31 January 2007

Monteleone and Cammareri to Finally Open!

I passed by the new combined Court Street home of two Brooklyn culinary institutions, Monteleone pastries and Cammareri bakery, and it looks like the place is about ready to open—good news for those who need quality miniature pastries and prosciutto bread in their lives.

The official name of the business is "F. Monteleone & Cammareri Bakery & Cafe." It has a swanky new awning lit up by five large globe lights. Inside, they've kept the original tin ceilings and terrazzo floors (or, at least, a very nice fassimile thereof). The counter is along the right as it always was and there are a few cafe tables along the left. Given that there were some plates of cookies on the counter, I'd say the grand opening can't be too far off, though there is no sign in the window alerting the public. However, a call placed to the number on the awning reached a man who said the enterprise would open this weekend! Huzzah!

The space previously belonged only to Monteleone, which has been in the neighborhood since 1902, when it was founded on Columbia Street by Harry and Frank Monteleone. Somewhere along the way, the brothers took on two unrelated partners, moved to Court Street and passed away. There is no blood relation to the Monteleone clan among the current ownership, but there is a direct throughline, since the owners once worked for Frank and Harry.

Monteleone sadly closed up shop in 2006, denying citizens superlative almond biscotti; pignoli, fudge drop and sandwich cookies; sfingi; Italian style cheesecake; and, of course, all those Lilliputian versions of classic pastries like cream puffs, eclairs and rum baba. But they teamed up with another name from the past, Cammareri (of "Moonstruck" fame and formerly on Henry Street) and are back. Cammareri closed up its storefront sometime around 2000 but apparently still survived in a wholesale fashion.

The business has taken its sweet time reopening. Construction has gone forward at a snail's pace. At one point, there were reports the contrator had been sent to jail. But if they're not opening now, I'd be very surprised. It has all the earmarks of a finished operation.

30 January 2007

Renaissance Court

Renaissance Pharmacy, perhaps the last independent pharmacy on Court Street in Brooklyn, has closed. As the above picture shows, the space is for rent and the sign has been removed, leaving only the outline of the cursive wording.

This is no surprise, given that there is an Eckerd two blocks away, a Rite Aid four blocks away, another Rite Aid further up Court and another Eckerd at Court and Atlantic. All of these big boxy boys opened in the last five years. The neighborhood only lacks a Duane Reade. Carroll Gardens pharmacy, near Carroll Park, closed last year and was supplanted by a Chase branch. Another small Court Street pharmacy, supposedly a hunded years old, closed a few years back. It was replaced, appropriately enough, by a real estate broker.

I liked Renaissance best. It was quaint, made up of two small aisles and a raised pharmacy counter in back. There was a seat when elderly people could rest their bones while waiting for a perscription. And the young female pharmacist was kind and cute and looked a bit like Lili Taylor. A loss for the community, without question.

Hideous Building Insists Itself Upon Unsuspecting Retina

Recently, I was strolling through the Meatpacking District for the first time in some months, just innocently making my way west on 13th Street when this monstrosity thrust itself into view, nearly blocking out the sun and making me wonder if I was in the wrong neighborhood. A building more out of keeping with the character and scale of the neighborhood I've rather seen. Poor little Pastis and Spice Market were as ants to be stepped on by this giant. There ought to be laws for vision pollution.

29 January 2007

A Good Sign: Old Homestead Steakhouse

The sign is about 50 times older than any of the hot restaurants that have recently opened in the Meatpacking District. Old Homestead remembers when the Meatpacking District used to pack meat. I'm not a great fan of old school steak houses, but, architecture-wise, I like their unpretentious ostentation (if that isn't an oxymoron). The sign says it all and says it loudly, and its size is just a prelude to the size of the cuts found inside. Homestead may be the last sincere eating establishment in this now nauseatingly trendy area.

27 January 2007

Obselete Business

Here's a business that you won't see in ten years: a television repair shop.

This particular storefront sits on Henry Street just south of Atlantic in Brooklyn. The inside is filled with cardboard boxes, some filled with televisions I should think. Work goes on somewhere in there, and it must be somewhat brisk, or the real estate market would have kicked the proprietor out some time ago. I guess there must be some holdouts out there who prefer to have their televisions fixed rather than just toss the set and run out buy a new one. The red-on-yellow signage seems to indicate G & D has been there for some time.

Anybody out there know what this sort of sign is called? It appears to have been madly popular in the middle of the last century.

Everyone's a Person in Your Neighborhood

One of the things I like most about Brooklyn is that it contains real neighborhood in which you're likely to meet people you know on the street who will give you a nod, a wave, a "hi" or a short chat—something I never experienced in my time in Manhattan.

That said, on some days, one of things I like least about Brooklyn is...you're likely to meet people you know on the street.

Like most New Yorkers, I sometimes crave isolation and want to lose myself in the anonymity of the crowd. That has become nearly impossible in recent years. In my neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, during a short, five-block walk to the grocery store or a bakery or the subway, the odds are I will meet an acquaintance or friends: a fellow parent who's kid goes to my son's school; a member of my wife's house of worship, which is a 10-minute walk away; various neighborhood friends; the owners of shops and restaurants I patronize, etc., etc. On some errands, I will be stopped on the street four or five times. On one such recent occasion, I turned to my wife, who had the same bleary-eyed expression I had on my face, and said, "We know too many people."

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't have it any other way. Friendly is better than not friendly; neighbors are better than no. But I have begun to appreciate the feeling of being a stranger while on my forays into The City.

POSTSCRIPT (30 Jan. 2007): A thanks to the fine folks at Curbed (see "Links" to the right) for linking to this item, and for the humorous headline.

26 January 2007

A Good Sign: The Subway Inn

A very good sign, actually. Certainly in the top ten of any list of iconic New York City neon. And a nice gritty antidote to Bloomingdale's, which sits just around the corner. I'm giving it to you here in sepia, just 'cause it looks nice.

25 January 2007

A New York Sign: Glatt Kosher Subway

I hesitate to run this piece of signage under the running series "A Good Sign," since no fast food sign is good by any stretch of aesthetics. But only New York could produce a Subway sign with the addendum "Glatt Kosher" under it. This particular store was found in Midwood.

Di Lovely

I returned to Di Fara's today. It had been too long since I last had a heavenly slice there. Dom DeMarco opened late, so there was a line of about eight people by the time his daughter (I believe) unlocked the door. I say with pride that I was first in line.

Since I didn't provide my gentle readers with a shot of the fabled slice last time around, I thought I would now. Here it is:

Notice the dusting of fresh romano and clippings of basil, spread just after the pizza came out of the oven. And the beautiful texture of the mozzarella, ever so burnt here and there. It began to snow in Midwood while I was there. A pretty scene altogether.

24 January 2007

Curse of the Jade Restaurant

Jade Mountain, Manhattan's last classic Chop Suey joint, is dead.

Sorry to bring you this news. Perhaps it was fate that led me there last Tuesday night, I don't know. But after I posted about the visit, a kind reader wrote in to say he had been there soon after I had and had been told the place was closing down for good. The death of the owner, Reggie Chan, last September, was apparently too much for the family. (Scroll down below for the complete story.)

After I got that note I began calling Jade Mountain. An unanswered phone seemed to confirm that the place was closed. Finally, Tuesday afternoon, I got through. A woman answered. Asked if Jade Mountain was closing, she said "We haven't decided yet." She obviously didn't want to talk so I didn't keep her.

Tonight I swung by the place to investigate. From a distance of two blocks, things didn't look good. The classic "Chow Mein" neon sign, which had lit up so many lonely East Village nights, and attracted the admiring glances of nostalgists the city over, could not be seen. Coming closer, it was clear the restaurant was dark and shut tighter than a drum. The signs were off. No sign on the door. No notice of any kind. The front door, leading into the small vestibule, was strangely open, though the inside door was locked. On the counter inside near the cash register sat a lit memorial candle, to acknowledge Chan's death I should imagine.

I went the deli next door and asked him about Jade Mountain. "Closed for good," he confirmed. He insinuated that the sons of Reggie Chan didn't want to carry on the business, but knew little else. This is a sad day. With the Second Avenue Deli and Jade Mountain gone, Second Avenue hardly feels like Second Avenue anymore.

POSTSCRIPT (25 Jan. 2007): Thanks to the helpful staff at Eater.com (see "Links" to the right) for linking to this item and letting people know of this sad happening. I'm sure there are other Jade Mountain fans out there.

A Good Sign: Montero's

Montero's is the bar on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn closest to the harbor. It's been there an age and still has the feel of a joint that filled up with rough and rowdy seamen whenever a ship came in. One imagines in the 1940s and '50s three fights broke out there a night. Now it's popular among morning drunks and certain trendoids and Yuppies as a "perfect dive bar." The bar, made of glass bricks, serves up nothing fancy. There's nautical stuff all over the walls, and a pool table in back. It remains a waterfront bar. As recently as the 1990s, it was still known to police as a place you don't want to find yourself in.

It was founded by a Spaniard named Joseph Montero in 1947 in the current location after some years across the street. He later retired to Spain and died. His widow, Pilar, and son, Pepe, still run it last I heard.

The signage, as anyone can see, is wonderfully untouched, completely of its time. I have no idea what they mean about "Grill" and "Wines"—no one I know of goes there for those things. The awning is a new addition, a nod to the changing demographic of the nabe.

23 January 2007

Revere Palls

The Revere Sugar Plant, a monument of sorts down near the piers of south Red Hook, is on its way out, being dismantled bit by bit by Thor Equities, who soul-killing mission statement runs like this: "Our mission is to provide the best possible retail and mixed use building environment within urban markets across the United States, for our customers, with a focus on providing attractive risk adjusted returns to our investors."

Yup, they actually state that, and with pride. Doesn't that bit about "mixed use buidling environment" just give your chills up and down my spine.

Anyway, Revere was a ruin, to be sure. But it was a picturesque ruin, one of a kind. I liked looking at the hulking oddity of it. The keen photo is courtesy of The Gowanus Lounge at www.gowanuslounge.blogspot.com.

22 January 2007

A Good Sign: Sam's

This is Sam's, an unsung landmark of Cobble Hill. Perhaps unsung because the service is so surly and I-don't-give-a-fuck if you don't happen to be a local Capo or something. Haven't been there in a while. Last time, we ordered a specific kind of pizza, one that my wife—who doesn't eat certain things—could eat. They brought out a different pizza entirely, one she couldn't eat. We pointed this out. The waiter shrugged and walked away. It's the kind of staff that doesn't like a lot of SMART guys comin' round and trying to be CUTE by axing QUESTIONS.

The specialty is brick-oven pizza and it's not bad. A bit sloppy, but tasty and sincere. There's are read leather booths and long tables; one public front room and a private room in the back. Lotsa fake plants, as I recall, and Virgin Mary statuettes. One big plus: they serve not just wine and beer, but cocktails. And I mean cocktails, old school ones like Rob Roys, served in the small martini glasses of yore, not the wading pools bars use today.

The storefront, however, is the greatest. Gold stenciling on the second floor windows. "Steaks" and "Chops" printed on blue glass above the lower windows, with neon spelling out "Brick Oven Pizza" below that. A square, white flourescent sign above it all, hanging at a perpendicular angle. The whole package is a work of art. Makes me smile every time I walk by it.

Erasin' Dixon

Love this story, glimpsed in the Times' City Section yesterday.

When a buisness at 673 Eighth Avenue near 43rd Street took down a sign on the storefront last November, they found an older sign beneath it for the Dixon Cafeteria, a midtown place not heard of since the 1960s. It was a large neon sign, the hot-pink neon long gone but the metal outlines of the letters in "Dixon Cafe" still there.

Dixon Cafeteria was in business from just after World War II until the late 1960s. The owners were Marty Hodulick, John Rucando and Cash Petrovich. Before that, the space was a casket company. (Coffins near Broadway—imagine!)

The place was apparently known for its whole-wheat bread and homemade yogurt. Pictures make it look quite spacious, with a long cafeteria line, a brown and yellow art deco decor and elevated seating opposite the line. Reminds me a bit of the Junior's set-up. There was a counter, a steam table and free seltzer. All New York restaurants should have free seltzer, don't you think?

The sign is gone now, covered up again, just as it was 30-some years ago. It's brief appearance is very telling of the way things work in New York. Landmarks aren't preserved because of diligence or intent, but out of laziness.

21 January 2007

I've Been to the Mountain

About once every two years, I hunker down for a lonely dinner at Jade Mountain on Second Avenue. I never invite anyone to go with me, partly because the food is not very good and I'm disinclined to foist it on anybody, and partly because no one would understand why I would want to eat as this seemingly run-down joint, and I'd have to spend the entire meal explaining myself.

Certainly, the few patrons I meet inside on my occasional visits can't fathom why I'm there. All ancient and gone-to-seed, they stare at me in wonder. They haven't seen me before, they know, and no one they haven't seen before patronizes Jade Mountain. Only old-time, low-income, down-on-their-luck, set-in-their-ways, died-in-the-wool Villagers like them.

I trot down the few steps from the sidewalk and pass the pay phone (a pay phone!) to the glass door on the right and enter. I never worry about finding a seat. Jade Mountain is virtually empty most of the time. I usually occupy an entire booth, my back to the big fishtank near the front and the glass case beneath the cash register which displays, I think, cigars. The decor is tan and brown. The ceiling is lowered and false. And there's a solitary booth near the street window, separate from the rest of the room. I've never seen anyone so sad that they're chosen to sit there.

The menu is a classic. It should be in the Smithsonian. "This is how Americans ate Chinese food from the 1920s through the 1970s," the museum wall text would read. The whole "Column A" and "Column B" bit and quasi-Sino entrees that no self-respecting Manhattan Chinese restaurant—or even the hole-in-the-wall take-out joints—would serve today. Chop Suey. Pepper Steak. Moo Goo Gai Pan. Dishes that countless Borscht Belt comedians based their weary old Chinese restaurant routines on. At the bottom of the front of the menu is the legend: "We are the oldest established restaurant since 1931 on 2nd Avenue serving famous Oriental food." In the inside pages, they recommend you leave your meal to the chef. (Chef!)

As I said, the food is not great. But it can be servicably tasty and is certainly free of pretense. As one travel guide put it, "Jade Mountain is not a good restaurant. But it is a very good bad restaurant." And some dishes stand out as singular. The fried dumplings are not the usual gooey globs found in the take-out places. They are attenuated and crispy. Certainly, they were frozen and tossed in a deep frier. But they somehow came out toothsome. And there is a specialty called Butterfly Shrimp, which I will let them describe: "fresh jumbo shrimp, split open, dipped in egg & flour batter and sauteed in oil, each luscious piece enfolded in bacon & onions and a special sauce." It is really bad for you and really quite remarkable. Worth a try. There are probably other gems hidden in the menu, but it's hard to find them among canned mushrooms and water chestnuts.

Another thing: no music plays. This is an extreme rarity in New York, where loud music invariably chases out the quiet thoughts and tests the lungs of diners.

I don't know much about the history of the place, but it appears to have been founded by a Chinese anarchist named Eddie and a few other fellow waiters who had once worked together in another Chinese restaurant. It is still in the same family—name of Chan. Tragedy struck the clan last September. The owner, Reginald Chan, age 60, who had worked in the place since the 1960s, was delivering an order on his bicycle when he was hit by a truck at Third and 17th. He was killed. A white "ghost bike" was painted and placed at the sport where he died. At the Second Annual Memorial Ride, held recently to honor 14 riders killed on city streets last year, dozens of bikers and members of the Chan family stood silently at the intersection and paid tribute.

When I was there recently, one table was occupied by a group of rowdy postal workers who got louder and louder as they downed glass after glass of cheap white wine. Every now and then the owner of Jade Mountain would sit down with them and the loudest of the postman would toast, "A good man!" I didn't understand at the time, but it must have been to Reginald he was referring.

POSTSCRIPT (29 Jan. 2007): A reader asks in a comment to this post "why the unpleasant commentary?" I wasn't aware it was unpleasant. As the reader further comments, I do indeed have a fondness for the place. That's why I've written several times about it's closing; this is a tragedy, in my opinion. If the reader is referring to my not altogether positive appraisal of the food, well, that's hardly surprisng. I don't know a guide or review in the past couple decades that hasn't been more admiring about the atmosphere and history of the place than about the sometimes lackluster food (as evidenced by the "very good bad restaurant" notice—a review that can't be that upsetting to the owners, as it hangs in the very window of Jade Mountain).

I posted about the closing because I believe—as opposed to every paper and magazine in the city, as far as I can tell—that the passing of such a place deserves notice. Anyway, I meant no offense, only respect. And I certainly don't wish to cause the family any distress.

A Good Sign: Jade Mountain

Jade Mountain may be the last Chop Suey palace left in Manhattan, a relic from the days when hip New Yorkers knew but one form of Chinese cusine, and ate a lot of Moo Shoo Pork, Egg Foo Young and Beef Chow Fun. It's been there on Second Avenue near 12th Street since 1931 and who knows how it has hung on. But, for the neon sign outside along, it deserves landmark status. I knew the place when every letter was lit in beautifu, vibrant pink-red. But now the front sign proclaims only "Jade Tain," while the two-sided sign hung above it does a neater trick: the south side says only "Mein" and the north side tempts you with "Chow."

For more on Jade Mountain, read the next post...

20 January 2007

Second Avenue, Hanging by a Thread

Walking down Second Avenue the other night, I caught this glimpse of Moishe's Bakery near 7th Street, and thought it representative of the state of the street—at least as it was once known. With the closing of the Second Avenue Deli, one of the last remnants of the thoroughfare's identity as a onetime Jewish mecca evaporated. Moishe's is perhaps of the last of the old kosher establishments on the strip. It still stands, dispensing rye and challah and surly service. But look at the sign, with the "Second Avenue" coda hanging on by a nail. One day it will fall to earth altogether. That's says it all.

As a sidelight, I was told by the owner of the Second Avenue Deli himself that the Moishe's space used to be the Second Avenue location of the storied dairy eatery Ratner's, now disappeared from the Manhattan map.

Another sidelight: Moishe is the name by which the Second Avenue actors referred to the low-entertainment-devouring audience. High art was one thing, but, in those days, Moishe got what Moishe wanted: laughs, tears and plenty of pap.

18 January 2007

A Good Sign: Liquor & Wine

I passed this half-lit neon sign on E. 14th Street the other night. The narrow liquor store it advertises is out of business; just empty boxes inside. The sign's not much to speak of—just a classic example of its day, and poignantly on its last legs. One thing I wonder: if the shop's dead and there's nothing inside, why is even half the sign still lit at night? Did someone just forget to turn it off when they closed up for the last time?

12 January 2007

Bad to Worse

Just a few tiding of encroaching lousiness to pass on.

Gotham Book Mart now has a "for sale" sign on the front. Doesn't look like there will be a savior this time around, certainly not by the owner's fair-weather billionaire friends who so generously decided to RENT his a building rather than BUY him one.

The old Second Avenue Deli space will become another Chase Bank branch. Aren't there enough Duane Reades around to satisfy every Chase customer in town?

And some greedhead grandchildren in Carroll Gardens are kicking out the 94-year-old man who lives in a Woodhull Street building they own. The story's on the front page of Brooklyn Papers. Gramps was best friends with the grandfather of the young landlords. He's lived there 50 years or so. But Grampa Landlord died. So, sorry old man! Your $500 monthly rent just ain't pleasing the progeny's pocketbooks.

I know this scenario. I lived through it. Believe me, the children of the Carroll Gardens old-timers are heartless wonders. We lived on Carroll Street renting from a nice old longshoreman named Joe. Lived there seven years. Joe was nice to us and we were nice to Joe, and he never asked for a rent hike. When my wife was eight months pregnant, Joe died. Couple weeks later, we were asked to get out by his granddaughter. The pregancy didn't seem to make much of an impression on her.

Oh, and here's the delicious catch: granddaughter was pregnant at the time!

10 January 2007

A Good Sign: Neil's

This is the neon sign hanging outside Neil's Coffee Shop at the southeast corner of Lexington and 71st. It's always been one of my favorite old signs and I was glad to see it was still there when I visited the Hunter College area again recently.

The diner is still as I remember it from my Hunter days. It has such a permanency to it. Never changes, never primps or tries to sell itself. I know nothing about the place. The sign would seen to indicate that it's been there at least since the '50s. They don't take credit cards. The menu is the usual diner affair. But the way the words "Coffee Shop" are placed far off to the right of the door, aligned with nothing in particular, is pure independent business eccentricity.

Where's the 27th Regiment When You Need Them?

I passed by the Abram S. Hewitt Memorial Buidling the other day. A sad sight. In case the name doesn't ring a bell, it's that squat, grey, stone-solid building on Fourth Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Street, right across from Cooper Union. You've seen it a million times. Everyone has, and has gotten quite used to it. It's all barricaded and graffitied right now, because the hideous-minded Cooper brass has decided to demolish the 102-year-old structure in favor of an undulating glass jobbie about ten stories high and fifty stories ugly.

The students who have art studios inside the Hewitt no-like-y this idea, for good reason, and are responsible for the helpless-fury-born graffiti. At one point the second-story windows bore the legend: "I Like the Old New York." Amen. Of course, this message has since been removed.

The site has a tremendous history. Before the Hewitt building, it was the home of the 27th Regiment of the New York National Guard. The regiment was sent out to quell unrest during the Stone Cutters' Riot; the Astor Place Riot; and the Drafts Riots of the Civil War—only the best goddam riots New York ever saw. I doubt that wall of glass will conjure up visions of any such history.

06 January 2007

Fake Lifestyle to Replace Real Lifestyle

Are there any more horrifying words in the American language than these: "Lifestyle Store"?

I mean, what the hell sort of culturemart marketing jibberish is that? Well, whatever it means, Michael Kors is opening one on the site of Jerry's, the fine upscale diner that has graced Prince Street in Soho these past 20 years.

Jerry's was a trendy place, no question. In it's heyday, you had to wait an hour to partake of Sunday brunch, cooling your heels with every quasi-artistic, rough-and-smooth scenemaker in Soho. But it was also a comfortable, personable place once you got a seat, and the food was always dependable. It had an indefinable "New Yorky" quality to it. What's more, now that the art scene that it once serviced has moved north to Chelsea, Jerry's functions as a reminder of a better time when Soho's cultural pulse was beating, before the chains and droves of shoppers descended. "The Original Soho Restaurant" it called itself.

Kors won't be moving in until spring 2008, so there's time to catch lunch one more time. Something about the simplicity of Jerry's blue neon sign always touched me somehow.

05 January 2007

Lost City: Chicago Edition: Show's Over

The bleeding continues in The Windy City, which seems to be losing its charms as fast as old soulless Gotham.

The Jazz Showcase, the Village Vanguard of the Chicago jazz scene, closed its doors last weekend AFTER 60 YEARS!

The music hall, on Grand Avenue near State, is the second-oldest jazz venue in the U.S., after New York's Vanguard. It hosted the likes of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. But owner Joe Segal lost his lease nonetheless. History matters not to a landlord who wants to fatten his wallet.

Add the Jazz Showcase to Marshall Field's, Berghoff's Restaurant, Carson Pirie Scott and Tower Records, Chicago landmarks which all disappeared in 2006. Can anyone tell me why Chicago is called Chicago anymore and not, say, Dallas or Columbus?

Segal says he will relocate. (That's him in the picture with Dizzy.) But the guy's 80, and according to Reuters, even the help of the city government hasn't helped him located a new home. Of course, that's assuming the city is actually trying.

The 33rd Street Deli?

The Second Avenue Deli, which shut down suddenly a year ago, may rise again. But it won't be on Second Avenue. And Jack Lebewohl won't be running it.

The New York Sun (which has been on this story like a cheap suit) reports that the legendary pastrami house may reopen way uptown in Murray Hill—162 E. 33rd Street near Third, far from Yiddish Broadway. (No Yiddish Theatre Walk of Fame then, anymore, huh?)

Jack's 26-year-old son Joshua Lebewohl is the one getting the thing going again. His application for a liquor license was approved back in November. Like his pa, Joshua is a lawyer. Jack is the brother of founder Abe Lebewohl, who was murdered in front of the store in 1996. Day-to-day operations, meanwhile, will be handled by another family member "who currently owns a bagel store." (A bagel store in New York—Oh! That place!)

And the name of the place? Not decided. Also unresolved is if the place will be kosher. The original purported by be kosher, but stayed open on Friday nights, the Jewish sabbath, so you be the judge.

It would be nice if this came to pass. But, let's face it, whatever opens on 33rd Street, it won't be the Second Avenue Deli, no more than the Lindy's on Broadway is the real Lindy's. The deli was of its neighborhood, of its time.

Why Not Just Hire Orange Sellers?

A horrifying article in the New York Times today about the state of allowed audience behavior in Broadway theatres. According to the piece, eating in theatres is now not only known, but PERMITTED. Disney theatres, some houses owned by Jujamcyn and ALL the Nederlander theatres let patrons take all sorts of munchies back to their seats, just like the popcorn monkeys we see at the cineplex every day.

Now Disney you're going to expect. They're all about concessions. But Jujamcyn, which is run by Rocco Landesman, and the Nederlander organization, run by one of the oldest of most powerful theatre real estate families in America, should know better. They're theatre men, or pose as such. They know what's at stake. They know how easily the theatrical illusion is broken by the sound of cell phone and candy wrappers. Now, you can't help old biddies smuggling in candies in their coin purses, but you can stop Mr. and Mrs. Fatso Cornbelt from purchasing a jumbo popcorn and a tuna wrap at your own concession stand.

“It’s a reflection of changing audience habits,” said Jim Boese, the Nederlander organization’s weasly, prevaricating vice president. “As the audience for Broadway expands, there are changing audience needs. This is part of a broader attempt to enhance the audience experience.” Reflection of changing audience habits, my ass. Reflections of never-changing corporate greed is more like it. The Nederlanders et al stand to make a mint off such food sales—particularly when they can pretend to be conscientious by making theatregoers buy a "spillproof commemorative cup" for $12 if they want to bring it back to their seats.

As for enhancing the theatre experience, how do at-your-seat salads and hot dogs enhance a night at the theatre. They liven up the show down in the glutton's stomach, for sure; his mouth is alive with pleasure, no doubt. But I doubt he's concentrating on what David Hare has to say or the nuances of Christine Ebersole's performance. And his non-eating neighbor's experience is surely diminished.

I'd like to visit Mr. Boese in his office during business hours and eat my lunch. I'd like to enhance his work experience.

04 January 2007

Last Supper at Sardi's

Vincent Sardi, Jr., died today at 1991. I don't have to tell you the name of the restaurant he owned.

Sardi was 1991. He hadn't run the day-to-day at Sardi's since 1997; his partner assumed control, though I understand younger generations also have a hand in things. But he was the soul of the place, taking it over in 1947 from his father and staying with it for 50 years (despite briefly selling it in the '80s), coddling actors and agents, and perservering even as it faded as a theatrical watering hole and became a tourist trap.

Actors, except for the very old ones, abandoned it long ago for places like Joe Allen's and Angus McIndoe's. But I wonder if they really traded up? The food may not be great, but the food at theatre hangouts never is. And the dining room still looks fantastic, a high-ceilinged, banquetted time capsule. It's theatre itself. The bar off to the side of the entrance is mighty cozy, too.

Now, if only they could lose those awful caricatures. I know they're historical, but they're also ugly. And I hate that I don't know who half of the faces are supposed to be.

The place will carry on, of course. It makes too much money not to. But it's sad to think there's no one named Sardi at Sardi's anymore.

Bring Out Your Dead!

It's a new year and we're approaching the first anniversary of the date that McHale's closed to make way for a condo highrise—the reason this blog was born, dontcha know. So it seems as good a time as any to see how the city's cultural fabric is holding up.

So, let's see. In the last 12 months, New York City has lost:
McHale's (victim of condo fever)
The Second Avenue Deli (rent dispute)
Barrymore's (rumored hotel development)
Sam's (ditto)
CBGBs (rent dispute)
The Continental (couldn't make money anymore)
Studio Coffee Chop (cause unknown)
Western Beef (leaving too trendy Meat Packing District)
Coliseum Books (couldn't make the rent)
All the good writers the Village Voice ever had (stupid new management)
And, in Chicago, a massacre: Berghoff's restaurant and the State Street Marshall Field's and Carson Pirie Scott

Still due to be executed are:
Astroland at Coney Island (sold to developer who's got bigger ideas)
Yankee Stadium (thanks, George. Got enough money yet?)
St. Brigid's Church (Roman Catholic Archdiocese doesn't think much of it)
Our Lady of Vilnius (ditto)
Gotham Book Mart (shuttered, rent flap, unlikely to open)
Astrotower (City doesn't want it, even for free!)
Gertel's Bakery (rent dispute)

On the bright side, pulled-back-from-the-precipice landmarks included:
Gino's (labor dispute resolved)
Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop (former customer bought the place)
Capital Fishing Tackle Company (forced to move by Chelsea Hotel)
Nat Sherman (rent dispute, pushed down the street)
Ess-a-Bagel (survived health scare)

And back from the dead were:
Le Cirque
The Russian Tea Room
Cammareri's Bakery (not back yet, but reopening in Brooklyn any minute)
Knickerbocker Hotel (bought by Dubai which wants to bring it back to its former glory)
Worth & Worth hat store (found an affordable storefront after being dormant for years)

Some bad news, some good. Still, too much bad to be optimistic about the future. When's that real estate bubble going to burst, anyway?

02 January 2007

Whistle Stop

Well, things do get away from you during the holidays. I've been meaning to post any number of items over the past two weeks, but somehow something always distracted me. My New Year's resolution: to stop doing that. Look, it's already working!

Though my lovely other half hit the hay around 9 PM New Year's Eve, I was determined to do something interesting to celebrate the turning of the year, even though I think New Year's is a pretty damn empty proposition as a holiday. So, I hopped the G train, rode a few stops and walked over to the Pratt Institute campus, where they honor the new year in a singularly odd way: by dragging out a collection of old steam whistles, installing them in the quad and then letting them rip, sometimes tunefully, more often not.

The whistles are roped off at first, I guess to keep the openly boozing students from blasting themselves with a cloud of hot steam in the face. Prior to midnight, some Christmas tunes are played; the effect is like carousel music. After midnight, each whistle gets its say. Some pipe low, some high, all pretty much rattle your chest. I suppose they were loud. Didn't bother me too much though. The stream, beautifully white, billows up into the trees some thirty feet.

All the whistles are manned by a rangy fellow in a blue striped engineer hat and muttonchops. Looked like just the fellow who would spend his year shining up steam whistles for their big moment. At the end, he handed over the strings that released the steam into the whistles to spectators, and they yanked for all they were worth.

I was glad to have seen it. Better than the inane goings-on in Times Square. But, let me tell you, a little steam whistle goes a long way. By 12:15 AM, I was back on the G.