artists, dance troupes and musicians are leaving the city. And manufacturers are leaving our industrial zones, taking their good jobs with them. Why? High commercial rents, and no lease rights.

Learn about some possible solutions, including one approach introduced in the City Council: The Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). The SBJSA would help all commercial lease holders in NYC, from mom & pop stores to artists to manufacturers. It offers an opportunity to restore economic equality to our business owners, save our art and cultural institutions, maintain the character of our neighborhoods, preserve a pathway to social mobility for hard-working families, and could even function as a brake on gentrification. The SBJSA has the potential to do all this, while dealing with only one aspect of “small business:” the lease renewal process. What is it, how would it help? How can this bill get a hearing and ultimately a vote of support? How can we pressure our elected officials to show real leadership? Come to this discussion and brainstorming session. Your input is important."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hyper-gentrifying 14th

I was just thinking about how truly remarkable it is that much of 14th Street, from east to west, has not been hyper-gentrified.

Yes, there's the Apple Store at the western end. Yes, a Target and maybe Trader Joe's is coming to the east. And Union Square is strangled in chains. But much of the rest miraculously remains Chinese takeout joints, 99-cent stores, other discount shops, diners, and one beloved doughnut shop. It attracts a diversity of New Yorkers, many from lower socioeconomic circumstances.

And now this.

Gothamist reports that, in response to the impending L Train shutdown, Transportation Alternatives has a plan that "envisions a 14th Street free of car traffic—a concept with the endorsement of city planners, politicians and advocates—plus a six-stop shuttle bus operating on dedicated lanes, and protected bike lanes. The shuttle would connect to a new cross-bridge bus, carrying Williamsburg commuters on a dedicated lane over the Williamsburg Bridge. Among the runners-up are a proposal for temporary barriers separating dedicated bike and bus lanes on 14th Street, and a plan that would close certain blocks of 14th Street to traffic."

We all know that one powerful way to hyper-gentrify a neighborhood, or a cross-section of the city, is through transportation alternatives, i.e., bike lanes and trolley cars. Pedestrian plazas, as Bloomberg's transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn showed, made property values shoot through the roof in Times Square. These are proven tactics. Conservatives love them because they're good for the rich. And liberals love them because they're environment friendly. But they are not friendly to a diverse, affordable, and equitable urban environment.

This plan is not a done deal by a long shot. But it's worth noting that developers and urban planners have their eye on the scruffy remains of this holdout corridor. Enjoy it while you can.

Any time I've ever mentioned bike lanes as anything but an all-good thing, people become apoplectic, both the pro-development neoliberals and the lefty bike advocates. For the record, I own a bike and I ride in the bike lanes. I enjoy them. They still are used by mayors to spur and reinforce gentrification by attracting "creative economy" consumers, tourists, and residents (see the work of Richard Florida and Jamie Peck). Same goes for pedestrian plazas (though I don't like them). See Google. See also Google. See also this PDF from Sam Stein.

Monday, April 17, 2017

No Thanks, No Tech Hub

This Saturday, April 22, show up for a rally to save the neighborhood just south of Union Square Park.

Over just the past couple of years, we've watched this area be demolished and rebuilt into yet another dull center for luxury housing and corporations. Speculators are buying up whole buildings and evicting them of their small business tenants.

This is happening, in part, because of Mayor de Blasio's plan for a "tech hub."

the proposed tech hub on 14th st.

As GVSHP's Andrew Berman wrote in The Villager: "the new building would tower over its neighbors and form the lynchpin of a new 'Silicon Alley' the mayor hopes to develop between Union Square and Astor Place."

This is not a neighborhood in need of revitalization. It is already vital, its old buildings buzzing with small businesses from bottom to top. Say "no" to more luxurification. Say "no" to more corporate chains. Say "no" to more small business evictions.

Rally with GVSHP on Saturday at 3:00pm, on the east side of Broadway at 11th Street.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Quad Signage

Yesterday, the new Quad cinema got its new sign. It's a 3-D effect. With slots along the sides for digital display of current movie titles.

I took a peek inside. There are digital movie posters where there used to be paper. A wall of TV screens in the back. On the side, there's a wine bar with a tile floor that spells out QUAD.


The website is up and the new place opens this Friday. Early word has been good, so let's hope it's still welcoming to the city's scruffy cinemaniacs.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dressing Up High-Rent Blight

Two years ago, Icon Realty purchased 57 Second Avenue for $30 million.

The two retail tenants, Alex Shoe Repair and Allied Hardware, were on month-to-month leases and soon removed via steep rent hikes -- $26,000 per month for the hardware shop and $14,000 for the cobbler.

Both businesses were mom-and-pop run for decades. They provided necessary services to local residents, and their storefronts provided visual interest to the avenue.

I liked walking past to see the giant hammer in Allied's window under their colorful sign. I especially liked the odd paintings that framed Alex Shoe Repair, and the typed poem in the window that Hettie Jones wrote for the cobbler.

These places were useful, local, and idiosyncratic.

Then they were gone.

The signs came down. The funny little paintings were painted over. And Icon's advertisements went up. The two storefronts sat that way for awhile, the picture of high-rent blight.

Now, Icon is dressing them up--and they're getting that look. You know the look. The "nice" look.

It's the look of sameness. The look of nothing. The look of the zombie city.

We see these same facades everywhere. Soon will come little chains--little taco chains or "juicery" chains--decked out in Edison bulbs and subway tiles. Or maybe a Starbucks. Maybe a place that feeds you charcoal shots so you shit black, because shitting black is now good for you. Or maybe an Aesop with their "fragrant botanicals and skin-softening emollients," or else that other place, the one that looks like Aesop and sells candles for $450.

Better yet, how about a bone brotherie? How about some more macarons?

Whatever comes, it won't last long. It won't last decades. It will come and it will go, and the neighborhood will feel that much less like a neighborhood. Again.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Angelica Sale

Angelica Kitchen closed yesterday after 40 years in the East Village. The place was mobbed. If you missed out on a final meal, you can visit today and tomorrow for their memorabilia sale:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Save Our Small Businesses

As more and more mom and pops vanish from the face of New York City, people are getting sick of it, and the idea of saving them keeps coming up in the media.

This past week, NY1's "In Focus" with Cheryl Wills had two segments on the subject.

In the first (watch here), Wills talked with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich about the problem of chain stores in the city. As Brewer noted, "We don't live in a mall in the middle of Minnesota. We live in New York City."

Of course, without real policy changes, like the Small Business Jobs Survival Act or commercial rent control, like we had from 1945 - 1963, New York's looking an awful lot like a mall in Minnesota. And it will only get worse.

In the second segment (watch here), Wills spoke with The Commissioner of the NYC Small Business Services, Gregg Bishop, and the President and CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, Mark Jaffe.

Unfortunately, neither had any meaningful response to the problem of unreasonable rents.

Over on the Brian Lehrer Show, Tony Danza called in to ask Mayor Bill de Blasio what he was doing about what he called "neighborhood wasting disease."

Said Danza, "You know we have so many longtime establishments that have anchored neighborhoods in this city that are just being pushed out by exorbitant rents. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t know how you legislate that. But I’d just like to know what your thoughts are about going forward. Like, where I live on the West Side, on one block – and this is the truth, this is what’s really kind of startling, is that Starbucks had to leave because they couldn’t pay the rent."

The mayor did not have a useful response (read the full transcript). At one point, he replied, "Look, let’s be really cold here. It’s a free enterprise society that is not particularly warm and friendly to things like older stores, mom-and-pop stores. I would urge the landlords to be less greedy." (Three years ago, when I asked him on Reddit what he would do, he had a few better answers.)

The only way to regulate human greed is through policy. And, let's be clear, this is not a free enterprise society. It's a rigged society that gives deals to large corporations and developers.

Chain stores get taxpayer subsidies in this city. They get selected by Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). They get preferential treatment from banks. This is not "market forces." This is corporate welfare. It's time to put an end to it. There are solutions.

Visit #SaveNYC and learn more about what we can do to stop the death of New York's soul. We've even made it easy for you to write letters to City Hall.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Cat's Paw Girl


There has been a shoe repair shop at 74 E. 7th St. for many years. Most recently, it was David's. Before that, it was A. Brym's. And for all those decades, a Cat's Paw advertisement stayed stuck to the entryway window.

Now it's gone.


"Thin heels by CAT'S PAW," the circular sign read. "For those who want the best!" In the center of the circle, a smiling blonde cuddled a pair of kittens.

In this following photo from the 1960s, we see that Brym's had two copies of the ad--one decal on the front window and the other in the entryway.

Edmund V. Gillon, Jr.

You can catch a glimpse of them again in this next shot from 1980. That's likely the year that David's moved into Brym's. The front-most Cat's Paw girl probably vanished when David painted the window with his name, but the second sticker stayed.

And stayed.

I liked seeing her when I brought my shoes in for repair.

photo: Michael Sean Edwards, 1980

David's Shoe Store closed in 2013 when the landlord hiked the rent too high. It sat empty until recently. Workers are now building out something that looks like it will serve food. Maybe Japanese. Anyway, not shoes.

As expected, they have scraped away the Cat's Paw girl and her kittens, the last remnant of what was.