31 May 2011

The Gold Star Deli Two Years Later

Two years ago, I came up this old Yorkville deli on First Avenue and 78th. It had just closed. I loved the name and the sign and mourned the loss.

By accident, I passed by the same corner the other day. My Spidey sense was tingling. I knew I knew the crossroads somehow. Sure enough, the former home of Gold Star Deli. And no new tenant in two years time.

Joe's Pork Store in Astoria to Move

Good news for Joe's Pork Store, the unassuming, third-generation butcher in Astoria. A reader writes in and says, "I just went there to get my goods for Memorial Day and they told me they are moving into a bigger store on Ditmars between 36-37th Streets (just a block) on June 6, 2011."

When's the last time you heard a story about an old-school butcher not only surviving, but thriving?

Law Routinely Broken at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

There's a big old tree dead center of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Don't know what kind, exactly. But perhaps some breed of willow. Anyway, it has a canopy of droopy leaves which hides the stout trunk from you. If you venture inside, you'll see this sign.

Obviously, this sign is not obeyed. In fact, climbing the old tree seems to be a long-standing garden tradition.

30 May 2011

Bye Bye Black Pussycat

A reader alerted me to this recent comment on the Ephemeral New York blog: 
I sure hope that Ephemeral New York, as a great voice, educator, custodian and proponent for NYC history and historic preservation posts something about the arrogance and ignorance of the owners of Panchitos. With one coat of paint, Panchitos robbed countless people for generations to come, the pleasure of wandering down Minetta Street and “discovering” a true rare moment of ephemeral NY. I suspect that Panchitos knew exactly what they were doing.
As the Village continues to lose a big part of its DNA… I don’t see this as a small loss..

Neither do I. This old sign was a lovely reminder of the Village's artistic past. I posted about the history of the cafe/theatre here back in February 2010.

29 May 2011

"Men in Black III" Makes Carroll Gardens Be Elmhurst

Carroll Gardens is where Hollywood goes when it need bygone urban authenticity. Last April, Garry Marshall shot his film "New Year's Eve" here because he thought Smith Street would be the kind of place where the fictional old time Italian restaurant in the movie might be.

This past week "Men in Black III" hunkered down along Court Street and remade the place into a late 1960s New York neighborhood. Hey, we've got the brownstone backdrop. All they needed were a few old cars and to cover up the street signs. (See above.)

One problem is, they got the signs wrong. I've seen enough old pictures from Court Street to know that the street signs in the 1960s and 1970s were black with white letters. Oh, well. They look old.

"Men in Black III" also created the amusing circumstance of giving Court Street its first subway stop ever. This fake entrance was built at the corner of Court and Third Place. There was another one a block or so to the south.

However, they weren't really Carroll Gardens subway stops, as you can see. Court Street was subbing for Elmhurst's 179th Street stop in Queens. I know of at least one local merchant who was insulted to have  I'll leave it to the subway experts out there as to whether this entrance looks authentic. 

The pictures here are courtesy of Pardon Me for Asking. I was too slow to get my own. I blinked, and these cosmetic movie changes were gone.

28 May 2011

Last Night at Elaine's

I didn't make it for the last night at Elaine's, the Upper East Side boite that closed for good on Thursday, May 26, but a reader, who was a regular, did. And he sent pictures.

27 May 2011

The Google Map Car Is Stalking Columbia Street

Parked outside the Caselnova restaurant, which its alien technology strapped to the roof. Creepy.

26 May 2011

Lights Out on Jade Mountain

A solace to those who continue to mourn the closing of the old-school Chinese restaurant Jade Mountain has been the continuing presence of the classic, two-sided, "Chow Mein" neon sign at the joint's old East Village location. Even as the bar Shoolbred's moved in, with its own (pretty handsome) neon sign, the old signage remained, and remained lit.

No longer. The sign's still there. But it's as dark as midnight. I'm sure the bulbs all just burnt out eventually, and weren't replaced. (Only half of the sign's letters were lit when Shoolbred moved in.) It's a shame, though. That sign should blaze brightly for all time.

24 May 2011

Graveyard of Shame

Want to do something for the City? Call this number, and tell Parks and Recreation to take care of its historical treasures.

This sign in on the iron fence that surrounds the historic Gravesend cemetery. It dates from 1643, the year Gravesend, one of the original settlements that went on to form Brooklyn, was founded. The town's founder, Lady Moody, a London widow, is supposedly buried in there somewhere.

The graveyard is in deplorable condition. It's not enough that its surround by a patchworks of ugly houses, auto body garages and garbage filled lots. The grounds are overgrown, the grass not mowed for months. Maybe it's never mowed.

23 May 2011

The Menu at Cafiero's

During my years-long obsession with Cafiero's—the family-owned Italian restaurant that was a President Street legend back in the day, frequented by mobsters and judges and plenty of regular folk—I have grown accustomed to the fact that it left behind no paper trail. Private and old fashioned to a fault, Cafiero's had no matchbooks or napkins with its name on it, placed no ads, did no interviews. And there was no menu! I've been told a hundred times by people who actually went there. There was no menu! The waiter told you what was available and it could change every day. [CORRECTION: A reader write in to say: "Cafieros definitely did have a menu. It was a simply typed piece of white paper enclosed in plastic, listing the dish and the price. No description, just “Ravioli….$1.10”"

However, through various remembrances I've collected over the years, I think I am now able to reconstruct a reasonable facsimile of a typical evening's menu at Cafiero's. Or at least part of one. The Cafieros—owner Sharkey, his wife Anna, and his brother Frank, who was chef—were from Naples and served Neapolitan dishes. They served simple food, but well-made. And if you visited, here were some of the things you could order:

Memories of Joe's S Perette

I used to live on Carroll Street, between Smith and Hoyt. That's right around the corner from Joe's Superette, the deli which closed forever last week after a half a century in business. I was at that address for seven years. And for a few of those years, I would pass right by Joe's nearly every day. I always used to call it "Joe's Perette," because the sign was missing the "U" and it looked like it would never be repaired. (It never was.) It seemed the grubbiest sort of business. The windows went unwashed. The items on the poorly stocked shelves were covered with dust. And there was never anyone in there.

At one point, someone told me the place actually made good sandwiches. So, during a day at home, I braved the place for lunch. It was a died-in-the-wool Italian neighborhood joint. I expected to be intimidated and unwelcomed. But the man behind the counter took my order matter-of-factly, and went about slicing the meats and cheeses I requested for my sandwich. He wasn't exactly warm and friendly, but neither was he cold and forbidding.

This, I later learned, was Leo Coladonato, the owner. He had been an employee for many years, but bought the business when Joe retired in 1985. The most remarkable thing about Leo, at first glance, was his moustache. A real soup-strainer. Thick, reddish and bushy, of a style that had gone out of fashion a century before. (That is, before hipsters and bartenders recently brought it back.) Leo always dressed in a too-small, colored t-shirt, a pack of cigarettes stuffed in the front pocket. Along the edges of the refrigerated cabinets behind the counter he had scotch-taped photos of his family and children.

20 May 2011

Moishe's Bake Shop Has Weirdest ATM in East Village

That Moishe's Bake Shop—the East Village relic that doesn't seem to care how much the kids use it as a graffiti canvas—should have something as modern as an ATM machine attached to it is weird enough. But, of course, it being Moishe's, it's the weirdest, most backward looking cash machine in the area.

This boxy, tiny thing looks like it was purchased from somewhere in the former republic of Yugoslavia, where it had been sitting in a warehouse since 1993. The buttons, the cash slot, they all look rudimentary and ready to break at any moment. I wouldn't be surprised if there was no machinery inside, but instead  some guy behind the wall, who pushes out money when required.

But here's the best part:

This is what you see before you use the ATM. I don't know. The contrast between old world name and new world technology—it's just funny to me.

Truth in Advertising

If all ads that advertised a commercial space in Manhattan were truthful, they would be signed "Crazy Landlord," just as this genius piece of joke ad dialogue in the East Village is. The sign is attached to both sides of a corner space at 4th and Second Avenue, which has been vacant for a long time.

19 May 2011

Chipotle Won't Be Getting This Hat

I have a friend out there who's extremely good at getting corporate mouthpieces on the wire. She has discovered that Chipotle no longer has plans to take over the Gonzalez y Gonzalez space on Broadway and Houston. As for the bulbous neon hat—which is all I really care about—it will be leaving with G y G. And going to a better place I hope.

More Exclusive Subway Exits

A week or so ago, I posted about a Duane Reade in Times Square that had its own subway entrance on its lower level. People proved to be very interested in this topic and some asked me to compile a larger list of New York businesses that enjoy exclusive access to the underground. I haven't found time to put together such a list. But someone at this blog has, so I'm just going to commandeer their information wholesale. (Thanks, guys!) Here's what they came up with (to which I've added a couple of my own):
  • Canal St A/C/E has an exit into the AT&T building
  • Jay St-Metrotech A/C/F/R has an exit into 370 Jay, which used to be an MTA building but is currently abandoned
  • 34th St N/Q/R/B/D/F/V exits into Manhattan Mall (there is a closed passageway underground, owned by the mall, that once connected to Penn Station)
  • South Ferry 1/Whitehall R exits into the Staten Island Ferry terminal
  • 28th St 6 exits into the New York Life building
  • Penn Station & Grand Central subways have numerous connecting exits
  • Wall St 4/5 exits into a couple buildings
  • There's an exit into a Duane Reade at 42nd and 8th (A/C/E, PABT)
  • Astor Place (6) exits to Kmart
  • Clark St 2/3 - the elevators exit into a strip mall in the ground floor of the Hotel St. George. 
  • Several of the buildings that make up Rockefeller Center have their own subway entrance.
  • 42nd Street 4/5/6 exits into the Chrysler Building.
  • 59th Street 4/5/6 exits directly into Bloomingdale's.
  • Wall Street 2/3 exits into One Chase Manhattan Plaza.
  • Fulton Street 2/3 exits into 110 William Street.
  • Park Place 2/3 exits into the Woolworth Building
  • 42nd Street 1/2/3/N/R/W/7 etc. exits into Reuters building.
  • 66th Street 6 train exits into Lincoln Center complex.
  • 23rd Street 6 train exits into 1 Madison Street.
  • Grand Central 4/5/6 exits into Lincoln Building

18 May 2011

New Bar/Old Bar

So, the Amsterdam Ale House. It's a kind of annoying self-conscious Yuppie beer emporium on 76th and Amsterdam on the Upper West Side. At first, and second (and third) glances, I've always thought the owners had slapped on a purposefully quaint patina of oldness. But the last time I passed by, I was struck by the sets of double doors, and the stained glass above them. They looks genuinely old, not fake old.

The building's been around at least a century. That it's been a bar for a while is also true, though I can only accurately trace its life as such to the early 1970s. Apparently there was a J.G. Melon—sister bar to the iconic Upper East Side joint—here for some years. It became the West Side Brewing Company in the 1990s, one of many brewpubs to crop up during that decade. But I'd bet good money that its life as a bar stretches back to at least the 1940s.

A Good Sign: Antelis Pharmacy

In Midwood, Brooklyn.

17 May 2011

What Will Become of the Big Neon Sombrero?

Few shed a tear for Gonzalez y Gonzalez when the Mexican restaurant closed its lower Broadway doors last January after 22 years. But the gigantic neon hat over the doorway has become a sort of Village landmark over the years. That so many of its bulbs burnt out and were not replaced made it all the more endearing.

It's still there, but what's to become of it? Chipotle is moving into the space at some point in the future, while some ex-employees of G y G hope to use the back half of the huge restaurant as a club. I doubt Chipotle would want to keep the hat as part of their signage, even though it's in keeping with the cuisine. Chains aren't know to have a sense of humor.

UPDATE: A friend wrote in that she had contacted the Chipotle people, who told her that G y G plan to keep the hat. Maybe they'll attach it to the Mercer Street entrance, if that club thing works out.

Elaine's to Close in May

This one doesn't hurt me as much as yesterday's news that Joe's Superette has closing. I was never a regular at Elaine's, and probably wouldn't have been accepted if I had tried to be. Also, no one much expected it to last long after Elaine died last year. But it was a landmark, and the kind of place that could only crop up in New York. Too bad its famous clientele wasn't as faithful to Elaine's memory as they had been to her.
Six months after the death of its legendary proprietor, Elaine’s restaurant will close its doors next week.
On Tuesday, Elaine’s longtime manager, who inherited the restaurant from Elaine Kaufman, said that the business was no longer viable. She said that Elaine’s last night would be May 26. The last last call will come around 4 the following morning.
“The truth is, there is no Elaine’s without Elaine,” the manager, Diane Becker, said. She added, “The business is just not there without Elaine.”
A spokeswoman for Ms. Becker said she would put the two buildings on Second Avenue that house the restaurant on the market.
“I’m enormously proud of the waiters, the bartenders and the entire staff who have worked so hard with me to keep the place open and going since Elaine’s passing in December,” she said, “but it’s simply not a viable situation.”
It was an announcement that anxious regulars had dreaded as Ms. Kaufman’s on-and-off health problems had become more of a preoccupation around Elaine’s checkered-tablecloth tables.
Ms. Kaufman, who was 81 when she died on Dec. 3 of complications from emphysema, left the restaurant and most of her estate to Ms. Becker. That included two adjoining five-story buildings on Second Avenue — the restaurant has occupied the ground floor of the two buildings for more than 40 years — and Ms. Kaufman’s co-op apartment a few blocks away.
Ms. Kaufman’s will directed Ms. Becker to sell the apartment and to spend the money on estate taxes and four bequests totaling $230,000. But the apartment remains on the market. The original asking price of $2.95 million has been reduced to $2.75 million.
Ms. Becker had worked for Ms. Kaufman since the mid-1980s and had said repeatedly that the restaurant would keep going. “The only missing link is Elaine,” she said in January.
But Elaine’s had become an anomaly, a single-owner restaurant in an age of deep-pocketed investors and celebrity chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud.
In recent months, the restaurant appeared only empty, even on prime weekend dining nights.

16 May 2011

The Saddest News in Forever

Joe's Superette, a historic pillar of the Carroll Gardens Italian-American culinary history, is closing. Unbelievable and unbelievably heartbreaking.

Here's the whole, horrible story from Pardon Me for Asking:
The old fashioned deli at 349 Smith Street between Carroll and 2nd Street is closing its doors after more than 50 years. The original owner, Joe, for whom the deli was named, ran the place with his wife and daughter for decades. They did all the cooking out of the relatively small kitchen in the back. When Joe was ready to retire, he sold the business to one of his employees, Leo Coladonato. Leo knew the store and its customers well. One could say that he had grown up there. He had started working for Joe when he was just a kid, delivering orders. As he became older, he made his way behind the counter, slicing cold-cuts and making sandwiches.
When he took over the business in 1985, Leo kept the name and the old "Joe's Superette" sign, so everyone continued calling it Joe's. All through the 1980's and 90's, there were long lines in front of Joe's at lunchtime. Though customers loved the overstuffed sandwiches, they really came for those famous prosciutto balls that Leo made in the small kitchen in the back of the store. Deep-fried to golden perfection, the gooey, cheesy bites of breaded ricotta, mozzarella and ham were there reason why people came to this place from all over Brooklyn. They were simply heavenly. Sadly, Leo has had health issues in reason months. Louie, who has worked for Leo for a few years, has kept things going in the store. However, the decision has been made to close Joe's Superette. The store is being emptied right now.
I have eaten those prosciutto balls a hundred times. Every time, they have been phenomenal. There's just nothing like them. They're Italy-good. Not just Italian-American good. They're that fantastic. I loved them so much, when I did my walking tours, I bought a couple dozen and fed them to my fellow walkers. I doubt anyone in New York can replicate them.

I will write a longer, more detailed tribute later. Too sad right now. Couldn't they have given us a week's warning, so we could have had just one more bite?

Lester's. Lester's. Lester's.

Look at this Midwood department store. Would you believe this no-frills, local department store was part of a thriving New York chain that has outlets in Manhattan, Long Island and Westchester?

It is. Lester's was founded in 1948 and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this store, which owns the corner of Avenue U and Coney Island Blvd., was the first. The signs are just too damn old. The look is so mid-20th-century-non-chain-local-department-store. (Which is a thing, believe me. I can recognize it a mile away.) Lester and Lillian Kronfeld were the founders and the chain is still family owned.

A Final Visit to Savoy

My wife is an art critic. So, when we first started dating in the early '90s, we spent a lot of time in SoHo, which was then the heart of the New York art world. A lot of the galleries and bars and restaurants we frequented back then are long gone. But Savoy was there then, and it's there now. But it's days are numbered. Savoy will close for good June 18. Chef Peter Hoffman, who founded it as one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in the city, has decided to renovate and reopen as a more casual eatery.

13 May 2011

158-Year-Old Bell Finds Its Resting Place at Strong Place

I've posted in the past about the wonderful old bell that was fetched out of the steeple of the Strong Place Church, as the Cobble Hill landmark has been converted into ritzy apartments, and wondered what would become of it.

The bell, which was forged at the once-world-famous bellmaker Meneely's in West Troy, New York, has been resting on the lawn for months. Well, yesterday, some feverish work and seriously heavy-lifting got underway, and the huge thing found its final resting place.

They've put it right at the corner of Degraw and Strong Place, behind the cast-iron fence. It's a lovely setting, easily viewable to anyone who passes by. And they've placed the inscription to the front, so that everyone can read it. They seem to have given it a little polish, too. It's cleaner than it was. Nice work.

12 May 2011

A Strip of Old Broadway

Is this patch of ugly old buildings, on W. 46th Street east of Broadway, the last ungentrified section of squeaky clean Times Square? It's certainly one of the last. And its surrounding by shiny new towers on either side.

11 May 2011

A Good Sign: Harold's for Prescriptions

I don't think I've ever encountered a drug store with a name as unusual as Harold's for Prescriptions, in Gravesend, Brooklyn. What did Harold think he was trading in? Perfume? Ladies' hats?

It's a wonderful name, whatever the reason for the curious syntax. There's a nice corner entrance, but you're not supposed to use it. Lovely awnings on either side of the entrance you can use.

Riedel in Winn-derland

Either Cobble Hill's cut-rate palace Winn Discount—ahem, Winn Home & Beauty—is coming up in the world or Riedel glassware is coming down.

I saw this sign in the window of Winn and did a double take. The king of crystal wine stemware in my neighborhood discount housewares joint?

I went inside. Sure enough. They have tons of Riedel! Including the glasses I use at home. Right next to the Libby glasses. I'd say the coup is Winn's, not the Austrian glassmaker's.

The marriage still shows signs of growing pains however. For instance, Winn spelled Riedel wrong in the sign. Twice.

10 May 2011

A New York Block

This is in Astoria. Now that, to me, is how an outer borough block should look (aside from the Sprint awfulness). A variety of heights, a plethora of indy businesses, lots of visual variety, plenty of frontage quirks, splashes of stylish neon and groovy font, and all of it low slung. Tasty. Homey. Authentic. Right.

No Restrictions on Entertainment or Dancing

This building, obviously a once-dignified edifice, stands on its own at 29-13 Queens Plaza East, otherwise know as Northern Boulevard, in Long Island City. There's nothing to the left, nothing to the right. And a million highway overpasses overhead. It's hard to imagine this was once a desirable business thoroughfare.

09 May 2011

A Voice From the Past

I went to a flea market in Hell's Kitchen this past weekend. When I passed by a stall that featured this working phonograph, Al Jolson singing "Mammy" was playing. Swear to God. Clear as a bell. A sublime moment of chance.

Duane Reade Has Own Subway Entrance

By my measure, nothing about a Duane Reade should be cool. But, I'm sorry, this dedicated subway entrance on the lower level of the triple-decker Duane Reade at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue is kinda neat.

I love exclusive subway entrances. They remind me a time when is was common for certain businesses, office buildings, restaurants and hotels that were near subway stops to enjoy the privilege of a special mass transit entry. There are a number of such portals still in use, including the one that connects Bloomingdale's to the Lexington Line. This Duane Reader passage, however, would seem to be a rare modern example.

"Dogs" and "Burgers" Come Down from Degraw Storefront

The Degraw Street store that briefly contained Ultimate Burgers & Dogs is now rid of the small signs that said "Burgers" and "Dogs." (See below.) Thank God. Hated those things.

As locals know, Ultimate's main claim to infamy was to take down the wonderful old "Grocery and Deli" sign that had been there for decades. (See below.) They claimed the old sign was hurting their business. Which was bullshit. Because just weeks after they put up the new signs, they closed anyway.

The change must have been made by Ted & Honey, the Clinton Street cafe that is taking over the space. So is it too much to ask for them to put the Grocery sign back up? That is, if the Ultimate doofuses didn't throw it away.

I apologize for my immoderate words. Whenever I think of that sign coming down for no good reason, my blood boils.

08 May 2011

Carroll Gardens' Red Apple Closes

The Red Apple Chinese takeout joint at the southeast corner of Court and Sackett isn't exactly glamorous. But it is one of the oldest extant businesses in Carroll Gardens. Been there at least 20 years. Well, now it's closed suddenly. Not sure why.

Many old timers will remember this storefront as the longtime location of Vaccarino Flowers.

06 May 2011

Astoria Meat Products


A reader wrote in wondering about the status of the above business, Astoria Meat Products, which has a cool sign, a neat display case and offers "Pork. Beef. Lamb. Veal." and "Homemade Bologna Sausages." I love the bold symmetry of the meats listed, how they all have four letters.

The reader said, "The last few times I swung by there the place was closed and all the display cases are empty. The front window is as always. There is no sign in the window or on the door to indicate a closing, vacation or whatever."

I called and there was no answer. I'm not familiar with the shop. Does anyone out there know anything?

Tasteless Owner, Jerky Hoteliers Screw Up Oak Room's Return

For years, New York waited for the reopening of the Oak Room and the Oak Bar, storied oases of cosmopolitan style and history. In 2008, after a lengthy renovation, the public was finally allowed to enjoy these beautiful rooms within the Plaza Hotel again. And now, due to incompetence and bad taste on a huge scale on the part of the owners of the Plaza and the Oak Room and Bar, the joint may close again by July.

Eli Gindi, the owner of the Oak Room and Bar, and a real estate developer best known for owning Century 21 (classy!) has mishandled the place from the start. The restaurant was poorly reviewed. The bar offered bad service and poorly made, expensive cocktails. And the tone was all wrong. The atmosphere felt tacky, nouveau riche, touristy. Gindi started losing money, so he resorted to bottom of the barrel tactics. There was once a drink named after Mel Gibson. (Now there's a touch of elegance!) There were tableside burlesque shows. And then Gindi struck gold with "Black and White" Saturday afternoon parties, in which young yahoos with money to burn bought bottles of Cristal and whooped it up. No Truman Capote ball, these. But they brought in a lot of money. However, the Plaza management didn't like it. It was bad for the hotel's image, said the pot to the kettle. A hotel that lets in people like Charlie Sheen and his sundry porn stars and prostitutes. Lease negotiations broke down, and the Plaza sued the Oak Room operators for millions. Now the Oak Room will likely close on July 31.

Why does the Plaza attract the attentions of classless schmucks? Remember: Trump used to own it. 

Hitchcock and God

Now here's the sort of programming that might actually make me go to church. I saw this poster outside a Catholic Church in Astoria. Sounds like an interesting series, and most inventive. I don't need much of an excuse to see "Shadow of a Doubt" or "Strangers on a Train," but the speakers sound good, too. I kind of want to know what a Monsignor might think of Farley Granger.

A Good Sign: Apple Tag & Label

Towering over old Long Island City.

05 May 2011

Brooklyn Restaurant Had Hidden History

I have a renewed interest in Caselnova, the new, seemingly indistinct Italian restaurant on Columbia Street in Brooklyn. Why? Because it has a history I knew nothing about until today. (Also, I've eaten there twice recently, and the food is good, and the brick-oven pizza certainly worthy.)

A framed menu on the wall shows that the eatery is named after an earlier restaurant, one ran by the grandfather and uncles of the current owner. It was on 11 Sunrise Highway in Lynbrook, Long Island.

Astoria's Ste. Honore Patisserie Is Closed

The St. Honore Patisserie, a French bakery that opened on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, Queens, in 1945, has closed. I was open as recently as a few months ago. I don't know what happened.

The bakery was an anomaly in the largely Greek and Italian neighborhood. It was bought by Alex Reyad in 2008. It was known for its macaroons, baguettes and apple tart. Particularly the macaroons. It specially made the treats for various private clubs in town, including the Knickerbocker, the Century and the Union Club.