31 July 2007

Expressway to Ugly

OK, I know it's foolish to expect anything from a corporation like McDonald's. But may I just ask why the miniature fast food franchises known as McDonald's Express are so aggressively ugly?

Granted, no McDonald's outlets are exactly handsome, with the possible exception of a few of the original drive-ins, which have a certain retro charm. But the Expresses are particularly offensive to the retina. They are mostly boxy, two-story jobs, like the world's most utilitarian condo duplex. And they are encased in squares of shiny red, black and yellow tile, giving them the appearance of a particularly garish public restroom turned inside out.

What was the idea behind this design? Are they meant to look kinda Art Deco? Are the bright colors supposed to attract the kiddies? Are we supposed to feel cozy inside their compact designs? Whatever the concept was, it ain't working.

These buildings despoil every block they occupy. I've seen them in the Village, I've seen them on the East Side, I've seen them in Jackson Heights. They are always the uglist thing around. And there's a lot of competition in Queens!

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: Good Signs

Here are some leftover images from my recent journey to New Orleans. I couldn't not post them because they are such good signs. Of course, NoLa is a kingdom of good signage, where classic neon and such are not tossed out for some crappy new plastic or cloth awning.

Not the interesting abbreviation of Pharmacy. And the restaurant is pronounced "Two-Jacks."

Domino Museum Advocates Reveal Themselves

As first reported on Lost City yesterday, and reported in the New York Sun and elsewhere today, a group of Brooklyn art leaders are trying to drum up support for the idea that the City would be better served if the Domino sugar plant, recently landmarked, become a Tate Modern-like museum, rather than a hive of new, fancy apartments and retail space—which is what its owners plan to do with it.

The Sun article revealed just who these artists are. "I look at this place and I say ' Tate Modern, Tate Modern, Tate Modern,'" Greg Stone told the Sun. Stone is a longtime Williamsburg resident, a well-known participant in the neighborhood's art scene whose art has been shown in many local and international galleries. Having lived in Billyburg for a good couple decades, he has seen the many changes the nabe has gone through.

One of his partners in the effort, Joe Amrhein, is better known. As the owner or the massively successful Williamsburg gallery Pierogi 2000, he is a near mythic figure in the Brooklyn art world. Few if any Williamsburg artists have gotten anywhere without first winning a show at Pierogi, or, at least, a place in the gallery's famous "flat files." (Stone has shown at Pierogi.)

Unsurprisingly, the developers are not impressed by the idea. "We believe that the adaptive use that makes the most sense is residential," a spokesman for Community Preservation Corporation Resources, told the Sun. I bet they had some saltier comments for the plan once they were off the record

30 July 2007

What a Wonder!

I confess. Though I've written about the Wonder Wheel many times, until last Sunday I had never ridden on it. This is primarily due to logistics (not that I'm making excuses). I usually come to Coney with my kid, who is still too young to ride the Wheel. I can't very well tell him to wait on the ground while I take a ride, so I've had to bypass it for a few years.

Well, this past weekend, I convinced the Wife (not an amusement park lover, per se) and a friend to come to Coney, and thus I was afforded an opportunity to part with five bucks and partake of the landmark. My friend and I boarded the above blue car, passing by the hardbitten, seen-it-all carnies who man the thing. I have to admit, I didn't expect the Wheel to hit the heights it does. I felt a bit dizzy looking down, but I was grateful for the all-encompassing view of Coney, as well as bird's eye view of what Thor has wrought.

Moves rather slowly, this creation. But the periodic slides down the metal tracks leading to the center of the circle were stomach-churning enough. I'd ride it again, but maybe in one of the stationary cars.

29 July 2007

Domino Plant a Museum Piece?

To some residents of Williamsburg, the news that the Domino Sugar Plant had been saved from destruction (unlike much of the rest of the Brooklyn waterfront) by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in late June just wasn't good enough. They still find it an abomination that the plant will become yet another residential palace, christened "The New Domino" by developers CPC Resources and Isaac Katan, and set to include some 2,200 apartments, 660 of those characterized as "affordable housing," which, in this market, could (and does) mean anything.

So, what do these malcontents want? Oh, art, culture, something that gives back to the community as opposed to stuffing one individual's pockets—that sort of stuff. Lost City has gotten wind that a group of prominent Billyburg arts leaders are trying to stir up support for a plan which would transform the Domino Plant into a world-class art center, a la The Tate Modern in London (below).

One has to say, on the surface, the plan makes some sense. It's kind of a no-brainer, actually. The Tate and old Domino have a lot in common. The Tate was created out of an old abandoned, hulking old power station sitting in the East End right across the Thames from central London, just as the Domino building stares at Manhattan from across the East River. (Leave it to an artists' community to notice these parallels.) As to what such a plan could bring to Gotham, well, the Tate Modern has far exceeded expectations as far as attendance since it opened in 2000; it was at one time the third more popular tourist attraction in London. Which, of course, means pots of cash for the city.

The pushers of this plan see the Domino as hosting rotating exhibitions of private collections, art fairs, traveling international exhibitions, and imagine it being serviced by a water taxis (just like Fairway!), restaurants and a pretty little promenade. (Hey, how about building our own Millinneum Bridge from Manhattan to get there?)

Not such a wild dream. Hard to see it happening without a big fight. And, after all, CPC and Katan owns the joint and ain't likely to let it go. But I, for one, would like to see someone give them a run for his money.

28 July 2007

A Perfect Combo

A dip in the Red Hook community pool, and then a meal courtesy of the Red Hook Park food vendors. This has to be one of the most blissfully perfect and unassailably authentic Saturday set-ups New York City has to offer. It's just ur-Gotham.

First of all, the 1930s-era, WPA pool is free to all comers and kept in fantastic condition. The rule-heavy administration and the whistle-happy lifeguards put a bit of a damper on things, true. On the other hand, they keep the experience exquisitely elemental. No pool toys, no flotation devices, no boom-boxes, no food. Just you, your swimsuit and the water.

After you've had you fill of watery fun, the Red Hook vendors are just a kitty-corner away. I tried the Carello Guatemalan stand for the first time and, damn, if they didn't zoom straight to the number one spot as my favorite vendor. The chili relleno taco and fried, cylindrical chicken tacos are out of this world.

I couldn't find ballfield boss Cesar Fuentes anywhere. I asked a few vendors if there was any new news about the loathsome Parks Commissioner's attempt to push the mom-and-pop shops out of the park and yield up the concessions to open bidding, but could find out nothing.

It's been somewhat disappointing that way the press, on the web and off, has rather dropped this story after beating the drum so hard there for a while. Let's not give up on these guys! I mean, I'm sorry, but that chile relleno taco was just too good. And I don't want to have to settle for an Italian sausage or a Krispy Kreme after my pool time.

Big Gum on Smith Street

The most mysterious storefront on Smith Street is the M. Poggi Wholesale Confectionery at No. 293. You know the shop; the one with gigantic facsimiles of packs of gum in the window. The address sits silent and stoic among the hubbub of Brooklyn "Restaurant Row." It would seem to a going concern, but I'm never seen anybody enter or exit (certainly nobody has ever dusted those king-size candies), and the door is so pasted over with stickers and decals (included one indicating membership in the NRA) that it's impossible to ascertain whether business is being transacted within.

I've never had the courage to knock on the door because something about the store seems to whisper to me "social club." You can't be to careful in Carroll Gardens. And, after all, the outfit is run by someone with a vowel at the end of his last name.

Anyway, I love this store, whatever it is. Reasons? Let me count them. First or all, there are the titantic gum props. Freedent, Orbit, Doublemint. It's like a forgotten Warhol installation.

Then there's the classic gold stenciling in the window, unchanged, I'm sure, since the store opened.

Poggi also handles tobacco, explaining some faded posters in the corner for Benson & Hedges, featuring a man with very '70s hair, a bent cigarette and the slogan "That's the breaks."

New York City has been working with wholly numerical phone numbers for some years now, but, spelled out on a Salem sign, Poggi still goes by TR5-5581. Finally, there's the requisite "Will return at" clock in the window.

27 July 2007

Parachute Jump in Cobble Hill?

You never know what chapters of history hide inside the buildings of an old Brownstone neighborhood like Cobble Hill.

I've been told a couple times that the above carriage house on Kane Street near Henry (it's now a residence) was used during World War II to store parachutes. I first heard the story from a local landlord, which led me to think it credible; my experience has been that landlords know all the dope about the buildings in the neighborhood where they do business, since they are in steady contact with other landlords. (Landlord-on-landlord gossip can be a juicy thing.)

Why parachutes would be stores in the Borough of Kings I don't know. Perhaps this was in the first years of the war, when an attach on New York City seems a possibility. If anyone out there knows anything, please speak up.

Sherry-Lehmann's Purple Plywood

The Sherry-Lehmann wine store's move from its longtime location at 679 Madison Avenue to the northeast corner of 59th and Park is coming along. Workers are busy inside the space and shelving is going up. The store maintains that the transition will be complete by mid-to-late August.

The shop could teach the development-crazy city a little something about stylish construction. Sherry-Lehmann has painted its plywood a fetching shade of plum on both the Park Avenue and 59th Street sides. The paint job brightens up the area and adds a spark of color to the sedate intersection.

25 July 2007

DeFonte Not DeFinished

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind regarding Italian-American businesses—particularly those in the outer boroughs—is that Old World traditions die hard. Just as much of Italy shuts down and goes on vacation in August, so do many of Gotham's Italian restaurants, delis, shops and businesses take a hiatus during the warmer months. Over the years, I've gotten used to the fact that, from late July to late August, I'll have to do without the services of some of my favorite Carroll Gardens stores and eateries.

A couple weeks back, there were some reports that DeFonte's Sandwich Shop in Red Hook had closed its doors. The way things are going in this town vis a vis Mom & Pop places notwithstanding, I was highly suspicious of this news. Sure enough, I stopped by for a hero today and DeFonte's was open and doing its usual brisk trade. They were, as I suspected, on holiday. In fact, a guy behind the counter was joking with a customer, "I go on vacation and they say `He's closed for good!'"

24 July 2007

McCarren Pool Now a Landmark

McCarren Pool—the Depression-era, Olympic-size pool which, for the past two decades, has been just a big, graffiti-ed concrete depression in the Greenpoint landscape—was saved from destruction today by the Landmarks Commission, which declared the waterless wonder a landmark, accorded to The Observer.

I've never seen the pool, I must admit, but I've sure read a truckload about it over the past six months: about its glory days; its closure in 1984; the hipster concerts that have been held in its cement basin over the summer; Bloomberg's plans to bring it back as a watery wonderland ($50 million he plans to spend). Work is supposed to start in 2009. It will need it.

Strange But True: Good Postal Service in Brooklyn

There has been a lot of blogging, and subsequent print reporting, about the abysmal state of postal service in Brooklyn, particularly about the lackadaisical, unresponsive, contemptuous behavior of postal stations workers, who seem to go out of their way not to help you.

Well, I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so I feel I must pass on this unlikely tale. And I don't blame you if you find it incredible.

I was passing down Atlantic Avenue near Flatbush, when my five-year-old spotted the Times Plaza Station of the post office and reminded me that my wife had requested I pick up stamps. I shuddered, remembering my past experiences at this branch, but the kid was insistent, so I went in. There was a long line for the windows. I went over to the stamp machine and found it was out of order. OK, par for the course so far. So I went back to the line, steeling myself for a long wait.

Suddenly, a smiling woman in a postal uniform approached me and asked "Are you in line for postal services?" I replied yes, I only needed some stamps, but the machine was broken. "Did you know you can get stamps from that machine?," pointing to a package-weighing contraption that I had always assumed was only good for securing postage for large boxes and such.

I said I had never used one, and she said, "Would you like me to show you how to use it?" She took me out of the line and led me step by step through a process that resulted in a sheet of 20 stamps. She never left my side. I have never been so completely aided in any post office across this great land. I exited the building stunned and wondered which borough I was in.

Landmarks Commission Tries to Do the Write Thing

Today, the New York City Landmarks Commission will hear arguments for the landmarking of the proposed Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Historic District.

Everyone knows the Faber name from the sides of their yellow No. 2 pencils. Those beauties were produced in the Greenpoint factory until 1956, when the company moved to Pennsylvania. The factory was built in the 1870s, and was Faber's second place of business in New York City. (The first one, in Manhattan, burned down.) The factory is being packaged together with a few adjoining structures from the 1820s to create a district evoking old-time Greenpoint.

Eberhard Faber's real name, by the way, was John Eberhard Faber. For some reason, he dropped the "John" after opening his first U.S. factory. Perhaps a marketing decision; Eberhard is a much more memorable name than John. Johnny Boy died shortly after completing construction of the Greenpoint building.

Also scheduled to be considered for "calendaring" is Webster Hall, the large, red-brick building on E. 11th near Fourth Avenue that was once the site of many a marriage; and the East 11th Street Public Baths, between Avenues A and B.

23 July 2007

You Said It, Sister!

It's official. Overdevelopment in New York City is so rabid and vicious that it doesn't just upset soft-hearted sentimentalists like myself. It's so bad it pisses off hard-bitten heavy metal guitarists.

Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French recently bitched to NY1 about how his stomping ground, the Upper West Side, has just lost the 87-year-old flower seller, Embassy Florist.

"Only in the last year has it been so startling that so many landmark stores have finally closed up," said French. "Now of course, we are watching the complete and utter mega-million dollar development of the West Side."

Embassy closed a few weeks ago. Of course, it was because the landmark raised ye olde rent. Embassy decamped for New Jersey. The shop is family owned, which New York City no likey anymore. Faceless corporations with headquarters far way are City Hall's cup of tea. Besides, flowers are for saps who don't know how to make money.

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: Stop Helping Me!

Commander's Palace is known for, perhaps more than anything, its attentive service. Little did I know.

The other night, I had planned to eat at Dick and Jenny's, a local favorite in New Orleans' Uptown neighborhood. But, upon arriving, I discovered they were closed for July. All I knew about the area was that Commander's Palace was somewhere nearby, so I told the cab to drive there, hoping the place (routinely rated NoLa's most popular restaurant) wouldn't be fully booked.

The front desk told me they could possible squeeze me in if I was willing to cool my heels at the bar for 45 minutes. I agreed. Every New Orleans restaurant has its singular eccentricities, and I discovered one of Commander's Palace's when I was led to the bar. My guide led me straight into the kitchen (through doors labeled "Yes" and "No" in big brass letters). Passing the kitchen is the only way you can get to the bar. So it's a safe bet that every diner gets a good long look at the chefs in action.

Commander's Palace's second eccentricity—and, yes, I would call it a eccentricity rather than a clear-cut virtue—is the slavish devotion of the waiters and staff. I was shunted off to a far corner of a second floor space called the Garden Room. I was none too happy, feeling I had gotten the worst table in the house. But my mood soon changed. Every waiter—and I seemed to have at least four—constantly smiled at me, refilled my water glass, asked if I was all right, and engaged me in conversations about my life and experiences which sometimes lasted five minutes. I was taken care of, as they say. If I had truly wanted to be left alone, I would have had to beat these guys off with a stick.

By the end of the evening, I had met the head chef, the estimable Tory McPhail, and the dining room manager, Michael Brewer. Both acted like they would have died a little inside if I hadn't chosen to eat there that night. I was flabbergasted, but I had to hand it to them. They knew how to treat a customer.

As for the meal, I was stunned. I expected that, since Commander's Palace is a big tourist magnet, the food would be rote, less than stellar. But this was the best meal I had in New Orleans. The Oysters Racca—light and crispy oysters, with bacon braised artichokes, leeks, double cream and oyster demi-glace—was mouth-watering and is one of the best things I have ever eaten. And the Gulf Crusted Wild American Shrimp was almost as good, with succulent homemade barbeque sauce and mushrooms, grilled leeks, and andouille-cracked. I could have started over and eaten the entire meal a second time.

22 July 2007

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: My Coffee's on Fire

Antoine's is the oldest family-run restaurant in the United States and, as such, can lay claim to its share of original dishes, mysterious traditions and arcane rituals. The restaurant itself is a byzantine maze of room dedicated to bizarre design motifs and antique gatherings.

I had dinner the other night in a sparsely populated main room. The service was confident, deferential and attentive. Derrick was the waiter's name, and he looked like he only 18 and weighed 98 pounds, but his attitude was that of a man with decades of experience. My friend and I had many of the signature dishes: Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters a la Foch, Pommes de Terre Souffles and Baked Alaska.

We finished with another longtime Antoine's favorite, Cafe brulot diabolique. We had no idea what we were getting into when we ordered it. First, two warmed, long-stemmed china coffee cups came to the table. On the side of each was an illustration of Satan. Then Derrick returned with copper pan filled with brandy and spices, which he lit on fire. After letting it burn a bit, he slowly pouring in hot black coffee, stirring it until the flames subsided a bit. He then ladled a cupful into each mug while the mixture was still burning.

"How long should I wait after the fire goes out to drink it?" I asked. "Right away," said Derrick. He further explained that the coffee was named as it was because it was "Black as night and hot as Hell."

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: That's a Big Sandwich

Whereas in New York, we can't seem to knock down our cultural landmarks fast enough, in New Orleans even a hurricane like Katrina won't kill a classic restaurant or bar. Most of the famous French Quarter destinations have bounded back, with only a few going down for the count. During my stay there, I paid a call of such irreplaceable treasures as Mother's, Commander's Palace, Acme Oyster Bar, Tipitina's music club, Vaughan's Lounge, The Olde Absinthe House and others.

One place I visited for the first time was Central Grocery on Decatur Street, not far from the French Market. This is an old Italian grocery with an atmosphere of circu 1940. It has many of the products you find in a grocery in any Little Italy in New York, as well as the requisite Cajun products and about 108 different kinds of hot sauce. What's it's really known for, however, is something you definitely can't get on Arthur Avenue or in Bensonhurst: the muffuletta sandwich.

The muffuletta is a killer sandwich, both in the sense that it's a great sandwich and that it's so big it could conceivably kill you if one fell on your head from a great height. The bread is a whole Italian, seeded round about one foot in diameter. Inside are layers of procuitto, salami, and provolone, topped with—the key ingredient—a generous layer of spicy olive salad. The creation is then cut four ways, in the manner of a pizza.

You can buy these sandwiches as a "whole" or a "half," and, unless you're part of a big, hungry group, or a fool, you want a half. One person can't eat a whole. It's a very satisfying feast, and best if you sit and one of the Central Grocery counters and munch it down there, soaking in the workaday, aged character of the place.

The place next door, Progress Grocery, another old-time Italian place, also claims to have invented the muffuletta, but most people seem to except that Central Grocery is the author.

19 July 2007

A Good Sign: Hotel Monteleone Parking

This is the parking sign for the historic Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. I know, I know, it's a parking sign. But it's freakin' awesome!

18 July 2007

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: Hats of the South

New Orleans, being a city that honors old traditions, has a huge hat emporium (well, huge by hat store standards) on St. Charles Street off Canal. It's called Meyer the Hatter and is about the most impressive edifice dedicated to haberdashery that I've ever seen. Though the shop is limited to the ground floor, the entire, four-story facade of the building is blanketing by the store's sign. Glimpsed from across the street, Meyer seems some mercantile giant.

The store was founded in 1894 and advertises itself as the "largest hat store in the south." While shopping inside, however, Sam Meyer II himself corrected that slogan, saying "the only hat store in the south." Sam is the third generation of four Meyer generations that have worked that store. It has never fallen out of family hands. He said he sells 2,000 hats a month, many of which lids he designs himself (though he does not manufacture them). Folks travel from all around, and phone orders come in from overseas.

Sam's an irrascable guy, but I'm proud to say he personally helped me find the hat I purchased at Meyer. I kept having to apologize for various stupid things I said about hats and the hat business. He barked and grumbled and complained, but he did his job, fetching me at least a dozen different hats before I finally settled on a Stetson Panama called the "Soho"—a new model just arrived, he told me, and the last he had in stock. It had a soft, flexible frame that was far more comfortable on my head that the stiff straw hats that are the norm.

"They can make 'em like this if they want to," Sam said. "They don't have to make them hard. I don't like 'em hard. I don't ask for 'em hard. Look at this." He knocked the brim of a stiff straw hat. "It's like like a rock."

17 July 2007

Eckerd, Rite Aid, Soldier, Spy

As some know, and fewer care, Eckerd—the oldest of the drug store mastodons—was recently gobbled up by Rite Aid. And since Rite Aid can't bear to have this fair nation besmirched with countless boxy, beige stores proclaiming themselves Eckerds, it has decided to rename all said drug emporiums Rite Aids.

Two such branches are in my neighborhood, at Smith and President streets and Atlantic and Court. They remain Eckerds, but a banner draped on the side of each building trumpets "Rite Aid is Coming!"

What I want to know is: Do they really think it fucking matters? Do they actually believe it will make a difference? Can they be so deluded that they imagine the public sees a difference between an Eckerd and a Rite Aid, or between a Rite Aid and a Duane Reade and a CVS for that matter? Do they truly think there are Rite Aid loyalists?! Or Eckered holdouts!? Gentlemen,please: They're all the same awful, faceless cement boxes of mass-produced product! Hanging a banner outside calling notice to this meaningless change of ownership is like putting a sign outside the entrance to a freeway saying "Highway Coming Soon!"

I'm pretty sure that most people think as I do; that Rite Aid can just change the sign outside these buildings from Eckerd to Rite Aid—not touching a thing inside the stores—and accomplish their transition goals. What? One carries Crest and Chunky Soup and the other doesn't?

Lord & Taylor in Line to Become Landmark

Just last November, the president of NRDC, the acronym that owns the Lord & Taylor department store chain, said he wanted 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 President Richard Baker. "We want to be where people live, not where they work."

Now, NRDC is saying it wants to keep the store up and running. What changed? Well, it may have something to do with the City's Landmarks Commission announcement that it's considering making the 1914 building a landmark.

Of course, whatever the Commission decides in the future, NRDC wouldn't be forced to keep on doing business on the site. But one can only imagine that the Commission's interest in the building has acted as a wake-up call to the know-nothings in the head office. Or maybe they just don't like that idea that they'd now have to get approval from the City if they wanted to convert the building into condos or some such thing. Better to just let things stand as they are.

16 July 2007

Rose's Turn Is Over

According to a lot of internet chatter, Rose's Turn, the very-Greenwich-Villagey piano bar on Grove Street, will be calling it a day on July 22. There's a bit of irony to this news coming to light today, since the papers are at this moment filled with reviews of Patti LuPone's turn as Mama Rose in the City Center production of "Gyspy." The bar, of course, took its name from the finale of that show, in which Rose has the most famous musical nervous breakdown in theatre history.

I've never been the piano bar type. The idea of standing around an upright singing show tune after show tune gives me the heebie-jeebies. Still, I'm sad to see the place go. Sing-a-long bars like that, wearing their musical-theatre heart on their sleeve, are very much of a Village that is fast disappearing. And the place has fostered some talent. Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown played there as a young man. Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara performed their comedy act here before they become famous.

There's still Marie's Crisis and Arthur's Tavern—two very similar place—nearby. I remember in the '80s, shortly after moving to New York, taking my first walk through the Village and passing Marie's Crisis to hear a crowd of drunk men happily belting out some show tune around a piano and realizing suddenly that I wasn't in Wisconsin anymore.

13 July 2007

Chumley's to Reopen Oct. 1?

A hope-engendering report on the progress of Chumley's resurrection appeared this week in The Villager.

According to the account, workers have been laboring hard over the past week and are moving ahead steadily. Gerald Eglentowicz, Jr., New York City operations manager for LVI/Mazzocchi Wrecking, Inc. (the group in charge of the demolition bits, not the reconstruction), said "So far, we’ve removed the collapsed chimney and made way for shoring to be put in place to support the building."

"Phase Two" involves removing the south and east walls. Steve Shlopak, owner of Chumley’s, which occupies the building’s ground floor, was quoted as being happy about how the repairs are going. Reopening is scheduled for Oct. 1.

No word on previous reports which had the owners of the timeless bar buying the building from the current landlord.

Will It Never End?

I remember back in April, on opening day of the Coney Island season, taking my kid to Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, and hearing the calming assurances of its owners that, even if Astroland is to disappear this season, Deno's would be around for many years to come.

Well, not while Joe Sitt is still living and scheming!

I guess Dennis and Steve Vourderis, who own and operate the park, weren't fully expressing their actual situation. For, according to an article in the Kings Courier, Deno's may be edging into Astroland-land.

Deno's operates on 80,000 square feet of space, the combines acreage of two plot owned by Jack Ward of Ward Realty and leased to the Vourderis family since 1970. According to the Courier, Sitt is close to buying the land from Ward for $11 million. Under their deal, the Vouderis brothers will be given the opportunity to match the offer in 30 days. How many of you out there think Dennis and Steve have $11 million sitting around doing nothing? If you do, you're as dumb as Joe Sitt thinks you are.

There is a modicum of good news. The article states:

Vourderis said the brothers do have some leverage, though, as the lease also states that even if the property is sold, the long-term lease states the kiddie park can’t be moved until the Wheel turns 100 in 2020.

Still, one can't get past the idea that Sitt wants it all—the adult's fun, the kiddies' fun. No fun must be allowed to exist at Coney by Sitt-style fun, the kind with hotel and condos attached, and a big fat Starbucks in the middle.

So much for Sitt's recent efforts to win over the public. What is it with this man? It's as if he dead set on obliterating every last vestige of the old Coney. Nothing should remain to remind folks that we they had something better than the Branson, MO, glitz mall model he's shopping around.

You think the bloggers went against you before, Joe? Well, if this Deno's thing is true, just wait.

12 July 2007

Joe, Meet Marty

The Trader Joe's cometh.

Opportunistic fat cat Boro Prez Marty Markowitz will make political hay on the corner of Court and Atlantic this morning, officially hailing the arrival of Brooklyn's Trader Joe's. There will be a "parade," beginning at Marty's office on Joralemon Street. At the present Independence Bank, he and someone from Two Trees (ooh!) will make the proclamation. There will be a Caribbean steel drum band, as cheesy as you like it. I'm happy it's official, but I think I'll skip this event.

11 July 2007

Bad News in Red Hook

This item at Gowanus Lounge is very dispiriting, in that it involves some businesses I like and patronize often, as well as many of the storefronts that have made Red Hook a nice place to visit in recent years. It's sad to think of Van Brunt without destinations like the Pioneer bar, the restaurant 360 and LeNell's fine wine and liquor shop. Remove them and the strip would feel like, well, the nasty old Van Brunt of five years ago.

So, does this mean that Fairway and Ikea are not actually part of a rising tide that raising all boats? Does it mean that the Red Hook rebirth that the real estate hawks have been droning on about for a decade never actually took hold (aside from the rising rents and property prices, I mean)? Can it be that things don't happen just because you say them over and over again?

"That Guy" From the Movies Dies at 102

This is rather off topic, but I'd like to comment a bit on the death of Hollywood character actor Charles Lane, who died on Monday at the age of 102, living long enough to see his strange journeyman career of hundreds upon hundreds of bit parts convert itself into a legend of sorts.

I had actually been thinking about Charles Lane recently, while watching a series of film noir DVDs I had purchased on Amazon. Lane seemed to be in every one of them. He was a florist who didn't want any trouble in "I Wake Up Screaming"; he was the prosecuting attorney in "Call Northside 777."

But then, I watch a lot of old movies, so Lane is never too far from my consciousness. He's like that neighbor you never get to know well, but whom you're forced by circumstances to see every day of your life. You exchange a few lines and then leave it at that until the next day.

Lane always played the same sort of guy: a hard-nosed jerk. He was a lawyer, a clerk, an executive, a hotel clerk (in fact, his first four movie roles were as hotel clerks), whatever—but he always looked the other actor straight on his beady eyes, leaned in with his wiry frame, opened his tight mean mouth and let fly with something unpleasant or unhelpful in a voice like a nasal mosquito. But while his range was limited, whatever it was that he did was damned effective, because, even though most of his roles lasted one scene and a few lines, you always remembered him. "As I say, it's no skin off my nose. But one of these days this
bright young man is going to be asking George Bailey for a job," he says to Lionel Barrymore in "It's a Wonderful Life." He the only guy besides James Stewart in that film that tells Mr. Potter off. And he does it without blinking.

Capra used him a lot. He was the tax collector who gets nowhere with Grandpa (Lionel Barrymore again) in "You Can't Take It With You." He was a "Nosey Newsman" (he was often a reporter) in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." But my favorite role of his was against another Barrymore, John, in "Twentieth Century." He plays Max Jacobs, a producer and the bete noir of Barrymore's outlandish producer Oscar Jaffe. (He was billed as Charles Levinson back then.) At one point Barrymore rails at him hilariously, calling him an "amoeba" saying, "Owen, take this creature who came to me as an office boy as Max Mendlebaum and who is now Max Jacobs for some mysterious reason and throw him into the street."

Lane did not see the humor in Barrymore's statement. Lane's characters never see the joke. They see the main chance.

By the late '70s, Lane was already a mythical figure of sorts. When Stanley Donen made "Movie Movie," a sort of tribute to old style double features, he cast Lane is a brief role to give the piece some authenticity.

08 July 2007

Getting Giglio With It

New York City has such a wide array of local traditions, rituals and festivals that one can live in the town for 20 years and fail to attend some of the major annual events. Such was the case with me and the Giglio Festival in Williamsburg.

For years, I'd wake up on a morning in July, open the paper, see a picture of the towering Giglio being hoisted by scores of beefy men down Havemeyer Street, slap my head and say, "Did I miss it again?"

I wasn't about to let that happen one more year, so, despite the heat advisory, despite the wife's wish to stay home and work, despite the kid's lack of enthusiasm, I loaded the family onto the G train and headed to Williamsburg.

I was surprised to see that the festival and fair are pretty much jammed into a couple blocks, one on N. 8th and one on Havemeyer. It always looked like such a vast affair on the television. The Williamsburg feast is reputedly the oldest Giglio event in the U.S., having begun in 1887 at Our Lady of St. Carmel. The first Giglio to dance through the streets was lifted by the San Paolo society (in honor of San Paolino of Nola) in 1907. The two groups joined forced in 1957. The event pays tribute to a fifth-century Catholic bishop from Nola, Italy. He sits atop the Giglio (Italian for "lily") itself, an 80-foot, several-ton pillar of wood and paper mache (oh, and several local capos, a band and a bishop or two).

The Giglio is really quite an awesome sight, towering over all the surrounding, low-slung buildings. Milling around in the crowd were large men in red t-shirts. These, I understood, were designated Giglio lifters. I'm guessing those special red shirts came in only one size: XXL.

A short man with glasses and a casual familiarity with the crowd climbed aboard the Giglio and began the ceremony, telling everyone he loved them several times. Then a priest and an auxiliary bishop from Philadelphia gave their blessing. I don't know what an auxiliary bishop is, but his miter is a might smaller than a real bishop's. Then the mike was handed over to a guy introduced only as "Jimmy," who sang the national anthem with a voice worthy of a community opera troupe, and then the traditional Giglio song, a jaunty romp with Italian words.

The short man then instructed the crowd for about 15 minutes to make some space. No one listened much. Finally, the Giglio was lifted by some very honored, but unhappy, sweating men who looked this/far from a heart attack. They stopped several times to tell the crowd to move back. ("All you standing by the clam bar, you gotta move!")

Then a float of a giant ship rounded the corner of N. 8th, headed on a collision course with the Giglio. No one I asked knew the significance of the ship or the Turk who seemed to be guiding it. But, as I understand it, San Paolino once surrendered his own freedom to save a widow's son from Nola from slavery under the "Huns" of North Africa. The leader of the Huns came to respect Paolino and made him his personal slave. Paolino had a Joseph-like ability to predict the future and once saved the head Hun's from an impending danger, so the Hun granted him his freedom. Paolino insisted all the men of Nola in captivity return with him. The Hun agreed and the Nola men and the saint returned to Nola on the boat of a Turkish sultan. The townspeople greeted the saint with lilies, or gigli. After a few years, the lilies were so numerous, they were mounted on poles.

And there you have it!—a weird festival that's endured for 16 centuries since then! When a small Italian town latches on to a patron saint, it never lets go.

07 July 2007

The Nicest Carousel in New York

I like almost every carousel in New York, and have ridden most of them—the ones in Central Park and Prospect Park, the Bug Carousel in the Bronx Zoo. But I have a special place in my heart for what may be the youngest and smallest of them.

Le Carousel in Bryant Park is a little slice of heaven if you want a break from the noise and mad pace of the city. Situated on the south side of the park, and equipped with only a dozen or so horses and a couple benches, it's been there only since 2002 and is often overlooked. But it's a perfect fit for this very manicured span of green. Get on when they're playing Edith Piaf and you'll swear you're somewhere in Paris as you watch the surrounding London Plane trees swirl by.

06 July 2007

Music Box to Play Only for Shuberts

One thing you can say about the Shubert Organization: they sure know how to get more of what they've already got in abundance.

The Broadway giant has long owned more Broadway theatres than anybody else: a grand total of 16 and 1/2. That 50 percent ownership was of the Music Box Theatre on W. 45th Street. The Music Box was built by producer Sam H. Harris, who was with the Shubert Org, and composer Irving Berlin. Since Berlin's death, it's been co-owned by the Shuberts and the Irving estate.

The New York Post's Liz Smith reports that Berlin's three daughters—Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Emmett and Elizabeth Peters—recently sold their half to the Shubert boys. No word on how much they paid, but you can bet it was plenty. The Shuberts have pots of money, and it's not like they build new Broadway theatres every day.

Now the Shuberts own the entirety of 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, with the exception of the ugly old Minskoff, owned by the Nederlanders. The Jacobs, Schoenfeld, Booth, Imperial, Music Box, and Golden theatres—all theirs. The first two, in case you're wondering, used to be called the Plymouth and the Royale, but were recently renamed after Shubert execs.

05 July 2007

The Guss, The Whole Guss, and Other Pickles

The battle for what's left of the Lower East Side's soul continues, rending new wounds in the City's heart.

According to a flurry of recent articles, the contretemps over who owns the right to call the contents of their brine-filled barrels Guss's Pickles continues to rage, with no conclusion in sight.

In her corner on Orchard Street, Patricia Fairhurst, who took over Guss's LES location—the place where most New Yorkers are used to finding the City's most famous kosher sours and half-sours—says she is the rightful possessor of Guss's good name. She bought the shop from the Baker family in 2004, along with the original recipes.

In his corner in, ahem, Cedarhurst, Long Island, Andrew Leibowitz claims he is the real heir to the legacy of Izzy Guss, who sold his store back in 1976 to the Bakers. He opened his LI concern with Tim Baker in 2002. Leibowitz's family owns United Pickle, a Bronx business that provided Guss's with its cucumbers for years.

Then, in 2005, Leibowitz started asserting that only they sold true Guss' pickles; told Fairhurst to stop selling under that name. Fairhurst sued Leibowitz. Fairhurst sued back. It's no coincidence that 2005 was the year that Fairhurst decided to stop buying Leibowitz pickles, and get her vegetables elsewhere. Then there's the fact that Tim Baker refutes Leibowitz's claim that the Guss legacy was bequeathed unto him. It's not a simple story.

Now, Fairhurst is waging war on Whole Foods, of all places, for carrying Leibowitz's pickles and calling them Guss's. Whole Foods is standing by the Cedarhurst store. (Me, I don't really have much faith in Whole Foods' takes on food authenticity.)

The Times also tells us that a third pickle business, The Pickle Guys, on Essex Street, is run by Alan Kaufman and other former employees of Guss’s Pickles. So, they've got a claim, too.

There's plenty in this saga to make you heave a heavy sigh, but the part that distresses me the most is that, whatever the outcome of these legal battles (a court date is set for July 16), the true Guss's pickles are already erased from history. With all the claims and counter-claims, and the convoluted and contradictory histories, how is the consumer ever to know for sure which pickle place is the historically true one. The court may side with Fairhurst, or with Leibowitz, but a nagging doubt in the collective New Yorker's brain will never be fully convinced. And that's too bad.

There's a positive way to look at the story, too, I suppose. Three stores, all in the New York area, all serious about pickle making. That's good, right? Well, it's not bad, anyway.

04 July 2007

New York Times Leaves Times Square, And Takes Its Balls With It

As most folks know, over the past several weeks, the New York Times staff has decamped from the broadsheet's longtime home on W. 43rd Street to its new digs, the shiny Renzo Piano tower on Eighth Avenue. The reporters, the office equipment, the archives—all moved.

But the Times apparently didn't want to leave any room for a geographical misunderstanding. And so it has removed the building's many globe-like light fixtures bearing the word "Times," written out in the usual, austere script. These lamps once lined the 43rd Street side of the nearly block-long building. They were dusty and old, but they were classy and let you know who owned that particular block on NYC. They have now been replaced with similar white globes, much cleaner, but blank.

02 July 2007

Moondance Diner: It's Gone

The Moondance Diner—Soho landmark, employer of Jonathan Larson and Spiderman's girlfriend, last free-standing diner in Manhattan—finally closed on July 1, following months of press coverage about its imminent demise.

Condo builders, rejoice! You have triumphed again.

According to Metro, the structure won't be scrapped but shipped to a museum in the Keystone State. So we can visit it. But it doesn't sound like you could get cheese fries in a museum diner.

Manager Billy Genat said something fascinatingly peculiar: "You can see the sun through these windows now, but you won’t be able to see the sun anymore when the condos come. It will look like the triangle of the devil."

Triangle of the Devil. Right now it's called Avenue of the Americas. Think City Hall will approve a street name change?

01 July 2007

Not Nice, But Probably Effective

A sign near the corner as Bank and Washington in the Village.

They're also reset all your radio buttons.