31 January 2008

The New New St. Clair Restaurant

The old New St. Clair Restaurant sign is gone, and so is the old, old, original St. Clair sign that was uncovered briefly, and here is the new New St. Clair Restaurant sign. Not so bad. Glad the new owners kept the old name, and, taking the sign's aesthetics as face value, they seem to be trying to retain the spirit of the diner. The color scheme of brown, red and orange? A bit '70s. But at least it ain't bank branch blue.

Some More Stuff That's Depressing, Er, Interesting

A Maspeth cemetery caretaker's house dating from the 1800s will be sold and probably knocked down because, well, its in Queens.

This thing is so yellow and blue and so freaking big.

A construction worker fell several stories to his death while working on a luxury highrise on Clinton Avenue. The cause of the fatality—the third such death this year in New York—was blamed on high winds—not rampant out-of-control development or the complete lack of industry supervision from the Department of Building.

John Rossi, the owner of Lowen's Pharmacy, a Bay Ridge landmark for decades, killed himself. He was tangled up in a steroids scandal.

30 January 2008

There's Scaffolding on P&G and, I Don't Know, I Just Don't Like It

In what seems like another portent of doom, a flight of scaffolding has been placed around the old P&G Bar on the Upper West Side. The structure envelopes the tavern— which is waiting out a not-to-renewed lease that ends at the end of 2009—on both the south and west walls of the corner space.

The workmen said they were just giving the building a wash, but, I don't know, I just think it's another way for the scurvy landlord to make P&G unwelcome. Said landlord has wanted the barkeepers out for some time now, because, well, Jesus, Bank of America can't wait forever!

The scaffolding obscures what is safely one of the best neon signs in Manhattan. What's worse, the cleaning appears to have forced the bar to shear the outside walls of the dark green paneling that was always part of what made the bar visually distinctive. (See below.) That bare cement sure looks purty, don't it?

Banks, Beautifiers of Yesteryear, Crudifiers of Today

I recently had occasion to step inside the old Greenwich Savings Bank at 36th and Broadway, now rented out for posh events as Gotham Hall. What a gleaming, glorious temple it was/is inside. Columns, gilding, a high-domed central hall, beautiful coffered ceiling elsewhere, a grand chandelier. All for a bank, where you might take your sockful of quarters for safe-keeping. It's a banking Parthenon. After that I walked around a bit and began noticing all the great marble and stone edifices, now abandoned or converted into condos, that were once bank branches. What the moneymen once did to beautify our City! Sure, they did it for their own ego-driven purposes as well, but everyone in eyeshot benefited a little.

And look at what banks do today. Slap up cruddy, jerrybilt, boxy, soulless branches in every lowslung, ground-grubbing cubbyhole they can find, spraying their numbingly plastic palate of primary colors (blue, red, yellow, white, blue, red, blue, blue, blue...) all over the place, injuring the corneas of all passersby with their blinding, insistent boldness. Plastic pens, plastic ATM booths, cubicles and floor rugs. No gild, no marble, no brass, no height, no breadth, no air. The Citibanks, in particular, remind me of public toilets. Commerce branches make me think of Staples. And Washington Mutuals, which its floating rings of solo teller desks, like so many cashiers, come off like cell phone stores.

C'mon bankers. You'd got bags of money. Show a little self-respect. And a little respect for the City as well.

The Importance of Eggs in Bars

I was having a beer at Keens Chop House, contemplating the many pricey good items to be had on the bar menu, when I noticed a wire rack loaded with hard-boiled eggs. Being low on cash and long on hunger, I asked, "How much for the eggs?" "They're free," said the barkeep. Ah, free. I'll take an egg, then.

Taverns and saloons 100 years ago may have been rough joints, and you always ran to risk of being Shanghaied or slipped a Mickey. But they provided you with food in some form, so you didn't get completely smashing drunk (or, if you did, it wasn't their fault). Keens' eggs are a throwback by the bygone tradition of the free lunch. Many of the old drinking establishments used to lay out free buffets which were all you can eat. (You'll still find this in some pubs in England.) Men drank, but they could also eat if they chose, without worrying it would chip into their drinking money.

Today, the food you find on most bars is the salty kind: chips, pretzels, etc. As anyone in the bar biz knows, these are not meant to provide sustanance. They're meant to make you thirsty, so you order more liquor.

29 January 2008

Some Stuff That's Interesting

Still no action at would-be Court Street Trader Joe's. (And can they please fix the clock?)

Somebody tore down the 114-year-old Church of the Master (cool name) because, you know, they just had to.

The bad news about Meatpacking landmark diner Florent maybe closing appears to be true. The Observer says the restaurant's lease is up March 31 and the owner may not renew. If you have $70,000 (a month) the space can be yours.

A cool film of Blackwell's Island circa 1903 made by Thomas Edison.

Some good citizens (and one City Councilman) participated in a rally at Borough Hall in support of the drive to downzone Carroll Gardens.

And, off-island: I like pizza places that call themselves "Apizza." New Haven rocks!

But Where's Goodman?

In the middle of noisome Koreatown, at 32 W. 32nd Street, if you crane you neck a bit, you'll see written on the cornice the very posh name of "Bergdorf." Anyone who's lived in New York City for a while knows that name, but associates it with the high hat crowd on Fifth Avenue. This narrow structure was the famed department store's second location, it's first being on Fifth around 19th.

The reason it just says Bergdorf is because Edwin Goodman, while a prized employee and partial partner, had not yet bought out the high-living Frenchman Herman Bergdorf, who liked drinking wine a lot more than working. Goodman had convinced the distracted Bergdorf that the shop, if it were to survive, had to follow the fashionable crowd as it moved north. But he left for his honeymoon in Europe, allowing Bergdorf to choose the new location on his own. Rather than take a Fifth Avenue address, Bergdorf thought he'd save some change by opting for a cheaper side street. Goodman hit the roof when he found out, and soon gave Herman the heave-ho. Bergdorf was more than happy to take the money retire and move back to Paris.

It's a mangy old building now. Amazing it's survived all these years, cornice and all.

A Good Sign: J & J Hat Center

This hat emporium, on Fifth just south of the Empire State, is the only place in New York City where you will see the name Borsalino (the elegant Italian hat manufacturer) in lights.

28 January 2008

History in a Starbucks: World Wide Plaza

There are at least two Starbucks in the World Wide Plaza complex, that giant highlighter in the sky that erupts upward from the Eighth Avenue block between 49th and 50th. I doubt many of the java sippers know they're sitting at the former site of Madison Square Garden—third edition, the one between the buildings which was actually on Madison Square, and the ugly eyesore we know today near Macy's.

The Garden lived here from 1925 to 1966. Some bad things happened here, like a rally for Hitler on Feb. 20, 1939. And some good things, like Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" is a poured-on dress to President Kennedy at his 45th birthday party, on May 19, 1962. Lotta boxing happened there. Lotta hockey. The Rangers started at this Garden. Whole lotta nothing happens there now, unless you count "Naked Boys Singing," which performs down the street.

The Mysterious Case of Long Island Star Editor Thomas H. Todd

Queens Crap reports that the handsome, four-square building that once housed the Long Island Star newspaper is coming down, down, down. Why? Just because the Queen political machine doesn't give a crap, and humanity needs another condo tower. That's why.

The developers can't be accused of ignorance of the building's past in this case. As QC points out, the building has a friggin' plaque on it, commemorating Star found Thomas H. Todd, who started the publication in 1865.

Wanna know about the Star and Todd? Why, sure you do. And you've come to the right place! The Star was founded before Long Island City was even incorporated. It was the only paper in the area at the time. Todd was schooled in journalism at the Flushing Journal. In 1876, the Star went daily. Its circulation grew from a few hundred to some twelve thousand per week by 1896. It also had a Greenpoint edition, the Greenpoint Daily Star.

And what of Todd? Well, here's the weirdness, and boy is it weird! The great citizen went missing in January 1901. Nothing was heard of the Long Islander until a body was found in Flushing Creek in June 1902 which Mrs. Todd and the two Todd sons identified as their husband and father. But, after hearing all the evidence at an inquest, the family decided they had been mistaken. It wasn't Todd after all. Meanwhile, other family members still swore is was Todd. But the inquest jury declared it wasn't and that was that.

By November 1902, there was a nasty battle of an "alleged will" presented by the two sons. It was opposed by the widow and her daughters. The sons charged that their mother was not competent to serve as administrator of the will. Ditto for the daughters (their sisters). Ooh, it was nasty.

But what did happen to Todd? No one knows. He was sick with "the grip" prior to his disappearance. The day he vanished, Todd reported for work in the morning, but looked so bad he was sent home. It was thought he would take the train to Flushing, where he lived, but instead he boarded a ferry bound for James Slip. One report portentiously noted, "He always carried one hundred dollars with him." Methinks Mr. Todd didn't want to be found.

The Star was bought by S.I. Newhouse in 1938. In continued on until 1968 at the Long Island Journal Star. A leading LIC citizen back in the day named Josiah M. Whitney once said "I would like to say that no man deserves more credit for the upbuilding and prosperity of Long Island City than Thomas H. Todd, editor of the Long Island City Star. He deserves great credit for public spirit and fair dealing since he first set his foot on Hunter’s Point soil."

Credit schmedit! Down with the edifice, plaque and all!

27 January 2008

Long Island Restaurant Opening Imminent?

The status of the Long Island Restaurant has been a puzzlement since the old Brooklyn diner yanked down the roller shutter back in September. But the door the low-key, 56-year-old landmark may swing open soon.

Tired of looking at the darkened eatery and not knowing what was up, I stopped inside the Atlantic Avenue bodega kitty-corner from the place and asked it they had any news. The man behind the counter at first didn't even seem to known what I was talking about. He then offered his belief that the owner was still "in Mexico or Spain." (Spain, actually, and that's old news.) But then a slumped figure in an old blue winter coat and wool cap, leaning on the ice cream bin, spoke up. "No, she's back from Spain!" he croaked.

This was Nick, a grizzled old neighborhood character. And he had the goods on Emma Sullivan, owner of the LI Restaurant. Yes, indeed, she had journeyed to her native Spain for a visit, as has been widely rumored. But it wasn't she who fell and hurt herself there, delaying her return—another rampant rumor. It was her 100-year-old mother! (Who knew that old Emma Sullivan had an even older mother?)

Emma waited on her ma to get better, hoping they might fly back together. But, according to Nick, the Iberian doc advised that the old lady was too old and too injured to travel and it was best to just let her rest there on La Mancha. And so, finally, two weeks ago Emma returned Stateside. Nick said she hopes to reopen the restaurant soon, but may wait as much as a month so that the coldest weather of the winter is behind her.

Now, this is all coming from a old deli loiterer. But I trust Nick, who seemed to have his information down solid, and I think he's got the skinny. Glad to have Emma back and to know the Long Island Restaurant will be serving up grub and brew again soon.

26 January 2008

Trying to Play Ball

Just as I was thinking it was time to hear something from the Red Hook Ballfield Food Vendors, the Daily News prints a program report. And, little surprise, the news ain't that good.

According to the daily, City officials have begun seeking bids for selling food in Red Hook Park, just as they said they would. And they are welcoming a bid from the vendors, just as they said they would. But the bid rules apparently require that all applicants "use approved food-preparation carts or trucks, which vendors estimate will cost $15,000 to $30,000 per stand"—which is not quite what the City said they would do.

Anyone who's been to the park knows that conventional food-selling trucks and carts won't cut it for the specialized Latin sellers, many of whom who use long grills to prepare their tacos, papusas and huaraches. As one vendor said, "We're not just boiling hotdogs." The vendors also fear that the silvery vehicles will take away from the the rustic charm of the scene, which no doubt they probably would.

Applications are due Feb. 22.

The only encouraging thing in the article is a comment from the vendors' most high-powered friend, Sen. Charles Schumer, who last summer held a press conference in Red Hook Park. He said, "The city must work with the vendors to create a plan that benefits everyone involved, not just the city's bottom line." Nice sentiment, but, unfortunately, the past has shown that the Parks Dept.'s Adrian Benepe doesn't really give a damn what Schumer thinks. And certainly Mike "I like Subway-I eat Cheeze-Its" Bloomberg isn't paying attention.

25 January 2008

On Needing Toothpaste on Lexington at 4 A.M.

A decade ago or so, there used to be an all-night drug store near the Waldorf=Astoria. It was at the back of the hotel, as you exited, across the street and to the north (on the very corner pictured above). It was called Kaufman Pharmacy.

It was one of those cool, old Nighthawks places, with a soda fountain and everything. It was open seven days a week and never closed. One year, when my sister visited and stayed at the Waldorf, I took her there at 11 PM, just to show her the king of thing New York life had to offer. Kaufman first opened in 1963. Marvin Soberman was the longtime pharmacist. Emergency rooms depended on him. So did the occasional celebrity bunking at the Waldorf. They used to have a sign that said no unescorted women would be served after a certain hour.

For many years, it was the only 24-hour pharmacy in Manhattan. Then Genovese came in and opened one, ruining their hegemony. The drug store closed sometime in the 90s. It was one of the first New York closures that made me really, truly sad.

Here's a lovely story the Times wrote about it in 1993.

Ghost Windows

The south wall of the three-story brick building at the northeast corner of Henry and Fourth Place in Carroll Gardens has an interesting visage.

Apparently, at some point in the past, the owner saw fit to brick up one side door and two side windows. But he left the lintels of all three former opening extant. The effect is rather eerie, as if there might be secrets passages in the building. Particularly ghostly are the abandoned window lintels, which were quite decorative, and now look like a couple of raised architectural eyebrows.

Oh, the Horror

The Starbucks inside the Waldorf=Astoria.

Why must such things be?

Gage & Tollner Space Reborn to Respectability Feb. 14

I don't put much stock in Valentine's Day, but I'll honor it for the sake of Amy Ruth's, the Harlem soul food destination that will open a new location that day in the old Gage & Tollner spot on Fulton Mall.

Brooklyn Papers
reports that the restaurant will have to make do without booze for a while, because it screwed up and miss its date with Community Board 2 to discuss the liquor license application in November. But that's no nevermind. The landmarked, 19th-century Gage interior will be back in circulation and Fulton will get a little bit of dearly needed class.

Stray Comment

Wednesday, Jan. 23, a disheveled middle-aged man in a wool hat and huge parka, waiting in line for the bathroom at an Upper West Side Starbucks, casually but loudly announces to the assembled patrons:

"1983, on this day, me and Paul Newman got drunk and got a hotel room. I'm not bragging. I'm just telling facts."

The incident has nothing to do with this site's m.o. It was just too odd, even by New York standards, not to relate.

24 January 2008

Trouble on Gansevoort Street?

If you've been wondering what else can be done to strip the Meatpacking Distict of all its character, try this on: Florent's days may be numbered.

Eater reported that the venerable hipster diner, which was open 24 hours a day when Gansavoort Street was still scary and dangerous and odiferous, may be up for sale. According to their information, the restaurant's landlord is shopping around the space. Eater admits that's its sources aren't 100%, but, just to make sure, they phoned Florent owner Florent Morellet. And it's the way Morellet replies that makes one worry:

"I can't tell you [when we'll close]. Nobody will know until the fat lady sings, as we say. I'll fight with the last bone in my body... The rents are high in the neighborhood. Like I've said to a lot of people, I'm optimistic because I believe the world economy will collapse and so might the real estate prices in the neighborhood. Maybe people will get down to reality and realize that the sky's not the limit. We don't know. We'll know down the road. It's not closing yet. Not at all."

Dose ain't da woids of a confident man.

If Florent does go, I'm ready to stick a fork in the Meatpacking District for good. The diner is a wonderful slice of New Yorkiana, with an understated, 1950s, Film Noir vibe. Florent opened in 1985. The old R & L Restaurant sign, denoting the space's previous tenant, still sit above the awning. Coming up it and its lovely pink neon sign at 3 AM and seeing the inside abuzz with hungry young scenesters is enough to warm the cockles of any urbania aficianado's heart. (I still recall my first nighttime glimpse of it as a magical moment, like spying a mirage in a cobblestone desert.)

23 January 2008

Digging Up the Past

Call me a ghoul, but I think it's totally cool that city archaeologists, doing soil testing for a planned restoration of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, have uncovered skeletal remains, possibly centuries old.

One of the greatest things about Washington Square Park, in my opinion, is the fact that it has played host to some of the most grisly activities that Gotham ever got up to. From 1797 to 1826, it was a potter's field, filled up with the bodies of all those New Yorkers nobody else would or cared to lay claim to. There are 20,000 souls under that bohemian soil, folks, most of them dead from yellow fever, which struck NYC hard in the early 1800s. It was also popular as a dueling ground, which I guess was convenient, since the losing party could simply tumble into an open common grave and shake off this mortal coil all the easier.

But, wait! There's more! The park was also Manhattan's favorite hanging grounds. The big old elm near the northeast corner was known as The Hangman's Elm. (Some dispute the tree's morbid status, saying it was part of a nearby farm at the time.) The events were super popular with the locals, who would build a picnic around whatever's convicts death. In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette was treated as honored guest at the hanging of 20 highwaymen. That must have been fun for the Frenchie!

It gets creepier. In 1825, the park was converted into the Washington Military Parade Grounds. Trouble was, as the troops marched back and forth across the square, they kept sinking their feet into the shallow pauper's graves of yesteryear. That may be why it was made into a park soon after.

For those who oppose the coming redesign of WSP, there is a silver lining in this news. If they discover a sufficient amount of skeletons, historians may call for the construction to halt indefinitely.

(I thank The Bowery Boys for the picture.)

Sometimes They Hear You

Lost City today received a message from Time Equities, the org that is behind the Lamm Institute mews development project that has been deemed the Amity Street Horror by some (not me) and raised considerable ire among some South Brooklyn locals who are getting fed up with rampant building in their neighborhoods.

Since Francis Greenburger, CEO and Chairman, Time Equities Inc., was good enough to write in to this lowly blog (or was good enough to take the time to approve a letter drafted by his TE staff), I feel it only fair to print the response in full:

Time Equities and its partner Lucky Boy do not want to present a project that does not have community support. We thought the mews approach did because it was supported verbally and in writing by a number of community residents and local architects based on meetings we held in November and December. The mews design was also recommended for approval by the Landmarks staff who reviewed the plan.

It may be that some community members who took issue with the mews did not attend these meetings. The benefit of the Landmark process is that it gives all stakeholders a chance to be heard. Several concerns that arose at the meetings led to changes.

We value feedback from the community and the commission and will continue to address concerns, such as those that arose in the early meetings which led to design revisions of the Henry Street fa├žade of the new townhouse.

At this point, we will re-conceive the project in a traditional street wall approach and try to present a plan that is responsive to the input received at the most recent Landmark hearing. As we did last time, we will reach out to the community and Landmark staff prior to presenting the final concept to the commission.

- Francis Greenburger, CEO and Chairman, Time Equities Inc.

All in all, a fairly classy letter I'd say. I still don't wholly trust you, Francis (nothing personal—we've just been burned a lot lately round here), but I doff my hat.

22 January 2008

History in a Starbucks: 47th and Broadway

I here continue my search for history and meaning in our fair City's many stupid Starbuck's franchises.

This Starbuck's, occupying a corner of the giant Morgan Stanley tower near Times Square, occupies land once owned by The Strand, a huge movie palace opened in 1914. It's architect was the Thomas Lamb, who built many of the theatres in Times Square, including the nearby Cort and Mark Hellinger. It sat 2,989 people. The Strand boasted a mix of stage acts and movies in the beginning.
The legit stuff was dropped in 1929, but brought back in the late '30s. The joint was renamed Warner Theatre in 1951. It was soonafter renovated and renamed Warner Cinerama.

In 1968, the theatre became a triplex. In 1987, the cinema finally succumbed and was torn down.

The future doesn't look good for the shoulda-been-landmarked-a-long-time-ago St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Woodside, Queens, which was ripped by a terrible fire the day after Christmas.

The Rev. Anandsekar Manuel, who headed a congregation that used the church, is quoted in The Daily News as saying that engineers have recommended that the 1874 wooden building be razed. He's holding out, however, waiting on an insurance estimate before making any decisions.

"We want to rebuild," he said, noting that the working-class congregation will soon begin a fund-raising drive.

Manuel and his followers see the effort to rebuild as a test.

"It is a trial for our faith," he said. "The loss brings out a certain amount of sadness and grief, but on the other hand, church is not a building."

The article says the old chapel's "walls and ceiling are the shade of coal, and the stained-glass windows are broken or burned black... The altar has been reduced to a gaping hole in the floor, surrounded by scorched scraps of wood, shards of glass and shreds of soot-stained carpet."

I suppose that, even if the church had been landmarked, the unattended altar candles that did it in still would have done their worst. But I can't help thinking that a structure officially deemed important by the City might have become the subject of greater care by the people who used it.

Pozzo Remembered in Paint

A reader, responding to my recent post about the closure of Pozzo Pastry Shop, told me that she had memorialized the bakery in a painting last year. Here is the artwork above. It makes for a nice remembrance of the place. Reminds me a bit of the work of Edward Hopper. It's lonely in that way.


Wait until you see their instruction for the UPS guy.

The Way Times Square Used to Look

I first laid eyes on Times Square in 1985. I had expected an awesome array of buildings and signs and was rather surprised at the modest, even shabby scale of most of the architecture. Of course, this is no longer the case. The towering skyscrapers I thought I would encounter then are now the norm and and small-scale edifices are hard to find.

For anyone wishing to understand what Times Square used to look like before Disney and the hotel chains and brokerages arrived in the neighborhood, take a look at the western half of W. 48th Street between Seventh and Sixth Avenues. The street is populated by old music stores like Sam Ash and has retained the dingy, personal, human look the area one boasted, when the "bigness" of Times Square had to do with the activity, the foot traffic and the importance of the people who did business there. The window frames look like they're original. Squint your eyes and you can spy dusty offices occupied by obscure practitioners or various odd jobs. There's even a theatre, the Cort, to tie the block into the area's theatrical past. There used to be two other theatres on the block, now long gone.

21 January 2008

M. Who?

I wonder how many people walk into the old Warwick Hotel on Sixth Avenue, clap eyes on the gold metal letters reading "M. Davies" on a wall near that entrance, and known what they're looking at.

The Warwick has an interesting distinction among old Manhattan hotels. It was built by a tycoon specifically as a playpen for his mistress. The tycoon was publishing baron Williams Randolph Hearst and the mistress, of course, was film actress Marion Davies—little "M. Davies."

Hearst, as history tells, would do anything for his blonde Venus, so what's $5 million in construction costs in 1927 America? Davies has her own floor in the 36-story building. And rumor has it that a secret tunnel ran underground from the Hearst Building on Eighth Avenue to the hotel.

At one point, the Ziegfeld Theater was right across the street, making the hotel very popular with stars such as James Dean, Cary Grant (who lived there for 12 years), Jane Russell and Elizabeth Taylor. Elvis Presley and The Beatles assured that the Warwick has a place in musical history.

The Warwick hardly gives off a salacious air today. The hotel is sweet, but rather fusty and square. The cocktail lounge Randolph's is tame and touristy and, if you don't watch out, they'll serve you your Negroni on the rocks. Catching that now-forgotten name cast in gold on the wall, however, can draw one's mind back to snazzier times.

19 January 2008

The Writing on the Wall

In his delightful food essays, Calvin Trillin has often mentioned his suspicions that, on his visits to Chinatown restaurants, he is missing out of the kitchen's best dishes. These, he contends, are to be found not on the menu, but on the handwritten Chinese-language signs found on the walls of every eatery. To uncover the secrets of this signs, he has gone so far as to bring Chinese-speaking friends along with him.

I decided to test his theory on a recent visit to New Chao Chow Restaurant, a favorite of Trillin's and mine. I've tried many dishes found on the menu proper; they've all been tasty. This time, however, I was determined to taste an entree advertised in Chinese on the wall. Achieving this goal, I discovered, was not easy.

My waiter approached. I asked him what specials were listed on the sign, which was bright green with black lettering. The expression on his face is hard to describe. A combination of feigned ignorance and contempt, I'd say. What's more, he said nothing, absolutely nothing in reply to my question. He even looked around him, as if not registering that a question had been asked.

But I was dogged. I asked again what was advertised on the sign, pointed to it. He relented. "Those are specials," he said. And the exchange ended. No more information. Silence. His frowning visage made it quite clear he was not happy about my line of inquiry. But I continued. "What are the specials?" Nothing. "Can you tell me specials?" Finally, he offered, "Oh, shrimp and scallop..." and trailed off. That was the extent of his description. Fried shrimp and scallops? Shrimp and scallop pie a la mode? Who knew?

I had gone this far, so I soldiered on. "I will have that," I said, without further information as to what I was ordering. He stomped off. Evidently, the specials were meant to stay special; it was not meant for the interloping likes of me.

The dish turned out to be a simple one. Sauteed shrimp and scallops with water chestnuts, snow peas, mushrooms and other vegetables. It was worth the effort. The meal was quite delicious and fresh-tasting.

Seeing me dig into the plate with relish, and not bothering him any futher, the waiter seemed to warm to me. Toward the end, he even smiled. "It's good, isn't it?" he said. Yes, I agreed. It was good, Mr. Waiter. A good entree you didn't want to give me!

So, my conclusion (based on one experiment): Trillin is right. The specials written in Chinese are among the better things from the kitchen and worth seeking out. But don't expect the management to like you for it.

About Time

For the first time in a year and a half, the four-sided clock tower on the Williamsburg Bank Building is telling correct time.

The Daily News reported that three of the four faces started up again at noon Wednesday, Jan. 16. The timing of the happy event is not random; on Jan. 15, the first of the now condofied building's new tenants moved in. Ain't that just the way.

18 January 2008

Sounds Like Something He'd Say

I had lunch with an old friend the other day. A onetime resident of New York City, he had moved to Philadelphia recently, because he didn't like what Gotham was becoming, with its rampant, mindless development and exclusionary cost of living.

We were bitching about Bloomberg—his billionaire's outlet, his evident distaste for all the gritty characteristics that make New York what it is, his out-of-towner hick personality—when he told me a story. Three years ago, a friend of his was attending a party at which Bloomberg was in attendance, and she overheard Hizzoner say, "If I had my way, New York would look like Las Vegas."

It's heresay, I know. Who knows if it happened. But let's face it: It's true. It's what he thinks. It's what he'd like. He considers himself a great mayor of New York City because he's spent his entire time in office correcting New Yorkers in the error of their ways. We build things wrong. We eat wrong. We have bad habits. We drive wrong. We live wrong. We want the wrong things. We're messy and chaotic. He's going to fix us. And when he shows the world how he's fixed New York, he's going to fix the nation, which badly needs him and is bound to draft him into The White House....any....day....now.....

Rush to Tear Down Admiral's Row is Slowed

Good news regarding the endangered Admiral's Row at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The Brooklyn Paper reported that "a plan to tear down 10 historic houses at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and replace them with a supermarket has been delayed indefinitely thanks to a decision by federal officials to review whether the dilapidated 150-year-old mansions can be saved."

“There is absolutely no way we can give any sort of end date at all … there is no mandated time limit,” said Kristin Leahy, the manager of the National Guard Bureau Cultural Resources Program, which is investigating the mansions’ historical integrity — to the frustration of those eager to see the run-down buildings torn down.

Leahy said the earliest that she could hold a meeting with the city, area residents and preservationists is March. And that meeting would be just the first of a series.

Bizarrely short-sighted City and neighborhood officials continue to characterize the preservation movement as a villainous scheme to deprive poor folks in the neighborhood or ready access to fresh fruit and vegetables. I wish somebody would hit them with a piece of fresh fruit.

The paper also mentioned that preservationists have been helping to make their case by showing off some renderings by Lucy Sikes which illustrate what the mansions one looked like. I'll do my part by reproducing one here. Purty.

17 January 2008

City-Approved Ways to Destroy History: #47

The current building boom is flattening New York history and flattening New York character is many ways. Some ways are pretty obvious: tear down a beautiful old structure and replace it with a revolting new one. Some are more subtle: neglect a landmark or building of historic character until it become impossible to save it.

And then there's the destruction-by-proxy method. An article in AMNY today points out an example fitting this category. When a building on lower Broadway was recently demolished, it imperiled the existence of a landmarked 1872 cast-iron building at 287 Broadway, corner of Reade, which once stood by its side. The 1872 edifice now has to be propped up by long wooden supports and its tenants have been evacuated.

As David Jaroslawicz, the lawyer for the Yenem Corp., the group that owned a basement diner in the building, wisely observed: "It's only in New York that you build big buildings and no one pays attention to these details. It's like capitalism has taken away humanism."

Too true. I doubt not at all that the Department of Building and the Landmark Preservation Commission do absolutely nothing to ensure the safety and welfare of landmark buildings when new construction begins around and beside them. I don't even believe they have ever even thought of such a thing. Development happens in a vacuum, right? There are no victims; only beneficieries—i.e., the developer.

The DOB and LPC hacks are too stupid and slack-spined and corrupt to even consider that a building, for decades and even centuries buttressed on either side by a fellow structure, might miss that creation of stone and steel should it be removed. Maybe if someone kicked the chair out from a DOB offical, they'd understand the concept.

Pozzo's Bakery Closed

A small note on Eater today conveyed the sad news that, after 55 years, Pozzo Pastry on Ninth Avenue near 47th, had closed.

The bakery—which was lauded for everything from tea biscuits to cannolis to strawberry shortcake—apparently disappeared without anyone noticing; it may have shuttered as far back as early December, according to some accounts. A little sleuthing as to the reason for the exit unearthed little. The website is out of commission. A call to the old phone number reaches a place called Jason's Patisserie, "formerly Pozzo Pastry." Jason appears to be in business; he's taking orders.

Pozzo was founded in 1952 and didn't change much over the decades. It was a throwback to the neighborhood's tough days, when Hell's Kitchen meant Hell's Kitchen. Most recently, it was owned by one Joe Bianchi.

16 January 2008

Door to the Past

The League of American Theatres and Producers, a trade organization representing Broadway and regional producers, is located at 226 West 47th Street, just off Times Square. But if you look up before you enter their building, you'll see an old, folksy sign reading "The Theatre Guild" and featuring a depiction of a thin, Tudor-style house.

The Theatre Guild was once a dynamic force in the history of the American theatre. It was founded in 1919 by Theresa Helburn, Lawrence Langner, and other artists. Between the wars, it produced dozens of challenging and noncommercial plays, seriously improving the quality of the fare that was then seen on Broadway. It fostered the work of Eugene O'Neill, Robert Sherwood, S.N Behrman, Maxwell Anderson, Sidney Howard, William Saroyan, and Philip Barry. The Lunts and many other fine actors called the company home, and they built what it now known as the August Wilson Theatre specifically for their purposes.

Artistic spats led to two important splinter outfits, the Group Theatre and the Playwrights' Company. The Theatre Guild probably would have gone under in the early '40s, but its fat was pulled from the fire by a little show called Oklahoma!. It faded in importance in the 1960s and 1970s. Their last gasp on Broadway was an ill-fated production of the musical State Fair in 1996. Why the sign remains, I do not know. Theatre community sentiment, I expect.

15 January 2008

Proof the Dutch Once Owned Our Asses

I've always found it amusing and improbable that this great City was founded by the Dutch. The English Empire is easy enough a one-time reality to grasp for anyone who grew up in the 20th century; it held on until just after World War II. But the Dutch? That puny, waterlogged country was once a world power? How the fuck did they pull that off, with their canals and wooden shoes and neck ruffs?

Proof that the mighty Netherlands was not a joke back in the 1600s can be found in Flatbush, in the graveyard surrounding the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church. The church is 211 years old, and it is actually the third house of worship to be built on this spot. The first was erected in 1654 by mandate of Peter-freaking-Stuyvesant.

Many of the headstones are so old that their chiseled messages are in Dutch. No English, my Yankee friend, but Dutch, the bygone mother tongue. The one below begins "Here Lies Buried..."

Red, White and Blue Under the BQE

Is Frankel's, a Brooklyn hawker of work clothes and work shoes, "An American Treasure," as their storefront boasts? I don't know. But they've sure got a lot of guts to have survived 117 years on a mean, desolate stretch of Third Avenue in Sunset Park, first under the El and then under the BQE. It was founded by Adolph Frankel—who originally sold clothes and toiletries to longshoremen—and, a few generations later, remains in the family. The colorful storefront certainly adds a dash of life to the nasty avenue.

A Good Sign: Supreme Memorials

It's called Supreme Memorials. In case you didn't notice. On Fourth in the South Slope.

14 January 2008

Gertel's of Brooklyn?

From the Knock-me-over-with-a-feather department: The fine folks at Clinton Hill Blog gave me heads up that the classic Gertel's Bakery sign, which hung on Hester Street for 93 years until the business closed last June, has been spotted in Brooklyn, north of Myrtle Street, possibly on Steuben. (The specifics were uncertain.)

Above is the picture. That's the Gertel's sign all right. Which leads to the inevitable question: WTF? I was searching my brain for a reason for this neon relocation, when a commenter reminded me of a past post of my own. On my final visit to the baker, I asked what would become of the iconic sign. The answer came that the owner was going to keep the sign at his home.

But, judging from the roller shutter, this doesn't look like anybody's home. But then I remembered another bit of important information. The owner planned to move his wholesale operation to a factory on—yes—Steuben St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. So this must be the sign's new home. Hooray! Good job, sign. Glad you made it home safe.

My Fair Relic

There's an odd, ornate, sliver of a building in Fashion Avenue in the 30s. It's cream colored and needlessly fancy, and, if you squint, you can make out the gold words reading "Lerner Shops" at the top of the building, at the center of green escutcheons on the left and on the right.

The Lerner Shops were once a mighty chain of stores selling business clothing for women. They were founded in 1907 by Harold M. Lane and Samuel Lerner. There were 450 stores at one time, and this one may (or may not) have been the first. The 1985, the company became part of the Limited, Inc., which, for a time, put out a Lerner catalog. The catalog was discontinued in 2006, making this building the last thing to carry on the Lerner name.

Except, not quite. Sam Lerner had a brother, Joseph Jay Lerner, who had a son, born August 31, 1918, name of Alan. That's lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, creator, with partner Frederick Loewe, of such musicals as "Camelot" and "My Fair Lady." So little Alan Lerner had plenty of money to spend on No. 2 pencils. The old store is not far from the Broadway district, fittingly enough.

Loew's Kings Might Have Savior

Brownstoner, citing Brooklyn Junction, reports that there may be some quixotic soul, or soulful corporation, that may want to save the majestic and abandoned Loew’s Kings theater in Flatbush. Wrote teh blog:

An unspecified “major theater operator” is considering answering the EDC’s longstanding call to redevelop the property, according to Brooklyn Junction. A city official told the blog that the company is holding focus groups to try to determine what sort of programming would work at the theater, which would probably cost between $20 and $40 million to renovate. The EDC issued an RFP for the former wonder theater in September ’06.

Improbable! And cool, if true.

13 January 2008

Is Queens Temple Sacred?

The borough of Queens suffers from a criminal paucity of designated landmarks, a situation, I have learned over time, that has much to do with Manhattan-centric bigotry, neglect and rotten, back-room Queens politics.

The borough stands to gain a precious tally in the win column on Tuesday, Jan. 15, when the Landmarks Preservation Committee holds a public hearing in which it will hear out the case for preserving Congregation Tifereth Isreal, a temple at 109-20 54TH Avenue, Queens. Built in 1911 in Corona, it very much resembled the kind of synagogues one finds on the Lower East Side, as Queens Crap noted. (I am indebted to QC for the picture.) It's a sweet little thing, in my opinion, and deserved to get the nod.

The meeting will also consider the calendaring of proposal to extend the Noho Historic District. Right now, the district basically covers a narrow area bordered on the south by Houston, on the north by Wanamaker Place (E. 9th), on the west by Mercer and on the east by Lafayette, with a little jag over to the Bowery for a few blocks.

There's also a little historic district called Noho East—basically a bunch of building on and around Bleecker between Lafayette and Bowery. Who knew?

Where're the Cops Now?

This fantastic, albeit sadly deteriorating building, was not an armory or the mansion of a would-be baron of industry. It was a police station, and from 1892, when it was built by architect Emile Gruwe, until 1970, when the cops cleared out, it served and protected the 68th precinct of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It fell into disuse, and a fire did some major damage in 1980, but the Romanesque Fourth Avenue building was landmarked anyway in the 1984.

The red paint does the building a disservice. According to a New York Times article 20 years ago, the bricks were originally orange, which contrasted nicely with the terra cotta, nearly white limestone, dark brownstone and polished granite.

It's hard to tell what's going on with the place now. It was bought in 1984 by the Sunset Park School of Music (they were the only bidder and got it for a mere $15,000); a sign naming the school as the building's future tenant still hangs on the door. However, a Times account from 2000 reported that the school gave up the effort and sold it to the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association, which was going to turn it into apartments. There are some freshly minted building permits posted nearby. But no discernible activity is going on inside or out. It's not hard to understand why. A cursory glance at the heap would tell anyone that it would take millions and millions to fix it up. And who's going to spend that money on an arts center in mid-Brooklyn? Sad, but true.

It's funny. In both Times articles, people were quoted as calling the structure an eyesore. What is it about today's world that beautiful buildings fallen on hard times are eyesores that must go, while horrifyingly ugly new buildings that replace them are acceptable and an improvement.

A Good Sign: Good Foo

Or, if you go by the south-facing sign, "O Food." Sunset Park.