31 October 2007

Heartening Numbers

It seems the Landmarks Commission has gotten the message that a lot of people think its been doing a lame job protecting the City's cultural heritage from ravenous overdevelopment.

In addition to landmarking a whopping eight properties across four boroughs at its meeting yesterday (including the Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory, above), as well as showing all signs that it likes the idea of a DUMBO historic district mighty fine, observers marked that the Commission is currently on a record-breaking landmarking spree.

AM New York noted that in fiscal year 2007, the Commission has anointed 1,158 buildings, the highest number since 1990. In 2005, by contrast, it offered protection to only 46. Woo-hoo! Now that's what I call progress.

Now I just have five words for the landmark-happy Commission: Expanded Carroll Gardens Historic District.

C'est Bon

Some New York landmarks lie in plain sight for years without garnering much notice. One such is La Bonne Soupe, the unpretentious eatery on W. 55th Street near Sixth Avenue that has long been a secret favorite of City Center patrons, Francophiles and lonesome Eurotrash.

La Bonne Soupe is true to its name; it focuses on soup. (Owners Jean-Paul and Monique Picot took the bistro's name from a French comedy playwright FĂ©licien Marceau from the 1950s.) Though there are plenty of other things on the menu, the centerpiece are four daily soups, including French Onion, which are served with bread, salad, dessert and (of course) a glass of wine, all for $16.75.

The atmosphere is bohemian and eclectic. The narrow, walk-down space is lined on either side with small wooden tables. (Don't let them seat you upstairs; it's lonely and not as charming.) The mood is convivial. You won't find tourists here, for the most part. Patrons are either cost-conscious, dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker or displaced Europeans. You'll hear a lot of French spoken, usually by older people who have obviously been there many times and know the waiters by name. The food is very good, but never great. People don't come here for the menu, but the familiar, cozy feeling. It's always packed, so there's always an air of celebration in the place.

For me, La Bonne Soupe epitomizes the sort of place that is fast disappearing from Midtown, and from the City in general. Humble, welcoming, inexpensive, individual, considerate of loyal patrons, clubby, one of a kind. It's been there since 1974—an eon in New York restaurant time. New York deserves a place that feels like a little corner of Paris—and not just places that feel like a corner of Paris that received three Michelin stars.

Happy Halloween!

30 October 2007

In Tribeca, Old Ain't That Old

Can this be right. The Sun reports that Delphi Restaurant, the oldest continually running eatery in Tribeca, will close its doors tomorrow, Oct. 31.

It opened its doors in 1970.

The oldest restaurant in Tribeca is 37 years old? I'm older than it.

I guess that makes sense. Tribeca, as a residential neighborhood, only gained traction about 20 years ago. It's lousy with restaurants now, but in the past was all industry, like butter and eggs and such.

The cause written on Delphi's death certificate was a familiar one: greed. The restaurant's landlord woke one day recently and realized he was running short about $44,000 a month and needed some walking around money. So he upped Delphi's monthly rent from $11,000 to $55,000. $55,000.

Where do these guys get the gaul? I ask you?

So, who has $55,000 a month? David Bouley, apparently. He's going to open an upscale Japanese-themed restaurant called Brushstrokes (ugh. awful name.) in the space. Bouley's already got two restaurants across the block. But, hey, doesn't every Manhattan block need three Bouley restaurants? That way you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at three different places, never have to take the subway and never leave Bouleyland.

Eight, Count 'Em, Eight

The Landmarks Preservation Commission met on Tuesday, Oct. 30, to vote on a mess of proposed landmarks and, when the dust had settled, eight NYC buildings were untouchable.

The biggies were arguably Brooklyn's Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory complex and Manhattan's Lord & Taylor Building. Others included the Manhattan House on the Upper East Side, 511 and 513 Grand Street in the Lower East Side, Staten Island's Standard Varnish Works Factory and Gillette Tyler Mansion, and The Voelker-Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary and Victorian Garden in Queens.

Which is all great. But what about Webster Hall? It was up for landmark status. Not good enough for the Commission? What happened?

What I Like About H&H Bagels

H&H Bagels is one of the iconic bagel makers in the City. As such, they probably have had every opportunity to expand their business into a slick corporate empire. But they have not. Instead, they've stubbornly held on to their backward New York-centric ways.

Sure, they have two locations, and ship all over the world. But just pay a visit on the H&H anchor store on the Upper West Side. It's not sleek. There are no cute tables and chairs. You can't order espresso or smoothies and while the day away. It's a bagel store, period. And a homely one at that. There are tacky, electric chandeliers on the ceiling that make absolutely no sense in a bakery. A lot of droopy potted plants line the walls. And there are declasse vending machines for the kids. H&H has taken no design tips from Starbucks. Plus, their website is pretty darn rudimentary.

29 October 2007

Zagat's Complaint Dept. Works Just Fine

A couple weeks back, I posted an item complained about the confusing and misleading information to be found in the "Historic Places" list at the back of the New York City Zagat's restaurant guide.

Well, apparently there's someone at the guide's headquarters who spends their time typing "Zagat's" into Google and seeing what comes up, because soon after I received an e-mail from a Zagat's official. It was a most gracious e-mail, I must say, given the piss and vinegar I put into my post. My beef was mainly that Zagat's listed not just old restaurants but restaurants in old buildings, which made no sense to me. If I open a chow house in the old Custom House tomorrow, that does not make my business a "Historic Place."

Anyway, the helpful man from Zagat's pointed out that the matters I had griped about were addressed in the 2008 edition of the guide, now out on the stands. I picked up a copy and right he was. No longer is the Heartland Brewery given pride of place next to Delmonico's. The list still has a few entries that are there simply because the eatery's address is ancient (e.g. The Morgan got it because it's in the Morgan Library), but otherwise it's much more true to purpose. Well done, Zagat's.

As a side note, the 1880s were a red-letter decade for New York eating. In that ten-year span P.J. Clarke's, Keens, Peter Luger and Katz's Deli opened their doors. Yum.

Kane Slew Harrison

The only extant evidence that Kane Street in Cobble Hill used to bear a different name cam be found at the corner of Kane and Cheever Place. Look up and you'll be an old fashioned brick street marker that reads "Cheever" on one said and "Harrison" on the other. (You can't see if in the photo; my camera sucks and the letters are rather worn away.)

Harrison? Yes, Kane Street used to be Harrison Street. In fact, the historical Kane Street Synagogue used to be called the Harrison Street Synagogue. The change came in the 1920s, I believe. I don't know who Harrison was or who Kane was or why it was changed.

Girl on the Velvet Swing's Perch Falls

Well, these are sad tidings to begin the week.

On Saturday, 22 W. 24th Street caved in and yesterday workers demolished what was left. The building wasn't landmarked or anything, but oh what history was held inside. For this was the love nest that rapscallion star architect Standford White secured back in 1901 so that he might have his way with 16-year-old starlet Evelyn Nesbit.

The Nesbit flat was equipped with a red velvet swing, on which Nesbit would ride in the altogether while the ravenous White enjoyed the view from below. White was later killed by Nesbit's husband, nutsy millionaire Harry Thaw. The crime occured nearby on the roof of the old Madison Square Garden in front of dozens of witnesses. Thaw was acquitted on grounds of insanity, and almost no one testified on White's behalf, since everyone knew he was a notorious bounder.

I would have like to have seen the inside of that place. Sigh.

28 October 2007

Our Mayor Is a Square, Part II

One needn't collect ammo the use against Mayor Bloomberg. The billionaire is so proud of and confident in his every malefaction, he declaims them from the rooftop.

In addition to flowered taxis, shiny newsstands and smoke-free bars, Mayor Mike recently declared his love for the wares of the Subway sandwich chain, which has blanketed out streets with ugly yellow outlets in recent years. "I love Subway sandwiches. I think they're a great deal, good for the money and taste great."

So, just so we have it straight: He truly loves the fast food chain named Subway, but only pretends to like the real NYC Subway.

Community Book Store and the Community

Park Slope is home to dozens of writers, most famously Paul Auster. Yet, the neighborhood has never had a wealth of independent book stores. The Community Book Store has long been the primary flag-bearer of the literary character of the area.

Now that tiny shop on Seventh Avenue is in danger, according to a report in the New York Times. The bank that in 2001 fronted new owner Catherine Bohne a loan has begun foreclosure proceedings. To save the store, Bohne and a real estate investor named David Sweeny worked out a plan in which up to 49 percent ownership in the store is being offered to to a group of people willing to put up at least $10,000 apiece. She's netted six so far, including actor John Turturro. She needs a dozen more. I'd give her !0 grand if I had it.

The Community Book Store is one of the businesses that makes Park Slope Park Slope: over-educated, supercilious and a bit haughty yes, but also well-read, artistic, thoughtful and liberal-minded. I remember visiting the shop shortly after 9/11 and being struck by the committed, concerned conversations going on between people in the stacks. If it goes, the nabe's soul would suffer a serious blow. So, locals, if you haven't $10,000, then at least go down there and by a dozen books.

27 October 2007

A Darker Shade of Brick

Most buildings in Cobble Hill are brownstones or handsome red-brick jobs. The squat, square thing at the northeast corner of Degraw and Henry Streets was always an exception. Aside from its stubby appearance, at some point it was coated in ghastly white brick. It looked like the DMV headquarters.

Well, work began on the structure a few months ago. It was hard to tell for a while what was going to happen to it, but lately piles of red bricks have appeared, and the white brick is being shaved off. It looks like their intention to correct the aesthetic mistakes of the past. It also looks like it's going to grow a story. But, as far as I'm concerned, they can have their extra height if they bring the building in harmony their its red-brick brothers.

A Good Sign: Ravioli Fair

It's not just a ravioli store. It's the Ravioli Fair! Come to the Fair! Check out the rainbow colored letters on "Fair." Festive, huh?

26 October 2007

Old Sign Sighting

A new family-friendly chow house is opening at 81 Atlantic Street in Brooklyn. Called The Moxie Spot, it will sport a vast and vastly inexpensive menu of comfort foods from individual pizza and meatloaf to burgers and "ethnic dinner specials" (what are we, in Wisconsin?). I think they expect to host a lot of kiddie birthday parties.

But that's not what exciting about this place. What's exciting is that, in readying the building for use, the owners have stripped off the most recent sign and uncovered an old sign for "Hardware Krauser." That's what it says, not "Krauser Hardware." It's a metal sign, cream-colored, with dark brown letters. I'm guessing at least the first half of the last century. I can find out nothing about the store. If anyone out there remembered this shop, do write in.

Marco Polo Not a Solo

It's been a while since the Fratelli Ravioli place on Court Street near President in Carroll Gardens gave up the ghost. The space remained vacant for months, but now there are stirring of activity and it looks like the address has been taken over by its next door neighbor, the Marco Polo Ristorante.

Marco Polo is one of those Italian restaurants were the food is comforting (if pricey), the service is friendly, the clientele is loyal and decor is vulgar, bordering on camp. Though it was founded only in 1983, it's a neighborhood icon and cherished by locals.

Owner Joe Chirico is expanding now. The Fratelli space now bears a sign that says "Marco Polo Take Out," with brick oven pizza and panini featured. Could be a good option for neighborhood folks who don't have the time to sit down for two hours, however pleasant.

"Well-Respected, Credible and Hard-Working" Developer Makes Presentation

Brooklyn's Community Board 6 played to a full house at the Long Island College Hospital on Oct. 25, as a covey of Cobble Hillers, Carroll Gardeners and Columbia Heights Waterfront Districtians (someone's got to change the name of that neighborhood) gathered to hear what L&M Equities had to say about the three condo buildings (totaling 152 new housing units) they want to scatter across the area.

No one in the crowd was holding a lit torch or anything, but the atmosphere was tense. These citizens were irate. The four-man team representing the proposed development didn't do itself any favors with their tone-deaf presentation, either. They must have known they were playing to a tough room, because they were nervous as a group of cats in a rocking chair warehouse. The voice of Jack Hammer, director of Brooklyn planning for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, quavered something terrible.

There was a serious quotient of, well, I'll just say it, bullshit in the proceedings. A man from L&M described the company as obviously "well-respected, credible and hard-working." Now, that may be. But an honest man doesn't stand up and say, "Hey, I'm obviously I'm an honest man." The architect was there, looking very much like an architect in his beautiful dark suit and thick head of silvery hair. His self-serving observation that "I think we can all agree that what makes New York a vibrant place is development and change," was deservedly greeted by a mighty groan.

As for the rendering of the buildings, they were what you'd expect: unbeautiful, flat, without character or significant adornment. Basically, boxes of brick in which to pack in people and pull out money. The worrisome one was the big baby they want to put on Hicks between Warren and Baltic. It wasn't overly tall, but it sure looked bulky and massive and there's no doubt it would dominate the area if built.

After the presentation, a motion was proposed and carried requesting a 75-day period in which the developer would have to work with the community in designing a more contextual building. 75 days—that means at least one more Christmas with the old Hamberger Christmas ornament factory. Hooray!

Henry Street Cleans Up Its Act

I've often found it curious in recent years that, despite the ongoing development and restoration of our time, certain brownstones along the prominent Cobble Hill artery of Henry Street simply refused to be spruced up. At least one building a block, between Altantic and Kane, featured a structure that could easily double as a haunted house: cracked facades, broken windows, overgrown greenery.

Well, such things don't escape the all-seeing eye of Real Estate for long. In the past couple months, I've noticed that nearly every one of these holdout buildings has been shored up or is on its way to returned statliness. The above house, near Baltic, sported the most unsightly skin of peeling paint for years. It was a genuine eyesore. Seemingly overnight, it's gotten a fresh coat of white paint. The below building still has a long way to go, and remains a candidate for complete collapse. But work is underway to fix its crumbling facade. Work orders adorn other windows up and down the street. It's all fine and good. But where are the crazy old cat ladies going to live now?

25 October 2007

Me and Chains

To put it simply, chains bug me. This should not be news to anyone who reads this site. Chains erode communities and neutralize the flavor of life. They are diluting the character of this City through homogenization and arid design.

However, my attitude toward chains is not wholly monochromatic. The other day I noticed that a Brooks Brothers outlet was in the process of being installed at the southeast corner of Broadway and 65th Street, a space that had always been occupied by one bank or another. This is did not really dismay me.

I will explain. Brooks Brothers is, to my mind, a local chain. I know, I know. It's owned by some international conglomerate (an Italian billionaire, actually), and has nothing really to do with New York anymore. But its roots in Gotham are deep. It was founded here in 1818 and is the oldest men's clothier in the United States. It has always been in New York, at one location or another, moving northward in Manhattan as fashions dictated. The flagship Madison Avenue store can still give your an "Old New York" thrill. It introduced Oxford, button-down shirts to the people. It was the first U.S. store to carry ready-made suits, Shetland sweaters, Harris tweed, seersucker suits and Madras. When some people look at Brook Brothers they see a conservative-cum-boring clothing giant. I see a rather romantic remnant of New York's mercantile past.

I am similarly not upset when Fairway opens a new store, or Tiffany, or P.J. Clarke's or even the horrid Modell's. These are New York businesses, born and bred, and a have a right to a stake in the City's fortunes. (I draw the line at hometown boy Duane Reade, which is far too land-hungry for my tastes.) What offends me are the chains that bear no connection to the city and yet feel they have the right to run roughshod over our streets.

Astroland Gets One-Year Reprieve

That roar of jubilation you're hearing to the south is Coney Island's reaction to the news that Astroland will be allowed to purvey its amusements for one more summer. Rumors to that effect have tantalized New Yorkers for months now. But Thor Equities, the geniuses who think Coney needs a better amusement park, made it official yesterday.

The park will reopen on March 16 and stay open until September 2008. (Thor has been rolling craps with the City and the Public for so long that my bet is the company won't be ready to build even a year from now, making further extensions a distinct possibility.)

What held up the reprieve? Well it may have had something to do with the terms Thor was seeking from Astroland owner Carol Albert. According to her, Thor was asking for $3 million in rent for 2008, a 1,650% increase of the previous rent of $180,000.

Now I know who today's real estate developers are. They're those guys who wake up every morning and say, "The most important thing in the world today is whatever it is I want."

My Mistake

This just go to show the wisdom behind the old saying "Carpe diem."

Only two weeks ago, I was walking down W. 72nd Street and paused in front of the grimy, dusty, downtrodden All State Cafe, a dank dive that sits slightly below street-level. Inside, barflies were rooted to the bar. "How has a place like this survived on a major artery in Manhattan?" I wondered. I paused for a couple minutes, and almost went in. But I was late for an appointment. "Another day I will investigate," I said to myself.

Now the New York Times reports that the All State has closed. Read and weep. And, in today's real estate environment, never put off a visit to a piece old New York. You'll be sorry.

24 October 2007

The Starbucks Place Riot

New York's past dies hard, at least among the ranks of the City's many history geeks (which, I admit, includes me). I was sitting in the Starbucks on Astor Place, enjoying the panoramic view of the nearby Barnes and Noble, Chase Bank and K-Mart, and taking up space at a table while not buying any coffee whatsoever, when a couple sat down at the neighboring table with their insulated cups of assorted java.

Then the guy, with absolutely no prompting started regaling the woman with the tale of the Astor Place Riot of 1849!

The Starbucks commands a spot once occupied by the Astor Place Opera House, a swank place frequented by the City swells in the early 19th century. In 1849, English actor William Macready played "Macbeth" there, to the great ire of fans of Edwin Forrest, then America's most famous and perhaps most stupid actor. The Bowery B'hoys loved Forrest, and Forrest hated Macready. Macready's first performance was greeted by hoots and eggs; his second descended into a full-fledged, xenophobic riot. The police called in the National Guard, who fired into the crowd, killing dozens.

All this my nerdy neighbor related. And he had it all on the tip of his tongue. Not only the facts, but the year (!), the date, May 3 (!!), and the number of people killed, 23 (!!!). OK, he got the last two wrong: the riot was on May 10, and 22 people died (though accounts are disputed). Still, that's some first-rate geekiness!

I don't mean to tease the man so much. I actually liked the fact that Starbucks couldn't quash the fact that some New Yorkers will always associate this corner with a theatre riot, not frappuccinos.

What? No Dunkin' Donuts?

The chains creep in, year by year, and one day you're strolling down a street you thought you knew and suddenly realize its entire length has been ripped out body and soul and replaces by some strip from deepest suburbia.

The stretch of Broadway between Lincoln Center and 72nd Street never had much personality, but now it bears no resemblance whatsoever to, well, you know, Broadway. I once knew it well; I worked in Lincoln Center for a time. It was an unpretty and low-slung thoroughfare. But it had pizzerias, cute restaurants, a five and dime store of sorts, a florist or two and a scruffy post office.

Now it begins with a Barnes and Noble and ends with a McDonald's. In between are a Victoria's Secret, Pottery Barn, Duane Reade, Chase Bank (among several other banks), Banana Republic, and any other ubiquitous corporate entity you care to mention. I don't think there are more than three or four independently run businesses along the span, and those are affairs so tiny you wouldn't even notice them.

It's a crushing walk. Do yourself a favor. Get on the 1 train at 66th Street and take it one stop to 72nd. Spare your eyes.

Condos V. Christmas Part II

The condo mongers of Columbia Street are back.

You may recall some news last August about a condo developer riding into Kings County, wanting to erect a cluster of 60 and 80-foot buildings in the Columbia Heights Waterfront District without so much as a by-your-leave from the neighborhood. The suddenly announced plans were to be discussed at a Aug. 23 Community Board 6 meeting, which was just as suddenly canceled an hour or two before it was to take place. (The meet was to go head to head with a Carroll Gardens Town Hall meeting at Scotto's Funeral Parlor, in which City Council Member Bill de Blasio will discuss the desired downzoning of Carroll Gardens—a timing that made nobody happy.)

Well, a new meeting has finally been scheduled, for 6 PM Oct. 25 at Long Island College Hospital, 339 Hicks Street (at Atlantic Ave.). The intervening months have given both side more time to prepare their cases. The developer, which is working with the City, is L&M Equities. Their aim is to create a total of 152 new housing units across three sites: 75 Columbia Street; 86-98 Congress Street and 79 Warren Street; and 104-116 Warren Street and 101-115 Baltic Street. (Why two addresses are considered a "site," I don't know.) One of the buildings that would be torn down is the old Hamberger Christmas ornament factory on Warren (above), which would break the heart of every romantic east and west of the BQE.

The developers need an zoning change unusual to the low-scale area to make the buildings happen, and there's plenty of opposition, including the Cobble Hill Association and two groups called the Baltic and Warren Street Neighbors and the Columbia Waterfront Association. However, the developers come armed with a pre-certified ULURP (uniform land use review process), which mean in the words of Craig Hammerman, CB6 District Manager, that "they’re pretty much ready to go, and that the application would be certified not too long after our meeting."

23 October 2007

Does the Empire State Building Deserve This?

The Empire State Building, New York City's most famous building (the country's?), will soon be the home of the toddlin' town biggest Starbuck's, the New York Post reports.

I ask you, is this anyway to treat a landmark that has survived a plane crash, a huge gorilla and millions of tourists? The coffee monopoly will occupy a three-level space and a total of 8,400 square feet on the 34th Street side, the same area that was once blighted to TGI Friday's.

On a happier note, Landmarks Commission gave the go-ahead to plans to to restore and revitalize the Art Deco lobby. Architects Beyer Blinder Belle will oversee the project.

Landmarks Commission's Got It Going On Oct. 30

The New York City Landmarks Commission has got a heap of important decisions to make at its next meeting, on Oct. 30.

Not only, will it be hearing arguments for making DUMBO a historical distict, but it will be considering casting its lanmarking magic ward over a couple dozen other significant properties. Among them: the Standard Varnish Works Factory Office in Staten Island; the Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Santuary and Victorian Garden in Queens; the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company in Brooklyn; the Lord & Taylor Building on Fifth Avenue; the 11th Street Public Bath; the Wheatsworth Factory in the East Village; and good old Webster Hall, also in the East Village.

22 October 2007

Second Avenue Deli Gets a Profile

The New York Times has given the reopening of the Second Avenue Deli the full Times-Magazine-smooth-paper-classy-font-Alex-Witchel treatment. Nice to see that the Paper of Record is bestowing on the deli's rebirth the sense of gravitas it deserves (at least, in my book).

The piece is touching—if a Witchel article can said to be that—in its treatment of the extended Lebewohl family. And we learn a few things. Jack Lebewohl's son Jeremy, who will now run the place, has a silent partner in his brother Josh. The Lebewohls own the 33rd Street building the deli will be in. (Yeah!) There will be fish and a line of appetizing along with the meat. There will be a full bar, and the joint will be open 24/7. Hey—they and Sarge's Deli around the corner can keep each other company.

So Long Red Hook Vendors; See Ya Next Year?

It was with some hesitation that I left town this past weekend, because I knew it was the final hurrah this summer for the Red Hook Ballfield food vendors, whose fate still hangs in the balance, waiting the thumbs up or thumbs down from both the Parks Department and the Department of Health.

I was glad to hear, however, that people took full advantage of the finale, with lines for the tents reaching record proportions. The pupusa and huarache lines were longest. (They always were.) Regroup, my friends. Don't give up. We want you back.

Tommaso's Is Safe

It's a toss-up what the most famous culinary landmark of Bensonhurst is. Some might say L&B Spumoni Gardens, the 68-year-old home of New york's best parmesan pizza slice. Others would side with Tommaso Restaurant, the gracious, friendly restaurant run by Tommaso Verdillo. The atmosphere and menu are homey and comforting, and the wine cellar holds Italian vino treasures and amazingly low prices.

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a dinner there recently. The food is good, but Verdillo's warm persona is almost enough to make a visit worthwhile. He dresses casually and doesn't like to put on airs. He does, however, like to put on arias, offering unsolicited concerts to the clientele.

As people who read this blog regularly know, one of my mantras regarding the saving of this city's mercantile landmarks is: Own That Building! If you rent is these times, your days are numbered, no matter what your pedigree. I was glad to find out that Verdillo does own his building and has no plans of going anywhere. There does not, however, appear to be any heir to his kingdom; he has no children. Surely there's someone out there who would like to learn at the knee of this man.

Ward Healer

There aren't many visual delights to be enjoyed on the taxi ride to JFK. If you trace the long depressing line of Atlantic Avenue to Conduit Boulevard, all get are fast food chains, gas stations, auto garages and plenty of urban blight.

There are exception, of course, including an outlet of the old Brooklyn Fire Department. One sight I always look forward to is the bygone grandeur of the Twenty-Sixth Ward Bank Building. A stately, salmon-colored-stone building, it gracefully curves around a southwest corner on the far end of Atlantic. (See my lousy, taken-from-a-taxi photo above.) It's obviously been out of commission for some years, though something appears to be happening to it; in the last year, the top two stories of the bank were replaced by some new construction. Condo? Thankfully, the handsome base of the building remains.

I can't find out much about the Twenty-Sixth Ward Bank of Brooklyn, except that is was founded in 1889, and in 1903 merged with State Mechanics' Bank of Brooklyn. That merger, in turn, was swallowed up by State Brooklyn Trust Company in 1929. On and on these mergers went, according to an account of New York bank history I found. The biggest and final fish was Chase.

18 October 2007

A Reminder

Pay no attention to the balmy weather outside. It's autumn. And to prove it, here are a bunch of pumpkins. Off topic, I know. But I like pictures of pumpkins. Doesn't everyone?

A Good Sign: City Crab

City Crab, on Park Avenue South and 19th, is only 14 years old, but I've always felt this sign was an instant classic.

17 October 2007

Patsy's, Where You Can't Drink at the Bar

I had an hour to kill tonight before I met a friend for dinner. After wandering around for a few blocks, I found myself on 56th Street standing in front of Patsy's restaurant. I love Patsy's. Because it's stuck it out for 63 years, because it's family owned, because there's only one, and because Frank Sinatra used to hang out there. What better way to spend my spare hour than at Patsy's bar enjoying a drink, just as Frank had enjoyed so many.

The bar is just to the right when you come in. I took a seat and ordered a Manhattan. As I sipped, I read the papers, browsed through the menu and soaked in the atmosphere. A cheesy metal statue of Frankie perched on the bar looked on. I was there for about a half hour and had just paid my check, when I experienced the rudest, strangest behavior I've encountered in a New York restaurant in years. The maitre d', a man with dark, slicked-back hair and a shit-eating grin, tapped me on the shoulder and...well, I'll just relate the exchange verbatim. Just keep in mind that there are six stools at the bar and only two of them were occupied, and that the restaurant was maybe a third full.

Maitre d': Excuse me, are you waiting for someone?
Me: No.
Maitre'd: Oh, you're not waiting for something to have dinner with?
Me: No. Just having a drink at the bar.
Maitre d': Because people don't really drink at the bar.
Me: People don't drink at the bar?
Maitre d': Not really. We don't encourage it.
Me: Is it not allowed?
Maitre d': No, I'm not throwing you out or anything. We just don't encourage it.

With this, Mr. Manners (whose name, I learn from a picture on the Patsy's website, is Frank DiCola) withdrew. I looked at the only other person at the bar, a woman, to see if I had heard correctly. She had overheard the entire exchange. Now, I am not kidding you when I say she was agape. Her mouth was actually open. She just stared, aghast. It was like a stage reaction. So I wasn't alone in being stunned.

Now, think about it. In a restaurant half empty, at a bar half empty, a patron's presence was actively, aggressively discouraged by the management. I wasn't loitering. I wasn't pissing on their potted plants. I was drinking a $10 drink. I would have understood it (a little) if the place was packed and they needed the bar stools for patrons who were waiting for tables. This was not the case. Let me also point out that I was suitably dressed in a suit and tie and and been as quiet as a mouse the whole time.

Is this good business anywhere? Does such behavior make sense by any measure? Two minutes after this charm assault I gathered my papers (and my tip) and pointed exited. I wish Patsy's well. I hope it survives another 63 years. And that is why I also hope it experiences a change in front-of-the-house personnel. A suggestion: Frank would make a great beat cop; you know, tap of the night stick and "Move it along, buddy."

A Good Sign: J. De Martino Seafood

The small no-frills shop (all there is inside is some fish and a guy who will sell it to you) is on Ninth Avenue in the '50s. The sign says what it has to say, no muss, no fuss.

Ramberg Marine Sails Out of Red Hook

And New York loses most industry.

Gowanus Lounge informs us that Red Hook has lost one its few remaining businesses that has anything to do with shipping, which was once the nabe's life blood. Ramberg Marine on Dwight Street has packed up and is moving to New Jersey. It has been in Red Hook for 82 years. The business would have been directly across from the new IKEA. Quite frankly, it's amazing they held out this long.

Fine Dining, Not Diners, Welcome on UES

For a long time I've wondered how those few diners on the Upper East Side—Gardenia, Three Guys, Viand, Soup Burg—survive in such a pricey neighborhood. The New York Observer answered my question today: They don't!

Gardenia, on Madison near 67th, closed at the end of the summer. Soup Burg (love that name) on 73rd closed last summer. Three Guys, at 75th, is theatened, according to the paper. Viand, at 78th, is still around, as is the New Amity, at 84th.

The wife is an art critic and, in our early days, these restaurants were a godsend when we visited the Met, Guggenheim and Whitney. We couldn't afford to eat anywhere else in the neighborhood! Regular New Yorkers and tourists visiting Museum Mile don't want to have to rely on Cafe Boulud for lunch.

16 October 2007

Stirrings at Jade Mountain

Fellow blogger Jeremiah Moss recently uncovered some goings-on inside the Second Avenue space that was once the late, great, lament Chop Suey den Jade Mountain, which has sat sadly silent sinces its sudden closing in January.

According to a workman, the address is to become another restaurant. No other news beyond that. I'd say it's doubtful that any of the interior will be retained. It wasn't a work of art, after all. Just nicely lived in. No word either on the fate of the iconic neon sign, which, if I had the money, would be hanging outside my bedroom window right now.

The Trouble With Zagat's

OK, there are a lot a problems with Zagat's. But what really gets me about their New York restaurant guide is the special feature at the back that lists "Historic Places." One would think that this enumeration would contain only the oldest, longest-lived restaurants in Gotham. But a parenthetical under the title reads "(Year opened; *building)."

That means that a lot of the places on this list, the ones with asterisks like Fresh and the Comfort Diner, are on it simply because they're located in an old building. WTF is that about? New York is full of old buildings. You can't include every Tom, Dick, and Harry's just because they pay rent at some ancient brick Tribeca walk-up. Diners will be consulting this list to find out where in they can feast not only on food but New York history. They can do this at Keens and Katz's. They can't do it at Heartland Brewery, despite the fact that one of the mini-chain's locations rests in a 1812 building. One If By Land, Two If By Sea has every right to be proud that it is 35 years old, but has no right to the claim of second oldest restaurant in the City after the Fraunces Tavern, just because they're the latest tenant in a carriage house once owned by Aaron Burr.

The list is confusing in another way. Such restaurants as John's on 12th Street and Carnegie Deli certainly belong on this roster. But Zagat's has both lined up not with the year they were founded, but with the year their buildings were erected. John's was opened in 1908; Zagat's lists it next to the year 1890. Likewise, the Carnegie was founded in 1937, not the 1899 listed in the guide.

My guess is Zagat's used to list only the oldest restaurant in NYC. But then some other eateries, housed in old structures, and hoping to cash in on some tourist dollars, called up whining, "Hey, we're old too! Kinda." However it happened, the list is utterly useless in its present form.

Chumley's "Operating on Faith"

There's an update on the Chumley's situation in the New York Post today and—surprise—it's not very encouraging.

As last reported, the former speakeasy was supposed to reopen Oct. 1; it was closed after the old chimney separated from the wall last spring. The owners of the bar said the delays are due to several "surprises" found by the engineers. Among them: asbestos and the erosion of the foundation.

"We're all working together to try and get it done," Chumley's owner Steve Shlopak told the Post. "Just how we're going to get it done, though, is unclear. At this point, we're kind of operating on faith." Not what I'd call a confidence-inspiring quote.

Despite the above, Shlopak also said he hopes to have Chumley's open by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving. 37 days away! Has he even looked at the building?

Most heartbreaking story of the year? Not Coney Island. There's been plenty of protesting to Thor's plans down there, and some movement in the right directions, such as Astroland staying around a little longer. Not the Red Hook Ballfield food vendors. Again, there has been plenty of hue and cry, and the vendors at least have a sporting chance of returning next year. No, it's Chumley's. This is an irreplaceable national landmark (not just citywide, but national; historic bars like this just don't exist anymore), and nobody's stepping up to the plate. No noise from City Hall. No rallies. No real push to get this property away from its monster landlord and into the hands of the restaurant owners. Just apathy and resignation. Even the Save Chumley's blog hasn't been undated since July 6.

15 October 2007

Our Mayor Is a Square

It's no mystery that the directions our City is taking—homogenization, overdevelopment, affluence as a requirement of residency—have a lot to do with the predilections and biases of the man who currently resides in City Hall, Michael Rubens Bloomberg. Until now, I considered the foremost among those burg-shaping mayoral qualities to be: a very rich man's tendency to view wealth and wealthy people as inherently good (as represented by the growing number of rich people in the city); a belief that "progress" means tearing down old things and putting up new things, regardless of what the merits of the old things and new things might be (condomania); a certain I-know-I'm-right tendency to meddle in the personal lives of the citizenry (no smoking, no trans fats); a politician's urge to push through tenure-defining projects (the West Side stadium, the Olympics bid); and your average Big Shot brand of egoism (the unspoken message that he deserves to be President).

But while standing on the corner of 72nd and Broadway the other day, watching countless cabs with flower decals on them whiz by, the Jesus light suddenly shone down on me and I had a revelation. There is another Mayoral characteristic that is having its effect on our metropolis, and not in a good way. Simply stated: Our Mayor is a square.

Bloomberg is such a control freak that no one can doubt that nothing happens in this City without his say-so, including those tacky, dumb-ass, faux-bohemian flower cabs. Only a true square would think that those psychedelic taxis are cool. Only a terminally unhip cat would eye those steel-and-glass, Euro-trash, tin-crap Cemusa bus shelters and newsstands and think they represented the ultimate in sleek urban design. And what is more un-square than turning on the non-smoking sign in ever bar in the City That Never Sleeps? (Healthier, yes. Cool, no.)

One reason that Bloomberg is so tragically unhip, so socially maladroit, so un-New York, is, well, he's not from New York. He's from Boston! He didn't come to New York until after college, and then it was for work. Giuliani was born in Brooklyn. Koch was from the Bronx. Wagner and Lindsay were from Manhattan. Dinkins was from Trenton (close enough). They felt like New York guys, because they were New York guys. They appreciated what New York has that other cities just don't have. Like them or hate them as men, they had moxie and they has culture. Giuliani went to the opera. Dinkins was a tennis fanatic. Koch fancied himself a movie critic. These guys weren't tourists.

Bloomberg is a tourist. He's from Podunk, basically. He looks at New York and thinks is needs a good sweeping. He hates those ramshackle newsstands. He pretends to like to ride the subway, but doesn't really; as the Times revealed recently, when he does ride the subway, he's chauffeured to an express stop and then goes through a turnstile. No doubt, he regards the endangered Red Hook Ballfield food vendors as a messy sideshow that would be best replaced by a food court.

All those Bank of Americas and Duane Reades are there because Bloomberg thinks they make New York a better city. He really thinks that. As for culture, if he has any taste, I've haven't seen it. Sorry to be personal, but look at the way he dresses. Listen to the way he talks. Surely the worst voice of any politician since George Herbert Walker Bush.

Bloomberg is a businessman, a global guy. He's not a New York guy. No true-blooded New Yorker would think getting the Olympics for the City was a cool idea. A real New Yorker would think "What a pain in the ass! Who needs that international crap to make us look good? We're already the greatest city on Earth."

And so we have flowered cabs, the worst public art project since those crappy cow sculptures littered the streets. A lot of people tell me Michael Bloomberg is a great mayor. Yeah, I think, but of what city?

A Good Sign: Neergaard Pharmacy

The Neergaard Pharmacies of Brooklyn are cool on many fronts. One, the first pharmacy was founded in 1888 by Julius de Neergaard, a man which an ultra-Dutch name who lived in Brooklyn when it was still its own city. Two, the Fifth Avenue location (above) is open 24 hours, seven days a week. Three, both stores have incredible neons signs like this one.

14 October 2007

Misguided Loyalty

The New York Times ran an article today in the City Section about how the owner of the Gray's Papaya, the miniature hot dog chain in Manhattan, has papered its windows with posters encouraging Mayor Mike Bloomberg to run for President. He's a "superb manager" said Nicholas A.B. Gray, the proprietor of what is probably one of the more iconic and beloved local businesses in all of Gotham.

Such misplaced loyalty makes my rock back and forth with dismay. Doesn't Mr. Gray see what is going on around him? Doesn't he know that Bloomberg is as far from a friend to Gray's Papaya as can be found in the City's political universe? Mayor Mike's New York City has no room for the independently owned, idiosyncratic businesses epitomized by Gray's Papaya, a store that insists that hot dogs are best consumed with frothy, tropical fruit-based beverages. If Gray's Papaya's existence was ever threatened by a greedy landlord or an impending condo development, Mike wouldn't pause in his daily routine to issue it a "fare-the-well." And he'd welcome with open arms and an approving Darwinian mindset whatever bank or Starbucks was replacing Mr. Gray's wiener stands.

Mr. Gray, it's bad enough that Bloomberg is your Mayor. Don't wish him upon yourself as your President. Unless you're suicidal.

A Good Sign: Garry Jewelers

The 56-year-old jewelry store lies on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn near 9th Street. It was run by one Ralph S. Garafola until 1999, when he died. Guess his friends called him Garry for short.

12 October 2007

Fantastic on Fulton

Great news today from Fulton Mall. (Seems like an oxymoron, I know.) The space formerly occupied by Gage & Tollner—ever to last in memory as one of the greatest restaurants to grace New York City—will be taken up by Amy Ruth's, the famous Harlem soul food palace.

So ban from your brain the horrid memories of TGI Friday's defiling of that address. A legitimate, respectable and good restaurant will soon live at 372-374 Fulton Street.

Opening date is expected to be soon, perhaps by the end of the year. While I'm a bit wary of a restaurant that, Carnegie Deli-like, names every item on the menu after a person, even the waffles (the "Rev. Al Sharpton" stack features chicken on the side), I'll take it. The place obviously brims with New York personality, and the food is good from what I hear (if not necessarily good for you). The prices are reasonable and likely to attract a crowd beyond Manhattanites who are going to attend something at BAM that evening.

A Good Sign: Sea Breeze II Fish Market

Commendable signs need not be spectacular or old to deserve commendation. The just have a show a certain flair, a stylish New Yorky showiness that does not bleed over into vulgarity. And so I applaud the Sea Breeze II Fish Market on 18th Avenue and 85th Street in Bensonhurst. The man sign is bold and color-coordinated with the awning. Added points for the small neon "Sea Breeze" near the corner and the red and blue "Live Lobsters" sign in the window. It all comes together for a very pleasing eyeful. I'm told this store has some of the best fish prices in the City.

Central Park Police Station to Be Made Stable

City Room reports that New York will use a whopping $45 million to fix up the Gothic Brownstone Central Park Police Station at the 86th Street Traverse Road. This is welcome news, since the 19th century building is looking rather bedraggled.

According to City Room, "The Central Park Precinct station house was originally built in 1871 near the site of the park reservoir keeper’s house. For the next few decades, it was used as a horse stable. It was converted into a police station in 1936. In 2001, the city built a temporary metal building near the station, and the precinct moved in so the building that was a stable could be renovated."

The second floor apparently used to be a hayloft, which is kinda funny. Work will be done in 2010

11 October 2007

Have You Seen the Seltzer Man?

The Island Beverages seltzer truck. As welcome a . sight to me as the old knife grinder that comes around every week or so. Man makes his rounds in my neighborhood fairly regularly. I've talked to him a couple times. He doesn't view his job nearly as romantically as some other do. Those glass seltzer bottles are heavy!