16 December 2013

Happy Holidays

Lost City will be taking a short respite in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I wish every reader, and every New Yorker, a joyous holiday season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

05 December 2013

Arby's, Come Get Your Sign

Years after its short life inside the landmarked Gage & Tollner building on Fulton Avenue in downtown Brooklyn ended, Arby's has yet to take down its signage. The vertical sign advertising the roast beef chain covers an original sign reading Gage & Tollner.

Meanwhile, the tacky junk jewelry shop that took over the space after Arby's exited continues to inhabit the address, covered nearly ever bit of its beautiful, 19th-century landmarked interior with hot pink displays of the most appalling array of tinsel-y rubbish imaginable. All in violation of an contempt of City landmarking laws.

Restaurateur Danny Meyer brought a Shake Shack to Fulton. Can't he take over this hallowed space and save it from further ignominy?

25 November 2013

A House in the Heights

Whenever I'm walking through Brooklyn Heights, there are certain buildings and dwelling of such reliable charm, beauty and interest that I invariably stop when I pass them and take a good long gander.

The simple white, two-and-a-half story number at the northeast corner of Hicks and Cranberry—No. 59 Hicks Street—is such a house. It's not the most impressive structure in the area. But in its modest, village-like qualities, it is somehow very Brooklyn Heights-ish. It looks like it should be in some small town in Massachusetts, not in the middle of a huge metropolis. It is also evidently a very old structure, even to the untrained eye.

For years, this was the home of the Heights Veterinary Hospital. And, as far as I can tell, that's what it was for a long time. Here's a photo of the same building from 1958, when it was already the a hospital for animals. Not only that, it was white, just as it is today. In fact, nothing about the facades seems to have altered in the last 50 years.

The address has a very distinguished history. It was built by a cooper named John Rogers in 1822. Rogers apparently fell on hard times, for in 1846 the household furniture was put up for auction. 

Its greatest fame came later, when it was the office of none other than John and Washington Roebling, the designers of the Brooklyn Bridge. A building can't get more Brooklyn than that without being the one-time home of Walt Whitman. 

The Roeblings were out by 1897, when the house was advertised as renting for $35 a month. In 1911, the trustees of Plymouth Church bought the property, with the intent of using it as an entrance to the nearby church. They purchased it from Rev. Dr. Frank Halliday, who was for many years the assistant to Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, when the latter was pastor at Plymouth.

At some point after that, a chain grocery store operated out of the space. In 1937, a poor, hungry man named Anthony Gimenez was arrested for stealing eight loaves of bread (value: 64 cents) from the store. It was next owned by Joe Kaplan, who repaired and altered Navy uniforms for seaman down at the Navy Yard.

It's life as a veterinary hospital began in 1957 when Dr. Bernard Wasserman bought and renovated the building. Dr. Richard Turoff worked with Dr. Wasserman for four-and-a-half years before buying the practice in 1985. (Dr. Wasserman, who continued to live above the clinic with his wife Bernice, died in November 2012. Dr. Turoff closed the hospital closed in 2012. Turoff, who was reported to be an old-fashioned type doc and didn't charge a lot, decided to retire last year. 

21 November 2013

Lost City: Indiana Edition: Rocco's Pizza

Finding good food in South Bend, Indiana, can be a challenge. There aren't many eateries that are thought of as local institutions. But one place that was recommended to me several times was Rocco's, a pizzeria on N. St. Louis Boulevard.

It was founded by Rocco Ameduri, his young wife Julia, and her parents Rose and Louis Simeri. All four were Italian-Americans from the region of Reggio Calabria, in the south of Italy. The younger couple settled in South Bend, where Rocco worked as a cook at Notre Dame, and Julia as a waitress. In 1951, they opened their own place, right next door to where the Simeris lived. The menu consisted of a collection of Simeri and Ameduri recipes.

The original pizzeria seated only 12. (You can see photos of the original buildings below.) Today, it's still fairly small, but the squat, sprawling building seats 150 people.

Rocco's daughter Linda eventually married Warren Verteramo, another Reggio Calabria native who worked in the kitchen in Rocco's from the age of 15. They took over the restaurant in 1991. They expanded the place in 1996 to its present dimensions. Rocco died in 2008. Linda and Warren's two sons also work at Rocco's now.

19 November 2013

Lost City: Virginia Edition: Horne's

Given the number of boarded-up and abandoned motels that line its edges, Highway 301, which runs through eastern Virginia and Maryland, must have had a livelier past. I imagine that, before the huge interstate 95 was built, it was the thoroughfare by which residents of Washington D.C. drove to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic shore.

Today it is a sad, small tract. One of the only survivors of those more touristy times stands in Port Royal, which is best known as the town were the Union caught up with John Wilkes Booth. Horne's is a combination restaurant, gas station and gift shop, and an absolute trip back in time to an era when a well-scooped ice-cream cone and a junky little souvenir keychain were enough to etch a permanent holiday memory into a kid's brain.

14 November 2013

Goodbye, Happy End Diner

Glad I found time to visit the very homey Happy End Diner in Greenpoint in 2012, and took in its wonderful semi-circular counter and stools, and menu of tripe soup, borscht, pierogis, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, blintzes, pig's knuckles and Hungarian potato pancake (stuffed with beef goulash). Because its gone now.

Eater reports that it reopens at the Brew Inn, a fancy beer bar, tonight. Silver Lining: it's still in the family. Martin Cyran, son of the founders of the Happy End, is the owner of the Brew Inn.

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: Willie Mae's Scotch House

New Orleans is a town rich with historical food destinations, many of which served up food to match their fame. A great many lie within the French Quarter, and are well-patronized. An equal number, however, are beyond the Quarter's touristy borders. A more adventuresome spirit is required to reach them—the kind that doesn't mind a long streetcar ride or trip to a sketchy neighborhood. (Or one can just take a cab, I suppose. How prosaic.)

Willie Mae's Scotch House is one such place. Hardly unknown, it's been renowned for its fried chicken for years. Founded in the 1950s, it sits on a corner of Saint Ann Street in the Seventh Ward. At one point, the building housed not only the restaurant, but a beauty salon and a barber shop. The Willie Mae of the name is Willie Mae Seaton, who was the chef for many years, well into her 80s. Her granddaughter, Kerry Seaton, now runs the kitchen.

13 November 2013

More Tin Pan Alley Woes

When will it no longer be necessary to write posts about how Tin Pan Alley is endangered, I wonder?

I first wrote about the uncertain future of the stretch of old buildings on W. 28th Street—the historical home of the American Songbook—in 2008, when it looked like the former homes of myriad music publishing houses would be levels in favor of apartment towers. The media coverage that ensued and the economic crash of late 2008 helped save the buildings then. But the (still!) un-landmarked structures they're never been quite out of danger. Every year, it seems, a new threat arises. 

In April, I reported that the strip of low-slung edifices—47 through 55 W. 28th Street—were again on the block. Read the Massey Knakal notice: "This Chelsea/Madison Square Park nighborhood has experienced a unique renaissance of hotel conversions, recent residential developments, office building restorations, trendy eatery's [sic] and excellent shopping. All retail units could be delivered vacant."

A reader now informs me that 45-53 W. 28th Street have been sold as a parcel, apparently to Yair Levy, developer of less than sterling character. This is arguably the worst possible news. You can read about the travails of Mr. Levy here. Though Levy is no longer allowed to sell real estate in NYC, he apparently is still permitted to buy real estate. (If you can figure out the logic of that one, please contact me.) It's doubtful Levy cares about the street's former life as the musical soul of America. 

According to this reader, Levy has already approached one of the tenants offering to help them find a nice apartment in an elevator building and has told others he wants to build condos. It seems the as-of-right FAR for the buildings reaches up 10 stories.
This was never a matter that our departing Mayor cared about. (The preservation of any building was a non-issue for him.) Maybe incoming Mayor de Blasio will show more concern about our City's cultural heritage. 

12 November 2013

Lost City: Indiana Edition: A Good Sign: The Linebacker Inn

The Linebacker Inn, a South Bend bar within throwing distance of the Notre Dame football stadium, wins "A Good Sign" kudos three times over, for the above beauty...

...and this more humble, Coca-Cola-sponsored relic on the side...

08 November 2013

A Bit of Old St. Mark's

As undulating glass and metal towers rise on both sides of the western entrance of St. Mark's Place in the East Village, the four-story brick building at 23 Third Avenue looks more and more like a forlorn totem of the street's past. It is currently occupied by the eatery Archie & Sons (which has applied a very 19th-century-looking painted sign to the western wall) and King's Magazine, a shabby all-night newsstand that has been there for as long as I can remember.

Before Archie & Sons arrived, it was briefly St. Mark's Pizza, and prior to that Tahini (which also went in for painted wall ads). For some years before that, this was the home of a nice, cheap falafel joint called Chickpea.

The structure was likely built sometime in the 1850s. From 1852 to 1960—108 years!—is was owned by a single family, until a descendent of that clan, Marie O. Gregory, sold it to Sam Gabay and Louis Ameri. Gabay was a Turkish immigrant who came to America as a boy in 1905. He later entered the garment business. He opened his first store at 1 St. Mark's Place (the same building as 23 Third Avenue). So, essentially, Gregory sold the building to her tenant. Later, Sam moved his business to 225 First Avenue, where it still is. Today, its run by Sam's grandchildren.

07 November 2013

The Marquet Building

Across from Cinema Village on E. 12th Street—a very nice block on the Middle Village—are a trio of old brick buildings. The one in the middle, 15 E. 12th Street, is particularly handsome, having retained its original lintels and cornice. Particularly earning my notice was a carving in the middle of the cornice indicating the building had been erected in 1873. Pretty old, even by Village standards. It has been home to the Marquet pastry shop since 1993.

The large central window on the second floor would indicate that this was a commercial building of some sort, and that there was a business on the second floor. I've seen other similar display windows on old building in other parts of the city. The date in the cornice would also point to an early mercantile life for this building; private residences rarely proclaimed their erection date on the facade.

I cannot find any evidence as to who built the thing or first occupied it. But old Certificates of Occupancy from 1933 show a store in the ground floor space, but apartments on the floors above. In 1955, there was a luncheonette here. In the 1970s, the ground floor was used for storage. In the 1980s, there was a custom print shop here. And then, of course, Marquet.

06 November 2013

The Pumpkins Go Up (One Last Time) in Cobble Hill

The Great Annual Pumpkin Impaling went on as scheduled at the Cobble Hill corner of Kane and Strong Place, with dozens of tiny Jack-'O-Lanterns finding their private cast-iron spike in the afternoon hours of Oct. 31, just prior to trick or treating hours.

As reported earlier, this will be the last year the impressive gourd display will occur. I spoke to Jane Greengold and her husband, the people who live in the corner brick building, about their decision to end the local tradition. It turns out they are not moving away. When asked why they chose to stop mounting the smiling squashes, they said, "It's complicated." Mysterious.

Talking to the couple, I also learned a few tricks of the trade. In order to light up the many small pumpkins, they drill holes in the back of the vegetables and then thread miniature Christmas lights into the holes.

Anyway, I took the Greengolds up on their invitation to contribute a Jack-'O-Lantern this year. That rather large one above is my contribution. A great many locals took part and, as you can see from these pictures, they got rather creative in their carving. I will be sorry not to see these double rows of autumnal cheer next Halloween.

05 November 2013

East Side French Mainstay Les Sans Culottes Closes

Les Sans Culottes East, the uncelebrated but steadfast old-school French restaurant on Second Avenue near 57th Street—and an early subject of my column "Who Goes There?"—has closed after 37 years. When exactly it shuttered, I do not know, but it appears to have been sometime in May. But the interior is gutted and the phone has been disconnected. A sign in the window—captured in an Instagram photo—says the owners lost their lease.

The joint opened in 1976. It was owned by the same family throughout its run, with various members of the clan to be seen around the place, performing the duties of host, waiter, cook, etc. Prices were always low, for French food. And the restaurant had an interesting calling card. Once you sat down, an enormous basket of fruit and vegetables and a wire stand garlanded with sausage arrived at your table. You picked off what you liked and ate. It was on the house.

Here's what I wrote about the place back in 2008:

Lost City Asks, "Who Goes to El Sombrero (The Hat)?"

Who goes to The Hat? Well, I do, that's who. Or, I did. Often. I lived on Eldridge Street from 1988 to 1994, when the area was still pretty scruffy. I soon learned of The Hat and it's cheap, hot, nourishing food and inexpensive Mexican beers. Mexican cuisine wasn't as common back then as it is now, and The Hat's kitchen work passed muster. At least with a not-especially-savvy twentysomething, anyway.

Over the years I've seen all of the things I associate with Ludlow Street back then disappear: Todo Con Nada, The Pink Pony, Max Fish, Ludlow Street Cafe. The Hat will be the last man to fall. (Aside from Katz's, of course, which I place in a separate, 19th-century category.)

Here's my Who Goes There? column:
Who Goes There? El Sombrero Restaurant (The Hat)
El Sombrero Restaurant—known to one and all simply as "The Hat"—is the last bit of the old Lower East Side to grace the northernmost block of Ludlow Street. Not the old, OLD Lower East Side; that neighborhood is still represented by Katz's Delicatessen, which still anchors the street after 125 years. I mean the old Lower East Side, the gritty, pre-gentrification neighborhood, when the streets at night were still forbidding and empty.
At the time it opened, in 1983, The Hat was a necessary outpost of cheap, decent food, a place where both locals and the various young people who had moved to the Lower East Side for the cheap rents (can you imagine such a time?) could fill up for very little money. Because of that, and its highly visible location and late hours, it became an instant hit among downtown denizens. Today, it looks quite quite of place, surrounded as it is with trendy bars and restaurants that outclass it in both food and price. You can see the swanky Stanton Social down the street through The Hat's long double wall of windows. So, it wasn't much of a shock, then, when it was announced that the place would close. (A waitress told me it might hang on until January.) I'm surprised it actually lasted this long in the current economic environment.
I used to go to The Hat quite a bit, but roughly 15 years had passed since my last visit. I was a bit stunned to see that almost nothing had changed about the joint. The dining room was still a collection of utilitarian tables, some designed for large parties, many covered in plastic. A few sombreros and bad painting adorned the walls. The not-terribly-potent frozen margaritas were still flowing. The menu of Mexican-American standards was the same, and I'll be damned, but I think the prices were, too. (Taco and enchilada and beans and salad: $9.) The food, I have to say, was not as good as I remember it. I never thought it was fantastic Mexican cuisine, but I did find it satisfying in a humble sort of way. Maybe the quality's gone down over the years. Or maybe I was just hungrier back then.
Also the same, roughly, is the crowd. The Hat still attracts young people, as it did in the '80s and early '90s. Back then the neighborhood was brimming with scruffy, upstart theater companies like Nada and The Piano Store, and indie boutiques, and the talk at the tables was often about creative matters. That's no longer the case. It's just plain, vacuous, table talk now. On the television was the World Series. But, when the customers weren't watching, the staff would change the channel to a Dominican baseball game.
Sibling owners Josephina Diaz and Palmerio Fabian's decision to close their restaurant down is their own. Apparently, they've had enough. (They bought the business in 1990 from their uncle, Jose Suriel, who founded it.) El Sombrero will be replaced by a branch of the Artichoke Pizza chain, which softens the blow a bit. At least it's a local chain. The Hat may not have been a great restaurant—apart from its excellent name—but for a long time it was a necessary one. It was a place where a poor twentysomething with $40 in his pocket could eat and drink like a king on a Friday night, and, for one hour, not think too badly of the way New York was treating him.
—Brooks of Sheffield

04 November 2013

A Good Sign: Cinema Village

Cinema Village, on E. 12th Street in the Village, is one of the last great, small, movie theatres left in the city. It typically shows foreign and indy films, and retains a distinctly movies-as-art-conscious aesthetic. The movie house was built in 1963. I don't know how it's hung on all these years. It's wonderful neon sign—currently only half lit up—dates from its founding. I find the aquamarine hue very soothing.

01 November 2013

The Dublin House

The Upper West Side doesn't have much grit these days. But there are still a few lovably dingy corners. Stubbornly continuing to throw some dirt on the shiny shoes of Manhattan's most sanitized neighborhood is The Dublin House.

30 October 2013

Faded Times Square Ad Endangered Now That Astor's Porn Palace Gone for Good

Walking up Eighth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen the other night I noticed that the building I once referred to as William Waldorf Astor's Porn Palace was gone.

This was the building on the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 46th Street. One of the oldest structures left in the now-almost-completely-gentrified neighborhood, it had been girdled with a sidewalk shed for years, its windows all punched out and half-covered with plywood. For a time, I wondered if it would ever been taken down. Of course, it finally was.

The people who took it down probably only saw an eyesore. I doubt they had an inkling as to its history as a possession of the Astor family. From 1853 to 1921, the Astors owned this corner, as well as a number of properties on W. 46th. (The Astors once owned the building that now houses Barbetta.) They divested themselves of the area when it got a little too raffish for their tastes.

Cobble Hill Pumpkin Tradition to End

Over the last decade, many residents of Cobble Hill and the surrounding area have come to look forward to passing the corner of Kane Street and Strong Place on Halloween. On that date, the residents of the old brick building on that plot decorate the prongs their long, two-sided, cast-iron fence with dozens of small, carved Jack-O'-Lanterns. It's quite a sight, those long rows of pumpkins. 

This year, however, is apparently the last that we'll be able to gaze upon that cheerful, macabre scene. A sign posted on the fence reads "Final Year in this location!" I guess the owners are on the move. The bright side to this is that this year we can all join in in the fun. The sign instructs that if you bring a pumpkin of the right size (4 1/2" to 5" wide, and taller than it is round), pre-carved to the correct specifications (leave the top on, remove the innards through the face, cut a 3/4 " hole in the bottom for the spike), they will impale your creation and have it join the display. I plan to participate. 

As in past years, the pumpkins will remain for weeks until they rot and fall away.

23 October 2013

Lost City: Washington D.C. Edition: The Italian Store

I have relatives in various areas of the country. I enjoy visiting them, but, food-wise, often find the occasions discouraging. For many of my relations live in various suburbs. These days, "suburb" might as well be a synonym for "food desert." Eating options include the usual chains. As for at-home dining, let's just say a large portion of our country's population relies of frozen and processed food for their daily sustenance.

Being from New York, I am, of course, spoiled where comestibles are concerned. So spoiled that I've developed a glass stomach. Truly, eating at fast food joints or chowing down on the salty caloric entrees at Chili's or Applebee's can make me physically ill. I simply can't eat that stuff anymore.

Recently, I paid a call on a cousin in Arlington, VA. I didn't have any great hopes where meals were concerned. But then The Italian Store was casually pointed out to me as a place worth checking out.

18 October 2013

That Old Bar in Greenpoint

At 623 Manhattan Avenue, corner of Nassau, in Greenpoint, there's a bar called Irene's Place. Though you won't see that name anywhere on the outside. The owner is one Irene Kabala. There are signs that say Idle Hour Tavern on the inside. And that does seem to be the joint's real (or original) name, at least as far as The New York Times and the local Community Board are concerned. It's frequented by the area's Polish population, and Polish beer is served. (There's a neon Zyweic sign in the window.) There's also Polish music on the juke box. But, usually, it's extremely quite inside. And it's always dark.

While the bar has always intrigued me, the building it's in has intrigued me more. A three-story brick number, it looks terribly, terribly old. The cornices, the lintels, the vents, the wooden door on the side, the flagpole perched on the corner, every detail looks original. Only the faux-stone facade on the ground floors seems modern, and even that was probably put in in the '60s.

17 October 2013

A Very New York-y Street

A few hundred feet along the southeastern corner of 39th Street and Eighth Avenue may be among the most New York-y stretches of sidewalk left in Manhattan. I'm talking old New York, of course, the one filled with scrappy, independent, local businesses, the one free of chains, the one populated with working folk who provided humble but necessary services, the one with a little grit in the seams.

The street features a barber shop, a shoe repair shop and a liquor store, all of considerable age. (Try to ignore the fried chicken joint.) I've written about the liquor store—officially, Cambridge Wine & Liquors—before. It's one of the oldest spirit sellers in the city. Not only does it date from the fall of Prohibition, but the space was occupied by a liquor store before Prohibition as well. The beautiful neon sign dates from the '40s at least.

16 October 2013

New Italian Restaurant Takes Old Italian Grocery's Place

Tavola, an Italian restaurant, has taken up residence in the Ninth Avenue midtown address occupied for 121 by Manganaro's Grosseria Italiana, which closed in 2012. (I wouldn't be surprised if Tavola is only the second commercial tenant the building has seen.) It opened in late September 2012. (I'm reporting on it now, because it's the first I've seen it since it opened. Better late than never.)

It's heartbreaking to see the space taken up by a new business, but it could be worse. The owners of Tavola seem respectful of their predecessors. The facade is unchanged, the tin ceiling remains, as do the wooden shelves that once held groceries, and they've made good use of the vertical neon sign. Also, the old blue-and-white metal sign that once hung outside now adorns one of the inside walls. Minus the "Manganaro" part, that is. I guess the family must have taken that part with them.

The owner bought the building, so there's a chance Tavola will stick around for a while.

15 October 2013

Le Figaro Cafe Replacement Replaced

Back in 2008, we all had to watch and grit our teeth as Le Figaro Cafe, one of the last survivors of the days when Macdougal and Bleecker was the center of creative and bohemian life in New York, went under and was replaced—in exquisitely apt New-New York form—with an outpost of the Qdoba fast food chain.

Well, that lasted all of four years. Qdoba has called it Qdits. A fine illustration of how worthless and evanescent the things we're replacing our landmarks with are.

12 October 2013

Cellar of 18th-Century Bull's Head Tavern Uncovered on Bowery

New York historian and author David Freeland emailed over the weekend with some exciting and alarming news regarding an ongoing demolition going on at 50 Bowery, south of Canal Street. This address was the site for many years of the Atlantic Garden, a popular and long-lasting German beer garden that opened in 1858 and was the site of many seminal musical and vaudeville moments. ("A Bicycle Built for Two," for example, was first sung there).

But the site holds an even older historical significance. The original building that held the Atlantic Garden was believed to have been a renovation of the 18th-century Bull's Head Tavern. This famous bar was built around 1750 and sat at the northern edge of New York City as it then existed. Anyone traveling in or out of the city by land passed it. During the revolution it was occupied by soldiers, including General Washington. The saloon was for a long while owned by butcher Henry Astor, of the Astor family, until it finally closed sometime in the 1820s, driven out by societal forces that object to the farmers who would herd their numerous cattle in pens surrounding the tavern. In 1858 Kramer took possession of the Bull's Head building and opened the Atlantic Garden in it. He expanded that building in the 1860's and added the big steel frame beer hall in back of that building. The steel frame, I am told, is there now.

Lost City: Milwaukee Edition: The Signs of Downer Avenue

Downer Avenue, a bit to the north of downtown Milwaukee, goes on for some length, but only about two blocks of it are devoted to commerce. But what a two blocks they are.

Despite the presence of a Starbuck's, much of the street is dedicated to businesses that have been there a good spell. And old businesses means old signs. Above is the marquee to the Downer Theatre, which has been in business for a century and is the oldest operating movie theatre in Milwaukee. It's the anchor of the area.

04 October 2013

The Story of Brew's, a Forgotten Murray Hill Watering Hole

A responder to my recent postings about the salvaging of the old bar from Harvey's Chelsea House asked me why Lost City have never posted anything about Brew's. To which my eloquent response was "Huh?" Never heard of the place. And so I endeavored to find something out.

Brew's was a pub that stood at 156 E. 34th Street, near Lexington, in Manhattan. It opened in 1937, and lasted until I'm not sure when. At least until the turn of the millennium. Anyway, it's gone now. 

The oddest thing about the place—at least to me—is it's name. It has nothing to do with beer. Improbably, Brew was actually the surname of the family that ran the joint. 

I found few accounts of the place, and no photos. The New York Times, in 1980, described it this way: "Brew's is a typical neighborhood pub with some differences, starting with the raffish bar decor, such as a yellow-light horseshoe over the cash register. Rear tables have checkered cloths and Tiffany-type lights, as does the large, step-down dining section. Brew's looks inviting, the bar ambience is hale and hearty, and the music on Thursday to Saturday is pure, pleasurable warmth, honky-tonk style."

Sounds delightful. By 1998, the Paper of Record's opinion hadn't changed much (and neither, it seems, had Brew's). It wrote: "Brew's is a dim, old-fashioned, classic American pub, with Tiffany lamps, bare wood floor and red-and-white checked tablecloths. At Brew's, people still drink beer at lunch. Nobody seems to be in a rush. The hamburger is worth taking the time to enjoy. It is big, and the meat is loosely knit, charred black on the outside and juicy within, and served on a seeded roll that stands up to the juicy meat. This is the kind of burger you want to keep eating. Fresh-cut french fries are crisp and delicious."

An invaluable book I have, called "The New York Book of Bars, Pubs & Taverns"—published in 1975, and filled with descriptions of watering holes that no longer exist—tells us more. It says Brew's used to be located between Park and Madison Avenues and was "an old Irish shot 'n' beer shack." The Brew family didn't assume ownership until the 1940s. By the 1970s, the bar has a "cosmopolitan air," and was frequented by Wall Streeters and advertising and fashion executives. (Sounds a bit like P.J. Clarke's today.) The account, too, mentioned the nightly music offerings with approval. However, the books says the acts leaned toward Dixieland Jazz, not honky-tonk.

Sadly, the book does not include a picture. Anyone out there have a photo of Brew's?

03 October 2013

Lost City: Wisconsin Edition: Oaks Chocolates

The Fox River Valley in Wisconsin, snaking along the southeastern edge of the state, from Milwaukee to Green Bay, is home to an amazing number of long-standing, family-owned candy shops. Every city surrounding Lake Winnebago seems to have at least one local treasure. Green Bay has Kaaps's; DePere has Seroogy's; Manitowac has Beerntsen's; Appleton has Wilmar's. Oshkosh is particularly rich in this respect: it has both Hughes Home Maid [sic] Chocolate Shop and Oaks Chocolates.

02 October 2013

Harvey's Chelsea House Bar Reborn: A Closer Look

Last week I reported the astounding news that the 1880s-era bar that had once lived inside the old Harvey's Chelsea House, in Chelsea, has somehow survived the destruction of that building in 2006 and now sat inside The Bar Room, a new bar and restaurant on E. 60th off Lexington.

I, of course, had to lay my eyes on this wonder myself, and wasted no time getting there, visiting over the past weekend. The bar is indeed there. My eyes recognized it, and the bartender confirmed the testimony of my senses.

01 October 2013

A New Look for Defonte's

The owners of Defonte's, the oldest ongoing business in Red Hook and arguably the finest sandwich shop in New York, have slapped a new coat of paint on the old building at the forlorn corner of Columbia and Luquer Streets. (I always want to call Defonte's non-neighborhood Five Points because of the odd confluence of five streets that lead to the store.) The address has gone from the odd pale green is boasted for many years (and which always reminded me of the interior of a public bathroom)—see below—to a bold dark green, with bright red for the blocked-out windows, and white for the lintels.

I guess it's an improvement. Anyway, it's going to look fantastic at Christmastime.

30 September 2013

Old Cafe Sign Uncovered on Upper West Side

They are doing some construction on the building at 54 W. 74th Street, near the corner of Columbus, and an old neon sign reading "Cafe"—likely part of a sign that once said "Cafeteria"—was uncovered. An observant reader noticed and sent me the above photo.

A Pioneer market is still in place there—you can see the old "P" logo. The reader says it's been there since 1959. Apparently, it's a bit of a local institution. The construction work is being carried out by the landlord.

I could find out nothing about the name or nature of the cafeteria that once sat here. But the building itself has a lot of history. 54 W. 74th is part of a row of neo-Georgian buildings at 18-52 West 74th built in 1904. They were among the last private houses built on the West Side, and—according to The New York Times—the final development project of the Clark family, who built the Dakota.

(Photo credit: Geoff)

A Good Sign: Mayday Hardware

It's a riot of wonderful signage over at Mayday Hardware in Prospect Heights. Vertical signs, horizontal signs, hanging signs. It could have been designed by Alexander Calder.

Mayday (great name) has been around since 1964. It's owned by Jerry Walsh, who started working there in 1966. Accounts of this place on the web are bonkers. Some love Jerry, and some say the service is incredibly rude, and the prices jacked up. ("Jerry is the best!" "I'll never go there again!") The  responses are so varied, it's like the store is bi-polar. Jerry apparently smokes cigars in the store, which irks some.

28 September 2013

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Neary's?"

Part of what makes my "Who Goes There?" columns for Eater so much continuing fun is the solid knowledge that, no matter how long I do it, I will still come across a New York classic or oddity every now and then that I have never visited before and sometimes had never known of before. A regular reader suggested I go to Neary's on E. 57th Street a few months ago. I had never heard the name, but made a note of it. Everything I read about the place mentioned the host, Jimmy Neary, as being the jewel of the enterprise.

I finally ate there last week, and weren't all those accounts right. Jimmy's a gem. And the place is cozy, in a rich, Upper East Side kind of way and the food decent. I am intrigued by the fact that Neary's is open until 4 a.m.—a rarity in that neighborhood. I plan one day to see what the joint is like in the wee hours.

Here's my column:

26 September 2013

Harvey's Chelsea House Bar Survives

Last December, I posted a long remembrance of a little-remembered old Chelsea bar and restaurant called Harvey's Chelsea House. It was one of those old, dark-wood, manly places from another era. It stood at 108 W. 18th Street and had a huge, vertical, three-story sign that said "Harvey's." Inside, there was a long bar, high ceilings, tile floors, beveled glass and a dining room in the back. I didn't know it at the time, but the joint had opened in 1889 (under some name or other) as one of the original Annhauser-Busch bars, and that bar was made of red, burled, Honduras mahogany. A man named Dick Harvey took it over in 1977, hence the name. 

After Harvey gave it up, the place remained closed for a while, then was reopened as Tonic by one Steve Tzolis, the principal owner of Il Cantinori, Periyali and Aureole, all restaurants in Manhattan. Tonic didn't work out, and the building was torn down in 2006. In my post, I wondered, "What became of the beautiful bar, the mahogany, the cast iron, the glass, the brass?"

Now I know. A sharp-eyed reader alerted me to the opening of a new place on 60th and Lex called, simply, The Bar Room. It is run by that same Steve Tzolis. And guess where Steve got the bar for his new place? That's right. It's the 124-year-old bar from Harvey's! According to Zagat, "A black and white checkerboard floor mirroring the original at Harvey’s."

Above is an old postcard of the bar at Harvey's. Below is a picture of the bar at The Bar Room. Looks like the same item to me. I will be visiting personally soon to find out in person. 

In the meantime, please enjoy this memory from a former waiter at Harvey's.

24 September 2013

Neon Miracle: Long Island Restaurant Sign Is Lit

I was passing by the old, long-dormant Long Island Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue last night and was stunned to see something that Brooklynites hasn't laid eyes on in many years: the classic old neon sign ablaze!

The new leasers of the space, who intend to open a bar and restaurant, recently sent the sign to Let There Be Neon to be restored. It was reinstalled a couple weeks ago. This is the first I've seen it lit. (There was someone busy inside working at the time, and the historic interior was looking in good shape.) The color scheme surprised me, with Long Island in green, and the rest a mix of red and pink. But it certainly adds a bit of dash to the far end of Atlantic.

20 September 2013

The Medical Examiner's House

Clinton Hill, having once been a prime residential neighborhood for the well-to-do, is chock-a-block with interesting structures in a wide variety of grand architectural styles. Almost every address merits one's attention and examination. But on a recent trek through the neighborhood, this little three-story affair at 417 Washington Avenue caught my eye. It was noticeably smaller than its brethren, but its builder seems to have aimed for grandiosity as best as he could, tacking on a Mansard roof and handsome circular portico.

Given its design and its being made of wood, I guessed it was an old building. Real estate listing indicated it was built in 1901. The size made me wonder if it was once a servents' quarters. But that apparently wasn't the case. Until 1938, it was owned by a family named Cruikshank. In that year, they sold it to Dr. Raymond B. Miles, who used the house as his residence.

Miles was an Assistant Medical Examiner, and well-known in the city. When his name appeared in the papers, which was frequently, it was usually in connection to the death of a famous person, often a suicide. A number of these were former Wall Street brokers who had lost everything in the crash. Back then, it seemed, quite a few men jumped from the windows of the Yale Club on Vanderbilt Avenue, including a scion of the Gimbel's department store clan, and a former star quarterback for Yale.

18 September 2013

Manganaro Name to Leave Ninth Avenue Altogether

They fought over their right to exist and to the name Manganaro for decades. And now, as some sort of seeming poetic justice, both businesses that have long borne that name will vanish forever from Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen.

Manganaro's Grosseria Italiana, the ancient and argumentative sandwich shop and grocery, closed last year after 121 years. Now, Manganaro's Hero-Boy, it's longtime rival, owned by another faction of the fractious, litigious family, is leaving the street. It's being forced out by its landlord. According to Eater, the building and the space next door were sold to a developer for $15.75 million, and the new owner wants the shop to vamoose. The sale was brokered by the vulture-like Massey Knakal, which is usually on the scene when old businesses and old buildings die in New York. (I personally was shocked to learn that Hero-Boy didn't own the building.)

Hero-Boy was founded in 1956. I used to eat at Hero-Boy often when I worked in Times Square in the 1990s. I'd trudge the extra blocks to dine on cheap and delicious sandwiches in what was then a very homey, down-to-earth setting. It was still kind of a locals' secret back then. Many neighborhood workers has their lunches there, and much Italian was spoken. The place has since slicked things up and the place lost a lot of character.

I used to love walking down this stretch of Ninth Avenue. It was so gritty, so real, so evocative of an older New York. A lot of what I liked is now gone.

17 September 2013

The Last Vestige of the Nefarious Sire Brothers

There's a collection of three slim, handsome buildings on W. 58th Street between Seventh and Broadway that look about a century old. Two are easy to identify. 215 W. 58th is a firehouse, built in 1906. 213 W. 58th, the AIA guide tells me, was the Helen Miller Gould Stables, built in 1903. The origins of 211 W. 58th, however, weren't as easy to discover. 

It was the carved word near the cornice that got my attention: SIRE. What did it mean? The structure is older than its fellows. According to the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, it was built in 1885 in the Victorian Gothic style. 

Turns out Sire is a name. And quite a name it was once upon a time. A name everyone knew and a name that commanded attention. And a name that many people probably cursed. The Sire family, which hailed from Germany, was a real estate clan founded by Benjamin Sire. Ben have five sons: Albert, Henry, Meyer, Leander and Maurice and they all went into the business in one way or another. 

Lost City: Milwaukee Edition: A Good Sign: Kneisler's White House

Kneisler's is an bar, founded in 1891, that dominates an intersection in the Bayview neighborhood of south Milwaukee—just as it must have done a century ago when it served the surrounding community as a bar, restaurant, gathering place, political center and all-around town hall. The ornate, decorative back bar is still in place, as are the old ice boxes. If you're a regular here, you can get your own Kneisler's glass mug. They'll keep it for you and pull it down whenever you stop in for a brew. Apparently, the place is haunted by a little girl who died young back in 1906 or so. You can see a picture of her in one of the old photos that line that bar. I spoke to a bartender who said she had heard the girl running around the place. She was serious and did not seem crazy.

15 September 2013

A Reminder of Something Not Worth Remembering

There aren't many New Yorkers who harbor warm memories of The Coliseum, the ugly, hulking convention center that Robert Moses built in 1956 on Columbus Circle as a monument to himself. Nobody shed a tear when it was torn down in 2000. The Time Warner Center may not be an enormous improvement, charm-wise, but at least it's got some good restaurants in it, and affords inhabitants a thrilling view of the Circle and Central Park.

One person remembers The Coliseum daily, however. The owner of the Coliseum Bar & Restaurant, which sits on E. 58th Street, directly opposite when its namesake used to sit. It has operated under that name since 1978, when The Coliseum must have seemed as permanent a part of Manhattan as the Empire State. It's part of a group of pubs, all owned by the same people; they include The Molly Wee Pub, The Emerald and O'Reilly's and four others. These are all in midtown and—aside from the Molly Wee, fairly free of character. But if all you want is a pint, and the game, they'll do.

The Coliseum Bar space has been a bar since 1949, when it was a hangout for The Westies gang.

11 September 2013

Lost City: Wisconsin Edition: Jumes Restaurant Is Dead

Back in 2008, I posted a short item about Jumes, a wonderful old corner diner in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I swung by the place earlier this summer to sadly find it out of business.

As I wrote back then, it once called itself the oldest continually operating restaurant in the city, having begun life in 1929. Jumes actually opened its doors on Oct. 1—just daysbefore Wall Street took a dive. George and Ted Jumes were Greeks; George came over to America when he was merely 14. Their first Sheboygan restaurant was called the Coney Island Restaurant, for some reason. It was renamed Jumes when it moved in 1951 to its present—and now final—location. A fire gutted the place in 1990, but it soldiered on.

10 September 2013

The Smallest Pizzeria in New York

I first encountered Luigi's Pizzeria, on DeKalb Avenue, in the early '90s. I woman I was dating was attending Pratt Institute, and we would pass by the hole in the wall often, and sometimes stop for a slice. I was stunned then—as I still am today—by the size of the joint. It is a shoebox. Maybe 10 feet wide, with low ceilings, there is room inside for a couple pizza ovens, a small counter, a fridge for drinks and a few people. It used to seem even more cramped back there because a big sign saying "Liugi's" hung over the entrance, dwarfing the place even further. Today the sign is gone, giving the pizzeria a slightly more airy look.

Liugi's was founded in 1983 by three immigrants from Sicily: Rosario Longo, and the brothers Angelo and Luigi Viaggio. They went to school together at P.S. 86 and became friends. The brothers started a pizzeria in Greenpoint in the late '70s, and Longo soon started to work for them. (On a sad note, Liugi passed away in January 2012. )

Liugi's has a captive audience in the hundreds of students that go to Pratt. College students eat pizza the way cops eat donuts. They can't help themselves. And there's not another pizzeria for blocks. So Liugi's pies don't have to be good. But the pies actually are quite good. Every slice I've had there has been hot, gooey, tangy and flavorful. Not too doughy, either. A nice think crust. It's an well-above-average NewYork slice. They also don't gouge. The price of a slice there is about the same as one anywhere in town.