31 March 2008

Lost City's "Who Goes There?" Columns

The following are the collected editions of the "Who Goes There?" columns. Each edition originally appeared on Eater.com.

As the introduction to each feature states, the purpose of the series is to crack the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there. (Venues that have since closed their doors are designated by an asterisk. Those designated with a hashtag have changed management.)

Who Goes There? Dominick's
Who Goes There? John's Pizzeria
Who Goes There? El Quijote
Who Goes There? Lexington Candy Shop
Who Goes There? Donovan's Pub
Who Goes There? Roll 'n' Roaster
Who Goes There? Piccolo Venezia
Who Goes There? Tom's Restaurant
Who Goes There? Prime Burger*
Who Goes There? L&B Spumoni Gardens
Who Goes There? Colandrea New Corner
Who Goes There? Lupe's 
Who Goes There? Frankie & Johnnie's
Who Goes There? El Sitio
Who Goes There? Il Tinello
Who Goes There? El Viejo Yayo
Who Goes There? Joe & Pat's Pizzeria
Who Goes There? Marchi's
Who Goes There? Lee's Tavern
Who Goes There? Sarge's Deli 
Who Goes There? Toledo
Who Goes There? The Tap and Grill
Who Goes There? El Parador Cafe
Who Goes There? Villa Berulia
Who Goes There? Randazzo's Clam Bar
Who Goes There? Liebman's Kosher Deli
Who Goes There? Bohemian Hall Beer Garden
Who Goes There? J.G. Melon
Who Goes There? DeFonte's Sandwich Shop
Who Goes There? Isabella's 
Who Goes There? Mont Blanc
Who Goes There? Hinsch's*
Who Goes There? Brennan and Carr
Who Goes There? Stage Deli
Who Goes There? Gargiulo's
Who Goes There? Charlie Mom
Who Goes There? Mario's
Who Goes There? King Yum
Who Goes There? Sam's Pizzeria
Who Goes There? Capsouto Freres
Who Goes There? Two Toms
Who Goes There? Marco Polo
Who Goes There? Sardi's
Who Goes There? Wo Hop
Who Goes There? Quatorze Bis
Who Goes There? La Traviata*
Who Goes There? La Rivista
Who Goes There? Von Westernhagen's*
Who Goes There? Puglia Ristorante
Who Goes There? Trieste
Who Goes There? Monte's Trattoria
Who Goes There? Suzie's Chinese Restaurant
Who Goes There? Sofia Ristorante
Who Goes There? Le Rivage
Who Goes There? Rolf's
Who Goes There? Armando's
Who Goes There? Fortune House#
Who Goes There? Zum Stammtisch
Who Goes There? The Red Rose
Who Goes There? El Paso Restaurant
Who Goes There? Sammy's Roumanian Steak House
Who Goes There? La Mancha
Who Goes There? Forlini's
Who Goes There? Sevilla
Who Goes There? Spanish Taverna*
Who Goes There? Donohue's Steak House
Who Goes There? Pietro's
Who Goes There? Brooks 1890 Restaurant#
Who Goes There? La Ripaille
Who Goes There? Isle of Capri
Who Goes There? Heidelberg Restaurant
Who Goes There? Lanza Restaurant

Who Goes There? Francesco Centro Vasca
Who Goes There? John's of 12th Street
Who Goes There? Gino*
Who Goes There? Le Veau d'Or
Who Goes There? Ralph's Ristorante Italiano
Who Goes There? Les Sans Culottes
Who Goes There? Gene's Restaurant
Who Goes There? Villa Mosconi
Who Goes There? Tripoli
Who Goes There? Rocco Restaurant#
Who Goes There? Pergola des Artistes

Who Goes There? Queen Restaurant
Who Goes There? Spain Restaurant
Who Goes There? Fedora Restaurant*
Who Goes There? Tour Va Bien

The "Go Back to Kansas" Argument

Who out there isn't thrilled with the pace and quality of overdevelopment in this City? OK, OK, quite a few. Now, who of you who just answered the first question in the affirmative are from Kansas?

Right. That's what I thought. Well, you may not know it, but there's a certain neo-con, knee-jerk, let-'em-build-the-fucking-crap contingent out there in Commentland who thinks you're all from Kansas. Or should be from there. Check out this comment on Curbed today by an Anonymous gentleman (yeah, could be a woman, but sounds like a man) who didn't like that some people didn't like the Trump Soho:

ooooh... scary! Makes you want to just pack up and flee to Kansas where they don't have any big bad skyscrapers to terrorize you. Gee, what evil new construction project should we demonize next, the Freedom Tower? Get over it - the story of Trump Soho is about as New York as it gets.

You'll see these on a regular basis on the real estate-based blogs, usually coming in defense of some crapitecture Scarano, Fischer, the Toll Brothers, Thor or some like-intentioned develo-raper is throwing up to blot out the noontime sun. Sometimes it's Nebraska, or Iowa or somesuch. But usually it's Kansas, which I guess is the anti-New York or the world. Kansas is apparently the place where skyscrapers aren't built, condos don't exist, ugly architecture is verboten and everything stays the same all the time, with nothing new ever built in anyone's backyard.

It's so funny to me. To comment-spewers like the above, New York is the last place a complainer should live. I always thought this burg was Mecca for complainers, and anathema for lemmings and sheep who roll over for any scheming muckamuck who comes along. But perhaps I'm wrong, and I should listen to the Kansas Tourist Board. Because I don't possess any of the qualities that they seemto think make up the perfect, prototypical New Yorker. Those qualities being:

*A dislike of attractive architecture.
*A contempt for history.
*A belief that to be a NIMBY is worse than anything, included serial murder, sedition and matricide.
*The knowledge that you should never call NIMBYs anything other than NIMBYs, because it's a funny-sounding word, sort of like Gumby, and I bet those NIBMYS feel embarrassed when they're called that. NIMBY, NIMBY, NIMBY!! Ha! Got 'em again!
*A unshakable faith in the grand plans of rich men. They wouldn't be rich if they weren't smart, right? Right?
*A belief that the two most exciting things in the world are: to tear things down; to build bigger things in their place.
*A knowledge that preservationists are Luddites.
*That Luddites are Cavemen.
*That businessmen are cool.
*That Kansas isn't cool.
*That every neighborhood in New York City is a dump and needs saving.

Gosh. It only New York were populated by people like that, what a City we'd finally be.

30 March 2008

Some Things That Are Kinda Depressing

Why are such things built? I mean, seriously. Why?

An old Depression-era movie house named the Polk was torn down in Jackson Heights. Not the Roxy or the Strand or the Thalia. The Polk. What? Was it named after the President?

The Toll Brothers are at it again. You read it here first: Won't Ever Happen.

Trusting Cleaners is gone for good. Welcome, whatever crap the greedy landlord lets come in next!

Some Hotels in Coney Island I Won't Be Staying At

The Rat-Squirrel House in Happier Times

My desire to know more about the ill-fated Rat-Squirrel House of Cobble Hill led me to track down this Municipal Archives tax photo of the building at 149 Kane Street.

Judging by the image, very little has been done to the building over the decades. The cornice, the lintels, the windows, the fire escape—they're all the same (if worse for wear) as they were nearly 70 years ago. At some point, a nicer stoop railing and front gate were installed. Otherwise, one certainly gets a feeling from the photo for how starkly working class the South Brooklyn neighborhood was back them. The lack of cars or trees is striking. Funny how a little green and the onset of years can transform a neighborhood from hardscrabble to handsome.

The Shedman Cometh
Rat-Squirrel House Still Shedless, But More Popular With Media
Is This the End of Rat-Squirrel House?

29 March 2008

Going Strong

I've been watching the conversion of Cobble Hill's 156-year-old Strong Place Church into a condo complex for what seems like most of the Bush administration now. Though I've read reports (some mind-numbingly detailed) about its progress, I have to confess that sometimes I wondered if anything at all was happening inside the skeletal remains of the Gothic Revival edifice.

I don't wonder anymore. Lately, progress is quite evident. The structure—which has long reminded me of a bombed-out ruin you might find in postwar Dresden—has very visibly been getting the fresh starts of a roof in recent weeks. It looks like Baxt Inqui's January promise that work "will pick up significantly" is coming true.

27 March 2008

Some Stuff That's Interesting

B&B Carousell to be fixed up in Ohio.

Ten real estate brokers—including four who work for the evil Corcoran—busted for tax evasion. My God! How could it happen in this market?! Begin gloating.

Things don't look so good for Moynihan Station, a rare big development that might actually do the City some good.

Starbucks buys the Clover company, because it simply must control the coffee universey, and bad coffee must ultimately triumph over bad.

Gridskipper thinks reporters still drink and have hangouts. Ah, the old romantic notions...

Queens' St. Savior's Church has been stripped down to the bare bones and looks starkly beautiful.

Some different water towers.

The Pride of Eagle Provisions

One of the most outlandish proud—and just plain big–signs in all the five boroughs belongs to Eagle Provisions of the South Slope, "Manufacturer of the World's Finest Kielbasy and Polish Provisions." The World's finest. That means every better than the stuff back in old Poland even.

It's been a goal for some time to try that finest of all Kielbasy, and recently I finally did. I walked through the vainglorious storefront, past the many potted plants at the front, through an aisle lined with obscure Polish imports, to the deli counter at the back, where breaded chicken cutlets, homemade potato pancakes and many sorts of meats are available, and told the unsmiling counter woman "One pound of Kielbasy." At a few bucks a pound, how could I lose?

Is it the world's best? Impossible to say. But it's damn good and it went quick. The store (which honors not America's Eagle, but Poland's) has been around since the 1930s. People go there for the homemade stuff and the massive domestic and imported beer selection. They don't go for the sad produce section, the high prices and the borderline rude service. This last part doesn't bother me that much. Sorry to traffic in national stereotypes, but, after spending many years in the City, and patronized every sort of ethnic establishment, one thing I've come not to expect from Polish establishments is charm and friendliness. Might as well expect a cat to pitch in with the housework.

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Fedora?"

For the second in my new running feature at Eater.com, "Who Goes There?," I visited Fedora, one of the last untouched vestiges of post-War Greenwich Village. The door to that place is a time portal. I felt I was in another world entirely once inside, away from all the cares the world had produced over the last 40 years. Had a light snow been falling outside, the place couldn't have felt more protective and cozy. I was also lucky enough to witness the nightly entrance of Fedora herself, the event coming earlier—around 6 PM—than is usually the case. The woman is very motherly; it's probably no mistake that I ordered Manicotti and banana cream pie—the menu I often requested on my birthday when I was a child. (Sorry. Too much information, perhaps.) I do believe I will truly mourn when and if this restaurant ever closes.

Well Whaddaya Know?!

Quote from the New York Sun via Curbed:

New York City is struggling more and more to house the students, researchers, professors, and medical residents at its worldclass education and health care centers, and the shortage of professional housing could threaten the quality of the institutions they serve, institutional leaders and real estate executives familiar with the industry say.

Gosh. I guess catering only to rich people and their housing needs actually doesn't work that well for the City in the long run! "

What's that honey? Choking on your foie gras sandwich with white truffles and need medical attention right away? Sorry—the hospitals have all shut down and moved to Pennsylvania. No, Junior can't help you. He doesn't know how to do anything but use his credit cards and watch television because no teachers can afford to live in New York anymore. Sure I can call the police. They should be here in 45 minutes; the nearest cop lives in Paterson. But cheer up! Mayor Bloomberg just called. He wanted to let us know that Con Ed, the DOB and the MTA are doing a great job. Hey—what happened to the lights?"

26 March 2008

Waverly Restaurant to Get New Sign

Those who know Greenwich Village know the old Waverly Diner, at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place. And those that know the Waverly Diner, known its iconic neon sign, which hangs out at a diagonal at the intersection of aforementioned streets.

Well, no sign lasts forever, I guess. I was passing down Waverly Place when I saw the diner's famous neon beacon lying grounded on the sidewalk, its tubes and lettering twisted and falling apart. Little of the neon that read "Steaks Chops Seafood" was left. It was a huge chunk of metal and glass, about three feet by six. I went into the diner to ask what's up. They said the restaurant would be getting a new neon sign, but that it would be very similar in appearance to the old one. Good to known they've got a healthy respect for their own history.

Donut House Says It's Staying Put

I was startled by a report yesterday that the Donut House of Court Street might be picking up and packing out, so I walked straight to the age-old diner, sat myself down at the counter and ordered me some lunch.

I asked the counter man if it was true that they were closing. He said no. "Where would we go?" So I ate my cheeseburger deluxe, which was, frankly, excellent. Things were tranquil and friendly at the joint, which must have the most undemonstrative color scheme in diner history—off-white and tan. The old Greek man in the toupee who seems to run the place was serving folks with an extra toothy smile.

To get a second opinion, I went next door to a deli and asked if they had heard anything about the Donut House going bye-bye. They adamantly said it was not closing. Take it for what it's worth, but that's what I found out.

Bigelow Unbound

When last visited by Lost City, the grand and tall neon sign for the C.O. Bigelow Pharmacy in the Village was wrapped up in ugly scaffolding. It is now free from all encumberments and looking better than ever. That's some good neon action

25 March 2008

Life Stands Still at Farrell's

At some longstanding taverns in New York City, there is such an adherence to tradition and an abhorrence to changing anything physically about the place, that it can seem as if time has stood still. Except at Farrell's Bar & Grill in Windsor Terrace. At Farrell's, time has actually stood still.

A recent afternoon scene at the circa-1933 watering hole needed no airbrushing or updated to have taken place in 1966. Tough-talking Irishmen swore a blue streak. The stoic young bartender blinked at nothing he saw and spoke with a undiluted Brooklyn accent. There was a ballgame on the television, but no music whatsoever; no jukebox. A man gawked at a long-haired guy across the street and joked he couldn't tell if it was a guy or a girl. Patrons characterized people they knew by their ethnicity. And no women were on the premises.

Many old bars show their credentials by posting framed newspaper articles and old photographs on the walls. Farrell's is not interested in boasting, or, very likely, what anybody thinks about the bar. Its walls are all but bare. The few things that are on the wall are there only to remind patrons that Farrell's supports our troops overseas. The joint is remarkably streamlined. Tables, chairs, a bar, mirrors, a men's room, a women's room (for show), a wooden phone booth and no kitchen (never mind the "grill" part of the sign). There are stools at the bar, but I am told they are recent additions. In the past, real men—like Pete Hamill's father, who used to frequent the saloon—stood on their own two feet as they got hammered.

There is no fancy drinking here. Heineken is as exotic as it gets, beer-wise. In this vodka-made age, Farrell's carries only two brands. I find it difficult to believe cocktails are ordered here. Beer and straight liquor is the game.

There was some sentiment on evidence. One man marveled that they were actually going to tear down Yankee Stadium. "I'm not Yankees fan," he said, "But that's like tearing down the Vatican."

A Good Sign: Regio Bakery

Regio, on Fifth Avenue in the South Slope, looks to be closed forever. The sign's a peach, though.

Who Loves Benjamin Harrison?

The Waldorf=Astoria, that's who.

At the center of the lobby of the palatial old hotel is ridiculous grand, and probably horrendously heavy, four-sided clock. It's old enough that it once graced the Rose Room of the previous Waldolf=Astoria down at Fifth and 34th. The hotel bought it after it was exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. It was made by the Goldsmiths' Company on London.

The base of the thing is octagonal, each face adorned with the sculpted metal likeness of a famed personage. Since the clock was English-made, I guess there was no getting out of one of the faces being that of Queen Victoria. Benjamin Franklin is the only American non-President. Five other sides feature folks you've probably heard of: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington and (I'm assuming a lot here) Grover Cleveland. The eighth and final panel goes to Benjamin Harrison, our forgotten 23rd President, who is probably best remembered today (if he is remembered at all) for breaking up Cleveland's two terms. He is safely the face on the clock that most often provokes a "Huh?"

Harrison was one of those guys who won the office by way the electoral collage, failing to win the popular vote. He possessed a weird number of connections to other Presidents and politicians. His grandfather was William Henry Harrison. His granddaughter later married a descendant of James Garfield. His daughter married a grandnephew of Harrison's other Secretary of State, James Blaine (whom Harrison had hated.)

My favorite thing that Harrison did was make it impossible for us to determine whether North Dakota or South Dakota was admitted to the Union first. Before he signed the legislation for the two states, he shuffled the bills so he could only see the bottom of each.

Wonder Wall

One of the more depressing aspects about recent developments in the City is the uniformity of their windows. All the same shape, all the same cut, all boring two-paned affairs. And don't get me started on lintels.

That's why, more and more, I enjoy facades like this one, with its chaotic assortment of portals, each probably installed at a different time over the course of a hundred years or so. A scene from a Feydeau farce or Jacques Tati film could be played out in such a building. And it makes for an amusing pastime to imagine how the rooms are laid out inside based on the positioning and size of the windows.

23 March 2008

A Future Rat-Squirrel House?

There's no saving the Rat-Squirrel House of 149 Kane Street. That seems pretty clear now. Either it will fall down or be torn down, but it gravity-bound either way. What can be down to avert such tragedies? Well, catch them in time, I guess.

With that in mind, what is going on at 88 2nd Place in Carroll Gardens? A thin, three-story brownstone that's gone a ghostly white, it's in deplorable condition. The top windows are boarded over. The whole facade is weather-beaten. The front gate has an intact post on one side, a decapitated one on the other. Similarly, one newel post at the foot of the stoop is adorned with a piece of statuary, while the other is bereft of such adornment. There is detritus all over the lawn and an abandoned wooden door that has been pried from its former place. There is a chipped, leaning shrine to the Blessed Virgin that looks none too happy. And no sign that anybody's home.

The house hasn't racked up nearly as many violations at the Rat-Squirrel House, but a recent complaint, investigated on Jan. 16, found that 88 2nd Place was "vacant, open and unguarded." A previous 2007 investigation reported that a caller had stated that the "building has been vacant for 10 years but someone comes to collect mail." I think I actually saw that guy. He entered the yard, took the mail out of the box and then left.

A Good Sign: Harry Chong

Nice and simple. In Greenwich Village, on Waverly Place. Harry Chong, a laundry man, actually closed up his shop on Dec. 31, 2005, after 60 years in the biz. (Think of the beatnik laundry he had to sort through.) But the sign remains, at least part of it. Used to also say "Laundry" and "Dry Cleaning."

Some Stuff That's Interesting

A roller rink opens in Coney Island in a former Childs restaurant. Gee, Childs has been in the news a lot for a defunct chow chain.

The Landmarks Commission seems seems to think tearing landmarks down may be appropriate.

More evidence that the Department of Building's ineptitude and corruption leads to deaths.

An old-style newsstand survived on the Upper East Side despite an assassination attempt from the self-appointed eyesore police.

22 March 2008

The Peek-a-Boo Cornice

Some brownstone owner in Carroll Gardens apparently feels they need an extra set of windows. And so they installed a row of three small sliding openings in the cornice of their home. They look like those little open-and-shut peepholes you see on speakeasy doors in the movies. Could some sort of espionage work be going on up there? A police sting operation aimed at the brownstone across the street? Is an unwanted, possibly crazy relative locked up there, "Jane Eyre"-like.

The same style is in evidence in the brownstone next door. Strange.

21 March 2008

Thing That Was Never Gonna Happen Isn't Going to Happen

Like many of my fellow Brooklyn bloggers, I never liked Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. Too big, too overreaching, too contemptuous of the rest of the surrounding Brownstone Brooklyn, too ill-thought-out, too subsidized, too abusive of Eminent Domain, too obviously a sweetheart deal for money-mad, back-room dealer Ratner.

But, unlike many of my fellow Brooklyn bloggers, I could never get too upset about the development, because I figured it didn't a chance in hell of happening. It was so ambitious, so expensive, it just seemed like pure fantasy to me. A stadium, a bunch of towers, a freakin' Frank Gehry tower? Who thought up this new, shiny, futuristic Brooklyn, Albert Speer? Whenever people asked my opinion of the enterprise, I always prefaced my responses by saying "Well, if it ever happens..."

New York City has always had its economic ups and downs, and we've been due a recession for some time now. And recessions kill big projects like this. So, here's our recession, and, right on schedule, here's Ratner stunning us with news that the stalled economy could force him to curtail his grand plan. No Miss Brooklyn office tower (always hated that name; embarrassing); many fewer residential skyscrapers. Wow. You mean all that non-building we've seen going on downtown for a year actually meant something—meant that nothing is getting built. Wow. I mean, Wow.

Ratner is still pretty certain that we'll see a new stadium for the Nets. Construction will start by the end of the year, he said. But, I don't know. It's still a recession and it doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon. And a $950 million stadium costs $950 million, last time I checked. Reader, if you and I are still here in 10 years and there's a stadium in downtown Brooklyn, I'll buy you a coke.

(Photo courtesy of Brownstoner)

The History of 379 Henry Street

A few weeks ago, I posted an item about the lovely, three-story corner building at 379 Henry Street, at the corner of Verandah Place, in Cobble Hill, asking if anyone knew anything about its history. I'd always admired the building and it seemed evident to me that it had been a store of some kind in the past.

Today I received a wonderful comment from Pam McCarthy. She said her family had run a grocery store out of the space for 40 years until 1975. Here's the full message. It makes for a nice little footnote in South Brooklyn history.

My family, the Marescas, had a grocery store on the ground floor of 379 Henry St., at Verandah Place, for forty years, until 1975. My great-grandfather, John Maresca, who immigrated to NY from Italy in the 1880s, started the business at 46 Atlantic Ave., a block east of Columbia, where the BQE is now; I don't know when the move to Henry St. was, but we do know that John and his wife, Mary, bought two houses on Warren St. in 1914. John died in 1921; his son Charlie (1891-1973), who had joined him in the business, took it over with his brother Frank (1905-1996); their brothers Mike and Louis worked there for a bit before decamping to Long Island and Maine.

The door at 379 Henry was where the window on the diagonal is now. Maresca's Grocery Store had regular customers to whom they made deliveries; in a 1987 issue of the Heights Press, Frank talked about the business:

"Everybody called it Charlie's. It was a friendly neighborhood store where people would send their children to ask for things they needed. We also got a lot of business from St. Peter's Hospital, across the street (now the Cobble Hill Nursing Home). The entire freshman class from Long Island College Hospital would come in for lunch. We used to charge them 35 cents for a ham sandwich, and that was with Boar's Head ham.... The war gave us a break. We'd be open to 10, 11 at night, but during the war we'd close at 8 or 9.... We used to sell Christmas trees. The customers would go down to the basement with my brother Charlie. I'd hear them laughing as he'd untie every bundle. Then he'd sell them a $5 tree for $3. 'I gave it to them for $3 because they were good customers all year,' he'd say."

Frank was a kind of unofficial mayor of Cobble Hill; until his death in 1996 he lived where he had been born and raised (and raised his own family), at 177-179 Warren St., and in the last years of his life he had coffee each morning with Patrick at the Verandah Deli (which is in the mirror-image location from the Maresca store, at the opposite end of Verandah Place), telling him about the old days and no doubt advising on how to cut meat. He was also a golf partner of Barry Brockway, of the Cafe on Clinton; in fact, Frank's golf shoe and picture hung just inside the Cafe on Clinton's front window until the recent renovation.

20 March 2008

Department of Building Official Is Corrupt, Lies, Gets Arrested

Remember the repeated claims from the Department of Building that the crane that sliced through Turtle Bay last weekend, killing seven people, has been inspected several times before the accident?

Well, late today, the Buildings Department inspector who claimed to have made an inspection on March 4, Edward J. Marquette, was arrested and charged with lying to New York City authorities. Turns out he didn't actually inspect that crane on March 4. Turns out he made entries on a Buildings Department inspector’s route sheet indicating that he did make the inspection. Turns out that he lied to everyone about it over the past week. And turns out he hasn't shaved in a few days.

Marquette, who is only paid $48 grand a year for his very vital work, was arraigned in Criminal Court in Manhattan on one count of falsifying business records in the first degree and one count of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, "both felonies that can be punished by up to four years in prison," according to City Room.

DOB commish Patricia Lancaster—who's still reporting for work—insisted Marquette's dishonesty and failure to inspect the crane had nothing whatsoever to do with the accident, and banged her desk with her fist, saying she wouldn't stand for such rank corruption. Next we'll hear how Marquette was a renegade inspector and completely out of keeping with the department's other staff members. Perhaps he was a loner, kept to himself.

Meanwhile, Stuart Loeser, the flack who speaks for Mayor Bloomberg, and earlier this week defended Ms. Lancaster and called Council Member Tony Avella call for her resignation "foolishness," told the New York Sun his opinion of the situation had not changed. That the City has side with rich developers and not with its citizens is so transparent at this point. I find it interesting that our billionaire Mayor, whose wealth is supposed to protect him from undue influence by money-mongering outside influence, should still be so beholden to the development and real estate interests.

Some Stuff About Landmarks in Distress

The City, in an unusual pro-preservation move, took the landlord of the landmarked, but ailing, 1881, Hell's Kitchen apartment complex The Windermere to court for failing to keep the buildings in good repair. Scumlord Masako Yamagata didn't show (no surprise, since he's 89, ailing and lives in Japan), but sent his scumlord lawyer Steven S. Sieratzki, who said he hadn't read all the materials.

More untended landmarks. 287 Broadway is now leaning eight inches to the south. The villain in this case also lives out of town: John Buck Company of Chicago, which ripped down the building that surrounded the landmark, so it could erect a 20-story condo tower, thus removing the landmark's support system. So far, no one at Buck has said "sorry."

170 Smith Street
is a-comin' down. Another red-letter day for the DOB.

The Kosciuszko Bridge is a-comin' down, too, but on purpose.

Part of a Childs restaurant mosaic is still visible on lower Broadway.

Welcome to Carroll Gardens' Pastel District

Most blocks in South Brooklyn stick to the usual variations of brownstone and red brick buildings. On Summit Street, between Henry and Hicks, however, you'll find a veritable Easter egg basket of pastel paint jobs. Baby blue, pale yellow, light green, lavender, candy-apple red—they're all here (along, of course, with plenty of plain red brick).

You won't find this assortment of house colors anywhere else in Carroll Gardens. Not sure what brought it about. It reminds me of a trip I once took to the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands. The houses facing the harbor in the port town of Portree were similarly colored. (See below.)

Anyway, it will make for an appropriate array of Easter season colors as people stroll down the block this Sunday on their way to Sacred Heart/St. Stephen's Church, which sit next to the BQE.

This is Portree:

Bullshit Quotes of the Day

From today's Newsday article about the Manhattan East Side crane accident:

Bloomberg said critics were unfairly characterizing the site's history.

"The violations had nothing to do with this," Bloomberg said at a news conference Saturday evening. "Every large construction site has violations. They were not serious."

Six construction workers and one woman visiting from Miami were killed, and 10 people were injured.

Yesterday, the Buildings Department began inspecting crane sites citywide -- 253 in all -- but it was not clear when the reviews would be completed, said agency spokeswoman Kate Lindquist.

Lancaster was not available for comment Wednesday, but during the weekend, she issued a statement saying the safety sweep of all cranes was not prompted by fears of unsafe conditions elsewhere.

"We have no reason to believe that Saturday's tragic accident is indicative of a larger problem with similar equipment being used around the city," she said. Lancaster has said that the increase in accidents is due, in part, to the city's construction boom. The number of construction permits issued in New York City went up 36 percent between 2002 and May 2007. And the number of safety violations has nearly doubled over the past year.

Mark my words, readers, this man will never accept criticism or admit he's wrong on any of his policies, whether they be the smoking ban, trans fat ban, congestion pricing, public education, the Olympics bid, the West Side stadium, his pretense of using the subways, his refusal to say when he is not in town and a deputy is in charge, the need for development or this accident. Think about it: When has he ever admitted fault? He's too used to being in charge and not being countermanded.

Assuring the Palm Beach Crowd

The King of NYCabbies alerted me this article in the current issue of the Palm Beach Daily News ("The Shiny Sheet"), in which, as the KOC aptly put it, Department of City Planning commissioner Amanda Burden speaks to her true constituency.

I'm just going to reprint the article in all its astouding lack of irony, boldfacing lines that particularly give me the chills in their implied meaning. My totally measured and reasonable observations are in brackets. Please note that this article about New York's future is written by paper's FASHION EDITOR!

Planner Amanda Burden explains future of New York City to Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach

Daily News Fashion Editor

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Community planning, zoning and development issues are at the fore in town this season.

To reflect — and perhaps encourage ["perhaps" indeed; Burden doesn't want any dialog] — the ongoing dialog and to educate the public about the principles and goals of sensible growth strategies, the Preservation Foundation asked Amanda Burden, director of the New York City Department of City Planning and chairwoman of the City Planning Commission, to deliver the March 14 Gruss master architect lecture, traditionally presented by a distinguished practitioner of design.

Burden works for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whom she calls a great figure "who wants to make a difference." [My God. He's a Svengali figure to his various commissioners.] She is charged with devising development strategies for New York City, with an eye toward improving economic conditions and quality of life. [Quality of life for whom? Folks of her tax bracket?]

An important part of her job is maintaining the city's position as a city of global stature, [Are we in danger of losing our position at a city of global stature? Will only overdevelopment save us?] able to compete with economic and cultural capitals around the world while creating and maintaining vibrant and diverse neighborhoods [Her plans, of course, quash diversity, not encourage it; what they create is homogeneity], waterfront sites and public spaces — and encouraging top level, sustainable design. [I'm not aware that much of the jerrybuilt crapitecture she engenders with her rezonings is sustainable or top level. I've always considered it bottom-run development never meant to last the ages.]

"We're trying to shape the city," said Burden, noting that 79 rezoning plans have been passed, with more than one-sixth of the city targeted for redevelopment.
[Holy shit! One sixth of the City's in Bloomberg's image. Hello, Atlanta!]
She discussed several projects, some nearing completion, each reflecting the goals that she and the city administration consider essential:

* Restoration and enhancement of Lower Manhattan.

"It was suffering even before 9/11," Burden said. "The area was all business and went to bed promptly at 5 p.m."

Burden's office has induced an increase in residential development downtown, with a potential to draw 10,000 families to new apartments and condominiums and, with them, an influx of a variety of restaurants and shops.

* Implementation of Manhattan's Hudson Yards district.

"There are no sites in midtown Manhattan for office towers," Burden said. "Zoning, which allowed only low-density buildings, on the far west side of midtown had killed the area." [Oh, ick! Low-density buildings! The work of the Devil, they are! They kill neighborhoods. Only tall buildings revive areas.]

She intends to redesignate 59 blocks on the West Side, extending the dense midtown skyline west toward the Hudson River. [Just what anyone would want, an extension of that suffocating skyline] The change would allow a potential 24 million square feet of office space, as well as a supply of homes.

"Yes, it's dense, but it's very key to maintain New York's competitive edge in the world, and this will address that aim," she said. [This represents a rare bit of questioning from the reporter in this article. Again, Burden is blinkered. She can see no other solution for improving New York than overdevelopment. Competitive edge=tall, shiny towers. How can someone so limited in imagination be in charge of city planning?]

Part of the plan includes parks along a new boulevard spine and extension of a subway line.

"Transportation access is very important," she said. "Weaving parks and open spaces into the plan creates real estate value."

* Developing regional business districts.

Burden's office envisions an office district in downtown Brooklyn, which she describes as having fabulous assets, including access to surrounding low-scale residential neighborhoods, superior transportation and the potential for plenty of residential development alongside commercial properties, with mixed-use development a priority.

Within that context, Burden advises town planners to "invest in public open space and transportation."

* For Long Island City, Burden envisions an office district [She sure likes office districts.] that combines preservation of the area's low-density character with growth. New buildings, some quite large, built in strategic locations will "give an identification to Long Island City," she said. [Long Island City residents already feel they have an identity, lady.]

* The city is rezoning the entire South Bronx to encourage residential and retail development in conjunction with the new Yankee Stadium.

Manhattan's 125th Street corridor "needs new zoning that will catalyze development," Burden said.

The historic street, home of the Apollo Theater, was described as a dull succession of one-story buildings [Again: small buildings=neighborhood killers] with no cultural center [WTF!], no residential development and no restaurants. [There it is again! Restaurants! She's obsessed with getting fois gras in Harlem!] Burden's plan offers developers a bonus for the inclusion of arts, entertainment, dining and retail elements, which are required to gain the necessary approvals from the city.

"Banks can deaden an environment, closing their doors at 3 p.m.," she said. "We've zoned for limited bank exposure on the street level, positioning the banking floors on the second floor to encourage more vitality." [This is the only good idea you've got, Burden! Make it citywide!]

Burden believes 8,800 new jobs and thousands of needed apartments will result from the 125th Street redevelopment plan.

She went on to detail plans for a waterfront residential development along the "completely abandoned" East River shoreline in the Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

The High Line elevated railway park in Manhattan's West Chelsea district is intended to add value to the existing real estate, preserve the gallery district and create housing on the perimeter.

And rezoning Brooklyn's Coney Island will save it as a year-round community and amusement park site. [What? It was dead? I know lots of people who go there every summer. Sorry it it's too gritty for your clean white suit, Amanda.]

In the sustainability arena, Burden outlined plans for "greening" open spaces: parking lots will be required to include planted medians and shade trees, and 75 percent of residential front yards in the outer boroughs will be required to be planted, not paved over.

Ladies and gentelmen, this is what she actually thinks. Of course, they're not really her thoughts, any more than DOB head Patricia Lancaster's are hers. They're fed to them by Mayor Mike.

Only 651 days until he's gone, people.

19 March 2008

Lost City in the News

AM New York reporter David Freedlander has done admirable work for some time now covering the New York scene, particularly those parts of it that are in danger of vanishing. I am fortunate enough to be the subject of his latest story. I met with David a couple times over the past month, talking and taking miniature walking tours of Manhattan. No tape recorder, only a notepad; old-school reporting. One such travelogue can be found on AMNY's website here. (Nice atmospheric music; very Gershwin.) There's also a nice array of envy-inducing photos from those trips. Why can't I make these places look this good?

Here's the story in full:

Blog Testifies to Disappearing New York History

By David Freedlander

New York is a city of the things unnoticed until it's too late.

The faded wall advertisement that one day gets covered up by billboards, the odd dimly lit bar that closes to make way for a health food store, the shoeshine stand that suddenly disappears.

That vanishing world is documented in the blog Lost City, a Web site that is part archaeology of New York and part screed against rapacious developers and the politicians who enable them.

Its author is a freelance writer, who requests anonymity for fear of upsetting editors or sources with his screeds against the "new" New York, but who agreed to talk to amNewYork as long as we used his "nom de blogosphere," "Brooks of Sheffield."

"I would always plead to my editors and say, 'this bar is disappearing, this restaurant is closing, and we need to write about it,'" he said one recent afternoon over a bowl of matzah ball soup at the Edison Cafe, one of the oldest cafes in Times Square and one of the few places where it's still possible to dine on the cheap under big, bright chandeliers.

"And they would always tell me that's the nature of the city, and you can't get sentimental about New York."

Brooks began the blog in January 2006 after the abrupt shutdown of McHale's, a legendary Times Square watering hole where all the old theater hands used to go.

"I keep wondering where all the stagehands go now," he said. "Theater people need to drink."

As the pace of change in a city already known for rapid turnover accelerated, the tone of Lost City changed as well, growing more insistent and placing more blame at the feet of the Bloomberg administration.

"New York has always been fueled by money, but never so baldly as right now," he said. "It adds no value to the city or to history, but only to the people building them. I think we can add housing and jobs and all of that to the city and still put up buildings that people are happy with and proud of,"

He added, "I really wish I could close the blog down. The sad thing is though there are more and more things to write about all the time."

Lost City is now just one star in a constellation of sites devoted to documenting the idiosyncratic corners of the city. Forgotten NY, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, and a host of others contribute to the choir, and they have begun to get the notice of the city's professional preservationists.

"It's indicative of the lightening pace in which development is going through in this city," said Andrew Berman, president of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "They focus less on architectural pedigree, and more on the things that capture people's eye, which are harder to advocate for in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but they allow people to connect who are troubled by the losses of the city's history."

Brooks divides the great spaces of the city into four categories. There are those that are gone, like the Moondance Diner or CBGB; those soon to be lost, like Astroland; those, like Katz's or the Ear Inn that own the building and so are safe; and finally those that, through a miracle or landlord's generosity, are holding on.

"A place like Katz's, it tells the story of the history of New York," he said. "I don't think its Pollyannaish or unrealistic to say that those kind of places enrich the city. We have a lived history here that tells why New York is great, and why it has been many things for many people over the centuries."

Brooks bristles at the notion, though, that he is only engaged in a romantic reverie for a gone world.

"These things are still a part of the city, they are not nostalgia, not yet anyway," he said.

"I guess you could call it overly romantic but the people who wanted to save Grand Central were also overly romantic, but they were also right."

Works Continues at Chumley's

Not much of an update here, except to say that work continues on the restoration of Chumley's. As of yesterday, the back door was open, various dumpsters were in evidence, work lights were on and people were inside. Construction commenced on Feb. 25. So that's nearly a month's worth of labor. Still plenty of work to do, but this tiny flame of hope is not yet snuffed out.

A Good Sign: Casa Oliveira Wines & Liquors

Been there since 1936, just south of Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village. The sign seems to indicate original owners of Portuguese origin. I do know that, for an average wine store, they have a more than decent selection of Spanish and Portuguese wines. Note the "98" on the "Wines Liquors" sign—the store's address.


In case you don't like the look of the people who use the Chase bank branch at the northwest corner of Fifth and 14th Street, you will soon have the option of using the Chase ATMs at the northeast corner of Fifth and 14th Street.

Why? Why, why, why, why, why, why, WHY do they need two branches at the same goddam intersection? Where are the Dept. of City Planning police that outlawed these breeding-like-rabbits, Bear Stearns-buying bastards from spreading their seed over the newly zoned Harlem? Where? Why are they allowed to do this in the Village? It reminds me of that Lewis Black routine about being in a mall and seeing two Starbucks situated exactly opposite each other. He considered it a sign of the coming apocalypse.

I wonder—if enough people got together and began taking money out of one branch, then crossing the street and depositing it in the other branch, and thenn started doing the exact opposite, and just continued like that for several hours, would the two banks' computer brains become confused and explode?

What if we started a whispering campaign and told the tellers at either bank branch that the workers across the way though they were pussies and were likely the product of inbreeding? Would a grudge match in the middle of Sixth Avenue commence, with one workforce fighting the other to the death?

Let's keep thinking. Must be a way to get rid of one of these branches.

Easter is Coming...

...the marzipan lambs are getting fat.

These hyper-religious (and patriotic—check out the American and Italian flags) treats are piled high in the window of the venerable Court Street Bakery in Carroll Gardens. No need to order ahead. They're there for the grabbing.

Hole in Carroll Gardens

The continued existence of the teeny-tiny Hole in the Wall Video store on Court street, near the former Key Food, was always living proof to me that booming Carroll Gardens still had room for a mom-and-pop mercantile culture.

Today, it is closing for good, after 20 years service to the community. That tenure would have the business arriving just before the neighborhood started to change from a sleepy Brooklyn backwater to a hot nabe for Manhattan exiles. The place was what it said it was: a hole in the wall. One room, low ceilings. The management folded up the VHS tape boxes so they were flat, in order to use the space on the shelves more efficiently. The selection was decent, the service good; I had an account there for some years.

No mention of the reason they're closing in their goodbye note posted in the window. The place is too small for most businesses. Wonder what's up. The building's owned by none other that the area's famous Scotto clan, and there's an application in with the DOB to renovate the storefront.

18 March 2008

Landmarks Commission Found in a Giving Mood

The Real Deal reports that today's meeting of the Landmarks Commission went well for the following properties and proposals:

*The East Village music venue Webster Hall.

*The synagogue Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Anshe on E. 7th Street.

*Elizabeth Home for Girls on E. 12th Street.

*The Free Public Baths of the City of New York on E. 11th Street.

*The Allerton House on E. 39th Street.

*1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, including both the tower and the plaza, will be considered for landmark designation.

*The Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park historic district in Flatbush, which "includes about 250 houses, most of which were developed in 1914 by two prominent builders, the T.B. Ackerson Company and John R. Corbin Company."

Ridgewood Theatre Goes Dark

BushwickBK reports that the Ridgewood Theater, the only movie house left that served Bushwick and Ridgewood—and one that has done so continuously since 1916, when the Great War was on, but we weren't yet involved, and a professor from Princeton was in White House—has closed for good.

The great theatre architect, Thomas W. Lamb, built the Ridgewood. It opened two days before Christmas 92 years ago. It could seat 3,100 people. In it's early years, it hosted vaudeville as well as movies. Reports of more recent time indicate the inside was sorely in need of a renovation.

Old Lamb. He got around and designed a ton of theatres, but he hasn't had much luck in keeping them open.

Bye Bye Beauty

The news that this building in Long Island City is soon to be destroyed hit me particularly hard because, well, the thing is so goddamn beautiful. I mean, for an everyday apartment building, it's pretty amazing. Particularly the gracefully curved red-and-white-brick patterning at the corner, and the connecting lintel work on the first and second stories. The cornice rocks. Even the fire escape it in harmony.

liQcity says the building, at the corner of 44th Rd and Crescent St, must bow to the Philistine wishes of Rockrose, which is tearing it down to make way for a 42-story, 704-unit tower made of super-sucky glass and steel, which you can have a studio in for the low, low price of $2,100 a month. Rockrose is responsible for a lot of crapitecture that's due to go up in LIC in the coming months and years. Rockrose loves LIC so much, it would sooner destroy it that have it fall into some other unworthy's arms.