25 June 2010

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Quatorze Bis?"

I said in my farewell to the blogging life two weeks ago that I would continue to write the "Who Goes There?" column for Eater. Well, I meant what I said, and a said what I meant. And I'll post links to the column here every fortnight, as the columns go up. I went to the well-heeled French bistro Quatorze Bis this week. Unfortunately, it kinda reminded me of a lot of the reasons I shut Lost City down. Here's the link.

12 June 2010

Goodbye to All That

Dear Readers:

I am ending Lost City. Most of the City is lost after all—the good parts, anyway—so you could say the course of history has put me out of a job. Ironically, the kinds of news that fills up a jeremiad like this will, if too constant and voluminous, eventually puts the enterprise out of business. It's like writing a volcano report from Pompeii; you know the communiques are going to end sometime.

I began the blog because I was incensed and alarmed at what the city was becoming. It was losing its grit, its fabric, its very character. It was losing its New York-ness, and gaining nothing but Subway franchises and luxury condos. Since none of my editors would let me write about it, I became my own editor. I was gratified to soon find that there were a lot of people out there who felt the way I did. And it wasn't too long before there were other bloggers who took on a similar mission, like Jeremiah Moss at Vanishing New York and EV Grieve at the blog of the same name. Taken together, we made for quite a few howls in the wilderness. And, tragically, we never ran out of things to report.

But, in the end, they were just howls, as ineffective at Lear's on the heath. I wrote thousands of words, and posted hundreds of pictures for four-and-a-half years—nearly 3,000 posts, all told. None of them made any difference. Not really. The press paid a little attention to our windmill-tilting, but City Hall never did. The City continued on its inexorable march to glossy mediocrity. Bloomberg, the billionaire, city planner Amanda Burden, the millionaire, and their cabal of equally wealthy real estate and Wall Street pals forged ahead and got the metropolis they wanted all along: homogenous, anodyne, whitewashed, suburban, toothless, chain-store-ridden, ordinary, exclusive and terribly, terribly expensive. A town for tourists and the upper 2%. He took a world-class capital of culture, individuality and independent endeavor and turned it into the smoothest, first-class, gated community Houston ever saw. Walk down Broadway on the Upper West Side, Sixth Avenue in Chelsea, Third Avenue in Yorkville—or look at the gaping hole of Atlantic Yards—and you will see the administration's legacy.

It is still inconceivable to me that New York could have (and elect, and "elect") a mayor who witnessed the extinction of such irreplaceable city landmarks—Chumley's, Gino, Gage & Tollner, Cafe Des Artistes, Manny's, Astroland, The Green Church, Cedar Tavern, Gertel's Bakery, CBGB's, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and countless other institutions—and never uttered a peep. No comment, no stump speech, no recognition of what was passing into history on his watch. Not even lip service. He stood by and watched Coney Island, one of the most iconic neighborhoods in New York, utterly destroyed. He never saw the value of what was vanishing.

I'm proud of Lost City. As a writer, it's the purest and most idealistic thing I've ever done. It may not have saved a single building, or prevented a single piece of luxury crapitecture. But I know it occasionally caused discomfort to the powers that be, and that it alerted some readers to a few of the City's treasures. For that alone, it was worth it.

Still the blog has always taken a vast amount of time, hours upon hours each week, and it doesn't pay any bills. I'm tired and discouraged, and I don't relish hanging around just to record the last few living landmarks as they fall in this barren forest, making no sound that the City Fathers can hear. Nor do I much enjoy scouring the street looking for vestiges of the city I loved, vestiges that are harder and harder to find. Our "third-term" mayor has three more years to go; he's not going to ever see the light and things aren't going to get better.

I will use the time I put into Lost City on more lucrative ventures. It makes me sad to say that, but it's an imperative. I moved into Carroll Gardens 16 years ago. It was affordable, middle-class and wonderfully diverse. But it has been cruelly proved to me over and over in recent years that, today, I would not have a hope in hell of entering it without an annual net worth of $200,000 and a sterling credit rating. Like so many areas in New York that were once open to people of all incomes, races and professions, it has been "monetized."

I will also start reading books again, something that's been very hard to do the past five years. There was always an urgent item to post.

I will continue to write the "Who Goes There?" column for Eater, which runs every couple weeks, as I enjoy the series (even as the eateries quickly fold in my wake). I will also leave Lost City here floating in cyberspace for whoever wants to take a painful trip down the potholed memory lane of the City's inexorable losses. I may post an occasional item citing a particularly grievous loss to the burg.

Before I go, I'd like to thank the following fellow bloggers, who have always supported me with linkage, kind words and otherwise: Lockhart, Ben, Amanda, Elizabeth and Joey at Curbed/Eater/Racked; the folks at Gothamist; Jonathan at Brownstoner; Queens Crapper at Queens Crap; Jeremiah at Vanishing New York; EV Grieve at EV Grieve; Katia at Pardon Me for Asking; Kurt at Restless; Ken Mac at Greenwich Village Daily Photo; the folks at City Room; Kevin at Forgotten New York; and the late, great Bob Guskind of Gowanus Lounge. (If I forgot anybody, I'm sorry.) A fond thank you to the children and grandchildren of long gone New York businesses who reached out to me over the years. Some even sent me momentos from the past. I'd also like to thank the many readers who have regularly left their thoughtful, insightful and sometimes angry comments. I didn't mind people being angry. I was angry, too. Still am, though more often just mournful these days.

If anyone out there feels like quietly continuing to fight the good fight, take a look at the "Lost City List" below. Patronize those places. Let them know they're wanted and needed.

I wrote this farewell from top to bottom in one go, or, as a friend once said, "Obviously, this letter was written, not composed." I could polish it up, but I doesn't seem appropriate.

Sincerest Regards,


The Lost City List

Inspired by recent lists of places to go posted by Eater, the New York Times and others, I've decided to post a simple tally of classic, utterly New York places worthy of your patronage. Who knows is extra business will do them good and keep them open in this economic, political and cultural moment that is so aggressively hostile to history and heritage. But it can't hurt. I've divided it into Restaurants, Bars, Stores and Bakeries (because I love bakeries, and think every neighborhood should have fresh bread). (Last updated 7/15/10.)


Peter Luger (Williamsburg)
The Oyster Bar (Grand Central)
Four Seasons (Midtown)
Sammy Rumanian Steak House (Lower East Side)
Totonno's (Coney Island)
Di Fara's Pizzeria (Midwood)
Bamonte's (Williamsburg)
Brooks 1890 Restaurant (Long Island City)
Mario's (Arthur Avenue)
Dominick's (Arthur Avenue)
"21" Club (Midtown)
John's Pizzeria (Greenwich Village)
Fedora (Greenwich Village)
La Grenouille (Midtown)
Le Veau d'Or (Midtown East)
Sardi's (Theatre District)
Second Avenue Deli (Murray Hill)
Sarge's Deli (Murray Hill)
Stage Deli (Midtown)
Carnegie Deli (Midtown)
Smith and Wollensky (Midtown East)
John's of 12th Street (East Village)
Lanza's (East Village)
Katz's Deli (Lower East Side)
Donovan's (Woodside)
King Yum (Fresh Meadows)
Keen's Steak House (Garment District)
Heidelberg Restaurant (Yorkville)
Zum Stamtisch (Glendale)
Von Westernhagen's (Glendale)
Lombardi's Pizzeria (SoHo)
Grimaldi's (Brooklyn)
Patsy's (East Harlem)
L&B Spumoni Gardens (Bensonhurst)
Yonah Schimmel Knishery (Lower East Side)
Nom Wah Tea Parlor (Chinatown)
Wo Hop Restaurant (Chinatown)
Barbetta (Theatre District)
Sam's Pizzeria (Cobble Hill)
Ferdinando's Foccaceria (Carroll Gardens)
DeFonte's Sandwich Shop (Red Hook)
Skyview Glatt Kosher Deli (Riverdale)
Eisenberg Sandwich Shop (Flatiron)
Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden (Astoria)
Sammy's Rumanian Steak House (Lower East Side)
El Quijote (Chelsea)


Previously this week, I posted an item about a Corcoran sign tied to the outside gate of P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill. My reaction to the sign was heated and, I now see, too quick. I have since been told that the agent listed on the sign, Lucy Perry, knew nothing of its placement; that the sign was put there in error; and that it was there for only a few hours.

I hereby apologize for any discomfort I caused Lucy and for creating an unnecessary brouhaha.

11 June 2010

Von Westernhagen Restaurant, German Holdout in Glendale, Is Sold

I only just devoted a "Who Goes There?" column to it in April. And now Von Westernhagen is maybe for the drop.

Queens Crap, who was tipped off by a read who talked to the bartender, sent me the news that the restaurant had been sold. It is unclear if this marks the end for the German eatery, or if the new owners will continue the tradition. There is apparently some kind of party on June 19.

Cursed be me that I live in New York during the era in which its soul is willfully dismantled.

Lost City's looking for the exit.

Crown Chemists Paints You a Picture

These images are painted on the side wall of Crown Chemists in Astoria.

Have no idea how long they're been there.

All painted by an artist named "Berch."

The St. James Convent is on Oliver Street in Chinatown. It has an interesting metal sign next to the doorbell. Makes you think twice before ringing, doesn't it?

Not What You Want to See

A tour bus parked outside "21." Has it come to that?

Gino Wallpaper to Leave With Chef

Earlier reports about the late, lamented Gino said the incoming Sprinkles cupcake chain would retain the special zebra wallpaper.

No so. Eater reports that the crazy decor will leave with chef-owner Michael Miele, perhaps to adorn his planned new space.

Wooden Phone Booth Sighting: Gutter

This is in Gutter, a trendy bar-bowling alley in Williamsburg. But it's still a wooden phone booth and it works. So I don't care. If face, as old places fall or have their old phone booths ripped out, new places with an affection for the old may be our only hope.

McSorley's From the Inside

10 June 2010

Good Things Go, Bad Things Stay

You have to sort of wonder how the scrappy SoHo flea market lasted this long in a hostile environment. A remnant of the nabe's artistic, scruffy past, it's now finally headed for the gallows.  Curbed points out "there's a fresh real estate listing out there for the lot at Spring and Wooster." Gosh. I hope they put up a glassy condo or something.

Meanwhile, the Greenpoint Food Market, which everyone loves, and the Times said was wonderful, needs to be shut down, the DOH decided. Well, of course it does! Who wants a wholesome gathering of locally made, delicious foodstuffs? Not me. I want all those happy creative cooks to go through official channels until their expenses skyrockets and they can pass the cost on to me!

Lost City's getting tired. Lost City's city is lost.

Needs a Little Work

The deli at the northwest corner of Hicks and Altantic gets the prize for the working storefront in need of a little work.

I'm guessing they're in the middle of a reno. Still, it's been like this for weeks. Kinda cool, in a way. I mean look at that weathered cornice.

Wine & Liquors & Bikes

I love that a Wine & Liquors sign still hangs over a bike shop on Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg.

A Good Sign: Plaza Painting Supplies Inc.

In Williamsburg.

09 June 2010

Court Street Citibank Branch Now Staffed By Zombies

Some months ago I switched from the heinous Chase to Citibank for my banking. Not that I thought Citibank a less evil entity than Chase (though I did think that to be the case, ever so slightly, at the time), but because the Court Street Citibank branch was managed by a nice man who had done my wife some very good turns.

This manager, tall, affable and bespectacled, was unlike any I had ever encountered at a large bank. He knew he was just a cog in a huge, heartless machine, but he nonetheless tried to make a difference. He reached out to local businesses, encouraging them to bank with him, explaining that even though it was Citibank, he intended to operate his branch like a local bank. He was openly and candidly critical of some of Citibank's policies in regard to its depositors, and critical of the banking industry in general. He was particularly caustic and funny when it came to Chase. When I once explained to him some twisted policy Chase had applied to my account, which had robbed me of hundreds of dollars in fees, he threw up his hands in frustration and said, "And these people rule the world!"

Get Your Awnings and Signs Right Here!

I write a lot about old signs on this blog, and awnings that often replace them. Usually I praise the former, and curse the latter.

Now I'm just commenting on these things. But the Internet works in funny ways, and I regularly get e-mails from people and companies thinking I sell signs and awnings. And they want to buy. At least I think they're real people. I've never responded to any of the e-mails. Here's one:

I am Bill Smith and I contact to know if you deal in Awnings. I would like you to get me a quote base on the specifications below. Dimensions: 2) patio awnings covered plus 12" - 18". I am donating the patio awnings to NEW HOPE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. What would be the total cost of 100 units patio awnings, plus tax. Advice the method of payment. Hope to hear from you soon. Have a nice day.

Here's another I got the other day:

My name is Mr. Bruce McElroy, Bruce And Sons Inc, and am sending you this email regards in ordering some ATM Signs from your store, please if you do have them in stock, I will be very glad for you to get me their prices of each item. And also I will like you to get back to me if you do accept credit card for this order transactions if yes let me know so that I can advice on how to proceed now. Stay Blessed.
Maybe I should go into the awning and sign business. Ain't no money in blogging. Or journalism. Or anything I do.


I've been walking around Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for more than two decades. It's altered a lot in those years, I don't need to tell anyone. But as long as I've known it, this laundromat on Berry Street has stood. It's look hasn't changed much over the year. It's sort of your archetypal so-ugly-its-cool Williamsburg business. Not sure why, but I always look for it as a sort of assurance that not everything in the old neighborhood has been swept away with the gentrifying times.

A Good Sign: Ortiz Funeral Home

In Williamsburg.

08 June 2010

Ultimate Burgers & Dogs Puts Up New Sign

Last week, there was a localized brouhaha when Ultimate Burgers & Dogs, a restaurant on Degraw Street in Cobble Hill, took down an old, longstanding and beloved grocery sign from their storefront. Their claim was that the old sign confused patrons. To which claim I noisily clear my throat.

Now they've started putting up a new sign, which does not improve the situation in the least. Not terrible, but nowhere near as charming. I suppose the word "Ultimate" is going in the middle.

I still want to know if they broke the law by altering the facade of a landmarked buidling.

Madison Drugs, Old But Doesn't Look It

Madison Drugs in Ridgewood says it was established in 1957, though it looks rather less old than that. Do we believe them?

07 June 2010

The Sodas Are Finally Being Jerked at the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain

The Jerks are here!

After a pause of a month since their Carroll Gardens space was transformed from an genuine old time pharmacy into a faux old-time "farmacy" and soda foundation by Discovery Channel "Construction Intervention" reality series, The Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain is finally open for business.

Trouble in Tin Pan Alley

Remember that June 10 art show I posted about, to take place inside the buildings on W. 28th Street that used to constitute Tin Pan Alley? Well, the organizers, Glen Hansen and Cara Negrycz, have been in a prolonged legal battle with the landlord of this group of building. Got this email from Cara:  
The lawyers representing the landlord Jo-Fra Properties which own building 55-49 west 28th street are trying to block the Tin Pan Alley Art Show. The lawyers went into court today 6/4/2010 to file an order blocking us from showing our artwork in our homes.
The art show, FYI, is by invitation only.

The ugliest people always seem to own the most beautiful buildings. Jo-Fra were the same wonders who tried to sell the lot a couple years back, with the idea of demolishing the historic street and putting up a highrise. They were also found by a judge, in 2009, to have been illegally overcharging their tenants. Of course, nobody knows who Jo-Fra is, or where they do business. One never does with these shady landlords.

06 June 2010

Brooklyn Bridge Park Opens

A part of it, anyway. A very dense, sectionalized, kid-oriented part. Swing Valley (lots of swings), Slide Mountain (lots of slides) and a water park or sorts. Reminds me of a theme park, like Six Flags. Actually, reminds me exactly of Six Flags, as I recall it as a teenager. But it's hard to knock the place, since the kids obviously love it so. An instant hit with the parental set. "This is brilliant," said a Brit mom.

A Native New York Speaks

The author of the blog City Girl Writes alerted me to a recent post of hers called "What Was It Really Like to Grow Up in New York?" She grew up in Manhattan, you see. I think her response is worth reading. Take a look:

I've been asked that question so many times that I know what to expect: a flood of memories, a brief pause while I mentally sort through decades of only-in-New-York experiences to decide which to share, and the realization that there's no way to communicate in a few words what my childhood was like in such an amazing city. So now I keep things simple and say, "It was really...something" when asked about my Manhattan childhood. The details - complex, bigger-than-life and at times hard to believe, I keep to myself.

05 June 2010

Times Square's Rum House to Close

Scratch one more of the few affordable old bars left in Times Square.

The Rum House, long embedded inside the Edison Hotel, on W. 47th Street, will close by the end of the years. They lost their lease.

04 June 2010

Some Stuff That's Interesting

Lucky bastard Ken Mac actually gets inside the long-closed Sunset Luncheonette in Greenpoint. Looks like it never closed. [GVDP]

JVNY pays a call on one of my longtime faves: Bill's Gay 90s. [JVNY]

JFK wants to tear down I.M. Pei's classic Terminal 6. [Daily News]

BP Spills Green Shit All Over Williamsburg, too. [Restless]

Famed French luxery line The Normandie's whistle blows once more. [City Room]

A celebration of Circo's, which looks like a joint I might like. [Bushwick BK]

NOTE: A reader of Lost City is looking for a copy of the menu at the late, lamented Gino. Anyone out there have any connections?

Scenes from the Czech-Slovak Festival at Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden

The Czech-Slovak Festival was held at Astoria's Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden this past weekend.

There was a full music schedule and a raffle. First prize: round trip to Prague.

The classic garden is 100 years old this year, by the way. Aren't many left like it. Go and patronize!

New Restaurant, Old Sign

This is a gorgeous neon sign about the 30 E. 29th Street in Manhattan. It's the home of Campanile, an Italian restaurant. But Campanile opened in 1997. And that sign look far, far older than that.

Therein lies a mystery. The sign must have belonged to an earlier restaurant at the same address. But I can find no records of other restaurants at this address, other than DOB documents, which indicate that a restaurant was here as far back at 1952. Does anyone out there with a long memory of this street have any info they can share?

03 June 2010

Put. The. Sign. Back. Up.


Of all the boneheaded moves. Ultimate Burgers and Dogs has taken the old "Grocery & Deli" sign down from its Degraw Street storefront in Cobble Hill because it felt the signage was confusing folks. Reports Eater: "A call confirms: a worker there say some people in the neighborhood have complained because the sign has been there for over 20 years. But too many people came in wanting smokes and lighters."

I do not think I exaggerate when I say that bit of old signage was beloved in Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. It's been there for decades, ever since the small space actually was a grocery and deli. Italian grocery and deli. Call Louis', I believe. It was still there when I moved to the area in 1994. When the deli decamped, the old sign stayed, with its great retro Coca-Cola logos. It stayed through several new businesses, mainly restaurants: Whim, Chicory, etc. They all appreciated the sign. And the neighborhood appreciated them appreciating the sign.

I like Ultimate Burgers & Dogs. The owner's a good guy. He make great burgers, great dogs. But I don't  believe him when he says people still come in the space looking but a pack of butts. Everyone in the area knows it hasn't been a deli for years. And how many strangers walk down that stretch of Degraw looking for cigarettes? He may be imagining that the sign is losing him business. But if business is slow, it's because that block has always been a challenge. There's not much traffic. It's out of the way and no other stores are near that store.

Just put the sign back. If you need to put out a big old banner saying "Ultimate Burgers and Dogs," do it. But keep the sign. You've inadvertently de-charmed your restaurant.

Also, there is this: That building is part of the Cobble Hill Historic District. Did they have permission from the Landmarks Commission to take down the sign and alter the building's facade. Hello?

Comment of the Day

From an Anonymous commenter, regarding the Gramercy Pawn Broker:

This building that houses the Pawn shop is odd as it had the cheap hotel in it. Also funny that your image of the pawnbrokers sign is it self broken. In any event, I have had a Post Office Box at the Madison Square P.O. on that block for 40 years, I look into that pawn shop every time I pass by and have never ever—1. Have never seen a customer in there. 2. Have not seen anything in the window change in 15 years like the cheap Bongos and yes cassette player radio and other things no one in their right mind would wish for.

Bud for Both Sides

On Third Avenue. So, no one's offended, right? Both teams are Bud-worthy.

A Good Sign: Gramercy Pawn Brokers

Saw this old pawn shop among the bars and restaurants along Third Avenue in the 20s and 30s. A relic. Used to be tons of them on this strip.

Wonder if this is one of the pawn shops that Ray Milland stumbled past in "The Lost Weekend."

Amusingly enough, just next door to this business of last resort is this:

Rat-Squirrel House Has a Door Once More

Looks likes the inspectors that spelunked through the infamous, sealed-up Rat-Squirrel House in Cobble Hill came back with a slightly hopeful report as to the derelict landmark's potential rebirth. Why do I assume this? Because everyone's favorite urban disaster now has a new door! You can walk in. You can walk out.

When the DOB swooped in on 149 Kane Street last year, they sealed up every window and door and opening with cinder blocks—after emptying the house of garbage and such, that is. The owner, who continued to live in the heap well after the place wasn't livable, was finally forced to vacate. It seemed that that was the end of the story for the neglected, century-old edifice. But it seems some soul out there wants to save the thing, rather than tear it down. Is it possible? We shall see.

01 June 2010

Odd Court Street Hybrid Shop Black Gold Opens

Black Gold, the oddball hybrid store sandwiched between Prime Meats and Frankies on Court Street, opened this past weekend. Need coffee and cake? Need old LPs? Need horrendously overpriced antiques and taxidermy? They've got it all. The coffee is Rook's. Comes from New Jersey. The maker is an old friend of Black Gold's owner. Looks like a nice addition to the nabe. But the prices on those musty old stoop sale pictures have to come down a little the $100 mark. Seriously.

Fultummys Keeps Doing What It's Doing

Fultummys, on a recent, fine, sunny day when sandwiches could have been sold and money made.

Wooden Phone Booth Disappearance

Yes, another Gino story.

Gino, among other things, was the home of one of Manhattan's last operating wooden phone booths. No more. When I was there on closing night, the phone was already ripped out. The bartender said a man had bought it and was going to take it away after the restaurant closed. Where? He didn't know.

For my full account of the last night at Gino, please read here.

Skyline Books 2.0 Hangs Out a Shingle

The second incarnation of Skyline Books—oddly housed inside a florist shop on W. 28th Street—now has a sign of its own. And it's not called Book Gallery, as owner Rob Warren told me. It's called, simply, Rob Warren Books.

A sharp-eyed reader took the above shot and sent it in. Makes me feel all Christmasy.

Skyline was forced to give up its Flatiron District shop last winter, after 20 years in the business.