30 November 2011

Weird Thing Growing in Red Hook

I saw this strange sight on Reed Street in Red Hook, opposite the Fairway, rising out out what has long been an empty lot. Couldn't make heads or tails out of it. The shape of the building's skeleton doesn't say house or apartment building. It's the huge deck or balcony or whatever that throws one off. Makes it look like a beach house or a resort-ish restaurant of some kind.

The DOB postings say its going to be an "eating and drinking establishment." A damn big one, by the looks of it. Brownstoner says the place will be called Brooklyn Crab. "The applicant for this liquor license states that it will be a seafood restaurant with hours of operation being from 5 to 10:30 week days and 5 to 11:30 weekends and holidays. There will be two open air spaces, to wit: a deck and a covered roof area." That explains that. So will they buy their crabs from Fairway?

Violent Vines

"Open the window or the shutters get it!"

29 November 2011

More Sad Bill's Gay Nineties News

This article in Crain's may explain the upsetting recent news that a snazzy local restauranteur John DeLucie has been talking to the owners of the former midtown speakeasy Bill's Gay Nineties about renovating and taking over the W. 54th Street saloon: 

One of the city's oldest restaurants, Bill's Gay Nineties, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The Prohibition-era establishment, located in a five-story townhouse at 57 E. 54th St., has been unable to negotiate a lease extension with the building's landlord, according to the filing.
Its owner, Barbara Olmsted, wrote in the filing that she still hopes to reach an agreement with the landlord or to move the business to a nearby location.
Ms. Olmstead owes just $40,000 in back rent. The business' other debts are relatively small, as well. The estimated total liabilities are between $100,000 and $500,000.
“It looks like it's a straight-up landlord dispute, in which the tenant is trying to buy more time” said bankruptcy attorney Fred Stevens, a partner of Klestadt & Winters.
The filing also blames the bankruptcy on the recession and “the difficult climate facing New York restaurants.”
Ms. Olmsted did not return several phone calls nor did her attorney, Lawrence Morrison. Her father, O.B. Bart bought Bill's Gay Nineties in 1965 and she took over the business in 1979. The Bart family is only the second owner of the speakeasy, once a watering hole for some of Hollywood's most famous names including Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.

This news came as a surprise to me. I always assumed Bill's owned the building and that was one of the reasons it had stayed in business for so long.

Can New York's Restaurant Swells Please Keep Their Glitter-Stained Hands Off the City's Landmarks?

First Graydon Carter souped up the legendary Waverly Inn and the Monkey Bar. Then Gabe Stulhman fancified  the Village icon Fedora. And Torrisi Italian Specialties, is threatening to take over Rocco's, the old Village Italian standby. Now this:
Former Waverly Inn chef John DeLucie is opening a new front in the restaurant war with his former boss Graydon Carter. The team behind clubby eateries Crown and The Lion — Mark Amadei, Sean Largotta and DeLucie — is in talks to take over 1920s speakeasy Bill’s Gay ’90s right across the street from Monkey Bar, co-owned by Carter. If the deal goes through for the East 54th Street townhouse, they hope to reopen it by the spring. Sources say they plan to re-create the old-time feel of the original bar with a first-floor tavern and several private rooms. Carter was partners with DeLucie at Waverly Inn until he left last year to open The Lion. A Crown rep had no comment.

Here's a news flash to Mr. DeLucie: Bill's already has an old-time feel. Don't fuck it up with your vile whoring-after-the-1%, faux-authentic sensibilities. This is not your element. You have no idea what a real New York tavern is. So: Back. The. Hell. Away. From. Bill's.

Macy's Wooden Escalators Gone, but May Return

A recent visit to Macy's Herald Square brought back the hurtful reminder that most (all?) of the wooden treads on the ancient, historic wooden escalators have been replaced in recent years by standard metal trades. Apparently, a series of accidents resulted in the old wooden treads being ripped out. The sides of the Otis escalators remain wooden, but the crowning beauty of the contraptions was really the treads. The wood was warm; the metal is cold. I went up several floors looking for ones that were still wood, but didn't find any. Maybe they lurk at the top of the building.

But when I went home to do some research on the subject, I was delighted and surprised to find a story in the Nov. 1 edition of the New York Times that reported that Macy's is planning an extension, multi-year renovation of its flagship store, to begin this spring. Included in the redo will be the "preservation of 42 of 43 historic wooden escalators in the current store – a unique and distinguishing feature of Macy’s Herald Square." So they're coming back, I guess!

Among the other welcome improvement: "Restoring the first floor “great hall”... The original great hall’s ceiling height will be restored"; and "The ornate “Memorial Entrance” on 34th Street will be restored and reopened. Windows along Broadway, 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, which have been covered up over the years, will be reopened. Windows on the upper floors also will be uncovered to allow more natural light into the building. Sidewalks will be replaced, with Macy’s-branded paved “welcome mats” added at every entrance. Awnings and canopies reminiscent of the original building will be added. New exterior lighting will highlight the building’s elegant architectural details."

For those who wonder what the old wooden escalators looked like, here's a video I took back in 2008.

Brown's Fuel Service, Carving a Name for Itself in Staten Island

Brown's Fuel Service has been in business on Staten Island for more than 50 years, providing oil, gas and electricity to island residents. It's a family business, now run by the second the third generation (though the family name seems to have switched to Palmese). I was struck was the simple, yet bold elegance of the carved sign on their Sommers Lane headquarters. I also very much like the old clock on the side, which told the correct time.

Glaser's Still Going

Glaser's Bake Shop, the 109-year-old Yorkville institution on First Avenue, and perhaps the oldest continually operating business from the Little Germany days, is still going. Just saying, in case anyone was wondering. I don't get up there very often. But I was in the area this past weekend and made sure to swing by for a pastry. They have started making cherry turnovers, for all who are interested.

28 November 2011

Another "Who Goes There" Subject Falls

Spanish Taverna, a Garment District standby that I profiled in a July 2009 "Who Goes There?" column, has closed. I can't tell when the shuttering happened. According to a Yelp posting, the place was will in operation in October. But the phone has been disconnected. And there's a "For Rent" sign in the window, the other windows being papered over.

Here's a bit of what I found in 2009:
The inside, however, is as drab as ever. Tan, brown, yellow—the colors of the 1970s. There’s a nook of a bar up front, and an oddly airless, somewhat depressing dining area in back, with rows of booths on either side. A wealth of mirrors on the sides and in the back lends the illusion of space, as do the unusual plastic arcs which hang from the ceiling and partly divide one booth from the next. I’ve never seen this latter design feature in any other restaurant. It must have seemed terribly modern 34 years ago when Spanish Taverna opened.
Those who come here (Garment District workers, who like to haunt the bar; foreign tourists from Australia, Spain and elsewhere; a few elderly pre-theatre diners) seem to regard it as a hidden gem purveying some of the most authentic Spanish grub in the metropolis. Indeed, the food, while hellishly expensive (entrees range from $18 to $30; a glass of sangria is $8) is more than decent, and undeniably bountiful. I particularly like the mariscadas—various kinds of stew brought to the table in weathered pewter kettles. And everything is served with a dish of very nice, thinly slice fried potatoes.
So, that makes three former "Who Goes There?" subjects that have bitten the dust this fall: Spanish Taverna, La Petite Auberge, and Hinsch's (though the latter is slated to reopen new year under new management). And Rocco's will close early next year. I would have done a "Final Seating" column for Spanish Taverna if I had but known.

27 November 2011

A Good Sign: J. Braun Liquors

I found this wonderful old liquor store sign over the weekend, at Lexington and 90th. Judging by the name, a remnant of the area's German past.

UPDATE: Additional info sent by a reader in the know: "The proprietor was Julius Braun (1914-1995), a Jewish immigrant from Poland who arrived in NY in 1921 with his family. I don't know when Julius opened the store on Lexington Avenue, but it has been there since at least 1971."

There aren't enough people named Julius anymore, in my opinion.

23 November 2011

Tree Delivery

Saw this truck pull up outside the Chelsea Garden Center in Red Hook a few hours ago. Someone's going to be ready for tree shoppers the day after Thanksgiving.

22 November 2011

Curious Window Hardware on Grove Street

I was in the West Village the other day when I paused in front of this handsome old Federal Style house on Grove Street. Admiring the obvious age of the building's facade, my eye was caught by some metal prongs which protruded from the side of each window. There were two on each side, four to a window in all, and had long since been painted over. What were they? What purpose did they once serve?

The Red Hook Ahava Nut Has Given Up—Maybe

For many years, a certain protest sign on Van Brunt Street has been a familiar landmark to Red Hook residents. It is sturdily posted to a telephone pole (yes, Red Hook, unlike many New York neighborhoods, still has those) outside a house covered with aluminum siding. I assume it was placed there by the owner of the house, for it complains bitterly about the horrible noise that comes from the Ahava kosher dairy plant just down the street on Beard Street.

Ahava has been hated by the neighborhood since it moved into Red Hook in 2001, at the behest of the City. The sign entreats Mayor Bloomberg and Marty Markowitz to "Stop the Noise" and implores locals to call and complain.

The sign is crazy but the author has a point. The factory generator never stops humming, day or night. If I lived nearby, I'd be pissed to.

Recently, weather and wear and tear have caused the sign to fade and, now, crack in two. Only half of its there, and the half remaining would make no sense to a pair of new eyes. So what happened? Did the author of the sign move away? Lose hope? Die? Run out of wood and markers?

Sadie's, a Kitchen Full of Mac and Cheese

Sadie's Kitchen, the latest restaurant to occupy a small (and up til now doomed) space on Degraw Street in Cobble Hill, quietly opened this week. It's an intentionally cozy place, resembling an idealized version of a 1940s kitchen. The culinary focus is mac and cheese, including varieties that feature bacon, crayfish and smoked duck. But the owner is anxious to make clear that the place serves other things, such as biscuits, sandwiches and pies. She also wants the people to know that they will soon be serving breakfast as well, and will also be accepting credit cards in time.

More Raccuglia Funeral Parlor News

I visited the Raccuglia Funeral Home on Court Street in Carroll Gardens to find out more about the construction and refurbishments that are being perpetrated on the building, including the removal of the iconic neon sign. I was very relieved to find out that the business has not changed hands. The building is merely getting a much needed renovation, and the neon sign is being fixed and will return.

Goodbye Subway Chess

Two years ago I wrote about the Chess Classic Cafe, arguably the most unique shop to grace the entire New York subway system. It was located in the arcade outside the Clark Street subway station in Brooklyn Height. It was a basic deli. But one that encouraged and fosters the playing of chess at tables just outside the cafe.

I peeked in the other day and found it gone, replace by a joint that will sell the sliders that are now ubiquitous throughout the City. Looks like an indy place, so that's good. Still. No Chess Cafe.

For those who love the old arcade, the barber, shoe repair store, newsstand and sushi place are still there.

Rkov Didn't Close the Gate

Witnessed this scene on Grand Street on the Lower East Side the other night. Ventured closer to the Kosher Bagel place to eyeball the sign taped to the door. "Rkov! Close the gate please." (I am probably getting the name wrong. Looks like a backward R to me. But I've never heard of the name Rkov.) The roller shutter was up at 1 AM. Looks like Rkov forgot.

21 November 2011

Scenes From the Danish Seamen's Church Annual Christmas Market

My first holiday event of the season is often a visit to the annual Christmas fair as the Danish Seamen's Church on Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights. It's usually held of the weekend before Thanksgiving, with various goodies on offer, including Danish candies and pastries (see below), as well as Danish hot dogs (topped with crumbled bacon and sliced pickles) and meatballs, and a large pot of Glögg, the hot, spiced, wine-based Scandinavian punch. All at affordable prices. And all served by very blonde people with an exceedingly friendly, if a bit chilly, demeanor.

Shopping-wise, the church seems to have a connection to such mega-Danish corporation as Lego and Bodum. You can get products made by those companies as discount rates.

I noticed a bit of intrigue in the fair this year. In the past, the fair was jointly presented by the Danish Seamen's Church and the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on Henry Street. This year, the co-sponsor was the Plymouth Church, Orange Street between Henry and Hicks. When I passed by the Zion Church, I noticed a sign saying they were presenting their own holiday fair on Dec. 3. Hmm.

Frank's Dept. Store Sign Getting an Adjustment

The classic old Frank's Dept. Store sign on Union Street near Hicks in Brooklyn, which has remained even though Frank's has gone the way of the woolly mammoth, was taken down this morning.

The sign is not being removed for good. It is in need of repair. Apparently the top part of it broke off, causing rain to leak into the store. This sign is old after all.

Frank's decamped a few years backed, after having been on the block since 1937. Brooklyn General, a yarn and knitting shop, moved in, but elected to keep the sign where it was. Frank's also once occupied the shop to the right, not the site of a restaurant.

20 November 2011

Neither Snow Nor Rain...But Jury Duty?! Fuhgeddaboudit!

My Post Office branch on Columbia Street in Brooklyn. I like the sense of civic duty! But I dislike the, well, lack of sense of city duty.

Fortune House Open Again

The Fortune House, the old school Chinese joint on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights, is open again after a rocky few months. One imagines they are now under new owners who do not exploit the workers, as apparently the old ones did. For now, the old sign, and exterior and the interior remain largely intact. About the nature of the menu and food, I can not speak at this moment.

18 November 2011

Ear Inn Gets Renovation

This seems to be the season for classic NYC bar renovations. First the Subway Inn. Now SoHo's Ear Inn. Reports Eater:

Some patrons may have been alarmed to find the historic Ear Inn closed recently. But don't worry - like the Subway Inn, the Ear Inn's closure was only temporary to allow for some minor renovations. The bar had originally closed for what they thought was a few days to replace some tiles in the kitchen and bathroom, but they discovered some cracked support beams when they removed the floor boards. Ear Inn owner Martin Sheridan tells the Villagerthat they had to install new wooden beams alongside the old ones that are probably 200 years old, and that the $100,000 worth of work has made the building more structurally sound then ever before. The almost 200 year old restaurant and bar reopened last night and the kitchen will be serving food again by next week. 
Wonder what the status of the old phone booth is.

17 November 2011

Racugglia Funeral Home Takes Down Old Neon Sign

The Raccuglia Funeral Home, one of the oldest businesses in Carroll Gardens has taken down the classic vertical neon sign that has for decades hung off the corner building. No word yet on why this was done. But it's unlikely it's being sent out for repair. After all, the lights haven't worked for 20 years. Why would they fix it now.

The sign has been fairly obscured for the last few years owing the the scaffolding that has surrounded the building for what seems like an eternity. (You can see what the sign looked like in better days below.) I have wondered for a long time what's up with the "remedial repairs" on the building, as indicated on the DOB records. I've never seen workers make a single repair to the structure. It's not like Racugglia can't afford the work. That funeral home is never not busy.

Deli Skyline

Sometimes delis can surprise you. A lot are interchangeable. But fairly often, proud owners do a little something decor- or merchandise-wise to set their business apart.

I happened on with narrow deli on Lexington on the Upper East Side that has an entire Midtown Manhattan skyline made out of tile on the wall. It's impossible to take the whole thing in at once (let alone photograph it) because much of it is blocked by the salad bar. Because of this, I doubt that many of the deli customers actually notice it.

15 November 2011

Images of Occupy Wall Street

To me, it came as no surprise that our fair city's richest citizen—Hizzoner to you—would never sympathize wit or even understand Occupy Wall Street. The movement was, after all, a direct rebuke of people like Bloomberg and his buddies downtown, folks the mayor has been telling us since 2008 are decent people who work hard and are really smart and didn't have anything to do with the economy capsizing. Staring every day at national coverage of a protest over which you have little power can be very frustrating to a man who's used to wielding absolute power in every room (or park) he walks into. Downright emasculating, in fact. It can grate on a man. He didn't get into politics for the money after all. If he can't have power what's the point? So you wipe the worthless peons of the map.

Gonzalez y Gonzalez to Return; Big Neon Hat, Too

Gonzalez y Gonzalez—the Mexican restaurant that was for many years a local landmark on lower Broadway, near Houston, but which closed in August—is on its way back. And so is the giant neon sombrero that marked its entrance.

A reader, whom I have to assume is connected to the restaurant, wrote me to say:
Many people might already know, or soon will find out, that Chipotle is opening next week at the Broadway entrance of the old Gonzalez y Gonzalez.
What many people might also not know, is Chipotle only took half of the original space, and that 2 of the original bartenders from Gonzalez y Gonzalez were able to secure the name and the other half of the space, entrance on 192 Mercer Street, down the block from the Angelica Theatre, and will be reopening, with bands, liquor license, giant sombrero and all, by the end of the year.
Hears hoping they actually replace all the burnt out bulbs in that hat. I want to see it blazing in all its glory.

14 November 2011

Turkey's Nest OK

Eater informs us of a potential Lost City landmark crisis moment that I didn't even know about, which is a good thing, because I've got enough to worry about, and have my health to think about.

Apparently, the DOH shut down the beloved Williamsburg dive the Turkey's Nest a few weeks back, and folks were wondering if the 100-year-old dive was going to reopen. Well, it has. "The bar's staff put in nine long days to make the necessary repairs to bring the place up to code, including giving the floors an aggressive wipe-down, and removing the coin operated machines that helped make the Turkey's Nest mouse heaven. One word of caution: although the bar is selling it's beloved $4 32 oz beers in styrofoam cups again, the margarita machine has not yet reappeared." Whew.

Auto Repair Center Returned to Nature

It's hard to tell just how long this auto repair shop in Howard Beach has been abandoned—10 years, 20 years—but nature has certainly had its way with it. It's so surrounded and covered by vines and brush that, if not for the chain link fence, one would barely notice it. Beautiful, in its haunted-house-Mayan-ruin way.

11 November 2011

Tile Lives on Forever

This Chinatown door is interesting enough on its own. I mean, look at the crazy amount of detail. The carved doors, the cast iron decorative pillars, the uniquely shaped windows. It's freaking art, this doorway.

10 November 2011

Mystery Sign on Canal Street

I stopped in the middle of the street and stared at this rusted facade on Canal Street for about 20 minutes the other day. With its new signage torn off, I thought I glimpsed the shadows of an older painted sign among the wreckage. If I only stared long enough, I thought, I would figure it out, like one of those optical puzzles in which a word is spelled out in slightly different colored dots.  

Looking in on the Sunview Luncheonette

It's been more than two years since I checked in on the Sunview Luncheonette, the beautiful old Greenpoint diner that closed its doors in early 2008 after an inspection from the Department of Health made things too cost prohibitive for the old Greek woman who ran it to reopen. I wanted to see if it had been occupied, gutted or remained in a state of suspended animation. 

Fedora Donato, Owner of Famed Village Restaurant, Dies

JVNY reports the sad news that Fedora Donato, the owner and hostess of his self-named Greenwich Village Italian basement restaurant, died yesterday. She was 91.

Fedora ran her homey eatery, which didn't change much over the decades, until last year, when she sold the space to restauranteur Gabe Stuhlman, who now runs it as a chi-chi place using the same name. Fedora was the subject of my second "Who Goes There?" column, back in March 2008. Here's an excerpt:
Fedora is a refuge for Village lifers who want to be reminded how the world below 14th Street looked in the 1950s. As one three-decade regular informed me, "You don't come here for the food. You come for the ambiance." That cozy atmosphere includes small tables; a low tin ceiling; NPR on the radio; a rotary pay phone; and a framed napkin signed by Lauren Bacall. Also, a communal greeting for every familiar face that passes through the door; the warm presence of the white-haired, Italian-born Ms. Dorato herself; and a sassy, youngish waiter named Georgie who knew one diner would want a Bloody Mary right away and let the lone lady at the bar pour her own vodka and tonic (into a huge brandy snifter filled with ice!).

09 November 2011

How Old Is That Product in the Window?

Here's a curious little shop on Bayard Street in Chinatown. A Thai and Indonesian grocery—how interesting. Let's take a closer look.

Two Cobble Hill Gems Close

On Warren Street in Cobble Hill, between Court Street and Smith, are two tiny shops. They have been there for as long as I can remember. One was an antique chop called "Past and Present." The other was an archetypal New York dry cleaner. They existed cheek-by-jowel, eeking out an existence in their narrow spaces, which were part of a larger apartment building that dominated the corner. I loved the two shops, and enjoyed walking by them as I made my way to the Bergen Street subway stop. In their economic presence, they reminded my of the kind of stores you'd find on a tidy side street in London.

08 November 2011

Educated Consumers to Become Orphans

Syms, one of my favorite local retailers and, for my money, one of the most ur-New York institutions around, has broken my heart by filing for bankruptcy protection. It will close all 46 of their stores, including the Filene's Basement chain branches it acquired in 2009 for $62.5 million. I didn't think that acquisition was a good move at the time. I know nothing about business, but Syms never struck me as the expansionist type. I just felt they should run their Syms stores and leave it at that.

Syms was founded in 1959 by a fella with the inimitable name of Sy Syms (born Sy Merinksy). The stores were discount outlets, but retained a kind of classy patina. The merchandise was of fairly high quality, and the salesmen were "educators" who didn't work on commission, and thus didn't push. Sy coined the chain unusually wise slogan, "An Educated Consumer Is Our Best Customer." What other chain do you know that promotes the idea of buyer intelligence?

Before I ever shopped at Syms, I was familiar with the stores. The company sponsored the old movies Channel 13 aired on Saturday nights. I grew fond of the brief advertising spot that preceded the films, in which the name Syms would be meticulously formed by hundreds of buttons. Then Sy would appear on the screen and utter the company's slogan. Later, his daughter Marcy took his place in the spots.

Syms won me over as a customer one day in the 1990s when I went there looking for a suit. I was thumbing through the gray and navy blue items on the rack when an "educator" approached me with a dark green number by a French maker. I had never occurred to me to wear a green suit, but I tried it on. It was perfectly suited to my build and coloring. To this day, it's my favorite suit I've ever owned. Since then, I've shopped there regularly. Recently, I began buying my son's clothes there. The experience has always been a civilized one. And I was always happily perplexed by the fact that there were three signs saying "Syms" outside the Rector Street store, the bottom one slightly bigger than the top two. It was also one of the only reasons I ever journeyed down to the financial district. 

Where will I get my suits now?

One of Our Token Booths Is Missing

The budget-strapped MTA has been cutting back on token booth attendants for years. I know that. But I always assumed the booths themselves would remain as a kind of show of faith that in a distant flusher future, they would come back to life. But at some point in the dead of night, the MTA recently ripped out the booth at the northern entrance of my stop on the F line, Carroll Street. Put up some new tile work, too, which only shows us how dirty the other tiles actually are.

A Delivery in Greenpoint

07 November 2011

On the Trail of Carlo Bacigalupo

It's adventures like the following that make running this blog occasionally rewarding. I was wandering aimlessly around the border of Chinatown and Little Italy when I decided to give a good look-see at the Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter near Canal, a gaudy Roman Catholic edifice I'd never given much thought. It's official address is 109 Mulberry (and most people enter that way, too), but the church faces onto Baxter. Inside, a half dozen ancient Italian woman were saying Mass. The place was renovated in the mid-90s is a particularly garish, vulgar manner, so the architecture and interior design isn't much to look at.

Outside, on either side of the entrance, I noticed two sculpted depictions of events from the life of Christ. Under each were the words "Charles Bacigalupo. Sexton Undertaker. 26 1/2 Mulberry St.—208-210 Spring St."

Roadside Pie at New Park Pizza

I was walking to a wedding in Howard Beach when I passed by New Park Pizza at the corner of 157th Avenue and Crossbay Boulevard. I've heard of the old pizzeria over the years, but have never consciously sought it out. So the sight of the grand old neon sign, with its steaming pizza centerpiece, was a happy surprise.

New Park has been owned by the same family sing 1956. Given their look, I'd say the squat, square building and the signage date from that time. The interior, such as it is, sports a long counter with ordering windows and a row of picnic tables. The set-up reminded me of L & B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst. This makes me think that New Park used to operate as a sort of roadside stand in the old days, something like a drive-in. I suspect the picnic tables were now covered and enclosed in the past.

New Park makes brick-oven pizza. I have read accounts that praise it for its smokey bite. The slice tasted more sweet than smoky to me, but I got it at the end of the day. The crust was soft and chewy. First impression: this is an easy-going version of the classic New York slice, but nothing more special or artisan than that. Lovely atmosphere, though. I'd go again.

My one question is: What park does the pizzeria's name refer to?