31 August 2008

Somewhat Encouraging News About Chumley's

Work has gone on so long on Chumley's, and so many promises of a coming reopening have come and gone, that many of us have given up all hope that the former Greenwich Village speakeasy, which collapsed and closed in April 2007, would ever see the light of day again.

However, The New York Times, which hasn't paid the attention it should, published an article on Aug. 29 that is slightly encouraging in that the parties involved don't seem to have cried "uncle" just yet. According to the story, the job has taken so long because, every time they think they've got all the structural problems covered, another ugly difficulty surfaces. Here are some excerpts:

The landlord, Margaret Streicker Porres... said the most recent timetable called for the work to be completed in "midfall of this year." But the contractors discovered still more problems earlier this month, and she said the architects and engineers had been conferring with the Buildings Department. [Partner] Mr. Miller said he now hoped Chumley’s would reopen early next spring — "or, if we’re lucky, late winter."

"They were always going to put up a new facade," he said, standing across Bedford Street, looking at the new front wall. The old facade "was always in bad enough disrepair that it needed to go down and come back up."

But far more work turned out to be necessary, including a new roof and a second wall...

There was also asbestos that had to be removed, Ms. Streicker Porres said, and a part of the basement that that had to be rebuilt. The foundation in the front, below the new facade, had to be replaced. And that was just in the front of the building. Ms. Streicker Porres said structural integrity had turned out to be a problem in the middle and the rear sections. "The conditions there are as bad or worse than what happened in the front of the building," she said.

29 August 2008

Glorious August

Before we all enter into the Labor Day Weekend and emerge on Tuesday in work mode forgetting that August ever existed, I would like to take a moment to salute the 2008 specimen of this typically sweltering month, one I usually detest.

In case no one has noticed, August 2008 has been the most glorious in recent memory. Day after day of utterly pleasant weather—the frequent San Francisco-like insta-storms, notwithstanding. (One's about to strike in the photo above.) The sun shines, it does not beat or pelt or pummel. Gentle breezes blow, leading you into delusions that it may already be late September. Nights are coolish; air-conditioners have rarely been truly necessary.

Consulting Weather.com, I discovered, and was not surprised, that the daily high has not broken 90 degrees one single day during the month of August. Yes, you read that right. I didn't say it hadn't broken 100; I said it hadn't broken 90. The monthly record was back on Aug. 1: 89. Since there, the temperature's hovered between 77 and 84. The next few days don't look to break that trend.

I hope the blissful conditions continue and give up a proper September for once. If not, I'll hold on to the memory of this August and pretend it was my early autumn.

28 August 2008

Billy Stein Goes From 360 to 0

Things are gonna stay quiet for a while at the site of the Oliver House—better known as 360 Smith. At an Aug. 28 Community Board 6 Public Land Use Meeting, held at PS 32 on Hoyt Street in Carroll Gardens, developer Billy "As Of Right" Stein was denied an extension that would allow him to finish the foundation of his highly unpopular, seven-story building, and thus skirt new 55-feet-tops height regulations created by the recent passage of Carroll Garden's new "narrow streets" zoning text amendment. The Land Use board will now pass along their recommendation to the full CB6, which will likely follow suit.

The auditorium held a crowd of about 150—not bad for the Thursday before Labor Day weekend. Would-be speakers were invited to sign either a "pro" or "con" list. The fight was a bit lopsided. A total of four signed up to speak in favor of the project. The remainder, a couple dozen, spoke on the "con" side.

The first "pro" speaker was—hilariously—Buddy Scotto himself, Mr. Carroll Gardens incarnate, Mr. pro-development. Gee, how'd that happen? He said 360 was the best thing to happen to that ugly corner of Carroll Gardens in his memory. Also speaking "pro" were a seemingly reasonable man who said he was an architect; a woman with beady, pin-wheeled eyes and an out-of-it air—a CB6 member, it turned out—who blamed the community for creating a bad situation because it didn't really want to get along with anyone for any reason; and a breezy, boozy, Country Club guy (the husband of the previously mentioned woman) who mentioned a loophole in the new zoning amendment that would allow for a 12-story needle building. He recommended Billy Stein build such a structure, apparently out of revenge.

The "con" group were more measured, quietly passionate and well-prepared. No one screamed, no one got emotional. One mentioned that Stein had been "tone deaf" all along to the community's concerns about the scale of his building from the first. The same man mentioned that several pages of renderings of 360's foundation plans were missing from the materials Stein submitted. Another man thought it ironic that, after months of telling Carroll Gardeners that the site was "as of right" and he could do as he pleased, that Stein should feel ill used when "the tables are turned." One MTA worker asserted that she had knowledge of the Carroll Street subway station and that it couldn't support the bulk of 360 as proposed. "The engineers of the Titanic said it would never sink," she remarked.

Stein spoke little. He mainly let a female legal mouthpiece do the talking. She talked a lot about the 90 piles that had been driven into the ground to support the structure that, by dint of cost and labor, added up to more than 50% of the foundation having been laid—a contradiction of the DOB finding that only 20% had been completed. The lawyer also made a bitter observation that she had never heard of the DOB making such an estimate in the past.

Stein, meanwhile, leaned against the lip of the auditorium's stage, a study in negative body language. Deeply tanned and immaculately groomed, his deep navy suit, white shirt and pink tie hung beautifully off his trim, athletic frame. He betrayed no emotion or anxiety, blandly frowning at the gathered crowd. To my eye, he was a picture of ingrained smugness. If there had been a button in the room that triggered a trap door to make the crowd disappear, he would have hit it, then breathed on his fingernails and polished them against his lapel.

Lost City: Ithaca Edition: The Chanticleer

The Chanticleer saloon has long reigned at the corner of W. State and S. Cayuga in downtown Ithaca. It's one of those no-nonsense, down-and-dirty bars that, despite being situated in plain sight, seems clandestine and somewhat anonymous.

Well, as anonymous as a bar with a big neon chicken outside it can be. There are chickens inside to: pictures, statuettes, wallpaper. There's also a long bar, a red pool table, a jukebox and a wooden phone booth. They don't serve food of any kind; just hard drink. According to some, the neon chicken is actually landmarked. Dates from 1947. Whoever founded this place must have loved him some roosters.

The place is actually called the Chanticleer Lounge, for the record. But lounge seems pretty high-falutin' for this dive.

Your Daily Hamberger Factory Destruction Photo: Termites

It was termite time today at the former Hamberger Christmas display factory. Little construction workers were rooting around the old Brooklyn building that only yesterday lost its roof, herding up debris and dumping it out the open windows. One such termite periodically appeared at the little window below with a wheelbarrow and sent wood and bricks cascading to the ground.

Another chute (seen below) was fashioned out of a former second-story side door. Below sidewalk level, one could a very solid section of former basement wall.

Lost City: Albany Edition: K.W. Savory

K.W. Savory deli on James Street in downtown Albany has been closed since 2002, at least, but the mint-green neon sign is still there, and it has to count as one of my all-time favorites. The color, first of all, is unusual. So is the name, which I imagine is made up and is not someone's name. The purposefully misspelled "Redi Lunches" is intriguing, as it the enticement of "Homemade Ice Cream." Finally, the swooping tail on the "Y."

Lost City: Troy, NY, Edition: Pork Store Closes

Above is one of the last pictures taken of Troy, New York's famous Troy Pork Store open for business. It was taken in July. I've learned recently that the century-old shop closed its doors in early August without explanation. Nobody knows why because the owners aren't saying, but people point to the rising cost of meat and energy. It was owned since 2004 by former Price Chopper butchers Carmen Amedio and John Mesko.

The Troy Pork Store was founded in 1918 by Charles Komerz. It made its own sausage, pepperoni, liverwurst, salami—anything you could think of—and served local families and businesses, as well as those throughout the Capital District. But its greatest fame came, perhaps, from creating the tiny hot dogs distinctive to the Troy-Albany area. The mini-dogs were bought and sold by classic local restaurants such as the nearby Famous Lunch, which always bought its dogs from the Troy Pork Store. Don't know where they're going to get them now.

What's happening in New York City is happening everywhere, folks. Our heritage, our individualism, our craftmanship are getting wiped out by corporate chains, feckless capitalism, and the governments that support them. Goodbye Troy Pork Shop, Hello Price Chopper!

Twenty Years On

Twenty years ago today, I moved to New York City—as it turns out, for good.

The anniversary almost passed by without my noticing. Then something jogged the memory yesterday. When I mentioned the fact to The Wife, she looked at me as if I had told her I had just taken off the training wheels from my Schwinn. It was one of those deadpan, utterly unimpressed, New Yorker stares that seem to say "And...?" The Wife's not a native New Yorker; she was born and bred in southern Florida. But to know her is to imagine she's never felt anything but the five boroughs concrete under her feet.

I suppose it shouldn't matter to me. But twenty years is twenty years. I've never lived longer in any place. And the myriad ways in which the City has changed during that time leads me to deduce that a certain amount of experience has come along with the passage of those two decades.

I arrived by train from Chicago on Aug. 28, 1988. In those days, Amtrak still ran trains into Grand Central, allowing me a more dramatic and romantic arrival into the City. In retrospect, I thank God that the bowels of Penn Station wasn't the New York sight that greeted me. Koch was still Mayor. The subway was $1 and you paid with a token. A slice of pizza was uniformly $1.25 throughout the City; irrationally, I still feel this is the only fair price for a slice. For many years after the costs began to rise, I would stubbornly favor a tumbledown pizzeria on 32nd Street near Penn Station simply because they still charged $1.25 a slice. It wasn't good pizza, but it was $1.25.

I remember being awed by the Korean delis, which—it is difficult to believe now, we're so used to them—were a newish phenomenon then. The array of fresh, gleaming, polished fruit displayed outside; the dozens of chafing dishes full of various hot dishes, all at amazingly low prices per pound! And you could buy these delicacies at any time of night! The delis seemed magical to me, something not to be found in any other place on earth. Now I find them intermittently convenient and, as far as hot food is concerned, violently repulsive.

I was mystified the first few times I ordered food from a hot dog cart. The hot dog was simple enough. (Hot sausages were much more satisfying, I soon learned.) But the soda—every time I asked for a soda they handed it to me with a straw. What the hell? Back when I came from, you gave straws to little kids. Adults drank straight from the can. Did I look like a kid? Only later did I learn that some New Yorkers are, to a certain extent, germaphobic, and don't necessarily want their lips touching the nasty metal edge of that can. Odd. I still throw the straw away.

I first lived in Harlem, at the corner of 135th Street and Broadway. For reasons I know not, I never found it scary, even during the late hours when I often returned home. I found the neighborhood took care of its own and if they knew you lived there, you were safe. A bought an old Art Deco wardrobe on the street in the Village for $60 and it was delivered to the apartment that night; it was my only piece of furniture. I then purchase a JVC 13" television at Crazy Eddie's. I didn't have cable, so I got about three channels. (I actually owned the TV until it finally gave out in 2005. I still have the wardrobe.)

The apartment was a shotgun affair with crumbling air of faded grandeur. The kitchen belonged to the cockroaches. Cockroaches were new. No cockroaches in the Midwest. Again, this did not freak me out; it was just a fact of life. I shouted out my approaching entrance each time before entering the kitchen, just to give them time to scatter. ("Here I come!" usually worked.) They left for a while, and I went about cooking my meal (boiling everything as I did).

At times, when they got too cocky and numerous, I resolved to temporarily annihilate them. On these occasions, I would not proclaim my arrival. I entered on tiptoe, Raid in hand. I'd swing open a large wooden cupboard door, and let fly. They would fall like rain. I'll never forget the clickity-clackity sound of dead cockroaches steadily hitting the vinyl. This went on cupboard door after cupboard door. When they started racing for cover on the ceiling, I'd aim high. After there were a sufficient amount of corpses on the floor, I'd cease fire and sweep them up with broom and dustpan. The kitchen would be a cockroach-free zone for roughly two weeks after such attacks. I imagine that they only briefly switched position to some other poor sucker's kitchen.

My roommates were a handsome, leonine young Australian carpenter who was living and working in the City illegally, and his African-American girlfriend, who made slick onyx furniture for Trump types. We started out as friends, but that didn't last long. He turned out to be the most atrocious alcoholic and I rarely saw him sober. He remained charming and catnip to the ladies, but he was was no head of a household (his name was on the lease). He once regaled me joyously with a story of how he had been rolled on the 1 train at 3 AM and robbed of $300. When I moved in, I gave him three months worth of my share of the rent. He spent it all on drink, and them criticized me for having given him so much money at one go.

The girlfriend didn't drink. She smoked grass. For some reason, I thought it would be fun one night to accompany her as she went out at 11 PM to make her connection. We walked to a bombed-out block of 133rd Street, where she stepped down to the shadowy basement door of a brownstone, handed money through a hole and received a small baggie in return. At the time, the experience was exhilarating. I was utterly green.

I remember being stunned that the U.S. Open was within a quick subway ride from Manhattan. I remember going to Times Square and my surprise that most of the buildings in the area were only three or four-stories tall. I was taken to candlelit basement restaurant on Charles Street in the Village called Carmella's Village Garden, and it became set in my mind as the epitome of the romantic Village bistro. It closed about ten years ago. I can taste the Frutti di Mare pasta still.

By my bedside, I had copies of Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities," Tama Janowitz's "Slaves of New York" and issues of Spy magazine. I would peruse them each night before retiring. I used them as a sort of social template to guide myself through the mores and attitudes of New Yorkers. As research, a bit silly, perhaps. But I could have done worse.

I found my first year living in New York incredibly hard and very lonely. It's as if the City tests you. After that, I felt more and more at home.

I knew many transplants back then. But in those first few years, they left one by one. Someone later told me that the five-year point is a dividing line. Those for whom the City is not the burg of their dreams leave before five years pass. The ones who are still here after half a decade tend to stay. I stayed five. I stayed ten. Here I am. Here I stay. For better or worse. It seems.

27 August 2008

Your Daily Hamberger Factory Destruction Photo: Flattop

The main building of the former Hamberger Christmas display factory now has not roof whatsoever. And for the first time, the destruction of the Cobble Hill West structure is visible from the Warren Street side. Will Hamberger live to see Labor Day?

Billy Stein to Sweat in Carroll Gardens Tomorrow

Billy Stein will face on Aug. 28 the day he thought, he hoped would never come: the day he has to actually ask permission to build the building nobody in the Carroll Gardens universe ever wanted: the reviled 360 Smith.

Billy, who has paid a lot lip service to the angry community in the past, had pretty much been breezily moving forward with the unpopular, out-of-scale condo project because the plot, on the corner of Smith and 1st, because it was an as-of-right site. Nobody could do nothing to stop him.

Except that somebody did. Or something: City Council. In July it unanimously passed the "Narrow Streets" Zoning Text Amendment for some streets in Carroll Gardens. The amendment allows for buildings of 55 feet tops. Billy's was set for 70 feet. Awwww. DOB soon logged a complaint about 360 being out of keeping with the new zoning. And the site went silent and has remained dormant since.

Billy Boy will have to plead his case before the Board of Standards and Appeals at P.S. 32, 317 Hoyt Street (between Union and President), Thursday at 6 PM. (A bit suspicious that the thing is scheduled on the week when most New Yorkers are out of town on vacation.) He'll be lucky if he escapes an old-fashioned pelting of rotten vegetables.

Lost City: Albany Edition: Jack's Oyster House

On a recent trip to Upstate New York, I was talking to a local businessman and asked him if there were any old bars or restaurants in Albany that captured the city's past, the world of William Kennedy's novels. I was crestfallen when he shook his head and said, "All of that is gone." Then he remembered one place: Jack's Oyster House.

You can tell from just the name that Jack's is old. It still serves oysters, just to keep up tradition. I imagine in the old days the bivalves played a much bigger role. It was founded in 1913 by Jack Rosenstein, a former oyster shucker who actually hated oysters. The restaurant was on Beaver Street. In 1937, it moved to its present location on State Street, just a stone's throw from the Capital Building.

Now you know no restaurant is going to survive that long in Albany without the patronage of politicians. And Jack's gets them in droves. During a recent August lunch visit, the place was pretty barren except for a gigantic telemarketer jawing nonstop to his parents about all the tricks of his trade. He sure looked like a politician; the back-room, cigar-chomping kind. Otherwise, nobody. Albany goes on vacation in August, like everyone else. The waitress pointed out a large booth in the back, however, as being the Governor's Booth.

Jack's is still run by the Rosenstein family, the third generation. It survived the Depression and the awful "urban renewal" years of the '60s and '70s. It never closes. Not even on Christmas Day.

The Menu includes a few things that supposedly have been there since 1913, including the Manhattan Chowder, which I tried. They also boast a Bloody Mary using a "1913 recipe," which I didn't try, and which I'm going to publicly dispute here as bullshit. Most drink experts credit Fernand Petiot, an American bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris during the 1920s, as inventing the Bloody Mary. It didn't arrive on these shores until the 1930s and didn't become widely popular until after WWII. If Jack's made a Bloody Mary in 1913, they're saying they invented the cocktail. And I doubt they're saying that.

Nonetheless, Jack's is a pretty swell place. Old booths, wooden walls, mirrored back wall, checked floor, bentwood chairs, chandeliers. Albany lawmakers deserve a place like this to scheme and unwind.

Below is a picture of the Jack's building before it became Jack's. Hm. When's the last time you went to an Oriental Occidental Restaurant?

26 August 2008

Some Stuff That's Interesting

The developer boom screws over what's left of New York industry. "Back in 2002, there were 12,542 acres of land zoned for manufacturing and the total has fallen 20 percent due to rezonings."

An old Bronx building is getting a new lease of life.

Learn all about Five Points, Manhattan's one-time wickedest slum.

A new piece of crapitecture from Robert Scarano. Has this guy no shame? STOP BUILDING THINGS, YOU TALENTLESS HACK!

Dime Savings Bank on Fulton Mall looking all nice and shiny.

102-year-old Monte's on Carroll Street is close for renovations/for not having a license.

Your Daily Hamberger Factory Destruction Photo: Burger Blows Its Top

Workers clawed off the roof of the old Hamberger Christmas display factory's main building today, letting a little sun shine into the long cemented-over edifice. One can see the beams of the exposed attic. I imagine we'll see a lot more exposed tomorrow.

25 August 2008

Who Wants to Buy a Chevra Kadisha? Only $4.5 Million

The real estate vultures over as Massey Knakal have a choice little property for sale. It's at 121 Ludlow Street, smack dab in the hot, hot, hot Lower East Side. It's a "fully renovated 3 story building located in the heart of the Lower East Side on Ludlow Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets. It is currently vacant on the ground floor with two commercial tenants above, an art studio on the 2nd Floor and a Hair Salon on the 3rd Floor... It is fully equipped for restaurant use... This is a one of a kind opportunity for a user or investor to purchase a property in the hottest part of the Lower East Side. This is an extremely well built, fully renovated building."

"Extremely well built"—I love that bit. I bet it was extremely well built, owing to one thing MK fails to mention about the place: 121 Ludlow was created for ritualized corpse scrubbing! That's right, it was a Chevra Kadisha, a burial society that cleaned and washed the Jewish dead before burial. Lost City previously brought up this point as a kind of knock to Chickie Pig's, the very-unkosher-named brick-oven pizzeria which used to occupy the ground floor.

If I were a developer, I'm not sure what sort of business I'd feel comfortable putting inside such a building. As for condoizing it—well, I still find the idea of people living in a former church kind of creepy. Living in a former burial society would seem beyond the pale. But, then, anything goes in this town.

The Mystery of Magic Touch, (Partially) Revealed

The wonderful and mysterious "Magic Touch" neon sign on the northeast corner of Hoyt Street and Third Street in Carroll Gardens has long driven me mad with curiosity. ("Italian Cuisine," "Cocktail Lounge") For a long time all I could learn about it was that my former longshoreman landlord could remember going there (proof that is was once an actual restaurant!); that it had closed in the '70s sometime (proof that it had been an Olde Brooklyn kinda joint); and that the space was now an artist's studio.

Not much to go on. But I never stopped asking questions, and lately I've felt that I've gathered enough information to deliver a report of not-altogether-specious quality. Much of what I learned came from a chance conversation with the owner of the equally mysterious M. Poggi Wholesale Confectionery at No. 293 Smith. That's right. I actually met him! And he's a nice, talkative guy! I was walking by, the door was open, and this stout, bald, bespectacled man jingling coins in his pocket was standing on the sidewalk passing the time of day. We talked for 15 minutes, and he was willing to answer questions about anything. Turns out he provides most of the delis and corner stores in the area with their supply of candy and gum. Whaddaya know.

Anyway, I digress. He remembered the Magic Touch. It was a "shady club," he said. He was pretty sure racketeering went on inside. And "girls" could be found there. Mr. Poggi himself never stepped foot inside the place. He's a clean-living kinda guy.

Other remembrances came from the folks on the South Brooklyn Network, who recalled Cadillacs and Lincolns parked outside all the time. Magic Touch reportedly opened in the '40s. It was owned by a guy named Mike, had a bartender named Timmy and a waitress named Ruthie. It was apparently the kind of place where you saw nothing and said nothing. What I wouldn't give to have a first-hand account of the interior and the goings-on on a typical night.

That sign, though. That sign casts a magical spell. I've met many people who talk about it in rhapsodic terms. There's something about it that makes you want to believe the Magic Touch was a special place.

Your Daily Hamberger Factory Destruction Photo: Bye Bye Beam

The main building of the former Hamberger Christmas display factory on Warren Street remains standing, but that should change pretty soon. The major achievement of Monday, Aug. 25, appears to have been the removal of a large steel beam that once held up the roof of a rear extension of the factory. A lot of digging below ground level, too.

House of Pizza & Calzone to Get Complete Makeove

One of the most beloved slice joints in all of Brooklyn—the House of Pizza and Calzone on Union Street between Hicks and Columbia—is currently undergoing a complete redo.

Pizza lovers from Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Red Hook who only last week sat at one of the terminally odd, boxy, gray-marble tables and munched a perfectly burnt, tangy and flavorful slice at the 56-year-old eatery, were today greeted by a building-enveloping blue tarp, a dumpster full of debris, sawhorses, plastic buckets, a plywood wall—are the earmarks of major construction.

The House was bought by new owners, Paul Diagostino and Gino Vitale, back in 2004. They have painstakingly tried to maintain the reputation of the signature plain pie and huges calzones, while adding a variety of new pies and various panini. Some believe the pizza hasn't changed and is just as good as always; others think there was a falling off. (I personally still find the slices satisfying, even if something ineffable was lost when those two old guys with the raspy voices, Onofrio Gaudioso and John Teutonico, stopped throwing the dough. Call it the flavor of experience.)

For a couple years, the new owners have been working on a backyard patio of sorts, which would provide extra seating. Now it looks like the main room will be redone as well. Neighbors say the interior with boast a completely new look. The owner, sitting outside, said he wished the design to be a surprise. He confirmed, however, that the House would have a new awning—sad news for those how loved the cheesy, grimy, old red-green-and-white one, with its hand-painted Italian chef holding a steaming pie. The guy wasn't lying; the old awning was strapped to the roof of a nearby van, ready to be carted off to the awning graveyard.

Lost City: Ithaca Edition: Ithaca Diner

Ithaca's got Cornell, where Nabokov once taught. It's got Ithaca College, where Rod Serling once taught. It's got Gimme Coffee, which is yummy stuff. And there's a lot of physical beauty surrounding it. But otherwise this small Finger Lakes city is a pretty forlorn place, with many boarded-up businesses and a hangdog air about the downtown.

A case in point is the dejected atmosphere of the perfectly preserved Ithaca Diner, which has sat on State Street "forever," according to the waitress. Seventy years is more like it. The current owner, a friendly Greek fry cook, is the third in the diner's history. He, the salty waitress, and a burly fellow in back made up the staff. The clientele, scruffy and unhurried and all over 60, lingered over their coffees and omelettes, passing the breeze with the workers, or sometimes just sitting there. One got the impression that they had left the world behind long ago, or the world had left them behind.

It's a narrow place. A counter with a row of stools and a row of booths opposite. Orange vinyl upholstery. Coat hooks. Signs notifying diners that only cash was accepted and that they should keep their feet on the floor when they belong. I ordered the last Diet Coke of the day ("Let me see if we still have any") and a bacon cheeseburger and fries. The food came quickly on small plates.

The waitress complained that they couldn't get any good help. "A city full of people out of work, and they laugh in my face." Prices are cheap, but it didn't look like the diner—which closes after lunch—was particularly profitable. A sign in the window said it was for sale.

It would be a shame if it passes into history. The owner said old Cornell alumni still come in and talk about how they and their future spouse went on their first date at the Ithaca Diner.

F. Martinella Is Coming to Brooklyn! Now, Who is F. Martinella?

As others have noticed, a new "unique deli and catering experience" called F. Martinella is opening in a large space on Court Street, near State. The sign caught Lost City's attention because it stated that F. Martinella was a concern that had been established in 1949. Nearly 60 years in business! Something to be proud of.

One problem: Who the #%@ is F. Martinella? Many others on the blogosphere have tried to come up with some information of this supposedly venerable company, but their Google searches have come up empty. I've searched every database and newspaper archive I can think up. Zilch. I'm pretty familiar with most of the old businesses in the City and this Martinella rings no bells. Something fishy's going on.

Can anyone out there shed light on this mystery?

24 August 2008

So Where Is It?

Last November, the folks who bought Gertel's Bakery on Hester Street went at the classic Lower East Side staple with hammer and tong, turning it into rubble in no times. Their aim: to erect a new 12-story, 27-unit condo tower.

So where's the building? All that's there is the gaping hole they left, and one of the old walls. It might have something to do with two open ECB "Work Without a Permit" violations against the site, according to the DOB website. Apparently, it was a pretty ugly scene on Hester Street last fall.
A hearing regarding the matter was scheduled on July 24. I assume the developers didn't show up, since the hearing status is listed as "default." A fine of $2,500 was also imposed.

A complaint filed on July 25 states: "CONSTRUCTION SITE HAS BEEN LEFT IDLE FOR THE PAST 8 MONTHS DUE TO A DOB S/W/O, SITE IS HAS EXCESSIVE DEBRIS SUCH AS PLYWOOD, SHEETROCK, STOVE, BUCKETS, BRICKS & METAL." The people involved appear to be Chen Engineering Service, AMG Pacific Construction and Michael Kang Architect. Yom Kippur's coming up soon. I think they've all got some things to atone for.

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Villa Mosconi?"

When I began this column for Eater.com back in March, I expected to force feed myself a lot of badly made food. One of the surprises of my journey through New York's forgotten restaurants is how good much of the grub they serve is. All told, I've only experienced difficult-to-down vittles twice—at Spain Restaurant and Rocco Ristorante. The rest have been pleasant surprises.

Villa Mosconi
is no exception. The Bolognese sauce will have returning soon to try other specialities. I'll have to save up a little money first, though.

23 August 2008

Your Daily Hamberger Factory Destruction Photo: Cleaning Up

Work on the dismantling of the Hamberger Christmas display factory on Friday, Aug. 22, was mostly about cleaning up after all the destruction that had gone forth the four days previous. Nice work, chaps! Looks pretty spic and span.

Thanks to a loyal reader for this find picture.

There will be no photos for Saturday and Sunday; construction workers get weekends off, too. Looks like the main building will get the wrecking ball treatment come Monday.

22 August 2008

New, But Not Better, Look for Zito Bakery

The legendary Bleecker Street bakery A. Zito & Sons, which has had a sad, sad, sad afterlife since it closed its doors for good, continues to suffer the indignities of being a battered, empty shell of its former self. There's been a slight improvement, though. The nasty plywood in the front window has been replaced with a large "I Heart New York" poster. (At least I think that's what it is. The heart looks like it's erupting.)

But I ask you: is treating the former home of Zito in this manner the right way to say you love New York?

21 August 2008

A Good Sign: 169 Bar

Pretty excellent, straightforward affair for this delightfully seedy seeming bar on a dark block of Canal Street, near Essex. What makes the sign even better is it's right next to a second-story office that identifies its intentions to the world only through the word "Lawyer." Maybe a lawyer's just what you need after certain nights at the 169 Bar.

Your Daily Hamberger Factory Destruction Photo: Look Ma, No Roof!

The roof that we saw fall in yesterday has now been disappeared by the magical and super-efficient destruction crew at the Hamberger Christmas ornament factory site on Hicks and Baltic in west Cobble Hill. Only the shadow the former church building's annex can now be seen, along with several gaping windows.

Kossar's Schitzphrenic Signage

Kossar's Bialys, the classic Grand Street bakery and one of the last remaining vestiges of the old Lower East Side, must be experiencing a panic attack of something.

They keep changing their signage. Perhaps it's an attempt to appear more modern—a reaction to the flurry of closures of longstanding LES landmarks like Gertel's Bakery. But the result hasn't been a happy one.

For the longest time, the bare-bones store bore a white, translucent, plastic sign with red letters reading "Kossar's Hot Bialys." That's it below (sorry about the numbers; the shot is from the Kossar's website). It wasn't exactly pretty, but it was bold and did the job, and it was right for its neighborhood. So were the two circular neon signs saying "Hot Onion Bialies." Sometime in 2006, they replaced the sign with a crisp brown awning with Kossar's spelled out in graceful letters. It was stylish and suburban-looking; it wasn't Kossar's.

But it was preferable to this! When did this happen?! Jesus H. Christ, what a God-awful, ugly sign. Green and yellow? Bubble letters casting shadows? It's about as corny and tacky as you can get. And no sign of the old neon circles that I can see. A sad day for signage all around. At least the interior is still pretty much what it always was: a factory where bialys are made.

20 August 2008

A Bloomberg Rainbow

Bet construction-happy Mayor Mike would like to see a sight like this on every corner in New York.

No More Fried Chicken and Waffles

The closure of Harlem's M & G Diner, longstanding palace of old-time soul food, slipped by me somehow. I was notified of the passing of this venerable house of fried chicken and waffles by a helpful reader. And though it's been gone for nearly two months now, it still deserves a proper send off.

I have to file this restaurant under Experiences That Will Never Be. Sorry to say, I never had one of their short-rib sandwiches. But I only need to look at the above sign in all of its antiquated, idiosyncratic glory to know that missed something rare and authentic. The jukebox was chock full of good stuff, I hear, and the serving were ample. Breakfast was served until 1 AM. Many things on the menu were ballyhooed, but chicken was king here.

The Department of Health closed the place down and it never reopened.

Picture courtesy of Eating in Translation.

Wet Basement? Call Busy Dog!

A truck that says both "Wet Basement" and "Busy Dog" is a pretty funny truck.

A Peek Inside Manganaro

Greenwich Village Daily Photo has a nice photo essay on the old Manganaro Grosseria Italiana on Ninth Avenue. Wonder how he got the nice inside shots without one of the irrascable staff bashing his head in.

Your Daily Hamberger Factory Destruction Photo: The Roof Caves In

In Lost City's continuing coverage of the demise the Hamberger Christmas display factory, here's what's going on Aug. 20. The row of fine arched windows are gone, baby, gone. And without them, the wooden roof caved in. Doesn't look like the roof was nearly as sturdy as the walls.

Of interest are a kind of balcony supported by white pillars that can now be seen. Old "Exit" signs point onetime churchgoers/basketball players/factory workers (see building history here) to the front doors of the Warren Street building.

The Sad Afterlife of Gage & Tollner, Part 7

Gage & Tollner just can't catch a break since it stopped being Gage & Tollner.

The Fulton Street restaurant, which had, and has, a landmarked interior evoking the 1800s, has suffered a series of indignities ince it closed up shop in 2004 after 125 years in business. The worst of these was having to do time as a TGI Friday's franchise.

Things were looking up last fall when Amy Ruth's, the famous and well-regarded soul food restaurant in Harlem, announced it would open a Brooklyn branch in the space. But the months dragged by and Amy Ruth's did not arrive. A planned Jan. 1 opening came and went. Then a planned Feb. 14 opening came and went.

Now, the Brooklyn Eagle reports that the deal between the realty company that handles the Gage building and Amy Ruth's has fallen through. There is a marshall’s notice on the door saying that the landlord is reclaiming the space. Now what?

19 August 2008

Hung Out to Dry

Now, I don't want to get too much into Restless territory here, taking patches of urban ugliness and casting them in artistic frameworks, but this array of signage recently caught me eye as I was waiting at length for a B63. I don't think we always realize how polluted our skies are with traffic instructions. This metal post is laden not only with a traffic light, but three other signs, all crowded tightly together, with something facing every side of the intersection. After a while, it began to look to me like a Department of Transportation clothesline.

Hm. "3rd Av." Does the traditional, additional "e" cost extra?

The Corn Is As High as a Livery Cab's Fare

Brawta Cafe, the Caribbean restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, has in the past been awarded "Greenest Block in Brooklyn" storefront honors, but I never paid much mind to its show of greenery until this week when I passed by the place and my eyes were drawn to an ever-lovin', absolutely genuine plot of urban corn.

Corn! Not tomatoes or peppers or snap peas. Actual rows of corn. I counted at least six stalks, maybe more, all looking to be in vibrant health, and all surrounded a small tree in one of those sidewalk plots reserved for leafy shade-makers. Now, that's something else. Corn ain't easy to grow in the City, let me tell you. I've tried. Wonder what they use it for.