25 July 2010

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Frost?"

For my third post-blog "Who Goes There?" I went to a Williamsburg Italian mainstay, Frost. Most old Italian restaurants have Italian-sounding names like Gino and Bamonte's. Frost, on the face of it, sounds like the name of a cool, modern joint. Until you realized they just named the place after the street it's on, Frost Street.

On another note, I've added former "Who Goes There?" subject Fedora to the "Recently Lost Landmarks" tally. It closed on July 25. I tried to make it, but couldn't. Some friends were leaving town that night and it was my duty (and pleasure) to wish them well and say goodbye.

Who Goes There? Frost
Eating at Frost, the 59-year-old Italian survivor on a residential intersection of eastern Williamsburg, is sort of like eating at someone's house, the kind of home where the father won't turn off the television during the meal. The single dining room is boxy and open; there's no hiding from anybody. And, as if you were in a bar, there's a TV set perched near the ceiling by the kitchen. The soundtracks of sitcoms and commercial jingles fill in for the missing muzak. The large parties settle into their seats and hash over talk about family, friends and the neighborhood. One foursome grilled an embarrassed young lady about her college choices. Another teenager ate his entire meal with his Yankees cap on. The only suit jackets or ties in sight were on the waiters.

15 July 2010

Greenwich Village Classic Fedora to Close

The deaths of giants will not let me rest. Last week, I felt compelled to report on the demise of 107-year-old Carmine's. This week, it's Fedora, the ineffable living museum of mid-century Village life.

This is not surprising. Not because fancy restaurateurs have been circling the place like vultures for months. But because proprietress Fedora Donato is 90 years old and it's always been clear she had no successor to take over. The lucky inheritor of the cozy basement space—so redolent of memories of cheap, bohemian, Italian feasts of the post-War period—is Gabe Stulman of Joseph Leonard. (We can thank our lucky stars it wasn't Graydon Carter, I suppose.) He has signed the lease, and Fedora will serve her last lasagna on July 25. Then the place will under a renovation, no doubt scrubbing from the walls every bit of raffish charm. 

Stulman says he means to retain many of the interior's design aspects and the name of the place. And, like McNally's conversion of the Minetta Tavern, the result may be very nice indeed, even if Stulman intends it to be a "casual elegant supper club." (Uh! Was Fedora every any of those things, besides casual?) But it won't be Fedora. How could it? Fedora won't be there. And the lady was always the heart of the eatery. 

But I guess we can be thankful the old bar will remain. And maybe the telephone booth. And the great neon sign.

One weird note: the new Fedora will stay open until 4 AM, every night. Interesting.

Fedora was my second "Who Goes There?" column. I may pay one last visit before it goes.

09 July 2010

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Wo Hop?"

As stated before, I'm still doing the "Who Goes There?" columns for Eater. Here's the latest:

Who Goes There? Wo Hop
The first time I ever went to Wo Hop, the 72-year-old Chinatown restaurant, I was chastised by readers as having gone to the "wrong" Wo Hop. There are two spaces on Mott Street, you see, a roomy ground-level restaurant at 15 Mott, visible from the street, and a harder-to-spot basement place down a long flight of stairs at 17 Mott. (Chinatown must have more mysterious subterranean eateries and businesses than any other neighborhood in New York.) The upstairs joint is for tourists and suckers, and the food stinks, I was told. Go downstairs for the real experience.

06 July 2010

Seaport Restaurant Carmine's Closes After 107 Years

I said when I discontinued Lost City a couple weeks ago that I might occasionally post when a significant New York landmark fell. The closing of Carmine's, the oldest restaurant in the South Street Seaport district, seems to merit a mention.

It closed on June 30, after 107 years in business. The landlord wanted more money. Same old story.

Carmine's at the Seaport, located on Beekman Street, was one of the few remnants left of the old, rough, Fulton Fish Market seaport, the streets that Joseph Mitchell walked in his day. I ate there a couple times. The food was standard red-sauce stuff. The decor was priceless, a dusty nautical theme, wooden bar, wooden booths, falling apart. It had its regulars and its lifer waitresses. I remember reading an article about the gruff, big-hearted owner, who would lend money to his employees when they needed it and drive them home. It had a soul and a life. I had planned to make it a "Who Goes There?" subject this summer. No more.