30 May 2010
29 May 2010
Your last chance to eat and drink among the zebras, among the red-jacketed lifer waiters, to ask a Martini of the white-jacketed, hulking, white-haired bartender, to make a call from the wooden phone booth, to smell the plastic flowers, to check your coat, to pass through the yellow double doors, to order something from the same damn menu that's been there for decades—is today.
Gino (or Gino's, as everyone calls it), Upper East Side landmark for 65 years, will shutter after tonight.
28 May 2010
Places like La Traviata in Brooklyn Heights make me wonder things about restaurants. Like, how can you have so many things on your menu and be able to produce any one of them fairly quickly? And, what's the trick of making your place last a long time when you don't seem to put a lot of effort into making it or the food special? The owner of La Traviata knows the answers. Here the Eater column:
Who Goes There? La Traviata
One thing I've noticed about the time-marking restaurants I feature in these columns—the owners are almost always on the premises, usually somewhere near the bar. They're not making personal appearances somewhere or busy planning the opening of their next place. They're checking on the kitchen, checking on the customers. During my entire dinner at La Traviata—an improbably steadfast storefront (33 years and counting) on changeable Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights—I never lost sight of my host, Ralph Tommaso. He was rooted to a bar stool, talking to a couple of friends, an old guy in a white shirt and a woman in a blonde, Peggy Lee wig.
I like Fultummy's, the new "international" sandwich joint on Columbia Street in Carroll Gardens West. The sandwiches are yummy and well-priced. The iced coffee is as good as any in the area, including Cafe Pedlar. The folks who run it are nice. And the atmosphere is great.
But—and I say this out of concern and caring—they need to get their act together.
Clifford Grodd, the president of the old-style, private-label, Manhattan clothier Paul Stuart (where I once bought a wonderful sweater in 1989 and haven't been able to afford anything since—though I still like the place), died. He is credited with creating the chambray dress shirt, and was a bow-tie advocate. Bloomberg is a regular shopper. So why doesn't he look better than he does? [NY Times]
Lee Lee's Bakery, a Harlem shop known for making the best rugelach in the City, will close its doors next week. [Harlem Bespoke]
Slumlord Sam Suzuki turned himself in to the authorities. [VV]
H&H Bagels' employee-cheating owner Helmer Toro gets 50 weekends in jail and a $500,000 fine. [Grub Street]
The tiny block of Degraw Street between Hicks and Columbia in Brooklyn has seen more than its share of construction over the last five years. There's been a major condo conversion/creation and at least three renovations of old brick homes on the south side of the street (including one of the uglier revamps in the nabe). At times, it's seemed as though every single structure on the block has been surrounding by scaffolding, blue plywood and construction vehicles. You'd think the street had finally attained a well-deserved rest.
But no. The short thoroughfare is currently being ripped up from side to side, barring any traffic. According to Word on Columbia Street, its part of a renovation project that will green a stretch of Van Brunt Street. How much can a tiny street take?
27 May 2010
Carroll Gardens has one month left of having bus service.
Among the Brooklyn bus route cuts being instituted by the MTA are the elimination of the B71, which traces Union Street from Van Brunt to Eastern Parkway, and the B75, which follows the length of Court Street. Those are the two buses that serve Carroll Gardens. The only two.
I sort of understand the axing of the B71. No one rides it. I personally love it, and don't understand why it's not popular. It takes you to Park Slope, to Prospect Park, to the Botanic Garden, to the Brooklyn Museum. It's a great route. But people seem not to realize it.
The B75, though? It's the lifeline of Court Street, and packed most of the time. It's apparently going to be replaced along Court by an extended B57. But we all know what extended lines mean. Longer waits.
(Thanks to Pardon Me for Asking for the photo.)
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 10:02 PM
A peculiar Greenstreets program has cropped up on Smith Street in Brooklyn, near the Bergen subway stop. It's an elevated, stone-lined garden called Sassian's Maize-Land. Sounds like an agricultural theme park.
Sign sez: "In the 17th century this area was part of a native cornfield cultivated by tthe local Marechkawich Indians. It was know as the "Sassian's (Sower's) Maize-Land" and it extended roughly from what is now Atlanntic Ave. to Baltic Street and from Court to Hoyt Street. This summer we are planting a traditional three sisters garden in this spot with corn, bean, and squash varieties that are part of the heritage of native people from this region."
The "field" is a public art project by the artist Christina Kelly. She's planted another garden in Canarsie. Who gets the corn?
26 May 2010
Hard to know how to react to this.
"Sprinkles does plan to keep the zebra wallpaper in some form and certainly pay homage to Gino,” according to a rep for the California cupcake chain that will take over the home of the Upper East Side institution when it goes out of business on May 29.
Guess I should be happy. But that wallpaper only worked for a weird, set-in-its-ways, red-sauce place like Gino. I think I'd get ill staring at those jumping beasts while eating a cupcake.
Danger clause: "in some form."
The Henry Street Chinese takeout staple used to be called Ling Ling Young Young, a name I loved. Then they got a new (worse) awning and they were Ling Ling Young. The second Young went missing.
Now it's Ling Ling Young Emily, thanks to a hasty, and bizarre-looking paste job. Emily? It's like a law firm that keeps adding and subtracting partners.
You know that saying about cynics being nothing more than disappointed romantics? Well, along those lines, I view misanthropes not so much as mankind-hating monsters, but disappointed humanists. And that would pretty much be me.
RULE #1: Avoid contact with people. This, of course, is not very practical, and can lead to an unfortunate, hermetic existence. Which leads to the more applicable...
RULE #2: Avoid contract with people for short periods of time. Particularly when your mood darkens. This will enable you to recharge your humanity. And give you time to get suckered into the idea once again that maybe they've changed while you've been away.
RULE #3: Avoid politicians. They lie all the time, and for the wrong reasons.
RULE #4: Avoid realtors and real estate developers. They lie all the time, and for the wrong reasons.
RULE #5: Avoid publicists and press agents. See above.
RULE #6: Avoid wealthy people. The rationalizations they devise for spending more and more money on themselves, to the exclusion of other, more selfless expenditures, will make your eyes bleed with fury if you even think about it a little.
RULE #7: Avoid garrulous groups of young men in their 20s in groups of five or more. Ditto, young women. Especially in bars and on sidewalks. Their conversations, and decibel levels, will madden you.
RULE #8: Do not listen to talk radio. You end up hating people. You hate the hosts if you don't agree
with them. And, if you do agree with them, you grow to hate the people they denigrate.
RULE #9: Do not watch reality television. Such shows are designed to show humanity at its very worst. And that many people like them doesn't say much for humanity either.
RULE #10: Have nothing to do with celebrities, particularly actors. They are borderline sociopaths who desire your attention only so they can reject it.
RULE #11: Spend time with children under ten. Their pleasures are simple and pure, they can openly express delight, they are easily pleased, they appreciate your time, and, for the most part, they lack guile.
RULE #12: Pet dogs. But avoid cats—they do not care about you.
RULE #13: Spend time in old-fashioned restaurants and bars that impose antiquated notions of dress and behavior. It will instill you, briefly, with the delusion that pockets of civilization are still possible.
RULE #14: Read about history that happened before you were born, or a biography about someone who's dead. It's the past. It's over. You can't do anything about any of it, so it won't upset you.
RULE #15: Watch traffic and marvel at the collective good will required among the many drivers to maintain such constant, flowing order.
RULE #16: Don't take this list too seriously.
RULE #17: Don't read blogs like this.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 7:01 AM
25 May 2010
This is pretty off-topic. Lost City's not really in the business of restaurant recommendations. But I do like to see local, independently owned businesses thrive.
Carroll Gardens Fish Market, which just recently installed a sushi chef, is served up some damned fine, amazingly fresh, takeaway sushi. The selection is unusually vast for takeaway (you can eat there if you wish, but there's only one stool), including side dishes like pickled yellow radish and squid salad. And prices are cheap. The place puts all other sushi options on Court Street to shame, and easily bests the abominable, stale, chewy, flavorless stuff pushed by Fairway and Trader Joe's. (The only sushi I ever spit out as being inedible came from Trader Joe's.)
Second recommendation: O'Barone, a humble, but nonetheless excellent, and largely unpatronized Italian restaurant on Van Brunt Street in Red Hook. This is the old 360 space. The new owners are Italian and very friendly. The pasta is homemade. The space is charming, the wine list good, and the prices reasonable. Plus, on Tuesday nights, all bottles are half price and kids eat free. I didn't know this when I strolled in on a Tuesday with the family in tow. Ended up paying half what I expected to. Always a good feeling.
From Mike of Tin Pan Alley, about McSorley's:
"In the 1970's I was there on the first day they let women inside to drink alcoholic beverages.
"The occasion was sort of a big deal with some of the regulars moaning about Feminism.
"A few reporters were present, one lady had a glass of beer thrown at her by a male potbelly which was sad, even sadder for the potbelly is that lady was a reporter for the New York Times (I think) and wrote about this cruelty.
It may be a bit self-serving to select, as my favorite photo of Gino, which will close permanently on May 29, a shot taken by photog Daniel Krieger is service of a "Who Goes There?" column I wrote for Eater in 2009. Still, of any picture I've seen, it best captures the feeling of the Lexington Avenue joint. It has everything the places stands for: a Martini; men in ties; cold hard cash (Gino didn't take credit cards until just recently); the zebra wallpaper in the background; handkerchief and topcoats; a pencil-thin moustache; and old world class, combined with a bit of rough-hewn menace.
24 May 2010
Bloomberg is doing more crazy shit with Times Square. [1010 WINS]
RKO Keith Theatre in Flushing is sold. [Crains, via Queens Crap]
Not all landlords are bad, apparently. [Curbed]
Longstanding Lincoln Center eatery O'Neals' to shutter. [Diner's Journal]
Gino's, which is to become a Sprinkles chain cupcake store, serenaded by Gay Talese one more time. [New Yorker]
You hang around New York long enough, you see most everything. Like a squirrel in Carroll Park who finds a fully wrapped Charms Blow Pop, nabs it, runs up a trip and proceeds to devour the thing, including the wrapped and bright red hard candy. I didn't wait around to see what happened when he got to the gum center.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 12:00 PM
Perhaps nobody has eaten at Gino, the red sauce staple on Lex, more than writer Gay Talese (above, second from left). And certainly no one has written about it more. He's penned odes to the place in the New York Times and the New Yorker and in book form. The place is due to close permanently on May 29, leaving Talese desolate, no doubt. I thought it appropriate to reprint part of a piece Talese published. However, Talese tends to write the same things about his favorite restaurant over and over again. So I'm posting a piece by Anthony Haden-Guest (above, left) from New York magazine in 1977 (back when it was New York magazine, and not a shopping guide for the city's affluent). It has a bit more originality. Lovely intro. Read:
Saturday at Gino's
It is 12:30 p.m. on a perfectly ordinary Saturday, and things in Gino's are proceeding in a perfectly ordinary way, which is to say with mounting turbulence. The regulars are already in place. The dapper former aide to both Hughes and Onassis is wedged between the telephone and a pair of willowy women. Two movie execs are loudly talking contract. Beefy men in early middle age are talking about hangovers and stock options, and there is a tossing spume up front as a quartet of fashionable ladies tense to grab an about-to-be-vacated table. And a glum blonde is sitting at the bar, over a margarita.
Gino is standing where the bar ends and the tables begin. Gino is Gino Circiello, the most noticeable of the three partners in this restaurant, the one from whom it derives its name. He is wearing a pin-striped suit of exceeding sobriety and a silk tie stiff enough to slice veal piccata. He is also wearing his habitual expression, a mingling of alertness and great caution.
23 May 2010
On a trip to Troy, NY, two years ago I learned about the Meneely Bell Foundry. The company was established in West Troy in 1826 by Andrew Meneely. That foundry, and the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, founded later by a member of the same family, together produced 65,000 bells before they closed in 1952. The outfit was one of the most famous producers of bells in the nation. Meneely bells went everywhere, and are still in use. Or so I was told at the time.
I Remember Gino's, Again, and Again; Pozzo Pastry Shop Still Mourned By Faithful; Court House Square Subway Entrance Now Less Annoying; Construction at Joe's Perette; Mars Bars Gets a New Paint Job; Bike Shops Can Last 70 Years; No Carroll Gardens Basil War This Summer.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 12:18 PM
Gino A. Circiello, a restaurateur who shunned credit cards, reservations and advertising but built a Manhattan institution on the strength of homey Italian cooking and 314 exuberantly leaping zebras on tomato-red wallpaper, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.
Gino, his restaurant at 780 Lexington Avenue, nearly across from Bloomingdale's, epitomized the New York of the time when men still wore hats and a plate of spaghetti went for 95 cents. It was where Ed Sullivan ordered the same chicken dish every day and then spread out his papers on a table to work through the afternoon. Each Mother's Day, Frank Sinatra brought a dozen people to the big table in the back. Manicurists, opera stars and the odd mobster added spice to the sauce.
Mr. Circiello, with his hair slicked back like George Raft's and an elegant suit draped over his slender frame, stood at the front, using his rasping voice to greet everyone like a treasured relative.
''He belonged to a world that doesn't exist anymore,'' his wife, Nini, said.
Gay Talese, the writer, who has been a regular customer since 1955, called Gino a time capsule.
The Zagat Survey for 2002 said the restaurant was ''frozen in the 40's,'' but had ''the best tomato sauce in town.''
It still has an old-fashioned phone booth with a folding door; when it was removed after a fire in 1973, customers demanded its return. In place of credit cards, the management still runs a tab for regulars and mails a bill at the end of the month. The flowers, all artificial, are changed as often as three times a year, pretty much with the seasons.
Clearly, less than flattering reviews of the cuisine have been less than lethal. The reason, says Mario Laviano, one of three employees who bought the restaurant from Mr. Circiello in 1985, is simple: ''It's not a restaurant, it's like a club.''
For example, in 1974, John Canaday began a review of Gino in The New York Times with a long paragraph arguing that food is secondary to experience in New York restaurants. That said, he wrote, ''If I could pick a single one as the quintessential New York restaurant, it would have to be Gino's.'' (He said everyone called it Gino's.)
The zebras are a huge part of the attraction. Mr. Circiello was a hunter without the means to pay for an African safari, but he reasoned that he could at least afford zebras on his wallpaper. So he commissioned a friend to design wallpaper depicting leaping zebras pursued by arrows.
''This makes no sense that I can figure out,'' Mr. Canaday wrote.
In truth, it made less sense than he might have realized. The designer's initial picture of two zebras omitted a stripe near the tail of one of the two creatures. Before Mr. Circiello noticed this, half of the 314 zebras were missing a stripe. But the paper had been glued to the wall.
None of the customers in the first-night crowd noticed, nor did the crowds that followed in the next few weeks. Or at least they said nothing to him or his staff. He decided to keep the paper as it was.
Twice in the last 50 years, the wallpaper had to be replaced. Each time Mr. Circiello decided to keep the nonuniform zebras; people might miss them.
Gino Augusto Circiello was born in Buenos Aires on Jan. 20, 1912. His Italian father worked as a chef in a hotel there. While the family was on a trip to their home on the island of Capri, World War I started, and they could not return.
The young Gino developed a working knowledge of Italian, French, German and English. He apprenticed as a waiter in luxury hotels in Venice and elsewhere in southern Europe. At 17, he sailed for New York, arriving in October 1929 just as the stock market collapsed.
Throughout the Depression, he worked as a busboy, a room waiter and an assistant bartender in New York, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Palm Beach. While working as a bartender at the Waldorf-Astoria, he began to dream of opening a restaurant on Lexington Avenue.
Two of his friends, Guy Avventuriero and Emilio Torre, liked the idea, and the three used their joint savings to open the restaurant. The rent was $400 a month (it is now $21,000), and Mr. Circiello bought a mahogany bar secondhand on the Bowery. It is still there. So are the 27 original wood-topped tables.
Mr. Circiello's partners retired in 1980. He stayed on till 1985, when he sold the restaurant to the three current partners. In addition to his wife, Mr. Circiello is survived by a brother, Augusto, of Manhattan; and two sisters, Yolanda Gentile of Capri and Raffaella Musumeci of Catania, Sicily.
When he returned to the restaurant after his retirement, diners sometimes erupted in spontaneous applause. At home, one of his rugs was a zebra skin from an animal he had shot himself.
22 May 2010
Gino, the old world Italian restaurant and Lexington and 60th, which is due to close in a week's time, has always seemed to have a friend at the New York Times. The Grey Lady has covered the joint's long-extracted demise with care and concern over the past two years. This is in keeping with tradition. Gino, it seems, has never been neglected by the paper. You'll find mentions of the place going back to the 1950s, when it was actually a hot place where stars hung out.
One of my favorites in the Times archive is a 1969 article by Enid Nemy entitled "Restaurants Cave In Before the Pants Suit Onslaught." It was about which of the city's best restaurants were willing to brook the horror of seating women dressed in pants. Gino, we're happy to see, landed in the progressive "yes" column, along with The Colony, Four Seasons, Keen's, Le Veau d'Or, La Grenouille, Lutece and Le Pavillon.
"That's the new style," said a Gino spokesman. "You don't know who is who anymore." (My favorite comment came from La Caravelle, which added with haste, "But we don't allow turtle necks." Turtleneck sweaters seem to have been held in equally low esteem at the time.)
Those who fell in the "no" column included La Cote Basque, Lafayette and Restaurant Laurent. Then there were the fence-sitters in the "maybe" column. "No pants suits at lunch," said the "21" Club. "Attractive and flowing evening pants at night if they look like a gown."
21 May 2010
I may be utterly skewered for saying this, but there's something about this Times Square Applebee's sign I like.
I know Applebee's is the very embodiment of the homogenization/deculturalization devil this blog rails against on a daily basis—is there a more un-New York restaurant that anodyne, unctuous Applebee's—but the structure and style of this sign is very much in keeping with the kind of vertical neon sign one would have been common in Times Square in the 1940s and 1950s, right down to the arrow pointing you in the right direction. The restaurant it points you to is awful. But the sign that does the pointing isn't.
I lent a hand at Eater putting together a list of Old Guard New York restaurants that should be visited before they go under, like Gino will on May 29. Not saying these places are in danger of dying. Heaven forbid! But you never know. The list, by the way, is not meant to be comprehensive, but I think we hit a lot of the major places. Also, it doesn't not include bar, just eateries.
Tavern on the Green to be demoted to snack bar. [NY Times]
The now dead Empire Diner gave away some free junk this week. [Eater]
Much abused P.S. 64 in East Village on market for $40 mil. [Curbed]
Run for your lives! Ghost Church! [Restless]
Fourteen Queens library branches will close. Another 34 libraries may be open only two or three days a week. Guess kids in Queens don't need to read. [Daily News]
City issues arrest warrant for notorious slumlord Sam Suzuki. [NY Times]
The Burger Klein sign will never die. [Scouting NY]
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 9:34 AM
Talk about your specialized treats! Candy, cookies, chocolates—all with a teffilin theme. (If you don't know what teffilin are, read here.) It's part of what makes New York great, that there are places that actually make these sort of sweeties.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 1:29 AM
20 May 2010
There are deaths of old businesses and deaths of old businesses. Sometimes I'll post an item about an old New York establishment closing its doors and no one will comment or link. Other times, they're comment and link in decent numbers and then the joint will fade from memory.
Then there are the places that shutter and continue to draw sad remembrances month after month, year after year. Manny's Music was one of those. I get a comment or two every month from people who are just discovering it's gone and can't get over it. More surprising is the long mourning period of Pozzo Pastry Shop, a Hell's Kitchen neighborhood business that was owned and operated by Mario & Joseph Bianchi, and that closed back in January 2008. People still feel its absence.
The New York Times Diner's Journal has begun to print memories of Gino from noted habitues. The first to be feature is jazz man John Pizzarelli:
For me and countless others, the closing of Gino represents the loss of an establishment that has been the home to many great meals. Obviously, celebrities and New York glitteratti have dined there in the 50 years of its existence, but where else could you see nuns at one table and Robin Byrd at another? Simone (a great Brazillian singer) and Mike Wallace? All enjoying the veal parm, the segretto sauce, the Friday fish that was not on the menu, but which Joe Coccuzo, Rosemary Clooney’s drummer, smelled upon entering one night after a sound check at Feinstein’s. “It smells like Friday at my mother’s in Boston!” he said, and sure enough he was right. It was the place of my son’s 10th through 17th birthdays. My daughter found out what gnocchi was there (with butter). I dined there with 10 friends the Friday after September 11th because if we were going to gather it was going to be at Gino. My friend Daisy said the general rule of thumb there was when the zebras started to move, it was time to go home. Well, the zebras are moving and I don’t think I will quite know what to do. Thanks for listening.I'm going to start posting a Gino item a day, leading up to their final day, May 29.
The long-under-construction "Big Stair" addition to the No. 7 line Court House Square stop is now, finally, semi-functional!
Straphangers no longer have to cross Jackson Avenue and 23rd Street to the far western stair to transfer from the G to the 7. Now they can just cross Jackson and enter the 7 by the super-unlovely, temporary entrance to the eastern stair. It's almost as ugly as the stairway they replaced.
Still got a lot of work to do, boys.
19 May 2010
Here we have a squat little brick building on 61st Street in Woodside, Queens. Might have been a garage or warehouse in the past, but it was some time ago converted into a two apartment building. (The doors are two the side.
Not much to capture your heart here. But look more closely. On each window is a cast-iron silhouette of an old-fashioned horse and buggy. A very gentile and suburban touch. Absolutely out of place. And somewhat silly in the context. And, thus, endearing.
Carroll Gardens culinary legend, Joe's Superette (or Joe's Perette, as it's known by its mutated sign)—home of superlative prosciutto balls—is wrapped in scaffolding. The building is being refurbished for the first time in, well, forever. "If I owned the building, I would have done it long ago," said the worker inside. What? Joe's doesn't own the building? They're renters? A shiver just went down my spine.
The hand-painted Pilsner Urquell sign on the outside of Zlata Praha, a Bohemian restaurant in Astoria, must be the only such advertisement of its kind in the city, maybe the nation. So odd to not only make a beer advertisement such a large element of your business facade, but to take such care in placing and executing it. It really is wonderfully done. And I suppose we can all count ourselves a bit lucky in that they picked Pilsner Urquell, which has a rather attractive logo. I don't mind looking at it at all.
I like the nice cameo of the two serving ladies as well. Mother and daughter?
Bill's Cycle is on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside. I've never been able to find out anything about the place, but the sign says Est. 1939. Is that possible? I know the bike biz is a tough one, with slim profits. If Bill's is really 71-years-old, I'd say that makes it the oldest bike shop in NYC. Whaddaya say, Queens people—anyone know anything about Bill's?
The lower level of the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library. A bank of four. All working.
18 May 2010
Nonna Apa Pizzeria is a great little slice join on Clinton Street down near Delancey. I was dismayed, however, when I recently walked by and saw they had replaced their classic old sign with this rather charmless new affair. I could have sworn I once posted a picture of the old sign, but I can't find it. Here's a link to Google Maps, which still shows the old sign. In form, it was much like the new sign, only it was wider, and white, with "Pizza" in big, red letters. They've retained the "Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner" wording and the old slice silhouette with the banner across it. But the brick background robs the sign of its former stark beauty.
I feel sick. Why do "Sex and the City" posters always look like unintentional kitsch classics? You just know that poster is going to seem incredibly tacky and gauche and ridiculous just a couple years from now. It's like a European ad for an Albanian movie trying it imitate their idea of American glamour.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 7:59 AM