30 September 2007

Times Notices Bryant Park is City's Jolly Green Whore

There was an interesting item in Sunday's New York Times about the "commercialization" of the City's public parks. Nice to know that the Parks Department's standing practice of renting out Bryant Park to every Tom, Dick and Gisele now has a name.

The article says that people are started to grouse that Manhattan's best parks being given over not to the people, but to the beautiful people; Fashion Week seems to last all year at Bryant Park. Which is not to say the Park people don't think of the hoi polloi, too; hence the recent "DockDogs" show, which promoted the "sport" of dog diving. (Where are the cockfighting opponents when you need them?)

The result is that our parks are rarely just, you known, parks. They're circuses or bazaars and sales floors. Of five proposed fall events in the Community Board 5's district—which includes Bryant Park, Madison Square Park and Union Square Park, the board supported just one, according to the Times. "Of the four the board rejected, the Parks Department approved one and allowed another to take place in a different park." Way to listen to the people.

But, then, what should we expect during the Bloomberg Era, when every part of the people's city will be sold out to a wealthy private interest for the right price. As William Castro, the Manhattan parks commissioner, said: the parks benefited from the sponsorships or money these events produce.

Chili Today

I'm not convinced that chili peppers really have a whole lot to do with a botanical garden—I mean, who goes to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to look at the chili pepper plants? You might as well throw an Italian food festival because basil and oregano are grown in the BBG's herb garden. But I have to say that the BBG's Chili Pepper Fiesta is one of the pleasantest annual events on the New York calendar.

The garden officials stretch the world of the hot pepper to include not just chili and hot sauce, but also chutney, pickles, latin-flavored music, pepper-shaped candy, tattoos and jewelry—even pepper ice sculptures, for Christ's sake. It's all rather charmingly silly. Plus, I met the makers of Brooklyn Petro, a four-month-old hot sauce whipped up in nearby Park Slope. And I attended an illuminating seminar in pickling, which inspired me to go home and can five bottles of pickled green beans and one of pickled okra that evening.

Quote of the day came from the lead singer of the band Haznat Modine. "I live in Manhattan. I'm the last person who's not a millionaire living in Manhattan. It's civilized here in Brooklyn. Let's face it: Manhattan is DuaneBucks."

28 September 2007

Bobby Short Would Be Proud

There isn't much to cheer about in Fun City these days, but every so often there's a glimmer of night. This morning I come with a report that the Cafe Carlyle—arguably the swankiest, most sophisticated cabaret spot in the city and the most convincing facsimile of what Cafe Society must have been like in the 1930s (nevermind that it only opened in 1955)—is alive and well and looking swell.

A year or so ago, I visited the cafe to see Barbara Cook and my heart sank when she said the owners of the Carlyle Hotel were going to move the nightlife space into the basement, abandoning the rooms that Bobby Short has once filled so ebulliently. Hurrah, hooray! That plan hit the ashheap. I returned last night to see Eartha Kitt (who's a kind of landmark herself) and my bartender told me the bosses had realized that they could spend less money (it's always about money with these guys) if they just revamped the old place. And that's what they did.

Designer Scott Salvator was put in charge. According to the Times, his changes included "slickly recessed L.E.D. lighting, shiny, patterned blue banquettes to replace the old salmon-colored ones, mirrored columns, beaded gold wallpaper, tuna tartare and of-the-moment cocktails like the agave gingerita (tequila, fresh ginger, Cointreau, egg white) on the menu." The ceiling was raised two feet. And, of course, the Marcel Vertes murals which make the joint what it is are still there.

To tell the truth, I didn't really notice that the cafe had changed that much. It just look a lot less dingy than it had. And for that much, I raise my Manhattan.

27 September 2007

Well, Whaddaya Know?

For years, I've passed by the ancient George Modell pawn shop on Atlantic Avenue and wondered about it, but never went it. At the same time, I would periodically visit a Modell's Sporting Goods store for a soccer ball, ice skates or whatever. Yet I never made the connection between the two, until now.

Both chains (there are four Modell pawn shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and nearly 100 sporting goods stores) are run by descendents of the same immigrant family. Morris and George Modell hightailed it out of Russian in the 1880s, fleeing the pogroms there. First they ran a pushcart, then they opened a haberdashery on West and Cortlandt Streets. Morris stuck with the clothes, while George went off on his own in 1893 to buy and sell jewelry. Morris's son Henry began to dabble in sporting clothes in the 1920s, and after WWII, went 100 percent into sporting goods.

George Modell, Inc., is now run by the third and fourth generation of that family. Modell's is also family-owned. No signs as to whether the two sides of the clan feud with each other (as is often the case when there are two family-owned businesses in this city). There is this, however, on the Modell's Sporting Goods website: "Modell's, founded in 1889 by Morris A. Modell, had its first store located on Cortlandt Street in lower Manhattan. Four generations of the Modell family have developed the family business into a chain of stores located in the northeast." No mention of Morris there. I know he was only with the firm for four years, but still. A founder is a founder

26 September 2007

Landmarks Commission Throws a Little Sugar Domino's Way

Yesterday, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to grant landmark status to the former Domino Sugar Plant. The move was expected, but still comes as a relief. At least one part of the old Brooklyn waterfront will be preserved.

The commission cherry-picked a cluster of three brick buildings
completed in 1884 known as the filter, pan and finishing houses. The rest of the complex can be knocked down any old time. No word on what will happen to the big Domino sign, which is attached to one of the non-landmarked buildings. And, of course, the plans still are to surround the refinery with a bunch of 30-40 story condo towers, which, you know, will be, probably, you know, ugly. One step forward, two steps back.

25 September 2007

Rich People, Regardless of Race, Creed or Color, Welcomed at Plaza

The common folk breathed a sigh of relief some time back when they learned that the Condo Gods would allow some parts of the classic Plaza Hotel to remain hotel rooms. They can now breathe double easy in knowing that, come Jan. 1, said rooms are availble for nightly rental for anyone who has $775 in their pocket.

There are some stipulations, of course. Would be lodgers must hand over the fee white wearing white gloves, and a bespoke suit and/or designer dress that cost no less than $1,000. (Receipts must be presented upon demand.) The money must be bundled with a sold-gold-plated money band, and placed in a 100% genuine leather case lined with red velvet. While the tenant is staying in the room, they must order champagne (Krug or Dom Perignon will do) every hour on the hour.

The services of Eloise can be purchased starting at $100 an hour. What you do with her is your business.

24 September 2007

New York's Most Unheeded Business Leader

What would the New York real estate community make of Alfred Tredway White, and his motto of "Philanthropy plus 5%," today? Run that crank outa town on a rail, I should think? Philanthropy in housing?! A measly 5%?! That's just not American.

Alfred T. White lived in Brooklyn from 1846 to 1921 and spent most of those years dedicating himself to the borough and its poor. He discovered said poor in 1869 when the pastor at Brooklyn's First Unitarian Church asked him to take charge of the church's settlement school program. He visited the settlement children in their homes and found out they didn't live as well as he; White was born into a wealthy merchant family.

He used the money from the family business to go about changing things. Why should tenements be dank, airless death chambers, he wondered. "Well it is to build hospitals for the cure of disease," he said, "but better to build homes which will prevent it." And so he built the Home Buildings and then the Tower Buildings on Hicks Street in present-day Cobble Hill. Anyone who's seen these complexes know that they are not just amazing tenements, but amazing building that anyone would want to live in. The red brick, the exterior spiral staircases, the countess wrought-iron balconies, the large inner courtyards. And cheap rents for the workers. That "5%" meant White refuse to profit by more than that percentage of the cost.

Further into the block, White build the Warren Place Workingmen's Cottages, utterly charming, narrow, two-story huts built of varrying colors of brick. Though he hardly intended them as such, the collection of buildings now ranks as perhaps the most delightful mews in the city, the houses going for a million or more.

White also built the Riverside Apartments, which had its own park, playground, bathhouse and music pavilion, on Columbia Place in Brooklyn Heights. And check out this astounding fact: None of his buildings occupied more than 52 percent of its lot. Can you imagine such a thing happening today, when volume is the name of the game?

To make sure the poor had access to greenery, he also forced the Brooklyn Botanic Garden into being, providing the necessary cash whenever the park experienced a shortfall. There is a quiet, relatively unvisited monument to White on a small hill in the center of the garden.

White died at 75, while skating across Forest Lake in Ramapo Hills, New York. He broke through some thin ice and drowned. For all the good he did, he seems fairly forgotten as a civic leader and role model today. How forgotten? He doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Robert Scarano does, but not White. Bruce Ratner, but not White.

Their likely slogan? "Misanthropy, plus 1,000%."

Rosario's Won't Budge

I took a walk down memory lane the other night and had a slice at Rosario's Pizza on the corner of Orchard and Stanton. When I lived in a cheap (that's right: cheap!) walk-up on Eldridge Street, I used to eat a lot of Rosario's pizza. It's wasn't ever good, but it was cheap and right down the block.

Rosario's was smack on Houston Street back there, a block down from Katz's Deli. (That's a picture of its old location above.) The rising rents caused it to clear out, but, unlike other LES businesses, it didn't disappear, but reopened a block to the south, commanding a corner no less.

My slice brought back taste memories. The pizza hadn't changed. It was doughy, greasy and had a fairly indistinct pizza flavor to it. Not the greatest slice in the world.

That notwithstanding, I think there are a number of reason to honor Rosario's and Sal Bartolomeo, the guy who runs it. Number one, it stuck around and didn't succumb to the onslaught of hip bars and restaurants. Two, it's cheap and fast, two things a New Yorker will need from time to time. Three, it's open very late and offers a ready antidote for the late-night carouser cursed with a churning belly full of booze. Four, it's utterly unpretentious, puts on no airs and makes no one feel unwelcome, which is more than I can say for many LES boites. Five, there should always be room in every NYC neighborhood for a basic slice joint. Six, it's been there since 1963, same owner throughout, so give it a little respect.

Soul Patrol

I usually don't have much use for Time Out New York, what with its vacuous, trend-sucking content, buzz-word journalism and general tone of wise-ass, self-amused, hipster irreverence. But I have to hand it to the editors for the current issue, whose cover story asks "Has Manhattan Lost Its Soul?" The issue does the City a service by pointing out to the willfully deluded and blinkered that New York has indeed been shedding the better parts of itself for a decade or more, and nothing has been done to halt the atrophy.

"New York has been dying, if not decomposing, for years," the intro to the feature reads. "These days, unless you live in Brooklyn or Queens, one block has the barber, but the next ten have nothing but Chase banks and Duane Reades." It goes on designate chain stores as sure "soul killers" of neighborhoods.

I'd have to agree with most of their choices of nabes that still retain city grit and personalty, though I'd put Chinatown in the number one spot instead of number two. Otherwise, Alphabet City, Inwood, Washington Heights, East Harlem—all good choice. (Lower East Side, Little Italy, I don't know.)

I also agree with their verdict that such once-great areas as Soho and Yorkville now possess virtually no authenticity. Soho, however, has one major mitigating factor in its favor: it's unique cast-iron architecture. As long as those buildings are there, Soho can lay claim to a wisp of a soul.

A Good Sign: Russ & Daughters

New York City's most famous "appetizing store" has been part of the bedrock of the old Lower East Side for the better part of a century. Plus, the E. Houston Street storefront has a nifty neon sign that stays on all night long, its two glowing fishies watching over the huddled hipsters.

Not an Acceptable Replacement

I was on Second Avenue the other day and stopped to witness the horror of the American Grill facade at the southwest corner of E. 7th Street. With its intermingled red and blue neon signs, and the red and blue awnings, not to mention the mix of silver and gold metal walls, it could hardly be a more injurious assault to the eyes. A truly nauseating sight.

American Grill's look might not be so upsetting it weren't sitting on the corner that once belonged to the Kiev Restaurant, old-school Ukrainian eatery and avenue anchor. As if to rub salt in the woulds, the owners of American Grill have seen fit to leave the old Kiev sign intact on the second-floor level, as if to remind us of what's we've lost.

23 September 2007

Stars at Your Feet

I always find a stroll along the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's "Celebrity Path" an amusingly surreal experience. The path is a stone walkway that leads you up and down a hill to one side of the Japanese Garden. At random intervals along the walk are gray stones with the outline of a leaf and the names of famous Brooklynites carved in the center.

Taking in the 100 or so personalities, your mind boggles at the wide variety of figures who came out of this borough. Betty Comden, Floyd Patterson, the Ritz Brothers, Elaine de Kooning, Gene Tierney, Harry Houdini, Lee Krasner, Carole King, Joe Torre and Joe Papp (listed, interestingly enough, under his birth name, Joseph Papirofsky). Some surprise you that they were born in Brooklyn at all. Woody Guthrie, who sang of the plains? Vince Lombardi, who coached the Green Bay Packers to greatness? Others plaques surprise you because the person is still alive and has been honored so early for his or her achievements. I mean, I like Leonard Lopate, but has he earned his Celebrity Walk leaf already? And then there are those stones that you wish were never laid. Judge Judy, for instance.

The most recently laid stone was for someone named Judith D. Zuk. I drew a blank on that one, so I looked it up at home. Turns out she ran the Garden from 1990 to 2005, and was responsible for its resurgence in recent years. She died of breast cancer in early September, meaning she was added to the path very soon after her death. The Garden takes care of its own, it seems. Nice job.

21 September 2007

Entreprenuel Spirit Alive and Well on Hicks

Brooklyn's a City on the Make just now, what with the boom in development and arrival of restaurants in number and national chains. So why shouldn't the little guy get in on the action?

This sign suddenly appeared out of nowhere near the corner of Hicks and Union streets recently. It's a hand-painted piece of tagboard, as far as I can see, and it hangs by string from a second-floor window. It perplexed me for a day or two. I assumed the creator of the sign wanted to rent the space on the side of the squat brick building. But then I thought, the wall space is not huge. And isn't the usual language for this sort of pitch, "Your Ad Here"?

So, then I thought the number might be that of a sign maker, some guy who makes signs like the one featured above. Finally, I called. My first assumption was the correct one; he wants to rent the wall as billboard space. (By the way, please don't inundate this poor man with calls unless you mean business; I don't want him bothered unnecessarily.)

Whatever the billboard that goes up, it will have some heavy competition. The beautiful old painted Lattacini-Barese sign looms just above that building.

20 September 2007

Astroland May Return in 2007

Thor Equities—realizing that its not ready to building anything in Coney Island anytime soon, and that everyone in New York pretty much hates them—has decided to let eight Coney vendors stick around until fall 2008. Leases were handed out all around.http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

This has made Carol Hill Albert, owner of Astroland, "hopeful." Talks are "ongoing."
And mighty Thor, raising his thunderbolt, boomed "We're hopeful that an agreement will be reached," he said. All hail Thor!

According to the , "The city's long-awaited rezoning for the area, which will determine what and where Thor will be allowed to build, is expected as soon as next month." Don't count on it, Joe.

The House of Chess

Walking down West 10th Street the other night, I passed a handsome townhouse with its windows brightly blazing and caught the odd sight of several serious men hunched over tables that were pushed up against the front windows.

They were playing chess, I soon realized. I peered further and realized the whole floor was occupied with men (all men) examining active chess board. I looked about and noticed a small plaque: Marshall Chess Club.

This club, whose existence has escaped my attention until now, has been housed in these premises—the former home of its founder, American chess master Frank J. Marshall (1877-1944)—since 1931. U.S. chess champ for many years, Marshall was known for an endgame strategy with the delightful name of "The Marshall Swindle."

The main room of the club is filled with about a dozen tables, but otherwise still looks like the living room of a Victorian gentleman: old fireplace, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, hardwood floors.

Marshall, who admitted to devoting his life single-mindedly to chess (his memoir was called "My Fifty Years of Chess"), wanted to form a club where chess lovers could meet, talk and play. Marshall's Chess Divan was begun at Keene's Chop House (as it was then called and spelled) in 1915. Keens still stands, of course. It moved about for many years, until Marshall bought himself a home in the Village and installed the club inside.

Anyone can join, as far as I know. Dues are $325 a year, for a New York area resident. For your money, you get lectures, classes, tournaments, "Friday Rapids/Blitz," summer chess camp, garden parties and something called "casual play" (which is probably what normal chess is for you and me).

The club owns the building, as far as I can see, which is why it still exists.

I like chess, but have never followed its personalities. It was interesting to me, however, that artist Marcel Duchamp and the novelist Sinclair Lewis used to hang here, and amusing that songwriter Johnny ("Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") Marks was a habitue. Chess wunderkind Hikaru Nakamura is apparently an active member.

A Good Sign: Bigelow Pharmacy

This Central Village monument is certainly on everyone's short list of great New York signs. (I assume everyone out there has just such a short list.) It's sheer size sets it apart—proportions befitting the oldest continually operating pharmacy in the nation—as does the sign's striking right angle, the arrow at the bottom (in case you missed the store's location just below) and the fact that its visible from several blocks around, due to its hanging near the particular airy and open intersection of several streets.

19 September 2007

Frank "The Legend Buster" Bruni Gives Peter Luger a Swift Kick

Frank Bruni, who sees himself not just as the New York Times restaurant reviewer, but as NYC's top chop cop, stuck on his badge today and wrote a 1,000-word police report on Peter Luger, the mother of all New York steak houses out in Brooklyn.

Bruni did the same thing with Katz's a few months back, paying a visit on the deli institution to pay respect, but also to lodge complaints and offer advice on how things might be done better under the Bruni Watch. This time around, he rescinded one of Luger's stars as punishment for gloating, coasting, harsh illumination and harsh service. "Gloating? Coasting? Gonna have to write you up for that, missy!," said Bruni, hoisting a hip boot on the back fender to write down the license plate. Message: Don't mess with the Bruni!

Now, I understand from my friends at Eater.com and other venerable sources that Luger is not what it was and needed a swift kick in the pants. I don't dispute it. But surely this does not mean taking glee in the pain the a negative review from Bruni can inflict. Every classic restaurant and bar in the city is on shaky ground in this market. No one is safe, not even Katz's and Luger, so let's not go around casually aiming bazookas at them for fun and spite.

My reaction to the Luger review will be the same one I had to the Katz's review: I'm going to dine there as soon as possible.

18 September 2007

Mourning Morrone Bakery

Things must be getting awfully lonely for Patsy's up in East Harlem.

Patsy's is one of the last vestiges of the Italian enclave that once dominated East Harmlem. One of its few compatriots was Morrone Bakery on E. 116th Street. Now, the New York Times reports that the bakery closed for good on Aug. 19.

I only discovered Morrone last spring, while walking to Patsy's. I remember thinking, "How can that place possibly survive?" Sadly, my thoughts were prophetic. The store has been there since 1958, when Rosa and Gabriele Morrone opened their doors. Gabriele died in 2000. The bakery closed for a few months in 2000-01 for renovations, reopening in February 2001 with a new oven.

Anthony Morrone, one of Mrs. Morrone’s seven children, took over as baker. But, wrote the Times, "for the past year, Mr. Morrone, 46, has been suffering from a herniated disc in his back, which he said has made it impossible for him to continue to meet the demands of a trade that required him to bake from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. seven days a week."

So, that's it. No more old-school Italian bread in East Harlem.

A note on their website reads:

For over 50 years, the Morrone family has been providing you with the finest breads baked the old world way, all natural and of course without preservatives.

Along the way, our customers became our friends. Our neighborhood wasn’t just a place to do business in, it was our home. Not a day goes by, when someone doesn’t stop in to say, “Hi Rosa” and just shoot the breeze.

While, our neighborhood will still be our home, it is with great regret, that we must now say goodbye to our customers and friends, as we close our bakery.

We wish to thank you, our friends and customers for your support and loyalty all these years.


The Morrone Family

The site also offers patrons the chance to leave a message. One AnnMarie Mallozzi wrote this:

Thanks for the cherry-topped cookies that you passed to me with a smile whenever I visited your store as a little girl, I will miss the absolute delight of biting into a piping hot star bread and dipping a fresh friselle into my chicken soup.

Great. Now, I'm hungry.

17 September 2007

Chumley's Opening Oct. 1? Doubtful

Last we heard from Chumley's, Steve Shlopak, owner of the sadly shuttered former speakeasy—which it housed in 86 Bedford Street, currenly one of the most unstable structures in all of Gotham—was telling The Villager that he was happy about how the repairs were going, and expected to reopen Oct. 1.

That would be roughly two weeks from today. Based on a recent visit to the site, I would have to say that the chance of that happening are nil. The address looks much better than it did a few months ago. The plywood is in better shape and there's no detritus on the sidewalk. But big metal brackets yet hold up the side walls. There's still scaffolding a-plenty and netting. This place isn't opening soon any more than the Second Avenue subway is.

There's a big sign outside saying the building remains for sale. A quick couple calls revealed that the owners of Chumley's still are hoping to buy the place from current landlord and bad press queen, Margaret Streicker Porres. That's good news, I suppose. But a bad feeling in the pit of my heart tells me that, in this market, a couple guys with a bar aren't going to raise the scratch to buy a Greenwich Village building (even a crappy, collapsing one) from a greedy scofflaw millionairess.

Just thinking of all the literary ghosts currently trapped inside that sad, crumpled structure makes me spiritually ill.

Window Shopping on Bleecker

Old buildings with original brickwork can be found with relative ease in New York City. If you're lucky, you'll see an original cornice, lintels and door. But to spy original windows—wooden frames, small panes of blass, hinges and locks—is a rare wonder indeed.

Bleecker Street between Sixth and Seventh is a fine street for such window shopping. Along the north side of the street are several low-slung, brick building sporting windows so old and authentic-looking, one has to imagine that, if they're not original, they are very, very ancient.

The building featured above has some of my favorite windows, elegant, tall and narrow, and all the better for actually swinging out. From the looks of the plywood, however, it sadly doesn't seem like anything's going on inside.

16 September 2007

Zito Agonistes

I don't know when this happened or why, but it's certainly no way to treat what was once sacred ground in Greenwich Village.

The legendary Bleecker Street bakery A. Zito & Sons, which closed in 2004, has stood sadly vacant for the past three years. A sign in the window enticing new tenants had no effect. But now that sign is gone. And so is the window. Somebody or something rendered the pane of glass into a pile of shards, and the window has been covered with plywood, while the remaining surfaces of the narrow storefront have been defaced with graffiti.

The last time I checked on Zito, I was told that the lease to Zito had been sold to a small company which was shortly thereafter gobbled up by a bigger company. The bigger company has since proved "difficult" and sits on its hands and matters have come to a standstill.

Can no one save this address from these indignities.

Temple of Art Carnegie Hall Doesn't Like Artists So Much

A photo study in the current issue of House & Garden magazine aptly illustrates the kind of anti-culture, anti-heritage, pro-money, short-sighted mindset that is pervading the city just now. It concerns the little-known hive of studios that rest atop Carnegie Hall and have been home to various painters, composers, musicians, dancers and the like ever since old Andrew Carnegie deemed it should be so.

Since June 2007, the Carnegie Hall Coroporation (and, believe me, this outfit is more corporation than Carnegie) has been slipping little "Get Out!" notices under the doors of the studio's various (often elderly) tenants. Many have already left. Some 29 tenants remain in the original 170 studios. They're fighting their evictions in court. Carnegie Hall Corporation wants to use the studios for educational programs that are currently conducted elsewhere.

Of course, the CHC had a heartfelt explanation for its mercenary shenanigans. A spokesman said Carnegie Hall's "lease from the city does not require them to lease the studios to anyone." Landlords are landlords are landlords.

The studios have a rich history. According to the article, "Agnes deMille, Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan and John Barrymore have all been tenants. Enrico Caruso made his first recording in studio 826, and Charles Dana Gibson painted his famous Gibson Girls in studio 90. Leonard Bernstein composed the scores for `Fancy Free' and `On the Town' while living in studio 803. Marlon Brando tried to escape his fans there, and Jerome Robbins brought his genius to his dancers there."

But that's no legacy to carry on, is it CHC? Is it?

14 September 2007

Eldridge Street Synagogue Starts New Year Right

Lovely news this week from the heart of what was the Lower East Side. The famous 15-foot-high rose window of the city's most beautiful temple, the Eldridge Street Synagogue, has been restored to its place about the building's entrance, just in time for Rosh Hashana. It looks great in pictures.

Restoration of the place, once a focal point of Jewish life on the LES, has been going on for decades. The window was removed in the 1980s. Raymond Clagnan, a second-generation stained-glass artisan, did the work.

You can read more about the Eldridge Street Synagogue here.

13 September 2007

A Note From Keens

Having lunch at Keens Steakhouse—formerly (very formerly) Keens English Chop House—is a sure way to experience time a bit differently. Inside, New York history expands to encompass several eras, while your own time tends to stand still. The "office" quickly vanishes, and the need to return to it disappears with it. Keens is a place where it's understood you'll be sitting down for a while, eating much, drinking much, and forgetting much. The world can wait, for Keens is a word unto itself.

Perhaps the thing keeping people in their seats are the rows upon rows of old, long-stemmed clay pipes that act as alternative ceiling insulation. They're enough to hypnotize even the least curious among us. There are just so many, so neatly arranged one next to the other, and so clean. (Someone's doing a bang-up dusting job.) If you believe the backstory, they were all smoked by someone once—someone probably now long since dead. The pipes of a few special owners are exhibited in a glass case near the entrance: Billy Rose, David Belasco, John Barrymore and, my favorite, Stanford White. They all ate here. They all smoked here!

The steakhouse is convenient to the Garment District, a fact I couldn't miss because of the two seedy old men seated next to me cursing up a blue streak about The Business. "She didn't like my sweater line, she said! I said, look, I brought out six sweaters!" "Just do the fuckin' job." "I bust my ass doing this!" I ate in the pub area. It's cozier and less expensive. From a menu of meat and more meat, I chose the prime rib sandwich, which, since I didn't specify how I wanted it done, came to me quite rare. It was good—a mouthful what with the blue cheese, carmelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes—if a bit overwhelming. The limeade for $4. Was it worth it? No. No limeaid is worth $4. But it was limeaid, and where are you gonna get that anymore?

But the thing I think I like about Keen's the most are the little notepads that can be found on the table, with the words printed in small type at the top left corner: "Notes taken at Keens." What do the mangement mean by leaving these little pads everywhere. Well, a number of things, as far as I can tell. One, bigwigs have business meals at Keens and may need to jot down a few notes. Two, Keens is the sort of place that sets you musing about life while you dine and imbibe, and you may want to record some of those musings. Three, they expect you may drink a bit while you're there, and you're certainly not going to remember what you said or did if you don't write it down. Four, a gentleman is always on the verge of writing something down and he may not have paper at the ready. And five, Keens has a sense of its own importance and presumes that notes taken by people eating there have an innate profundity and weight.

I won't begrudge them on that last point.

What Goes Round Comes Round, Again?

Here's a big of unexpected news. Coney Island's B&B Carousell [sic], which we all said goodbye to a couple years ago, presumedly forever, may make a comeback.

According to Gothamist, the endearingly named site Carousel News reports that "The New York City Economic Development Corporation (“NYCEDC”) is seeking a consultant or consultant team for restoration and reconstruction of the historic B&B Carousell."

The City bought the B&B for $1.8 million in 2005. It was dismantled in January 2006. According to the New York Times, it "would be the main attraction of Steeplechase Plaza, a public park proposed at the heart of a redeveloped Coney Island," and "After returning the carousel’s 50 horses and two chariots to their original appearance, city officials hope to place the carousel in a pavilion where it could serve as a year-round attraction between the Boardwalk and KeySpan Park, the home field of the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team."

The B&B, Coney's last surviving carousel, was named after William Bishoff and Herman Brienstein. It was built by the great Coney ride-builder William F. Mangels, and some of the figures were carved by masters Charles Carmel and Marcus Charles Illions.

Nice to see the City do something right where Coney Island is concerned. Of course, they've been giving Thor Equities a hard time with zoning, so that's been pretty commendable.

12 September 2007

P & G Bar's Future Not Rosy

I stopped by the endangered Upper West Side P&G tavern recently to check up on its battle for survival, but learned nothing encouraging. The bartender, who seemed quite knowledgeable, said nothing had changed, and the landlord wasn't even negotiating anymore. "He just wants his money," he said.

To refresh your memory, the landlord's animal instincts long ago sniffed out the whacked-out real-estate market and started measuring out 65-year-old P & G for a coffin. Word was a bank was interested in the space. (Banks are interested in just about any place, really, these days.)

P&G's lease expires at the end of 2008, so the bar's still got a couple Christmases in it. But beyond that, it doesn't look good. There had been talk of the owners bringing in food to boost income. (The landlord wants $25,000 a month.) But there was no sign of the backroom kitchen being revved up. The bar once serve steaks, chops and the works, but let things lapse in the '90s.

One change I did notice. They now have on tap Sixpoint Beer, an excellent brew made in Red Hook. The bartender said it made its debut five months ago. Good stuff. Classic New York beer in a classic New York bar.

Mystery Sign: Anel French Cleaners

I don't know what the story is behind Anel French Cleaners on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. The sign's a classic, but "Anel"? It even goes by "Anel" in various internet business listings.

My guess is, a long time back, it used to say "Chanel French Cleaners" and then Chanel got their team of lawyers on the dry-cleaners' ass. So they chopped the "Ch" off the sign. The "a" of "Anel" is obviously a lower-case specimen, after all. I like the little Eiffel Tower, too.

The Shameful Bus Called B61

I'm going to take a minute here to eviscerate the B61 city bus line. I know it's off-topic, but I don't care. This sorry-ass excuse for mass transportation has it coming.

I live on the B61's route, which is long and connects many neighborhoods, from Red Hook to Long Island City. This bus has a schedule, which can been seen in printed form at various bus stops through the city, as well as in handy pamphlets and on the MTA's website. Whether any of the B61 drivers have ever read it is doubtful. Whether or not they care that there is a schedule is not in question: they don't. The B61 comes when it comes. During the weekdays, that's supposed to be every 10 minutes—often enough for even the busiest lines. What you get in reality is one every 20 or 30 minutes and then—the B61 drivers' favorite trick—three frickin' buses in a row, following each other like duckling, the first filled to the brim, the second two utterly useless, holding a rider or two.

Every patron of the B61 has seen this phenomenon at least once a day and gritted their teeth in fury. It happens like clockwork. One person told me it's not the driver's fault—the route is too long, there's too much potential for delay as they travel through Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn. To which I say: too fucking bad! It's your route! Learn it. Master it. Get it right. It's not rocket science to keep ten minutes between you and the bus in front of you. Brooklyn has traffic; figure out how to handle it. I have the chance to observe many bus lines in my daily life. Never once have I seen a B71, B63, B75 or B77 following by two empty examples of the same stupid bus. Only the B61.

And then there are the drivers. Stone-faced, sullen, indignant, unapologetic. They talk back to riders when they complain about the service. They never smile. I've seen them park the bus and get off to talk with friends without explanation when there was no cause for a break in the scheduled.

This morning I staked out my place early at a B61 stop, arriving at 8 AM to get to a 9:30 AM appointment in Manhattan. The 8:14 did not arrive. Then a completely full bus passed me by at 8:10. The 8:24 bus did not arrive. Another bus did not show up under 8:35. It was also full to bursting, but did stop. The driver continued to pull over at every stop even though there was no room in the bus. When he drove quickly over a pothole with a mighty "crash," someone in the huddled mass said, "I think you broke something in the bus." He replied, "I ain't broke nothing. There's too much weight on this bus. Why don't some of you get off?"

"Why don't some of you get off?" Well, driver, why don't you show up on time? Why don't all your friends show up on time, so each bus is evenly populated? Better yet, why don't you shut the hell up?

UPDATE (9/25/07): I read today, in AMNY, via Curbed, that the MTA plans to extend the schedules of the B61 and B77 to service IKEA. So a crowded bus will become more crowded. Nice work, MTA! Oh, well. Maybe something will change now that yuppies, and not just the working poor, experience what a sucky line the B61 is. Maybe, at the bequest of IKEA, it will become a tiffany line.

11 September 2007

A Good Sign: Madonia Brothers

I love this sign. The unusual combination of yellow and blue neon in a world dominated by red; the fanciful shaft of wheat. It's utterly distinctive and a pleasure to look at. Madonia Brothers bakery is on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Their pane di casa is worth the trek. Wonderfully simple and fantastically delicious table bread.

10 September 2007

Patrick Charles Keely, the UnCelebrated

Following the procession of Santa Maria Addolorata made me think of St. Stephen's Church, a Carroll Gardens landmark, which made me think of architect Patrick Charles Keely, who gets no respect in most architectural circles these days but has shaped my (and, I imagine, many Brooklynites') daily aesthetic life in a fairly profound way.

Richard Upjohn is the man who gets the kudos around these parts. He built Christ Church in Cobble Hill, Grace Church and Our Lady of Lebanon Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn Heights, and a host of lovely others, all benefiting from the reflected glory of having been built by the man who shaped the soaring Trinity Church of lower Broadway—one of New York's four or five great houses of worship. On top of that, Upjohn lived in a building on the corner of Clinton and Baltic, making him a local boy (his birth in English notwithstanding).

Keely has no divine Trinity Church to his credit, and thus dwells well within the long shadow of Upjohn. But, for what he lacks in reputation and genius, he made up for in productivity. The man never stopped building churches: here, in Boston, in Chicago, in Erie, in Watertown, Wisconsin, for pete's sake. After his design for the Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Williamsburg wowed the masses, this fine Irish boy from Tipperary was every Catholic Church's first choice. He is said to have built as many as 700 such temples.

Brooklyn, of course, had scads of Catholic immigrants, and they wanted Keely bad. And so I wake up to St. Stephen's steeple, soaring over the BQE. Further up the highway, at Warren and Hicks, St. Peter's Our Lady of Pilar Church mourns its new life as a condo village. St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church's hulking mass is unavoidable on the south stretch of Court. And you won't escape Patrick on quiet Sidney Place, where his St. Charles Borromeo (above)—raging brick-red like so many Keely churches—waits to surprise you. (The enormous St. Agnes' on Hoyt and Sackett was actually built by his son-in-law Thomas F. Houghton!)

The AIA guide considers Keely no match for Upjohn. I'd have to agree. His churches are functional, and are by no means ugly, but they lack poetry or grace. They're earthbound. Keely's a journeyman, essentially. But the man tried. He worked hard. And he gave Brooklyn churches where the people needed them. I'd name a street after him if I could; it's the least he deserves. But I hear the city's started to crack down on that practice.

Astroland Au Revoir

Yesterday was the final day for Astroland's "adult" rides (the kiddie rides will apparently soldier on until mid-October). Try as I might, I couldn't get down there, so laden with work was I. It made me sad. But I had visited every other weekend this summer and I got my fair share of last looks.

Gowanus Lounge was on the scene for what seemed like all day and he's got some wonderful pictures here, here and especially here. If you don't choke up seeing the Zipper ride ride down Surf Avenue on the back of a flatbed truck, never to return, you haven't got a heart. The picture of Astroland owner Carol Albert, stonefaced, staring down the microphones, is also a classic. And then there's the choice shot of Joe Sitt being drawn and quartered on the boardwalk. No, wait—that was in my dream last night.

The Women in Black

When I first moved to Carroll Gardens 13 years ago, one of the first things that made me realize that I was living among a particular people from a particular place was the eerie, Felliniesque Procession of Santa Maria Addolorata.

This—well, I don't want to say "parade"; it's not that kind of joyous thing—this event takes place on the first Sunday in September after Labor Day, starting at St. Stephen's Church on Carroll and Hicks and then slowly plodding its way through the neighborhood to the sounds of a mournful brass band (complete with tuba) and the incantations of hundreds of middle-aged and elderly women dressed in what seems to be the same conservative, jet-black dress with a white sash around the neck.

A group of select men hoist on their shoulders the largish statue of Santa Maria Addolorata. She is the patron saint of Mola di Bari, a coastal Italian town from which many old-time Carroll Gardeners hail. Maria is dressed in a silver crown and a long black dress with gold brocade. She has a terribly stricken look on her face—probably because a sword is piercing her heart. People pin money to the statue, which others stuff dollars in wooden boxes carted about by various church ladies. The latter will hand you a postcard with a prayer written out in Italian on the back.

The procession is stately and creepy. There are several little girls dressed up like Maria. And a man at front ponderously bangs a bass drum. It's funereal, basically. The first time I ever saw it, I shuddered at the dour solemnity of it. My wife still refuses to watch it; it weirds her out. But I have an odd affection for it. It's so like something I might encounter unexpectedly in an ancient Italian hill town.

To know how ingrained the ceremony and the saint are in Carroll Gardens life, just know that one of the major stops on Maria's route is the 76th police precinct on Union Street. At this address, the statue of Maria is turned to face the precinct bigs and St. Stephen's priest as they stand in full dress and at attention on the precinct steps. Whether she is blessing the cops or addressing her troops, I have not been able to figure out.

08 September 2007

Sherry-Lehmann Opens Shops on Park Avenue

Blue-chip wine collectors rejoice! Sherry-Lehmann Wines and Spirits, Manhattan's most august booze shop, has finally reopened at its new location on Park and 59th. The first day of business was Aug. 28 and it was a soft opening indeed. Barely any trumpets were sounded. The outfit had planned to open in late August all along, but, based on the progress of the construction at the Park Avenue spot, observers were understandably doubtful.

The new shop is a lot like the old one, with the same short of shelving and many of the fusty old wine antiques hanging from the ceiling. At the same time, the vibe is more sleek and polished; more Wall Street parvenu than Upper East Side aristocracy. Business was brisk the day I stopped by. It's a great location, it can't be denied, just a block from the Lexington line.

So, if you're in desperate need of an imperial of Chateau d'Yquem, don't panic. Your source is alive and well.

06 September 2007

Mom and Pop: Bloomberg Hates You

The New York Sun ran an article today saying that the City Council, worrying that New York's urban character is being washed away in a flood of faceless, ubiquitous chain stores, is mulling over "property tax breaks and zoning changes [that] could be used to prevent bigger businesses crowding out smaller ones." However, it is thought that Michael "Culture Crisis? What Culture Crisis?" Bloomberg would not support any such measure.

Well, of course he wouldn't. Free Market Capitalism worked very well for the fake-subway-rider, didn't it? So, it works for everyone else in New York City, right? Right?

The city's small-business commissioner, Robert Walsh—and this is the City's small-business commissioner, mind you—was quoted in the Sun that he was "concerned" that people "are frowning upon, if you will, many of the nationally recognized businesses."

Well, why would we do that? Those fine nationally recognized businesses—they're so kind, so benevolent, so nurturing, so nationally recognized. WTF!? Hey, Walsh!: the "people" do not view corporate monoliths as their pals just because they've heard of them. People may, however, have a friend at the corner store or the local pharmacy. I don't think Starbucks is going to let me pay for my coffee the next time I swing by if I happen to forget my wallet.

Walsh also said he doesn't know such Mom and Pop shop tax breaks would work. Well, Einstein, you and Bloomie figured out how to wedge a few hundred big boxes into a maze of narrow streets. Give this one a little think-think. Spend some pillow time with it. I'm sure you'll come up with something.

Red Hook Vendors Golden Through October

The Red Hook Ballfields Food Vendors have succeeded in having their selling permit extended to Oct. 28, City Room reports. Which basically means the rotten, thieving, snake-in-the-grass, prevaricating Parks Department simply came through on what they had promised in the first damn place.

One small victory at a time. Now to make sure the vendors return next year.

Manganaro Gets a Sense of Humor

Saw this sign outside the Manganaro Groceria Italiana on Ninth Avenue. The shop feuded with the family members who owned the neighboring Manganaro's HeroBoy for decades, though, if you believe reports, they reconciled in recent years. The sign still carried the usual pugnacious message "Maganaro Foods is not connect to HeroBoy," but adds the somewhat self-mocking "But you knew that already." Perhaps they have mellowed a bit.

05 September 2007

A Good Sign: Worth and Worth

A view of the Worth and Worth hat shop's front window, high above 57th Street, from the inside.

04 September 2007

Good By Itself, Too!

Summertime refreshment sure ain't what it was when I was a kid.

03 September 2007

What In Helen's Is Happening Now?

I lot of things I loved about Carroll Gardens have fallen by the wayside during its recent, decade-long transformation from sleepy Italian-American enclave to bubbling yuppie enclave, but there are few I miss as much as the lost, and seemingly little lamented Helen's Italian Cuisine at 396 Court Street near Carroll.

It was one of the old-school Italian eateries of the neighborhood, best represented now by the Red Rose on Smith and Casa Rosa on Court. I liked it better than those two, however. The southern Italian food smacked more of home cooking (the lasagna was particularly savory and good), and the slow and often tipsy service had a lot of family character to it. I believe the silver-haired, main waiter was Helen's son (Livio was his name, I think). If you were in a hurry, it wasn't a good idea to eat there.

There was a wooden vestibule that separated the interior from the street, and a simple rack with hangers for hats and coats. Orders were passed through a small square window in the back. There were tables and cozy booths. Wine was served in small, stemless tumblers the way it's done in Italy. Prices were low.

The facade's most distinctive characteristic was an all-a covering wall of gold, corrugated metal—bit of which are still visible as part of the faceless card and gift shop that replaced the restaurant. It was an ugly look, but utterly unique. A work permit in the window of said shop says the reconstruction work is being done. Hard to imagine what sort of redo might make that drab store exciting. I remember when Helen's closed. A man told me the family hoped to reopen it in another location. Sadly, never happened.