30 June 2007

A Good Look for a Bakery

Often when I'm in the Arthur Avenue neighborhood of the Bronx, I unexpectedly cross the sun-baked intersection of Hughes Avenue and 186th—which, though near the main drags of 187th and Arthur Avenue, is actually kind of off the beaten track and nearly free of traffic. I'm then confronted by Addeo & Songs Italian Bakery, which stands quite along on its corner, unencumbered by other businesses.

The sight always brings a smile to my face. This, I think, is what a bakery should look like. Addeo is so perfect in its simplicity and old world charm, that one might think it was built from scratch by a movie crew to represent a classic New York neighborhood bakery. It's not flashy. There's nothing about it, inside or out, that doesn't serve a purpose: no slick awning, no neon (bakeries are day businesses), no corny framed photos of idealized bread on the walls inside, no products for sale that are not freshly made baked goods.

The only bit of ballyhoo about the place is a sign hanging in the window advertising "Addeo's Original Pane di Casa." It's an Edward Hopper bakery. The shelves in the window are for displaying bread; they fill with loaves in the morning, they are empty at closing time. The place sells bread. Not iced coffee.

These days, mercantile purity is a rare and beautiful thing.

28 June 2007

Brooklyn Supermarket Renaissance Continues

South Brooklyn is becoming a gourmet supermarket paradise.

First Red Hook got its own Fairway. Whole Foods on the Gowanus is on the way. Now the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports that Trader Joe's will move into the old Independence Bank Building at the corner of the Court and Atlantic. Those Trader Joe's folks sure are smart; the location can't be beat, being at the intersection of Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights, three nabes bursting with wealthy eaters.

Though all these food palaces are essentially big box corporations that put small businesses in danger, I have to admit I love this trend. Fairway has been a boon to my kitchen existence. The store is attractive and, if you go in the morning, easy to manage. And I am comforted by the idea that it's a local chain. I used to laugh at Trader Joe's. My brother lives in California and he would rave all the time about the absurd sounding products he bought there. It all seemed so precious and fetishistic. But when I finally visited the Union Square store, I was won over. They had Usinger's bratwurst from my hometown, Milwaukee. And I became addicted to their various salsas. Plus, the help were so, well, helpful. (My affection ends with Whole Foods. Never liked the chain, expensive and not that great and with a real elitist attitude.)

Another silver lining: apparently the bank building was previously on the road to condoland. Trader Joe's is a much more preferable option.

The market is getting a cool and historic home. Built in 1922 as the South Brooklyn Saving Bank, the Italianate building has a palazzo feel and an ornate front door. As for the history, this is the very site of the actual Cobble Hill, the hillock that the British shaved down after the Revolutionary War troops used it as a lookout during the Battle of Long Island. That's right. George Washington slept here.

27 June 2007

A Good Sign: Block Drug Stores

Possibly the coolest drug store sign in New York City. Certainly one of the oldest. Sign says it was founded in 1885, meaning it was there even before Second Avenue became Yiddish Broadway, lined with Yiddish theatres. McSorley himself of nearby McSorley's Tavern could have gotten his toothpaste there. The hugeness of the letters sets this sign apart. If you were desperate for aspirin and wandering lost, you'd see this sign beckoning to you from blocks away. Miraculously, it's held its ground at Second and Sixth Street in this age of Rite Aid. Can't say why.

One thing confuses me. Why "Block Drug Stores," plural? Were there more Blocks years ago?

26 June 2007

Sunny Day in Sunnyside

Huzzah! The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission did the right thing this morning and voted unanimously to designate Sunnyside Gardens a historic district, giving the long suffering borough something to smile about for once.

At 17 blocks, the eight-decades old neighborhood will be the biggest historic district in Queens. Sunnyside Gardens has been on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, but that never brought any legal protection. Go take a look at NYC's newest historical district. It makes for a nice stroll.

So wasn't the hearing on the Domino sugar plant supposed to occur today too?

The Gertel's Round the Corner

This is a very sweet story. Though Gertel's kosher bakery is gone, in the retail sense, you can still buy their pastries in the same nabe, at a little place around the corner called Flicker's Coffee and Tea Shop.

Reminds me of the way the Eighth Avenue restaurant Rendezvous hired about McHale's cook after that bar closed, and began serving McHale's type burgers.

Happy Birthday, Cyclone!

The famous Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster is 80 years old today.

To commemorate the event, a group of coaster-loving octogernarians will ride the attractions. (Where they found these guys, I have no idea.) The lucky seniors soon to be bruised and battered for 110 seconds are: Chimilio Estanislau, 84, of New York; Louis Picariello, 81, of Bellingham, MA; Ed Murman, 81, of Smithtown, NY; and Seymour (Sy) Wershberg, 80, of Brooklyn.

25 June 2007

Chumley's Update

I hadn't heard anything about the status of the shuttered Chumley's since an early May report that the building might be sold to the speakeasy's owners. So I decided to pay a call on 86 Bedford Street to see if I could learn anything.

It's still all boarded up in the most unsightly manner possible, and there was no sign of construction that I could see. Upon close examination of the Department of Buildings permits, however, I discovered something interesting/disturbing. There were two permits, side by side. One was issued April 23, 2007, and expired May 4. The second was issued May 25 and is set to expire.....May 4, 2009!

2009. Two years from now? To shore up the building and rebuild the collapsed chimney and whatnot? Are we now talking years before this landmark reopens? Maybe this is standard City procedure and signifies nothing. But two years does seem like a long time. Does anyone out there know anything about this? Please tell.

Wha? Gotham Book Mark NOT Dead?

The Village Voice has published a tantalizing, sadistic (to us book lovers, anyway) story which seems to purport that the Gotham Book Mark has not rolled over for the last time.

"Something's cooking," one former employee told the Voice. Another talked of "important things happening." Lost City would love to believe that, but after reading the sad, depressing article in its entirety—a tragic tale of carelessness and crippling cluelessness on the Mart's owners sake—it's hard to hope that the genius used-book store will ever again rise from the dead, at least in as run by former owner Andreas Brown.

I still find the behavior of Brown's "friends," developer Edmondo Schwartz and former Estée Lauder chief executive Leonard Lauder, as damning as ever. Under the guise of saving their struggling friend and fellow book maven, Brown, they moved Gotham from its longtime home on Diamond Row to E. 46th Street, in a townhouse they owned. But instead of handing Brown the building as a gift (which would have marked them as true philanthropists), they charged Brown market rent and then got all legal about it when he didn't pay.

That said, Brown seems to have been a dreamy idealist with his head truly stuck in books; the kind of person who drives hard-headed businessmen like Schwartz and Lauder mad. He didn't know how to operate a cash register. He declines to sell valuable books, because he loved having them around more. Death was pounding at the door, but he was listening to WNYC cranked up to 10.

It was only a matter of time before the moneymen turned on him and the Mart. And turn they did. The book store's rare holding were sold at a Marshall's auction. It was a rushed affair, and one only gained entrance by paying a $1,000 refundable deposit. The lots were not itemized. Nobody had a chance to look at anything. In the end the goods fetched $400,000. The winning bidder? The landlord's lawyer, John (ahem) Faust. His was the first bid uttered. None managed to surpass him.

Makes you wonder if the Brown's rich friends moved him to a new home (a building they now plan to sell) as part of an elaborate plan to claim his trove of rare books for their own. Scheme of not, that's how it turned out, isn't it?

23 June 2007

Pizza Drought Over: Di Fara's Opens

Di Fara's, the little corner of Midwood that may make the best pizza in America, finally reopened today, according to the vigilant Slice.

Three weeks without Dom's pies, that was. Maybe the DOH will be satisfied for a while now, and let us all get some slices in.

I'm using one of Slice's photos for this article, because I'm so goddam sick of my own shots. Gotta get down there and take some more candids. Oh, and have some pizza, too.

Ferdinando's Gets a New Coat

The owner of Fedinando's Foccaceria, the great old Sicilian sandwich place in Carroll Gardens, has decided to spruce up a bit. The facade got a new paint job on Saturday. Nice sort of umber shade. Looks good. Brightens up the block.

22 June 2007

More About Gertel's; Guss's in Danger?

An article in the New York Sun provide a wealth of interesting information about Gertel's Bakery (RIP), the great kosher bake shop which closed its Lower East Side retail branch today.

Abe Stern, the owner, owned the building, it turns out. So he was in not danger from some greedy landlord. He chose to sell the building to a developer, netting $2.9 million.

Stern is not a descendant of the original owners. It was founded by Izzy Gerber. Gerber, not Gertel. The shop was named after his son-in-law. (That was some loving father-in-law.) It then changed hands twice. Then there was this horrifying tidbit:

Last month, the building where Guss's is located was purchased for $16.5 million, according to PropertyShark.com, though plans for the property, at the corner of Orchard and Broome streets, are not yet known.

Yikes! Russ and Daughters, on the other hand, owns its building and seems to want to stay.

I ate my final Gertel's challah tonight. It was yummy.

Red Hook Vendors Are Golden Thru Fall

We'll take our comforts where we can get them.

We'd like to hear that the Red Hook Ballfields food vendors—Mexican, Salvadoran, Columbian, all of 'em—have been given a lifetime contract by the City to serve up superior homemade, South-of-the-Border grub. But, for the moment, we'll take the news that the Parks Department has extended their permits through Oct. 28.

In other news, The New York Times—lagging far behind the Post, Daily News and the blogs—has finally comes out in solid support of the vendors. A warm, loving piece will appear in the Metro section on Saturday (the least read paper of the week—ahem!). Still, it's a lovely piece. Here it is.

Meanwhile, I received my first-ever e-mail from Adrian Benepe, Parks Commissioner, in response to my e-mail protesting his move to put the Red Hook Park food concessions up to general bidding. It drips with bullshit. It reads:

Dear Constituent:

Thank you for your email regarding the food vendors at Red Hook Park in Brooklyn.

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has been issuing "Temporary Use Authorizations" to two separate groups to operate a food market at the ballfields in Red Hook Park. We began the process a few years ago in an effort to legalize the vendors at Red Hook, helping them become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood, and the park users have benefited from their presence. They enhance and diversify the Red Hook neighborhood, and particularly our ballfields, by serving great food at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, once it became clear that the Red Hook markets would regularly be open for more than 29 days a year, we could no longer legally renew their temporary permits without opening up the concession to the public solicitation process.

I would, however, like to correct a common misperception that we are offering the site to the "highest bidder." In order to comply with the concession regulations in the New York City Charter, we will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP). This will allow Parks to evaluate proposals based on qualitative criteria such as operating experience and planned operations. We plan on releasing a RFP shortly for the operation of vending markets at the various ballfields at Red Hook Park; the term of the license will be six years. This process will give the selected vendors the permanence and regularity that they deserve.

We have received positive feedback regarding the Red Hook vending markets and we look forward to the active participation of the existing vending groups at Red Hook in the proposal process.

I appreciate your taking the time to write.


Adrian Benepe

Astroland Extension Not a Done Deal

So much for Joe Sitt's sudden charm offensive.

Gowanus Lounge reports, via amNY, that Thor Equities had not offered Astroland the chance to stay put at Coney for one more summer. Or, rather, Thor has, but with strings. Sitt wants the City to grant Thor the zoning changes it wants (the ones that will let him build big old towers), or no dice. So he'll give Coney something everyone wants for one year, if he gets to build something nobody wants forever. Nice.

21 June 2007

When Diners Serve Cocktails

I've always been curious about the New York City diners that, in addition to the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner, advertise cocktail service on their signs or awnings. Who would order a mixed drink at a hash joint? I have to imagine that the greasy spoons who do persist in this sideline are on the ancient side, harking from an era when New Yorkers drank cocktails all the time and every place.

But could the drinks actually be decent? Common sense would say: definitely not. But I wanted to know for sure, so the other day I tested a few of the diners that stocked liquor behind the cash register (and it's always behind the cash register, kids).

I started with the Palace Restaurant on 57th Street near Lexington. It's been there for years. Your basic diner, but a bit fancier and cleaner, due to the neighborhood. "Cocktails" is emblazoned on the awning, right next to "Dinner." I decided to keep it basic and not test them too much; I ordered a Martini.

Now before I get into the awful details, let me point out the one positive aspect of diner cocktails: the price. The Palace Martini was $6.50. The Manhattan I subsequently ordered at the Flame Restaurant across town was $5.75. You try to get those drinks for that price at a high end Manhattan bar or restaurant.

Now, the first warning sign that this would not be the best Martini of my life was the startled look on the waiter's face when I ordered it. Obviously, people didn't go for the Palace's liquor cabinet very often. The cash register was a distance from the counter where I sat, so I had to watch him make the drink from a remove. He had some trouble finding the cocktail shaker and later couldn't locate the olives; more signs that this was not a steady practice.

I specified Tanqueray gin, having seen it on the shelf. I think I got a little of it in my drink, because I saw the guy lift a green bottle. But last time I checked, a Martini had two liquid ingredients (gin, vermouth), and I saw the contents of three different bottles make a contribution to my cocktail. I concluded that I got a dash of Tanqueray, a lot of some cutrate rotgut gin, and a health dose of Vermouth. It was the wettest Martini I've ever had. I got through half of it, but could do no better.

Next stop was the Flame Restaurant on Ninth Avenue a few blocks south of Lincoln Center. Again, the sign advertised "Cocktails," between "Dinner" and "Steaks." I sat at the counter again, but closer to the liquor shelves. My waiter was surprised by my request for a Manhattan, but not as much as the Palace help had been. The diner owner himself went to work. He knew where the shaker was, though he needed to apply some elbow grease to pry the spoon away from the strainer.

I realized something at this point: never trust a bar that doesn't stock bitters. All these diners had gin, vodka, whiskey, etc, but nary a tiny bottle. Not even the omnipresent Angostura. Why did this occur to me? Because only two things went into my Manhattan: some sort of brown liquor and vermouth. A proper Manhattan is topped off with Angostura. So already it's not a Manhattan. What the brown liquor was is hard to say. A true Manhattan is made with rye, though many you get today are made with Bourbon. This was made with Corby's, a brand I have never heard of which only explains itself as "American Whiskey." Uh.

I'll say this: the Manhattan was better than the Martini, but not by much. I had planned to go from the Flame to the Olympic Diner on Eighth Avenue in the Theatre District to try their cocktails. But I had lost heart at this point and couldn't bear more swill.

My conclusion couldn't easily be filed under "Duh": don't order cocktails in diners. But sometimes you just have to find out for yourself.

Gertel's Bakery: Final Visit

Figuring that Gertel's Bakery would be mobbed tomorrow—the Lower East Side kosher shop's last day in retail business and last pre-Shabbat customer rush—I decided to make my final visit to the 93-year-old business in the early hours of Thursday.

Word has gotten out that the end is near. There was a sizable line, and businessmen in yarmulkes were taking pictures of themselves outside the store. Boxes of challah were stacked high and labeled for recipients such as Central Synagogue and H & H (bagels, I assume). The item most frequently being ordered was Gertel's famous rugelach—chocolate, raspberry and apricot. Some orders sandwiches, but it appears Gertel's ability to deliver on lunch has all but ceased. (Goodbye, egg and tuna roll.)

As ever, the Gertel's staff was sullenly bemused that anyone should take any interest whatsoever in their iconic business. The counter women patiently answered my questions with a half smile. As has been reported, the business will remain as a wholesale affair located in Williamsburg. My main concern was what was going to happen to the absolutely great neon sign. (I say neon, even though I have never seen it lit, Gertel's being a daytime operation.) They didn't know, so they went in the back to ask the owner. The answer came that the owner was going to keep the sign at his home. Must be a big home.

I ordered a half a pound of rugelach, assorted; a challah; and a bag of challah rolls. Then I discovered that the Gertel's baseball caps the servers and bakers were wearing were being sold off, and for the cheapo price of $5! I asked for one. Again, the countergirl was amused that I should care. A thin, bearded, dyspeptic young man came out from the kitchen, hat in hand. "Is it one size fits all?" I asked. "I could take your head measurement if you like?" he answered.

One more day. The sun goes down late this time of year, so it could be a late one. I wouldn't be surprised if they sold out of everything at an early hour, though.

A Good Sign: M. Schamas & Son

What do they sell? Paints. They sell paints. And in case you can't read, there are two depictions of paint cans on either side. On lower Essex Street. Still family owned. Founded in 1958.

Astroland To Grace Coney One More Year

This will not be the last summer for Astroland at Coney Island!

The New York Post reports that Thor Equities and Astroland owner Carol Hill Albert have worked out a deal to keep the amusement park in business through 2008. The agreement was brokered by Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. Way to go, Dom!

This could be the latest sally by Thor's Joe Sitt to improve his press. I don't know, and I don't care. It's just good news, that's all.

And more good news: the City continues to work to find a new site for Astroland near Keyspan Park, where the Cyclones play. Who knows? Maybe Astroland's not going anywhere.

20 June 2007

Di Fara's Update: Maybe Friday

Since every blog in New York City seems to be trafficking in daily reports on the status of two-week-and-a-half-and-counting closed Di Fara's pizzeria, I thought I'd do my bit. The latest word—from Slice, I think—was that it might open today.

No dice. Called and was told "maybe Friday."

The DOH did its duty back on June 4. We're beginning to look at an entire June bereft of New York's best pizza. Not good, readers, not good.

18 June 2007

Chelsea Mourning

My, it's a busy day for bad new in New York City.

First, Joe Sitt's no-less-nauseating new plan for Coney Island. Then word that the clock is ticking for Gertel's bakery. Now, this sad tale about Stanley Bard, the manager of the historic Chelsea Hotel for 50 years, being forced out by the landmark's board of directors. Not only Stanley, but the whole Bard family, who has had part ownership of the residence since 1940. Starting Monday, Ira Drucker Associates management company will take over the day-to-day operations. The board had been pressing Bard to increase income, which is another way of saying "Squeeze some more cash out of those mother-lovin', good-for-nothin' artist types who take up all that valuable space in our potential cash cow!!"

According to the Living With Legends blog:

The actual ownership structure of the hotel is a closely guarded secret. It is known that Stanley’s father, David, in partnership with two men named Krauss and Gross, bought the hotel in 1940. (Stanley took over upon his father’s death in 1957.) These days, the part of the hotel that Stanley’s father owned is still in the Bard family, but the interests of the other partners’ families are represented by a board of directors. The board seems to have given Stanley a wide latitude in managing the hotel over the years—that is, apparently, until just recently. What happened is that the hotel simply became too valuable.

Money and greed. Always the story these days, isn't it? Wonder if there's any other motivator left it the Big Apple. Hello, Herbert Huncke Suite, only $499 a night!

Gertel's Finally Posts Its Notice

We've covered what we've heard of Gertel's imminent demise on this blog since last fall. It's been disheartening work, and confusing work, too, since the owner of one of the last great Lower East Side kosher bakeries kept denying that the shop would make way for a developer who wanted to put a condo on that spot.

Well, the other shoe finally dropped today. Racked reports the findings of a reader who said, "Gertel's posted a sign yesterday saying that the store is closing for good as of June 22. And, significantly, the two-lots-wide one-story tile warehouse right next door has recently vacated the premises as well. That's a big footprint to build on. Neighborhood character gives way to eight-story condo development."

As reported before, the owner says the business will continue as a wholesale affair. It's small comfort for seeing a visible, visitable piece of LES history fall to the market. Three more days of fine challah and rugelach. I'll find a way to get there before Friday.

Family Business, Family Strife

Studying New York history over the years, I've come to realize that wherever you find an old family business, you usually find an old family feud just behind it. The sisters who run the Montero bar and Long Island Restaurant near each other on Atlantic Avenue have bickered for years. The brothers who own Manganaro's Hero Boy and Manganaro's Grosseria Italiano, side by side on Ninth Avenue, didn't speak for decades. The Balducci family has feuded plenty. The owners of Patsy's pizzeria and Grimaldi's pizzeria, who came from Patsy's, fought over name rights for a while. It goes on and on and on.

I discovered another long-simmering battleground off Arthur Avenue in the Bronx this past weekend. The setting is Egidio's Pastry Shop on 187th Street, a place that has been there since 1912, founded by one Pasquale Egidio. The long tortured tale of its existence was written up in the New York Times a few years back, and though that tale is none too flattering of any of the participants, the article is framed and hanging in the bakery. It tells of heartbreaking marriages, a suffocating father, and an accusation of an altered will, leaving the pastry shop to a son rather than a devoted daughter who expected it.

Even the tale of the family that bought the place from the founding family is a soap opera. Paolo Palombo wanted to use the bakery as a springboard to enter local politics. He succeeded, but found a mistress along the way, and his wife, the former Carmela Lucciola, took out her vengeance by snatching the shop away from him. Paolo was later convicted of taking a bribe. He lost his political perch and now owns a string of bakeries throughout Brooklyn.

The Times piece says Paolo is sad that none of his stores is near Arthur Avenue. That appears to have changed. Just a block away from Egidio's is a shiny new cafe called Palombo, right on the corner of Arthur and 187th. It opened seven months ago. Paolo has returned, and just a stone's throw from his ex-wife. The saga continues.

Try the espresso (very dark), the cannoli and the banana eclairs. Much of the interior charm disappeared with a recent remodeling (even the tin ceiling is new). But the old sign hanging outside rocks.

Meet the New New Coney; Same as the Old New Coney

Joe Sitt and Thor Equities have listened to New Yorkers, who complained about his outsized vision of Coney Island's future, with its looming, out-of-scale condo towers, and come up with a new vision....with looming, out-of-scale hotel-and-time-share towers.

Look, New York: He listened!

WTF? What a shell game. If this plan isn't approved, will he come back with a new version where the towers are painted sky blue so we can't see them standing there?

"This is our way of showing the New York community that we’re responsive to what they want," Sitt told the Times. "Our design, in all its greatness, is a way of showing the world what Coney Island can be." In all its greatness.

Sitt wants three hotels in all, ranging from 25 to 32 stories (cute!), including more than 400 time-share units. His critics asked: And those time-shares are different from apartments how? One notes that plan has the same density as the old one.

The Times article was notable for the unusual level of un-Timesian sarcasm. Check out this section, in which Sitt sells the deal to the whole darn melting pot:

The hotels, Mr. Sitt said, would offer black residents not only jobs, but careers. The Russian immigrants, who enjoy a "quality of life and activity by the water," would flock to the hotels and nightclubs. Jewish and Italian-American residents would get the "quality retail, bookstores and entertainment venues” that they want. As for everyone else, “what’s better than having fabulous restaurants, catering halls, shows and concerts?"

"Tell me, what issue any one of these constituencies would have with our plan," he said. "We’re asking for motherhood, motherhood. Apple pie, Chevrolet and Coney Island."

Again, I must say: WTF? Has the man gone batty. Motherhood? Would anybody buy a vacuum cleaner from a man with a line like that?

Still No Word from Parks Dept. on Red Hook Vendors

As Gowanus Lounge reported on Friday, the Parks Department met on that day with representatives of the Red Hook food vendors—whom the PD is thinking of kicking out in favor of a free-for-all bidding war for the Red Hook Park concessions—and City Council Member Sara Gonzalez.

The meeting was described as "positive" and "good." Still, nothing got done, and the Parks went home to think about their dumb idea some more, as if it would suddenly become a smart idea if left alone for a while.

Representing the Parks were First Depty Commissioner Liam Kavanagh and Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Julius Spiegel. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe did not attend. Not worth his time, I guess. GL reported:

Department officials noted that they are required to put the permits out for competitive bid and can't making an exception solely for the Red Hook vendors. Still, Mr. Fuentes told us that "they do do understand the importance of the vendors...and they're willing to work out something." He said he is confident that "something is going to happen."

Officials sure love to follow city rules when it gives them an excuse to ignore popular will.

Anyway, Red Hook Vendors Committee head Cesar Fuentes is trying to remain positive and he had this to say about the widespread community support the vendors had been getting: "To everyone who supported us and sent emails and petitions--it worked," he said. "They received it and they're very aware. Without the bloggers support I don't think we would have gotten a chance to get this type of attention."

Nice to know bloggers are good for something.

I went back to the park on Saturday and had my usual three lunches. The first was a barbacoa (goat) taco and carne asada taco from Perez Tacos. Next came a Papa Reyana from Ceron Columbian, a deep-fried ball of mashed potatoes filled with succulent beef. And I finished with Ochoa Guatamalen's shrimp-filled version of ceviche. Tangy and hot (as in spicy). There's still much I haven't tried. But there are more weekends left in this summer. This may not be the last summer for the vendors, but I can't take any chances.

17 June 2007

A Good Sign: Roma Luncheonette

The Roma Luncheonette sits on a corner of 187th Street in the Arthur Avenue Little Italy section of the Bronx. I've always loved the simplicity of the sign. Even the use of the 7 UP logo is charming in a way, a reminder of long-gone days when the soft drink campaigned hard as an independent label and an alternative to the dominating colas. The diner itself is a small place, with a few tables and a tiny, four-stool counter where red wine and espresso is drunk as much as anything else. Very local.

15 June 2007

The Battle of the Ugly Smith Street Cement Thing: Round Four

Oh, wow! This story is just fantastically appalling.

If you've read the Brooklyn blogs lately, you know that "architect"/public scourge Robert Scarano wants to build an ugly, eight-story metal—sorry, brick—building where the Carroll Street subway shed and plaza are. Residents largely don't want him to. I mean, really don't want him to.

So, they started raising a ruckus. One of the ways they did this was to paste informative (and snarky) materials about Scarano's plans on the sloping cement ledge which borders the subway shed on the Smith Street side. OK. Then, Round Two: a mystery SUV showed up in the middle of the night a week back and ripped a bunch of the stuff off and sped away. Round three: protesters pasted up new material. Now comes news of Round Four, and it's even more laughably unbelievable than the goon-action of Round Two. The cement thingy has been totally painted over overnight. According to Gowanus Lounge:

Mr. Kim at the deli and his employee told me last night that a van with the NYPD loaded with men in it came up to the concrete wall AND PAINTED OVER our signage!

Can you believe it? Is this what the NYPD has time to do? They left a broken down shopping carriage and a wall with ugly graffiti on it (i guess that was "as of right) but they managed to do a SUPERB job on covering all our signage with a nice grey paint.

So does Scarano have friends in the Police Department? Or did Carroll Gardens cops suddenly get proactive about graffiti? Creepy. Anyway, the Rebels have since already taped new material to the ledge. There's also a lot of stuff taped to the wall next to the subway entrance. (Hmm. That wall sure looks in need of a paint job.)

Gowanus Lounge also provides a little visual tour of Scarano's great works. Ee-Yikes!

Please and 'Kss

New Yorkers have a strange relationship with the magic words.

Ever let someone go ahead of you into the subway car? Or held open a door for a stranger? Then, right after, you hear this strange, brief hissing sound, like the air being let out of a balloon? That was your fellow New Yorker saying "Thank you." But they say it so softly, under their breath and out of the corner of their mouth, you only get the final consonants. Its sounds something like "'kss."

Is it embarrassment? Shyness? Vocal laziness? Resentment at a random act of kindness? Why can't New Yorkers offer up a full-throated, easily heard "Thank you." "'Kss," "'Kss," "'Kss." Some days, it's like you're surrounded by a bunch of timid, mealy-mouthed garter snakes. It's a similar situation with "Excuse Me," an expression polite New Yorker must use dozens of times a day on the sidewalk and in the subways. But what you're hear is "'Scs 'm'," with the "m" (standing for "me") very faint at the end.

There is one area of life where Gothamites come out with a recognizable "Thank you": at the deli counter, where they're picking up their coffee or egg sandwich or whatever. But here, again, it's a exercise in embarrassed confusion. The counterman will hand over the purchase with a "Thank you," and the customer will response, parrot-like, with an identical "Thank you," as if they have to match the deli man in politeness and gratitude. No one says "You're welcome." The counterman can't say it; it's his job to say "Thank you"—thank you for shopping here. We're supposed to say "You're Welcome."

But "You're welcome" is almost never heard in New York. People don't know what to do with it. Maybe they view it as unnecessary, a time-waster. Or perhaps people think it sounds a bit "high hat," as if of course the deli owner should be thankful for our patronage, and the "You're welcome" sets up some kind of momentary class structure (whereas the two "Thanks you"s make us equals).

I try to say "Thank you," "Excuse me" and "You're welcom" clearly as often as I can. People ten to shoot me a look when I do though. I think they think I'm an out-of-towner. Or perhaps being sarcastic.

14 June 2007

Too Little, Too Late

OK, so the National Trust for Historic Preservation came out with their list of most endangered historic sites and, whaddaya know, the whole of the Brooklyn Waterfront was on it, right up there at Number One.

Well, big whoop. Nice of them to notice, of course, but—call me a pessimist—it's not endangered, it's gone. The Greenpoint Terminal Market done burned down. The Revere Sugar plant was dismantled bit by bit. The Old Dutch Mustard Buidling was demolished. IKEA wiped up the Todd Shipyards (and its many years of official records!).
The 1915, Cass Gilbert-designed Austin, Nichols Warehouse in Williamsburg lost its landmark status in a dumbass City Council vote in December 2005. Gone, gone, gone. And do you think IKEA going to give up its parking lot now that the City gave it the green light to pave over the Civil War-era Graving Dock in Red Hook. Ain't Sweden's history; ain't Sweden's problem.

I am also doubtful that the Domino refinery will be landmarked and saved. Bloomberg wants big box stores and large cruise ships up and down Brooklyn's coast and that's all he wants. So, thanks for the gesture, National Trust. Two years ago would have been better.

13 June 2007

Roots of the Big Drug Store Four

In the rampant development of the last several years, perhaps no arm of the mercantile sector (with the possible exception of Starbuck's) has expanded as much or as quickly as chain drug stores. Sure, we get a Target here, a bunch of Subways there. But our city is now polluted with innumerable Duane Reades, Rite Aids, CVSs and Eckerds. It's impossible to run the smallest errand without passing one of them. We see them every day, but do we know anything about these monster corporations?

I always find history comforting in a way, so I decided to look into the pasts of the drug store giants to see if I could find something that might ameliorate their looming awfulness. Here are a few thumbnail sketches.

DUANE READE: I've always felt the least malice toward Duane Reade, because at least it's a local chain. It was founded in 1960 and it actually owes its name to its first warehouse location: on Broadway between Duane and Reade streets. No, there was never a guy names Duane Reade. The founders were brothers Abraham, Eli, and Jack Cohen. And it was run by skads of Cohens until the early '90s. The rampant expansion didn't start until the late '90s, after it was sold to Bain Capital, Inc. Aside from having poor service, and bad labor relations, they're known for shoehorning their stores in anywhere, including an old movie theatre on the Upper East Side. Which is sort of charming. There are more than 230 locations, all in the New York area.

RITE AID: Duane Reade is puny next to Rite Aid: 5,000 stores in 31 states. The first one was started in 1962 by Alexander Grass in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It had the hokey name of Thrif D Discount Center. Rite Aid became the name in 1968. The company is headquartered in Camp Hill, a suburb of Harrisburg. It's sucked up a bunch of other chains along the way, including Read's of Baltimore, Perry Drugs of Michigan and the west coast's Thrify Payless. It "partnered" with General Nutrition Companies in 1999. The Grass clan wasn't such a loving family. Son Martin made himself CEO by pushing dear old dad out the door. Martin pleaded guilty to charges of fraud involving the restatement of $1.6 billion in earnings in 2003.

ECKERD: Eckerds are all around, but in a manner of thinking they don't exist anymore. Rite Aid bought Eckerds in 2006, and announced it would be retiring the old name. That name is the oldest in the drug store chain game: 109 years. Eckerd Pharmacy was founded in 1898 (McKinley was President) by young J. Milton Eckerd (seen above), in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1912, Eckerd sold his original store to his sons and moved to Wilmington, Delaware, establishing a new store. It was from Delaware that the chain expanded to the the south. At its height, it had 2,800 stores in more than 20 states. Prior to the Rite Aid buyout, CVS had bought 1,000 Eckerd stores in 2004 and 2005. Perhaps not coincidentally, all these sellouts occurred after Jack Eckerd, son of J. Milton, and a man who kept running for Republican office (and losing), died in May 2004.

CVS: This is the big boy, the largest drug chain in the U.S. 6,200 stores. It's a slippery fish. It was founded in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1963, by Stanley and Sidney Goldstein and partner Ralph Hoagland, a Proctor and Gamble salesman; is incorporated in Delaware; and is based in (of all places) Woonsocket, Rhode Island (the Goldsteins hometown). The chain goes by an acronym for a good reason: it used to be called Consumer Value Stores, which makes it sound like a vaguely Communistic enterprise. CEO Tom Ryan now likes to pretend it stands for "Customers, Value, and Service." Sorry, Tom. No history rewrites. Here's a weird detail: many of the original stores did not include pharmacies. Throughout the years, it's gobbled up Mack Drug of New Jersey, the mid-Atlantic Peoples Drug chain (another Soviet-esque name), Revco and Arbor Drugs, as well as Albertsons, which include Osco Drugs and Sav-On Drugs. (My, drug store chains certainly have ugly names.) Stanley Goldstein was still with the company until only recently.

Things they all have in common: CEOs who get into hot water and have to resign; constant efforts to improve customer service, which stinks chain-wide; and lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits.

Strange to think all these faceless corporations were founded by striving individuals. So that's the history. Do I find it comforting? A little. But not really. Except for Duane Reade being named after two downtown Manhattan streets. That's cool. James Duane, for whom the street was named, was an early mayor of New York. Joseph Reade was warden at Trinity Church.

No Red Hook Vendor News Yet

Gowanus Lounge reports that the meeting between the Parks Commission and the Red Hook Ballfield food vendors, whose continued existence has been threatened by the specter of an open bidding war for concessions at the fields, has been postponed. It was supposed to happen yesterday, but will now happpen Friday. GL thinks this is a good sign. Let's hope so.

While you're at Gowanus Lounge, check out this interesting item about the fight to rezone Carroll Gardens and enlarge its dinky history district. Lost City has said before that such moves are long overdue, and the fact that CG has such a tiny historic district (basically Carroll and President streets between Smith and Hoyt; two small blocks) is criminal and suspicious. I've heard from oldtimers a number of times that the reason the district was kept so compact is local residents did want their building options hemmed in by having their homes landmarked. The usual short-sightedness, greed and selfishness. Let's hope more broad-minded heads prevail in the future. First on the list should be 1st Place through 3rd Place between Clinton and Henry. Beautiful, pristine blocks of handsome homes.

GL also mentions that Long Island College Hospital, which seems to own almost every large building in the area, has put the Longshoremen's Association Building property, on Court and Union, on the block. Under current zoning, a 13-story tower could go up there. Yikes.

Tiffany Shines in Union Square, Briefly

This interesting story appeared in the New York Times yesterday.

Seems construction at 15 Union Square West has reminded the City that this building was once home to Tiffany & Company at the end of the 19th century. The broadsheet tells how you can sneak a peak at the original architecture along the 15th Street side, including "gently curving third-floor windows."

The story had a sad ending, though:

Feeling that Union Square had coarsened, Tiffany decamped in 1905 for Fifth Avenue and 37th Street. Twenty years later, the Union Square building was taken over by the Amalgamated Bank. In 1953, after a passer-by was fatally injured by a piece of loose cast iron, Amalgamated had the structure stripped and reclad.

According to city permits now posted at the construction site, the plan is to remove the facade entirely, add seven floors and convert the building to apartments.


12 June 2007

Elk to Migrate Upstate

Well, you never know what you're going to find out when writing randomly about New York City.

A couple weeks back I posted an item bemoaning how little of the Little Germany character is left in Manhattan's Yorkville community. A particular loss I pointed out was the closure of Elk Candy on E. 86th Street, a great source of quality marzipan and other sweets. It was there since 1933, and shuttered just last year. You could buy marzipan in almost any shape: carrots, pigs, ladybugs, strawberries, and a variety of pumpkins for Halloween. (Thanks, NYC.com, for the picture.) Many called it the best marzipan in the city.

The owner of Elk Candy saw that mention and wrote to me, saying (punctuation not corrected) "ELK Candy might be coming back but in the hudson valley area the rents in manhattan are to high i might start up the bussiness again if i can find a place that will work for me ."

Too bad NYC can't get Elk back, but it's nice to know the tradition will live on.

11 June 2007

Brooklyn Food News: Red Hook Vendors, Di Fara's

There's good news for the Borough of Kings this Monday morning.

According to Gowanus Lounge, the Red Hook Ballfields food vendors controversy (Parks Commissioner: "You must pay a higher rent!" Vendors: "We can't pay a higher rent!" Sen. Schumer: "I'll criticize the higher rent!" New Yorkers: "Our hero!") will possibly be resolved tomorrow, when Cesar Fuentes, the selfless head of the vendor's group, will meet with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Julius Spiegel and City Council Member Sara Gonzalez. Guess Sen. Charles Schumer's press conference on Saturday and the resultant press had an impact. Fuentes also said the vendors are looking to set up shop year round. That would be mighty nice.

Meanwhile, in Midwood, Eater.com, by way of Slice, has the scoop on Di Fara's, recently closed for the second time by the Spanish Inquisition-like ("Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapons are Fear, Surprise, Ruthless Efficiency...") Department of Health. The pizza palace will reopen by week's end, and they do not have to go to court on the 14th. Let's hope they keep it clean this time and not provoke the easily provoked DOH.

Morning at McSorley's

Fresh sawdust on the floor of McSorley's tavern, early one day before too many people had tromped on it. Somehow the smell of stale ale is stronger at noon than it is later in the evening. Perhaps because the smell of fresh ale dominates during the crowded night trade.

09 June 2007

Schumer Speaks at Red Hook's "Field of Dreams"

Senator Charles Schumer was a little late, but he showed, as promised, at the Red Hook Ballfields on Sunday to protest the Parks Department's move to open concessions at the fields up to open bidding, a virtual death sentence on the small Latin food vendors that have made the place a foodie and ur-New York destination in recent years.

He was flanked by Cesar Fuentes, President of the Food Vendors of Red Hook, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, food historian Ed Levine and Andrew Carmellini, chef of A Voce. There was a crowd of about 50 people, matched by reporters, cameramen, bloggers, and folks from Schumer's office of about equal number. One could have hoped for more, but the press conference was only announced yesterday. What's more, many of the folks visiting the park were there because they heard the vendors were in danger.

"This is testimony to the expression `If you build it, they will come,'" said Schumer. "That was Iowa. This is our Iowa. This is our Field of Dreams." His speech hit all the right points, though it was diplomatic to a fault. The line that brought the most applause was the one that was most to the point: "Getting rid of all this, in the hope that it might make a little more money for the city, just makes no sense!" Fuentes emphasized the mom-and-pop status of the 13 vendors, and the fact that they not only operate on a very tight budget but, as part of their deal with the city, keep the soccer fields in good condition. Levine, jovial and forever chuckling, confirmed the deliciousness of all the food surrounding them, while Carmellini joked he was there out of pure selfishness: "I just want to be able to keep on eating good tacos."

Schumer said the law the Parks Commissioner was enforcing—the one that made sure concessions went to the highest bidder—was a good one generally, in that it helped rid the system of corruption. But, he said, "every rule has exceptions," and the vendors deserved to be an exception.

The next move appears to be the Parks Commissioner's.

08 June 2007

Yeah! Schumer Back Red Hook Vendors!

Now, this is news to end a week by!

Sen. Charles Schumer will tomorrow, June 9, speak at the Red Hook ballfields, denounced the Parks Commissioner's attempt to open concessions at the fields to bidding and thus potentially shove the longstanding and much-beloved food vendors now there out of the picture.

According to Eater.com, "Schumer will be joined by Cesar Fuentes, President of the Food Vendors of Red Hook, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, food historian Ed Levine and area chefs." And check out these cool testimonials by those area chefs here.

Schumer has my vote from here on in. This is a New York pol who knows what's what.

There is hope. Life is good. That sinking feeling is abating—a bit.

The time is 1 PM. Be there.

07 June 2007

That Sinking Feeling

Writing this blog, I'm used to tracking attacks on New York City's cultural legacy, and steeling myself against the often disheartening news I'm forced to report. But, I'm sorry, this week week has been a bitch.

DiFara's has been closed by the DOH again. The Parks Commissioner is menacing the Red Hook Ballfields food vendors. Kurowycky Meats shut down for good. And Katz's continues to listen to offers from a bevy of salivating developers. Add this to the continued fact that Astroland will be gone with summer's last breath, and Chumley's remains shuttered, and it's too much. I feel myself being sucked into the vortex of our crumbling cultural infrastructure. Is there to be no relief?

Every decision made in the town today is made with money foremost in mind. Now, don't call me naive. I know it was ever so in New York City. We're the city of Peter Minuet and Wall Street. But, I think, rarely has it been carried to the current heartless, blinkered extremes. The five boroughs are just a Monopoly board for the millionaires, a place to pile their building blocks one on top of each other.

Will the toothless Times, Post and Daily News do nothing but objectively report each landmark as it topples? With no one raise the red flag? Will Bloomberg continue to see every god-awful-ugly-inappropriate, make-it-yourself condo tower as a sign of the rightness of his economic plan for the City? Will the Landmarks Commission ever retrieve its backbone from that pawn shop on Fourth Avenue?

If Robert Moses came back from the dead and was reappointed building czar, you can bet he would get his highway through Soho, his Brooklyn-Battery bridge marring the view of the harbor, his thruway dividing Brooklyn Heights—all the horrible ideas of his that were stopped in their tracks by right-thinking, civic-minded citizens like Jane Jacobs. He'd get it all and City Hall would sit back and say, "Ah, progress!"

Di Fara's Closed Again

Legendary Midwood pizza joint Di Fara's has been closed again by the Department of Health. According to the New York Times:

On Monday, during another inspection, the pizzeria was cited for unsanitary conditions including flies, a mouse infestation and bare-hand contact with food, said Sara Markt, a health department spokeswoman. The operators also failed to meet some of the conditions they had agreed to in April, like proving that they had passed a food safety course.

Margaret DeMarco, Mr. DeMarco’s daughter, said that the family provided a certificate from a food safety course, but that the health department did not recognize it because it was a photocopy.

One has to wonder how many times Di Fara's can be shuttered by the DOH before old Dom DeMarco just throws up his hands and walks away. Then, the City can tally a real triumph, eh? And why is Di Fara's, out of all the pizza places in the city, getting so much special attention? Somebody craving publicity?

06 June 2007

Parks Department Twists Moustache and Cackles at Red Hook Vendors

If the Parks Department works hard enough, it may steal the prize from Coney Island's Joe Sitt for Most Hated Civic Villain of the Summer of 2007.

Apparently, all the great press on the Red Hook Park food vendors, with their cheap and tasty south-of-the-border eats, has backfired. It alerted the Parks Department to their existence, and now, sez Warner Johnston, chief spokesman and uber-putz for the Parks Department, said "it was trying to apply the same rules and permits for all vendors in all parks. He said department officials hoped the vendors’ group would submit a bid."

And so the vendors stand to lose there place on the ballfields, depriving many honest people of work and many more people of honest grub.

Cesar Fuentes, executive director of the group, said, "I have faith they’ll do what’s in the best interest of the community and what’s right for the people who use the park." Well, if they wanted to do that, why didn't they just leave the vendors alone? To me, it seems the Parks Dept. wants to do what's in the best interest of its pocketbook. Red Hook is booming, or so the real estate zombies tell us, and I'm sure the City sees dollar signs.

We have to fight this, people. Do whatever it takes. Private enterprise greedheads like Sitt will never listen to the vox populi. But the City can, will and must bow to public pressure. Let's organize. Here are some useful links. Click here to complain to fuckhead Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. And here's a link where you can learn the entire history of the vendors. Just do it. It will take 30 seconds.

How do you know when a city government doesn't love or understand the city it governs? This is how.

Faded Funeral

This sign hangs off a building on the stump of a block that is W. 40th Street between Ninth Avenue and the Lincoln Tunnel. At first I thought the lettering had been faded by years in the sun, and that was the reason I couldn't make it out. On closer inspection, I realized the letters were running backwards. And on further eyeballing, I realized the sign was also upsidedown. I took a few minutes before I doped out the words: Centennial Funeral Home Inc.

The home is right next to a church—good place for a funeral home to be. But as far as I could tell, no embalming was going on inside. It seemed to be a private residence with a couple apartments. My guess is the funeral home went out of business, and the new tenants got tired of being approached for funeral services, due to the remaining sign. So they slipped out the plastic sign from its metal frame and reinserted it backwards and upsidedown, so people wouldn't ask anymore. Of course, now they might stop to ask, "What's that sign say?"

05 June 2007

A Good Sign: Cocktails

In the window of the Golden Eagle Diner in the Bronx. Dontcha just love diner that still offer cocktail service?

Mayor's Home Getting Some Work Done

No, not Gracie Mansion.

No. 4 Gramercy Park West is being gutted, with some serious renovations going on. The residence, which is within the Gramercy Park historic district, was built in 1846 by Alexander Jackson Davis. New York City mayor James Harper (who started as a publisher; his company exists today at Harper Collins) bought the home in a year later and lived there until he died in a Good Friday carriage accident in 1869. In those days, a mayor or former mayor's home was signified by two lanterns on either side of the gated street entrance. It's unusual to see work being done on one of these sort of landmarks.

The workers outside said that three families live in the building now. Given the vigilance of Gramercy residents, I assume the improvements are on the up and up. The building is beautiful, adorned with some unusually intricate ironwork porches, so untouched by time that knotty twisted vines thread in and out of the iron.

04 June 2007

Jerks on Parade

Wanna know about the jerk that ruined the Lower East Side. Read this informative piece in the Times. Sion Misrahi expresses some interest is saving Katz's deli from death by development. If there's anyone who can do it, it's him. It might actually keep him out of Hell.

Meanwhile, in Borough Number 2, people in Carroll Gardens aren't so enthused with the eight-story metal box Robert "What Me Not Develop?" Scarano wants to drop on top of the F-line Carroll Street stop, wiping out the rustic little plaza that sits there now. They hate the idea so much they've posted lots of impromptu literature just outside the subway stop for people to read. (See above from Gowanus Lounge.) Only some "man in a gray/silver mercedes SUV came and tore down all the signage" the other night. Uh, yeah. Wonder who was behind that?

A Good Sign: Riviera Ravioli

Riviera Ravioli has been on the western edge of Morris Park, The Bronx, since the end of World War II. The ravioli is fresh and quite good. I recommend the Mediterranean or the Florentine. They also make their own marinara sauce. The place is completely unspoiled. But don't park in their parking lot across the street. It's under surveillance!

The great sign speaks for itself.

03 June 2007

Slaughter on Second (and First) Avenue

Note: This is an amended version of my previous post. I guess in my grief over the loss of Kurowycky Meats, I misremembered its location. It's not on Second Avenue, but First Avenue, as many of you out there pointed out. Apologies. That said, Second Avenue is still taking some bad hits these days. And First Avenue's not doing so great either. Below is the original post in all its (well-intentioned) inaccuracy:

OK, then. With the closure of Kurowycky Meats, let's take a look at what's left of the increasingly personality-free stretch of Second Avenue south of 14th Street, once the soul of the East Village (nee the Lower East Side).

Also gone within the past two years are: the Second Avenue Deli, pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup purveyor non pareil; Jade Mountain, last of the old-time chop suey palaces; Rectangles, late lamented kosher Israeli-Yemenite place; Kiev, all-night Ukrainian diner of homey ambiance.

What's left of note: Veselka, another old Ukrainian diner, a bit fancier than Kiev; B&H Dairy, a longtime kosher vegetarian place; Moishe's Bake Shop, a shabby kosher bakery of many decades standing; Anthology Film Archives, founded by Jonas Mekas in 1970.

My mordant mind guesses that Moishe's won't last another year. And it's hard to see tiny B&H surviving the current real estate shitstorm. Soon enough, Second Avenue will resemble Third Avenue in Yorkville or Sixth Avenue in Chelsea. Chase Banks branches to take out money to buy stuff at the Starbuck's and Staples, and Rite Aids to buy aspirin to dispel the headache you get from the banal ugliness of it all.

Lunch at the Players

The other day, I enjoyed what it surely one of the more obscure and hard-to-get lunch tickets in town. I was invited to have lunch at the basement grill of the old Players Club in Gramercy Park by one of theatrical club's members. The grill is only open to members so the only way you can dine there is to join the club or get an invite. There's a doorman with a list making sure no pretenders get in. He wouldn't even let me wait inside until my host arrived.

The grill is as old-fashioned as can be. Red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, a few banquets, wooden chairs with red-leather backs, a wooden bar at the end of the room. The waiters are dressed in white jackets and ties. The menu is limited (burger, french onion soup, ceasar salad, etc.). No money changes hands; the member signed a slip of paper and the bill is charged to his account.

The walls decorated with many portraits, drawings and caricatures of past and present members (mainly past). Bert Lahr, John Barrymore, Noel Coward, and a lot more you've never heard of unless you're a theatre geek. Some of these are quite wonderful and probably worth a lot of money. The club used to have a John Singer Sargent of Edwin Booth but sold it some years ago to raise money. There's a pool table at one end of the grill and an array of cues lining one corner of the room. Apparently, the pool tourneys here were once quite competitive.

The grill was about half-full. The conversation was mainly gossip about other actors not present. The food was fine, nothing special. Food at private clubs never is. But decent. It's the atmosphere that makes it convivial and relaxing.