29 September 2011

Home Brew

A Flickr friend shared this Brooklyn photo with me. They wrote: "Back in my day, this used to be Lauterbach's, later on it was referred to as the No Name Pub. They used to have live music, even though the bar was in the basement of a row of residences. They uncovered the "Pub" sign from the No Name days... There used to be so many bars in this neighborhood, between 4th Avenue all the way up the hill and down to Church Avenue. Years later it became a day care, but that seems to have closed."


Lost City: Seattle Edition: Showgirls

Whenever I visit an American city for the first time, I usually find a place like this close to my hotel, right  in the center of downtown. Big, bawdy and kinda wonderful in its antiquated signage. In Seattle, the place was called Showgirls, a festival of purple and pink that was, I'm sure, named long before the Elizabeth Berkley film gave showgirls a bad name.

It's actually called Deja Vu Showgirls, for reasons I can not fathom. ("Wait a minute! I feel like I've seen that pole-dancer before!) I have no idea what the history of the place is—strip clubs aren't generally big on nostalgia. And I don't know what it looks like inside; ain't gonna happen, folks. I just like the big cheesy sign. And the old building it's attached to. And that the Military get free cover on Sundays. And that you can't buy alcohol inside owing to Seattle law.

Far Rockaway in 1970

This wonderful old photo (borrowed from the wonderful blog Rockaway Memories, which is a treasure trove of, well, Rockway memories) was taken at the corner of Mott and Central, looking south. Sigh. If that Chop Suey joint was there today, I'd go right now. What a great line of shops. Great cars, great bus, men still wearing hats.

But you know what? Where the King George is—it's still a coffee shop! The Corner Donut Coffee Shop. In the same exact building. It's called the Smith Building. Before the King George, it was home to Cushman's Bakery. So something's always been baking in there.

28 September 2011

Dickensian Courtyard Off Freeman Alley

Off Freeman Alley, the narrow little street off Rivington near Christie on the Lower East Side, just to the right as you approach Freemans, the unbearable and always busy hipster chow house and swilling den, is a hidden courtyard right out of Dickensian London. It's home to the gallery Mulherin and Pollard, and the entrance happened to be open when I passed one afternoon recently.

Rockaway Beach Mystery Solved

In response to my query about the past of this interesting Rockaway Beach building, a reader writes in:
The building housed one of the best bars in Rockaway, Gilroy's. It was owned by Felix Gilroy who was there every single day it was opened. He served freshly cooked Roast Beef sandwiches that I've never tasted better anywhere. The tapped beer and bottles, the coldest. Bar was immaculate with, what was considered important, the greatest stacked juke box in the Rockaway's. I worked as a bartender at Gilroy's and Felix, from Ireland, was a "gift!"

Lyceum Theatre Elevator Will Still Be Running When You're Dead

The Lyceum Theatre, erected in 1903, is the oldest continually operating theatre on Broadway. And one of the most beautiful, to boot. It was built by showman Daniel Frohman, who kept his offices on the top floor, above the high-ceilinged lobby. (The chair Froman used to ruminate in is there still. So is a trap door through which he could spy on the action on stage.)

The Shubert Organization bought the W. 45th Street theatre back in 1950. For some years, they've made Frohman's office the home of the capacious Shubert Archives, a peerless resource of theatrical documents and photography.

To get to the archives, you have to take the hand-operated private elevator that was once only accessible to Frohman and his guests. (You still need an appointment with the archives to visit.) It's a small, old Otis elevator, and is extant, having been installed when the theatre was built. It's a bit on the shabby side at this point, but still has a faded grandeur, what with its mirrors and moldings. And it's still operated by hand. (See the lever below.) An elevator inspector recently gave it the once-over. He said, the way it was built, it will run forever.

27 September 2011

A Good Sign: Golden Styles Salon

"The Science of Hair," Man! Check out the beakers. And who the hell is named Hubert anymore?!

In Rockaway Beach.

Remembering Hotalings News Service

This shuttered storefront on W. 42nd Street, just off Broadway, once contained the Hotalings News Agency. In the days before the Internet changed everything, Hotalings was an essential cog in the New York media machine. It was where citizens and journalists alike went to find foreign newspapers and magazines. Hotalings carried daily editions of publications from across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and elsewhere. If, for instance, you were an agent wondering how your client had fared in a play that had opened in London the day before, the only way you could read the reviews was to run to Hotalings. I went there often, and I know I wasn't the only reporter to do so.

It was founded in 1905—from a perch in Times Square since 1926—and run by three succession generations of Hotalings. The advent of the Internet killed the business pretty swiftly in the late '90s. It closed June 30, 1999, and moved to a small kiosk in the newly opened Times Square Visitors Center. After a few years, if left there, too. There's still a listing for a Hotalings News Service on W. 52nd Street. Not sure of the level of their business these days.

26 September 2011

Beautiful, Mysterious Rockaway Building

This is a building at 90-01 Rockaway Beach Boulevard that quickly captured my imagination. I think the mid-century architecture—part pragmatism, part stylish modernism—is fantastic. The oval, aquarium-like windows alone are amazing, particularly the one on the corner.

Something about the design tells me this was a dinner club or fancy restaurant once upon a time, though I can find no proof to back this up. Today it's the Seaside Senior Center.

I'm become somewhat fascinated with Rockaway lately, partly because so little of its past remains, partly because that past was so glorious, as interesting and bountiful as the more familiar story of its sister beach community, Coney Island. I have a friend down there who owns one of the few remaining bungalows. How this community must have looked when there were rows upon rows of these lovely huts.

Brooklyn Post Office Lookin' Nifty

The grand downtown Brooklyn Post Office and Federal Bankruptcy Court has been swathed in scaffolding and netting for what seems like forever. But lately the encasements have been coming down and the work beneath is lovely to behold, both in its sparkling hue and delightful details.

It's taken a while. A renovation of the landmarked General Post Office building on Cadman Plaza was announced in 1999. The Postal Service had decamped a decade before, leaving the structure empty except for a post office branch in the ground floor. The government declared it would be expanded for Federal courtroom uses at a cost of $129 million.

The costs since then have tripled. And a schedule completion date of 2002 passed long ago.

The Romanesque Revival structure was built in 1892 as a Federal courthouse, from a design by Mifflin E. Bell, when Brooklyn was its own city, with an extension constructed in 1933 built by James A. Wetmore. Its historic features, including a skylight in the older section and the interior atrium that it overlooks, plaster columns, ceiling paintings, mahogany doors, signage, wainscotting and marble floors, have been restored to their original condition.

25 September 2011

Fortune House Owners Out in Labor Dispute

The Fortune House, the classic old Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, recently closed for renovations. Or so the sign in the window said.

Turns out the owners were less than upstanding citizens. The New York Post reported that the shuttering occurred because that had been underpaying their staff for years:
Three ex-staffers at Fortune House – include two who worked there more than 10 years – claimed in a suit filed in Brooklyn federal court July 8 that they were paid cash-only, below minimum wage and never collected overtime pay despite working shifts lasting between 10 to 12 hours a day.
Angel Miranda-Alvarado of Queens, who was hired as a dishwasher in 1985 and worked his way up to cook, claims he worked 66 hours a week but only received $600 — and no overtime pay. Prior to 2009, he earned $380 working the same hours, the suit says. The other plaintiffs are Manuel Chiqui of Brooklyn and Eddie Miranda-Vasquez of Queens.
Lost City does not approve of such behavior. I never would have eaten there, or made the restaurant a subject of "Who Goes There?," if I had known. 

The new owner Han Dieb will operate on the up and up. However, he does not know if he'll retain the name. Would be a shame if he didn't. Because that would mean the removal of the wonderful old sign. 

Jalopy Theatre Takes Over Old Moonshine Bar Space

The Moonshine Bar is in good hands.

Last month came the worrisome news that the Columbia Street bar—which contains an interior and an old wooden backbar that has been used by one tavern or another since 1934 (and probably before that)—was closing. The fate of the space and its beautiful old bar (and its rare working cigarette machine) were in question.

For weeks, there was obscure talk around the neighborhood that the new owners of the address would reopen it as a bar. But nobody knew anything about these mysterious new proprietors. Turns out they lived right next door. The people behind The Jalopy Theatre, the improbably successful music venue (at least in my opinion; it's so out of the way, I don't know where their crowds come from), will reopen the Moonshine at the Jalopy Tavern. It says "bar and grill," so I guess there will be food. No word on an opening date.

UPDATE: This, from the owner: the bar will remain. The cigarette machine left with the previous owner.

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to The Tap and Grill?"

The Tap & Grill in Rockaway Beach was a real find. I had no idea it existed when I walked by it by accident, when on my way to Rockaway Tacos, which is right down the street. Rockaway Tacos has gotten an avalanche of press. Yet I've never read a thing about this institution, which has been around since 1934, and is the last remnant of the summer vacationland that Rockaway used to be.

Here's my Eater column:

23 September 2011

A Story to Break Your Heart

From Grub Street. File Under: The Long, Sad, Death of Coney Island:
Summer officially ended yesterday, and soon the unofficial season at Coney Island will end as well. When it does, seven mom-and-pops on the boardwalk will shut forever — including Paul’s Daughter, the one my family owns.
Central Amusement International, which the city hired to manage its property at Coney Island, wants what company president Valerio Ferrari calls a "more refined, cleaner" feel for the boardwalk. And the shops the company is shuttering "don’t fit into [CAI’s] vision."
There have been "Last Summers" before, including 2009, when my father watched as the Astroland rocket was torn off his shop's roof. But this past summer, Central Amusement asked the mom-and-pops to submit nine-year business plans in order to see if we could make our shop fit into Ferrari’s vision. My sister, Tina, submitted ours and offered to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to modernize our shop. It didn't matter; I believe the decision to evict had been made long before the plans were submitted. After being a part of Coney Island for the last six decades, we now have to close the store next month. My father says losing the store is "like a death in the family."
My dad, Chief as he's known on the Island, has been out there for 63 years, almost since the day he arrived in the United States from Greece. Chief started at a milk bar under the BMT depot when he was 21 years old. There, he met Gregory Bitetzakis, a fellow Greek. The two would go on to become partners for half a century. They worked for another Greek, known by everyone as Pineapple, until 1962, when they opened their first Gregory & Paul's on the boardwalk at West 8th.
They eventually opened three more. They lost one in 1968, when Nelson Rockefeller bought the land and donated it to the Aquarium. A fire destroyed another in 1980. Gregory closed the second-to-last location when he retired in 2009.
As a kid, I loved visiting the shop. I'd get a grape drink from the dispensers and thick crinkle-cut fries as they came out of the fryer, something I still do.
As teenagers, my sister and I worked on holidays. I have never spent the Fourth of July anywhere else. When the weather was good, the crowds were so deep you couldn't see the boardwalk or the ocean, just lines of hot hungry people, for hours on end.
In 2009, after the rocket had been taken down, Chief decided to give up his last remaining store. My sister offered to take it over; she's the one who renamed it Paul's Daughter.
It's always seemed to me that both my father and the store would go on forever — there has always been a store, and my father's always been there. I have no memories of him anywhere else when I was a kid (other than two blurry images of him on line at Radio City's Christmas show).
But now, we must pack up the store and vacate no later than November 4, even though our hearts are still in Coney Island — and business is still great. "Maybe I'll start over on the Bowery," Chief says, referring to the alley in Coney Island, not the now-hot stretch in Manhattan. Whatever happens, the store will continue for me, with the rocket on its roof, Chief behind the grill, and lines of people stretching out to the sand.

Haunted House Feels Need to Be Scarier

I love this decrepit, once-grand, old house in Rockaway Beach. It's a perfect model for a haunted house, with its pillars, recessed upper stories, peeling paint and general lack of upkeep. And YET, the owners feel a need to put out copious Halloween decorations. Talk about gilding the lily. Any kid would be a fool not to trick or treat here.

22 September 2011

Some Food Vendor Really Likes Rachel Maddow

City Creates Cages for Times Square Mall Tourists

Finally, the City has come up with a solution as to what to do with all those tourists loafing around the food court/pedestrian mall/eyesore the Bloomberg administration has made out of Times Square. They've set down a few bowl-like wooden cages for the lazy, unsightly loungers, thus making it easier for busy, rushing New Yorkers to go about their midtown business. To subvert any pesky unwillful imprisonment laws, the City has wisely kept the cages open, making entry and exit a completely voluntary matter. Not surprisinglyly, the tourists walk right in and seem the like the enclosures. Let's have more of these teacup-shaped tourist traps! 

21 September 2011

Carroll Gardens Homeowner's Thumb Too Green

The residents at 198 Union Street sure like plants. As long as I've know this address (more than a decade), the stoop, walls and courts have overflowed with greenery. Summer, spring, fall and winter, the  plants are there, nearly blocking the way to the door (feel sorry for the UPS man), covering the brownstone walls, turning the courtyard into a forest.

The Other Skyline

Frame it just right, from the right angle, cutting off bits of ugliness on the left and right, and the clutter and clamor below, and downtown Brooklyn cuts a lovely and dignified profile. Latest Landmarks Commission Historic District? Hell, yeah! Absolutely deserving. 75 Livingston is one of the best buildings in the whole city.

20 September 2011

Alchemy Doesn't Want You to See

Every time I pass the blue plywood that surrounds the block of Court between Union and Sackett Streets in Carroll Gardens, my son says, "Dad, I miss the hospital that was here."

I do too, kid. But the Clarett Group got their way back in 2008, bypassing community wishes and input, and tore down the old International Longshoreman's Association so the could erect a big black, 84-foot-tall mausoleum they pompously called "The Collection." Then, the economy bottomed out, and Carroll Gardens was left with a big, block-long hole of dirt, eventually overgrown with weeds.

Since then, Clarett, showing the utter disregard they've always held for the neighborhood, pulled out. Recently, reports PMFA, the site was acquired by Alchemy Properties, a development, marketing and consulting firm. Apparently, they don't like unions, because a big inflatable rat appeared outside the site earlier this month.

Anyway, construction is continuing, and the monstrous and monstrously out-of-place steel frame is falling into place. Saw a crane about eight stories tall working the joint the other day.

In a comical side show, Alchemy had covered over with blue-pained wood the plexiglass windows that Clarett installed in the plywood wall to show the public their utter transparency.

The Shell of a Shake Shack

For its Brooklyn debut, Danny Meyer's Shake Shack empire has taken over an interesting building on the far western end of ugly Fulton Mall. It's a polygon-shaped, two-story structure bordered by Fulton, Peal and Willoughby. It used to contain a terrible pizza joint and still does have a dentist's office with a big red sign on the second floor.

The Ugly Condo Complexes of Vinegar Hill

Charming, charming Vinegar Hill. What ugly new condo complexes you have.

I was paying a visit to the Vinegar Hill House restaurant the other night when what do I encounter on my way back to the subway but one atrocious new apartment building after another. First came this one, 85 Hudson Street. The architect appears to have been going for the Early Erasmus Hall style. Seriously, I thought this was a school at first. Instead, it's just a gauche and gaudy pile of would-be classy bricks.

19 September 2011

Rat-Squirrel House Gets a New Roof

Last week I noticed that some workman chipped away the ancient cornice from the Cobble Hill public hazard known as the Rat-Squirrel House. It was the first work done on the poor, bedraggled, landmark building in months and months, ever since the old brick building was girdled in scaffolding and netting more than a year ago.

This weekend, I noticed that old 149 Kane Street had been given a new roof. The building had been letting in the rain for years, its old roof sad and sagging. I saw a few rolls of new tar on Friday. By Sunday, it has been unfurled and attached to the top of the four-story structure.

Last week, Curbed wondered who was doing this work, since there was a stop work notice in effect for this address. Perhaps the construction firm read this, because by Sunday the door was pasted with six Department of Building Work Permits, all giving the green light to all sorts of activity. What sort of activity? Well, let me tell you. Lead removal, renovation of interior walls and ceilings, replacement of the roof, facade renovation, new plumbing, general wiring, etc.

The Rat-Squirrel House is getting a new lease of life.

18 September 2011

The Fate of Fultummy's

Fultummy's, the erratic but strangely endearing sandwich joint on Columbia Street in Brooklyn, appears to have sliced its last loaf. It's been closed for nearly a month, with a hard-to-interpret sign on the door reading "Sorry. We are closed." What? For good? For the day?

On the restaurant's blog, the owners last posted on July 20, saying they would reopen on July 27. My hopes aren't high. The place was addled from the first, never strictly keeping to its posted hours, always closing at the drop of the hat to "improve the menu," forgetting to fire up the stove on some days. They never really got their act together. It would be a shame if they closed, however. The sandwiches were good. The fries, too. And the iced coffee was the best in the vicinity. Also loved the free wi-fi.

This address, by the way, is the first home of the old Brooklyn bakery Monteleone's.

17 September 2011

The Original Original Ray's Closes in Little Italy

I've always wondered where the original Ray's Pizza was, the one that gave birth to so many imitators around town. Now I know. Unfortunately, the reason I know is that it's closing and the New York Times wrote a long piece about it. 

The first Ray's was just called Ray's. It's at 27 Prince Street, and was founded by a guy named Ralph Cuomo (who preferred the name Ray). Well, jeez, I know this place. I've walked by it many times. (Never eaten there.) Had no idea it was the real Ray's. The place is now closing over a dispute over the lease of the building, which was held by Cuomo, who died in 2008. 

I learned a lot from the very entertaining Times article. One, he founded the place in 1959. Two, the confusion over which Ray's was the first one began when "In the 1960s, Mr. Cuomo briefly opened a second pizza shop, near East 59th Street, but he sold it, and that shop’s new owner, Rosolino Mangano, kept the name Ray’s. Other Ray’s Pizzas popped up, and Mr. Mangano insisted his was first." (Mangano sounds like a real schnook.) Three, Cuomo was connected to the Luchese family, dealt heroine, was arrested a few times, and spent time in jail. 

The writer, Michael Wilson, got one thing right. The most common two words uttered in every pizzeria in town are: "What else?"

16 September 2011

Le Petite Auberge to Close

Another "Who Goes There?" bites the dust.

Le Petite Auberge, the gracious, old world, East Side French restaurant—once a haunt of the publishing world and Jackie O—will close on Oct. 8 after a 35 year run, according to Eater. The restaurant's website says the owners Marcel GuĂ©laff and Raymond Auffret are retiring.

Here's my write-up from May 2010.

Ritual on Wheels

Long before haute cart food culture ran amok, there was Moshe's Falafel. The cart, long a fixture at Sixth and W. 46th, has been serving up what is basically artisan falafel for more than a decade. And the line has always been long every lunchtime. Unlike the many other food carts that haunt the city streets these days, however, Moshe's practices a religion beyond the foodie cult. Actual religion, in fact. It's a little bit of Borough Park in Midtown. Thus, it is the only food cart I know that has a sink attached, where the observant can ritually wash their hands before eating.

15 September 2011

Rat-Squirrel House Loses Its Cornice

The Rat-Squirrel House—once the decrepit, derelict, haunted wonder of Cobble Hill, now just another fixer-upper—is getting some work done.

The landmarked, but distressed, red brick home has been covered in scaffolding and netting for more than a year now. Every now and then the newly installed metal door (which replaced the old wooden one after the joint was raided by official like a crack den in 2009 and the crazy owner sent packing) is opened and some workers could be seen bustling about. But other than gutting the rotted interior, the building's look didn't change much. It looked, as it always has, like it was about to fall down.

But this week, workers have been up to serious business. Bit by bit, they removed the ancient cornice. In past posts, I've wondered aloud when the dropping wooden cornice would finally fall and kill someone. It never did, though it hung lower and lower with each passing season. Now its gone. Will the workers continue on down, brightening and sprucing up the facade? Wait and watch.

14 September 2011

Public to Private

The Queens Health Network apparently didn't want to spend the extra money for an awning long enough to completely cover up the former identity of this Corona building. On the side, it's still clear as day that it was a branch of the NYC Department of Health. The wonderful bold lettering lends a certain amount of style to what is otherwise of boring brick building.

Frank's of Dongan Hills

Just a few steps from the Dongan Hills station on Staten Island's only subway line there is Frank's Barber Shop. There isn't much in Dongan Hills, commerce wise, so I would guess Frank's might count as a sort of community hub, even though there are two other barbers within walking distance of the business.

It's an old-fashioned barber shop with old-fashioned chairs, a lot of old photographs on the wall, and a display case full of old barbering equipment. I have no idea how long it's been there. 1950s, at least, but probably earlier.

I like this sign. I imagine it once hung outside the shop. Today, it sits inside the display window.

13 September 2011

Ziegfeld's Rooftop Garden Not Completely Gone

Say what you want about Disney, they did an inestimable service to the City (to the nation, to the World) in saving and restoring the New Amsterdam Theatre to its former glory. The nutsy, rococco, Art Nouveau auditorium is a thrill to behold, not to mention the long narrow entryway and the wondrous Men's Smoking Lounge. But, as much as I love the building, one part of it I always mourned and assumed gone forever: The rooftop garden theatre. Back in the day showman Florenz Ziegfeld used to stage his storied "Midnight Frolics" there. 

Clover Deli Needs a Light

The Clover Delicatessen neon sign—one of the most goddam gorgeous in the city—is in a sorry state. Half the letters, on both sides, are out. Below is the sign in better days. C'mon guys—get it together!

Penn Station and Its Kooky Stores

There's not much appealing about the modern Penn Station. But I am sort of strangely charmed by the oddball assortment of indy businesses that have found a home in the seedy bowels of that transit hub.

Of all the wordplays on the word tie, Tiecoon has got to be the worst, the corniest. Which, of course, makes it awesome.

11 September 2011

Broadway Shoeshine Now Much Harder to Get

One of my favorite shoe shine shops used to be on the south side of W. 44th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. I often stopped there to give my zapatos a gloss when on my way to a Broadway show, or when visiting one of my favorite bars, Jimmy's Corner, which is just a couple doors down. It was called Star Shine, was quite spacious, and a nice place to catch up on the papers while you had your shoes done. I was appalled (and left with dusty walkers) the other day to find it was gone, and replaced by another branch of the loathed chain Subway, which is a verminous kudzu spreading across the metropolis.

One of the the things I've always loved about New York is ease with which one can get one's shoes shined. Little hole-in-the-wall shops used to be everywhere. Lately, I've been noticing they're closing. It's not a good sign.

"21" Club Bathroom Murals Safe After Renovation

I dread every change that is made to the "21" Club. Every alteration takes us that much further from the original item, that much along the road away from a New York historical marvel that needs no change. When they eliminated the coat-and-tie dress code, my stomach turned. When they removed the original bar and replaced it with a shortened facsimile, a bit of my soul died.

Recently, the owners, Orient-Express Hotels Inc., decided to sweep out the front lounge area and replace it with a modern cocktail bar, complete with stools and draft beer (something never before seen at "21"). The bar would displace the restrooms. My heart sank a bit at this news. While I welcomed the bar—which makes it easier for humble folk of limited means, such as myself, to patronize "21"—I worried about the bathrooms. The men's room—which has long been presided over by a men's room attendant, a gracious, loquacious character called "The Rev"—was home to some wonderful and witty murals.

The artworks, executed in the 1930s by the now-largely-forgotten society artist Charles "Top Hat" Baskerville, depict various well-heeled ladies and gentlemen relieving themselves in whimsical, highly unlikely ways. I worried about the murals' fate.
But while the entrance to the men's bathroom has been shifted from the south wall of the lobby to the west, the bathrooms are essentially to the same, and the murals are untouched. It was a great, uh, relief to see them again.