30 September 2013

Old Cafe Sign Uncovered on Upper West Side

They are doing some construction on the building at 54 W. 74th Street, near the corner of Columbus, and an old neon sign reading "Cafe"—likely part of a sign that once said "Cafeteria"—was uncovered. An observant reader noticed and sent me the above photo.

A Pioneer market is still in place there—you can see the old "P" logo. The reader says it's been there since 1959. Apparently, it's a bit of a local institution. The construction work is being carried out by the landlord.

I could find out nothing about the name or nature of the cafeteria that once sat here. But the building itself has a lot of history. 54 W. 74th is part of a row of neo-Georgian buildings at 18-52 West 74th built in 1904. They were among the last private houses built on the West Side, and—according to The New York Times—the final development project of the Clark family, who built the Dakota.

(Photo credit: Geoff)

A Good Sign: Mayday Hardware

It's a riot of wonderful signage over at Mayday Hardware in Prospect Heights. Vertical signs, horizontal signs, hanging signs. It could have been designed by Alexander Calder.

Mayday (great name) has been around since 1964. It's owned by Jerry Walsh, who started working there in 1966. Accounts of this place on the web are bonkers. Some love Jerry, and some say the service is incredibly rude, and the prices jacked up. ("Jerry is the best!" "I'll never go there again!") The  responses are so varied, it's like the store is bi-polar. Jerry apparently smokes cigars in the store, which irks some.

28 September 2013

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

Part of what makes my "Who Goes There?" columns for Eater so much continuing fun is the solid knowledge that, no matter how long I do it, I will still come across a New York classic or oddity every now and then that I have never visited before and sometimes had never known of before. A regular reader suggested I go to Neary's on E. 57th Street a few months ago. I had never heard the name, but made a note of it. Everything I read about the place mentioned the host, Jimmy Neary, as being the jewel of the enterprise.

I finally ate there last week, and weren't all those accounts right. Jimmy's a gem. And the place is cozy, in a rich, Upper East Side kind of way and the food decent. I am intrigued by the fact that Neary's is open until 4 a.m.—a rarity in that neighborhood. I plan one day to see what the joint is like in the wee hours.

Here's my column:

26 September 2013

Harvey's Chelsea House Bar Survives

Last December, I posted a long remembrance of a little-remembered old Chelsea bar and restaurant called Harvey's Chelsea House. It was one of those old, dark-wood, manly places from another era. It stood at 108 W. 18th Street and had a huge, vertical, three-story sign that said "Harvey's." Inside, there was a long bar, high ceilings, tile floors, beveled glass and a dining room in the back. I didn't know it at the time, but the joint had opened in 1889 (under some name or other) as one of the original Annhauser-Busch bars, and that bar was made of red, burled, Honduras mahogany. A man named Dick Harvey took it over in 1977, hence the name. 

After Harvey gave it up, the place remained closed for a while, then was reopened as Tonic by one Steve Tzolis, the principal owner of Il Cantinori, Periyali and Aureole, all restaurants in Manhattan. Tonic didn't work out, and the building was torn down in 2006. In my post, I wondered, "What became of the beautiful bar, the mahogany, the cast iron, the glass, the brass?"

Now I know. A sharp-eyed reader alerted me to the opening of a new place on 60th and Lex called, simply, The Bar Room. It is run by that same Steve Tzolis. And guess where Steve got the bar for his new place? That's right. It's the 124-year-old bar from Harvey's! According to Zagat, "A black and white checkerboard floor mirroring the original at Harvey’s."

Above is an old postcard of the bar at Harvey's. Below is a picture of the bar at The Bar Room. Looks like the same item to me. I will be visiting personally soon to find out in person. 

In the meantime, please enjoy this memory from a former waiter at Harvey's.

24 September 2013

Neon Miracle: Long Island Restaurant Sign Is Lit

I was passing by the old, long-dormant Long Island Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue last night and was stunned to see something that Brooklynites hasn't laid eyes on in many years: the classic old neon sign ablaze!

The new leasers of the space, who intend to open a bar and restaurant, recently sent the sign to Let There Be Neon to be restored. It was reinstalled a couple weeks ago. This is the first I've seen it lit. (There was someone busy inside working at the time, and the historic interior was looking in good shape.) The color scheme surprised me, with Long Island in green, and the rest a mix of red and pink. But it certainly adds a bit of dash to the far end of Atlantic.

20 September 2013

The Medical Examiner's House

Clinton Hill, having once been a prime residential neighborhood for the well-to-do, is chock-a-block with interesting structures in a wide variety of grand architectural styles. Almost every address merits one's attention and examination. But on a recent trek through the neighborhood, this little three-story affair at 417 Washington Avenue caught my eye. It was noticeably smaller than its brethren, but its builder seems to have aimed for grandiosity as best as he could, tacking on a Mansard roof and handsome circular portico.

Given its design and its being made of wood, I guessed it was an old building. Real estate listing indicated it was built in 1901. The size made me wonder if it was once a servents' quarters. But that apparently wasn't the case. Until 1938, it was owned by a family named Cruikshank. In that year, they sold it to Dr. Raymond B. Miles, who used the house as his residence.

Miles was an Assistant Medical Examiner, and well-known in the city. When his name appeared in the papers, which was frequently, it was usually in connection to the death of a famous person, often a suicide. A number of these were former Wall Street brokers who had lost everything in the crash. Back then, it seemed, quite a few men jumped from the windows of the Yale Club on Vanderbilt Avenue, including a scion of the Gimbel's department store clan, and a former star quarterback for Yale.

18 September 2013

Manganaro Name to Leave Ninth Avenue Altogether

They fought over their right to exist and to the name Manganaro for decades. And now, as some sort of seeming poetic justice, both businesses that have long borne that name will vanish forever from Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen.

Manganaro's Grosseria Italiana, the ancient and argumentative sandwich shop and grocery, closed last year after 121 years. Now, Manganaro's Hero-Boy, it's longtime rival, owned by another faction of the fractious, litigious family, is leaving the street. It's being forced out by its landlord. According to Eater, the building and the space next door were sold to a developer for $15.75 million, and the new owner wants the shop to vamoose. The sale was brokered by the vulture-like Massey Knakal, which is usually on the scene when old businesses and old buildings die in New York. (I personally was shocked to learn that Hero-Boy didn't own the building.)

Hero-Boy was founded in 1956. I used to eat at Hero-Boy often when I worked in Times Square in the 1990s. I'd trudge the extra blocks to dine on cheap and delicious sandwiches in what was then a very homey, down-to-earth setting. It was still kind of a locals' secret back then. Many neighborhood workers has their lunches there, and much Italian was spoken. The place has since slicked things up and the place lost a lot of character.

I used to love walking down this stretch of Ninth Avenue. It was so gritty, so real, so evocative of an older New York. A lot of what I liked is now gone.

17 September 2013

The Last Vestige of the Nefarious Sire Brothers

There's a collection of three slim, handsome buildings on W. 58th Street between Seventh and Broadway that look about a century old. Two are easy to identify. 215 W. 58th is a firehouse, built in 1906. 213 W. 58th, the AIA guide tells me, was the Helen Miller Gould Stables, built in 1903. The origins of 211 W. 58th, however, weren't as easy to discover. 

It was the carved word near the cornice that got my attention: SIRE. What did it mean? The structure is older than its fellows. According to the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, it was built in 1885 in the Victorian Gothic style. 

Turns out Sire is a name. And quite a name it was once upon a time. A name everyone knew and a name that commanded attention. And a name that many people probably cursed. The Sire family, which hailed from Germany, was a real estate clan founded by Benjamin Sire. Ben have five sons: Albert, Henry, Meyer, Leander and Maurice and they all went into the business in one way or another. 

Lost City: Milwaukee Edition: A Good Sign: Kneisler's White House

Kneisler's is an bar, founded in 1891, that dominates an intersection in the Bayview neighborhood of south Milwaukee—just as it must have done a century ago when it served the surrounding community as a bar, restaurant, gathering place, political center and all-around town hall. The ornate, decorative back bar is still in place, as are the old ice boxes. If you're a regular here, you can get your own Kneisler's glass mug. They'll keep it for you and pull it down whenever you stop in for a brew. Apparently, the place is haunted by a little girl who died young back in 1906 or so. You can see a picture of her in one of the old photos that line that bar. I spoke to a bartender who said she had heard the girl running around the place. She was serious and did not seem crazy.

15 September 2013

A Reminder of Something Not Worth Remembering

There aren't many New Yorkers who harbor warm memories of The Coliseum, the ugly, hulking convention center that Robert Moses built in 1956 on Columbus Circle as a monument to himself. Nobody shed a tear when it was torn down in 2000. The Time Warner Center may not be an enormous improvement, charm-wise, but at least it's got some good restaurants in it, and affords inhabitants a thrilling view of the Circle and Central Park.

One person remembers The Coliseum daily, however. The owner of the Coliseum Bar & Restaurant, which sits on E. 58th Street, directly opposite when its namesake used to sit. It has operated under that name since 1978, when The Coliseum must have seemed as permanent a part of Manhattan as the Empire State. It's part of a group of pubs, all owned by the same people; they include The Molly Wee Pub, The Emerald and O'Reilly's and four others. These are all in midtown and—aside from the Molly Wee, fairly free of character. But if all you want is a pint, and the game, they'll do.

The Coliseum Bar space has been a bar since 1949, when it was a hangout for The Westies gang.

11 September 2013

Lost City: Wisconsin Edition: Jumes Restaurant Is Dead

Back in 2008, I posted a short item about Jumes, a wonderful old corner diner in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I swung by the place earlier this summer to sadly find it out of business.

As I wrote back then, it once called itself the oldest continually operating restaurant in the city, having begun life in 1929. Jumes actually opened its doors on Oct. 1—just daysbefore Wall Street took a dive. George and Ted Jumes were Greeks; George came over to America when he was merely 14. Their first Sheboygan restaurant was called the Coney Island Restaurant, for some reason. It was renamed Jumes when it moved in 1951 to its present—and now final—location. A fire gutted the place in 1990, but it soldiered on.

10 September 2013

The Smallest Pizzeria in New York

I first encountered Luigi's Pizzeria, on DeKalb Avenue, in the early '90s. I woman I was dating was attending Pratt Institute, and we would pass by the hole in the wall often, and sometimes stop for a slice. I was stunned then—as I still am today—by the size of the joint. It is a shoebox. Maybe 10 feet wide, with low ceilings, there is room inside for a couple pizza ovens, a small counter, a fridge for drinks and a few people. It used to seem even more cramped back there because a big sign saying "Liugi's" hung over the entrance, dwarfing the place even further. Today the sign is gone, giving the pizzeria a slightly more airy look.

Liugi's was founded in 1983 by three immigrants from Sicily: Rosario Longo, and the brothers Angelo and Luigi Viaggio. They went to school together at P.S. 86 and became friends. The brothers started a pizzeria in Greenpoint in the late '70s, and Longo soon started to work for them. (On a sad note, Liugi passed away in January 2012. )

Liugi's has a captive audience in the hundreds of students that go to Pratt. College students eat pizza the way cops eat donuts. They can't help themselves. And there's not another pizzeria for blocks. So Liugi's pies don't have to be good. But the pies actually are quite good. Every slice I've had there has been hot, gooey, tangy and flavorful. Not too doughy, either. A nice think crust. It's an well-above-average NewYork slice. They also don't gouge. The price of a slice there is about the same as one anywhere in town.

09 September 2013

Lost City: Milwaukee Edition: A Good Sign: Leon's Custard

Leon's has been serving superlative custard in south Milwaukee since 1942. The roadside sign, dating from the '50s, is a work of art. The stand itself, seen below, ain't so bad either. Local legend has it that Leon's was the inspiration for Arnold's, the drive-in featured in "Happy Days."

08 September 2013

A Good Sign: D & M Pratt Liquors

Big, bold, red and brazen, D & M Pratt Liquors is in Clinton Hill, at the corner of Washington and Myrtle. Not the old metal "Discount" sign on the side, and the angled entrace.

06 September 2013

The Windows of La Declice Pastry Shop

La Delice Pastry Shop is a small corner bakery at 27th and Third Avenue. It's been in business for nearly 80 years. I rarely get the chance to visit it since I'm not in this neighborhood very often. But it's always a delight to encounter it when I am in that area. The storefront always comes as a happy surprise to me, so perfect is it in its old-school stylings. And the windows, chock full of colorful sweets, are always worth a long, lingering gander. Take a look:

05 September 2013

Lost City: Wisconsin Edition: Fred's Parkview

While driving through Burlington, Wisconsin—a mid-sized town in southeastern Wisconsin with a impressive number of old buildings and old businesses—to visit a particular tavern (about which I will post another time), I chanced upon this lunch room, Fred's, in the center of town. Fred's, a single-story corner building which has evidently been added to over the years, boasts of having the "World's Best Burgers." I didn't have time to test that claim, but I can attest that it has one of the world's best storefronts. Take a look at that unique bit of neon on the front of a man chowing down on one of Fred's choice burgers.

04 September 2013

Long Island City's Shannon Pot to Go Under?

A reader wrote in to tell us that The Shannon Pot, the reliable old tavern and grill in Long Island City, not far from the Court Street subway stop, will be razed, along with the building it's in, in the next months. Taking its place will be, yes, another condo tower.

The Shannon Pot isn't in the top tier when it comes to city dives or Irish pubs, but it's been a dependable presence in the neighborhood for some time, and served as the backdrop of a number "Law & Order" and "Third Watch" episodes. Artists from the nearby P.S. 1 sometimes hang out here on the weekends for a cheap beer, and the lunch trade is brisk with local workers. But mainly this is a local joints.

I can find no history of the building prior to its incarnation as The Shannon Pot. But the whole look of the building tells me its probably been a tavern for many years, and probably functioned under many names. The disused side door tells of an old-fashioned "Ladie's Entrance" that once existed. And there are tin ceilings and a room in back that looks like it may have been a kitchen or part of someone's former apartment.