30 November 2006

Oldies and Goodies

I visited Le Veau d'Or, the venerable, unbelievably unchanged old French restaurant on E. 60th Street, again, and found out that the old man, Robert Treboux, who owns it and plays host to, say, maybe six diners a night, owns the building and lives upstairs. Good news for preservationists. Now, if only his daughter would go on the record as saying she'll continue the tradition. Note to Orson fanatics. Welles used to sit in the table closest to the door, by the only window. You can't sit there now; the owner reserves it for himself.

And had lunch at Barbetta, the oldest restaurant on Restaurant Row (one hundred years this year), and discovered that that building, too, is owned by the proprietor, one very grande dame by the name of Laura Maioglio. And get this: she's only the second owner. Her father, Sebastiano, was the first. If we're to believe the self-generated press on this elegant eating palace, it was the first to bring New York white truffles, Barolo, Barbaresco, sun-dried tomatoes, tiramisu, panna cotta, risotto, polenta and espresso. If only a third of those claims are true, the place is an Italophiles' landmark.

27 November 2006

Crying Wolfe

In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, novelist Tom Wolfe nicely put into words what I've been feeling about the descrecration of the city for years. I can't put it better of more thoroughly, so I'll just reprint it here:

"CHIN up, tummy out, Aby Rosen, the 46-year-old German developer, owner of the Seagram Building and Lever House, was posing for pictures in front of 980 Madison Avenue barely one month ago when he grew so bold as to boast: “I have zero fear. Fear is not something I have.”

"Easy for you to say, braveheart! The courage-crowing tycoon knows very well that in the current battle over 980 Madison, a five-story Art Moderne building stretching from 76th Street to 77th Street, the contest is already completely snookered in his favor.

"On top of this block-long low-rise he intends to build one of his Aby Rosen jumbo glass boxes full of commercial space and condominiums, rising straight up a sheer 30 stories. His big problem — or, to be more accurate, “problem” — is that 980 Madison is in the heart of the Upper East Side Historic District, and it would be hard to dream up anything short of a Mobil station more out of place there than a Mondo Condo glass box by Aby Rosen.

"The writer Tom Wolfe and other neighbors have taken to lobbing objections in the direction of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the city’s official watchdog for landmarked areas. The commission has already held a hearing and could stop Aby Rosen dead in his tracks at a moment’s notice, just like that.

"But what, him worry? Like every major developer in town, he knows that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has been de facto defunct for going on 20 years. Today it is a bureau of the walking dead, tended by one Robert B. Tierney.

"Mr. Tierney and the 10 members of his commission already have a hearty, comrades-in-arms, marching-along-together history with Aby Rosen. The commission was highly instrumental last November in clearing the way for him to build a zone-busting glass box full of condominiums on Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street in return for his guarantee, written into the deed, that the exterior of his Seagram Building, given landmark status in 1989, will be maintained in its original condition in perpetuity.

"Mr. Tierney gushed — insofar as one can gush in a press release — that Aby Rosen was not only ensuring “the highest level of protection” for this historic building, he was also being so kind as to favor New York with “a landmark of the future,” namely, his glass box godzilla at Lexington and 53rd.

"How generous! How civic-minded! Noblesse oblige! ... until one reminds oneself that Aby Rosen and every other owner of a landmarked building is required by law to maintain it in its original condition.

"Aby Rosen is a global success story of the 21st century, a citizen of the world. He should care about New York’s parochial steps to make historic preservation a government responsibility? That was in another century, the 20th, 1965 to be exact, after a developer had demolished that old solemn-columned classical temple of passenger train travel, Pennsylvania Station, to make way for Madison Square Garden, a coliseum where the rabble could go watch hungover Canadians on ice skates batter one another senseless.

"Never again! vowed le tout New York. The thrill of a Goo-Goo crusade thrummed through the gizzard of everyone from, eventually, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and legions of other celebrities and socialites to virtually every prominent politician, from Mayor Robert F. Wagner on down.

"Never again! The City Council gave legal muscle to a previously powerless Landmarks Preservation Commission, made up of scholars, city planners, architects, artists, landscapers, designers. This was to be an aesthetic and scholarly elite with virtually absolute discretion in deciding what buildings and historic districts should be preserved forever through landmark designation.

"Goo-Goo was an old City Hall term for believers in Good Government, by which the regulars meant idealistic lightweights whose feet seldom touched the ground. But all at once every big shot in New York seemed to have gone Goo-Goo.

"So feverish was that born-again bliss that for a decade the commission pretty much had its idealistic way. But when the commission tapped for protection the city’s other great monument to railroad travel, Grand Central Terminal, it wound up in a do-or-die lawsuit that reached the United States Supreme Court in 1978.

"Goo-Goo fever now shot up to a peak. Jackie O. herself served as the star passenger on the Landmarks Express, a private train packed with celebrities, socialites and members of the commission who headed to Washington to exhort the court to uphold New York’s landmarks law — and in so doing save the station. Mayor Edward I. Koch gave a Goo-Goo, Never Again send-off speech so moving that cynical, battle-hardened, social-cliff-climbing Manhattan matrons had to dab their eye sockets. Not even the Supreme Court justices, it seemed, could control themselves in a Camelot moment. They upheld the landmarks law faster than you could say Oh, Jackie, ohhhhh ...

"Oooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh yes, went the landmarks commissioners. The chairman received a salary, but the commissioners got no pay for this job. Still, the psychic rewards were turning out to be awesome. You were working for a cause you believed in, and at a high and highly visible level. After all, you were now an official of the 20th century’s capital of the world, New York City, and you kept running into the very rich and very social — who were suddenly giving you aero-kisses, Euro-style, four millimeters away from each side of your face.

"The commissioners had made names for themselves professionally as scholars, architects, city planning consultants, but now they were moving up in life in a way they could have never anticipated. One evening a commissioner from the Jackie O. period is at a cocktail party — you were now being invited to an infinitely better class of parties — when a benefactress of the City Beautiful movement approaches him and asks if he would like to go over to Lincoln Center and watch Jerome Robbins rehearsing with Mikhail Baryshnikov for some ballet that’s coming up. The next thing he knows, her driver is taking the two of them over to the theater.

"“The place is dark except for the stage,” he recounted, “and there’s Jerome Robbins up there, and Baryshnikov, and Robbins is having Baryshnikov try this and try that — and the only people in the whole audience are this woman and me! Us and some Saudi prince who’s backing the show.”

"You would walk into a conference room and people would jump up and shake your hand and take your coat and show you to a seat and smile and beam, beam, beam respect — because you and your commission colleagues wielded a government power over private property second only to confiscating it via the right of eminent domain. When you made someone’s property a landmark, he retained title to it, but you confiscated his ability to exploit it by putting up something new in its place or selling it for development. In a former commissioner’s own words: “One day it dawns on you. You’re pushing around billions of dollars worth of real estate development. You’re telling the biggest developers in the world, ‘Keep moving, Jack! You can’t build there!’ ”

"Somehow you had made it inside the Walled City that Theodore Dreiser described in “Sister Carrie.” There was New York the melting pot, the boiling stew, of the eight million ... and there was the Walled City, wherein existed New York’s fabled excitement and glamour and power and blinding wealth and extravagant ease and fine slim people who introduced you to restaurants where you didn’t dare order a beer and wished you hadn’t worn a brown suit and a “colorful” necktie. Thus it came to be that turnover on the commission was exceedingly low.

"No fools, New York’s mayors got the picture soon enough. Why on earth allow so much power to remain in the hands of a bunch of arty, sentimental, cerebral, status-addicted Goo-Goos? And the name of the man who first made City Hall’s contempt obvious? Edward I. Koch! The very man who had left them sobbing Goo-Goo tears during the Camelot moment! Not the velvet-gloved sort, Mr. Koch went ballistic in what became the notorious Tung affair.

"In 1987, for good and sufficient civic and political reasons, the mayor wanted to turn Bryant Park, the badly rundown open space behind the New York Public Library, into a gloriously landscaped Tuileries Garden for Manhattan crowned with a Lucullan restaurant. But building the restaurant would mean cutting down a stand of towering old trees. The mayor wanted the commission to give this alteration its blessing.

"Enter Anthony M. Tung. Mr. Tung was only 37 but had served on the commission for eight years. One and all agreed he was probably the most erudite member the commission had ever had, a city planning consultant, a walking encyclopedia of the history, principles and practices of urban preservation, and a brilliant analyst; in short, a genius in that field.

"Mr. Tung argued that the proposed restaurant would be a landmark desecration, butchering not only many magnificent old trees but also the entire rear aspect of the library, which was every bit as innovative and historically important as the more famous Fifth Avenue front with its lions and great staircase. So eloquent was he, so utterly convincing, that the commission, chairman and all, swung around and denied Mayor Koch’s request — unanimously — and made him look like a hairy Visigoth getting ready to sack Rome.

"Impudent wretch! The mayor got word to the genius that he was fired so fast — five days later — it made the tail on the Q of Mr. Tung’s sky-high I.Q. curl.

"Getting rid of him was easy, or should have been. Landmarks commissioners were appointed for three-year terms, and it turned out that Mr. Tung and six of the other nine unpaid commissioners had never been officially reappointed. They had just kept on serving. Technically, they were expirees. This was probably the result of nothing more than bureaucratic inertia. But it was very handy! All the mayor had to do was have somebody send Mr. Tung a letter saying his term had expired, he wasn’t being reappointed, so long, thanks a million for your service, and kindly go off and be a genius by yourself. In fact, thanks to the rank odor, it took the mayor months to find a both willing and respectable candidate to take his place.

"Mr. Tung didn’t take it lying down for a moment, and the Tung affair boiled and stewed in the press for months. Still, no one seemed to realize at the time that the landmarks law, as originally conceived, was now null and void. From the Tung affair on, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s aesthetic elite was pretty much free to bestow landmark status on any property it saw fit — unless the mayor had designs on it himself.

"Barely a peep in Anthony Tung’s behalf was heard from any commissioner or the chairman, even though all of them had so bravely agreed with him at the outset. Well ... let’s face it. One has to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, doesn’t one? But we’ll get to decide on the rest, won’t we? And still be invited to all the parties?

"Talk about never again! Never again could you expect a landmarks commissioner, much less a chairman, to stand up to a mayor. And, as a corollary, never again could you expect any of them to stand up to Big Real Estate, if Big Real Estate had the mayor’s backing. As they say at City Hall, they got along by going along. It wasn’t so bad ... talking the talk with one’s fellow walking dead and walking the walking-dead walk to swell parties and events.

"As for Anthony Tung: he went off and, a genius by himself, wrote a book titled “Preserving the World’s Great Cities.” Today it is the bible of urban preservationists all over the globe, and from Mexico City to Athens to Istanbul to Kyoto and Singapore, he is one of the world’s most sought-after speakers and consultants on urban planning, most recently in New Orleans.

"The undead commission became only undeader under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. When he became mayor in 1994, New York had hit the bottom of a full-blown commercial real estate depression, and he wasn’t about to allow anyone with a weakness for silvery-tongues to become chairman. So he appointed a former campaign strategist, Jennifer J. Raab, who was introduced to the public as a highly experienced land-use lawyer.

"Translated, that meant she made her living representing landlords and developers for the big-time, high-billing-and-the-clock-is-running law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. It didn’t take long for her to enunciate the Raab Doctrine. No longer is it Us against Them, she said. From now on everyone, preservationists and developers alike, will recognize their common interest in preservation.

"With that, she bade Us lamb chops to lie down with Them lions and bestowed “preservation achievement awards” for preservation-friendly architectural designs upon the Gap — which she teasingly referred to as the “big bad corporation” by way of showing Them lions were really pussycats — and Bernard Mendik, chairman of the Real Estate Board, the lobby for landlords, developers and brokers, by natural selection the evolutionary enemies of landmarks preservation. As for the commission, it remained packed with expirees who would gladly disintegrate, if necessary, to avoid casting so much as a shadow on any of the mayor’s plans.

"Reading the tank-style tread marks of the excavation earth-movers today, one is forced to conclude that Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch are not the only mayors who would just as soon have ended the charade by mercifully putting the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the walking dead out of their misery or at least slipping them into the sleep mode the way you can a computer. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg certainly seems to qualify as another.

"Last year, as he had ever since 2003, Mayor Bloomberg made it clear that he wanted a 40-year-old white marble building the city owned at 2 Columbus Circle, designed by Edward Durell Stone for Huntington Hartford’s short-lived Gallery of Modern Art, replaced by a glass box proposed by the Museum of Arts and Design, to fit in with the behemoth glass box of the nearby Time Warner Center.

"Back in the 1960s, critics and the art world in general had sniggered, sneered and hooted Mr. Hartford’s gallery into oblivion after only five years. But that was 40 years ago, and art history is chronically revisionist. (Rembrandt once got cold-shouldered for two centuries.)

"Now, in 2005, the mayor was confronted by an incredible uprising of scholars, world-renowned architects, deans of art and architecture at the great universities, mega-wattage art worldlings — the greatest massing of cultural luminaries in a single cause since the anti-fascist crusades of the 1930s! — all calling upon the commission to hold a hearing, lest this historic work by a great American architect be destroyed without a second thought.

"For any owner of a magnifying glass seeking a closer look at this astral army:

"The two most eminent architectural historians in the United States, Vincent Scully and Robert A. M. Stern, dean of Yale’s school of architecture, a famous and prolific architect in his own right, and the definitive historian of New York architecture from the late 19th century to the present, co-author of the magisterial quintet, “New York 1880,” “ New York 1900,” “New York 1930,” “New York 1960,” “New York 2000”; nine deans and graduate program directors of art and architecture, including three from Columbia University, and one of the nation’s best-known urban studies scholars and theorists, Witold Rybczynski of the University of Pennsylvania; the most elite lineup of architects who ever stood shank to flank in a preservation controversy: Richard Meier, Cesar Pelli, Robert Venturi, Laurie Olin, Hugh Hardy and Peter Eisenman, plus Dean Stern, to single out but seven from among a host of them; the current chief architectural critic of The New York Times and two of his predecessors, one of whom called the commission’s year-after-year refusal to call a hearing “a shocking dereliction of public duty”; The Times itself, in an editorial characterizing Stone’s building as “already an architectural monument, the work of a major architect, whether the commission likes it or not” and the refusal as “an enormous mistake, one that seriously erodes [the commission’s] purpose and whatever independence it has managed to attain since it was first created”; the nation’s, New York State’s and New York City’s most highly respected preservation societies, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund; Agnes Gund, who had just stepped down as president of the board of the Museum of Modern Art; the artists Frank Stella and Chuck Close, under whose letterhead a petition signed by more than 50 artists went to Mayor Bloomberg; and three former chairmen of the landmarks commission.

"If the administration had the subpoena power to summon a jury of the most esteemed architectural and urban planning authorities in the United States to judge the case of 2 Columbus Circle — it would have summoned the very same people who are in that condensed like-a-lump-of-coal type. There are no higher authorities. So how did Robert Tierney respond to them?

"He didn’t! Not once! It was as simple as that!

"He stayed holed up in his bunker at 1 Centre Street, while Spokesperson said ... and said ...and said ... and said, “Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission has declined to consider this site for landmark status, and I am aware of no new information that would make it necessary to revisit the matter”...

"“Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission has declined to consider”...

"“Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission”...

"“Under two administrations and three”...

"But, but, but how could he do that without seeming ... brain dead ... or without taking direct orders? Either way, the chairman’s refusal to call a hearing — a mere hearing, which would commit the commission to nothing — or to so much as discuss a hearing ... was as good as an official proclamation:

"Landmarking no longer exists in New York City, not even as a principle — or not above the level of the occasional parish house in Staten Island or rusticated old stone archway in eastern Queens.

"By this time last year unionized elves with air hammers had reduced 2 Columbus Circle’s white marble to rubble and set about gutting the interior.

"The chairman was marginally less blunt about staying out of the way of Big Real Estate. For two decades preservation groups had been petitioning the commission to give landmark status to the five-story Romanesque Revival-style Dakota Stable on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street, the most important remaining relic of late 19th century New York’s palmy days of riding horses and traveling by horse-drawn carriage.

"This spring they learned that Big Real Estate, in the form of the Related Companies, developers of the Time Warner Center, had a contract to buy the building with the intention of demolishing it and putting up 14 stories’ worth of condominiums. (Ironically, they picked Robert Stern as the architect.) In July, Mr. Tierney indicated he was going to hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... but was somehow delayed until Oct. 17 — and wouldn’t you know it? In September the city had granted permission to alter the Dakota Stable and by Oct. 17 it had been stripped of its architectural details, and all that was left was “a stucco box.”

"Those were the chairman’s own words, “a stucco box.” Just the other day he shook his head and declared it was too late to do anything about that.

"SO we will never know about Aby Rosen! Maybe the man does have “zero fear.” But he won’t be put to the test this time. In the case of 980 Madison he has one-click approval whenever They feel the time is right.

"In case he’s wondering, he should know that the table is set at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Set beautifully! Never better! Nine of the 10 current commissioners, not counting Mr. Tierney, are expirees — 90 percent! — in imminent danger of getting canned if they don’t do the right thing by Aby Rosen!

"Once upon a time, in the legendary age of Camelot, back when Jackie O. could make the entire United States Supreme Court roll over and moan, it was the landlords and developers who used to scream bloody murder at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

"Just two weeks ago close to 100 leaders of New York City preservationist groups held a “citizens emergency meeting” at the General Society Library on West 44th Street... and bayed for the blind goddess, Justice, to make Preservation the commission’s middle name. Many of them were young, young enough to envision a landmarking renaissance. Youth! The way they bayed was enough to make the hair stand up on old Aby Rosen’s arm."

I've said it before, I'll say it now: New York sucks.

13 November 2006

Sour Pickles

The Times reports that a legal battle is threatening to sink the last great pickler in Manhattan, the famous and well-loved Guss' Pickles of the Lower East Side. And, being the Times, the story gave both sides an even shake, even though it seemed fairly clear that one side of the argument was pretty fishy.

A woman named Patricia Fairhurst took over what most New Yorkers regard as the real Guss', the Lower East Side location, formerly on Essex, now on Orchard. Fairhurst's son worked in the shop for years, and when the owner Tim Baker sold in 2004, she took over, buying the shop, the name and the recipes. (Izzy Guss died back in 1976. His children sold it to the Baker family.)

Seems clear enough, right? Only, it's not, owing to the protests of one Andrew Leibowitz. In 2002, he opened a Guss' Pickles branch in Cedarhurst, Long Island, in a partnership deal with Tim Baker. The Leibowitz family owns United Pickle, a Bronx outift that long provided Guss' with its cucumbers. Andrew continued the business on his own after 2004, when Tim left to care for his ailing mother. Andrew is the one who decided to write Fairhurst, telling her she had no right to the hallowed Guss name. Cease and desist! Fairhurst responded by suing.

So, how do we know that Andrew Leibowitz is a weasel with no leg to stand on? Number one, Tim Baker refutes his claim that the Guss legacy was bequeathed unto him lock, stock and barrel (literally, barrel). Number two, he declined to be interviewed by the Times. Number three, he had a lawyer speak for him, a man named Neil Zipkin who said things like "We're not the bad guys. We're just the true owners." Number four, he has a website that carries messages like “Others claim to be Guss’ Pickles or affiliated with Guss Pickles, but that is not true!” And number five: he thinks the true Guss' Pickles should be located in CEDARHURST!!

I'll keep buying the gerkins on Orchard Street.

10 November 2006

A Brush With Bamonte's

I made an unscheduled stop the other night at Bamonte's, the red sauce joint with the thick Mafia air, situated on a deserted block of Williamsburg near the BQE. It was about 10 PM and a balmy evening and I thought I might brave the chilly front that would no doubt be put up by the Goomba crowd and get a drink.

I expected to feel a little intimidated walking in, and, although they were friendly enough and mixed my Manhattan up quickly, I could tell they would rather have been left alone to their "deese, dems and dose" closing-up confab. So I asked no questions, made no comments, pretended to watch the Rutgers game on the tube and sipped my cocktail with as much non-chalant toughness as I could muster.

The place was empty of diners. The last seating seems to have been 9 PM. The requisite pictures of actors from Coppola and Scorcese films, and "The Sopranos," were on the walls, as well as plenty of baseball memorabilia. Two working, wooden phone booths stood open. The were buzzers near tables to summon waiters, a detail I have never seen at any other restaurant. The kitchen was visible through a sleek glass wall—an incongruously modern touch. (Notwithstanding, the glass wall dates from the 1950s.) Mexican busboys trundled off into the night. Left were the portly, graying bartender, a youngish, blonde waitress of hardbitten looks adding up her tabs, and a yackety-yak goodfella talking a blue streak at the end of the bar. A megaphone he didn't need.

Topics ranged from the game to a local mugging of a young women everyone knew. Three men had jumped out a car and taken the girl's purse as she went on a late night errand to buy milk, of all things. "She was on Haveymeyer down by the highway." "Well, no wonder. What's she doin' goin' down there at night." "That's where she lives!" "Oh, down THERE! It's DESOLATE down there!"

Mr. Know-it-all knew someone down at the local precinct who said the muggers would certainly be caught. "Because, even when they got masks on, they'll get a hundred calls. Because people recognize the gait, the way they hunch their shoulders, the way they walk. Yeah, they'll get caught."

Mr. KIA said this incident argued in favor of his belief that young women should be allowed to carry side arms. But the waitress tood exception.

"Can you imagine my sister with a side arm? She's be shooting everybody."

08 November 2006

The "Inn" Crowd

As heartbroken as I was to see Ye Olde Waverly Inn, one of the city's oldest and sweetest little restaurants, close a few years back, it's hard for me to rejoice that's it's reopened. Why? It's owner.

The cozy nook tucked at the corner of Bank and Waverly—one of the loveliest corners in the city—is now owned by Graydon Carter, the odious, celebrity-sucking, pompous, flip-haired editor of Vanity Fair. The man personifies all the frivilousness, hypocrisy, vacuousness and self-worship of New York society. This is a guy who thinks the guest list to his annual Oscar night party is a matter of social import. If you want to know what Heartlanders hate about New Yorkers, all you have to do is look at Carter's bloated, snug, self-satisfied face.

Of course, such a man would have to have his own "place," where all his friends [read: currently desired newsmakers] can hang is clubby conviviality. But why did he have to choose the old Waverly, which was always about modesty and low key Village bohemianism? Well, for one, because he lives down the block, on Bank. Uptown power brokers always want to believe they hasn't lost touch with their artistic, youthful "roots." That's why they buy townhouses in the Village.

Willa Cather, Alyse Gregory, editor of The Dial, choreographer Hanya Holm, caricaturist Alfred Frueh, along with other eccentric demi-celebrities, used to dine there. Now we'll get Scarlett Johansson while a stretch white SUV idles outside. If you can get in at all, that is.

07 November 2006

Lord & Taylor & Businessman

NRDC, the godless acronym that owns the Lord & Taylor department store chain, wants to close the shopping icon's flagship Manhattan store on Fifth Avenue and 39th Street. "It's nice having a Manhattan store, but I wouldn't call it key," said clueless President Richard Baker (they also have these preternaturally normal-sounding names, these executives). "We want to be where people live, not where they work."

Last I checked, 8 million people live in New York City. Could be wrong. Maybe more people live in the dull-as-dishwater suburb where Mr. Baker resides. Or maybe he thinks New York City is a dirty, dangerous place with terrible traffic and he's rather not have to drive into Manhattan anymore just to check up on his store.

Mr. Baker points out that the Fifth Avenue store only draws in 9 percent of the chain's revenue, more than enough reason to close. But any fool with an MBA knows that you don't have a Manhattan store simply to make money. It's about location, a prestigious address, a presence. You're not a noteworthy concern if you don't have a Gotham hub. Even dumb-fuck big boxes like K-Mart and Target know that.

Lord & Taylor has long suffered an inferiority complex. Ask anyone to name a Manhattan department store, and Macy's or Bloomingdale's is first out of their mouths. After that comes Sak's and Bergdorf Goodman. Lord & Taylor is everyone's last thought. Who are Lord & Taylor's diehard customers? I've never met one. Still, I have a soft spot for the old place. It serves a stretch of lower Midtown otherwise ignored by Big Retail. The 1914 building has plenty of charm and interesting details; the old plaques just inside the door remembering employees who fell in The Great War are particularly affecting. (Can you imagine any store honoring its employees in such a way today?) And the holiday windows are always good. There used to be a lovely, old-fashioned lunch room on an upper floor, but it's been supplanted by a fancier eating establishment.

I usually make one regular trip to Lord & Taylor every year, in December, to buy pajamas for my family. For some reason, they have a good selection of cozy nightware.

The store was founded by a couple of Englishmen, actually names Lord and Taylor. A peculiar coincidence, since the combination of their names evokes an appropo relationship between the gentry and their clothiers—an association I'm sure they rather fancied.

05 November 2006

Sazerac So Long

I learned from the Eater site that The Sazerac House, for 40 years at the corner of Hudson and Charles, recently closed for good. I never went there. But I heard from knowledgable New Orleanians that that was one of the few places that could be counted on to make a proper Sazerac in New York City. So, I'm sad to see that little corner of expertise disappear.

Now, Sazerac fans, there's only the Pegu Club for us.

04 November 2006

Shine, Mister?

Recently, with time to spare before dinner, I found myself in the E. 50s with less-than-shiny shoes. That meant only one thing: a visit to Jim's Shoe Repair was in order.

Now, New York, unique among American cities, has many shoe shine shops, where a new gloss on the wingtips can be had for $2 or $3. But, even among them, Jim's is unique. First of all, it's quite old, having been founded around the commencement of the Great Depression. Secondly, its on 59th Street between Park and Madison, an area where you'd think a penny-ante business like shoe repair could no longer survive. And Third, it's got one of the oddest archicectural features I've ever seen. In the narrow shop, to the left, are a line of wooden compartments of sorts. There's a low swinging door to the right of each and inside is a leather seat. They're one in back of the other, like a row of desks in a school room. No one is ever sitting in them, and the usual elevated wooden thrones, where customers sit as they get their shine, are to the right of the shop.

I've never quite figured out what they were all about. Perhaps, in the older, busier days, men sat there while they waiting for a place on one of the thrones. Or, could be, sockless customers bided their time there while they waited for their shoes to be burnished, so as not to suffer the indignity of standing shoeless among their fellow men. I've never had the nerve to ask anyone, because I didn't want to appear to be a shoeshine novice in front of classic shoeshine crowd like the one at Jim's.

The shoeshine code of behavior is an interesting one. Unlike barber shops, it's not expected you'll converse with your shiner. There are papers to the side of each chair—the Post and Daily News, NEVER the Times—and you're meant to pick one up and read it while business is taken care of. I've never seen anyone ask for any special treatment or technique, or complain about the shiner's performance. That's just not done. Neither do you talk to your fellow shinees, who are invariably in suits and with heavy business matters on their mind. Dignified silence reigns. Sometimes a television is on, and you're allowed to gaze silently at that. Once the shine is done, the shiner will indicate this by a subtle tap on the side on one of your shoes. You then descend and proceed to the cashier, with no indication that you will be back to give a tip—though everyone knows you will be back to give a tip, or else you will be seen as a bounder. Once you're paid, you walk back to the shiner and dispassionately but respectful pass him a tip—usually the same amount as the cost of the shine—and utter a brusque "thanks."

My trip to Jim's that day was unique in that my shiner remonstrated against serving me, saying, "No, I've done my last shine for today." He soon acquiesced, though, and did me the honor. And so I was his last shine of the day.

Russian Revolution

In my introductory post on this blog, one of the lost landmarks I mentioned as reason to rise the rallying cry in New York was the Russian Tea Room, which closed in 2002 shortly after the death of its immoderate owner Warner LeRoy. I've often passed by the famous restaurant's 57th Street address and felt sad, thinking about the countess famous women who once worked as coat check girls there, and wondered why no one was doing anything with the space.

Well, recent articles have explained why. The Tea Room, red banquets and all, reopened on Nov. 1. Apparently, after LeRoy passed, his estate sold the property to something called the United States Gold Association, which planned to use the buidling to "showcase its extensive collection of gold memorabilia." Now, THERE'S a plan to induce nausea. Thank God!—they sold the building instead, in 2004, to the the sinister-sounding RTR Funding Group. Gerald Lieblich owns this, and he's the man responsible for the Tea Room being reborn (while also moving along a scheme for—what else?—more condos on the 56th Street side.)

Unfortunately, it's been reborn with LeRoy's same gauche renovation. Big acrylic bear, gold-plated tree dripping with glass eggs. All that garbage. But if the stroganoff is the same, I'll forgive all.

02 November 2006

Update at Gertel's

Gertel's, the kosher bakery on the Lower East Side, will not go down easily, it seems.

Counting its days because NEW CONDOS MUST BE BUILT, it seemed the place had baked its last challah. But now word comes that it may not close, but is determined to move. Perhaps too many customers expressed grief and the owners realized there was money yet to make. Who knows?

Than again, it may just be a pipe dream. I called and asked if they were closing. "No." Are you moving? "Yes." Where? "I don't know." When might the move take place. "I don't know."

It's called planning. Stay tuned.