31 December 2010

Stoned Crow Closes Tonight

The Stoned Crow, beloved Village dive, closes tonight after 17 years. Here's one last look at the chair where the owner surveys the pool activity and makes sure no injury comes to her beloved table.

Arthur Avenue Gives Good Awning

I always thought, of all the plastic awnings in the city, Catania's Pizza on Arthur Avenue in The Bronx may be the most impressive. The 61-year-old slice joint holds court on a sweeping curve where Arthur Avenue meets E. 184th Street, and its bright red awning hovers over every inch of that angle. It's quite obvious that Coca-Cola footed the bill for the massive thing. Best advertising they ever bought.

28 December 2010

News on Freddy's

From a commenter, regarding the Prospect Heights bar that fell in the wake of Atlantic Yards:

Freddy's IS rising again on 5th Avenue near 17th Street in the old (well sort of, they only lasted about 2 years) Ellis...I am collaging the bathroom doors with images from Donald O'Finn's video collection...it's all looking swell, a mix of the old stuff salvaged from the original Fred's mixed with some new(old)..should open in about 3 weeks.

27 December 2010

Queens Chaos Caught

That the author of the blog Restless is a fine and artful photographer is no secret to anyone who follows the site. But the above image deserves special acclaim. He sent it to me as one of two of his favorite images of the year. The picture captures such an array of visual chaos, it comes off as a surreal collage, warped and off-kilter, the crazy New York we sometimes see in the harried prism of our mind.

24 December 2010

Merry Christmas from Lost City

The poinsettias inside a makeshift greenhouse at the Union Square Farmer's Market. Merry Christmas to all who do Christmas!

21 December 2010

Bring Out Your Dead! 2010 Roundup of Lost New York Landmarks

As in every year of the Bloomberg administration, 2010 was a bad one for preservation-minded New Yorkers. There were a couple major restaurant losses in Gino and Fedora, cultural signposts of their time and neighborhoods that can never be brought back now that they're gone. Otherwise, the two biggest victims of this final year of the first decade of this depressing century were Coney Island and New York's dive bars. The seaside playland continues to be the most maliciously punished neighborhood in the City, wrung of all history and character and dignity by the twin evils of City Hall and Joe Sitt. Meanwhile, crusty old taverns who patronize the kind of people who used to live in New York by the drove, but are now being forced out by escalating rents, are dropping left and right. Mars Bar, Ruby's Bar & Grill, Max Fish, Rum House, you name it.

Gone, Baby, Gone

Gino, the 65-year-old, Upper East Side red sauce club with the crazy zebra wallpaper and devoted clientele, threatened to close and threatened to close for years, and this year finally did. A heartbreaking loss.
Fedora, unlike Gino, chose to retire after after decades of service to her eponymously named subterranean Village restaurant. Gabe Stuhlman, a local hotshot restauranteur, bought the lease and promised to keep the name and some of the interior. But it won't ever be the same. In fact, he didn't preserve the old neon sign, he replicated it.
Carmine's at the Seaport, a bedrock South Street Seaport business, closes after 107 years.
Empire Diner, yet another of the City's few remaining stand-alone diners goes belly-up.
Cono & Sons O'Pescatore Restaurant, a remnant of pre-hipster Williamsburg and political gathering place.

Merry Christmas from Carroll Gardens

Strap that tree to the wall!

Christmas Songbook Authenticity Guide

Unlike many of my thinking brothers and sisters, I never tire of Christmas music, even though I understand that much of what pours out of the radio these wintery days is syrupy pap and treacle. My imperviousness can mainly be chalked up to the fact that I approach the Christmas songbook as a historian. Every song you hear—the secular ones I mean, coined in the 20th century—not the religious standards—had a debut year and an original interpreter. In many cases, the tune was penned by one or two of America's finest songwriters and first warbled by a master vocalist. "White Christmas," to name one great instance, has perhaps been wrung of all meaning and dignity over the years by thousands of hack cover versions, but nothing can take away from the fact that it was written by Irving Berlin and crooned into this world by Bing Crosby. That initial version still gives me a chill when I hear it for the first time every yuletide.

It's occurred to me that, in this world, where we are aurally pummeled by the likes of Josh Groban and Mariah Carey every day, many folks may not know the origins of some of our best holiday melodies. So I wrote up this brief guide to the most prevalent Christmas favorites, listing their year of creation, author, and original singer—just to give a general idea of why these songs were once thought to be good enough to be covered by so many lesser artists year in and year out. If you haven't heard the original artists sing these numbers, do yourself a favor and seek out these cuts.

20 December 2010

Dive Bar Death Watch

These are bad days for New York's dive bars. City Hall and developers do not see their charms. So they are on their way out. And in December, they've been falling like barflies. Let's count them down, shall we?

  • The Rum House. One of the last surviving dives in Times Square, exited in late September.
  • Ruby's Bar and Grill. Coney Island legend. Not quite out (it keeps stubbornly opening even though it's supposed to shutter), but definitely down, and probably a goner.
  • Mars Bar. The East Village ur-dive. Due to close for two years in 2011 to make way for a highrise. The owner says it will reopen and be bigger than ever. Whether it will be better, or ever the same, is highly in doubt.
  • Max Fish. LES mainstay. Victim of a rent hike. Owners says they will relocate. But where, at a reasonable rent, in today's pricey Lower East Side?
  • The Stoned Crow. Beloved Village dump, calling it quits on New Year's Eve.
  • Hickey's. The latest victim. Dead on 33rd Street after 40 years.
Station Cafe, Holland Bar, Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Subway Inn, Rudy's Bar and Grill and all the rest—watch your back.

19 December 2010

Fresh and Blessed at Borgotti's Ravioli

Borgotti's Ravioli and Egg Noodles (very specific name, that) is one of my regular stops whenever I get up to Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. The pasta is fresh—often it's made right as you order it—and the atmosphere is of another time; counters and shelves and equipment that haven't changed in decades.

The small store was crowed on a recent Thursday night just before closing. Pre-Christmas rush? Or just the usual logjam? The old lady under the sign listing the types of pasta and their prices (the Borgotti matriarch, I assume) was doing her thing, packing up bags of pasta for the customers.

18 December 2010

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Mario's?"

The Bronx! Hell, yeah.

Who Goes There? Mario's Restaurant
This column debuted in March 2008, and since that time I have visited many persevering eateries in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and a good half dozen or so in Queens, but not one joint in The Bronx. For this I am ashamed. It's not that I never thought of The Bronx. I ponder that rough, northerly borough rather often, and have long had a number of its restaurants on my list. It's just that I live in Brooklyn and to get there takes an hour and a half on either side. (I own no car.)
But as a Christmas present to myself, I decided to buckle down and carve out the time. So here, I am happy to say, is the first "Who Goes There?"—Bronx edition. (Staten Island: I will get to you.) It seemed a natural that Arthur Avenue, the borough's most famous Little Italy, be my destination. There are a few notable candidates along that glorious culinary thoroughfare, but I settled on Mario's, for 89 years one of the avenue's anchors.
Mario's is a huge and gaudily grand place, full of fake classical touches like pillars, arches and quasi-frescoes. The large vestibule is filled with coat racks. "Just put your stuff there," said a valet the size of a mountain. "No one's gonna take it." I believed him.
The low shelf lining the walls of the main dining room are laden with family photos. Mario's has been run for five generations by the Migliucci family, and the place, despite its ornate showiness, feels like an extension of the clan's living room. One family member or other burst into the room, a newspaper under his windbreaker-clad arm, singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of his voice, patting patrons on the back as he made a quick circuit of the premises.
Waiters, too, are familiar. In one corner banquette, a server and a longtime customer sat down together, consulting their Blackberries trying to figure out a date when they could get together. On the other end of the room, another waiter pulled up a chair next to an oldtimer who'd had a few too many. This was done partly out of friendliness, partly to becalm to garrulous, stumbling diner, an ancient Polish-American who kept talking about his Catholic education. Like many of Mario's customers, these two were faithful regulars from the area. Tourists and occasional celebrities also add to the clientele. Large parties, meanwhile, regularly walk upstairs to the reception-hall grandeur of the Regina Room.
Barbara Migliucci, wife of the current owner, was on hand the night I went. Dressed in a great sweater and black pants, her hair tinted orange, she slowly paced the room like a grandmother waiting for relatives to arrive. Arrive they did—a daughter carrying a little tot named Joey who got plenty of kisses and was then rushed into the kitchen—presumedly to find more kin. When Joey emerged, he was on top of a dessert cart and rolled through the restaurant. "What's that special today?" shouted one customer.
While Joey may have proved a very tender dish indeed, I was more than happy with my Calamari in Cassuola, which was bathed in one of the better old-school marinaras I've had in the City—not too sweet, and not shy on the oregano and basil. It came with a very good potato croquette.
Mario's started small, as a pizzeria, Barbara told me; a room with some tables and wire-backed chairs, opened by her husband's great-grandfather. Over the years, each generation expanded the dimensions. Pictures of the space in the 1940s, with its booth, blinds and excellent signage, made me mourn for what had been lost. But, through all that, Mario's has remained at the same address, taking over a nearby butcher's space, and then a fishmonger, as those businesses closed. "Soon you'll have the whole block," I suggested. Barbara thought. "That would be nice," she said. 
—Brooks of Sheffield

Merry Christmas from Fort Greene

General Greene never imagined himself like this. The wreath lights up at night.

16 December 2010

Neighborhood Sandwich Shop in Cobble Hill

This primo corner spot, on the Cobble Hill corner of Kane and Henry, has been vacant for a good five years, since the Bonafide Deli went bust. It's been under construction for about four months now and will open as a sandwich shop run by the owners of Angry Wade, the Smith Street bar. It looks so good because the Landmarks Commission has been on the builder's back, making sure the space is in keeping with the Brownstone surroundings. Supposedly, the handsome storefront, windows and cornice follow the design of a tax photo from the 1940s. Also, the cast iron beams inside have been saved and incorporated.

One of the old cornices, on the side of the building, is pictured below. Looks fairly close to the new work.

15 December 2010

Before Beauty & Essex

There's been a lot of buzz about the new LES hot spot Beauty & Essex recently. I've been inside. Nero never knew such gaudy opulence.

The space is huge. Which should come as no surprise, as the space was for many years a furniture store. M. Katz & Sons Fine Furniture to be specific. Above and below are before and after shots of the exterior. Beauty & Essex retained the shadow of the former letters, as well as the vertical "Katz Furniture" sign. Nothing of the interior remains, aside from some brick walls.

Katz is a family-owned business. It was founded in 1906 by Meilich Katz, beginning on Stanton Street before moving to Essex. In the 1930s, Meilich was joined by his three sons, Irving, Pincus and Joseph. In the late 1960s, Irving's sons Maurice and Arthur entered the firm. It may come as a surprise to some to know that the business still exits. It has relocated to 20 Orchard Street. It's currently run by the fifth generation of Katzes.

14 December 2010

One Shore Lives, One Shore Dies

The day after reporting that the 100-year-old Shore Hotel had been demolished by Joe Sitt comes news that The Shore Theater has been awarded Landmark status. You lose one, you win one, you break even. Sort of. I kinda feel like the commission doesn't really care about any of these buildings. They just toss us a bone every now and then to keep us from yelping too loudly.

A Cheese Bell at Alleva Dairy

OTB Fades Away

I have to say, I never went inside an OTB. I've never had any interest in gambling. On anything. Ever. And for many years, I regarded the inhabitants of OTB offices as pathetic. They looked worn out, shabby, barely members of the world that surrounded them. Over time, however, I developed a begrudging respect for their little demi-monde. And as OTBs were surrounding by boutiques and fast food joints, I came to treasure their stubborn seediness.

The last three OTBs in the City closed on Friday. Here's an article that makes the patrons and clerks seem like the very salt of the earth:
A Hole in Old Routines After OTB Parlors' Last Day
By Michael Wilson
The end looked like this: five old guys sitting around a Chinese bakery, sipping coffee, the hour and minute hands on five wristwatches creeping together at the top of the dial. “It’s about time,” one said, reaching for a cane and falling in behind the others, on oversize physical-therapy shoes, onto Queens Boulevard.
“You can see somebody in there,” he said, peering through glass.
At 12:10 p.m. the doors finally opened, and the group, now 20 strong, walked and limped and shuffled in out of the cold and into the final, death-watch hours of an Off-Track Betting parlor.

13 December 2010

Coney Island's Shore Hotel Destroyed

Good-for-nothing, enemy-of-the-people developer Joe Sitt has been at it again, destroying what's good about Coney Island one building at a time. The son of a bitch smashed the Shore Hotel and the Henderson Building to bits the other day.

The old wooden-frame Shore building was built back in 1903.

Boy, do the City Fathers hate Coney Island.

(Photo courtesy of Amusing the Zillion.)

Quote of the Week

Regarding the closing of Max Fish, The Pink Pony and Mars Bar:

"The Lower East Side felt like it was over a while ago, but [Max Fish] is a very symbolic closing," said author Richard Price, who used the neighborhood as a backdrop to his best seller "Lush Life." "There are no neighborhoods in Manhattan anymore. South of Harlem, it feels like a bunch of districts where rich people can crash."

12 December 2010

Mexican Food Coming to Smith Street

There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks over who would take over the primo restaurant space  on the Carroll Gardens corner of Union and Smith Streets—a space formerly, an unspectacularly, filled by the lackluster Union Smith Cafe. Well, this written message in the front window appears to answer the question. It will be called Diego (as reported on a couple sites Dec. 7) and run by chef Philip Mercedes. Certainly a lot of Mexican food in the area of late. Nothing in the window about Ivy Stark.

11 December 2010

New Restaurant Takes Von Westernhagen Space in Glendale

Back in June came the horrible news that Von Westernhagen, the venerable old Glendale German restaurant, had been sold by the owning family, after 46 years in business. It's been empty since then. But now there's a sign in the window telling that the building will soon be home to "Edison Place. Your friendly neighborhood restaurant and bar. January 2011." It would be nice, and wise, if the new owners keep the classic bar area intact. The dining hall was not so priceless. I'm sure they're gutting it.

09 December 2010

Keeping It Straight

Somebody, I don't know whom, snuck out one night and spray-painted stencils saying "Cobble Hill" and "Carroll Gardens" on either side of DeGraw Street, along Court Street, to designate where one Brooklyn neighborhood began and the other ended. DeGraw, of course, is the dividing line between the two nabes, though not everyone knows that.

"Cobble Hill" is painted on the northwest corner of the intersection, "Carroll Gardens" on the southwest. I love exact neighborhood demarcations, so whomever did this act of random street art has won my support.

Staubitz Market Changes Sign

Staubitz Market, the 93-year-old butcher in Cobble Hill, recently changed their sign. The old one had been there as long as I can remember. The new signage is OK. Very spare. Dignified. Probably no surprise to anyone out there, though, that I liked the old sign better. A friend took the below photo of it lying on the sidewalk after being taken down.

Union Street Gets a Decoration

There used to be an old cheese shop on Union Street between Hicks and Columbia called Latticini Barese. It was run by a man named Joe Balzano. He used to marshall the merchants on the block to chip in for Christmas decorations for the street. It was difficult. Most of the shopkeepers didn't think it was worth the cost or effort. They reasoned that if people weren't planning on crossing the BQE to shop there, no wreath of holly was going to change their mind.

Latticini Barese closed in 2002 and there haven't been any Christmas decorations on Union since then to speak of. Until this year. Out of nowhere, a single string of lights appeared the other day. It's very sweet, hanging all by itself up there. Made me very happy when I saw it. Good job, Union Street.

Elaine Kaufman/Toots Shor

Writer Gay Talese, a regular at Elaine's, said something interesting in the New York Times this week about the passing of the restaurant's owner, Elaine Kaufman: "If you want me to bet on something, I don’t think it’s going to make it, the same way Toots Shor’s didn’t make it. He was such a personality. He was a New York character. And the ashes of the city swept that restaurant away after he was gone."

The persnickety in me must first point out that Toots Shor the restaurant has been closed for four years when Toots Shor the person died in 1977. But, that aside, it's telling that Talese should bring up Shor, for in some way Shor and Kaufman interpreted their role as host in very similar ways. First and foremost, they weren't really hosts, not in the broad sense of term anyway. The word host has connotations of courtesy, deference, service. They were lords. And their restaurants were their fiefdoms, their clubs. Anyone could walk in the door, but only a select few were truly welcome. The rest were treated like chattel. And, to a large extent, both Shor and Kaufman were celebrated for this sort of anti-social behavior. Elaine cursed you out or kicked you out—isn't she a character!

(By the way, if you loved Kaufman, and miss her, probably best to stop reading at this point. Hereafter, I'm doing the Devil's Advocate thing.)

08 December 2010

Goodbye, LES Youth

I spent my early years in New York on the Lower East Side, specifically Eldridge Street between Houston and Stanton. So the news this week just about stomped my 20s into the ground. Max Fish, the 21-year-old bar on Ludlow Street below Houston announced it would close for good in two months  owing to skyrocketing rent, courtesy of one Mordechai Weiss. Soon after, Max Fish neighbor The Pink Pony also said it was heading for the door.

I wasn't a regular at either, but I did visit on occasion, and both businesses loomed large in my daily life back then. Both owners say they will relocate elsewhere. Don't count on it.

Bad week for the Lower East Side.

Must every landlord wake up one day and decide to double the rent? Where's a wooden stake when you need one?

After the Mars Bar, Then What?

A year or so back, the owners of the East Village dive bar Mars Bar painted on their front wall the message "After the Mars Bars, Then What?" This struck fear into the hearts of locals, who thought the joint was closing. It wasn't.

But the question is a fair one today. It was announced yesterday that "BFC Partners, builders of luxury condos like Noho's 48 Bond and Downtown Brooklyn's Toren, plans to renovate part of the row and add new market-rate housing. This will cause the temporary closure of Mars Bar and its neighboring businesses."

More: "The plan is to combine the structures and build a new addition, perhaps bringing the height all the way up to 12 stories.... Mars Bar owner Hank Penza says he'll wind up with a space three or four times the size of the current bar. Oh, he also said this: 'They won't choke me. I didn't get off the boat yesterday with a pound of spaghetti in my hand.'"

So Penza is fine with this. I'm not. He'll have a bigger bar. Great. But it won't be the same bar, any more then Upper West Side icon P&G Cafe is now the same bar it was. It won't be the Mars Bar. The Mars Bar is a beautifully crummy, even dangerous dive. Make it four times its size and it's suddenly luxurious, years of grime and character scrubbed away. Also, part of the bar's charm is it's being the anchor of an equally crummy, low-rise block. The Mars atmosphere will be utterly crushed by 12 stories of gleaming housing.  

A Good Sign: Young City Fish Balls

A young city needs good fish balls.

07 December 2010

Hidden Sign

Just barely glimpsed this painted-over metal sign in the doorway of 163 Hester Street. Strain your eyes and you can see it's a soda ad and pick out the words "Select" up top and "Naturally Good" down below. Can't be certain what soda, but "Naturally Good" was the slogan for Mission Sodas back in the day. Mission was initially out of California, and produced soda from 1929 to 1970. They were famous for their orange soda, that, weirdly, was sold in a black bottle.

Best Sandwiches

Barber Shop Remains Barber Shop

Giorgio Zocco, the head barber at Carroll Gardens' Sal's Hairstylists—and known to everyone as "Sal"—died on April 4 at the age of 70. Many thought the old Smith Street space would be converted into something chic and urbane. And it has. But it's still a barber shop. It's called Persons of Interest, which is one of the most unfortunately pretentious shop names I've ever heard. But the space, while slick, is respectful of Zocco's memory. The old barber pole remains outside, as does the wall-size mural of some Italian seascape in the back—probably Pozzallo, Sicily, where Zocco was born. $40 a cut. I may give it a try, if only to take in that mural one more time.

06 December 2010

Strong Place Church Rings a Bell

The Strong Place Church in Cobble Hill began its conversion into a condo complex sometime well before Obama became President and the only Tea Partys in America were held by little girls in pink dresses. Today, it's near completion, with the wooden fencing around the property finally disassembled and the cast iron fence around the 1853 church back in view.

That fence is currently being restored by a crew of workman, who are busily sanding away years of rust and corrosion, and then painted the fence, well, a kind of rust color. The lawn to the west of the church has been re-sod and looks in fine shape. The whole building, in fact, is remarkably handsome.

But most intriguing is the sudden site of a humungous cast-iron bell, which must have sat in the belfry at one time but now rests at the edge of the lawn. I wonder what is to become of it. I assume it will stay where it is, functioning as a large lawn ornament.

I zoomed in on the inscription printed on the side of the bell. It says the bell was presented to the Strong Place Baptist Church in 1853, the same year the church was built. So it's original. The bell hails from Meneely's in West Troy, New York, the birthplace of many bells across the nation, once upon a time. Which means this bell is actually two years older than this Meneely's bell in downtown Manhattan.

I found this old testimonial from Rev. Dr. Taylor back in the 1850s: "The bell you recently placed in the tower of the Strong Place Church, I am happy to inform you, is giving the most entire satisfaction, both to the generous donor and the citizens generally. It is universally admired for the richness and fullness of its tone, which are unsurpassed by any other bell in this or our adjacent city. [Ed. note: That would be Manhattan, i.e., New York.] The perfection of your arrangement for hanging has excited alike our surprise and admiration."

I wish I could have heard it.

05 December 2010

Court Street at Sunset

03 December 2010

Elaine Kaufman, of Elaine's, Dies

Elaine's was never my scene. I didn't like the status-conscious, self-congratulatory air or Ms. Kaufman's often belligerent, anti-hostess attitude. But a New York classic is a New York classic, and Elaine's, and Elaine, were one of a kind. So this is very sad news. Here's the Times obit. She had not children. Have to wonder what's to become of the place.

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to King Yum?"

I made one of the biggest hauls in the history of "Who Goes There?" to get to King Yum in Fresh Meadows. Had to take the F all the way to the Kew Gardens stop and them hop the 46 bus a few miles down Union Turnpike. Took an hour or more. But I'm glad I did it. I've been hearing about this place for years. Wonderful decor inside (see below). But the food is terrible. I wish I could say otherwise. The stuff at the late lamented Jade Mountain, while never great, was better than this. Torpid salty sauces and low-quality ingredients. There's no call for it, particularly at the prices they charge, and given they own the building. It's all profit. So why not up the quality a notch or two. I hope they do. I'd like to see the place stick around. But you can't eat atmosphere.

Who Goes There? King Yum
There's been a lot of talk in food and drink circles this year about the tiki revival. I wonder if any of it has penetrated the thick walls of King Yum, where large tiki masks have stared with glowing eyes, and irony-free umbrella have graced "exotic" drinks for 57 years. If it has, it hasn't caused the Fresh Meadows institution to change a single thing about the way they do business. The old, thin Chinese waiters wear their red jackets. The unreconstructed Cantonese-American dishes come to the table in metal serving dishes, the kind with a silver lid over them—something I haven't seen since the East Village's Jade Mountain closed years back. And you get a fortune cookie at the end.

02 December 2010

Wooden Phone Booth Sighting: King Yum

At King Yum, the 57-year-old Chinese tiki joint, two wooden phone booths, just inside the door. As is sadly more and more the case these days, they are non-functioning. The phones have been removed. But these may be the one wooden phone booths in town that are lined with bamboo.

01 December 2010

How Much?

Caffe Roma