Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Rally & Wake for White Horse

Earlier this month I shared the news that the famed White Horse Tavern would be changing hands, to be run by upscale restaurateur Eytan Sugarman, its building sold to notorious landlord Steve Croman.

Last week, Sugarman went before the Community Board 2 State Liquor Authority Committee and promised not to change the spirit of the historic bar. “I have every intention of keeping this amazing institution the way it is,” he said. “I have no intention of making any dramatic changes.” But he also said he would raise prices and make "a little bit of a better burger."

Locals are worried this means a very different White Horse that might look the same and have the same name, but won't be welcoming or accessible to the current clientele.

Now the Stop Croman Coalition is hosting a rally for the bar, this Thursday, March 21, at 3:00. After the rally, author Malachy McCourt will hold a traditional Irish wake for the White Horse.

Is this the death of the White Horse as we know it? Locals have had plenty of reason to worry.

As I wrote in my book Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, "A virulent trend has been sweeping the Village, and the city, in which upscale restaurateurs take over vintage spots, refurbish them, and turn them into exclusive locales, keeping their names and capitalizing on their history. It’s an invasion of the body snatchers. The old places look like themselves, sort of, but there’s no soul inside. The blog Grub Street called the trend 'fauxstalgia.' It first happened to the Waverly Inn and the Beatrice Inn, prompting the Times to write about the practice in 2010. The Village, they said, 'has become like a theme park of the past, as these restored standards offer a vision of a lost bohemian New York— albeit with a well-heeled clientele and prices to match.'" New York later wrote about how trendy, monied restaurateurs "seem to be in a race to acquire New York’s oldest, most storied properties."

The people who take over often speak about preserving some aspect of the places. It happened to the Minetta Tavern when its new owner told Zagat, "No one familiar with the Tavern from the past will know exactly what's changed," but it changed dramatically, with a whole new clientele. It happened to Fedora when the new owner went before CB2 and promised, according to Eater, to "keep most of the cherished design details," but the place was completely transformed. It happened to Bill's Gay 90s, almost happened to John's of 12th Street, and after it happened to Rocco's, the new owners said they were paying tribute to the old place.

We only have the past to go by and we certainly can't see the future.

Maybe Sugarman plans to approach the White Horse with a light touch. Maybe he won't close it for renovations, upscale the menu, require reservations, and hype the place to a monied clientele of foodie Instagrammers and celebs. Maybe we won't lose the White Horse as a democratic and accessible place where anyone can sit at the bar for hours, shooting the shit and getting soused (including that grizzled raconteur in the beret and camo pants with a knife hooked to his belt).

Or maybe we really do need a wake.

It looks like it'll be a wild one. Musician and composer David Amram told the Irish Central: “I will leave my composing dungeon and celebrate the White Horse of the 1950s with Malachy at 4 p.m., and we will all have a toast to Ernie’s succulent overcooked knockwursts, non-stop schmoozing between Jimmy Baldwin and Dan Wakefield, the Zola Sisters charming us all, weekends crowded with C. Wright Mills fans, moving men, ex-boxers, crazy poets and neighborhood cats and kitties, filmmakers, homemakers, and stay-awakers!!”

Monday, March 18, 2019

Visiting Hudson Yards

For its opening weekend, Hudson Yards, aka Dubai on the Hudson, is crammed with people. They walk the glistening floors of the luxury shopping mall and climb The Vessel, aka The Giant Shawarma (h/t Eater). They stand in line for free ice cream and ransack a refrigerator full of foul-tasting beverages that may or may not be free. They pose for Instagrammable photos with the mega-development's corporate logo and pay $28 to visit Snark Park, an "art theme park" where the creators have seized an opportunity to "literally control and curate everything," which pretty much sums up everything about Hudson Yards.

In my 2017 book Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, I predicted that Hudson Yards would be: "A dreamworld of exclusion...one of those places Mike Davis describes in Evil Paradises: 'where the rich can walk like gods in the nightmare gardens of their deepest and most secret desires.' It will be what Norwegian urbanist Jonny Aspen calls zombie urbanism, a neat and tedious stage set, regurgitating global clich├ęs about modern urban life, 'in which there is no room for irregularity and the unexpected.'"

Now the taxpayer-backed mega-development has met its major critics and the verdict is in.

New York magazine called it "a billionaire's fantasy city" as Justin Davidson reported that it feels like a faux New York: "Everything is too clean, too flat, too art-directed." At the Times, Michael Kimmelman said the place "glorifies a kind of surface spectacle -- as if the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism."

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the gilded room that hawks the Residences at Hudson Yards. Just outside, in the hall of the mall, a massive video screen shows scenes from the lifestyles of the super-rich to a captive audience of tired parents and tourists beached on benches.

Inside, behind 3-D renderings of the towers, visitors watch a film about the love story between Marcus, "the titan of industry," and Viv, "the fashion mogul." They are affluent, glaringly white, and well seasoned, sweeping around their tower while sucking down lattes and green smoothies. In the background plays I'm back in the "New York Groove," which Hudson Yards is decidedly not.

Among the viewers in the real world, a woman asks her friend, "Is this a parody?" The question could be asked again and again while walking through the mall.

For example, when a worker hands out Hudson Yards temporary tattoos so you can brand your body with the corporate logo. Or when a piece of video art, curated by a luxury boutique, praises itself for including "gender nonconforming artists."

Or at the Avant Gallery, showing "art for the new New York" in a show called, no kidding, "There Goes the Neighborhood," filled with riffs on luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, mixed with images of homeless people and downtown artists.

Is it parody when a crowd crashes the unguarded refrigerators of the Hudson Yards Drug Store and grabs every bottle in sight, swigging down concoctions containing charcoal, rose petal, and turmeric? People gag on the drinks, re-cap the bottles, and leave them on the floor.

Someone says, "It tastes awful."

Someone says, "I don't think these are really free."

Then there's the schedule for The Shed, Hudson Yards' hotly awaited performance space, bringing a lefty radicalism incongruent with the one-percenter playground. The opening season includes "a women-centered celebration of radical art," a work about "the relationship between art and the politics of space," and a lecture on Art and Civil Disobedience by Boots Riley, the African-American Communist behind the film Sorry to Bother You. (It's part of their DIS OBEY program.)

Will young communists soon fill this billionaire fantasy anti-city--and will they be disobedient?

Finally, there's The Vessel, that walkable "stairway to nowhere" that the billionaire developer of Hudson Yards called "the social climber." To walk it, you'll have to agree to an acknowledgment of risks that "may include, for example, slipping, being knocked off balance, falling, exposure to heights (which may cause vertigo, nausea, or discomfort), exposure to flashing or intermittent special effects or lighting, personal injury, or death." One other risk: If you appear in any photos, including your own, you sign away "the unrestricted, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual right and license (with the right to transfer or sublicense) to use my name, likeness, voice, and all other aspects of my persona."

The Vessel's hornet's nest logo is on everything, but nowhere does its silhouette most excite me than when it accidentally appears on the side of a nearby food truck--The Giant Shawarma mirrored by an actual shawarma.

As I escape Hudson Yards, I point out the similarity to the vendor inside the truck. "Yes," he calls out, seeing the joke, "the same! It is the same!" And he has a good laugh. In the end, it all seems like one big joke.

Read all my Hudson Yards coverage here

Wednesday, March 6, 2019



This one hurts.

In December I reported that Moishe's Bake Shop in the East Village was possibly closing. I went in and asked. The response: "Where'd you hear that?" asked the cashier. On the Internet. More laughter. "People put all kinds of stuff on the Internet," said the cashier. So everything's fine? "Yeah, yeah."

As I noted then, "But you know how these things happen. If I were you, I'd go enjoy the great Moishe's while you can." I went in and got a last bag of hamentaschen.

Today, E.V. Grieve reports that the bakery has closed without any further warning. He writes:

"Storefront photographers James and Karla Murray first posted the news last night on Instagram:
'Sadly, we just heard from the owner, Moishe Perl, that today was its last day as the entire building has been sold.'" Perl, they say, decided to retire.

And there's one less reason to live in the East Village.

White Horse Tavern Sold

The White Horse Tavern is one of the oldest, most storied and beloved drinking spots left in New York City. It opened in 1880, hosted the likes of Jack Kerouac, Jane Jacobs, Bob Dylan, and of course Dylan Thomas, who drank his last whiskey there before collapsing and dying at St. Vincent's Hospital. Literary pilgrims still visit the place, which retains much of its 150-year history.

The White Horse seems permanent, impossible to erase, like so many New York institutions of this magnitude, but it is not bulletproof. The building is landmarked, but the bar is not. And now we hear things are about to change.

A dependable tipster writes in to say that he spoke to upstairs tenants and White Horse workers who informed him that the building has been sold for an estimated $14 million -- to the notorious landlord Steve Croman, who recently spent time in Rikers and has frequently been accused of harassing rent-regulated tenants.

Also, on March 14, Community Board 2 will be hearing an application for a new liquor license at the space:

"Eytan Sugaman [sic] or LLC to be formed, d/b/a White Horse Tavern, 567 Hudson St. 10014 (OP – Bar/Tavern with sidewalk cafe)"

Sugarman does not open low-key places. He ran the BBQ restaurant Southern Hospitality with Justin Timberlake (who later stepped back; Steve Bannon held a Republican fundraiser there), and he had a club called Suede, frequented by the likes of Britney Spears, Cameron Diaz, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

More recently, Sugarman opened the Hunt and Fish Club, the opulent, hedgefunder-heavy Times Square steakhouse that the Post called "the city’s latest haunt for bigwigs hunting for new deals and beauties fishing for rich husbands." One of Sugarman's co-owners in that project is Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, Trump's former White House Director of Communications. The exclusive Wall St. restaurant has also hosted Republican fundraisers -- and it serves Scaramucci’s homemade limoncello.

So will the Mooch be helping to run the new White Horse--or whatever takes its place? It's impossible to say just yet. Maybe we'll see a high-end re-do, like the ones that destroyed and/or exclusified Bill's Gay 90s, Minetta Tavern, Rocco's, Fedora, and so many other beloved--and once democratic--classic spots.

My tipster predicts, "White Horse will become Don Trump Jr and Company's FratBro/WhiteBro hang out." Plus Limoncello.

*UPDATE: Eater confirmed the rumors: "Sugarman is insisting that he’s paying attention to the historic aspects of White Horse Tavern. Infrastructure will be updated, though other plans are still to-be-announced. He also did not comment on his landlord’s reputation, responding to an inquiry with 'We are only focused on preserving the rich history and legacy of this iconic institution for New Yorkers.'"

Sugarman and The Mooch, via the Post

This is unsettling news for the great White Horse Tavern, which has been run lovingly and non-exclusively for many years by native New Yorker and former longshoreman Eddie Brennan, who bought the place in 1967, when he was a worker there. He hung the painting of Dylan Thomas in the middle room, and poets still sit beneath it to drink--and drink in the spirit of the place. I did that, too, years ago as a young poet. I wonder if we'll still be able to get in, and if Dylan Thomas will remain.

In the words of that poet, dear White Horse, “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

If you want to give your two cents and hear Sugarman's plans, show up for the liquor license hearing: Thursday, March 14, 6:30 PM, at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 151-155 Sullivan St., Lower Hall.