30 April 2009

The Price Is Right

Really, in my heart of hearts, what I feel every slice of pizza should cost in NYC.

Butcher Chic

The other night, I passed by the storefront at 168 Bedford in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and found it occupied by a self-conscious eatery called Peter's Since 1969. Obviously, Peter's hasn't been here since 1969. The name of the place is a reference to the butcher it replaced: Peter Kuper of B&B Meat Market. So is the decor, which retains the meat market's white tile walls and many of the business' accoutrements, like the cutting table that once stood behind the counter.

I tend to like this sort of historically referencing retro decor. It's better than having the entire previous history of the space wiped off the map. But the contrivance is becoming so common, it's beginning to irritate me. It's as if the owners what me to congratulate them for being cool with the fact that their place used to be a blue collar enterprise. They're New Worlders hip to the Old World. Fine. I guess. I just would rather have the butcher back.

Comings and Goings on Union

Restaurant change is coming to the block of Union Street between Hicks and Columbia. The long-awaited Calexico, announced way back as the new tenant in the old Schnack space, has painted a hopeful, and succinct, message near its door. Might there be burritos in May?

On a sadder note, a couple doors down, it looks like the long-suffering Korhogo 126 has decided to throw in the towel. The space used to be Bouillabaisse 126 and never quite caught on in its new incarnation. Too bad.

29 April 2009

Ye Olde Sign to Ye Olde Chop House

For decades, until it died in the 1970s, Ye Olde Chop Shop on Cedar Street was the oldest restaurant in New York City. It was founded in 1800 as Old Tom's Chop Shop. No eatery ever came close in age.

Nothing remains of the place—not even that many memories. Or so I thought, until yesterday. A reader wrote in saying a friend of his, Billy Ahearn, the owner of the downtown bar Suspenders Restaurant and Bar, was in possession of the original sign for Ye Olde Chop Shop.

What? Could this be true? The way the reader told the story, Ahearn, a retired NYC fire lieutenant, was beginning construction on Suspenders, which is located at 111 Broadway, nearly opposite the end of Pine Street, when he discovered the wooden sign, along with an old Chop House menu. I asked the reader if she could convince Ahearn to take a photo of the sign, which now hangs in his basement. He did. There it is above.

The story would seem to pan out. Ye Olde Chop House began life at 108 Cedar, then moved to 118 Cedar. But the last leg of its life was spent at 111 Broadway. And what other sign is going to say "Established 1800"? It's hard to tell how old the sign is. It could have been made as recently as 40 years ago, and fashioned to look old. But I don't know—it looks damned old to me. And whatever it's age, it's a bonafide artifact of one of the most famous restaurants to ever grace New York.

More on Manny's Music

AMNY has an article on the fate of Manny's Music today, quoting yours truly. Here it is:

Manny's May Be Saved

By Emily Hulme

For weeks, it looked like Manny’s Music was singing its swan song, but the midtown staple might keep selling guitars for years to come.

The landlord of the Music Row business, the Rockefeller Group, said yesterday it has been in negotiations with Sam Ash Music, the owner of Manny’s, for up to a year to extend the lease for the shop, a staple on 48th Street since 1935.

Manny’s did not respond to calls for comment.

Earlier this month, Manny’s owner Paul Ash retracted a statement he made to the New York Post saying that the Rockefeller Group failed to renew the lease.

“We were surprised and disappointed by Paul Ash’s statements in the NY Post on April 6 saying that the landlord has chosen not to renew the lease for the property occupied by Manny’s Music,” said Sandra Manley, Rockefeller Group spokeswoman. “As the landlord, we would be happy to have Manny’s Music continue as a tenant in the building.”

In his retraction to the Post, Ash said: “We have not made a final decision regarding whether to continue the Manny’s business or to use the location for a Sam Ash store. Any decision regarding the future of the Manny’s business will be solely our own.”

Regardless of Manny’s fate, other owners on Music Row fear the strip, where stars as big as The Beatles and U2 shopped, fear the stores will one day be gone.

“There was nothing but music when I opened,” said Rudy Pensa, who opened Rudy’s Music in 1978. “It was 15 music stores, now we are four.”

The culprit, of course, has been rising rents in around Times Square.

Pensa hasn’t been pressured to move yet, but expects it any day.

“I think it’s getting close to the end of an era, not just for Manny’s but for all of 48th, which is really, really bad, for the heart of the city.” He said. “But what are we going to do? I’ll be here until I can be here.”

The blogger on Lost City, who writes under the name Brooks of Sheffield, first reported on Manny’s troubles, and agreed that Music Row is on life support.

“It’s fairly inevitable, since Manny's and much of the other music-related stores on the street are owned by Sam Ash,” he said. “And Ash management, in their comments, have been pretty fatalistic about Music Row's future. If Ash won't
fight for Music Row's survival, who will?”

But not everyone is predicting the worst.

“Obviously [Manny’s is] an institution so people are curious as to why it’s closing,” said Mike Rock, a manager at the Sam Ash guitar store said before the latest news of Manny’s possible survival. “But as far as I know, we’re not going anywhere.”

I'm sorry, but every time I read something new about Manny's, I get more confused. Now, who actually holds the fate of Manny's in their hands? Sam Ash or Rockefeller Center?

Chez Brigette Still Empty After Nearly a Year

One of the more frustrating aspects of the Great Recession is that it bitterly highlights of o'er-hasty actions that rapacious landlords took prior to September 2008, when they were still confident that kicking a steady tenant to the curb was a good idea, because there was bound to be someone around the corner just itching to take the space at twice the rent.

In June 2008, the tiny, endearing Chez Brigitte was forced to vacate its Greenwich Avenue space after half a century, because its lease was up and the rent had doubled. Here it is, nearly May 2009, and the address is still empty and looking mighty sad, too.

Does anyone at the brokerage firm learn, though? No. It's was listed at Walker Malloy $7,500 a month then, and it's listed at $7,500 a month now.

28 April 2009

Blues in the Night

That awful blue finger building in the Lower East Side, at dusk. Almost makes you hate it a bit less, what with the blue background, etc. Almost.

3 Roses Bar 1986

Aonghais MacInnes, a member of the Lost City Flickr Pool, recently sent in this fascinating, absolutely wonderful photo of the 3 Roses Bar, a dive that used to exist on Canal Street. I never experienced the 3 Roses, I'm sad to say. It appears to have disappeared by the mid-90s. But it's hard to imagine a more perfect image of a dive, what with the obscuring shadows of the fire escape and the three fantastically seedy signs.

Aonghais MacInnes, who took the shot in 1986, has this to say about the joint: "This bar was across from the Post Office on Canal Street, and it was the kind of place where you could walk in, throw up on the bar and the bartender would hand you a towel to clean it up and then pour you a drink. And I am totally serious."

IKEA's Erie Basin Park Unlettered

In the past, I've praised the maritime-themed Erie Basin Park that IKEA built in Red Hook as a sop to the surrounding community. It's spacious, well-groomed, brings you close to the waterside and incorporates a lot of interesting detritus from Red Hook's shipping days.

Perhaps I was to hasty in my accolades, because parts of the park also appear to be damn cheaply made.

One of the aspects of the park I had liked best were rows on large cement chocks ("A heavy fitting of metal or wood with two jaws curving inward, through which a rope or cable may be run"), on which, in metal letters, are the the names of 24 vessels that were once put in dry dock on the site. It seemed a nice, and informative, nod to Red Hook's history.

Well, that tribute lasted less than a year. Visiting the park this weekend, I found that a good number of the chocks had been vandalized. Letters had been pulled out of the chocks, perverting the names of the mighty ships. The "President Van Buren" is now the "President Van Ure." The "Esso Brooklyn" is now the "Es O Br Klyn." Easily, 20 ship names have been defaced.

I would place blame squarely at the feet of the vandals—who, I'm guessing, tossed the letters into the bay once they had yanked them out, and who appear to have been lazy scofflaws, since they only vandalized the chocks near the entrance to the park, leaving the chocks further in untouched.

And, indeed, I do blame them. Red Hook has few pristine green areas. Why ruin one out of boredom, idleness and spite? But I also blame IKEA. When I first saw the metal letters, I thought them pretty securely installed. But seeing an upsidedown "U" on the sign for the Resolute, I went up to see if I could pull it out. I did so with ease. I tried a few other letters. They were all wobbly, and with a good tug I could have removed any of them. What's more, the the letters themselves are junk, made of the lightest, flimsiest metal imaginable. They were made to fall to pieces.

When, and if, IKEA gets around to replacing the letters, I hope they use qualities materials.

27 April 2009

Another Targeted Wall

Target's getting around. Just a week after watching a painted Target ad take over a wall on Hicks Street near Union, in Brooklyn, I chanced upon this similar ad in the Village, on Christopher near Bleecker. They're both in support of the Loomstate line of organic clothing Target carries. Oh, I get it. Organic clothing, hand-painted signs. Clever.

Chumley's Grinds to a Halt Again

Six weeks ago the blogosphere was cheerfully reporting that, after months, nay years, of sitting idle, the Greenwich Village site that once held the legendary speakeasy Chumley's was showing signs of rebirth. Walls were rising. The skeletons of dormer windows were being built.

The world suddenly looked a little less bleak.

So I popped by old 86 Bedford today, expecting progress on the building to have doubled over again. And....nothing.

It looks just like it did in early March. Why? Well, a Stop Work Order might have something to do with it. The DOB issued one on March 19—less than a week after the news cycle that heralded the progress at Chumley's. Said the report: "EGRESS - LOCKED/BLOCKED/IMPROPER/NO SECONDARY MEANS. NO FDNY PERMIT PROVIDED FOR STORAGE & USE OF COMBUSTIBLE COMPRESSED GAS."

Work appears to have resumed late in March, but two more complaints of illegal work were issued on March 27 and April 16. Whatever's going on, there's not much to show for it on the outside. C'mon, guys. The weather's good. It's time to work!

26 April 2009

Spooky-Wooky Bed-Stuy House's History Revealed

The New York Times possibly-soon-to-be-extinct City Section has a good story today about an 1860s wood-frame house with a mansard roof in Bedford-Stuyvesant that has a very strange and varied history.

You have to read the article to believe all the stuff that went down in this house. I can't decide what my favorite chapter of its history is: Its days as the residence of Hugo Toller, the party-giving, society swell scion of Eugene Tollner, co-founder of Gage & Tollner (there were pool tables on the third floor); or as the center of superfly 1970s R&B bashes frequented by the cream of the soul scene.

There's also a spooky tunnel that runs under the house that no one can explain.

Recipes of the Lost City: Tavern on the Green's Tavern Chestnut Dressing

This is the first Recipes of the Lost City to feature a restaurant that still exists. But I figure the Tavern on the Green of 1950—well before the Warner LeRoy era—was a very different beast than the one we know today. It was owned by the management of the Claremont Inn on Riverside Drive at that point.

This is a recipe for the restaurant's signature Tavern Chestnet Dressing. It's a pretty straightforward formula. Might be worth a try next Thanksgiving.

Tavern Chestnut Dressing

1 pound chestnuts, chopped
1/2 loaf white bread
3 cups water
1/2 cup chopped Virginia ham
1/2 stalk celery, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley

Soak bread in 3 cups water. Add chopped ham. Brown celery and onions lightly; add bread and ham together with chestnuts, freshly boiled. Stir throughly. Bake at 300 degrees F for 15 minutes. Serve with your holiday turkey which has been roasted separately after having been stuffed with a stalk of celery and chopped onions and carrots. Top with parsley.

Previous "Recipes of the Lost City"

24 April 2009

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Isle of Capri?"

Typically, the restaurants I profile in the Eater feature "Who Goes There?" have long been on my radar; I just have never eaten the places in question. The Isle of Capri, however, is different. I didn't even know this restaurant existed until a month ago, when I passed it by chance and was attracted by the overall oddness of its appearance. In doing some research, I found precious few accounts of it in guides or on the internet. I was stunned to fine out it has been founded in 1955. It's funny I never saw it before, since its just down the block from Gino, Le Veau d'Or and Subway Inn—all favorites of mine. Something the East Side in the lower 60s makes time stand still.

Who Goes There? Isle of Capri

Going to the Isle of Capri, an Italian joint that has held down the southwest corner of 61st Street and Third Avenue since 1955, is like intruding on someone’s suburban house on the occasion of a large family gathering of moderate significance. I was greeted by at least four members of the owning Lamanna family within a minute after passing through the door, each with a kindly but inquiring face that seemed to say, “Who are you, and what are you doing in my home?” During my dinner there, the various clan members never ceased crossing the room, talking with friends, checking on things and generally hovering.

Some acquaintance of the family enters the eatery roughly every ten minutes, it seems. “Wine?” asked a waiter straight out of central casting (dignified air, romantic accent, pencil-thin moustache) of a beefy businessman regular. “Surprise me,” said the eater. “Are you begin taken care of?” asked another employee minutes later. “I’m always taken care of here,” said the businessman. “It’s like being at home. Maybe, it’s better.”

The living-room-like air extends to the odd, musty smell of cats that hits you when you come in. The main, red dining room is full of arches and alcoves, metalwork, cheesy statuary and family photos. If you wish to dine in private, there are many cubby holes in which to do so. The clientele is aged and loyal. (“Best Italian food in New York!” barked a diner, unsolicited, as I examined a menu while still outside. I had the veal medallions with mozzarella and prosciutto and it was perfectly fine.) The men had lived-in faces, while an alarming number of the women vaguely resembled Sylvia Miles.

The Isle of Capri has a superfluity of help. No one goes unattended to for long. The business, I was informed, began as a cafĂ©, founded by Vincenzo and Maria Lamanna. Over time, they began selling cheese and prosciutto, until finally converting into a full restaurant. People still refer to a major renovation that occurred more than three decades ago. It appears to currently be run by Vincenzo’s two middle-aged daughters. The place once had a loftier reputation. Craig Claiborne praised it in the Times as “the best small Italian restaurant in New York,” and 1975 and 1976 seals of approval from Cue magazine (!) remain in the window. The family owns the building, ensuring that the Isle of Capri will remain an incongruous oddity on slick, anonymous Third Avenue as long as the Lamanna clan are desirous of a public forum in which to entertain their friends and relatives.
—Brooks of Sheffield

23 April 2009

Amanda Burden Pisses on Brooklyn Bridge; Walentases Make Reservations in Hell

Who will City Planning debutante Amanda Burden listen to, beside herself, Mayor Bloomberg and maybe Charlie Rose? Well, not internationally respected historian and author David McCollough, that's for sure. The usually private, grey-haired eminence took an extraordinary step recently by speaking out publicly against a proposed, god-awful, 18-story DUMBO tower that will block views of the Brooklyn Bridge.

But Amanda and her City Planning Commission voted for the tower anyway on April 21. Oh, but there was a great compromise that made everything better. The tower will now be only 17 stories. Whew! That's a relief. Burden, a past master at unfeeling bullshit, said "We think we have a achieved a balanced resolution to this issue but most importantly respected this historic site and the importance of the Brooklyn Bridge." She then uncrossed her fingers and winked.

It should come as no surprise that Burden has no regard for the Brooklyn Bridge, and does not consider that the structure belongs to the people of New York and that they, and not a few selected rich tenants, have a right to unobstructed views of the majestic span. She's Bloomberg's Gal Friday, and Mike has never shown any respect for anything in this City other than his position in it, and the ideas he wishes to impose upon it.

The tower is the work of the Walentases of Two Trees, who are now permanently on my shit list. They could donate their wealth to charity, adopt 49 orphans, pat every dog in town and spend the rest of their lives eradicating poverty in the Indian subcontinent, and—if they continued to let this tower go forward—I would still consider then utterly worthless sub-humans who deserve every evil mentioned in the Old Testament to be visited on their heads. They are enemies of the people, pure and simple.

Think I'm overreacting? Actually, I'm restraining myself.

The project will still have to go before the City Council for review next month. Anyone recall that body doing anything for the good of the people and the City in recent memory?

What Your Mayor Is Up To, Part IV

Cutting ribbons at new Home Depots (WTF!), and refusing to put on safety goggles. [Gothamist]

Buying out the Democratic Party on NYC with bribes of future jobs and bonuses. [NY Observer via Queens Crap]

Helping push the number of homeless people to record levels. [NY Times]

Already spending $7.5 million on his campaign to be New York's King. And it's only April. [City Room]

Not standing up to block the tower that will defile the view of the Brooklyn Bridge, because there's no such thing as bad development. [NY1]

Columbia and the Great Glass Elevator

Work has begun anew on the Belltower of Columbia Street, the bizarrely towered new apartment complex on Columbia Street near Summit. Either the developers got the go-ahead from the DOB, or it's just more the illegal work that's been common at the address in the past.

But Lost City learned a few things by talking to some of the workers. For one, that's not a belltower there at the top. Well, OK, we knew that already. But we still couldn't figure out what it actually was—until now. Friends, it's an elevator shaft. Apparently, this four-story building is to be filled by lazy people, because they need an elevator to get where they're going.

And it won't be just any elevator. It will be a Willie Wonka-ish glass elevator, so that when they get to that tippy-top, the tenants are going to enjoy some super-nice views. It will also be nice going up, because the inside of the elevator shaft will be lined by reclaimed old brick—you know, the kind of quality brick they used to use all the time before they started putting up pieces of crapitecture like this.

So, to review: in order for the residents of this new building to be afforded great views of the neighborhood, the rest of the neighborhood must be afflicted with a lousy view. Of that building. Hm. Seems fair.

Target Targets Hicks Street With Painted Ad

Target is getting all old-timey out on Hick Street near the BQE. A local artist, for the last couple days, has been constructed a hand-painted sign for the corporate giant. The billboard will stand about eight feet tall, and cover a good section of a brick wall on Hicks near the corner of Union Street. It's the same wall shared, on the inside, by the Coffee Den, a local indy java joint. (The owner of the building has been after some advertising for some time now.)

Inside the Coffee Den, people are already bitching at the ad. "It's great a local artist gets work, but Target?" said one. That's generally how I feel. I pass by that wall pretty often, and I don't relish having to look upon some vague representation of the kind of lifestyle I might lead if I only shopped at huge, enervating, big-box stores more often.

The Lenox Hill Eyesore

What goes on with the prominent, and prominently ugly, building at the corner of 76th and Lexington? Number 1080 Lexington, it has been owned by Lenox Hill Hospital since 1937, but that august landlord does not appear to be doing anything with it, and hasn't for some time. It was the hospital's Health Education Center in the 1970s and 1980s. But now it's ground-floor storefront windows are covered over with white paper and a few posters. Nothing seems to be happening in the second floor space, which is reached by an oddly placed, stoop-like staircase on the 76th Street side, either.

Moreover, this set of cream-colored townhouses—which, by the looks of them, date from the 19th century—appear to have been worked over daily with an ugly stick by Lenox Hill. The state of the facade is simply ruinous. Not just stained and cracked, as many old facades become over the years if not maintained, but battered and chipped. The lintels around the windows are in horrendous condition. It's as if Lenox Hill has a whack at tearing the thing down every now and then, but then loses interest.

The whole structure is a terrible eyesore, one everyone has to endure given the highly visible location of the buildings. What is it with hospitals and real estate? I've seen it again and again. Hospitals buy up nice old buildings surrounding their main headquarters, for office space or whatever, and then let them go to pot until they're in such bad shape they must be shut up.

That Latest Katz's Rumor: Not True

I was handing in my ticket at Katz's Delicatessen last night when the woman in front of me nervously asked the cashier if it were true that the immortal deli was closing. "That's a rumor," growled the lady at the counter.

Lord knows prediction of Katz's death come along about as often as Angelina Jolie acquires another child, but I hadn't heard this one. So I asked about it. "Someone's always starting a rumor," the cashier said. "You think if they were going to sell, they'd sell now?! The time was last year." The intimation was that the tanked economy is keeping Katz's safe for the time being. I expressed my wish that any such sale wouldn't happen for a long while. "Or ever," returned the cashier.

22 April 2009

Old Homestead Finds the Beef

The folks over at the Old Homestead steakhouse recently invited me to take a tour of the 141-year-old Meatpacking Distict chowhouse. I hadn't seen it since the recent renovation, so I happily took them up on the offer.

I had been sad to see the old place cut in half last fall when the owners gave up the lease on the southern half of the restaurant, after their landlords raised the rent. They now operate out of a comparatively narrow space, three levels high. But they own the building, so they won't have to worry about the whims of landlords anymore. And it's the building that has the famous Old Homestead vertical neon sign on it, as well as large cow figure, beloved symbols of New York-iana.

If you didn't pass that sign and that cow, you might not know you're in a restaurant that began serving right after the Civil War. Inside, architect and designer Glen Coben has made everything smooth and sleek. The floor is original, I was told, and the tin ceilings. But otherwise, everything's pretty new. It's that prototypical steakhouse look: dark wood, leather, white tablecloths, mirrors, dim lighting. The template hasn't change much since the days of Diamond Jim Brady. Very nice in its way. It's all quite handsome and understated, if a tad anonymous. I wouldn't mind a bit more fusty old bric-a-brac and memorabilia on the wall. If you're 140 years old, why not show it off?

My favorite part of the renovation by far is a private room on the second floor that used to be a closet. When they cleared out the space, I was told, workers uncovered an old painted sign that had long ago adorned the northern wall of the building just to the south (the same building that the Old Homestead used to lease). It reads in big, bold letters, "Prime Beef." It's beautiful and in fine condition, considering its age. And it gives the room a particular character, as does the fine view out the window—a close up of the bottom half of the neon sign. I could only imagine how the sign would illuminate the room at night with a cool noir air.

The owners say they had no idea that sign was there all these years. It presented a conundrum, though. It was obviously an outdoor sign. But the only way it could have been seen is if the building that houses the Old Homestead didn't exist. When I queried the Old Homestead people, however, they said the building they occupied was older than the building to the south. Mysterious. And impossible.

I told them of my confusion and asked if they were sure of their dates. Sure enough, they came back with reverse information. The building to the south was indeed older than the Old Homestead building. Thus, the northern brick wall of the southern building was once visible to to all who wished to gaze at the Prime Beef advertisement.

Given the age of the Old Homestead, one would then assume that the painted sign is at least 150 years old. Amazing. What was paint made of in the old days? Based on the innumerable old painted signs that are uncovered every year in New York, 19th century paint seems to last forever.

21 April 2009

Wall Coming Down in Cobble Hill

It looks like something's finally happening with 364 Henry Street, the long-troubled brownstone at the northwest, Cobble Hill corner of Henry and Congress street. There's a bulldozer parked outside the cracked and crumpling building, and construction workers hacking away at the inside.

Asked whether the dilapidated structure will be demolished or fixed, they said "fixed." But they also said the long southern wall (pictured below) will have to come down in order to do so. It's hard for me to believe that any part of this old building is salvageable, it's been standing derelict for so long. The place has had 12 DOB complaints against it just since the beginning of 2009. The lady who lives next door was surveying the activity and expressed the belief that the whole thing should come down. She also said the owner, one John Q. Quadrozzi, Jr., according to DOB records, also owns the almost-equally derelict brownstone on the other side of her building (which is in fine condition.)

A Good Sign: Dapper Dan

Curbed ran this picture of a piece of vintage signage recently revealed on 14th Street. Dapper Dan, featuring Imperial Clothes. Hey, I'd shop there!

20 April 2009

Spring Among the Graves

From Lost City Flickr Pool member lostinbrooklyn. Taken in Green-wood Cemetery.

Lost City's Guide to Red Hook

The once-bustling waterfront community of Red Hook has lost a great deal of its original life. Nearly all, really. Van Brunt, Conover, and Richards Streets are lined with the ghosts of formally vital storefronts. If you want to know what life was like in the shipping days, when work was plentiful for Irish, Italian and Swedish laborers, and street life teemed with pushcarts and stickball, you'll have to talk to the old-timers still hanging on, because there's not much evidence of it on the streets themselves. Unlike other nearby neighborhoods, the recent gentrification has not been hung on a few enduring businesses and institutions, but built from the ground up. If I wished to tell you what used to be in Red Hook, this guide could go on and on. As it is, the tracing of Red Hook's living history is a much short affair.

DEFONTE'S: This sandwich outpost at Columbia and Luquer Streets, near the north end of Red Hook, is about as old as surviving businesses get in Red Hook, to my reckoning. Somehow, the 1922 eatery has survived in the middle of absolutely nowhere for decades. The mint-green building with all the upper windows boarded over is pure Hopper, sitting lonely on its blighted corner. It's family-owned, founded by a immigrant from Mori di Bari (the hometown of so many of the local Italian families). The sandwiches are big, good and cheap. They recently opened a Manhattan branch, so they must be doing well.

ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH OF THE VISITATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY: Walk south down Columbia and then Dwight Street to Verona. Turn right along the north side of COFFEY PARK. The dark forboding Roman Catholic Church of the Visitation dominates this central green of Red Hook. The church was established in 1954. This building is the second to stand on the site. A former structure, erected in 1878, was destroyed by fire on July 12, 1896. The present Gothic affair was built in 1896.

THE "R" SIGN: Look above at the abandoned billboard atop the building at Richards and Venona. This used to belong to paper goods manufacturer named E.J. Trum. When John Turano & Sons Furniture took over the address in 1978, they tried to tear down the Trum letters. All but the stubborn "R," and a period, were removed. There they remain. Let's just say it stands for Red Hook.

RED HOOK POOL: Walk back to Dwight, turn right, walk down to Lorraine. Turn left and walk to Clinton. Turn right to Bay Street. The Red Hook Pool, officially know as the Sol Goldman Recreation Center and Pool, is a gem of a relic from the WPA area, a gloriously huge pool and in great condition. It's an attraction of constant popularity in the summer, fostering a wonderfully democratic picture of community summertime fun.

RED HOOK BALLFIELD VENDORS: Kitty-corner from the pool, in Red Hook Park, during the summer months, are a gathering of Latin food purveyors collectively known as the Red Hook Ballfield Vendors. From these carts, offering the best local versions of delicacies from El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, you will receive some of the best street food in all of New York. The vendors have been working their magic for 20 years or so, and though they are singularly unappreciated by the City or the Parks Department, they are beloved of New Yorkers.

ERIE BASIN PARK: Walk west on Bay to Otsego. As you go, look south to the rusted-out behemoth of the PORT OF NEW YORK GRAIN ELEVATOR TERMINAL, standing starkly again the horizon like some accursed post-industrial City of Oz. Turn left on Otsego to Beard Street. I haven't brought you here to admire the new IKEA, but Erie Basin Park, which IKEA built as a sort of olive branch to the community for tearing down the historic Todd Shipyards. They did a fairly excellent job, and the expansive collection of piers, greenery, walkways, bike paths and maritime paraphernalia nicely captures the spirit and air of old Red Hook.

BEARD STREET: As you walk west on Beard toward Van Brunt, take note of he Belgian Blocks on the road. These can be found all over Red Hook, as well as remnants of old trolley tracks.

FAIRWAY: Again, I didn't bring you hear to appreciate the produce, but to take a look at the pre-Civil War coffee warehouse Fairway renovated as its Brooklyn home. It's an undeniably handsome object. Inside, head to the back patio. There, you can enjoy unadulterated views of Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty and the water traffic in New York Harbor. To the left are three old TROLLEY CARS, the sad testimony of Brooklynite Bob Diamond's doomed effort to bring trolley service back to Red Hook.

BEARD STREET WAREHOUSES: Across Van Brunt from Fairway, and continues south along Erie Basin are the long, red-brick Beard Street Warehouse, simply one of the most beautiful and beautifully situated industrial structures in America. Catch the Civil-War-era buildings at sunset for an unmatchable sight.

: Walk west on Reed Street, just in front of Fairway, to No. 20, a curious two-story black building that looks like it's auditioning for the part of Old Maritime Building, covered as it is with plastic fish, life preservers, ship wheels and flags. It's actually just a building some guy uses to work on his old cars and have a few beers with his buds. Adds local character, though.

SUNNY'S BAR: Walk to Conover and turn right. Sunny's Bar is one of the few holdouts from the old days. In the Balzano family since the 1930s, it is now opened only occasionally, whenever Sunny feels like it. The well-preserved interior is well worth a looksee.

Previous Lost City Neighborhood Guides

18 April 2009

Lucky Duck

Not all my thoughts are of the gloom and doom variety. Every now and then—fairly often, actually—I stop and consider how lucky I am to be living where I do.

Today was such a day. Beautiful weather, so I took to my battered old black bike to run some errands. I rode down Hicks, turned right at the bike lane on Kane and then left on Court, to Jim & Andy's green grocer. There are now quite a few bike lanes in South Brooklyn. Clinton, Bergen, Kane, Congress, 3rd Street, Union, Fourth Avenue. More are to come. My son has asked for pie tonight. Rhubarb is in season, so I grabbed a few stalks and a carton of strawberries, as well as some pears that looked good. My purchases were bagged and paid for, without the benefit of an actual cash register.

I went outside to my bike and noticed a good-sized crowd in Coffee Peddler, the new coffee place that purveys Stumptown Coffee. I went in, had an exchange with a tattooed barista who thought she knew me from Gimme! coffee in Williamsburg (she didn't) and another exchange with a tattooed cashier who was curious what I had in the bag. (The idea of pie-making made him smile.)

I ordered an espresso and sat down to drink it, and thought, this coffee was roasted in Red Hook. It's local coffee. If I walked further down Court to Court Street Pastry, I could buy some cookies made on the premises. At Mazzola Bakery, I could get locally produced bread. Esposito Pork Store could give me some house-manufactured sausage, and Mazzola Fine Foods makes its own Mozzerella. At Prime Meats, I could have an Old Fashioned with pear bitters made from a pear tree in the bar's back yard, or a Manhattan made with homemade Buddha's Hand bitters. Soon, the place will be curing it's own meats and making its own sausages.

At any number of bars in the area, I could get a Six Point brew made a stone's throw away in Red Hook, which will soon be producing its own wine label, via Angel's Share (just across the street from Six Point). On Clinton, at One For the Pot, I could acquire some locally contrived honey. Soon, the Carroll Gardens and Park Slope and Borough Hall farmer's markets would be back in full swing.

As I traced all these criss-crossing connections across South Brooklyn in my mind, I felt very grateful to be living in such creative, industrious, thoughtful, quasi-self-sustaining urban micro-universe. A neighborhood's a neighborhood here, not some corporate-sponsored simulacrum of community

17 April 2009

34th and Lex, Then and Now

Paul Sahner, and the blog NYC Grid, has an obsession with the past that I can only kinda, sorta, maybe, partially relate to. He recently tookcame a handful of slides taken by his grandfather in New York City in 1961, and tracked down each photo location and took a contemporary shot, to see how much things have changed in the City.

It's worth looking at the entire collection, but my favorite shot it above on the corner of 34th and Lex, looking west, as compared with the contemporary shot below. The Empire State still anchors the scene, of course, and that shorter, flat-topped building in front of it (the former Vanderbilt Hotel, built in 1913, I believe) is still there. The building in the right foreground has been replaced with something far uglier, the the bishop's crook lamppost is gone. I wonder what that sort of campanile is, just in front of the Vanderbilt. Looks like an Armory of sorts.

Love the Rexall drug store.

What Your Mayor Is Up To, Part III

Betting impatient with disabled people. [City Room]

Maintaining that the press don't need to have a presence at police headquarters, because, you know, nothing newsworthy ever happens there, and it's not like the police will become corrupt or anything if the press aren't watching them. [NY Post]

Showing unstinting support for the financial titans who have brought the City, nation and world low. [NY Times]

Opposing money from the EPA that would clean up the Gowanus Canal, because such a project would slow development in the area. [NYT via Queens Crap]

Hogging all the party lines at the ballot box, even though he's supposedly independent and above politics. [NY Observer]

Now, just imagine you're a disabled, poor Democrat reporter who wants the Gowanus cleaned up—oooh, how Bloomberg would hate you.

Small Buildings, Big Loss

I was recently led by the ever useful AIA Guide to New York City to a quiet block of E. 82nd Street between First and Second. I wanted to see Nos. 306 and 306A, a teeny tiny brick row house and an even smaller row house situated just behind it, down an alley. "Early residents at a smaller scale," the guide mused. The accompanying picture (below) made the buildings look positively quaint.

When I got there, though, both structures, built in 1855, were gone, leveled. They're weren't landmarked or protected in any way. In their place is this handiwork of hideousness, pictured above. It's still under construction. No chance of it getting into future editions of the AIA.

16 April 2009

A Sign or Two

A helpful reader recently alerted me to a large painted sign that, with the destruction of a building, was revealed at the southeast corner of 76th and Broadway. I hurried up there with my camera to see what I could see. The tipster, as it turns out, was right and wasn't right. The leveling of the building had indeed given all traipsing up and down upper Broadway a good gander at a long-ago sign for Livingston Rad Automobile Radiators.

However, that sign hadn't been completely hidden from the public all this time. If you strolled down 75th Street, you could get a peek at it, just above an old former carriage house, along with its brother in hand-painted signage: an ad for the something-or-other Square Motors Corp. Nice pair.