30 September 2012

H. Herzfeld, Manhattan Haberdashery, to Close

I am informed by a reader that H. Herzfeld, a Manhattan haberdashery in the English, Jermyn Street model, is set to shutter. It was founded in 1890 in Europe and has been in America since 1949. The business, formerly located on Madison Avenue and 52nd, is on 57th Street between Park and Lexington. It is family owned. 

Herzfeld is steadfastly and proudly antiquated in its viewpoint and business practices. On its website, it says "we provide custom shirts, suits and a full line of haberdashery to the carriage trade. People in the know shop H. Herzfeld. Among our many offerings are English polo and dress shirts, and cashmere sweaters imported from Scotland along with Trafalgar braces and accessories from belts and cuff links to hats. Our shirts are monogrammed and tapered and the sleeve lengths can be adjusted. In addition to our fine quality shirts and sweaters, our Oxxford & Hickey Freeman suits and Valstar outerwear win praise among discriminating gentlemen."

You have to admire a business that, in this day and age, uses the terms "carriage trade" and "discriminating gentleman" without irony. 

I have never been inside Herzfeld. I don't typically visit such pricey places, because I have no hope to buy any thing on sale inside, and the fact that I can not do so just depresses me. But I plan to take a look before it is too late. Greta Gargo was apparently a regular customer. She bought turtlenecks.

28 September 2012

Orwasher's, Yorkville's New-Old Bakery

Orwasher's Bakery is one of those old New York institutions with a tricky history. It was founded at 308 E. 78th Street in 1916, and the owners would like you to think nothing's changed since then. That's true, but only in part, and in a rather cosmetic way.

The shop was founded by Abraham Orwasher, who made eastern European and Jewish styles of bread in the coal-fired brick oven in the basement, servicing the kosher and Hungarian communities in the area. Abraham's son Louis inherited the business, and is said to have invented raisin pumpernickel bread. Louis' son Abram took over from there. All three generations used the same sourdough starter. The family owned the building that housed the bakery.

In 2007, Keith Cohen, who had worked at Tribeca Oven, entered the picture. He bought the business and fancified the offerings, adding Italian and French artisanal breads. His line of artisan "wine breads" were launched in 2009. In a nod to history and tradition, he still makes the old challah and other rustic breads in the original oven every week.

26 September 2012

The Death of Henry Rothkopf

116 Suffolk Street on the Lower East Side still bear the big, bold name of it's former occupant: S. Rothkopf & Sons. Rothkopf was a maker of children's nightwear, as well as "trimming, buttons and veilings."

It's funny how these inadvertently preserved signs in the city often open the door on a forgotten tragedy or scandal. In 1895, Henry Rothkopf, the senior partner in the firm (and son of Simon Rothkopf, the founder), committed suicide. He did the dead in his office, at 9:30 a.m., by shooting himself in the head. He was 33.

On the day of his death, Henry's behavior was perfectly normal and business-like. He drew out some money from the cashier, went out for a bit, returned, signed some papers and handed them to the cashier. Then, he shot himself. Henry had no business troubles, but he was lame and in ill health, and officials thought this was what drove him to suicide. It was surmised that he purchased the pistol with the money he withdrew that very morning. The gun was new.

25 September 2012

Old, But Doesn't Look It

This garish storefront on Delancey Street dominated by the bright orange Benjamin Moore sign (thank you, Benjamin Moore, by the way, for slowly but surely uglifying every old hardware store in the city with your imposed signage) doesn't look like an old business. But sharp eyes will notice the small sign near the sidewalk that says this is the home of M. Schames & Son, a concern that's been in operation since 1927.

Those with a good memory of the Lower East Side will recall that Schames used to be located on lower Essex Street, where it had much more interesting signage (included an old Dutch Boy Paints sign). It relocated in 2010, having to move because the demolition of a neighboring building had destabilized its home. Bowery Boogie has some nice old photos of the place. The business has been family owned from the start.

24 September 2012

The Blowing Up of the Valley Candle Company

You think dining at Pok Pok is exciting? That's nothing. Once upon a time, they had some high times on Columbia Street, Brooklyn. Like exploding buildings—on purpose.

The folks at Freebird Books recently uncovered a long forgotten episode of wanton destruction in the history of Columbia Street. Once an industrial area, the road was home for many decades to the Valley Candle Manufacturing Company, which stood at 158 Columbia Street.

By the 1980s, many of the building on the west side of Columbia between Kane and DeGraw Street were abandoned, and much of the manufacturing had left the neighborhood. The Valley Candle building, standing between Irving and Sedgwick Streets (both now demapped) was one of the last still standing. The television show "Miami Vice" took advantage of the depressed situation to use Valley as the set for one of its episodes, blowing the joint to kingdom come. Above and below are screen captures of the scene, caught by Freebird.

21 September 2012

Who Shops at Park East Kosher

As a dedicated defender of unique New York, I am not one to knock indy NYC businesses. And certainly not one to knock old indy NYC businesses. And certainly, certainly not one to rap old, ethnic, indy NYC businesses.

But I have to say: Park East Kosher Butchers exasperates me.

The butcher and grocery was founded more than fifty years ago on Madison Avenue, and moved to Second Avenue near 85th Street a decade ago. It is one of the last surviving kosher butchers in Manhattan. It is family owned, and the connection between the staff and the customers is impressive. Regular clientele are called by their name as they totter it. (Many of the regulars are elderly.) "How are you, Mrs. C?" someone will call. "Same as usual, Mrs. K?"

Whoever Mrs. C and Mrs. K are, however, they must be rich. And not just because they live on the Upper East Side; lots of people of various incomes have hung on in this area by their fingernails for years. They're rich because they shop at Park East Kosher! In the annals of exorbitant pricing, I know of few stores that match Park East in gaul. A piece of kosher meat bought in this shop will run you anywhere from twenty-five to one hundred percent more than it will in any other kosher meat market in town. I know this because I regularly buy kosher meat and know how much it costs. Every time I walk into Park East, full of good will and willing to buy, I walk out empty-handed and angry. You can't look at the prices without feeling you're being gouged. A simple eight-pack of Empire kosher turkey hot dogs that costs $2.50 or so anywhere else in town will cost you $4 here.

So who puts up with such prices? Well, the wealthy. My most memorable experience with Park East involved a Brooklyn acquaintance. This person did not want for anything. They had a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights and a summer house on the Long Island Sound. Eating kosher in Brooklyn, they had any number of choices where to shop. Aside from Fairway and Trader Joe's, there are the countless kosher butchers in Borough Park and Williamsburg and Crown Heights. Yet this person drove specifically to Park East for their kosher meat needs. I guess if you can afford it...

20 September 2012

Checking In With The Rainbow Cafe

It's been a year since I'll looked in on the old Rainbow Cafe in Sunset Park, the beautiful old restaurant and catering hall that closed down in 2008 and was then sold two years later, and stripped of its iconic neon sign. (Paul Signs, which removed it, pledged last year to restore the sign, rather than junk it.) It remains boarded up, with no sign a new tenant on the horizon. However, the building has been obviously spruced up a bit. It's bright and spic and span. Brownstoner reported a year ago that the space would become a store, but they're certainly taking a long time about it.

19 September 2012

The Ghosts of Columbia Street: An Actual Picture of Irving Street!

I've written in the past about the Brooklyn waterfront ghost streets of Irving Street and Sedgwick Street. These were two two-block thoroughfares that rans from Columbia Street, between Kane and DeGraw, to the East River. They were lined with warehouses and businesses having to do with the shipping industry. Both streets hung around for more than a century or so before being eliminated in the 1990s when the land west of Columbia was denuded of buildings and paved over in service of the waterfront. For years, signs still hung on Columbia Street indicating the former locations of Irving and Sedgwick.

Until now, I never seen an actual photograph of either road. But the clutch of old photographs recently uncovered by Freebird Books includes a few shots of Irving (though none of Sedgwick). The photo above is taken from a lot on Columbia looking west down Irving. As you can see, the lane led right to the water. That thatch of green you see at the end of Irving is Governor's Island. The street is lined with old warehouses and industrial building, just as every map I've seen has always indicated it was.

Over their long existence, Irving and Sedgwick were places of action. The newspapers are full of old accounts of factory fires, fights, murders, the production of illegal booze, suicides and various other crimes that occurred on those gritty blocks.

The fellows in this picture look like tough customers. But they're actually hard at work converting that empty lot into a kind of recreation area for the surrounding Puerto Rican community.

17 September 2012

The Ghosts of Columbia Street: Parade Day

Not much information to go along with this lovely image of Columbia Street, between Kane and Degraw Streets, circa 1955. I'm guessing it's an Independence Day parade, judging by the many flags, the bright sun and the summer clothing. The barber shop in the background is 133 Columbia Street. The building doesn't exist anymore.

As with all the previous photos in this series, they belong to Freebird Books of Columbia Street.

The Alpine Cinema of Bay Ridge

The Alpine Cinema is a rather grand old relic on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. The tall building has been a movie house for a long time, nearly a century. Currently a multi-plex, it was a one-screen house once upon a time. Still, the exterior and lobby retain some of the old movie glamour of days gone by. Maybe that's because the house is owned by the same people who own the lovely Cinema Village in Greenwich Village.

The Alpine Theatre was originally a Loew’s theatre. It opened on June 6, 1921. It had a 2,200 seating capacity, though it had no balcony or gallery. At the time of its unveiling, Variety described the Alpine Theatre’s interior as "decorated in a tan and gold color scheme, the general atmosphere created being one of brightness. The side walls are paneled and painted in an imitation of tapestry. The floors are carpeted with red velvet. A good system of floor pitch gives a clear view of the screen from any part of the house."

It was converted into two screens in 1976, and then into seven screens in 1986. A nice survivor.

14 September 2012

Hungarian Meat Market Closes for Good

On June 17, 2011, the wonderful Hungarian Meat Market in Yorkville was ravaged by fire. The institution, which traces its history back to the 1950s, when the area was still a Hungarian stronghold and Second Avenue was called "Goulash Avenue," said at the time that the closure was temporary. "Due to an unfortunate fire accident, our store on 2nd Avenue is temporary closed!," read the store's website. "We are going to reopen after the remodeling of the store, probably around September."

A year after that scheduled September reopening, the market is still shuttered. The website says the reopening is "currently unforeseen." But it's not going rise from those ashes. The inside has been gutted, and a sign in the window says that space is for lease. The Hungarian Meat Market, home Tirol salami, Csabai smoked sausage, Szekely Goulash and authentic Hungarian paprika, is no more. It was the area's last Hungarian butcher. 

12 September 2012

A Good Sign: Mike's Donuts & Coffee

In Bay Ridge. Making homemade donuts on the premises since 1976. Still family owned.

10 September 2012

The Ghosts of Columbia Street: Rayco Machine Co.

Here, in the latest of the wonderful stash of old Columbia Street images recently claimed from obscurity by Freebird Books, is a shot of the Rayco Machine Company, a player in the area's now bygone industrial past. It stood at the northeast corner of Columbia and Baltic Street, and there's not a sign of the company or the building today. (All photos are the property of Freebird Books.)

But Rayco is not what's interesting about this photo. What is is the gigantic ad for the Guido Funeral Home of the side of the building. This business is still a going concern, and operates on the corner of Carroll and Union Streets inside the historic John Rankin mansion. There it is below (photo courtesy of Carroll Gardens Patch.) There's a long, long history to that building, which I really should tell one of these days.

Neon Dogs and Cats

Behold, what is surely the only neon sign in New York City that spells out "Dog & Cat"! This is the Bay Ridge Animal Hospital, on Fifth Avenue, which has been providing "Quality veterinary care since 1945."

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Lexington Candy Shop?"

If I lived in the neighborhood, I'd go to Lexington Candy Shop three times a weeks. As it is, I live about an hour's subway ride away. But still, I'm glad it's there, and that there is still a living yardstick in the city for how shakes, malteds, Cokes, lime rickeys and million other soda fountain staples are supposed to taste.

Here's my Eater "Who Goes There?" column:

07 September 2012

Krispy Pizza of Brooklyn

I've been to most of the iconic pizzerias in New York at least once. Krispy Pizza is one I've missed. When I told a friend I was headed down to Dyker Heights the other day, she recommended I visit the slice joint on 13th Avenue.

06 September 2012

The Mystery of Lascoff Drugs

Nobody in the neighborhood of Lascoff Drugs, which closed last July after 113 years in business on upper Lexington Avenue, knows what going to go into the grand, high-ceiling, corner space.

The building is currently boarded up and there is construction going on inside. The intricate, priceless arched windows were, I'm told, carefully removed and preserved. The angled metal hood that hung over the corner entrance has also been removed. And the wording on the vertical sign seems to have been scraped off.

The Ghosts of Columbia Street: Eddie's Bar

Here's the latest shot from a cache of old 1960s photos of the Columbia Street, Brooklyn, area recently uncovered by Freebird Books. (All photos seen are the property of Freebird.) This photo depicts the southeast corner of Columbia and Congress Streets, as seen from the north (above) and from the west (below).

We can conclude by this time that Columbia was once a street of many bars. Previous photos depicted Otto's Scandinavian Bar and La Gondola Bar. Here we see Eddie's Bar (right across the street from Van Vorhees playground) and another bar/restaurant, the White Horse Bar, just two door down. The building that held Eddie's has since been demolished; there's an empty lot there today.

05 September 2012

A Good Sign: Rick's Superette

Rick's Superette on glorious 15th Avenue in Dyker Heights has heros, catering, and no "E." A nice sign, too.

The Ghosts of Columbia Street: La Gondola Bar

As I mentioned in a past yesterday, I was recently contracted by the owner of Freebird Books, a fine indy used book store on Columbia Street. He recently lucked into a cache of old photos of the Columbia Street area, circa 1966, when the neighborhood still shows signed of its former life as a waterfront street, and a Scandinavian, Italian and Puerto Rican stronghold. 

I posted an old photo of Otto's Scandinavian Bar, at Columbia and Kane, yesterday. Here is a shot of La Gondola Bar, where sat directly opposite Otto's, to the north. Below is another view of the bar, and below that is a look at the building today, which most recently housed a sushi joint. (All of the photos are the property of Freebird.) It has been a bad-luck corner for the past few decades, with businesses coming and going quickly.  The building is remarkably the same, right down to the double entrance.

04 September 2012

I. Miller Shoe Store to Have Sunnier Future?

TGI Friday's has always had contempt for the glorious building it occupied in Times Square. The garish chain cared not a whit that it had inherited the landmarked facade of the old I. Miller shoe store, the "show folks shoe shop dedicated to beauty in footwear." It left its southern wall, festooned with statues of the great performing stars of the 1920s, filthy, exposed daily to the elements and never washed or restored it.

Now comes the news that clothing retailer Express will take over the building. Will the company restore the building and its statues? One can only hope. Read more about the building's history and see how it originally looked here.

The Ghosts of Columbia Street Past: Otto's

I was recently contracted by the owner of Freebird Books, a fine indy used book store on Columbia Street, near Kane. He told me he had recently given given a cache of old photos by a neighbor on nearby Tiffany Place who was moving out. The photos and negatives were of the Columbia Street area, and date from roughly the 1960s, when the neighborhood was on its way down but had not yet been utterly killed by the long 1970s Columbia Street sewer dig. Many of the buildings that are now vacant, or have been converted to apartments or torn down, can be seen with stores in their ground-floor spaces. Quite a number of bars and restaurants, too.

You can see all the photos that have been scanned so far at Freebird's Flickr page. (Both of these photos are the property of Freebird.) There will be more to come. Here's one of Otto's Scandinavian Bar, at the southeast corner of Columbia and Kane. I have posted a photo of Otto's before on Lost City, but this is a new view. Below is a view of the space today. The restaurant that opened in the space last year recently closed. 

Lascoff Drugs Closes After a 113 Years

I thought upper Lexington Avenue had a special force field surrounding it (i.e.—influential rich people) that allowed an inordinate number of old businesses to survive. But, alas, I was wrong. If the bluebloods couldn't save the iconic Upper East Side pharmacy Lascoff Drugs, what can they save?

Lascoff closed last July after 113 years in business. I don't know how I missed that. I guess lately I've unconsciously learned to avert my eyes when beautiful landmarks shutter. I just can't bear the pain. 

Lascoff, along with Bigelow and one or two others, was one of New York's great, classic pharmacies. It opened in 1899, when McKinley was President, and was the first licensed pharmacy in New York State, according to the New York Times. It was a store so majestic and solemn, you felt like you were entering a church when you went in. High ceilings, high shelving, a balcony, ancient Pharmacuetical relics, and silence. No music. You could find many old and classic brands there that you couldn't locate elsewhere. And the vertical sign on the corner building was one of the grandest in the city. 

The enterprise was founded by J. Leon Lascoff. He was born in Vilna, then in Russian Poland, and came to New York in 1892. His first drug store was at Lex and 83rd. He then moved across the street and then, in 1931, moved to 82nd and Lex—Lascoff's final location. He died in 1936. His son Frederick took over the business and ran it until his death in 1970. During Fred's time, the store had a reputation for odd cures. It sold leeches to boxers and catnip oil to lion hunters. He once sold a mixture of phenol, valerian, asafetida and iodoform to a colleague who had complained that his own pharmacy didn't smell enough like a drug store. 

After Frederick died, the business fell out of the family. It was purchased by Phil and Susan Ragusa. I assume they were still running it when it closed.