31 May 2006

Cool Things You Can Do in Film Noir That You Can't Do in Real Life Anymore

*Call a taxi driver "cabbie" or "driver" without starting a class war.
*Have witty conversations with cops
*Be curt without being thought rude
*Light womens' cigarettes
*Wear a hat
*Climb bodily with ease into the back of a taxi.
*Catch a floor show
*Receive a telegram
*Send a telegram
*Catch a boxing match that's not at Madison Square Garden, Altantic City or Las Vegas
*Order a martini that's not served in a glass the size of a wok
*Drink in a bar without a jukebox or television blaring

A few trips to Film Forum's "B Noir" festival can sure dim the appeal of New York circa 2006.

30 May 2006

Knockin' on Frankie & Johnny's Door

Puleo's and Puleo's II gave up the ghost over the week, following their W. 45th street Theatre District neighbors Barrymore's and Sam's to the showfolk hangout graveyard.

This is not very important in and of itself; Puleo's I and II were always mediocre Italian joints with scant theatrical following. But their exit leaves only one other resident on that end of the block: Frankie & Johnny's steakhouse. This second-floor chop house is an actual landmark, a leftover from the speakeasy days. It still has a speakeasy feel to it. You enter through a rickety, narrow flight of stairs. The small dining area is to the left. A small bar is past the kitchen to the right. You wouldn't notice it if you didn't know it's there already. Which is probably how they liked it in Prohibition days.

I called the place today and a nervous waiter denied the eatery's imminent demise. I could hear him sweat over the phone. But that what he and all the W. 45th Street owners did months ago when I called them. And look what happened to them. Take my word for it: Frankie and Johnny's isn't long for this world. If you want to eat a steak there, you'd better hurry.

19 May 2006

Luquer, Mom: No Scruples

On a recent sunny day in Carroll Gardens, apparently, some savvy development dudes looked around while wolfing down their cannoli and gasped, "Oh, my God! There's nothing in this jerk neighborhood over five stories tall! These losers need help!"

Soon, to the rescue, came hack architect Karl Fischer, and in a flash low-key Luquer Street had something to look forward to: an 11-story luxury condo tower. Thank God! If it weren't for opportunistic geniuses like these guys, Brooklyn would just be stuck with row after row of beautiful Brownstones. Whew!

You can see the Luquer project on the Fischer website www.kfarchitect.com. It's under the "News: upcoming projects" heading, where your find a long list of coming attractions. Click on a few others and you'll have to restrain yourself from rocketing down the stairs with a kitchen knife to find this sonovabitch Fischer before he defiles another corner of our city with a crapload of uninspired, hyper-ugly metal and glass.

This is the same development, by the way, that has made Luquer Street Rat Heaven ever since workers broke ground and released the rodents from hell. Hey, rats know their kind when they see 'em. You can't blame them for coming up and saying hi.

18 May 2006

Le Cirque Will Be Unbroken

Well, here's a happy reversal. Le Cirque, one of those classic restaurants whose very name says "New York," will return on May 30 after having disappeared, seemingly for good, in 2004.

It's new location—it's third—will be in the Bloomberg Building (ensuring it will smiled upon by our Richie Rich mayor) at 151 East 58th Street. The original opened at 65th Street and Park Avenue in 1974. The crassly named successor, Le Cirque 2000, which nobody really liked much, was at the equally crass New York Palace hotel from 1997 to 2004.

Famed host Sirio Maccioni will still be in charge. He is 74, but told the Times "I'm too old to retire," which is one of the most nonsensical statements I've ever heard. Sirio spend a $18 million of the new joint.

According to the Times, the centerpiece of the cafe will be a tower of wine, where the sommelier will keep "the better bottles of red wine." The finer whites will have to make do with the subterranean gulley of wine, one would assume. Fine way to treat a Montrachet.

09 May 2006

Fairway on the Way

According to our friends at Curbed.com, the Red Hook branch of Fairway—long promised, long debated—will actually open for real and truly at 10:30 AM on Wednesday, May 17.

The foodmarket will just a quick trip on the B61 from my neighborhood, inhabiting an old pre-Civil War coffee warehouse. The Van Brunt street building will feature 52,000 freakin' square feet of fancy veggies, cheese, olive oil, meats and, yes, coffee. Sure makes the Met foodmarket on Henry Street look pretty small.

It will be interested to see whether Red Hook will survive or just die of a heart attack from all the commotion. The twin arrivals of Fairway and Ikea in sad, old, faded Red Hook have been bickered about for five years. "They will save Red Hook!" "They will kill Red Hook!" "Oh my God! All the terrible traffic they will bring!" "Oh my God! All the wonderful traffic they will bring!" I grew tired of listening to the arguments long ago.

But, I must admit a feel a little tingle of excitement knowing the gourmet barn is about to throw open its doors. I like swanky food, too, just like anybody. And it is a classic, locally owned New York business—something I can support. Then again, the thought of trend-sucking yuppies rolling in every weekend to stock up on aged Gouda and cordoons makes me queasy. And if the place ends up as crowded as the Upper West Side branch usually is, it won't be a pleasant place to visit. This is Red Hook, after all. Dogs can take a nap on most streets. We're used to there being no one around.

05 May 2006

Get Your Own Damn Post

This is just barely on topic, since it concerned the oldest functioning newspaper in New York City, the New York Post. (Oily and repulsive though it is, it has a place in my heart because Alexander Hamilton founded it back in 1801, just three years before he got gunned down by Aaron Burr. It also has good media and theatre columns.)

Has anyone ever noticed that this is the paper New Yorkers most want to steal? It's not enough that it's only a measly 25 cents. They've got to have it for free! I've learned my lesson many a time on the subway: hang on to your Post. Lay the Times down on the seat next to you—no one shows the least bit of curiosity. Lay down a Metro or AM New York, it may as well be a candy wrapper.

But the Post. I've put the daily down for five seconds and been asked if I wanted it anymore. It's like catnip for murder-minded, gossip-hungry straphangers. Worse! If your hand's not attach to the paper, people will just take it! "Oh, was that yours? I'm sorry." Yeah, right, you two-bit, neo-con cheapskate. Just goes to show you: Rupert Murdoch's audience doesn't part with money willingly and is willing to break the law if it's in their self-interest.

Big Italy

The other day I hopped the D train to Bensonhurst—a neighborhood I'm ashamed to say I've never visited in 18 years of Gotham habitation—and learned a few things about one of the city's most notorious Little Italies. For one thing, it's not so little. I walked for miles along 86th Street under the elevated tracks before reaching my lunchtime destination, L & B Spumoni Gardens. And another thing: it's not so Italian.

Given the nabe's tough reputation, I half expected to be hit in the back of the knees with a lead pipe for just stepping off the train. But nary a short-haired, wide-bellied yoot harassed me. Why, it was a few blocks before I could even locate an Italian business. There were a lot of Chinese stores, quite a few Polish storefronts, and many a Korean grocer. Even a few lonely Kosher establishments. But the Italian places started to trickle in—a restaurant there, a bakery here, as well as some genuinely authentic Rome-style bars, with zinc counters, fine espresso, a table of goombahs in the corner and a back room for card playing and other "dealings." The area also boasted some gloriously antiquated signage dating from the 1930s to the 1960s.

But, to the purpose: the anomalous L & B Spumoni Gardens. To see this place, long heralded as one of the ur-Italian joints in the town, was my main purpose. The physical edifice is as odd as the its name. A low-slung brick edifice with a series of ordering windows, fronted by an old sign perched on a large pole and a couple dozen red-and-white picket tables, it could be a roadside drive-in in Anywhere, USA. Those who built it surely forgot that New York is a congested city with little elbow room. It's the kind of layout that would encourage hot shots to roll up in their flashy rides, leave the flivver idling and hop out for a quick slice and hello. I imagine the place is quite magical at night. It's made for Chinese lanterns.

You can order a lot of things here, but two items loom large: the square, Sicilian slices and the spumoni. You go up to one window to order one, a different window to order the other. As far as I could tell, you can not venture inside to eat your slice, but must take it to a picnic table. (There is some "elegant" dining off another area serving up heros and "hot plates," but it didn't seem to be open for business to anyone other than a quartet of clannish MTA workers.)

The slice is justifiable famous. Light and crisp for it size, with a savory tomato sauce and just a smattering of parmesan. It's all the goodfellas around me were eating. I had two. I should have had spumoni afterward, but, what can I say: I wasn't hungry for ice cream.

02 May 2006

The Deathless Temerity of Developers

When press agent Sidney Falco in the film "Sweet Smell of Success" said, "Your gaul is gorgeous!," he wasn't talking to a real estate development, but if he had been, the comment wouldn't have been out of place.

Take the tact-challenged folks behind the new Greenwich Village condo complex call 181 Sullivan Street. If the address seems familiar to you, you're probably a theatre geek. This chuck of Sullivan used to be the home of the Sullivan Street Playhouse, where "The Fantaskicks" played for decades upon decades. The show finally closed a few years back—the landlord wanted them out, and made plans to tear down the theatre and throw up a five-apartment luxury unit tout suite. What can you do? Nothing lasts forever. That's the New York way.

But it's the way they're doing it. Not content to stomp on the bones of New York and theatre history, they must also exploit the site's history to ease the flow of lucre into their pockets. In a bit of marketing spin to make theatre nostalgists wince, the new housing structure is trumpeted as "Five fantastic condominium residences."

These guys would tear down Grand Central Terminal if they could, and they crow about how "grand" and "central" the new condos they were offering were.