17 December 2006

A New Traditional Place

Carroll Gardens, the old Italian nabe south of Cobble Hill, has steadily been losing it character since real estate trolls discovered it and began marketing it to yuppies who couldn't afford Manhattan. But a new pizza place on Henry Street is an encouraging sign that the old ways can continue a bit longer.

Called Lucali's, its located in a space that used to belong to Louie's Candy Shop, an always deserted soda fountain, which had a beautiful old style lunchion counter and actually served authentic egg creams. (The owners never expected customers and always seemed affronted when I entered and ordered something.) It opened a couple months ago. At first glance, it looks like a trendy, old world pizzeria manque. It had rustic, plain wooden tables and chairs, a restored tin ceiling, preserved signs from the old soda fountain on the walls and no sign indicating what it was, save a little piece of paper taped to the window.

It turns out, however, that the owner and chef, Mark Iocono, is a local guy who lives nearby, and who has borrowed a little from a number of neighborhood institutions. He's taken guidance from the owners of Leonardo's, the Court Street brick-oven pizza place that closed a couple years back, and has been supplanted by a vile Dunkin' Donuts. (The espresso machine even comes from Leonardo's!) The sausage he uses is from Esposito's Pork Store and the coffee comes from D'Amico's—both Court Street legends. And Iocono gets his recipes from his grandma and aunts, though his major inspiration is the great Dom DeMarco of Di Fara. (The clumsy chunks of buffalo mozzarella and huge basil leaves are a tip-off.) How much more authentic can you get?

The pizzas are good, though not of Di Fara quality (what is?). I'd put them up there just behind Totonno's and Grimaldi's. And that's a pretty good start. Order a pepperoni pie; that Esposito knows his sausage.

14 December 2006

Child's Is Reborn

The grand old hull of the former Child's Restaurant on the far west side on the Coney Island boardwalk is going to see life again.

Something called Taconic Investment Partners has bought the property and plans to return it to its original use. No, not an actual Child's, but a restaurant anyway, or a—ick, that awful term—food court. Of course, nothing gets developed in this one-business town without there being some condos involved. So, Taconic will erect some new housing just next door. (People to eat at the new restaurant, duh.)

Community Board 13 District Manager Chuck Reichenthal told The Daily News that whatever housing was built, it wouldn't tower over the Parachute Jump, the beloved Coney Island relic. However, Taconic said it couldn't rule out the possibility that the building would dwarf the Jump. (Way to stay on the same page, guys!) Those real estate gnomes never do rule out anything, do they? "Escalator going straight to Hell? Maybe, if it pays out."

The Child's building is landmarked, so Taconic supposedly can't touch it. It opened in 1922, and, believe it or not, there used to be dancing on the roof. (How come we can't dance on the roof anywhere in New York, anymore?)

This is one of the few developments in Coney Island that isn't run by Thor Equities, the monolith that, like the god in its name, hits the Earth repeatedly with thunderbolts that demolish landmarks, leaving condos and other eyesores in their wake. Most recent victim: the Revere Sugar Refinery in Red Hook.

06 December 2006

Take the Astrotower, You Ingrates!

I thought Coney Island has become a big development priority for the city. But apparently, not enough for them to fork over some do-re-mi to save the great old Astrotower, relic of old Coney which, yes, towers above the boardwalk.

And guess how much City Hall would have to pay to keep the icon? Nothing!

Here's how it goes: Carol Hill Albert sold Astroland Park to Thor Equities. She wants to donate the Astrotower to the city. But the city is taking its sweet time looking this gift horse in the mouth. So Albert is considering a buyer's offer to move the 275-foot-high thing to an unnamed amusement park in the Southland.

"The city taking ownership of the Astrotower is an interesting idea that warrants exploration, but we would first need to better understand the associated costs," said idiot child Joshua Sirefman, interim president of the EDC and the chairman of its Coney Island Development Corp., according to The New York Post. This, even though Albert has said she'll share relocation costs. Maybe if she bought Sirefman a lollypop it might seal the deal.

The Astrotower was built in 1963 and, amazingly, still works. Next year is Astroland's last at Coney. So take a ride up to the top and get a gander. It might not be there in 2008.

Oh, by the way, in case you're panicking: Albert did not sell the Cyclone as part of the Thor deal. It stays put, and Albert will run it.

Grand Christmas!

Christmas in Brooklyn just got a whole lot better this year, thanks to the splendiferous new holiday display in Grand Army Plaza. I'm a connoisseur of such things, and upon first sight I easily equated it with such NYC holiday classic displays as the Rockefeller Center tree, the giant crystal snowflake at the intersection of Fifth and 57th and the New York Stock Exchange tree.

The display is complex and covers a lot of ground. A cone-shaped faux tree sits directly under the arch. The tree gradually changes color every minute or so, from blue to pink to red, etc. Designer Jim Conti, who teaches at Pratt, used LEDs to light up the tree and other aspects of the design, employing 600,000 lights in all. The colors are synchronized with wireless animated controllers. The top of the Memorial Arch itself is wreathed in white lights, and, perhaps most beautiful, the often ignored Bailey Fountain, which sits behind the arch, has been filled with white and blue whites that create the appearance of rolling waves. It's really quite stunning. (That picture at the right doesn't do it justice. It's just the best I could find.)

Conti has also festooned Prospect Park's various entrances with lights. The Daily News sponsored the display, which may be the most savvy bit of self-promotion that hapless rag has executed in years.

04 December 2006

Ess-a-Not So Good!

The New York Post reports that good old Ess-a-Bagel, which is right up there with H & H in the New York bagel pantheon, has been shut down by the health department.

The shop has been operating without a permit since June, the city claims. Ess-a-Bagel responded "Who knew?" and said it was an honest oversight. Let's hope so, and hope the First Avenue landmark starts churning out boiled circular dough again soon. How else are we going to try the new Nine Grain With Honey variety?!

01 December 2006

Positively Eldridge Street

I lived on Eldridge Street for five years but never caught sight of the Lower East Side lane's claim to fame: the Eldridge Street Synogogue. Trouble was, I lived at the most nothern block of the strip and the shul was at the most southern block.

Well, I've since passed by the place, but it was never open. Finally, the other day, I lucked out. I wandered in and gazed about while two women—one old, one young—manned a sort of makeshift information table and paid me no mind. It's quite a place, and worth a visit. I've been in my share of synogogues, in every city from New York to Milwaukee, Rome to Amsterdam, and I've never quite seen an interior as beautiful. Shuls aren't known for the flourishes associated with cathedrals and churches. Most are just functional buildings. If there's any fancy work, it's on the ark and the torahs.

The Eldridge Street Synogogue was built in 1887, and was the first big temple on the LES. It was built in the Moorish style, because that was a popular architectural mode of the day. (Don't you love it when histories mention popular architectural styles of the past? It's so touching. People actually followed architecture and had favorites. What could be said to be the popular styles of today? Do we have any, besides Big Ugly Glass Box or Small Ugly Brick Box? McMansions? Is that a style?) It had a 70-foot-high vaulted ceiling, stained-glass rose windows, elaborate brass fixtures and hand-stenciled walls.

Well, attendance went down, and the coffers emptied. Soon the place was falling down and the congregants resorted to meeting in the basement. The beautiful upstairs sanctuary remained empty from 1955 to 1980. A movement grew to save the place and by 1989 work had begun. They're still working. The upstairs is still pretty much a shambles, but there are plenty of restored elements to survey. The rococco detail in the woodwork, the trompe l'oeil mural, the twisting wooden staircases. Nothing like it in New York, I'd wager. It's set up very much like the Portugese Synogogue in Amsterdam, with a wooden balcony on three sides hanging over the main floor and the bimah placed dead center with pews all around it. The women sat upstairs, the men down, because it was an Orthodox shul. Still is, unbelievably. The men and women downstairs are also separated.

Amazing, all of it, and sad to think that, even when it's all done, the members will still meet in the basement. The main room will be too valuable and will be used mainly for tours and special events.

One other thing you shouldn't fail to notice. In the corner near the door is a long, green metal sign with the word "Garden" spelled out vertically. It's the sign that used to hang outside the Garden Cafeteria on East Broadway, a few doors down from the Jewish Forward, and where Forward reporters and editors used to hang out and gossip. They saved it when the Garden was torn down and replaced with a Chinese restaurant. Doubt any of those journalists went to shul regularly. Nice of the ESS to save their sign.

30 November 2006

Oldies and Goodies

I visited Le Veau d'Or, the venerable, unbelievably unchanged old French restaurant on E. 60th Street, again, and found out that the old man, Robert Treboux, who owns it and plays host to, say, maybe six diners a night, owns the building and lives upstairs. Good news for preservationists. Now, if only his daughter would go on the record as saying she'll continue the tradition. Note to Orson fanatics. Welles used to sit in the table closest to the door, by the only window. You can't sit there now; the owner reserves it for himself.

And had lunch at Barbetta, the oldest restaurant on Restaurant Row (one hundred years this year), and discovered that that building, too, is owned by the proprietor, one very grande dame by the name of Laura Maioglio. And get this: she's only the second owner. Her father, Sebastiano, was the first. If we're to believe the self-generated press on this elegant eating palace, it was the first to bring New York white truffles, Barolo, Barbaresco, sun-dried tomatoes, tiramisu, panna cotta, risotto, polenta and espresso. If only a third of those claims are true, the place is an Italophiles' landmark.

27 November 2006

Crying Wolfe

In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, novelist Tom Wolfe nicely put into words what I've been feeling about the descrecration of the city for years. I can't put it better of more thoroughly, so I'll just reprint it here:

"CHIN up, tummy out, Aby Rosen, the 46-year-old German developer, owner of the Seagram Building and Lever House, was posing for pictures in front of 980 Madison Avenue barely one month ago when he grew so bold as to boast: “I have zero fear. Fear is not something I have.”

"Easy for you to say, braveheart! The courage-crowing tycoon knows very well that in the current battle over 980 Madison, a five-story Art Moderne building stretching from 76th Street to 77th Street, the contest is already completely snookered in his favor.

"On top of this block-long low-rise he intends to build one of his Aby Rosen jumbo glass boxes full of commercial space and condominiums, rising straight up a sheer 30 stories. His big problem — or, to be more accurate, “problem” — is that 980 Madison is in the heart of the Upper East Side Historic District, and it would be hard to dream up anything short of a Mobil station more out of place there than a Mondo Condo glass box by Aby Rosen.

"The writer Tom Wolfe and other neighbors have taken to lobbing objections in the direction of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the city’s official watchdog for landmarked areas. The commission has already held a hearing and could stop Aby Rosen dead in his tracks at a moment’s notice, just like that.

"But what, him worry? Like every major developer in town, he knows that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has been de facto defunct for going on 20 years. Today it is a bureau of the walking dead, tended by one Robert B. Tierney.

"Mr. Tierney and the 10 members of his commission already have a hearty, comrades-in-arms, marching-along-together history with Aby Rosen. The commission was highly instrumental last November in clearing the way for him to build a zone-busting glass box full of condominiums on Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street in return for his guarantee, written into the deed, that the exterior of his Seagram Building, given landmark status in 1989, will be maintained in its original condition in perpetuity.

"Mr. Tierney gushed — insofar as one can gush in a press release — that Aby Rosen was not only ensuring “the highest level of protection” for this historic building, he was also being so kind as to favor New York with “a landmark of the future,” namely, his glass box godzilla at Lexington and 53rd.

"How generous! How civic-minded! Noblesse oblige! ... until one reminds oneself that Aby Rosen and every other owner of a landmarked building is required by law to maintain it in its original condition.

"Aby Rosen is a global success story of the 21st century, a citizen of the world. He should care about New York’s parochial steps to make historic preservation a government responsibility? That was in another century, the 20th, 1965 to be exact, after a developer had demolished that old solemn-columned classical temple of passenger train travel, Pennsylvania Station, to make way for Madison Square Garden, a coliseum where the rabble could go watch hungover Canadians on ice skates batter one another senseless.

"Never again! vowed le tout New York. The thrill of a Goo-Goo crusade thrummed through the gizzard of everyone from, eventually, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and legions of other celebrities and socialites to virtually every prominent politician, from Mayor Robert F. Wagner on down.

"Never again! The City Council gave legal muscle to a previously powerless Landmarks Preservation Commission, made up of scholars, city planners, architects, artists, landscapers, designers. This was to be an aesthetic and scholarly elite with virtually absolute discretion in deciding what buildings and historic districts should be preserved forever through landmark designation.

"Goo-Goo was an old City Hall term for believers in Good Government, by which the regulars meant idealistic lightweights whose feet seldom touched the ground. But all at once every big shot in New York seemed to have gone Goo-Goo.

"So feverish was that born-again bliss that for a decade the commission pretty much had its idealistic way. But when the commission tapped for protection the city’s other great monument to railroad travel, Grand Central Terminal, it wound up in a do-or-die lawsuit that reached the United States Supreme Court in 1978.

"Goo-Goo fever now shot up to a peak. Jackie O. herself served as the star passenger on the Landmarks Express, a private train packed with celebrities, socialites and members of the commission who headed to Washington to exhort the court to uphold New York’s landmarks law — and in so doing save the station. Mayor Edward I. Koch gave a Goo-Goo, Never Again send-off speech so moving that cynical, battle-hardened, social-cliff-climbing Manhattan matrons had to dab their eye sockets. Not even the Supreme Court justices, it seemed, could control themselves in a Camelot moment. They upheld the landmarks law faster than you could say Oh, Jackie, ohhhhh ...

"Oooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh yes, went the landmarks commissioners. The chairman received a salary, but the commissioners got no pay for this job. Still, the psychic rewards were turning out to be awesome. You were working for a cause you believed in, and at a high and highly visible level. After all, you were now an official of the 20th century’s capital of the world, New York City, and you kept running into the very rich and very social — who were suddenly giving you aero-kisses, Euro-style, four millimeters away from each side of your face.

"The commissioners had made names for themselves professionally as scholars, architects, city planning consultants, but now they were moving up in life in a way they could have never anticipated. One evening a commissioner from the Jackie O. period is at a cocktail party — you were now being invited to an infinitely better class of parties — when a benefactress of the City Beautiful movement approaches him and asks if he would like to go over to Lincoln Center and watch Jerome Robbins rehearsing with Mikhail Baryshnikov for some ballet that’s coming up. The next thing he knows, her driver is taking the two of them over to the theater.

"“The place is dark except for the stage,” he recounted, “and there’s Jerome Robbins up there, and Baryshnikov, and Robbins is having Baryshnikov try this and try that — and the only people in the whole audience are this woman and me! Us and some Saudi prince who’s backing the show.”

"You would walk into a conference room and people would jump up and shake your hand and take your coat and show you to a seat and smile and beam, beam, beam respect — because you and your commission colleagues wielded a government power over private property second only to confiscating it via the right of eminent domain. When you made someone’s property a landmark, he retained title to it, but you confiscated his ability to exploit it by putting up something new in its place or selling it for development. In a former commissioner’s own words: “One day it dawns on you. You’re pushing around billions of dollars worth of real estate development. You’re telling the biggest developers in the world, ‘Keep moving, Jack! You can’t build there!’ ”

"Somehow you had made it inside the Walled City that Theodore Dreiser described in “Sister Carrie.” There was New York the melting pot, the boiling stew, of the eight million ... and there was the Walled City, wherein existed New York’s fabled excitement and glamour and power and blinding wealth and extravagant ease and fine slim people who introduced you to restaurants where you didn’t dare order a beer and wished you hadn’t worn a brown suit and a “colorful” necktie. Thus it came to be that turnover on the commission was exceedingly low.

"No fools, New York’s mayors got the picture soon enough. Why on earth allow so much power to remain in the hands of a bunch of arty, sentimental, cerebral, status-addicted Goo-Goos? And the name of the man who first made City Hall’s contempt obvious? Edward I. Koch! The very man who had left them sobbing Goo-Goo tears during the Camelot moment! Not the velvet-gloved sort, Mr. Koch went ballistic in what became the notorious Tung affair.

"In 1987, for good and sufficient civic and political reasons, the mayor wanted to turn Bryant Park, the badly rundown open space behind the New York Public Library, into a gloriously landscaped Tuileries Garden for Manhattan crowned with a Lucullan restaurant. But building the restaurant would mean cutting down a stand of towering old trees. The mayor wanted the commission to give this alteration its blessing.

"Enter Anthony M. Tung. Mr. Tung was only 37 but had served on the commission for eight years. One and all agreed he was probably the most erudite member the commission had ever had, a city planning consultant, a walking encyclopedia of the history, principles and practices of urban preservation, and a brilliant analyst; in short, a genius in that field.

"Mr. Tung argued that the proposed restaurant would be a landmark desecration, butchering not only many magnificent old trees but also the entire rear aspect of the library, which was every bit as innovative and historically important as the more famous Fifth Avenue front with its lions and great staircase. So eloquent was he, so utterly convincing, that the commission, chairman and all, swung around and denied Mayor Koch’s request — unanimously — and made him look like a hairy Visigoth getting ready to sack Rome.

"Impudent wretch! The mayor got word to the genius that he was fired so fast — five days later — it made the tail on the Q of Mr. Tung’s sky-high I.Q. curl.

"Getting rid of him was easy, or should have been. Landmarks commissioners were appointed for three-year terms, and it turned out that Mr. Tung and six of the other nine unpaid commissioners had never been officially reappointed. They had just kept on serving. Technically, they were expirees. This was probably the result of nothing more than bureaucratic inertia. But it was very handy! All the mayor had to do was have somebody send Mr. Tung a letter saying his term had expired, he wasn’t being reappointed, so long, thanks a million for your service, and kindly go off and be a genius by yourself. In fact, thanks to the rank odor, it took the mayor months to find a both willing and respectable candidate to take his place.

"Mr. Tung didn’t take it lying down for a moment, and the Tung affair boiled and stewed in the press for months. Still, no one seemed to realize at the time that the landmarks law, as originally conceived, was now null and void. From the Tung affair on, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s aesthetic elite was pretty much free to bestow landmark status on any property it saw fit — unless the mayor had designs on it himself.

"Barely a peep in Anthony Tung’s behalf was heard from any commissioner or the chairman, even though all of them had so bravely agreed with him at the outset. Well ... let’s face it. One has to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, doesn’t one? But we’ll get to decide on the rest, won’t we? And still be invited to all the parties?

"Talk about never again! Never again could you expect a landmarks commissioner, much less a chairman, to stand up to a mayor. And, as a corollary, never again could you expect any of them to stand up to Big Real Estate, if Big Real Estate had the mayor’s backing. As they say at City Hall, they got along by going along. It wasn’t so bad ... talking the talk with one’s fellow walking dead and walking the walking-dead walk to swell parties and events.

"As for Anthony Tung: he went off and, a genius by himself, wrote a book titled “Preserving the World’s Great Cities.” Today it is the bible of urban preservationists all over the globe, and from Mexico City to Athens to Istanbul to Kyoto and Singapore, he is one of the world’s most sought-after speakers and consultants on urban planning, most recently in New Orleans.

"The undead commission became only undeader under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. When he became mayor in 1994, New York had hit the bottom of a full-blown commercial real estate depression, and he wasn’t about to allow anyone with a weakness for silvery-tongues to become chairman. So he appointed a former campaign strategist, Jennifer J. Raab, who was introduced to the public as a highly experienced land-use lawyer.

"Translated, that meant she made her living representing landlords and developers for the big-time, high-billing-and-the-clock-is-running law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. It didn’t take long for her to enunciate the Raab Doctrine. No longer is it Us against Them, she said. From now on everyone, preservationists and developers alike, will recognize their common interest in preservation.

"With that, she bade Us lamb chops to lie down with Them lions and bestowed “preservation achievement awards” for preservation-friendly architectural designs upon the Gap — which she teasingly referred to as the “big bad corporation” by way of showing Them lions were really pussycats — and Bernard Mendik, chairman of the Real Estate Board, the lobby for landlords, developers and brokers, by natural selection the evolutionary enemies of landmarks preservation. As for the commission, it remained packed with expirees who would gladly disintegrate, if necessary, to avoid casting so much as a shadow on any of the mayor’s plans.

"Reading the tank-style tread marks of the excavation earth-movers today, one is forced to conclude that Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch are not the only mayors who would just as soon have ended the charade by mercifully putting the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the walking dead out of their misery or at least slipping them into the sleep mode the way you can a computer. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg certainly seems to qualify as another.

"Last year, as he had ever since 2003, Mayor Bloomberg made it clear that he wanted a 40-year-old white marble building the city owned at 2 Columbus Circle, designed by Edward Durell Stone for Huntington Hartford’s short-lived Gallery of Modern Art, replaced by a glass box proposed by the Museum of Arts and Design, to fit in with the behemoth glass box of the nearby Time Warner Center.

"Back in the 1960s, critics and the art world in general had sniggered, sneered and hooted Mr. Hartford’s gallery into oblivion after only five years. But that was 40 years ago, and art history is chronically revisionist. (Rembrandt once got cold-shouldered for two centuries.)

"Now, in 2005, the mayor was confronted by an incredible uprising of scholars, world-renowned architects, deans of art and architecture at the great universities, mega-wattage art worldlings — the greatest massing of cultural luminaries in a single cause since the anti-fascist crusades of the 1930s! — all calling upon the commission to hold a hearing, lest this historic work by a great American architect be destroyed without a second thought.

"For any owner of a magnifying glass seeking a closer look at this astral army:

"The two most eminent architectural historians in the United States, Vincent Scully and Robert A. M. Stern, dean of Yale’s school of architecture, a famous and prolific architect in his own right, and the definitive historian of New York architecture from the late 19th century to the present, co-author of the magisterial quintet, “New York 1880,” “ New York 1900,” “New York 1930,” “New York 1960,” “New York 2000”; nine deans and graduate program directors of art and architecture, including three from Columbia University, and one of the nation’s best-known urban studies scholars and theorists, Witold Rybczynski of the University of Pennsylvania; the most elite lineup of architects who ever stood shank to flank in a preservation controversy: Richard Meier, Cesar Pelli, Robert Venturi, Laurie Olin, Hugh Hardy and Peter Eisenman, plus Dean Stern, to single out but seven from among a host of them; the current chief architectural critic of The New York Times and two of his predecessors, one of whom called the commission’s year-after-year refusal to call a hearing “a shocking dereliction of public duty”; The Times itself, in an editorial characterizing Stone’s building as “already an architectural monument, the work of a major architect, whether the commission likes it or not” and the refusal as “an enormous mistake, one that seriously erodes [the commission’s] purpose and whatever independence it has managed to attain since it was first created”; the nation’s, New York State’s and New York City’s most highly respected preservation societies, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund; Agnes Gund, who had just stepped down as president of the board of the Museum of Modern Art; the artists Frank Stella and Chuck Close, under whose letterhead a petition signed by more than 50 artists went to Mayor Bloomberg; and three former chairmen of the landmarks commission.

"If the administration had the subpoena power to summon a jury of the most esteemed architectural and urban planning authorities in the United States to judge the case of 2 Columbus Circle — it would have summoned the very same people who are in that condensed like-a-lump-of-coal type. There are no higher authorities. So how did Robert Tierney respond to them?

"He didn’t! Not once! It was as simple as that!

"He stayed holed up in his bunker at 1 Centre Street, while Spokesperson said ... and said ...and said ... and said, “Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission has declined to consider this site for landmark status, and I am aware of no new information that would make it necessary to revisit the matter”...

"“Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission has declined to consider”...

"“Under two administrations and three chairmen, the commission”...

"“Under two administrations and three”...

"But, but, but how could he do that without seeming ... brain dead ... or without taking direct orders? Either way, the chairman’s refusal to call a hearing — a mere hearing, which would commit the commission to nothing — or to so much as discuss a hearing ... was as good as an official proclamation:

"Landmarking no longer exists in New York City, not even as a principle — or not above the level of the occasional parish house in Staten Island or rusticated old stone archway in eastern Queens.

"By this time last year unionized elves with air hammers had reduced 2 Columbus Circle’s white marble to rubble and set about gutting the interior.

"The chairman was marginally less blunt about staying out of the way of Big Real Estate. For two decades preservation groups had been petitioning the commission to give landmark status to the five-story Romanesque Revival-style Dakota Stable on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street, the most important remaining relic of late 19th century New York’s palmy days of riding horses and traveling by horse-drawn carriage.

"This spring they learned that Big Real Estate, in the form of the Related Companies, developers of the Time Warner Center, had a contract to buy the building with the intention of demolishing it and putting up 14 stories’ worth of condominiums. (Ironically, they picked Robert Stern as the architect.) In July, Mr. Tierney indicated he was going to hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... hold a hearing ... but was somehow delayed until Oct. 17 — and wouldn’t you know it? In September the city had granted permission to alter the Dakota Stable and by Oct. 17 it had been stripped of its architectural details, and all that was left was “a stucco box.”

"Those were the chairman’s own words, “a stucco box.” Just the other day he shook his head and declared it was too late to do anything about that.

"SO we will never know about Aby Rosen! Maybe the man does have “zero fear.” But he won’t be put to the test this time. In the case of 980 Madison he has one-click approval whenever They feel the time is right.

"In case he’s wondering, he should know that the table is set at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Set beautifully! Never better! Nine of the 10 current commissioners, not counting Mr. Tierney, are expirees — 90 percent! — in imminent danger of getting canned if they don’t do the right thing by Aby Rosen!

"Once upon a time, in the legendary age of Camelot, back when Jackie O. could make the entire United States Supreme Court roll over and moan, it was the landlords and developers who used to scream bloody murder at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

"Just two weeks ago close to 100 leaders of New York City preservationist groups held a “citizens emergency meeting” at the General Society Library on West 44th Street... and bayed for the blind goddess, Justice, to make Preservation the commission’s middle name. Many of them were young, young enough to envision a landmarking renaissance. Youth! The way they bayed was enough to make the hair stand up on old Aby Rosen’s arm."

I've said it before, I'll say it now: New York sucks.

13 November 2006

Sour Pickles

The Times reports that a legal battle is threatening to sink the last great pickler in Manhattan, the famous and well-loved Guss' Pickles of the Lower East Side. And, being the Times, the story gave both sides an even shake, even though it seemed fairly clear that one side of the argument was pretty fishy.

A woman named Patricia Fairhurst took over what most New Yorkers regard as the real Guss', the Lower East Side location, formerly on Essex, now on Orchard. Fairhurst's son worked in the shop for years, and when the owner Tim Baker sold in 2004, she took over, buying the shop, the name and the recipes. (Izzy Guss died back in 1976. His children sold it to the Baker family.)

Seems clear enough, right? Only, it's not, owing to the protests of one Andrew Leibowitz. In 2002, he opened a Guss' Pickles branch in Cedarhurst, Long Island, in a partnership deal with Tim Baker. The Leibowitz family owns United Pickle, a Bronx outift that long provided Guss' with its cucumbers. Andrew continued the business on his own after 2004, when Tim left to care for his ailing mother. Andrew is the one who decided to write Fairhurst, telling her she had no right to the hallowed Guss name. Cease and desist! Fairhurst responded by suing.

So, how do we know that Andrew Leibowitz is a weasel with no leg to stand on? Number one, Tim Baker refutes his claim that the Guss legacy was bequeathed unto him lock, stock and barrel (literally, barrel). Number two, he declined to be interviewed by the Times. Number three, he had a lawyer speak for him, a man named Neil Zipkin who said things like "We're not the bad guys. We're just the true owners." Number four, he has a website that carries messages like “Others claim to be Guss’ Pickles or affiliated with Guss Pickles, but that is not true!” And number five: he thinks the true Guss' Pickles should be located in CEDARHURST!!

I'll keep buying the gerkins on Orchard Street.

10 November 2006

A Brush With Bamonte's

I made an unscheduled stop the other night at Bamonte's, the red sauce joint with the thick Mafia air, situated on a deserted block of Williamsburg near the BQE. It was about 10 PM and a balmy evening and I thought I might brave the chilly front that would no doubt be put up by the Goomba crowd and get a drink.

I expected to feel a little intimidated walking in, and, although they were friendly enough and mixed my Manhattan up quickly, I could tell they would rather have been left alone to their "deese, dems and dose" closing-up confab. So I asked no questions, made no comments, pretended to watch the Rutgers game on the tube and sipped my cocktail with as much non-chalant toughness as I could muster.

The place was empty of diners. The last seating seems to have been 9 PM. The requisite pictures of actors from Coppola and Scorcese films, and "The Sopranos," were on the walls, as well as plenty of baseball memorabilia. Two working, wooden phone booths stood open. The were buzzers near tables to summon waiters, a detail I have never seen at any other restaurant. The kitchen was visible through a sleek glass wall—an incongruously modern touch. (Notwithstanding, the glass wall dates from the 1950s.) Mexican busboys trundled off into the night. Left were the portly, graying bartender, a youngish, blonde waitress of hardbitten looks adding up her tabs, and a yackety-yak goodfella talking a blue streak at the end of the bar. A megaphone he didn't need.

Topics ranged from the game to a local mugging of a young women everyone knew. Three men had jumped out a car and taken the girl's purse as she went on a late night errand to buy milk, of all things. "She was on Haveymeyer down by the highway." "Well, no wonder. What's she doin' goin' down there at night." "That's where she lives!" "Oh, down THERE! It's DESOLATE down there!"

Mr. Know-it-all knew someone down at the local precinct who said the muggers would certainly be caught. "Because, even when they got masks on, they'll get a hundred calls. Because people recognize the gait, the way they hunch their shoulders, the way they walk. Yeah, they'll get caught."

Mr. KIA said this incident argued in favor of his belief that young women should be allowed to carry side arms. But the waitress tood exception.

"Can you imagine my sister with a side arm? She's be shooting everybody."

08 November 2006

The "Inn" Crowd

As heartbroken as I was to see Ye Olde Waverly Inn, one of the city's oldest and sweetest little restaurants, close a few years back, it's hard for me to rejoice that's it's reopened. Why? It's owner.

The cozy nook tucked at the corner of Bank and Waverly—one of the loveliest corners in the city—is now owned by Graydon Carter, the odious, celebrity-sucking, pompous, flip-haired editor of Vanity Fair. The man personifies all the frivilousness, hypocrisy, vacuousness and self-worship of New York society. This is a guy who thinks the guest list to his annual Oscar night party is a matter of social import. If you want to know what Heartlanders hate about New Yorkers, all you have to do is look at Carter's bloated, snug, self-satisfied face.

Of course, such a man would have to have his own "place," where all his friends [read: currently desired newsmakers] can hang is clubby conviviality. But why did he have to choose the old Waverly, which was always about modesty and low key Village bohemianism? Well, for one, because he lives down the block, on Bank. Uptown power brokers always want to believe they hasn't lost touch with their artistic, youthful "roots." That's why they buy townhouses in the Village.

Willa Cather, Alyse Gregory, editor of The Dial, choreographer Hanya Holm, caricaturist Alfred Frueh, along with other eccentric demi-celebrities, used to dine there. Now we'll get Scarlett Johansson while a stretch white SUV idles outside. If you can get in at all, that is.

07 November 2006

Lord & Taylor & Businessman

NRDC, the godless acronym that owns the Lord & Taylor department store chain, wants to close the shopping icon's flagship Manhattan store on Fifth Avenue and 39th Street. "It's nice having a Manhattan store, but I wouldn't call it key," said clueless President Richard Baker (they also have these preternaturally normal-sounding names, these executives). "We want to be where people live, not where they work."

Last I checked, 8 million people live in New York City. Could be wrong. Maybe more people live in the dull-as-dishwater suburb where Mr. Baker resides. Or maybe he thinks New York City is a dirty, dangerous place with terrible traffic and he's rather not have to drive into Manhattan anymore just to check up on his store.

Mr. Baker points out that the Fifth Avenue store only draws in 9 percent of the chain's revenue, more than enough reason to close. But any fool with an MBA knows that you don't have a Manhattan store simply to make money. It's about location, a prestigious address, a presence. You're not a noteworthy concern if you don't have a Gotham hub. Even dumb-fuck big boxes like K-Mart and Target know that.

Lord & Taylor has long suffered an inferiority complex. Ask anyone to name a Manhattan department store, and Macy's or Bloomingdale's is first out of their mouths. After that comes Sak's and Bergdorf Goodman. Lord & Taylor is everyone's last thought. Who are Lord & Taylor's diehard customers? I've never met one. Still, I have a soft spot for the old place. It serves a stretch of lower Midtown otherwise ignored by Big Retail. The 1914 building has plenty of charm and interesting details; the old plaques just inside the door remembering employees who fell in The Great War are particularly affecting. (Can you imagine any store honoring its employees in such a way today?) And the holiday windows are always good. There used to be a lovely, old-fashioned lunch room on an upper floor, but it's been supplanted by a fancier eating establishment.

I usually make one regular trip to Lord & Taylor every year, in December, to buy pajamas for my family. For some reason, they have a good selection of cozy nightware.

The store was founded by a couple of Englishmen, actually names Lord and Taylor. A peculiar coincidence, since the combination of their names evokes an appropo relationship between the gentry and their clothiers—an association I'm sure they rather fancied.

05 November 2006

Sazerac So Long

I learned from the Eater site that The Sazerac House, for 40 years at the corner of Hudson and Charles, recently closed for good. I never went there. But I heard from knowledgable New Orleanians that that was one of the few places that could be counted on to make a proper Sazerac in New York City. So, I'm sad to see that little corner of expertise disappear.

Now, Sazerac fans, there's only the Pegu Club for us.

04 November 2006

Shine, Mister?

Recently, with time to spare before dinner, I found myself in the E. 50s with less-than-shiny shoes. That meant only one thing: a visit to Jim's Shoe Repair was in order.

Now, New York, unique among American cities, has many shoe shine shops, where a new gloss on the wingtips can be had for $2 or $3. But, even among them, Jim's is unique. First of all, it's quite old, having been founded around the commencement of the Great Depression. Secondly, its on 59th Street between Park and Madison, an area where you'd think a penny-ante business like shoe repair could no longer survive. And Third, it's got one of the oddest archicectural features I've ever seen. In the narrow shop, to the left, are a line of wooden compartments of sorts. There's a low swinging door to the right of each and inside is a leather seat. They're one in back of the other, like a row of desks in a school room. No one is ever sitting in them, and the usual elevated wooden thrones, where customers sit as they get their shine, are to the right of the shop.

I've never quite figured out what they were all about. Perhaps, in the older, busier days, men sat there while they waiting for a place on one of the thrones. Or, could be, sockless customers bided their time there while they waited for their shoes to be burnished, so as not to suffer the indignity of standing shoeless among their fellow men. I've never had the nerve to ask anyone, because I didn't want to appear to be a shoeshine novice in front of classic shoeshine crowd like the one at Jim's.

The shoeshine code of behavior is an interesting one. Unlike barber shops, it's not expected you'll converse with your shiner. There are papers to the side of each chair—the Post and Daily News, NEVER the Times—and you're meant to pick one up and read it while business is taken care of. I've never seen anyone ask for any special treatment or technique, or complain about the shiner's performance. That's just not done. Neither do you talk to your fellow shinees, who are invariably in suits and with heavy business matters on their mind. Dignified silence reigns. Sometimes a television is on, and you're allowed to gaze silently at that. Once the shine is done, the shiner will indicate this by a subtle tap on the side on one of your shoes. You then descend and proceed to the cashier, with no indication that you will be back to give a tip—though everyone knows you will be back to give a tip, or else you will be seen as a bounder. Once you're paid, you walk back to the shiner and dispassionately but respectful pass him a tip—usually the same amount as the cost of the shine—and utter a brusque "thanks."

My trip to Jim's that day was unique in that my shiner remonstrated against serving me, saying, "No, I've done my last shine for today." He soon acquiesced, though, and did me the honor. And so I was his last shine of the day.

Russian Revolution

In my introductory post on this blog, one of the lost landmarks I mentioned as reason to rise the rallying cry in New York was the Russian Tea Room, which closed in 2002 shortly after the death of its immoderate owner Warner LeRoy. I've often passed by the famous restaurant's 57th Street address and felt sad, thinking about the countess famous women who once worked as coat check girls there, and wondered why no one was doing anything with the space.

Well, recent articles have explained why. The Tea Room, red banquets and all, reopened on Nov. 1. Apparently, after LeRoy passed, his estate sold the property to something called the United States Gold Association, which planned to use the buidling to "showcase its extensive collection of gold memorabilia." Now, THERE'S a plan to induce nausea. Thank God!—they sold the building instead, in 2004, to the the sinister-sounding RTR Funding Group. Gerald Lieblich owns this, and he's the man responsible for the Tea Room being reborn (while also moving along a scheme for—what else?—more condos on the 56th Street side.)

Unfortunately, it's been reborn with LeRoy's same gauche renovation. Big acrylic bear, gold-plated tree dripping with glass eggs. All that garbage. But if the stroganoff is the same, I'll forgive all.

02 November 2006

Update at Gertel's

Gertel's, the kosher bakery on the Lower East Side, will not go down easily, it seems.

Counting its days because NEW CONDOS MUST BE BUILT, it seemed the place had baked its last challah. But now word comes that it may not close, but is determined to move. Perhaps too many customers expressed grief and the owners realized there was money yet to make. Who knows?

Than again, it may just be a pipe dream. I called and asked if they were closing. "No." Are you moving? "Yes." Where? "I don't know." When might the move take place. "I don't know."

It's called planning. Stay tuned.

31 October 2006

Time Machine at 60th and Lex

In my recent visits to Le Veau d'Or and Gino's, I noticed there's a bit of a time warp around the vicinity of 60th Street and Lexington Avenue. One would think this busy crossroads of commerce would have steamrolled flat all signs of the past long ago. But the opposite is true. For about a hundred-year radius around the crossing of E. 60th and Lex, a Lady Who Lunches could be transported in time from 1955 to today, stand at the intersection's southwest corner, and recognize plenty of landmarks.

"There's Le Veau d'Or, just where I remember it. I wonder if Robert is still there? And, around the corner, Gino's is still open. Same riotous wallpaper, I see. And across the street, the old Subway In, the glaring neon sign still untouched. The girls and I would sometimes go there for a nightcap in our college days. And, of course, there's Bloomie's. What would New York be without Bloomie's."

Longstanding landmark businesses are rare enough these days, but four cheek-by-jowl with one another? All the area needs is a shoe shine stand and a checker cab stop.

30 October 2006

Steve Cuozzo: Gino's Hates You

Popped in Gino's, the one-of-a-kind red sauce antiquity on Lex near Bloomie's, the other night after a show. I went because the New York Post's Steve Cuozzo—the sour pot-stirrer of the restaurant world—reported it would be closing after 50 or so years because of a labor dispute.

Well, the Italo-Slavic staff of Gino's don't like Mr. Cuozzo so good. "You read that?" said maitre'd Mario said as he pawed over the night's receipts and noted them in a warped old leather ledger that I'm sure the wrong eyes have never gazed upon. "He should maybe call before he writes things. You see this. They print a retraction today." He tossed me the Post. The correction was mixed into Page Six, of all places. Sure enough, it said the labor dispute had been settled and Gino's was safe.

Well, that's good, because I like the place. It's so weird and clannish, how could I not? Where the hell did they get that Moscow-red wallpaper with the dancing zebras, anyway? Straight out of El Morocco. Was that sort of decor ever popular? And who came up with the Zebra theme? Gino, I suppose. Odd mascot for an Eye-Tral-Yon place that still serves all the classic southern dishes, one that was around when Americans ate spaghetti and macaroni, not pasta.

The clientele looked happy. And a bit rumpled. These are not New York's beautiful people. They are those wonderful New Yorkers who take little care in keeping up appearances or keeping up with times, and are strangely cool because of it. They're cosmo-schlubs. Everyone says hi, staff to diner, diner to staff. A woman, sharp of heel and rich of make-up, guards the coat check. A man monopolized the wooden phone booth. (How I love restaurant phone booths.) Bruno, the bartender, does not smile, and makes drinks the way a butcher tenderizes meat. Not many of the help seemly strictly Italian. They're mutts. Probably a bit of Albanian in there, Croatian, Corsican, who knows?

A woman passes by, gives Mario a kiss. "That ledger, that's what I'd like to get a peek in," she jokes. Me, too. Maybe Cuozzo's address is in there.

29 October 2006

L'Age D'Or

I've been reading David Kamp's entertaining history of gormet eating in America over the past 75 years or now, "The United States of Arugula," and was fascinated by a footnote that said a little bistro named Le Veau D'Or on E. 60th Street was the last known vestige of the great flourishing of French restaurants that sprung up in Manhattan in the years after World War II. Last vestige? My kind of thing. I determined to make a pilgrimage.

The owner of Le Veau D'Or worked directly under Henri Soule, the stubborn, exacting owner of Le Pavillion, the first of the boites to bring French haute cuisine to dumb old canned-corn America. From that restaurant was born a host of storied children, including Le Cote Basque, La Caravelle and many other "Le"s and "La"s. All gone now, exact this tiny enclave, tucked next to a Chase Bank, around the corner from Bloomingdale's. According to the head waiter—more on him later—the menu hasn't changed since 1937, when the restaurant opened. And according to Camp, the decor hasn't changed either.

I made a reservation for 6 PM. I thought I would have to. This turned out to be a misapprehension. I arrived at the correct address at the appointed hour and realized I had passed by the place a million times and just assumed it was an anonymous, slightly decrepit, French dump of dubious reputation; one of those places you see year after year and never comtemplate entering, for various reasons—you never see it written up; no one ever recommends it; there are curtains in the window, forever drawn, preventing you from seeing what the inside looks like, etc. Well, here I was. It didn't look promising, dim and dusty. But history called, so in I went.

Not a soul. Seated, that is. Two men standing. A grand old man, bald as a billiard ball, jaw of granite, in black suit and grey waitcoat, who greated me. This turned out to be Robert Treboux, the owner, and the fabled last link to Soule in New York. The other, slightly younger, with slicked-back silver hair, glasses and a hangdog air of faded dignity, was the head waiter. There was also a sole busboy. This was the staff.

I was told I could sit anywhere and chose a four-top toward the back, so I could survey the restaurant at my leisure. It could have been 1937. Red leather banquets. Oil paintings, including one of a lamb tucked sweetly in bed. Pictures of old France. French street signs. Pink tableclothes with a white overlay set at a diagonal. A cozy little wooden bar toward the front backed by a huge mirror. An unused coat check near the door. In short, the look and layout of a Franco-American dining den during the glorious, post-war days of New York.

No music played. Time stood still, or, rather, creeped by. I looked at the menu. All the bygone classics: Beer Bourgonoine, Coq au Vin, Cassoulet, Escargot, French Onion Soup. No nods to the changing times and tastes. Other guests trickled in, obviously regulars. No one younger than I. They chatted with Treboux. How was his foot? I noticed a cast. Gout? "Not good," he said. Someone mentioned his birthday was coming up. "I'm going to be 82," he huffed. "Isn't that terrible?"

The wine list was a challenge. No wine names or makers, just varietals. The prices were not bad, so I decided to get a bottle. I asked the waiter to recommend either the Cote du Rhone or the Bordeaux. Of course, he affirmed the Bordeaux to be better. He came back with a bottle and said, sotto voce, that it wasn't on the list and was better than the bottle he was supposed to give me. It was indeed good. Nothing special, but for a $25 Bordeaux, quite a pleasing accompaniment to the dinner.

I chose the Bourgonoine. I felt I should stick to one of the traditional meals. The menu prices, while expensive on the surface, where actually great deals, since they all included an appetizer and a dessert. The old bill of fare arrangement. I began with French onion soup and ended with a crepe stuffed with creamy ice dream and topped with hot caramel, ladled from a coppery pot set upon my table. Grade? Probably a C+. The beef was a bit chewy, the soup a tad greasy and everything bespoke of a lack of care. But definitely servicable, and, given the atmophere, old world charm, decor and whispers of history, I was pretty much in heaven. It was a place to love and cherish. They did what they believed in. They thought they had hit the mark back in 1937 and didn't see any reason to alter the model.

In 1968, the New York Times gave four stars to only seven restaurants. They were: La Caravelle, Lafayette, La Grenouille, Le Veau d' Or, Peter Luger, Quo Vadis and Shun Lee Dynasty.

I pumped the laconic, but friendly waiter for info. He told me the owner was ill and would probably have to retire next year. Then, the place would close. "His daughter is not interested in carrying on." What if a new owner could be found? "I wouldn't want to work here anymore. After he [Treboux] is gone, I will leave."

On the way out, I ventured to talk to Treboux, who was seated at the bar. I held up Camp's book and said, "I've been reading about you."

"Ah! I didn't have very nice things to say about Soule."

"Well, if he wasn't a nice man, he wasn't a nice man."

"I worked for him for five years."

"And now you're the last to carry on the tradition of Soule and Le Pavillion."

"Well, I don't know about that. We try."

"I heard your birthday is coming up soon."

"Yes. I don't know if that is a reason for celebration."

"Well, Happy Birthday."


Henri Soule. Julia Child. Craig Claiborne. James Beard. Pierre Franey. Jacques Pepin. Here was a man who knew them all, alone in his restaurant, stolidly upholding a chapter in New York culinary history. I said goodnight.

17 October 2006

Hats Off!

New York City should have one of every kind of business, no matter how archaic or obscure. That's why we're here. If we don't have room for a glover, blacksmith, steamfitter, cobbler, hooper, chimney sweep and Balkan restaurant, what good are we?

And so it's good news that the fading world of hatters now has another shop in its ranks. And not only a shop, but the best in the biz, Worth & Worth—an enterprise once though dead as a doornail when in 2000, after 80 years, it put up the shutters on its Madison and 43rd Street space, unable to meet a $14,000 rent hike. It was gone for a year and a half when Orlando Palacios, a super-suave latino California native who had been designing its hat line, decided to bring it back to life, working out of a small showroom on 55th and 6th. But you had to be a detective to find the place! They didn't advertise, and if you weren't on the mailing list or knew a hat man in the know (good luck these days!), you thought the store was still extinct.

That will all change now. Worth & Worth is finally venturing out into the world of the living again. It will open up a 57th Street storefront on Nov. 2, it's stenciled, fourth-floor window easily spied from the sidewalk. Now all can access its beautiful line of handmade panamas, fedoras, fur hats, trilbys, hamburgs, derbys and wool and linen caps.

So go and buy a hat and keep the place in business! Make the city more attractive. Your haircut isn't as impressive as you think—put a hat on it. Worth & Worth's hats are better made than your head will ever be.

15 October 2006

I Wanna Be Sedated

CBGB's closes tonight for good.

To make sure the last night feels as inauthentic edgeless as possible, television crews are perched out on the Bowery, talking in the squarest terms possible about how the building behind them is a piece of rock and roll history. It's enough to make you side with the callow, punkish poseurs hooting on the sidewalk behind them.

The joint coaxed one of its era's legends, Patti Smith, to play the final show. The owner still wants to move the place to Las Vegas, where culture goes to lose its soul. Better just to let it die and have the building become part of New York walking tours.

Rest in peace, young rockers.

Old Dog, New Tricks, No Dice

The constant commerical expansion in New York City not only displaces great old businesses with new worse ones, it breeds bad habits in the few old school stores that remain.

Take Fratelli's, the ravioli and Italian goods store on Court Street in my Brooklyn neighborhood. For years, before Carroll Gardens burst wide open, it served up the best in Italian meats, cheeses, fresh pasta and prepared food. It's olive vats were the best in the area. It was a cramped, unfancy store, but clean, friendly and always crowded.

But then the owners started looking around, envying the success of the restaurants and cafes on Smith Street. So it shut down for a few months and reopened with an ugly, red neon sign with stretched up the side of the building that said "Fratelli's Cafe." Inside, cafe seating dominated the front section of the expanded space, with faux Italian art on the walls. There was a menu of trendy panini and such. The foodstuffs—the things that had made Fratelli great in the first place—were shoved to the back. And the olive vats were gone. Instead, olives were prepackaged in plastic containers. Freedom of olive choice was gone.

The place was now anodyne and anonymous. It had no character. And I never saw it crowded again. I think people were suspicious that it had become a fraudulent version of itself, that it was a manquee Italian food store, not the real thing. The owners didn't understand: people wanted Fratelli's for what it did well, what it knew backwards and forwards. They didn't want it to be a cafe—something it didn't know how to do. So they went to Caputo Fine Foods and other places that still stuck to tradition and didn't try to be something they're not.

I passed by the other day. There's a signs outside Fratelli's that says "For Rent."

13 October 2006

Gertel's Still There—For Now

In New York, there are two kinds of storied establishments. There are the ones that know full well that they are cherished mainstays and revel in it, boasting to anyone who will listen and hanging up framed articles that agree with the assessment. And then there are the shops and restaurants who may know that they are bastions of history and mercantile greatness, but would never say so, and seem to hate it or become embarrassed when you bring the subject up.

Gertel's bakery on Hester Street is one of the latter. If the staff has an inkling that people would actually care that they are closing up shop soon, they don't let on. "Last great Kosher bakery in the Lower East Side? Home of superlative challah and tuna-and-egg sandwiches? Sure. What of it? And why are you carrying on so?"

I swung by the bakery ("Bakers of Reputation" the faded sign says outside) in a panic the other day, afraid that they had already closed. No, they're still open, but the staff doesn't seem to know or care when their last day of business is. "They haven't told us," one shrugged.

I found an old interview with Gertel's chief baker Israel Moskowits on the internet. Here are a few bits:

Q: Do you have any favorite dishes?
A: I don’t care, whatever you have to make, I make. My hobby’s baking.

Q: So you love your job?
A: Yes. [pause] As long as they pay me, I love it.

Q: So what do you like eating the most?
A: Oh, I don’t like cake.

Classic. There's no seating anymore. The area once filled with tables and chair is now crowded with metal baking racks stuffed with fresh challah and greasy wax paper. But the tuna-and-egg is still great. And I bought a challah for old times sake.

So Gertel's is still there for now, if you want to take one more look. The staff won't care if you do, but do it anyone. You'll thank yourself.

10 October 2006

Lost Mansion Found

Hey, New York history buffs: Ever heard of the Denison-White Mansion?

Me neither. But, whatever it is, it's being saved, turned into a community center with 95 surrounding low-income apartments. It's in the Longwood section of the Bronx, a boxy, two-story, white thing, long since abandoned, surrouded by vines and garbage.

Can't find out much about it. It's not in the Encyclopedia of New York City. Charles Denison, however, was a representative from Pennsylvania, a Democrat elected to the Thirty-eighth, Thirty-ninth, and Fortieth Congresses and served from 1863 until his death in 1867. That gave him 17 years to live in the mansion, which he built in 1850. After that, his son-in-law Samuel White moved in. Why these Pennsylvanians had a swell place in the Bronx, I don't know. And how the home survived 156 years, I also can't figure.

The developers are going to call the place Cedars. Lotsa cedars in the Bronx, are there?

06 October 2006

Tuna and Egg on Rye to Go

OK, this post really hurts.

Gertel's, the frozen-in-time classic kosher bakery on Hester Street, is closing.

What the hell is to become of New York? Must the housing boom squeeze every last drop of character out of the city before anyone sits up and cries out, "Where the fuck did the city go?" Must Hollywood start complaining there are no "New Yorky" locations to shoot on anymore? Does "21" have to shut down before Republicans notice that things are going to hell? Does Bloomberg care about anything except smoking and trans-fats, like some busybody schoolmarm? Second-hand smoke and calories aren't killing our city. Development is! Or, should I call it Counter-development? That's what it is in my opinion.

I used to go to Gertel's a lot when my wife and I were first dating and I lived on Eldridge on the Lower East Side. I was busy discovering what was left of the old Jewish community back then: Katz's, Gus' Pickles, Yonah Schimmel's, Kossar's Bialys, Bernstein-on-Essex chinese restaurant and various cheese, fabric, and appetizing stores. Gertel's made the best half-egg-salad, half-tuna-salad sandwich (a Jewish cuisine classic) I have ever tasted. Having lunch there was a no-nonsense affair on unfancy tables and chairs and all the more wonderful for it. They were also famous for the rugelach.

The regelach is retailed around the city and will continue. But you won't be able to go to the source anymore. According to Curbed, the Chinese buyer of Gertel's plans to build an—wait for it—eight-story condo on the site. May the site be haunted by the ghosts of Kosher bakers and drive out all would-be buyers. And may those to DO buy never, never, ever, ever again in their whole life until they DIE chomp their teeth down on a decent sandwich.

04 October 2006

Environment Hater Killed by Environment Killer

Now, I know it's not particularly good form to gloat over someone's death. But the Oct. 2 demise of former Idaho Congresswoman and right wing nut job Helen P. Chenoweth-Hage reeks so much of poetic justic, I just can't pass it up.

This was the gladhander who hated the EPA so much she had "endangered-salmon bakes," in which she served canned salmon and ripped the EPA ban on fishing Idaho's wild salmon. She claimed EPA helicopters were menacing her state's decent, honest ranchers. She mocked the Agency by saying white males should be listed among its protected species (nice bit of racism, that) and said the South had a good State's Right issue back when in the Civil War (more choice racism). She made a point, however, to say she was against slavery. And we all know only a racist would go out of their way to make that point. It's like feeling a need to clarify your stand on arson.

Anyway, this worthy died the way all anti-environmentalists would die, if Dante was in charge of things. She rolled over in a gas-guzzling SUV. Gosh. I guess those thing aren't that safe after all.

03 October 2006

Not All Coliseums Last

For whatever reason, the New York Sun has the rest of the Gotham press corps beat on the Death of Independant Book Stores beat. A couple weeks back, the conservative daily was first with the news that Gotham Book Mart was again in danger (a New York Times story if I ever saw one). Today, it reports that Coliseum Books on 42nd Street has filed for bankrupcy.

Like Gotham Book Mart, Coliseum had a close shave in the early 00's, losing its longtime base off Columbus Circle. And like the Mart, it defied expectations and rose again, phoenix-like, at a new location in 2003.

The shop hasn't closed—yet. But it doesn't look good. Bankruptcy documents filed in the southern district of New York say the store's board of directors will voluntarily seek to "wind-down the company's affairs." The Sun said it couldn't reach owners George Leibson and Irwin Hersch for comment. This is no surprise. Anyone who's ever talked to them knows the duo as among the crankiest booksellers is a city full of cranky booksellers. (Remember this: book stores owners like BOOKS, not people who read books.)

I was never a Coliseum habitue. But I never like to see an indy book store go. New York bereft of idiosyncratic, one-of-a-kind book mongers is just a plain stupid idea.

28 September 2006

Singer Mowing Machine

Read today in the "Power Plays" blog in the Village Voice about the skullduggery of developer Gregg Singer, who's been a busy little beaver lately gnawing off the ornamental work on the lovely old P.S. 64 schoolhouse in the East Village. Why he's doing it and how he's doing it are tales in chutzpah and cultural criminality that know no equal. I couldn't begin to explain the nitty gritty of it all as well as the Voice, so I'm just going to reprint the "Power Plays" item here in full. Read and wonder at the vileness of the feckless real estate capitalist mindset:

"You have to hand it to developer Gregg Singer. Last week he took out a full-page ad on the back of The Villager blaming local politicians for the looming "eyesore" of P.S. 64.

""Old P.S. 64 stands as an eyesore in your neighborhood because of inaction on the part of your representatives," begins the open letter to East Village residents signed by 9th and 10th Street LLC, the development corporation Singer formed. "Some of them have decided that the best thing for this community is to fight the owners, and keep the building vacant and deteriorating, rather than develop it to benefit the people in the community."

"No matter that it was those same representatives who lobbied to landmark the old school, while Singer is actively wrecking it.

"On the morning of September 11, no less, Singer dispatched a demolition crew to resume stripping the facade of the century-old former elementary school. (He had to take a break last month after being cited for insufficient scaffolding.)

"Now neighbors wake to the sound of his workers gnawing at the building like industrial woodpeckers. To date, the crew has managed to destroy eight of the 11 ornate dormer windows on the 10th Street side of the school.

"So it takes some chutzpa to blame others for P.S. 64's "unsightly" condition.

"That said, Singer has a point--local pols have been lame in spelling out what should or could happen with the building, given the nature of the owner they're dealing with.

"By suing the city for $100 million, Singer has thus far only succeeded in giving Bloomberg officials an excuse not to deal with him.

"Now chopping at the building has given East Village council rep Rosie Mendez an excuse not to deal with him.

"Singer has accused former City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez and now Mendez of discouraging groups from leasing space in the building--charges they both deny. Regardless, there are plenty of arts and social service groups that would go in there now, if Singer would give them a decent price.

"Singer says he can no longer "afford" to so so. Perhaps that's because he spent so much money hiring no fewer than four leading PR firms (Howard Rubenstein, hello?) and four different law firms (including Giuliani's ex-chief of staff Randy Mastro, who can't come cheap) to plead his case, even as he simultaneously managed to alienate anyone in office who might have helped him.

"All of which makes it seem like he's just been maneuvering himself into the victim's seat all along.

"According to the estimate on the permit application, the denuding of P.S. 64 alone is costing Singer $600,000.

"In the backpage ad (which features a rendering of the still intact 9th Street side of P.S. 64), Singer continues to insist that replacing the school with a 19-story dorm would be a financial windfall for the neighborhood. Never mind that there are already numerous other megadorms in the area, or that many in the Village resent the notion of their neighborhood being turned into a university plantation.

"One wonders whether the city's strategy at this point is simply to let Singer continue cutting off his nose to spite his face, with the hope that his facade demolition campaign will succeed only in depreciating the value of his property.

"The facade work permit—approved before the building was landmarked—expires on October 25. Unless he hires an even bigger crew, it seems unlikely that Singer will finish stripping off all the terra cotta and limestone detail from the building, which he says he needs to do in order to challenge the building's landmark designation in court.

"And City Hall is pushing forward a comprehensive rezoning plan for the East Village that would likely nix Singer's high-rise dorm anyway.

"Meanwhile, over the past month, Mendez and staff from the area's other elected representatives have been meeting with community activists to brainstorm a “realistic, market-driven plan” for restoring the old school as a community facility.

"They've asked development consultants to help come up with an alternative that is both economically viable yet still provides some measure of the social and arts programming that was lost with the eviction of CHARAS/El Bohio, the Latino community center that occupied the old school for 20 years before Singer purchased it.

"Part of that effort, says one insider, involves putting a "realistic price tag" on the building—rather than the inflated $51 million to $87 million figure Singer has been floating (recall that he bought it for a mere $3.15 million back in 1998)—as well as a "realistic assessment" of what it would take to renovate and sustain the place.

"So it's wrong to say that Mendez and the other reps are sitting on their hands. One just questions why they didn't get this real before the building was landmarked, let alone before Singer started jackhammering."

A Tale of Two Pizzas

Midwood and East Harlem.

Unless you live there or have a very specific errand to run, they're not neighborhoods you regularly make a beeline for. Well, I had a specific errand the other weekend, and that errand was called: pizza consumption. East Harlem is the home of Patsy's, one of the old masters in the New York Pizza Hall of Fame. Midwood is where you'll find DiFara's, a corner pizzeria many call the best in the city.

I had recently made a pilgrimage to Grimaldi's (an offshoot of Patsy's), and—having already patronized Totonno's, John's and Lombardi's—decided it was time to knock a couple more classic pie palaces off my "to do" list.

Patsy's is on First Avenue and 118th, surrounding by a whole bunch of "not much." The area (like many in New York) used to be heavily Italian, but now the only remnants of those days are a barber, a bakery, celebrity ghetto Rao's, and Patsy's. The green-painted fa├žade looks very much like it probably did decades ago and the inside, while more expansive than it once was (Patsy's takes up three storefronts) is appealingly minimal: tin ceilings, wooden table and chairs, etc.

I ate at a Patsy's extension in Chelsea a couple months back and had adequate pizza. I'd like to report that the pies at the original address are head and shoulders above its same-named brethren (as has always been the case with John's—home base Bleeker Street is the best). Alas, such was not the case. If I'd encountered this pizza in Milwaukee or Savannah or wherever, I'd be half over the moon. It's fine, old-fashioned, Neapolitan pizza. But this is New York, pizza center of the U.S, and Patsy's is supposed to be up there at the top. But that fact is I'd rate almost all of the above-mentioned pizzerias above it. Grimaldi's, in particular, is still fresh in my memory, and it's creations had far more character and flavor.

DiFara's, on Avenue J and 15th Street, is a very different case. The humble corner store is again one of the last remainders of vibrant Italian neighborhood. Midwood is now largely Hasidic, with Kosher stores left and right (including quite a few selling that sad, near-tasteless culinary specimen: Kosher pizza).

This is artisinal pizza. Each pie is put together by old Dominick DeMarco himself. (Last spring, when he was in the hospital, he shut down the shop rather than have anyone else assemble the pizzas.) Watching him at work is half the treat of visiting the place, which opens at 11 AM and is pretty backed up by noon, even on a weekday. The key appears to be three cheeses, freshly prepared. Once the dough is formed and the piquant, fruity tomato sauce spread, Dominic grabs a grater and runs a lump of mozzarella against is, let the plump chunks of cheese drop onto the pizza. He then does the same with the much more expensive buffalo mozzarella (or, more correctly, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana), the cheese they use in Naples and something almost never seen in a typical New York streetside pizzeria. Finally, he grinds up a block of romano, right then and there, and spreads it over the pizza. After that, he takes a bunch of basil with biggest leaves I've ever seen (he grows it in the window), and, with a scissors, snips at the ends until a sufficient amount has fallen on the pie. Then, in the oven it goes and he begins again. It's pure poetry. The waiting hungry just stand and stare in wonder. No one complains that it takes too long. It's too good a show.

The slice itself betrays all those fresh flavors when eaten. It is fragrant and savory, a riot of tantalizing flavors, and on the greasy side as New York pizzas go. (This is not a criticism; grease should be so tasty.) He offers interesting toppings like marinated porcini mushrooms and zucchini blossoms, but go with the plain slice first. The Sicilian is also worth checking out. There's a big menu advertising pasta dishes and heros. Can't imagine who orders those when such pizza is on offer.

27 September 2006

Evil Has a Name

Thanks goes out today to the New York Times, which has provided me at long last with the names of the villians who tore down McHale's bar so that Manhattan might have more desperately needed luxury residences. Longtime readers might recall that McHale's demise was the reason this blog was born. But at the time, none of the articles written about the place could find out who has bought the property and was tearing it down.

Remember these names: S.J.P. Residential; chairman and chief executive Steven J. Pozycki; and his cohort Allen F. Goldman. They live in infamy.

The devil's minions work out of Parsippany, and old Goldman has an interesting pedigree. Before joining S.J.P., he jumped ship at Applied Development, who head, Joseph Barry, was indicted in fall 2003 on 16 charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud. But Goldman has nothing to do with that. However, he is responsible for this pre-McHale's deal quote: "Steve Pozycki and SJP have really developed an outstanding reputation for being sensitive to the community."

Yeah. Good thing they came around and sensed the overwhelming vibe that the theatre community really wanted that rotten old McHale's mashed to a pulp. Who needs a $5 beer when you're just aching for a $1 million condo?

Meatpacking District, Sans Meat

The Meatpacking District has never been my "scene," as they say. In my 18 years in New York, that social mileau has always been about clubs and the nite spots you go to after trolling those clubs. And I was never a club man, even in my (not too distant) youth. But, I've always liked the general feel of the place, the zig-zag of crumbling, cobble-stone street, the peculiar street names, the grungy meat wholesalers, the lonely, dead-end aura. It was unique.

I haven't been there in years—aside from an occasional dinner as Pastis or Markt (sue me—I like frites)—mainly because of what I hear about the district, that it's become overrun with the bridge and tunnel crowd and trendoids racing to keep up with an every increasing number of dance joints. If I want to drink until I fall down, I'll do it where I'm less likely to land in a puddle of cow blood. So it's not surprising to see that Gawker has spent much of the week detailing how the neighborhood is officially ruined. In particular, Markt and Western Beef—one of the few remaining buisnesses that gave the area its name—are moving out to make way for "410 West 14th Street," a three-story retail box with all the charm and character a bunch of glass and concrete can muster.

Which brings up an interesting New York phenomenon. That is, the tendency of developers to move into hot neighborhoods and remove the thing that made them hot in the first place, while all the time believing the nabe will stay hot in the same way. Soho is full of art galleries and artists? Move in with Pottery Barns and Apple stores until all those artists are chased away to Chelsea, Williamsburg and beyond! Brooklyn has a low-key, low-slung, neighborhoody feel that's hip and cool? Get in there with as many faceless CVSs and Rite Aids as you can until it looks like outer Akron!

And so, the Meatpacking District don't pack meat no more, no more, it's dont pack meat no more. Maybe Carey buses can soon start shipping in tourists to shop. We're a three-industry town, folks: restaurants, retail, residences. We don't make anything here except money.

25 September 2006

It's Called Saturation

Oh, my God, there's still hope for a good life in New York, isn't there?

What am I talking about? Starbucks franchises are closing, that's what. A few weeks back, there was word that a branch off Washington Square shut it doors. Now there news that an outlet at 102nd and Broadway is not more. Can it be that the hydra-heading corporation has finally reached the saturation point in this old city of ours? Oh, please, please, please, please, let it continue. Let it continue, God, oh, please!

In related news, Starbucks recently closed all of its shops in Tel Aviv blaming ''operational challenges.'' So, maybe that war was good for something.

Good Idea—Now Try It Over Here

According to the fine folk at Curbed, Corcoran broker Wendy Maitland is throwing a celebrity-ridden—Julianne Moore, Matt Dillon, Marisa Tomei, Naomi Watts, Hillary Swank, Drew Barrymore, etc.—$1,000-per-plate dinner to raise money to fight poverty and AIDS in a Rwandan village.

Good idea. Now, if only Maitland would do her bit to fight poverty here in Gotham by quitting her profession and leaving town.

Egan the Destroyer

A helpful reader informs Lost City that Cardinal Egan and the Archdiocese of New York are not only trying to demolish St. Brigid in the East Village by Our Lady of Vilnius on Broome Street. The pastor of the church was informed on July 31.

Said house of worship is a Lithuanian church that was established in 1906. It's a one story, yellow-brick affair with red doors that sits near Varick and Hudson. There used to be a Lithuanian community there, but it was dispersed when housing was torn down in 1927 to build the Holland Tunnel. (Thanks, Robert Moses.) Egan has said worshipers could go to another Lithuanian congregation in Brooklyn, but that one, it turns out, is in Maspeth, which is well known to all New Yorkers as The Neighborhood That Mass Trasportation Forgot.

The problem is similar to that at Brigid—the church needs repairs and the Church won't pony up the dough. Four winters ago, shifting temperatures caused some of the four trusses supporting the church’s roof to crack. Engineers took a look and prescribed steel cables. Otherwise, the roof would collapse. No cables were proffered. Now services and functions are held in the basement, which ain't so grand.

It sounds like a tough, colorful place. It's first pastor, Father Shistokasa, was a longshoreman who worked the docks at night and ministered by day. The current one, Father Eugene Sawicki, smokes cigars. Egan says he hasn't sold the property, but who knows how long that will be the case. Trump's building an uglirific tower down the block.

The helpful reader has started a blog to help stop the madness. The address is www.ausrosvartunyc.blogspot.com.

21 September 2006

Domino to Fall?

There's a campaign on right now to save the hulking old Domino Sugar Factory in Williamburg, which was built back in 1884, and ceased producing the sweet stuff a few years back. Unsurprisingly, some developers want to fill it to the brim with—guess what?—condos. But locals are resisting and petitioning the Landmarks Commission for help. The campaign to save it has an unlikely ally in slippery City Council Member David Yassky, who did a mighty fine job last year overturning the landmark status of another 19th century Brooklyn warehouse, 184 Kent. He also wants to save the parts of the Greenpoint Terminal Market that didn't go down in ashes in last May's huge conflgration and the McCarren pool, the huge WPA swimming hole that nobody uses for swimming anymore.

Yassky's letter said that, as Williamsburg and Greenpoint “change and evolve, it is increasingly important that we work to preserve our ties to the past." If it sounds like disingenuous politican bullshit, that's because it is. Dude's got an election coming up. And he's probably guessing that the save-Domino fight doesn't stand a chance of a sugar cube over a bunsen burner in this market. The place is a factory, after all, and factories just don't set up shop in the five boroughs anymore. If it's not carved up into luxury residences, it will sit there empty, just taunted developers with its potential land value. And developers don't like to be taunted.

Also, this is the Landmarks Commission we're talking about, those political lapdogs who'll roll over on anything if the pressure gets to be too much. Their current leadership would give up the Flatiron Building.

20 September 2006

Forgotten By Whom?

In this week's Time Out New York, with the cover story "Forgotten New York," the editors list in a sidebar a collection of past Gotham Paris Hiltons—that is, folks who were all the talk once upon a time, but whose names now draw a blank.

It's a peculiar selection. Journalists are often said to write the first version of history, but for historians, the TONY editors sure have short memories. Among the people whom they say have faded from public memory are actors Edwin Forrest and Laurette Taylor, tycoon and bon vivant "Diamond Jim" Brady (that's the ruddy-faced glutton at the right), disgraced quiz show contestant Charles Van Doren and scandal-ridden '80s pol Donald Manes.

Huh? Maybe I'm not your average Joe—I know too much useless history for that—but these are hardly non-entities. Any theatre fan knows Taylor and Forrest and what they were famous for. Manes and Van Doren were the subject of fairly recent movies ("City Hall" and "Quiz Show"). And any given dolt knows the name "Diamond Jim" Brady, even if they're not sure exactly why they know it.

19 September 2006

The Book Mart and the Billionaires

An article in the New York Times today about the dire straits the Gotham Book Mart has gotten into made this reader's head spin. Only in the world of New York real estate can trouble take such a byzantine form.

Let's take the simple things first. Andreas Brown, the owner of the GBM, owes $500,000 in back rent, taxes and the like. OK. Because of this, his landlords are trying to evict him. Right. Those landlords are Leonard Lauder, the billionaire of the Lauder cosmetics fortune, and Edmondo Schwartz, a real estate developer (who is not identified specifically as a billionaire, so let's play it safe and call him a millionaire).

But, wait. Lauder and Schwartz are apparently the same secret duo that snatched Brown's fat out of the fire two years ago by buying a $5.2 million townhouse at 16 E. 46th Street and letting GBM move in and lease the space a year after Brown sold the Mart's original home a block to the north. Wha? Who? These are the good souls that saved Gotham Book Mart, but now they're the guys kicking it out onto the sidewalk? What happened? Did they have a fit of humanity and are now back to their old selves?

OK, before you feel sorry for these poor bilked little moneymen and the half a mil they lack to line their pockets, consider two important words. One: billionaire. Lauper is a friggin' billionaire. That means billions of dollars. Does he really need that $500,000 thou? And Two: lease. These two save their friend and his treasured shop by buying a townhouse and THEN LEASING IT TO HIM?! Hey, jackasses—you're plutocrats! Don't show your generosity and friendship by being a nickle-and-dime landlord. Just GIVE Brown the building. He's 73, and trying to keep an irreplacable business alive.

Bet you guys dock your kids' allowance when certain chores are left undone.

Puff Smokes Nat Sherman

This is shaping up to be a horrendous week for classic Manhattan stores.

First Gotham Book Mart closes shop in a rent battle, now cigar king Nat Sherman is being forced out. The owner of the tobacco emporium's building on West 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue—where Sherman, the most prominent tobacconist in the city, has been for decades—want them out, humidor and all, in hopes (Hopes! Not even a definite plan!) that a super-classy chain like Louis Vuitton or Giorgio Armani will want the corner space.

Who's to blame? Well, the scumbag landlords, or course, yes. Always blame them. Kick them into the gutter if you see them coming down the street. (Oh, wait! They already LIVE in the gutter. I forgot!) But also Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy, aka P. Diddy, aka Born Jackass who gets my vote for the most useless, vacant, why-is-he-a-star of the century. The mogul of everything and nothing opened a Sean John flagship two years ago on Fifth and 41st. Now everyone thinks the area's going to become a fashion hot spot. (There's an irony here. Aren't Diddy and his rapper pals always photographed with big, whopping cigars sticking out of their mugs?)

Poor old Nat Sherman—which is still family-owned, bless its heart—has to get out by late spring 2007. But there's good news. According to reports, the store is close to signing a lease at 12 E. 42nd St., between Madison and Fifth avenues, just a hop, skip and a jump from their current digs. My money's on Nat Sherman being around long after the last Sean Combs branch goes the way of the automat.

18 September 2006

No City for Wise Men

We're on code red of the cultural threat color systemhere in New York City. The New York Sun reported today that the one and only Gotham Book Mart has closed its doors, posting a sign that says "The landlord has legal possession of these premises pursuant to warrant of Civil Court." Translation: the Mart is overdue in its rent and the landlord WANTS HIS MONEY!!!

It feels like the mid-90s, doesn't it? Remember a decade ago, when the toppling of classic, independent book stores in New York rose to crisis level. Shakespeare and Co., Books & Co., The New York City Book Store, Scribner's, Coliseum—they were dropping like flies. Folks wringed their hands and nobody did a damn thing about it. (Coliseum eventually reopened on 42nd Street.) The ink-letting seemed to have been stemmed in recent years, possibly because Barnes & Noble couldn't figure out where else to open a store in Manhattan.

Through it all Gotham Book Mart stood firm on W. 47th Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, though it, too, went through a rent scare of its own and eventually had to move to a new space in 16 E. 46th Street (where the former H.P. Kraus antiquarian bookstore once lived.) It was hard to imagine Gotham going. More than any other New York book emporium, the 86-year-old place is drenched in literary history, a haunt of such writers as Auden, Gorey, Updike and Miller. The photographs on the wall told it all. It deserved landmark status, but, of course, good old capitalistic America doesn't hand out honors like that to mere stores. If they can't make it, then a Sephora can. Law of the jungle.

In a perfect world, landlords would be honored to have such a tenant, and charge them nothing just for the boasting rights of strutting around town saying a New York cultural treasure was housed in one of their buildings. But in the real world, it's not surprising a landlord would fail to be impressed by the Book Mart. They can't read, after all. Except for leases, and those they have their lawyers read to them.

My guess is that the store never survived the move and regulars didn't know where to find it. Many habitues complained for years that it should abandon its place on 47th, where it was the only business not directly involved in or catering to the Diamond District business. I liked it there. It was such an anomoly, so weirdly situated, like finding a shoe repair shop on Madison Avenue. A very New York bit of surrealism.

Its digs on 46th Street were fine, but possessed of much less dingy, tumbledown charm. The Sun article says the owner Andreas Brown is "in negotiations." Somebody step up and pay this guy's bill, please!