30 March 2007

What's Up with Gertel's? Hell If I Know

Last time I reported on the alleged, rumored, whispered imminent closure of Gertel's, the classic Lower East Side kosher bakery, the word was they would remain open until Passover in order to make good holiday orders. Since Passover begins this coming Monday night, I naturally assumed that today might be one of my last chances to visit the place, so I gave Gertel's a jingle.

The owner Abe Stern answered, told me he was open until 2 PM today and then rather grouchily denied that the shop would not reopen after Passover. So, the ax has been forestalled. Great. But is there even an ax at all anymore? Stern indicated that closing wasn't even an option, but, then, he hasn't been the most forthcoming of sources in the past. And what are we to make of our various visits to the bakery when workers more or less confirmed that the shutter was coming down sometime in the future.

Well, if Gertel's is forever once again, I'm more than happy. If anyone knows more about the situation, please let the people know.

Gertel's on the Brink
Update on Gertel's

A Good Sign: Dublin House

Even those who are not impressed by the artistry of neon signage are knocked flat when they see the blinking beacon of W. 79th Street's 80-year-old Dublin House for the first time. It's all a terrible Irish cliche, I know—a harp, for God's sake! But a cliche beautifully expressed. You won't see another sign quite like it in the city. Added bonus: the designation of "Tap Room."

29 March 2007

DOH Walks Over Walker's

The NYC Department of Health, still on the warpath, has temporarily shuttered the age-old Tribeca bar Walker's, according to Eater.com.

The space where Walker's draws its drafts has been a bar since the 1980s. It's had many lives in the past 130 years. The apartments above the bar gave way to a single occupancy hotel during the Depression. The address was an Irish restaurant in the '40s, then a Spanish eatery in the '50s and a shot-and-beer joint in the '60s. Jerry Walker, who also owns the Ear Inn, brought the place bar to its original purpose in 1987. There it's been ever since, at the corner of Varick and North Moore. It still have the feel of an Olde New York tavern.

We wish it well and hope it reopens soon. The way things are going, I'm guessing that DOH won't slow down until they've hit every restaurant in town and hit them hard. Either that, or until they start getting some good press. And that ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

Update (9 PM March 30): Eater.com reports that Walker's is back open. Quick work, guys!

Wooden Phone Booth Sighting: Chumley's

Don't try to make a call in this one. The guts were ripped out some time ago. It's now used by the waitresses to store their coats and junk. But just imagine the literary drunks who used it in the past to place 3 AM calls to rant at their editor. "Maxwell, this is Scott. (Hiccup.) Yes I know what time it is! But let me just tell you something you don't understand about chapter five..."

28 March 2007

It's a Good Day

Wal-Mart has given up the bad fight to penetrate the New York market.

Wal-Mart’s chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. said yesterday, "I don’t care if we are ever here."

The unions that have opposed Wal-Mart returned the sentiment. "We don’t care if they’re never here," said Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council. "We don’t miss them. We have great supermarkets and great retail outlets in New York. We don’t need Wal-Mart."

No horrendous, huge, ugly stores. No independent merchants being driven out of business. No further malling of Gotham. No underpaid, overworked, uninsured employees. Sorry, Bloomie: you couldn't get this corporate monster through.

The sun is shining, folks. It's a beautiful day.

Lincoln Center Gets a P.J. Clarke's

Last night, I exited a performance of "Die Agyptische Helena" at the Met to encounter a happy sight: there was a newly opened P.J. Clarke's restaurant across the street, ready for business. I have long bemoaned the lack of attractive eating and drinking options around Lincoln Center. So, though this Clarke's is just another pale copy of the real thing (the second of its kind, by my count, after the Financial District branch), I welcome it with open arms.

Inside, it's what you'd expect. Woody, red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, old photographs; the usual old-time hokum. Still looks too new, not lived-in enough. The space is huge and will easily suck up dozens upon dozens of concert-goers. The menu appears to be the same as what you'd find on Third Avenue. The vibe was friendly and good-natured.

They're still working things out. Our waitress was lively and sweet, but we were twice served a salad we didn't order. Our Manhattans were well made, but our food choices—chili, calamari, fries—were all uniformly taste-free, nothing like the chow on Third. Oh, well. It was their fifth day open. Since I get to LCT fairly enough, I'm sure to be back.

What's in a Name?

These signs are all over my neighborhood. They warn of Shaya Boymelgreen, a "global developer" who's coming our way and apparently, according to the flyer, means no good. I'm not going to make any evaluation of this gentleman in this item. (Other sites have covered his actions exhaustively.) I just want to say that I'm fascinating by the colorful, Dickensian peculiarity of his name. Shaya Boymelgreen. It's just so much fun to say. It's hypnotic. And the fact that he "is coming" just makes it all the more fascinating. "Shaya Boymelgreen Is Coming." It could be the tag line for a 1950s, sci-fi-horror B flick. The kind where somebody or something gets radiation poisoning and turns into a man-eating, rampaging mutant.

Legs and Bars

Bar stools awaiting employment just before opening time at the old Brooklyn Inn at the corner of Bergen and Hoyt.

26 March 2007

The Executioner

Is it just me, or does the Williamsburg Bank Building, in its dark masking, look something like a black-hooded executioner? Quite a fitting outfit, given that much of the WBB's immediate neighborhood is waiting for the ax to fall on its cultural neck.

25 March 2007

Hail Barbie, Full of Grace

No. 229 Dean Street in Boerum Hill offers something in the way of visual interest its neighbors don't: a humorous/blasphemous (depending on your point of view) display window in which a statuette of the Virgin Mary and a giant severed Barbie head share a few cubic feet of oxygen. The 3' by 2' space was carved out exactly between the two first story windows and is easily viewable from the street. There are no other signs of weirdness about the house.

Mary and Barbie are not exactly strangers. A few years back, an artwork that involved a Barbie doll and the Virgin of Guadalupe was exhibited in Santa Fe. So there's more than enough history there to justify their sharing a small studio apartment.

A Walk to Ward's

Since the papers say that Ward's Bakery Company at 800 Pacific Street is to come down post haste via Ratner, despite nascent efforts to get the structure landmarked, I decided to walk down and take a look at the building before it was transformed into rubble. (I admit, I have never gazed upon it before.) Once past Fifth Avenue, it was a bleak stroll indeed, the smell of death-by-development emanating from either side of the street. The south side of the street is lined by buildings silently awaiting the wrecking ball. The north side is lined by a garbage, broken pieces of cement barrier and a chain-link fence, behind which a steep drop leads down to a construction pit. Desoluation Boulevard, basically. (I'm sure a lot of this is old news to folks who live in the area.)

Ward's was built in 1911. It stands six stories and sets itself apart form the drab surrounding with its off-white, terra cotta-tiled front. It ceased operation as a bakery in 1995. I wouldn't call it an architectural gem, exactly, but it has an integrity about it and I would support its being landmarked, since whatever is erected in its place by Ratner will most certainly not be anywhere near as attractive. But that, of course will not be. Ward's is due to fall starting Monday, March 26. Teeny tiny bright spot: Ratner announced he would "recycle" 75 percent of the debris. Nice.

(By the way, does anyone remember that character from the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" called Mark "The Rat" Ratner? He was the dweeby guy who ends up with Jennifer Jason Leigh. I always wondered why no one has recycled this nickname and applied it to Bruce. Bruce "The Rat" Ratner. It seems obvious to me. He's pretty much a rat, isn't he? Looks a little rodentlke too.)

A strange thing happened while I was checking out Ward's. The block was bereft of all life save for one ramshackle, little, red four-door with the motor running. On the driver's side sat a stout, bearded Hasidic gentleman in a full gray beard and shirtsleeves. One the passenger said was another fat fella, bald as a cueball and what you'd call a tough character. (I kept thinking of the B-movie baddie Lawrence Tierney). They spoke for about 15 minutes, then baldie got out and walked back to a blue car parked behind the red one. They both then drove away.

I'm aware that embattled developer Shaya Boymelgreen once owned Ward's and hoped to turn it into a hotel, but later sold it to Ratner. The man in the red car bore a striking resemblance to Boymelgreen, though I can't say for sure it was him. But, if it was, I ask you: what kind of guy holds meetings in running cars on abandon streets? And why does a richie like him own such a dirty, broken-down rattletrap of a vehicle?

Things to think about. Meanwhile, the walk to Ward's revealed a number of plaintive streetscapes that follow.

This building once belonged to Tasty Provision, a meat-packing concern. I just love the name, and the stately way its presented. Apparently, this will be torn down.

You can see the faint outline of the (now ironic) words Winner's Circle on this building. I'm guessing it was once a bar, but can find no information on it.

This Spanish-American restaurant sits just beyond Ward's, sporting some bygone charm with its red-and-white stripe design and outmoded Coca-Cola signs.

24 March 2007

There Is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

According to this article in the Times, four bars in Greenpoint and Williamsburg have returned to the once-common tavern tradition of provided free food to go along with the libations they serve. Bar owners along the Bowery and elsewhere once used free food to lure potential customers and to fend off the complaints of teetotalers that their clientele were getting blotto faster due to drinking on an empty stomach.

The Trash Bar, the Alligator Lounge, Capone’s and Lost and Found the four backward-looking watering holes. All are owned by one John McGillon. The gratis eats are what you would expect: hot dogs, pizza, etc. It's a good idea by my sights, and probably the only part of the 19th century New York drinking ethos worth bringing back. Knock-out drops and getting Shanghai-ed have little enduring appeal.

Green Taxi for Sale

This eye-catching green car was seen puttering down Union Street the other day. The white sign in the window said it was formerly a Checker Cab and could be had for a mere $7,000. Not bad, though I imagine the gas mileage is not great and finding parts is a challenge.

22 March 2007

Whassup With Zito?

It was hard enough when the glorious Bleeker Street bakery A. Zito & Sons closed in 2004. But somehow it's a little harder to walk by it every time I'm in the Village and see it still standing vacant, its fine little storefront put to no good use. It just sits there, a painful reminder of what was and what's lost.

Tired of looking at the "For Lease" sign in the window, I called the number listed to ask what was going on. The quite nice and cooperative man on the other end of the phone said the lease to Zito had been sold to a small company which was shortly thereafter gobbled up by a bigger company. The bigger company has since proved "difficult" and sits on its hands and matters have come to a standstill. The real estate company listed on the sign has no control over the situation now, the man said. He knows the empty space bothers locals and he fields calls about it fairly often.

The Loneliness of the Long Distant Restaurant Reviewer

I dropped by Bonnie Slotnick's wonderful used cookbook store on W. 10th Street the other night and picked up the 1976 paperback edition of "The New York Times Guide to Dining Out in New York," just because I thought it would be fun to see what was thought of some of Gotham's most famous restaurants 30 years ago. Only five chow houses were then given the fabled four stars: Christ Cella, La Caravelle, Le Cynge, Maxwell's Plum and Parioli Romanissimo. Not one of 'em is open today. In fact, I could only find a dozen or so eateries in the volume that were still around. I may be missing a couple, but here are the survivors:

El Parador
Four Seasons
Joe Allen
John's of 12th Street
La Bonne Soupe
Le Cirque
Le Perigord
Le Veau d'Or
One If by Land, One If by Sea
Oyster Bar
Palm and Palm Too
P.J. Clarke's
Russian Tea Room

(There are, of course, other long-haulers left in New York, but they weren't mentioned in the '76 Times guide.)

The book was compiled by John Canaday, a man better known as an art critic who had a brief career at a Times restaurant reviewer, and he makes for rather crotchety guide through the Manhattan food world. Canaday was nearly 70 when the book was published and it shows. He complains constantly about excessive dining-room noise, drafts and being rushed through his meal. (I'm guessing John was the kind of guy to spend 45 minutes over his soup.)

But more than anything, Canaday comes off as a lonely man with a king-sized, Timesian chip on his shoulder about not having been invited to the Big Party. About a place called Joe and Rose, he says "The trouble is you don't feel really welcome unless you're one of the gang." Of La Cote Basque, he carps "Our only reservation about this nearly perfect restaurant is that it is notorious for playing favorites." La Grenouille "operates on a caste system." Le Perigord "has occasional lapses into snootiness." Everybody at Pietro's "seems to know the people at several other tables." And exclusive "21" gets a total drubbing: "Unless they know you at `21' there's not much point in trying to get in, and there's not much point in getting in if you're not already known once you're inside." He docks the club two whole stars for not treating every Joe (or John) like a king.

A Good Sign: Fedora Restaurant

Fedora's is run by a little old lady named Fedora Dorato, who lives above the basement restaurant on W. 4th Street in the Village. It's been there since at least the 1950s. A stuck-in-time, red-sauce sort of place, and a reminder of another kind of Greenwich Village where food was perhaps not as good, but plentiful and cheap. I imagine Fedora fed a lot of starving artists in its heyday. The menu is a kind of backward charmer, reminding the eater that Fedora doesn't take credit cards, you have to order a minimum of $5, and that Fedora is "comfortably air-conditioned"—surely a major draw in 1957.

The sign speaks for itself. And, unlike other city signs of this vintage, every letter is in working order. Nice going, Mrs. Dorato.

20 March 2007

Lost City: Chicago Edition: It Takes an Italian Village

The Berghoff Memorial Blog, which continues to remind us with regularity that Chicago and all the world now lives in a world without The Berghoff—the Windy City eating institution that closed last year—now reminds us of happier news: The Italian Village lives. Proof that not everything in the once gritty Loop is new new and shiny and soulless.

Imagine the kitschiest family restaurant in Little Italy, then pump it up a few sizes. That's Italian Village. There are cheesy fake frescoes on the wall, twinkly lights on the ceiling and the captains wear tuxes. The Capitanini family has been holding court on W. Monroe for 80 years. The third generation is now running the works. A recent Chicago Sun-Times article revealed a few tasty historical tidbits: during World War II, the restaurant changed its name to Alfredo's Village, to avoid association with Mussolini; some of the herbs and vegetables used in the cooking come from the family garden in River Forest; and the Capitaninis produce a line of sauces carried by Whole Foods.

It's been a while since I've been to Chicago, but I well remember a meal my family had there before catching Bernadette Peters in the musical version of "The Goodbye Girl." A very memorable experience, grand and corny. The musical? Don't ask.

Vinylmania No Longer Grips Village

Sad news from Greenwich Village. Vinylmania, a "High Fidelity" sort of shrine to record geeks, has closed. I'm not one of those who ferret through bins of LPs looking from obscure Australian imports of obscure British bands that existed for two years back in the early '70s, but I respect the obsessive pursuit of quality and art practiced by those who do. I'm sure this is a major crusher from them. They don't deserve it. And neither does Carmine Street, one of the more raffish strips left in the Village.

Di Fara's Still Not Open

Di Fara's pizzeria remains closed today, despite owner Dom DeMarco's voiced hopes that he would reopen this Tuesday. A man on the phone said the reopening would likely take place on "Friday or Saturday." Very likely, Dom is patiently waiting for some joker from the Department of Health to take the time to show up and survey the place out again.

One whole week without Di Fara's pizza. I ask you: Is that right? Life in New York is hard enough. Must it be temporarily diminished in this way, so that a DOH jackass can fill his weekly quota?

The reign of terror continues. According to the New York Post, Brasserie LCB, which lives in the space one graced by La Cote Basque, is the latest victim. If the French aren't safe from this sort of treatment, who is?

UPDATE (7 PM March 20): Since posting this, the sobering facts of Di Fara's DOH report have gotten wide circulation through Gawker. Obviously, it wasn't a just a "few little things" like Dom wearing a hat that got him closed. Forgive me for not providing a link to the report. I can't take any glee in this. Particularly since Dom's daughter Margie De Marco has decided not to reopen her De Marco's pizzeria on E. Houston Street in the wake of last week's rampage by gunman David Garman, who shot and killed a De Marco bartender and then felled two unarmed auxiliary cops before being slain himself. I still love the joint and the man and wish him a speedy opening and a fresh new broom with stiff bristles.

19 March 2007

Carroll [Gardens]

I say. Now this is fucked up.

Sez here, in the ever-creditable paper of record for folks living south of Atlantic and north of Hamilton, the Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill Courier, that the signature architectural feature of Carroll Gardens—the GARDENS—don't actually belong to the owners of the brownstones they lead up to, but to the freakin' city, specifically the Department of Transportation. Said department, it appears, once lived in fear that it would one day have to widen the neighborhood's streets, and, when that fateful day came, didn't want to tangle with stubborn landowners.

Of course, what says Quirky Antiquated Zoning Law to you and me says LOOPHOLE, LOOPHOLE, LOOPHOLE to the unscrupulous developer. Said real estate rats can now use this bit of legal weirdness to tear down an existing structure and build one of greater floor area. In response to this, a group is trying to get Carroll Gardens' zoning changed from the currently R6.

Nice idea. Better idea would be to get the Landmarks Commission to landmark a greater part of the nabe. Two lousy blocks! That's how much of Carroll Gardens is landmarked. Two lousy blocks! Carroll Street and President Street between Smith and Hoyt. First Place through Fourth Place from Court to Henry should have be designated long ago.

Local Color

A reader tipped me off to something he called the "mosaic house" on Wyckoff Street between Smith and Hoyt, asking if I'd seen it. I thought I had seen everything in my general neighborhood and all the neighboring 'hoods, but, no, I would've remembered this.

Three-story 108 Wyckoff is covered up to its waist in a riot of colorful beads, tiles, mirrors and ceramic chips. The swirling designs depict people, windows, silhouettes, orbs and various undulating shapes. Every available space is covered, including the window bars. It all communicates an atmosphere of joy which is punctuated by the word "celebrate," spelled out several times. Also repeated in the design is the number "108," to ensure spellbound mailmen deliver the post.

The in-progress mosaic is the work of artist Susan Gardner, who's been at work transforming her house since 2001. She does a little more every year. A neighbor said she emerges when the weather turns warm to recommence the project. (Personally, I think it looks good as is, the color and chaos of the lower floor contrasting nicely with the safe gray brick up top.)

The whole thing could easily have been a garish eyesore, but instead it feels like a classic quirky, architectural oddity in the making—the kind New York neighborhood's are blessed with from time to time, like Clinton Hill's ill-starred Broken Angel.

18 March 2007

Icicles on Tenth Avenue

What with Global Warming, icicles—one a classic symbol of wintertime—have become more rare. In my youth, I recall them hanging from every gutter and windowsill for the duration of winter. Now, we only occasionally get the storms and extended spells of cold needed to create them. This last squall, in which snow fell steadily for nearly 24 hours, seemed to do the trick; icicles were fairly prevalent throughout the city. These particularly nice examples were found on Tenth Avenue near 17th Street.

17 March 2007

Jade Mountain Memories

Though I posted the news of Jade Mountain's closing almost two months ago, fans and patrons of the old chow mein joint on Second Avenue continue to discover the sad news and occasionally register their dismay through heartfelt comments.

To my amazement, the shuttering of this landmark has still not been covered by the mainstream press. And at this point, it probably won't be. (If the Times doesn't get first crack at news like this, it tends to ignore the entire circumstance altogether.) So, as a balm to those who miss the delightfully crummy decor, the bacon-wrapped butterfly shrimp and, most of all, the glorious, should-be-in-the-Smithsonian neon signs, here are a couple shots taken just a few days before Jade Mountain closed for good.

Enjoy and lament.

16 March 2007

DOH Must Be Stopped!

First John's, the The Coffee Shop, now the unthinkable—Di Fara's.

It is time for the police or some vigilante group to intervene and stop the Department of Health in its tracks. Look, guys, I'm sorry you're all so lame that you didn't spot the nation of rats forming a de facto government at the Taco Bell/KFC in the Village, and are so angry that the whole city caught you in your lameness (or, I suppose you might be feeling guilty—NAH!), but you're not impressing or fooling anymore with your Visigoth tear through New York's culinary treasures. Oh, yeah! You're BIG men shuttin' down classic joints instead of giving 'em warnings and a timetable to clean things up. You'll get a gold star for sure from Bloomie by year's end. And while he's pinning it on you, you might mention to him that all the rats scampering around might be coming from the thousands of green-lighted development projects ripping up the earth to make Gotham safe for condo-dwellers.

According to Slice, Di Fara owner Dom DeMarco's great crimes were not wearing a hat and gloves. Jesus. Anyone who's been there and seen the pies put together on the spot with only fresh ingredients knows there's not a healthier place in town. Dom said he will reopen his Midwood miracle by next Tuesday. But you know what? That's not good enough. Nobody has the right to shut down Di Fara's for six days, except Dom himself.

Available: Apartments, Lofts

I don't know. Looks pretty drafty.

A Good Sign: McGovern's Bar

This is the sign outside McGovern's Bar on the western stretch of Spring Street in Soho. Used to be a great old dive. I see now that, though the sign is still hanging, the place is now something called Sway Lounge, which I couldn't give a flying fig about because it's got a cordon and a beefy bouncer and is obviously some trendoid haunt. At least the sign remains. Give it a good stare and move on.

Wooden Phone Booth Sighting: The Ear Inn

This photo sucks, but the rough old Ear Inn on far west Spring Street isn't big on lighting. And they've also got these terrifying "The Ear Inn Is a Cell Phone Free Zone" signs posted everywhere, which made me fear for my life at the hands of the many tough-looking, large-bellied, hard-drinking bar denizens when I briefly took out my phone to snap this shot.

Anyway, it's a genuine wooden phone booth, with a few peculiar features. The folding door collapses in an uneven way, the hinge being set toward one side. The fan inside (all of these booth seem to have ventilation systems) is actually an old, metal fan with three open blades. It spins around at a snail's pace when you flick it on.

But the most intriguing thing about the booth are its tin walls, something I've never seen. (Were they afraid a fire would break out inside?) It's a nice pattern and painted green for some reason. Or maybe that was just the green bulb that is the booth's only illumination.

15 March 2007

Glitter on Warren Street

This four-story, red-brick building on a lonely, atmospheric block of Warren Street near Hicks in Cobble Hill has always intrigued me. As long as I've known it, the windows and doors have been sealed up with cinder blocks. Word in the neighborhood is that is was once, of all things, a Christmas tree ornament factory. A closed Christmas tree ornament factory—now isn't that about the most romantic, melancholy notion you've ever come across? I can't find any confirmation of this rumor, but locals say that, until recently, you'd find glitter on the sidewalks surrounding the building.

Anyone know anything more about this place? It certainly looks like a ripe candidate for condoization.

14 March 2007

Manhattan, Brooklyn Earn Landmarks; Queens Craps Out

Well, any day the Landmarks Commission recognizes some new building is a good one, I guess. On March 13, the fickle, capricious body announced that it had tapped the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's Laboratory Administration Building and 23 and 25 Park Place in Tribeca with its magic wand. The first would seem a real "duh" decision; I'm suprised that building hadn't been designated a landmark previously. The latter two date from 1857 and were designed by Samuel A. Warner. The Daily News was super happy about this one, since it used to do business at the addresses. That's the way to get press support, Mr. Commissioner! Quick! Since a house Adolph Ochs used to live in!

It's hard to get happy, however, when at the same time some sonsabitches are tearing down the glorious Vetter Mansion in Richmond Hill. What? Did the paperwork get lost on this one? Any fool could see it was a beautiful old thing. I'm going to get irrational here and blame Mayor Bloomberg personally for this one. I know how much he cares about Queens. I worked in Woodside last summer when the Con Ed brown out hit.

13 March 2007

Wolves Rip at Lamb's

Destruction of the Lamb's building, former home of the famed Lamb's Club, has begun in earnest.

A construction outfit—presumedly hired by the Hampshire Hotels Group, which bought a 99-year-lease on the property—was kicking up a duststorm carting tons of lumber out of the first floor entrance on March 13 and dumping the debris in a dumpster and on the sidewalk. Hampshire can't totally destroy the Lamb's, since the 1906 Stanford White exterior and parts of the interior are landmarked. But, from the looks of things, one of those interior parts isn't the first floor. The boys were tearing up that level pretty good. Nothing of the lobby as I remember it seemed to remain.

The deal between Hampshire and The Church of the Nazarene, which owned the Lamb' since the early '70s but has now moved to the Lower East Side, was closed in January. The address is to become a hotel according to reports. Otherwise, Hampshire has been pretty secretive about the whole thing.

To read more about the Lamb's history, click here.

By the way, on the eastern cornerstone of the building you can still read the words "Floreant Agni." This was the Lamb's Club motto. It means "May the Lambs Flourish." Well, let's hope so.

J. Press on the Move

J. Press, the 105-year-old men's clothier on E. 44th Street in Midtown is moving. A sign in the window advertised a "moving sale." Sales clerk Ed said the store would shutter the first week of April and move to new digs on Madison Avenue and 47th Street. "More foot traffic," he said was the reason for the shirt. J. Press, which was born in New Haven on the Yale campus, has been in its current location on E. 44th between Fifth and Madison for 20 years. Before that it was across the street.

The move is probably a good idea. To my mind, J. Press has always been a little overshadowed by its mighty neighbor, Brooks Brothers. That—and the name-recognition-erosion it must have suffered in the '80s and '90s when J. Crew and J. Peterman rose to prominence—must have cut into profits.

A good amount of preppy, Ivy League wear looked to be on sale. For those who like such stuff, come a-running!

12 March 2007

A Good Sign: Corner Bistro

For elegant simplicity, nothing beats the neon sign outside Greenwich Village's no-nonsense Corner Bistro, hung at a diagonal to split the sidewalk between W. 4th Street and Jane Street. It entices you to enter like few signs can.

As an extra bonus—and for you who like pictures of long rows of ketchup bottles—here's an extra shot. Gosh, think any burger at the Bistro goes wanting?

Whatsit Mean?

How do you keep the consumers interested in your hotel if you happen to run a broken-down fleatrap? Word puzzles and conundrums, that's how.

Outside the seedy and indestructable Hotel Carter on W. 43rd Street (opposite the Times building, doncha know?) hangs a cheap and shiny marquee adorned with two perplexing selling points. One reads: "You Always Wanted in Time Square and Less." The other: "A Short Trip From Wherever You Are."

WTF? Do they mean "Everything you always wanted in Time Square." And if so, why "less," not "more." Do they mean the Carter is a short trip from wherever I am? If they do, what do I care? Since I'm already nearby and close to the things I want to visit, why do I need to stay at the Carter? Or do they mean the Carter is a short trip from wherever I want to go?

Thinking the bad grammar and mangled meaning was on purpose and steeped in irony, I went inside and spoke to the concierge, a dignified Asian gentlemen with silver hair. But when I asked him to explain the slogans, he merely repeated them, straight-faced, as if they were the most logical maxims imaginable. Were any words missing? No. I got the feeling he thought they were dynamite slogans. Then he handed me a calling card for the Carter, emblazoned with the same bizarre appeals.

The Carter lobby is a spacious, strange place. Lots of clocks telling you the time in foreign cities. A bunch of oriental rugs rolled up in the corner. Stairs up to something called the Dixie Restaurant, which is closed, with the promise of a sushi joint to come. And in one distant corner, something you don't see in hotels anymore: a framed directory of local churches. And I mean EVERY church. Maybe after a stay at the Carter, some prayer is in order.

Beck Is Back

It says Hirschfeld on the marquee, but Beck on the will-call window.

A few years ago, the Jujamcyn Theatres people rechristened the Martin Beck Theatre on W. 45th Street The Al Hirschfeld Theatre, loosening long gone vaudeville producer Martin Beck's already tenuous grip on immortality. But Beck, who built the theatre—one of the most beautiful on Broadway—isn't totally forgotten. Theatregoers picking up tickets at the will-call window will see his unfamiliar name there, and perhaps wonder if the man at the window is named Martin Beck.

Beck, by the way, had one of my favorite nicknames in New York history: "Two Beers Beck." Whether that means he was on the floor after two brewskies, or resolutely refused to down more than two ales, I don't know. I suspect he was a good negotiator, as any Broadway producer has to be, and would engage his colleagues in a friendly drink while talking business. But he would order only two beers—enough to seem convivial, but not so much that he wouldn't lose his grip on the situation.

10 March 2007

Better Late Than Never

Took me about eight months to notice that Mr. Souvlaki, the sweet little Greek restaurant on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, had closed its doors. Guess I don't walk down that street as much as I ought. Still, I'd like to record its passing here. It was a homey, unpretentious place for the Heights, and probably the cheapest sit-down meal on Montague. Their white bean soup was wonderful. Harry and Anna Kilimitzoglou were the owners. Thirty-three years they were at it. Nothing new is there as of yet. The wide blue awning is gone and there is newspaper over the windows. I hear a dentist's office will be going in there. Turnover has always been endemic to Montague. Mr. Souvlaki was one of the steadies. Too bad.

09 March 2007

Eisenberg's in Pictures

I defy anyone to spend an afternoon at the lunch counter of Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop on lower Fifth, nursing a cup of coffee with a light snow falling outside, and not feel cared for, content and indisputably in New York.

The old luncheonette is a collection of comforting details, many untouched for decades, and, a few days back, while enjoying some matzah ball soup, I captured a few. The service, by the way, was unerringly considerate and easy-going.

The sign says "Why not warm up with a hot bowl of creamy tomato soup?" Take heed, world.