31 August 2011

Lost City: New Jersey Edition: Jesus Saves—at Ciano Service Center

The Ciano Service Center in Garfield, NJ, is interesting on its own terms. The architecture, the graphics, the aura, the fact it is abandoned. But zoom in and it gets even more interesting. Did Jesus ever weigh in on used cars?

Getting Specific

No mistaking where this coffee shop is. Pretty heavy name for a hole in the wall joint. Is "Inc." really necessary? Imagine saying to the missus, "I'm headed over to the Queen Coffee Shop of Corona."

30 August 2011

Tawdry Jewelry Store Rightly Punished for Desecrating Gage & Tollner

The Landmarks Commission finally did something right.

According to the NY Post, Landmarks isn't happy with the tacky jewelry store that has moved into the landmarked Gage & Tollner space in downtown Brooklyn. "Inspectors last week served the operators of Ladies and Gents discount jewelry store with a notice informing them that they illegally installed silky pink partitions a few inches away from the buildings historic walls. They were told on Aug. 18 they must apply within 20 days to the Commission for permits to keep the partitions or risk be fined up to $5,000 and then potentially additional penalties of up to $250 a day that the temporary paneling remains. Sources said the city wants the partitions removed."

The space sat empty for months after its last tenant, an Arby's, closed late last year. But at least the Arby's cared a little. They had to jump through plenty of hoops to please the Commission and refurbished much of the classic interior. Ladies and Gents discount jewelry covered all that work up, slapping up some garish pink walls, and basically turning an elegant room into a trashy space. I hope they are fined out of business.

Charles Pfaff Died Broke

I had read many a yarn about the great hosts, dandies, swells, bon vivants and society men of New York's history prior to World War II. And one thing they all seem to hold in common is this: they die broke. Or in debt.

Charles Ignatius Pfaff was a jolly German who set up one of the first—or certainly one of the first famous—bohemian gathering places in New York City. Pfaff's was located at 653 Broadway near Bleecker. He ran a couple of places before that, and one after, but this was the famous one, the basement space that attracted, from 1860 to 1875, the likes of Walt Whitman, William Winter (the leading American dramatic critic of the 19th century), George Clemenceau (French statesman and journalist), Artemus Ward (humorist and editor of Vanity Fair), Fitz-James O'Brien (a writer of early examples of science fiction) and Henry Clapp, Jr. (a publisher of the Saturday Press—for which almost everybody else at Pfaff's wrote—promoter of free love and "Leaves of Grass" and the "King of Bohemia"). Also writer and actress Ada Clare, one of my favorite bohos of all time because of her bizarre death: she died of hydrophobia after being bit by her favorite terrier while visited her agent's office.

Six Windows on Sackett

This long, two-story building on Sackett Street, near Henry, in Brooklyn, has always caught my gaze. And not just because of what it was—carriage houses or stables, obviously—but because of its simple, 19th-century beauty. Something about the long, double cornices and the row of six identical, second-story windows speak to my architectural heart.

A little digging, however, reveals that the building was not obviously a stables or carriage house. It may have been at some time in the 19th century—the building is one of the oldest in the area. But in 1902, according to the Brooklyn Eagle, this was a tin shop owned by Martin Anderson and his brother. In that year it was robbed by two locals of 24 bars of lead solder and two bicycles.

29 August 2011

A Good Sign: Geshmake Fish

Traditional Gefilte Fish in Riverdale, The Bronx.

The 96th Street Subway Station

I don't get off at the 96th Street stop of the Broadway line much. Which is a shame. Because I find the stark, modern, new ceramics of the station quite pleasing to the eye. Really one of the best station design re-dos the MTA had ever done. So stylish, you'd think it was done in the '30s.

28 August 2011

Remembrance of 300 Grand Street

I few weeks ago, I was musing about the history of these very old-looking twin buildings on Grand Street in Chinatown. I determined, with the help of readers, that they at least dated from the late-19th-century.

I received an amazing comment the other day that indicates they are even older than I thought. Someone names Bonnie wrote: "Number 300 Grand Street was my great, great grandfather's home and shop for many years in the mid-1800s. It is in the census record as well as the Civil war registration in 1863 I think it was. He was a hatter and he was born in Prussia."

25 August 2011

Moonshine Bar to Close

A reader tipped us off to the sad news that the Moonshine Bar on Columbia Street near Hamilton in Brooklyn is closing. According to their Facebook page, the place only has two weeks left.

It's a good bar, with a nice beer selection and friendly bartenders. They used to have free peanuts in the shell until the health department made them stop. And there was once a policy where you could bring your own meat and cook it on their grill out back. Moonshine also has one of the only working cigarette machines in the City.

But the thing that made me love the bar was the bar itself. It was the original, ornate back bar from when the place opened as a saloon shortly after Prohibition. The space had been closed for a couple decades when the owners of Moonshine resurrected the interior. As it stands, it's the only extant bar space remaining from Columbia Street's old days as a commercial strip. Columbia used to be lined with bars a century ago. This is the only connection remaining to that boozy past.

Lost City: Seattle Edition: Turf Restaurant & Lounge

Parts of downtown Seattle made me more nervous that the dicier sections of New York. The wide avenues can be desolate on weekends, the crazy people crazier, the panhandlers more aggressive and seeming to be working scams in pairs.

The Turf Restaurant & Lounge is an apt expression of this edginess. You don't want to mess with this place, which takes up the corner of a parking structure on Third Avenue and Pike, and offers "Burgers Fries Shakes Teriyaki." The interior is sketchy, the patrons sketchier. Past the diner counter is a back room, the bar, which was open for business in the morning and already had claimed a few elderly barflies. As a Yelper said, the people here are "full of crazy"; even one guy who loves the place said it was "scary." I agree, and I saw it in broad daylight

24 August 2011

Nightime Bocce Ball

Bocce ball has all but died in Carroll Gardens, where I used to regularly see old Italian guys play the game in Carroll Park on the weekends. But it remains alive in the sliver of Corona that remains heavily Italian—that tight section anchored by the Lemon Ice King of Corona and the Parkside Restaurant. This well-lit, well-attended nighttime scene took place at around 10 PM on a Wednesday night. The players and crowd didn't show any signs of going home soon.

23 August 2011

Clinging Desperately to Washington Square

I never took much notice of this building on the southwest corner of Washington Square Park, except to express relief that it didn't yet belong to NYU. Recently, however, because of the scaffolding, I took a close look and noticed the cornice. "Washington View." A pleasant name for the building. It was erected in 1890, and must have opened an an apartment building with a name like that. And then I checked out the address: 39 1/2 Washington Square South. Curious, since the building is technically on W. 4th Street and shouldn't be able to claim the glamorous WSS address. (No. 40 is across Macdougal Street.) I bet that savvy address has upped the rents by 50% over the decades.

Lost City: New Jersey Edition: Walk Alertly

So, I went to a wedding in Garfield, New Jersey. Only I got on the wrong New Jersey Transit train and ended up at Newark's Broad Street station. The only way to get to the wedding on time was to take a couple of buses. And so I entered the New Jersey bus world for the first time. And a strange world it is. The two buses I took looked completely different. You need exactly change or you're dead. The transfer tickets are thin and about a foot long. And some of the buses resemble Greyhounds, or the tour buses that go down to Atlantic City.

The last bus I took flashed this bizarre message every time it made a stop. "Walk Alertly"? It's not just that the bus felt they had to caution their riders thus. Also, I don't think I've ever used the clumsy adverb "alertly" in my entire life.

21 August 2011

A Good Sign: 108th Street Lumber

In Corona. This corner business made good use of its wall space, and rendered an potentially ugly cinder-block wall something attractive.

19 August 2011

The Lemon Ice King of Corona

The business with the coolest name in New York must be the Lemon Ice King of Corona.

This corner stand (they hand out the ice, you can't go in) has been on a fixture in Corona since 1944. It was founded by the Benfaremo family, and that clan still owns it. The farm-to-table and craft cocktail movements have got nothing on this joint. The Benfaremos have been squeezing fresh lemons and using fresh fruit since forever.

Lemon is obviously king here; I personally see no reason to order any other flavor, it's so good. But, just in case, the King offers dozens of other types of ice, in small, medium, large or super sizes. Don't be a wuss and ask for a spoon. And DON'T ask them to mix ices! Don't you see the sign?! (What an ice "exchange" is, I don't want to know.)

Their lemon ice is without a doubt the best I've ever had. The prices are cheap and the counter boys are very friendly, like lads you'd find at a summer-only ice cream stand in rural Iowa. And few businesses in New York City have given me as strong a feeling of what living in New York must have been like 50 years ago than this place. It's a beacon of good feeling and community.

18 August 2011

Corona, Kingdom of Neon Cows

Leo's Lattacini, or rather, Mama's (confusing awning), is part of a mini empire of Italian businesses along one block of 104th Street in Corona. There's a bakery, a ravioli store, and this, the lattacini. It's 80 years old, though it doesn't look it, and, being so close to Shea Stadium, there are all kinds of Mets stuff in the window displays.

There are also neon cows, which I love. Three in number, representing Salsiccia (sausage, which can also come from a cow, I guess, though most is pig-derived), Ricotta and just plain Lattacini.

17 August 2011

Cart Gets New Boss

I know that in these days of advanced and improved cart and truck food, the matter of who owns and runs a cart can make a big difference in the quality of the food. But I still find this sign hilarious.

Fortune House to Get Makeover

Brooklyn Heights' landmark, old-school Chinese restaurant Fortune House is closed for renovation. I hope they don't spoil the wonderful, untouched, old New York cheesiness of the interior. We don't need another shiny, anonymous eatery that looks like nothing and everything else at the same time.  We need Fortune House. And they better not touch that sign!

Doomed Degraw Space Chooses Its Next Victim

The doomed closet-like restaurant space on Degraw Street between Clinton and Court—which was Ultimate Burgers and Dogs, and before that Chicory, and before that Cielo Cafe, and before that Whim Oyster Bar, and originally an old Italian deli (which was actually a going concern)—has unveiled the name of its next victim: Sadie's Kitchen. Last I heard, this was going to be a branch of Ted & Honey's, the grumpy and expensive, but inexplicably successful, cafe on Clinton Street near Cobble Hill Park. But Sadie's, apparently, has nothing to do with Ted & Honey's. Good luck, guys!

16 August 2011

The Never-Ending Dangerous Eyesore of Hamilton Avenue

The intersection of Van Brunt, Summit and Hamilton in Brooklyn—known to most folks as the entryway to the gentrified end of Red Hook—was never a beauty spot. But for the past two years it's been a downright eyesore and hazard to the local residents.

The arrival of Fairway and IKEA can be blamed for the pile-up of barricades and signs at this crossroads. Before those political-string-pulling institutions came to Red Hook, the intersection was a simple affair. Van Brunt was a two-way road below and above Hamilton, so if you were headed north from Red Hook, you could simply drive across Hamilton and keep on going. If you wanted to go right on Hamilton, you could. And the two-block stretch of Summit was one way headed west.

15 August 2011

Pete's Tavern Kinda Bugs Me

I know there are detractors of this blog out there who think my modus operandi is a mindless, knee-jerk exultation of all things old, regardless of worth. But I do make distinctions. Modell's, for instance, is a very old sporting goods chain in New York. But who cares? The stores look like crap, with no vestige of their history in sight, and entering one makes you want to hang yourself.

And then there's Pete's Tavern in Gramercy Park. I perhaps love old New York bars more than old New York anything-else. Just a glimpse of a huge, beautifully wrought, 19th-century mahogany bar with a towering back bar mirror is enough to bring tears to my eyes. But for all of my affection for Old Town Bar, P.J. Clarke's, White Horse Tavern, Bill's Gay 90s Saloon, the Brooklyn Inn, and many others, I've never been able to warm to Pete's.

12 August 2011

Rainbow Cafe Update: Signs Will Be Saved, Restored!

A quick and happy update on the beautiful signs that adorned the Rainbow Cafe in Sunset Park, and were removed and taken away yesterday. I contact Paul Signs Inc. on Brooklyn NY, which did the removal job, asking about the fate of the signs. He said "All the signs are completely intact. I am going to rebuild them with new neon, transformers and wiring. The paint is going to be removed and brought back to the original porcelain finish. Then I will sell them to who ever wants them. I may keep one of the signs for myself. Usually we just junk most of these signs."

Hooray! What great news to end the week with!

Telephone Pole, Lamp Post, Church Steeple, Street Sign, Subway Beacon

What you see when you walk out of the Vernon Blvd. subway stop.

11 August 2011

Iconic Rainbow Cafe Signs Taken Down

The beautifully signed Rainbow Cafe in Sunset Park closed up shop in 2008, and then was sold in 2010. All this while, we wondered what would become of the former restaurant's splendiferous, old-school, neon signage.

Today, a read wrote in to say, "All the signs were removed today by Paul Signs Inc. Brooklyn NY. They were still intact and not damaged when they took them away."

Where are they going? Will they be preserved? Who's moving in? So many questions.

New York's Oldest Bialy Bakery to Close

The Forward reports that Coney Island Bialys and Bagels, which purports to be the oldest bialy store in New York, will close its doors after 91 years in business.

Quite frankly, this news surprised me. I had always assumed that Kossar's on the Lower East Side was the city's oldest bialy store. But Coney Island Bialys says it began in 1920, and Kossar's opened in 1927. (Of courese, Kossar's still claims to be the oldest. Such is the way in New York City.)

Owner Stephen Ross blames the recession for the closure.

According to their website, "Coney Island Bialy Bakers Co., Inc. was started in 1920 by Grandpa Morris Rosenzweig. Grandpa Morris and his brothers immigrated to the United States from Bialystock, Poland, and brought with them their knowledge of a local soft yeast bread known as Bialystoker Kuchens. Kuchen is the German word for cake. The original business was started in a basement in Coney Island, and that is where the Coney Island Bialy Bakery was born. In 1954, Morris moved the bakery to 2359 Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn, NY and opened the first retail bialy bakery." I would guess this is where Kossar's would make their claim, discounting the pushcart years as immaterial.

The business has been run by the same family for four generations.

Phone Booth Briefly Materializes in Gramercy Park

I did a double take the other day while walking through Gramercy Park when I saw this phone booth. It only took me a second to realize a movie shoot must be afoot. Indeed, this was the case. (Notice the vintage car next to the booth.) I tried to pick up the phone. The receiver wouldn't even come out of the cradle.

Duane Reade Is the Subway Entrance King of the Drug Store Chains

A couple months ago I wrote about the novelty of a Duane Reade pharmacy in Times Square having it's own subway entrance—a luxury usually reserved for fancy hotels, office buildings and department stores.

I thought this was a kind of accident of architecture. But maybe Duane Reade knows exactly what its doing. Here's another branch at 60 Spring Street, and it has its own subway entrance! Granted, this is a different affair. The Times Square building is new. This is an old bank building that the DR chain took over. (We all know that the ever-invention Duane Reade will put a pharmacy in any existing structure, from a movie palace to a dog house.) So the bank had it's own subway entrance. But now Duane Reade does. Still, it lends a coolness to the damn drug store.

The bank, by the way, was the East River Savings Bank. It must have served the old Italian community in this area. One is used to see old lettering and inscriptions scraped of the sides of old stone banks. And you have that here too. But the words are in Italian. Cassette di Sicurezza means Safety Deposit Boxes.

09 August 2011

Glimpses of Lundy's

Lundy's, the legendary mammoth seafood eatery on the shores of Sheepshead Bay, closed in 1977. And then, after reopening under new ownership in 1995, closed again, for good, in 2007. But the sprawling building remains, even if it's now occupied by a conglomeration of heinous, tasteless businesses (dermatologists, malpractice lawyers, sushi joints). You can still glimpse signs of the structure's past, including the words "Lundy Bros." over the various entrances, and embedded on the sidewalk before each front door. The grandiloquent initials "F.W.I.L." stood for Frederick William Irving Lundy.

08 August 2011

A Mysterious Pair in Chinatown

These buildings interest me. Look at them. A couple of narrow, two-and-a-half-story brick boys with single dormer windows. The way they lean on each other, sloping toward the middle, tells of great age and little upkeep. They must be one hundred years old at least. Building of such modest proportions haven't been erected in Manhattan in a century.

This being mysterious Chinatown—the addresses are 298 and 300 Grand Street—I uncovered little about the addresses, aside from the usual reports of arrests of various shady citizens who once lived in the houses over the years. What can have happened here? One can only wonder.

UPDATE: A reader alerted me to a post on Manhattan Unlocked from earlier this year that featured this photo. The photo is from 1932, and the post indicates that the buildings were already 100 years old by then. So they're almost two centuries old now. Amazing. As you can see, the buildings haven't changed much (even the drainpipe down the middle is the same), just then they contained Jewish businesses and today they have Chinese businesses. No doubt before that they were Irish businesses. And way back in the misty past they functioned as modest homes.

New Bike Shop on Van Brunt

The area around Columbia Street, west of Carroll Gardens, has needed a bike shop ever since the one on Union Street near Hick decamped for Court Street. Not it has one.

This sweet little shop opened last week in the ground-floor space of a lonely tenement on Van Brunt between President and Union Streets. (There are no other buildings on either side of it.) It's the first business in that building since forever.

It's run by a father and son. It's called Dog Day Cyclery. I'm happy to have them in the nabe. I was getting tired of trekking to Court Street every time I had a flat.

07 August 2011

Louis Mattia's Chandelier Fix-It Shop Revealed

A kind reader sent in the above photos of some signage uncovered at 52nd Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. You don't see many chandelier and sconce rewiring shops around anymore. And the phone number with the lettered exchange gives the sign away as an old specimen.

According to a 1981 article in New York magazine, Louis Mattia never left his eponymous shop—at 980 Second Avenue—and would give customers a free detailed estimate on repairs of their lamps, chandeliers, wall sconces and candelabras. Clients included Denning and Fourcade and Rhoda Astrachan.

New York mag absolutely loved Mattia. The rag plugged the shop again in 1989. The Times also wrote of Mattia, in 1990. "I love lamps," Mattia, who opened the shop in 1960, said. "I"m crazy about them."

No sure when the shop went under, but it was there as recently as 1996. In recent years, it was a Mexican restaurant and a pizzeria.

Worst/Best Parking Job Ever

I spotted these three unhappily conjoined silver cars on President Street in Carroll Gardens. The driver of the fat SUV in the middle is either the parallel-parking king of all time, or a bastard who has executed the biggest fuck-you in parking history to the cars on either side. The three cars are sandwiched together with not a cat's whisker to spare.

05 August 2011

Beef Jerky, Chinatown Style

How do you not go inside a shop called Malaysia Beef Jerky Inc.?

I happened upon this Chinatown store the other day during my wanderings. Evidently, I'm not the first. The clipping from Zagat's and Village Voice in the Elizabeth Street window praise the business' way with handmade, Asian-style beef jerky.

04 August 2011

Here's Your Hat

The Gonzalez y Gonzalez hat on lower Broadway is gone. For many years a mid-Village neon beacon, here's all that's left. Kinda interesting to see the undercarriage of the whole contraption. But where'd it go?

Judson Memorial Church

As a Village landmark, I think the Judson Memorial Church is largely taken for granted. That's why it's a good idea to not always walk by it, as most New Yorkers do, but to stop for a minute every now and then and appreciate the Stanford White, Italian Renaissance, 1890s building. There's lots to look at.

03 August 2011

American Eagle Outfitters Provides Adult Entertainment for Family Plaza Viewing

If you're familiar with Times Square, you're familiar with the outdoor tourist plaza Mayor Bloomberg has transformed it into. And if you're familiar with that lawn-chair strewn haven of suburban complacence, you're familiar withe the several-story tall American Eagle Outfitters store at the north west corner of Broadway and 46th Street, the one with the facade that is a huge, constantly changing video screen.

02 August 2011

How to Be Alone in McSorley's Ale House

How do you get the perpetually packed McSorley's Old Ale House all to yourself? Go between 11 AM and noon on Monday.

I walked in yesterday for a quick early lunch and a couple mugs of ale to find that I friggin' owned the joint! There was a bartender, a waiter, and me. No tourists, no frat boys, no NYU-ers, no locals, no drunks, no regular nice folk—just me. It stayed that way for a full half hour. I don't think, in 20 years of going to this place, I have ever seen it empty. It was nice, my view of everything on the walls and behind the bar unimpaired, the sawdust on the floor undisturbed by any shoes but my own. And I was free to have a friendly chat with the bartender and waiter without shouting or worrying I was slowing them down.