29 November 2007

Ben's Pops Its Cork

Next time your in Ben's Kosher Delicatessen on W. 38th in Manhattan, look down at your feet. For whatever reason, Ben has gone to the trouble to install a celebratory mosaic near the entrance, depicting a gigantic bottle overflowing with red vino. I don't necessarily associate stuffed derma with wine, and I have no idea why red wine would explode like champagne when opened, but the mosaic certainly lifts your spirits if you give it a moment or two of your time. And I like that someone actually thought to adorn the floor in the first place.

Wooden Phone Booth Sighting: Old Town Bar

I've been holding off on featuring this particular booth in the Old Town Bar, because it's always so goddam dark in that joint and I can't get a good shot of the thing. This isn't a good shot, either. But let the record state: there's a working wooden phone book in the Union Square-area tavern.

28 November 2007

New Look for Sahadi

Sometime last week, Sahadi Imports of Altantic Avenue tacked up a brand new sign and set of awnings, the first change to the venerable Brooklyn store's look in many years. It's a sharp piece of work, classy and dignified, though I will miss the faded paintings of camels and palm trees that it covered up.

I asked inside "Why the change?," and was told the that owner "was sick of looking at the same old sign." I can see that. But one wonders if the sprucing up isn't in reaction the the coming arrival of Trader Joe's across the street. Not all shoppers are as charmed by faded signage as I am.

27 November 2007

Old Town Bar: Sign and No Sign

Some time ago, I complained about the Old Town Bar's classic neon sign, and how the tavern didn't take proper care of it, letting more of its letters go dim (see above). Perhaps they took my gripe to heart, because the sign is currently missing, sent to the shop for repairs. (Of course, I know they didn't pay any heed whatsoever to my bitching, which is just how they and I like it. The Old Town shouldn't care what anybody says about it.)

The saloon must get regular inquiries as to the whereabouts of the sign, which hung over E. 18th Street for all to see, because the owners have placed a notice in the window saying "Sign is in rehab! Be back soon. Better than ever." I asked the bartender if he knew when, exactly, it was due back. "It's due!" he replied. "When I don't know." (Whoever's repairing it better handle it with care.)

As if knowing that patrons might be missing the neon beacon, the owner has trotted out one of his occasional paper rants for the entertainment of passersby. In case you can't read the below photo, it says:

Please New York Times, stop glorifying the bums who call themselves the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (Lincoln would have sued for defamation). They were a bunch of Commies who couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag, the only action they saw was when three of four of them, after some opium pipes, would get up the nerve to jump and rape a nun.

I imagine this missive is in protest of the Times' recent article about the death of Moe Fishman, the Brigade veteran. Leave is to an reactionary old beer hall to resurrect arguments about the Spanish Civil War.

26 November 2007

Lonnie's Lives

Many thanks to City Room for characterizing one of their articles as a Lost City sort of story. (Technically, they called it a "Lost New York" tale, but the link was to this site, baby!)

And they were spot on. The yarn about a new Chinatown restaurant that uncovered an old sign to Lonnie's Coffee Shoppe, a diner that once reigned at 21 Mott Street, and decided to hang the sign up on their front wall rather than toss it out, was right up my alley. I had never heard of Lonnie's, but apparently it a classic-style diner and it was there from 1956 to the late '70s.

There will always be old signs to discover in New York as long as new store owners remain lazy bastards. Thank God.

A Good Sign: Schnitzel King

How can you resist this sign? Schnitzel King! They're the Schnitzel King, in a day and age when no one is clawing to get on top of the schnitzel heap. And "The Best Cutlets"! Cutlets of what, I wonder. What you can't see in this picture of the Midwood restaurant is a sign in the window that reads "We now have Thursday Cholent." Thursdays just got a little bit better in Midwood.

More Evidence City Hates Small Businesses

City Hall must be running out of ideas on how to drive mom-and-pop stores out of business and make things a little easier for their big-box, chain-retailer friends. Brooklyn Paper reported over the weekend that the government has started to crack down on sidewalk sandwich-board signs, those a-frame, folding jobbies that shops put out in front of their stores in hopes of attracting shoppers.

Now, come on. What lousy lunch or spousal argument led an idle bureaucrat to issue this pointless fiat? Has there been a rash of sandwich-board murders, with culprits offing citizens with hosted placards when guns and knives proved unavailable? Did Bloomberg trip over a "hot soup" sign and drop his gold-plated money clip down a manhole? How are these things harming anyone? The City argues that they obstruct the sidewalk, and has been handing out $100-$300 tickets. This is nonsense. Aside from impeding the progress of a holdup man trying desperately to make his getaway (which would be a good thing), I can't imagine how any of these signs has even gotten in anyone's way. Everyone out there who has every trucking down the sidewalk and found his path obstructed by a sandwich board, raise your hand.

I thought so.

I don't know about you, but when I look at old photos of Fourth Avenue or Essex Street or whatever shopping strip, the thing I love is the riot of small-scale signage running perpendicular to the street. Hanging signs jutting up above your head, visible from a block away, and sidewalk signs, usually hand-painted or hand-drawn. It adds an extra dimension to the urban landscape. So much more attractive and visually stimulating that the flat, one-dimensional sea of neon we get these days. It also provides small vendors with a no-cost way to advertise. After all, Rite Aid and Staples don't need sidewalk signs; they've got two-foot-tall, firetruck-red letters that scream what they are. But I guess there's no chance that a sign so big and garish as that might actually stop people in their tracks and obstruct traffic. No, no chance of that at all.

25 November 2007

How's That Spelled Again?

The late 1800s seems to have been the time when American artistic types stood up for themselves and said, "We're tired of these Victorians wiping their boots on us! We are gentlemen as much as the next guy, and we, too, deserve a fancy private club where we can talk, eat, drink and play pool."

The acting gang fought back be founded The Players on Gramercy Park. The paintbrush and chisel crowd, meanwhile, formed the Salmagundi Club. Begun in 1870, it's the oldest artists' club in American. Since 1917, it's been located in fine townhouse on Fifth Avenue between 11th and 12th. John La Farge, Louis C. Tiffany and Stanford White were once members (women weren't allowed until 1973!). But it's safe to say that the Salmagundi hasn't much been in the news in recent decades. Still, there it stands, with regular exhibitions open to the public daily.

It's funny how these old meeting house are all laid out basically the same. The walls are coated with portraits and caricatures of old members, as well as various honors and trophies long ago bestowed on the club. A grand staircase dominated each floor. Then, downstairs, there's a canteen for members, a cozy, brown-wood affair with a fireplace, small bar, and a limited saloon-type menu. It's quaint beyond belief. Mugs hang from the ceiling. There's a brass bell which I imagine is used to call folks to dinner. (Are there ever enough people present to warrant its use, I wonder?)

Pool seems to have been very important at the Salmagundi at one point. There's a spacious, sunken pool room equipped with three large pool tables. What tournaments could be held here!

For an artists' club, I didn't spy many great works of art on the walls. Some decent genre stuff of its period, certainly, but little that was museum quality. Perhaps the most valuable thing on display was the framed easel of painter George Innes, one of the most illustrious of the club's former presidents.

One interesting aspect of the building: it's said to possess the only stoop left in all of Fifth Avenue. And you know what that means—Salmagundi is the only place on Fifth that can still have a stoop sale.

24 November 2007

A Touch of Old-Style LES in the Night

When living on the Lower East Side years ago, I remember feeling a bit frightened if I was out on the streets after midnight. I haven't felt that sensation in some time, unless you count the creeping dread I experience when I encounter hoards of cackling young night owls roaming Orchard Street.

But you can't erase the power of a dark, dingy street that easily. I found that out the other night, when, needing food after a late night drink, I ventured into Rocket Joe's Pizza on Delancey. I'd never been before, though I'd often puzzled over the curious name of the place. I ordered a slice. A tallish man with the severe face or a Serbian apparatchik and a thatch of steel-gray hair shoved a piece of pie in the oven. "Are you Rocket Joe?" I asked. "Yeah," he said. "Actually, it's Billy Joe," and he lifted up his shift to reveal a large belt buckle that read "Billy" in large letters.

The slice was surprisingly good, crisp and tasty. This made me want to take in the dive more carefully. There was plenty to take in. Men, obviously up to no good, came in and out to use the bathroom. A strange man outside the window, wearing a New York Housing Authority baseball cap, was being pressed for advice on some weighty matter. What's a Housing guy doing at Rocket Joe's at midnight, I wondered. Next to me, a vagrant woman with few teeth was heartily enjoying her dish of baked ziti. Baked ziti at midnight. "Everything here is good," she told me is barely decipherable English.

Put simply: tourists would not feel at ease in Joe Rocket's in the wee hours. The vibe took me back 15 years, and it felt all right.

A Good Sign: Coney Island Monuments

Coney Island Avenue seems to be the place to go when you die in New York. The thoroughfare is just littered with headstone palaces, including this one, Coney Island Monuments. The stark sign is particularly primitive and forbidding—much like a gravestone. How appropriate.

21 November 2007

Pictures of Apples

Pictures of pumpkins are fine and dandy in October. But in November, pictures of apples are what you want. Fresh-picked apples from farms in upstate New Yorker. Possibly to be used in apple pie, or for baked apples. Here are a heap from the Lincoln Square farm market.

20 November 2007

Rubble on W. 44th Street

I was passing through West 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth and I noticed that workmen were ripping the heck out of the former loading docks of the old New York Times building.

Glimpsed through the big bay doors, from which Times trucks once raced with the new editions, men and machines were busy reducing the area to rubble. Africa Israel Investments Ltd., an Israeli holding company, now owns the landmark and plans to rent it out as offices and retail outlets. I'm getting the construction has something to do with created retail spaces on the 44th Street side.

19 November 2007

Di Fara's: Just Pizza, No Gossip

I dropped by Di Fara's pizzeria in Midwood for the first time since this past summer's unpleasantness with the Department of Health. I found owner Dominic DeMarco happily busy servicing a healthy, well-fed crowd. The place looked a little different. The wall behind the counter is green now, not mustard yellow. The fruit juice maker was gone. And the menu has been simplified. Not sure why those changes were made.

The pizza was as good as always, well worth the wait. I'm not going to tell you if Dominic was wearing gloves or a hat, or whatever the DOB mandated, because I consider the spies who pass along such info to be enemies of the people and of good pizza. I will tell you that I had to wait a fair amount of time for my two slices, which afforded me ample occasion to observe Dom in action. I was amazed by his acuity. I monitored, in particular, one pie he had in the oven that I thought was good and done several times. But Dom kept peeking in and, apparently not satisfied, shutting the oven door. Just as I began to worry that the pie would burn, he opened the oven, slipped his wooden pizza peel under the circle and then shoved it deeper into the furnace. There he paused for 20 seconds while the pizza loudly sizzled. Only then, did he bring the pie out, content that the crust was appropriated singed. The man's mind never goes off the pizza. He's never on auto-pilot.

Lost Grocery

Abandoned signs spellbind me.

I'm talking about the store signs that remain in place even though the business in question has gone the way of the Dodo and a new shop has taken its place. (And I don't mean the ultra-hip, Lower East Side concerns that leave the old signage up for irony's sake; I mean the placards that stay put due to laziness, apathy and inertia.) How much can it possibly cost to remove a sign? Doesn't the new owner grow annoyed by the daily, constant reminder of an outfit than no longer exists?

Walking down Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park (a wonderfully ungentrified strip, by the way), I noticed this lonely little yellow-glass banner sticking out over the sidewalk. But no grocery there was. To the right was a 30-minute photo place. To the left something called H&K Cartoon World. It was hard to tell which space the grocery had occupied. The ghostly beacon offered not hints except that it once advertised a business that was open 24 hours.

I bet you it stays up there another 20 years.

18 November 2007

A Good Sign: Classon Business Machines

Note the typewriter on the sign of this old-time business on Coney Island Boulevard. Looks like an electric typewriter to me. Fancy! No idea how long it's been in operation, but the building's been there since the 1920s.

A Question From Midwood

Which of these Midwood businesses is the more inessential and marginal in today's society? Top This Hats, a milliner catering to women, or The Sock Exchange, the outfit it supplanted (without having removed the sign)?

Klogs and Glog

I experienced my first Danish Christmas Fair over the weekend. It's sponsored every November by the Danish Seaman's Church, with is located in a brownstone on Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights. The fair takes place in that church as well as the Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church on Henry Street, because the two churches are "friendly" with one another.

I paid a call on the German church first. The festivities were well underway in the basement. Quite a crowd I was struck by the enormous number of blonde heads. Nearly ninety percent of the people were fair-haired. Then my ears adjusted and I realized that everyone, but everyone, was speaking Danish.

The scene was very wholesome, and could have been taking place in Duluth, Minnesota. Long tables with red paper tablecloths filled with families eating Danish delicacies. Said delicacies were served at another long table by the kitchen from the hands of a series of nice, middle-aged Danish women. Mainly open-faced sandwiches, topped with shrimp, pork and red cabbage and other meats. Each was $4. "Kaffe" and "Te" were $1. Authentic almond-flavored danish was $2 and was out-of-this-world yummy.

One the walls were portraits of former leaders of the Lutheran church. Also black and white photographs of grand gatherings at various long-gone Brooklyn hotels, with groups of grim-looking Germans trying (and failing) to smile for the camera.

From there, I went on to Willow Street, where, I was told, there would be more in the line of gift-buying opportunities. This was true. Danish cheese products, smoked fish, lots of bags of Haribo chewy candies, Christmas decorations, klogs, candles, Danish flatware and china. Lots of Danes again. Where do they come from? You never see them on the streets of New York in everyday life? Throw a fair and suddenly there are hundreds.

The Seaman's Church also had more eating opportunities. Out in the back yard was a tent where it seemed all the big Danish fun was happening. "Danish hot dogs," beer and "glog," which was described as a Danish mulled wine, with red wine, "various liquors" and fruits and spices. The glog was pretty good, but the hot dog was fantastic. It was topped with ketchup, mustard, chopped raw onion and dried onion flakes. The dried onions lent an interesting and flavorful crunch to the dog.

I would have liked to have stayed in the tent, had a couple more hot dogs and a few more globs. But I had to get back home. I left the church with my mood measurably improved and my spirit all holidayed-up.

17 November 2007

Inside at Last

One of the consolations of remaining in New York City over many years, of enduring the biting winters and sweltering summers, the congestion and antic sidewalk energy, the high cost of living and the high cost of four straight terms of Republican Mayoral rule, is that, every now and then, you gain access to one of the City's unique rabbit holes of mystery and history, places that exist nowhere else in the world and fairly throb with echoes of the past.

I had one of these moments yesterday when I finally, finally, finally gained access to Gramercy Park, the last private park in Manhattan, regularly accessible only to residents of the buildings that line the park. It is opened to members of the working class a couple times a year, but I always seem to miss those occasions. But yesterday, after having lived here 19 years, two months and 19 days, I finally swung open that heavy wrought-iron gate.

My main reason for desiring entrance was not so much to see the sculpted park—though it is peaceful and lovingly manicured—but to observe up close Edmond Quinn's sculpture of actor Edwin Booth, which stands dead center. It's been there since it was dedicated almost exactly 89 years ago by members of The Players, the club Booth founded on the south side of the park as a dignified refuge for actors.

The statue was the first ever erected to honor an actor—not so long ago a very disreputable profession in America. It's made of bronze and is life-size. It depicts Booth in his most famous role, Hamlet. He is rising from his chair and about to deliver the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Booth's "Hamlet" was renowned in its day for running for 100 performances at the Winter Garden—a blockbuster run in those days.

Booth, alone, is honored in the park. His only company is a small fountain to the west which bears the likeness of Samuel Ruggles, who created the park. He looks a little melancholy.

15 November 2007

Seasonal Verdict

If there's one thing I will never forgive the world's governments and corporations and car drivers for it's the eradication of fall. They've cooked our planet until what was once a beautiful, extended times of crisp air, cool temperature, lovely slanting light and beautifully colored leaves has been rendered a tepid, unpleasant, schizophrenic few weeks of humidity, half-assed Indian Summer and rain.

I've been patient, waiting day by day for the season to kick in with style, but it's November 15th now, and I have no choice but to declare autumn 2007 a failure. Frankly, this fall has sucked. October felt like July, with most days soaring into the 70s, and people walking around in shorts all over the place. When November arrived, the Fahrenheit plummeted down to 50s. We never enjoyed those delicious days that float in the mid-to-low 60s, which is what fall is all about. Moreover, half of November has dripped with intermittent rain, knocking the late-turning leaves (which were mainly an anemic yellow) out of the trees before we got a chance to enjoy them.

The past 10 weeks haven't felt like autumn. It's felt like Mother Nature is having a nervous breakdown. Which, I guess, she is.

14 November 2007

Provolone Bread in the Morning

Many years ago, I worked at Spring Street Books, an independent book store in Soho that was run by misanthropic, mumbling troll named Izzy whose paranoid, irrational edicts were enforced by a shifty toady manager named Jim. The shop was beloved by locals, but to the staff it was a den of misery.

I often worked morning shifts and one of the only consolations of my working there was that, in order to get to work in the early morning hours, I had to walk down the often fog-bound eastern stretch of Spring Street, right past a narrow Italian bakery called D&G Bakery. D&G had the best Provolone bread I have every tasted. It came in rings and I would buy one and munch on it as I walked the rest of the way to work. It was the perfect portable breakfast. Strolling those deserted, cobble-stone streets, the morning light just creeping in, that delicious, savory bread in my mouth, New York seemed wonderful.

I was only able to buy the bread because I patronized the shop at so early an hour. D&G opened early and would routinely sell out its stock in a few hours. It was rare to ever see the store open past noon. The bread was actually cook in ancient ovens in a basement around the corner on Mulberry Steet; the Spring Street shop was used only for sales. All the bread was made by hand; no machines. D&G closed in 1997 and, to me, no other bakery has quite captured my affections the same way since. A bag store called Crumpler occupies the space now. A clerk there told me people poke their heads in regularly asking about the bakery.

Wooden Phone Booth Sighting: Capsouto Freres

I haven't written up one of these in a while. But what can I say—wooden phone booths are hard to come by once you've discovered the obvious half-dozen or so to be found in prominent old-school New York bars and restaurants.

This one is in the 27-year-old Tribeca French restaurant Capsouto Freres and took me totally by surprise. It's in the basement, the phone works, it has a fan and a nifty, Art Deco, tear-shaped seat. Strictly speaking, this isn't as genuine an artifact as are some other booths. One of the "Freres" told me that the booth was being thrown out somewhere back in 1980, so he claimed it for the restaurant and installed it. Still, it's a wooden phone booth and I'll take it.

A Good Sign: Gringer and Sons

Gringer and Sons appliance store has been on First Avenue in the East Village since 1918, when it was actually part of the Lower East Side and its customers were likely to be German or Jewish or Italian. I'm amazed it's still there. Prosaic businesses like this just don't survive anymore. From what I gather from the consumer-oriented websites, Gringer doesn't exactly pride itself on service. I was sorry to hear that. I was hoping the owners lived up to the greatness of their neon sign, which is an absolute beaut.

13 November 2007

Non-Starter Red Hook Exposed—Again

Old Media was all over that Hey-Red-Hook-Didn't-Really-Heat-Up-The-Way-They-Said-It-Would story again this week, with New York Magazine slowly following the lead of the New York Times and New York Post, which back in August had followed the lead of, well, reality and their own eyes.

Actually, the article, by Adam Sternbergh makes for thoughtful and even provocative reading (provocative, I mean, for those in the City who can't see beyond their own nose—a large group). I particularly like the dire ruminations of the final sections of the piece, which to me were spot-on.

I have to say, however, that the reason for Red Hook's not taking off like a bottle-rocket are perhaps far simpler than Sternbergh states, as I argued in an item a few months back. Putting it in a handful of words: no subway, bad bus, few services, projects.

Oh, and love the New York Mag illustration. It's like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood gone wrong.

Key to the Keys of the City

City Room has a very amusing item about that weird old civic tradition, the Key To The City, and who gets this honor in NYC.

It's a intriguing group, these key-holders. And after a few glances, a few thoughts emerge:

*Far too baseball players have been given the key.
*David Dinkins made it count, handing over the key only to Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev and no one else.
*Michael Bloomberg really likes others guys who have jobs like his, honoring 11 mayors from around the world.
*Ed Koch aimed higher, preferring to bestow the key on Presidents and Prime Ministers.
*Mickey Rooney and Susan Lucci should give their keys back.
*Why does the key have to have the current Mayor's name on it? Couldn't we save some money by just manufacturing a lot of generic keys?

The Dragon Wins

Brownstoner reports the ongoing demolition of St. George's Church at 203 York Street in Vinegar Hill. It's coming down as we speak. The Roman Catholic Diocese, which is not a sentimental outfit, despite the whole Christmas thing, sold the building, parish hall and the land beneath them to the Tocci family for $3.2 million, which sounds pretty cheap to me for a structure that would have been 100 years old had it lived to 2009.

There's an interesting conversation over at Brownstone about the item, led by a well-meaning, but blinkered "let progress progress" dude named Benson. I stopped reading his comments after he wrote: "I appreciate your comments, but they are telling, and go to the heart of my problem with today's preservationists. You are assuming that all beauty lies in the past. You are assuming that this former church building represents the ultimate aesthetic achievement for this site. In other words, we are incapable of progressing. Why is it assumed that we are no longer capable for achieving further advancements in the use and aesthetics of land in this city?"

I'll say what some others on the comment board were afraid to say, for fear of looking too reactionary: Yes! I do think all beauty lies in the past! And I don't assume it, I know it. And I don't know it because I made it up. I know it because it's proved to me every day. It's proved to me by developers like the Toccis, who throw up (and I do mean throw up) Big Uglies on our street again and again. The church that is being torn down was not the be all and end all of beauty and aesthetics. But it is for sure—and I will bet all of my earthly goods on this without a second's thought—better and more beautiful and more life-affirming that whatever it is the Toccis have on their mind. Wake up!, Benson. Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake UP! Stop fighting the bad fight. Stop being Devil's Advocate when the Devil is already winning and has been for years. Stop making the case for the buck-chasing, brick-laying vulgarians, who contribute to the beauty this City the way the Soviets added to the allure of the major cities of the Easter Bloc.

And, Benson, I like Venice. Anyone but a dumbhead loves Venice. And I'd move there tomorrow if I could. A dead city in one respect, yes. But alive with beauty. Alive with history. Like New York should be, but is increasingly less so, every single day.

12 November 2007

A Good Sign: Nine Avenue Wine & Liquors

Ninth Avenue Wine & Liquors in Hell's Kitchen is nothing to write home about. The selection is poor. But the sign rules. And old hanging placard that once apparently read "Carrol Wines," it now alternately flashed "Wines" and "Liquor" in primitive red neon. A little post-modern, perhaps. But also wonderful retro and basic.

Belgian Fries/Russian Talk

I take it on faith that the narrow storefront on Avenue A between St. Mark's and 7th streets that harasses you with signage about the Belgian Fries that can be found inside is called Ray's Candy Shop. Nothing I can find inside or outside the store says anything about any Ray, but this is how I've heard the shop named over the years.

The 132 hand-written signs touting Belgian Fries notwithstanding, Ray's has always been best known as a weird little hole in the wall that somehow makes some of the best egg creams in the City. The fries must have been added in the mid-90s, when New York City lay helpless in the face of a Belgian food craze. A Mr. Ray Alvaz opened the place back in 1975. It look very much in keeping with the East Village of 1975 and very out of place with the East Village of 2007, which may still have soul, according to a recent issue of Time Out New York, but also has a lot of neon and fancy cocktail lounges.

I went to one or two of said cocktail lounges the other night, which left me hungry, so I decided to patronize Ray's, which never seems to close. Inside, the only person besides the young, blonde, bespectacled counter girl was a young, swarthy young man with a couple day's growth on his chin. They were jabbering to each other rather heatedly in Russian.

I ordered a simple vanilla egg cream and, so as not to rudely ignore the written pleas that I try the famous taste sensation of Brussels, a small Belgian Fries. The two young Russkies yammered on. They were having a fine old conversation. Could have been a fight. Could have been a lover's spat. Don't know. I know no Russian. I stared at the many available flavors of egg cream, then the many available varieties of sauces for the fries, then at the innumerable posters for Colombo ice cream. There's a lot of ocular stimuli inside Ray's.

I paid my $4.75 and collected my goodies. The egg cream was good. The chipotle sauce on the fries was a mistake. The swarthy young man looked through the door at me as I left. What? Not Russian enough? I looked around for Ray's name on the facade. No luck.

Not Yet Renovated in Brooklyn—Now Renovated

Back in February, I posted an item about an endearingly ramshackle buidling on Columbia Street near Hamilton under the heading "Not Yet Renovated in Brooklyn."

Well, things change quickly these days. Sometime over the last month, the three-story building has been subject to a major overhaul. The coat of green paint, which I always found attractive, has been sheered off to reveal the red brick beneath. The brick facade has been repointed, the broken windows knocked out and the window frames shored up. The ground floor space has been completely gutted and the debris tossed into a huge dumpster parked out front. Our little unrenovated building in on its way to a new life.

I checked in with a neighboring store and learned a lot about the old address' history. The old lady who owned it, and had let it go to rack and ruin, sold it six months ago and the new owner is the one revamping it. It will have two apartments up top and a storefront beneath, just as it used to have. They're going to try to keep as much of the lovely ground-floor woodwork as possible.

The previous owner had at one time run a junk shop out of the storefront, and the building was filled with her stuff. As the years went on, the structure failed so badly that the upper floors partly detached themselves from the out walls. This, however, did not deter a couple of squatters who lived on the top floor sans heat and plumbing. The interior was, all in all, a veritable horror show, from what I gather. The site racked up tons of violations from the DOB in 2005 and 2006.

Not that anyone care, but I collected some information about the building's past lives. Nothing too scintillating, but here it is for what it's worth. The building was the base of one D.H. Maher and Company in 1889. Thomas A Kerrigan sold it in 1995 to Bernard Gruse, Jr. for $5,600. A Sadie Lennart died there on Dec. 23, 1907. (No Merry Christmas that year.) And something from 1885 about a neighbor living at 313 Columbia: "Annie Mahoney, a very pretty girl of 17, of No. 313 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, ran away from home three weeks ago. She was arrested yesterday at Briody Brothers' dancing pavilion, at West Brightton, by Chief McKane. In the station house her mother pleaded with her to return home, but she vehemently declared that she preferred to go to prison... The girl cursed her mother roundly."

11 November 2007

Long Time, No See

Now, I don't want to bring any trouble or unwanted attention down on the head of the owner of any landmark restaurant or bar, but, after having waited patiently for months, I have to ask: What is going on with the Long Island Restaurant on Atlantic?

The iconic, Art Deco Brooklyn diner, which was founded in 1951 and looks like 1951, pulled down its roller shutter in early September. A note on the door said it was closed, listing a number to call in case of emergency. The shuttering alarmed some regulars, so The Brooklyn Paper did some sniffing about and discovered that the owner, Emma Sullivan, whose people came from Spain, had closed the place to pay visit to the Iberian peninsula to celebrate the birth of a new baby in the family. The Paper published something to this effect on Sept. 15 and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

But now it's Nov. 11, two months later, and that roller shutter is still down. I (perhaps rather rashly) called the phone number posted on the door, but received no response. Then, recently, I was talking to someone who lives near the restaurant and they said Sullivan had somehow injured herself in Spain, and it was this mishap that was delaying her return. I have no way of knowing if this is true. But it would explain a lot.

I suppose I could run down to the Montero Bar and Grill, which sits just down the street and is run by Sullivan's sister-in-law, Pilar, but, after reading this article in the New York Times about the two sisters bizarre, cryptic, lingering feud, I'm hesitant to mention the name of Sullivan inside the walls of Montero's, as much as I might want a $2 Rolling Rock.

Again, I don't want cause Sullivan et al any undue stress. But, if anyone out there can shed any light on the matter, please direct the info this way and cool my fevered imagination.