30 April 2007

Four Flags Over Bay Ridge

Found this on a wall in Bay Ridge, lost among the surrounding dung heap of auto body stores and spare tire outfits. The flags surround the Stars and Stripes are, clockwise from bottom left: Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Stumped? Well, before "Saturday Night Fever" made everyone think Bay Ridge was full of Italians and nothing but, the nabe was home to a huge Scandinavian population. More Norwegians than Oslo at one point, they said. Mostly gone, now, of course. But this wall gives passersby a silent reminder.

Reason the Swedish flag is bigger than the other two? Could be because the still-hanging-on Swedish Social Club is just next door, to the right.

Horses Put Out to Pasture

One of my longest-lived life goals is to learn how to ride a horse. With every year, I become more convinced this will probably never happen. Still, my heart leaps up a bit whenever I see someone who's good in the saddle.

Living in New York, I only have two opportunities to view such beings. One group is the mounted police, the sight of one of whom is enough to restore my respect for the uniform. The others are found in Central Park, elegant equestrians riding steeds from the Claremont Riding Academy. My parents used to thrill when they spied riders and horses resting through the glass walls of Tavern on the Green's Crystal Room. I did, too.

Well, the thrill is gone. Claremont, Manhattan's last public riding stable, closed for good yesterday. The owner, Paul Novograd, who has said he's gone into debut supporting the place, finally gave up the fight. He will not tell folks what will be done with the landmark property, but, according to the New York Sun, "it has been widely rumored that he is selling it to a real estate developer who will build condominiums atop the four-story building." Swell.

As for the homeless riders, seems they'll have to go and canter in The Bronx or Brooklyn (gasp!), where there are yet public stables.

What of the horse? Well, the owner said "some would be sold, while others would go to his home Upstate, to his other riding academy in Gaithersburg, Md., and to a riding program at Yale University, his daughter's alma mater." Hm. Home Upstate? Other riding academy? Yale? Dude seems to have some money.

Invisible Landmark Disappears

Now, here's a lost treasure whose destruction no one would have missed if not for the vigilant blog Queen's Crap.

Above is what's taken the place of the house below, which used to be the house even further below, which was once the clubhouse of the long-gone Richmond Hills Golf Course, now present-day Kew Gardens. You've got one guess as to which is the uglier of the three.

I'll never understand McMansions. They've received nothing but barrelloads of bad press from day one. Yet people still order them up. What malfunctioning part of their brains tells them these things are beautiful or prestigious? Can this be chalked up to our nation's over-interest in mobster life? Have we come to think that goodfellas' unerring bad taste is actually good taste?

28 April 2007

Chumley's Fans Now Have Own Website

Someone, on April 26, posted the first item of a new blog called Saving Chumley's, which is dedicated to the cause of, what else?, saving Chumley's, the one-of-a-kind former speakeasy that is in danger of extinction due to a collapsed chimney and a ruthless landlord.

Now, I love this person, whoever he or she may be, and I wish them well. Their heart is in the right place and, God knows, they're fighting the right fight.

BUT, I hope they'll put some teeth in the blog real soon. Either they are naive in the extreme or do not wish to make waves, but early on they express their belief that
"it is going to re-open" (I wish I was so confident). Then they send out some words of sympathy to the landlord: "This is obviously extremely financially taxing to the owners." They may be referring to the owners of Chumley's. I don't know. But I think it's fair guess that the owners of Chumley's are not the ones laying out the dough to fix the joint. That would be the owner of the BUILDING, Margaret Streicker Porres, a landlord of bad reputation and the one who let the building fall into disrepair. As far as how much this is financially taxing her, I'd say she's holding up under the strain. Her dad is Richie Rich and she is a chip off the old block. She has the money to do this fix-up job ten times over, and, what's more, she should have done it ages ago. It's not a burden. It's her duty!

So, Save Chumley's, if you really want to help, know what your fight is, and who you're fighting. She's a Goliath and you won't beat her—and thus save Chumley's—until you land that rock right between her eyes.

Now—get out there and post!!!

27 April 2007

Latest Brooklyn Inn Update: Pool Table, No; New Brews, Yes

Recent posts here and elsewhere have apparently provoked the rapid devotion some bear for The Brooklyn Inn and its cherished Old Time Taverniness.

New info furnished to Eater.com claims the the new owners of the Inn are those same who own the Tile Bar(s) and the Magician. According to the tipster:

They're getting rid of the pool table and putting more tables in, but other than that it shouldn't change too much (some staff turnover, maybe different beers/specials/prices). We were at the Tile Bar in 1st Ave. last night and asked the bartender there and she confirmed this to be true.

Well, that doesn't sound too bad. Although, the red velvet pool table, tucked into the dimly lit back room, does present an stirring portrait of Hopperesque urban loneliness not to be missed.

26 April 2007

Chumley's Reopening: Six Months and Counting

Perhaps come Thanksgiving 2007, we'll all have something to be thankful for.

Curbed.com is reporting that work dismantling the historic speakeasy's collapsed chimney has begun, brick by wearisome brick. After that is completed, steps will be taken to stabilize the structure, which, to the eye, looks to tumble at any moment.

The time frame for the work: six long months. It's gonna be a long dry summer.

Bloomberg Sez: Fix That Pool, Fix That Bridge

While I'm not so crazy about the news that The Brooklyn Inn is going from beer joint to bistro, I like this report on Curbed.com. Mayor Bloomberg, who's got Green on the brain, plans to fix up some outer borough landmarks that need some fixin' up.

Reports Curbed.com:

First up is the High Bridge, the pedestrian walkway that connects Manhattan and the Bronx, which has been closed since the '60s. Starting in 2008, the High Bridge will get a $65 million facelift in advance of a reopening. Very cool, but not as shocking as what's in store for McCarren Pool. Two years from this summer and $50 million later, McCarren Pool will be a pool again, albeit at one-third its current size.

Good moves, both. Can you imagine swimming in McCarren? And walking from the Bronx to Manhattan? Mind-blowing.

How to Brighten Up Your Blight

This building on DeGraw offers a charming solution to how to sunny up that boarded-up feeling. I'm touched by the effort. Very Mondrian.

25 April 2007

Brooklyn Inn Update

Alarmed by reports on the web that The Brooklyn Inn, the classic wood-tin-and-mirrors tavern on the corner of Bergen and Hoyt in Boerum Hill, was shuttering, I dropped by the place last night.

Turns out there's more to the story than a simple closure. The bartendress told me the tavern is not closing, but is changing hands. What's not clear is if the new owners plan to keep the Brooklyn Inn the Brooklyn Inn, or keep it going as a bar under a different name, or convert the whole thing into a different business, such as a bistro. (Ugh.) The woman also said the two owners are trying to make sure the bar isn't closed for the period of time during the handover. It's all pretty murky.

The building is within the Boerum Hill Historic District, so that may protect it from serious renovation. And a bistro would at least mean you could still go in and view the fabulous oak woodwork and the 20-feet-high tin ceiling. Still, the place feels like what it is, a bar, and would be ill-served by repurposing. The scene last night was heartening in its lack of pretense. Thirty-something and Forty-something Brooklyn schlubs being Brooklyn schlubs. One young couple getting to know each other better over several beers. A guy in the back room trying to impress a leggy blonde with his pool prowess. Guys regularly going out to smoke on the corner. Some musicians piling their instruments in the corner and grabbing a drink after a local gig. These guys don't need another hot brunch place on Sundays.

UPDATE: (1 PM April 26) A tipster who seems to be in the know has written into Eater.com confirming that The Brooklyn Inn will be a bistro, serving omelettes and the like. Also, that the owner of the Inn also owns the building. The motivation for the change: Mr. Owner wants more MONEY.

24 April 2007

Holy Suffering Crap! The Brooklyn Inn to Close?

How did I miss the posts on this? The great old Brooklyn Inn, which have been on the corner of Hoyt and Bergen in Brooklyn since dinosaurs roamed the borough, is to close??!!!

It's news like this that makes me fearful that anything could happen in horrid li'l olde New York in today's real estate market under the reign of Mayor "What-Me-Worry-About-The-City's-Cultural-Legacy" Bloomberg. (Big pictures he's great at; small ones, he sucks.) The Old Town Bar to become a Duane Reade. Rao's to convert into a Dunkin' Donuts outlet. The Fraunces Tavern to be ripped down to make way for condos. It could all happen tomorrow, folks! Where developers have a will, they'll find a slimy, loophole-ridden way.

The Brooklyn Inn has been on that corner for a century or more. My 90-year-old landlord told me how he used to drink there. It's famous for having no signage to speak of, a la Chumley's, and for its high tin ceiling and massive wooden bar. It's has literary status, too: Jonathan Lehman made it one of the settings in "Motherless Brooklyn." I can't bear to think it's on the way out. I ask you people: What the fuck is wrong with this city?

Don't Try to Remember

By the looks of it, the condo tower known as 181 Sullivan Street—and built on top of the bones of the old Sullivan Street Playhouse, for decades home to "The Fantasticks"—is about ready to open it doors (as much as the doors of such a place are open to the likes of you and me). There's still work to be done, but it can't be long now.

If you want in (that is, if they're not all already sold), these "Five fantastic condominium residences" (as they've been rather callously advertised) will set you back $2.25 million.

While, all things considered, I'd rather have the Playhouse back, I have to admit the new structure isn't atrocious and does an OK job fitting in the surrounding area. This block of Sullivan, between Bleecker and Houston, is one of the loveliest in the city. The row of identical, brick, Greek Revival townhouses on the west side of the street are all painted in different subdued colors, from light pink to gray to pale yellow. (See below.) It gives off the effect of a street in Bermuda or some port town in the Mediterranean. Just plain lovely.

Lotsa history here. Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia was born at 177. Robber Baron Jay Gould lived at 179. Now, famous and rich folks live here, like Anna Wintour.

23 April 2007

The Second Avenue Bank

This is so depressing.

Chase finally unveiled its latest location, the corner of Second Avenue and 10th Street that used to belong to the late, lamented Second Avenue Deli. Chase is my bank, but even I'm sick of their relentless convenience.

What I wanna know is, dude, where'd the plaques to the Yiddish Theatre Walk of Fame go? I can't tell exactly from this picture, but it looks like they've vanished from the sidewalk.

UPDATE (4 PM April 23): Readers inform me that the plaques are still there, putting Chase in the odd position of appearing to be a nostalgic booster of the Yiddish Rialto! Perhaps they will build on this bit of happenstance by seizing some naming opportunties. The Deli had a Molly Picon room. So why not the Molly Picon ATM Vestibule? The Jacob Adler Information Desk? The Boris Thomashefsky Cubicle?

22 April 2007

Two Coney Signs

A study in contrasts, wouldn't you say? Think Sam and Rico know each other?

Gaging Interest

Might Gage & Tollner be washed free of its shameful association with TGI Friday's?

The Times reported yesterday that the landmarked building on Fulton Street, Brooklyn, that once was home to the Guilded Age eatery Gage & Tollner—but has had to suffer the ignominy of being just another branch of the TGIF chain after G&T closed in 2004—may soon have a tenant worthy of its beautiful interior.

TGIF closed last month, sending ripples of hope throughout the preservationist crowd. And the article seems to bear out the idea that the owners of the building have seen the error of their ways"

Faith Hope Consolo, chairwoman of the retail division of Prudential Douglas Elliman real estate, said she was considering the site on behalf of a French brasserie with several outlets in Manhattan. “I think they’re looking for a more upscale restaurant there,” Ms. Consolo said of the site’s owners.

Surely, there must be an upscale restauranteur up to the challenge of bring high-end eats to Fulton Mall.

As for TGIF, there was a very funny quote from Larry Abrams, the property manager for the franchise group that operated the restaurant. "It could have used more signage to let people know we were there, but we couldn’t, partially because of the landmark restrictions. It was good for preservation, but not good for attracting attention."

21 April 2007

Got Anise Toast?

19 April 2007

The Eyesore of Union Street

The recent debate on Curbed.com about which of two new townhouses in Williamsburg was the ugliest got me thinking about which addresses might win the blue ribbon in my nabe, Carroll Gardens.

I didn't think for long. Since this boil on Union Street between Henry and Clinton erupted a year or so ago, there has been, to my mind, no contest for the CG uggo loving cup. Make this atrocity three times bigger and it might be crass and vulgar enough to earn a spot on the East Hampton beachfront. The design's utter disregard for the tone and style of the surrounding structures (mainly nice stately brownstones—you can see them in the picture below; the unattractive jobs on the left and right of the eyesore are not the norm) is representative of the egotism and thoughtlessness that marks so much of the developments in the city these days.

What were they after? They must think this mélange of piled-on geometrical forms is the height of modernist class. In reality, it looks like a whitewashed version of a Lego building my son might build. And get a load of the ludicrous opulence of the spiral staircase leading to the roof deck. Where do they think they are? What are they looking at up there? The BQE?

Locals still stop in front of this thing and gape in confusion and horror.

La Cote Basque, Au Revoir?

Eater reports that things don't look so good for Brasserie La Côte Basque, the restaurant descendant of the legendary La Cote Basque of Henri Soule and Truman Capote fame. The place was closed by a snitty Department of Health capo last March and hasn't opened since. It's still closed for "minor renovations," according to a sign, and the place's website has vanished.

Sad if owner Jean-Jacques Rachou has taken the DOH closing as a reason to throw in the towel. The eatery is as redolent with New York restaurant history as any in New York. It was founded by the legendary restauranteur Soule in 1958 as the man's second base, the first being Le Pavillon, the French restaurant that birthed an era of haute French cuisine in New York. It used to be located across the street from the St. Regis, off Fifth. It moved to its current location about a decade ago, keeping its famous murals in the move. Rachou closed La Cote Basque in 2004 and reopened the shop as a more casual bistro. Nonetheless, you can still see the old new "La Cote Basque" sign on the side of the building. Rachou would switch it on every night, even after the real La Cote Basque was history, for whatever reason.

17 April 2007

A Good Sign: La Delice Pastry Shop

This old-fashioned pastry place has been in Third Avenue in the Murray Hill area for more than 80 years I'm told. I like the daring choice on three completely different fonts in old sign. It adds an endearing quirkiness.

Stop Them Before They Design Again

Even the rendering of this are an offense to Man and God.

The purple and red color scheme alone is a jailable action.

Times Find Chumley's Landlord Is Bad Person

This just in: The New York Times has discovered that the slumlord that owns the Chumley's building and the neighboring building is not an upstanding citizen. They don't get around to actually mentioning Margaret Streicker Porres' name until the SEVENTEENTH paragraph, but after that they go to town on her, even smacking her with the cardinal sin of not responding to a reporter's questions. (Journalist love to point out lack of cooperation; it always makes the other party look bad.)

The article spends its first 16 paragraphs detailing the miserable lives led by people who live at 56 Bedford. Among the plagues: mice, lack of heat, caved-in-ceilings, non-working fireplaces, collapsing bathrooms and illegal construction. It's weird to think of people living in slum-like conditions in the middle of one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city.

Articles like this make you ask yourself fundamental questions about the way we live, such as: how is a person that allows other people to live under such condition not thrown in jail?; and, can it be that such landlords only care about money, that they have no shred of human decency or concern for the welfare of their fellow beings. I know these are naive questions. But you've still got to wonder. Such behavior just doesn't neatly fall under the usual dodge of "it's just business."

The article also contains the depressing news that the Buildings Department has issued no permit yet for the work needed to shore up the facade.

Hope Maggie's having a rotten day.

16 April 2007

Pining for The Fireman's Special

I miss a lot of things about Latticini-Barese, the old Italian salumeria on Union Street near Hicks that closed in 2002. But mostly, I miss "The Fireman's Special."

This was a peerless sandwich made of various cured meats, cheeses, lettuce, tomato, oil, vinegar and sweet and hot peppers, all on half a loaf of Italian bread. It may have been the best goddam sandwich in the city, because I haven't since tasted an Italian hero that's approached it's explosive combination of spectacular flavors.

If I had had any brains, I would have written down the ingredients to the sandwich before the shop closed. They were listed right there about the counter, for Christ's sake! It wasn't a secret recipe. Sopressata, I remember. And probably Capicola. Beyond that I'm not so sure. I also remember, like I was seeing it yesterday, the simultaneous application of vinegar and oil from two different plastic squeeze bottles. It was a little bit of choreography. As for the peppers, I'm sure they marinated them themselves. They may have also used cheese made in the shop.

It's probably a doomed enterprise to try and recreate this sandwich. But does anyone out there remember it? More importantly, does anyone remember the ingredients! Please help a desperate man.

Working Barber Pole

Seen in Murray Hill. Not many of these around anymore. Inside there were three seats, no waiting. Haircuts topped off at $12.

Sherry-Lehmann Wines on the Move

Sherry-Lehmann, one of the oldest wine stores in Manhattan, and certainly one of the most high-falutin', is moving from its longtime location at 679 Madison Avenue to the northeast corner of 59th and Park. Same tony neighborhood, same ritzy clientele.

I looked at the new location. The Art Deco storefront has been empty for some time. Last thing I remember being in there was a high end shoe store. Work is underway, but much more work needs to be done if they're to meet their move deadline of August 2007. The new space will apparently have a 4,000 square foot cellar that will provide 2,000 square feet of wine storage, allowing the company to bring in some of its vino thats in storage in (!) Greenpoint. $1.5 million worth of wine will be on the move. (Will it get a police escort?)

Sunflower Diner Burning Bright

I was walking through Murray Hill today and was stunned to see a conflagration unfold before my very eyes. At the intersection of 2nd Avenue and 26th Street, the air seemed a little smokey. I looked up and saw gray-brown smoke begin to billow out of the top of a four-story, red-brick tenement building anchored by the Sunflower Diner.

The smoke just wouldn't stop. It rippled up like quickly forming cumulous clouds. A crowd gathered. An exhaust pipe leading out of the Sunflower and snaking up the side of the building began to emit wisps of smoke. No flames yet, maybe owing to the light rain.

The sirens began. In five minutes, four long ladder trucks were there. In a couple more minutes, three ladders were propped against the building. A fireman was on the roof. Another, armed with a long metal pole, was smashing the large floor-to-ceiling windows of the Sunflower. Smash! Smash! Smash! Tongues of fire appeared around the exhaust pipe and elsewhere. It seems clear the fire had started somewhere inside the Sunflower.

I've never been inside the Sunflower, but it's clear it will be closed for the foreseeable future.

I've witnessed plenty of fires in New York, but never one in its first stages. The response was quite impressive in its speed and organization. Those firemen didn't seem fazed in the least.

15 April 2007

A Trip Through Red Hook's Bloody Past

There's an interesting exhibit up now at the Art Lot, an open-air art space at Columbia Street and Sackett Street in Brooklyn. The lot's chain-line fence is plastered with copies of old newspaper accounts of the goings-on in the neighborhood dating from a hundred years ago to the present day.

You learn a lot from reading these stories. One thing, the area that the realty robots now call the Columbia Heights Waterfront District used to be called Red Hook Flats, a way of distinguishing it from Red Hook proper, which lied to the south. Another thing, the street were crawling with mobsters and rife with raw violence. Every article is about how someone got shot, killed, arrested, assaulted, etc.

At the four-story tenement at 122 President Street (seen above, the door on the left), on July 4, 1922, one Vincent Manella or Minella (depending on the article) answered a knock on the door and found one Anthony "Red" Somma, described as a "gunman and killer." Instead of saying hello, Somma began the visit by firing a couple bullets into Minella's stomach. Minella recovered enough to fire back, hitting Somma in the chest. Happy Fourth of July! They both went to Long Island Hospital. When they recoved consciousness, they refused to discuss the incident.

A few weeks later, Minella was standing in front of the pool room he owned at 53 President Street (since torn down, it would have stood at the above location) when he was shot again by a passing vehicle. At this point, an article states, Somma had been murdered. Just another day on President Street, it seems.

Other tasty news items: a carload of Italians got out of a car and assaulted a group of "Porto Ricans" standing on the corner of Sackett and Van Brunt; and a drunken Irish laborer, living at the corner of Van Brunt and Commerce, dragged his wife off the street and into the apartment, where he proceeded to beat and kick her until she was dead. Feeling remorse, he then fled into the night.

And, my favorite: In 1922, during Prohibition, at least 13 Red Hook residents died from wood alcohol poisoning after drinking some bad bootleg whisky, including Mrs. Anna Morris of 187 Conover Street, Peter McDermott of 70 Summit Street and Edward Burke of 142 Pioneer Street. (The complete list is below.) It was later discovered that the villianous brew was cooked up at 115 Wolcott Street.

These days, all the news is about the construction and rerouted bus lines on Columbia Street.

Nice Address

There are all kinds of places I'd move to in this town if I had the wherewithal, but a few cozy addresses have always lingered up near the top of the list. Warren Place in Cobble Hill is one. Patchin Place another. And then there's 34 1/2 and 36 1/2 on Barrow Street, a gate in the Village that I always pause before, wondering at the quaintness of it all and what it must be like to call this doorway home.

The iron gate leads to a brick passage that is as narrow as hell. Even a person of ideal weight would have to turn slightly to the side and bown their head to pass down the 30 or so feet that lead to the inner courtyard. I was told the building was once owned by Aaron Burr, but Burr seems to have owned half of Greenwich Village at one point or another, the scoundrel.

I'd love to one day venture into the courtyard. If, by any chance, anyone who lives at 34 1/2 or 36 1/2 is reading this blog, whaddaya say? A tour? I'm harmless and I'd be indebted. That also goes for residents of Warren Place and Patchin Place.

13 April 2007

Lost City: Chicago Edition: Hoi-Polloi Say Goodbye to a Couple Good Ones

The Berghoff Memorial Blog continues its litany of Windy City woe, noting the closure of two blue-collar havens: White Sox bar Jimbo's and German meat house Delicatessen Meyer.

The latter is just the sort of meat and potatoes institution you expect to find in Chicago. It's been in the Lincoln Park neighborhood since 1954. The butchers spoke German, and sold bratwurst and pototo salad. Apparently, the Koetke family, who owned it for many years, sold Meyer to Hans Liebl, and Liebl didn't do so well. The deli is in foreclosure.

Meanwhile, Jimbo's is a Bridgeport institution where White Sox fans hang out. The owners claimed they had an oral agreement with the landlord to stay put, but a Cook County Circuit Judge found otherwise. So Jimbo's must close April 30. Geez, how can you force a place called Jimbo's to close? C'mon guys! It's Jimbo!

Some Guy Wants to Save the Moondance Diner

There's an impassioned diner lover out there who's desperate to save the currently doomed Soho-based Moondance Diner, which has a date with the wrecking ball in May. He's looking for a moneyman to pick up the place, lock, stock and barrel, and move it somewhere else where the real estate market isn't so condo-crazy. He claims to be in cahoots with the American Diner Museum, which is an actual entity, but not one with an actual physical reality. It hopes to call Providence, Rhode Island home one day.

This from the diner website: "The Museum hosts conferences (Diner-Rama) across the country to increase awareness of diners, to bring together diner enthusiasts, and to share the plans and progress of the Museum. The most recent Diner-Rama was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in June 2001."

Now, I wholly support these preservationist souls in their mission. Nonetheless, I find the above quote completely hilarious. The Museum collection to date includes such things as: historical photographs, menus, matchbook covers, postcards, trade magazines, ashtrays and diner promotional items. But not one actual diner! So, the acquisition of the Moondance who be a boon.

I'd love to help these guys, but the tragedy of my life is I don't have the do-re-mi to preserve all the stuff I'd like to. Only rich dumbfucks have that jack, and, being dumbfucks, they just want to use it to tear good stuff down and put up cash-generating jerrybilt crapola.

Anyway, the man's post offers some illuminating details about the Moondance. It's NYC's oldest extant diner. Dates from 1933. "The diner was renovated over time, but retains several original and distinctive elements; chrome detailing, a 1920's barrel roof ceiling, wrap-around windows, counter & stools, and retro signage." Good to know.

11 April 2007

Desire in Times Square

You could have knocked me down with a styrofoam peanut last night when I strolled down W. 44th Street near Seventh and did a double take to make sure The Streetcar Named Desire was parked on the curb. No, not the play. The actual streetcar, a dark green metal job that clearly bore the destination "Desire" and appeared to be from New Orleans. It sat on a trailer bed which was connected to a semi cab.

"Some movie shoot," I thought. I walked up to the semi and spotted a man who looked like a truckdriver. He was. "What's with the Streetcar Names Desire," I asked, trying to put it as simply as possible. He confirmed it was the actual vehicle, a working streetcar that had been carted up from the Big Easy to New York to inspire people to take a trip down south to distressed New Orleans. "You know: `Stella!,' the driver's friend offered, helpfully." It had been parked there from two days and folks had taken tours of the car all day. It was closed now, sadly.

Desire was due to hit the road Thursday morning. It was on a national tour, with Chicago the next stop.

10 April 2007

A Good Sign: Ralph's Discount City

Ralph's Discount City has been on Chambers Street between Church and Broadway since 1963. A Going Out of Business Sale is currently underway. The building's to be torn down. Condos going up.

Nice bold sign. Ralph was proud of his name.

The Two Suns of Chambers Street

The New York Sun newspaper (the first one) stopped publication in 1950, when it merged with the World-Telegram. But the building it occupied still sits on lower Broadway at Chambers Street and, more than most buildings, it carries heavy reminders of its former tenant. The side of the structure boasts the words The New York Sun in etched stone. And on the southwest and northwest corners of the building hang metal boxes, now green with age, which bear the paper's name and its motto "The Sun Shines for All" (surely one of the best newspaper slogans ever). The southern ornament (above) is a four-sided clock; the northern one tells the temperature. Both were broken for many years, but recently have been in fine working order.

I'm not sure why this is, but I think it has something to do with the new New York Sun newspaper, which was founded in 2003 and probably doesn't want to be associated with a busted clock or inaccurate weather readings. The new Sun is actually two blocks to the west on Chambers Street, in the cast-iron Cary Building (below), which was built just a decade later than the 1846 Sun building.

The old Sun is best remembered today for publishing the famous 1897 "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus" editorial, which is either one of the most heart-warming pieces of journalism of all time, or one of the most mealy-mouthed, depending on your viewpoint; and for columnist Don Marquis, who invented the cockroach Archy and cat Mehitabel, who, he purported, snuck into the building at night and wrote some of his columns. The paper also employed John B. Bogart, a city editor between 1873 and 1890, who uttered the unforgettable maxim: "When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news."

The new Sun is primarily known for its arch-conservative views and for standing in as one of the scenes in "The Devil Wear Prada." Movie critics carped that newspaper offices no longer looked like the one in the movie, with its high ceilings, low-hanging lights, high windows and papers stacked everywhere. But, it turned out, the Sun does actually look like that.

One final note about this general area: there is a Duane Reade drugstore on Broadway and Duane Street, just one block from Reade Street. That's got to be about as charming as that chain gets.

09 April 2007

The Biggest Taunt in Midtown

I guess it has been a while since I was on Seventh Avenue in the mid-50s, because I hand't notice that Ben Ash Delicatessen has changed it's neon sign. The old one had been kinda ugly and the new version is a big improvement. It's also much more amusing, because it contains an elaborate, long-winded dig at the more-famous Carnegie Deli, which is located right across Seventh.

Under "Ben Ash Delicatessen" and "Cheesecakes*Bar*Takeout," was this open question in slanting capital neon letters: "No One Can Beat Us/Why Wait on Line When You Can Be Eating Now/Come on Over and Compare."

The taunt is obviously aimed at the Carnegie, which, in good weather, always has a line snaking out its door and down the avenue. There was no line outside Ben Ash. But then, if there was, they'd have to change the sign, wouldn't they?

As for why the Carnegie has a line and Ben Ash doesn't, maybe it has to do with customer reviews like these. My favorite is the one "An Experience Forever Painfully Seared Into Our GI Tracts."

08 April 2007

Chumley's, After the Fall

After the horror of last Thursday, when a collapsed chimney shut down Little Olde New York bar royale Chumley's, I had to visit the scene of the crime.

On an Easter Sunder, with a few lonely April snowflakes floating on the wind, the scaffolding-encased building was a plaintive sight. The entrance door, which famously bears no name but only the number "86," had been removed and the cavity was covered with plywood. A pile of no-doubt very old bricks sat nearby. Close by was a very intriguing, rusted metal object which looked to be an ancient fireplace grate (from the ruined chimney?). I tried to pick it up; it must have weighed 200 pounds at least. If it really is from the fireplace inside, it shouldn't be sitting out on the street where any common thief could take it.

While I stood there, several tourists, including some Germans, sauntered by, obviously intent on visiting the famous Chumley's. The were befuddled when confronted with the roped-off mess. Some took pictures anyway.

Based on the most recent reports, Chumley's will reopen in 30 to 60 days. I hope so, put the powerful metal braces on the sides of the building did not fill me with confidence.

Regulars who are lonesome for Chumley's during their diaspora might want to check out this previous post for solace.

Where the Colony Record Sign Went

For a while now, I've wondered where the one-of-a-kind, wacky Colony Records sign had gone. The record and sheet music store, long at the northeast corner of Broadway and 49th, used to be adorned by a huge neon sign which, in part, depicting a slim, young woman on toe-point, skirt aloft, holding a large album (obviously her heart's desire) in her hot little hand. (See below) She was apparently having some sort of orgasm, having found at Colony her favorite disc in the whole wide world.

The sign disappeared a couple years ago when Colony did a redo on its facade. But when the work was done, there were two very nice new neon signs spelling out "Colony" (see above), but no female. I assumed the sign, too, was being refurbished, but it never returned, so I went in to ask about it.

Turns out, Colony took it down at the behest of an old landlord, who said it was violating some building code or other, one that had long been ignored. Colony did so. Then the building was sold and the new landlord didn't give a hoot if the sign was up or down. So Colony went to a lot of bother for nothing. Now Record Girl sits neglected in the basement. The sign will probably eventually be sold to someone. Hello, Smithsonian?

06 April 2007

Chumley's Dark, But Still Standing—For Now

As night fell on the city April 6, Chumley's was still standing—despite the collapse of the bar's chimney, which separated from an interior wall during some illegal construction work—but the former speakeasy has gone dark, and will probably remain so for the next several months. According to Eater.com, "when the collapse occurred, construction workers were inside Chumley's and doing repairs of an unknown type without a permit. Violations for working with out a permit have been issued. Now, a shoring company has been hired to repair the damage, after which time inspectors will assess the integrity of the building."

So, let's take a look at the slumlord (not my word; many have called her such) that owns the Chumley's building, according to a Curbed.com account. Margaret Streicker Porres is her very long name, and that name has been in the papers quite a lot lately. The Village Voice named her one of NYC's 10 Worst Landlords in 2006, writing "In addition to Streicker Porres's 22nd Street buildings, she owns 10 others in Manhattan—a total of 198 units. The buildings have 692 violations, including 70 C-level violations, which require immediate attention and include inadequate supply of heat, hot water, or electricity; leaking ceilings; broken stairwells; exposed live wires; and rodents."

But the Voice, they're a bunch of left-wing reactionaries, right? OK, but what about the New York Times, that basically put Streiker Porres at the center of an April 2, 2006, article titled "A New Chapter in the Face-Off Between Tenants and Landlords." In the piece, the Times painted her as the queen meenie in the fight among landlords to evict rent-regulated tenants in order to "demolish" (read: convert to condos) apartment buildings. "Margaret Streicker Porres has built a business out of buying, managing and restoring run-down landmarked buildings populated with rent-regulated tenants, and has taken on her tenants in five separate downtown rent-regulated buildings, with mixed results," wrote the author. In both the Times and the Voice articles there's a horrifying story about how the landlord's harassment of an aging "former merchant seaman in his 70's and in failing health, with diabetes and heart trouble" very likely hastened his death.

Who is this vampiress? Well, she's not a female version of Ebenezer Scrooge, as you might imagine. She's a young woman in her 30s, according to the Times, graduated from Princeton in 1997 and then got a master's degree in architecture and real estate development at Columbia University in 2000. In her first professional move she bought "a property in Greenwich Village, and then filed proceedings against the rent-regulated tenants in the eight units." Nice.

Maggie comes by her greed honestly. Her father is John H. Streicker, chairman of the Sentinel Real Estate Corporation, described by the Times as "a large real estate company that manages a portfolio of $5 billion in assets for institutional investors, including 50,000 apartments." Daddy must be so proud.

A Google search also brought up a classified ad in which Streicker Porres cast about for a property manager. Qualifications? "Common sense is mandatory, ability to negotiate in tough situations is important." I bet. And then this at the end: "We like happy tenants!"

Chumley's in Peril; City Gets Suckier

Any way you look at it, this isn't good. The scaffolding and netting around Chumley's the past few months should have all given us pause. Now the wall has collapsed and the grand old former speakeasy's future is in danger. Read the Curbed.com minute-by-minute account for all the details.

If this city was run correctly—that is, as if it possessed a soul—and if the civic leaders had any real care or feeling for New York, any danger to the Chumley's building would have been looked into months ago. Why does this cherished business have a conventional, blood-sucking slumlord anyway? The building should be owned by the City, which would charge a nominal rent. Chumley's has earned that much, as have dozens of living landmarks. How long does a place like Chumley's have to contribute to the cultural life of the city before it's regarded as what it is: a living, breathing museum.

Mayor Bloomberg should be down on Bedford Street right now holding a press conference, assuring New Yorkers that Chumley's will rise again. Instead, he'll soon probably start telling people what a great job the city's doing in protecting the public by tearing the joint down. The willful indifference to New York's architectural and mercantile treasures by this Godforsaken town's government and business leaders makes me ill.

UPDATE: Chumley's will not be torn down, at least for now. But the bar is closed indefinitely.

More news.

Wooden Phone Booth Sightings

Peter McManus Cafe
O'Connor's Bar
Miele Pharmacy
Farrell's Bar & Grill
Capri Social Club
Old Town Bar
Capsouto Freres
The Ear Inn
Bill's Gay Nineties

05 April 2007

Not Quite De-Lovely on DeGraw

I've been watching the progress of this private residence redo on Degraw Street between Hicks and Columbia over the past few months, trying to decide if the new look—a sort of Frankenstein's monster mix of the old brick structure and a new slanty-glassy addition—is interesting or monstrously ugly. The work is nearly done now, as you can see. And you know what? I still can't decide. Which probably means that it's an uggo in the final calculation. Hope the owners have lined up a good window washer.

New Sign at Katz's

This may be old news, but Katz's Delicatessen on Houston Street has a new sign on the corner of its low-rise building. I'm talking about the red letters that spell of Katz's vertically just above the entrance. Passing by, it looked different to me, so I went in and asked. Sure enough, the old sign was replaced last year. You can see the old sign in this postcard below. The letters were raised on that one and, to me, it's much more appealing. Still, the new one's not bad.

By the way, Katz's now has a very official-looking security guard in a crisp blue uniform handing out the meal tickets just inside the door. Very imposing. He said he had begun work only two months ago. That's about the time that loutish actor accused the Katz's staff of roughing him up and threatened all kinds of legal action. Not that the two events are connected. I'm just saying...