31 December 2008

Cheyenne Diner to Float on Down to Red Hook?

There is news on the Cheyenne Diner, the midtown diner that, eight months ago, was said to be relocating to Red Hook, and yet still sits on 33rd Street and Ninth. From Chelsea Now:

Preservationists cheered when Cheyenne property owner George Papas negotiated last April to sell the 68-year-old diner to Michael O’Connell, a Red Hook construction manager who agreed to restore the restaurant intact as part of the deal to bring it to the Brooklyn waterfront. But plans to move the more-than-100-foot-long structure in two parts dissolved after it proved too large to travel across the Manhattan Bridge, leaving a final option of floating it by barge through the New York Harbor to its destination in Red Hook.

The alternative is a daunting one: The job entails transporting the diner to a pier on the Hudson River, loading it onto a barge via crane, towing the barge with a tugboat, and using another crane to lift it back onto land.

“We’re going to see what the financial feasibility is of moving it that way,” O’Connell told Chelsea Now this week, noting that the job was put out to bid a few weeks back, with no responses so far. “If not, we’ll just scrap the whole idea of moving it.”

Doesn't sound promising to me. "Financial feasibility" is developer-speak for "I don't want to spend a lot of money."

P&G to Remain Open One More Month

P&G Cafe, the 66-year-old tavern at 73rd and Amsterdam, was to have closed tonight, New Year's Eve. But word comes that it will stay open until Jan. 31. A call to the place confirmed this. (Sorry for the earlier misinformation.) The owner is still working on his projected relocation.

As for the sign, there's still no guarantee that it will follow the owner or be preserved. Hello, Museum of the City of New York? Hello, Smithsonian? Hello, MoMA? This sign is art. It's a cultural icon. It's a relic, as sure as an arrowhead. Save it!

As for the greedy landlord that has put P&G in this terrible position by kicking them to the curb, may you, your children, and your grandchildren have no luck in 2009 and beyond. May you invest all the money you get from your new tenant with someone like Bernie Madoff. May St. Peter's first question for you be, "Why did you do that to P&G?"

Lehrer Listerners Care

I just finished doing my segment on "The Brian Lehrer Show" about my end of the year "Bring Out Your Dead" list. You can find a podcast of it here. It was great fun, if talking about such a mournful topic can be called fun. There's something about the calm, warm, ever-so-slightly wry timber of Lehrer's voice. I've always been mesmerized by it. I guess that's why he has a thriving radio career.

Anyway, I'm glad to see the topic was a lively one with New Yorkers. Lehrer quoted from many of the e-mails (99 so far) that poured in from listeners while the segment was going on. Among the deceased institutions that people mentioned: Florent, Five Roses Pizza, Chez Laurence, Sucelt coffee shop, Jerry's, Love Saves the Day, Maya Schaper Cheese & Antiques, Chez Brigette, the Donnell Library, and more. Many mentioned places that had actually closed in 2006 or 2007, but time zips by quickly these days. And then there's that caller who eulogized his favorite strip club in Williamsburg. Unless it was 100 years old, I'm not sure if that counts.

One thing I wish I had mentioned during the interview: P&G Cafe, the last great tavern on the Upper West Side, closes tonight. Go!

30 December 2008

Matchbooks of the Lost City: The Recently Deceased

Marion's, died on the Bowery this year.

A Florent matchbook from way back when. I mean the late '80s.

The Old Minetta Tavern. Not the one McNally is going to reopen soon.

The Mystery of The Diplomat

An anonymous reader yesterday posted a comment on an item I ran back in August about the old Magic Touch sign in Carroll Gardens. He was responding to some information I had collected that insinuated that "girls" could be procured at the long-gone restaurant. He objected:

The Magic Touch was an Italian restaurant and bar owned by a man named Mike Maluso. The establishment featured live music nightly, and pretty good veal and pasta. While it was very popular with the boys, as was Monte's Venetian Room on Carroll Street and the Diplomat on 3rd Avenue, it was in no way a place where prostitutes could be found or any nonsense like that would be tolerated.

Mmm. Veal and pasta. But The Diplomat? I know Monte's well, but have never heard of the supposedly once-popular The Diplomat on Third Avenue. Anyone know anything about this forgotten hangout?

Lost City to on "Brian Lehrer Show" Wednesday, Dec. 31

Lost City will be interviewed on the estimable "The Brian Lehrer Show" tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 31, at 10 AM. The subject will be my recent "Bring Out Your Dead" article, about the New York City landmarks lost during the last 12 months. So tune in!

NYU to Squash Another Short Building on WSP

NYU hates every building bordering Washington Square Park that it doesn't own. (It's their park, you know!) One that it particularly hates is the squat, '60-style church at 58 Washington Square South, known as the Catholic Center at New York University. The university has been trying to be the thing since the '90s.

Now, it has finally succeeded. The Archdiocese of New York gave NYU the go-ahead to buy the church for $25 million. NYU will build a seven-story building there, which will perfectly destroy what remains of the view of the Washington Square Arch looking down Fifth Avenue. NYU spokesperson John Beckman said the site would not be used for dormitories. "The site will be used for multi-faith and academic purposes, and there will continue to be a Catholic presence there," he told the Real Deal. "It will not be used for student housing."

29 December 2008

Market Diner Back in Business

Reports that the old Market Diner was going to be resurrected always seemed to good to be true. Turns out they were good and true.

The Urbanite reports that the Hell's Kitchen diner, on 43rd and 11th Avenue, was back in business earlier this month:

The 1962 diner’s exterior, with its zig-zag roof in the Googie architectural style, will be surrounded by outdoor seating for up to a 100 people in warmer weather...
The indoor changes created a more natural and modern look, an owner has said. The decor was set to feature a rock sculpture and wooden furnishings, which reviewers on yelp have said makes it feel like it rocketed out of a Jetson's episode.

The eatery, at West 43rd Street and 11th Avenue, also is supposed to feature a bar that will sell frozen drinks. The Market also added a couple of non-diner items to its classic American fare, such as spring rolls.

The Tsinias family, which leases the diner from Moinian Group, has been in the diner business for almost 35 years and owns the Cosmic Diner, which moved to West 52nd Street and Eighth Avenue after many years in Columbus Circle.

Matchbooks of the Lost City

A couple weeks ago, I descended into my cellar to retrieve some Christmas decorations. While there, I stumbled upon a dusty old plastic bag filled with matchbooks. When I was younger, I used to grab a matchbook at every restaurant and bar I patronized. When I came home, I'd toss it in an old coffee can or Ball jar. After a while, these souvenirs accumulated and became a nuisance. I packed the collection up at some point and banished it to the basement.

Some years have passed since then. The evidence is in the matchbooks. Many belong to restaurants long gone, some famous, some not. Many I have written about on this very blog.

I'll return to the collection from time to time in the future, but for now here are a few that immediately caught my eye.

The Second Avenue Deli, back when it was actually on Second Avenue.

Barrymore's, former actors hangout on W. 45th Street, torn down in 2006.

The Moondance Diner, the Soho landmark that was famously evicted and then carted off to some one-horse town in Wyoming.

EL Teddy's, onetime popular Tribeca eatery and watering hole.

A View of the Midtown Skyline from Apple's Subterranean Fifth Avenue Store

Least Favorite Christmas Display: Henri Bendel

Maybe it's the blue greyhound. Maybe I just don't mix mouse orchestras. Or perhaps it's just everything about Henri Bendel's holiday window display this year that's repellent. I always thought Bendel a classy sort of store. Red neon and green-clad divas playing royal dress-up and riding purple ostriches just doesn't seem like the right image for the luxury shop. Or any shop.

28 December 2008

Watch Your Head!

The open, running, ceiling fan, just inches from your head, on the MTA's "Nostalgia Train."

Next Stop: 1932

The "Nostalgia Train," the MTA's rolling museum Christmas present to the public, ran every Sunday of December. For whatever reason, my attempts to ride it were thwarted until the very last day, Dec. 28. I convinced my son it would be fun, and off we went to the 2nd Avenue stop of the V line to catch the 11:30 AM arrival.

The Nostalgia Train is actually a string of disassociated cars, each from a different era. You can choose to ride in a car from the 1920s or the 1960s, or anytime in between. Pick your period. The cars were crowded, and train geeks were in abundant supply, armed with unkempt hair, large bellies and cameras of all types. You can see a couple of these seldom-seen specimens below, staking out the train at the 53rd/Fifth Avenue stop. The chance to ride this train is like manna to these guys. Christmas comes a distant second.

The connecting doors between each car remain open during the trip, so you need not limit yourself to one style of subway during your ride. Many people walked up and down the train as it ran its course from 2nd Avenue to Queenboro Plaza. I was tempted by this option myself. But I also wanted to experience the train as a commuter of days gone by would have, so I took a seat in an attractive dark green metal number. I was told it was an R4 model, and was in use in 1932.

The interior was painted public-restroom green. There were open ceiling fans. The floor was a deep burgundy color, the ceiling off-white. The space above the window was lined with time-specific adds, including many bids for war bonds. With its muted colors, and hushed lighting, the car had a homey, cozy feeling. I fell in love with the seat covers, a sturdy plastic weave of dark yellow and dark green. These pictures don't do it justice. It was attractive and quite comfortable.

The sounds of the trains are quite different from what we're used to. There is a rolling, churning acceleration as the train starts and picks up speed; it grows into a roar so load that it is actually impossible to carry on a conversation while the car is in motion. Many people covered their ears, but I found the sound quite appealing. It was a genuine train sound, not screechy or mechanized. The lighting frequently cuts out for seconds at a time, enriching the atmosphere of the journey. My son found the brief blackouts quite exciting.

Among the cars we did not choose to ride was the one below, a more modern number with blue floors, sleeker metal "straps" and enclosed fans (no doubt installed after someone got a free haircut from the open fans).

I also did not select the car below, because of the glare of the bare lightbulbs.

This particular light fixture I liked very much, however. It's stylish details like this that make the old cars so inviting.

26 December 2008

Piccolo Cafe Is Real, Not Fake

For more than a year, there have been indications that a cafe was opening in a storefront on Columbia Street in Brooklyn, near Sackett Street. A sign in the window said "Piccolo Cafe Coming Soon." But when I talked to people who came in or out of the space, they said the sign was kind of a joke: there was no cafe opening in the space. OK. Weird, but OK.

But lately an awning appeared, saying Piccolo Cafe. Still, nothing was going on inside. Maybe the joke was just getting bigger. When placards advertising breakfast and lunch specials started showing up, however, I thought that maybe a cafe was actually going to open. Signs of a counter and stools inside cinched it.

Funny time to be opening a new restaurant. But the place seems to have taken the pulse of the times. $3 for breakfast. $3 for lunch. I can deal with those prices.

24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

The tree at Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn.

Merry Christmas to all!

23 December 2008

Tudor Touch Up

A few months ago I wrote about the above building on Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, once the home of two ambitious partners in architecture, now just an oddball structure in the middle of a cruddy-looking block. The thin, Tudor whatsit always looked a little dingy down-at-heel. But it seems like the landlord gave the old thing a touch up recently, slathering on what must be its first new coat of paint in decades. The painter took enough care to once again accentuate the brown touches meant to signify timber and bits of wood showing through the plaster. But he also covered up a lot of the detail, as you can see from the pictures on my previous post. And of course it doesn't look anywhere near as good as it did when the address was first built. Sigh. Maybe in 50 years some enterprising person will strip everything off and discover the interesting building within.


The renovation of quaint No. 4 Verandah Place, a delightful mews bordering Cobble Hill Park in the heart of Cobble Hill, has been going on for some time, at a snail's pace. Recently they replaced the door. The old, weather-beaten portal with its odd window design was always a favorite of mine. I find the gray metal replacement rather lackluster. Certainly it's safer, sturdier. Not much else, though.

These little lost details accumulate, you know. And before you know it, charm goes out the window.

22 December 2008

I'm Charmed

Want to get a slice at the vaunted, publicity-magnet pizzeria Artichoke, and not face the horrendous lines you've read about on the web? Find out when I go, and shadow me.

I don't know what I'm doing right, but I have been to Artichoke four times since it opened on 14th Street and I have never encountered a line. I have never even waited more than a minute. Each time, I've marched right in, ordered my slice, and left, contented and anger-free. I've tried every slice and loved them all—the artichoke-spinach and crab slices most of all. Don't hate me; I'm not doing it on purpose. There's just a little pizza angel on my shoulder.

Noticed a new piece of decor on today's visit: a leg lamp that is a dead ringer for the notoriously ugly lamp the Old Man wins in a newspaper contest in the yuletide classic "A Christmas Story." I assumed it was a special addition for the holidays. But no. The owner of Artichoke has never heard of the movie in question, or seen it. He doesn't know what people are talking about when they mention it, and they apparently mention it a lot.

Artichoke is a funny place.

That's Mr. Louis to You

It's always seemed appropriate and correct to me that there was a shoe shine and repair shop in one of the street-level storefronts of the Empire State Building. It's a classic New York skyscraper and shoe repair is a classic Gotham line of work.

Louis Shoe Rebuilders is, by my estimation, the oldest surviving business among the ground-floor stores in the Empire State. It's outlived lunch counters and various other holdouts over the years. But there's a funny thing about Louis' that I didn't notice until a recent visit. It was established in 1921. That's ten years before the Empire State was completed. So the old structure can call Louis Daddy.

Makes me wonder, however, where Louis was before it took up space in the Empire State.

What Bloomberg Wants for the Eight Days of Hanukkah

1. A third term.
2. For people to forget how he was able to run for a third term.
3. For Christine Quinn to stop dropping by the house at all hours "just to talk" and check what's in the fridge.
4. A Lexington Avenue subway spur leading straight to his Upper East Side townhouse.
5. A musical about his mayoralty, like LaGuardia and Koch got.
6. An invitation to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom.
7. To become a Democrat again, now that the Republican and Independent things aren't working for him.
8. A five-leaf clover.
9. "What do you mean there are only eight days to Hanukkah? Can't City Council do something about that?"

21 December 2008

Brooklyn's Bike Shop Moving

The Bike Shop, which only a few years ago moved from Smith Street to a storefront on Union near Hicks, is moving again. It's new home will be on Court Street near Nelson.

The change is not unexpected. The building The Bike Shop is in has had a "For Sale" sign on it for months. Guess someone bought it and wanted them out. I'm glad they're staying in the neighborhood. It's an expert shop, and they can repair almost anything. If it's a small job, they often do it for free. I bought my old black, British Rudge bike from them and I've never regretted it.

Sullen and Spoiled for Christmas

The Lord & Taylor Christmas window displays are a bit schizophrenic this year. Half of the windows are delightful, depicting a variety of classic yuletide scenes, mainly from days gone by. The other half, however, are contemporary peeks into lives of luxury, featuring a cast of willowy, sullen ice beauties who look like they won't be satisfied by any gift they might get, and don't consider it part of the bargain that they should say "Thank you." The lady above appears to be gazing out the window in search of an elusive gold-plated UPS truck. Ms. Thing below, meanwhile, is sitting on a love seat, but I doubt she'll be making room on it for anybody else.

I'm thinking this display was mapped out sometime last summer, because these chilly heiresses with their air of haughty entitlement strike a discordant note in the current economic environment. Then again, maybe they just got a call from Bernie Madoff's office and have learned that their fortunes have melted with the snow. I'd be sullen, too, after getting that news.