Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sometimes Overwhelming

"Sometimes Overwhelming," Arlene Gottfried's black-and-white shots of the people of New York in the 1970s and 80s, opens November 6 at Daniel Clooney Fine Art.

When the photos were published as a book in 2008, Vulture called her "a quiet defender of the grimily vibrant denizens of an older New York that’s disappearing daily":

"Ask photographer Arlene Gottfried if she thinks the New York characters she’s shot for 40 years from Coney Island to Times Square and Harlem are freaks, and she bristles. 'I don’t think they’re freaks, because then I’d be a freak, too.'"

On her work on Nuyorican culture of the Lower East Side, Contour magazine wrote: "Her photos are gritty, colorful and unflinchingly honest—occasionally heart-rending—yet throughout there is a sensibility of seeking the light in each person and honoring their lives with love and compassion."

Her upcoming show features 30 vintage photographs taken across the city, from Soho to Coney Island. Don't miss it.

(She's also comedian Gilbert Gottfried's sister.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dear Taylor

In today's Daily News, I've written an open letter to Taylor Swift, New York City's Global Welcome Ambassador:

Dear Taylor,

Since you were named New York City’s “Global Welcome Ambassador,” you’ve been widely mocked, including by this paper. Sure, haters gonna hate. They say you’re not qualified for the job because you’ve only been in New York for a few months, you live in the luxury bubble of a $20 million penthouse and you don’t eat dirty-water hot dogs.

I disagree. For those reasons and more, you are absolutely qualified to welcome bright-eyed visitors to the new New York, a city that has been made over into a sterilized playground for suburbanites, tourists and oligarchs...

Please read the whole thing here

*Note: In the print edition, the News added a subhead saying I'm a native. I am not.

Update: The New York Post's editorial board responded quickly to the Swift backlash. They quote me as a snarky "snob":

"No sooner had Taylor Swift been named Global Welcome Ambassador for New York than the snobs opened fire. One complains she’s a 'whitebread out-of-towner' only recently moved here. Another snarks how the seven-time Grammy winner is the perfect choice for a city 'made over into a sterilized playground for suburbanites, tourists and oligarchs.'"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Posman Books

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has decided to evict Posman Books from Grand Central Terminal. They are refusing to renew the local independent bookseller's lease, reports Crain's. Posman's has to be out by December 31.

photo: Crain's

The beloved bookstore's space "will be used as a short-term storage area during the construction of the new eateries planned for Vanderbilt Hall," a new tower to be built. However, the Rite-Aid next door to Posman's will remain in business, untouched by the hand of "progress." Really? Another local bookstore has to die while a national drugstore chain is preserved?

Hey MTA, how about this? Kick out the fucking Rite-Aid and keep the bookstore. New York is losing bookstores left and right. We cannot afford to lose another. Meanwhile, we're drowning in Rite-Aid (and Duane Reade, and Walgreens, CVS--and every other national chain).

"It's very sad for the whole Grand Central community," Posman's vice president told Crain's. "It's shocking." Posman's hopes to find a new location in Grand Central, but alternate spaces are not large enough. The MTA's decision to deny a lease renewal to Posman's, an independent, long-time, local New York business, is unconscionable. By doing so, they are contributing to the ongoing cultural death of the city.

Tell the MTA to give Posman's a new lease--please sign and share the petition by clicking here.

Once again, without protections from the city government, our independent businesses are sitting ducks, while the national chains prevail. How much longer will we tolerate this? How much more do we have to lose before something is done?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Smith's Bar & Restaurant


Smith's Bar & Restaurant will be closing this week after 60 years off Times Square.

Tipster Louis Shapiro wrote in: "The venerable Broadway bar Smith's (8th & 44th) will be closing this week because of (surprise) lease issues. If you try their webpage, you get bumped to their sister bar, Social. Yet another sad loss."

An employee at the bar confirmed that Thursday will be their last day in business.

Smith's opened in 1954. For decades, it was a deep, dark dive off Times Square. People committed suicide in their booths. Well, at least one person.

They sold "hand-carved" hot sandwiches and hot plates from a steam tray. Corned beef. Brisket. Knockwurst.


Then, sometime around 2009 or so, they were bought by a chain of anonymous pubs. The inside was renovated, the clientele changed. They printed t-shirts and became a sports bar filled with big-screen TVs and tourists.

Out went the weird, meat-cluttered steam table. Out went Smith's old Times Square vibe.

I stopped eating there.


It hasn't really been Smith's since.

But we still had that gorgeous neon signage glowing over 8th Avenue. You could look up at it and, if you squinted hard, pretend Travis Bickle was still cruising the Deuce.

When its neighbors The Playpen and The Funny Store were demolished and replaced with yet another hotel tower and yet another Shake Shack, we knew Smith's would not last much longer. I won't be surprised if the whole building goes with it and we see another glass box rise on its grave.

Here's a bit on what Smith's used to be--from the Times in 2005:

"Smith's Bar and Restaurant has held down the northwest corner of 44th Street and Eighth Avenue for 50 years, its name written in soot-coated neon script outside, in a style of sign once seen above countless New York bars and liquor stores but now largely extinct. While renovation has afflicted the separate dining room next door, the cavernous bar area of Smith's seems untouched by the wave of renewal that has brought the likes of Red Lobster and Bubba Gump to nearby Times Square.

A bright green menu panel above the steam tables opposite the bar advertises pigs' knuckles, knockwurst and lamb stew, and the Irish barmen, in ties and white shirts, serve their lunchtime customers--a scattering of men bent over newspapers and racing forms--with curt, dishrag-snapping efficiency. As traffic hurtles by on Eighth Avenue and Midtown sandwich shops fill with office workers clutching cellphones, the thick air of Smith's murky depths seems to retard one's movements and slow the day's cascade of thoughts.

That a place like Smith's still exists in Midtown is a testament to the bipolar nature of New Yorkers, who are obsessed with the new and trendy and yet fiercely protective of old haunts and habits."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oak Room

I used to like to walk through the Plaza Hotel, before it was converted to condos bought by Russian oligarchs who leave them empty and dark. I liked the liveliness of the place, the ladies in the Palm Court, the tourists snapping pictures of the chandeliers, the heavy, rich, old New York feeling of it all. Now it just feels dead inside.

I liked, once in awhile, to have a drink in the Oak Room and bar. It closed in 2011 because it had filled with all of the most horrible people in the city and they ruined it. Sometimes, I'll wander in and peek through a crack in the closed doors of the old Oak Room. It's empty and dark inside, a haunted space. But it used to be something.

1959--The Oak Room in Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock's day:

Through the 1960s--Gore Vidal and Truman Capote lunch weekly at the Oak Room: "where they nibbled at their friends during the first course, devoured their enemies during the second, and savored their own glorious futures over coffee and dessert." (Gerald Clarke, Capote)

1981--The Oak Room in Arthur, when the presence of a hooker in hot pants was still a scandal:

In 1980, New York described it: "There is about the place a breathless, frenetic vitality, and on any given evening one is likely to spot a few luminaries like Liza Minnelli...or Harry Reasoner. Of course, you have to pay $4.05 a drink for the privilege. But the peanuts and pretzels on the table are plentiful and free."

"There are a lot of very important ghosts here," wrote New York in 1990, "celebrating in the brooding haute-German gloom." And it's "a snug reminder of what it was supposed to feel like to be a grown-up."

2000s--The Oak Room in its latest years:

As the Post described it: "a Champagne-fueled orgy of gyrating jet-setters, lithe gold-spangled dancers and Chanel-sheathed debutantes is taking place. One particularly enthusiastic young man, Gareth Brookes, 29, is triumphantly perched on top of a service station in the center of the room, drinking Veuve Clicquot out of his Tom Ford lace-up shoe."

Paging Roger Thornhill. Come back to the Plaza, Mr. Thornhill.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Brill Library

If you haven't yet made a trip to the Abraham A. Brill Library at the New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute, you should. It is open to the public.

I wandered in one evening while attending a literary event at the institute (a rare occasion among their many lectures on psychology), and was delighted and surprised to find a real card catalog.

You know, the kind made from a wooden (or metal) cabinet filled with drawers. You slip your finger into the brass latch and pull them out. You flip through cards made of paper, each one typed (typed!) with information about a book or article -- in this case, articles like "Psychological Rationale of Puppetry" by one Adolf G. Woltmann.

Just glancing at each drawer's subjects can lead to pure poetry -- a poetry of the absurd. In a quick jaunt, you can go from FATHERS TO FEVER,



Inside each drawer, you'll find a Pandora's Box of phobias, anxieties, and complexes.

There are plenty of books here, too, of course. It's a library. The whole place is an artifact from the days when the Upper East Side was filled with Viennese accents asking about your mother. But it's those card catalogs that really do it for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hamilton's Luncheonette

For my piece in this week's Metro NY, something new that's not so bad. Yet:

A new eatery called Hamilton’s Soda Fountain and Luncheonette recently opened in Greenwich Village, on the corner of Marc Jacobs and Marc Jacobs, also known as Bank St. and W. 4th. It’s one of those new retro places that both attracts and repels me, first for its nostalgic verisimilitude, second for its twee self-awareness.

The real problem with most of these places is that they serve overpriced items for foodies who lust for fetishized fancywork. They also tend to fill up with the most irritating people on earth. So I approached Hamilton’s with suspicious curiosity. But after checking out their menu and finding it shockingly affordable and filled with plain basics, I tried the place out...

...At Hamilton’s, I was joined by an older lady, whose name I didn’t get, though she told me the story of her 50 years in the Village, and the flower shop she once ran, where gay men were her most appreciative customers and muggers strolled in with guns in their hands.

The lady was delighted to find Hamilton’s. “There’s no place left to eat around here,” she said. “The Village is gone. Only the buildings are left standing.” She read the menu like a good book, savoring each item. “Oh, chopped liver,” she said. “Pastrami! Egg creams and lime rickeys! I feel like I’ve been deprived of these things, and now here they are.”

She ordered the pastrami sandwich and a cream soda. Billie Holiday sang softly through the speakers. We talked about Brooklyn, tourists, and death. She told me about her rent-controlled apartment, how she outlived the landlord who never expected her to stay so long. “I’ll probably die there,” she said, “in another five years. That’s enough for me.”

If Hamilton’s keeps appealing to people like her, it’s a good thing for the Village. I just hope they don’t ruin it.

Please click here to read the whole article.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Colonized by Bears

After much anticipation, after two years of temporary schlockfests in the old Colony Music space, including Halloween stores and Christmas shops, it looks like landlord Stonehenge Properties finally found someone to commit to the reported $5 million rent.

Reader Ken Jacowitz did some snooping around and sent in the following shots. Is that a teddy bear peeking from behind Colony's door?

photos by Ken Jacowitz

Why, yes, it is. But not just any bear. Signs say it's the Build-a-Bear Workshop bear, native to Overland, Missouri, and conqueror of suburban shopping malls across the nation, with over 400 stores worldwide, including three already in New York City.

Colony Music had been here for over 60 years, since 1948. They were forced out after Stonehenge bought the Brill Building and quintupled the legendary record and music store's rent.

Add this one to the ever-growing list. Where once was a New York original, a one of a kind, there's now another piece of bland, middle-American ubiquity.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stage to Stagecoach

After 75 years in celebrated business, the venerable Stage Delicatessen shuttered at the end of 2012, due in part to rising rent. While it was lousy with tourists, it was a landmark institution and many in the city mourned its loss.

What replaced the Stage? Reader Ken Jacowitz checked in to find the Stagecoach Tavern where the Stage Deli used to be.

photos by Ken Jacowitz

The Stage's name conjured the footlights of Broadway. The Stagecoach is named for--a lack of creativity? Or should we think of covered wagons carrying pioneers to their Manifest Destiny? Just please don't tell me it's "an homage" to the lost deli.

A sports bar stocked with several high-def television screens, the Stagecoach looks like all the other nouveau Irish pubs in town--same Celtic font on the sign, same beige interior, same menu. Where once were pastrami sandwiches, egg creams, and matzoh balls are now hot wings, sliders, and mozzarella sticks.

And on it goes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Village Voice: Best of New York 2014

The Village Voice has included this blog in their Best of New York 2014 issue, naming it "Best Chronicle of New York's Ever-Changing Face."

Many thanks to the unnamed someone at the paper who wrote this lovely and lyrical description:

New York is changing at light-speed, with glassy condos and fro-yo shops mushrooming out of every corner. Sometimes it's hard to even take stock of all the changes; it can take weeks or months before you notice that your favorite old sign for a '30s jazz club has disappeared, or an Italian restaurant that has been tucked in some corner of (what's left of) Little Italy since the dawn of time. No one takes stock of New York's changes with the same mixture of snark, sorrow, poeticism, and lyric wit as Jeremiah Moss, the voice behind Jeremiah's Vanishing New York. Nothing escapes Moss's notice: When a beautiful robin's-egg-blue newsstand was suddenly gone from the corner of 23rd Street and Park Avenue South this past summer, he mourned its passing. "It was crooked and quirky, just like all our newsstands used to be. It had character," he eulogized. "Really it was the only bit of original New York character left on that chain-strangled corner." Even as the changes he's cataloging break our hearts a little, it's that kind of lovely, precise writing that makes Moss's blog essential reading.

B. Shackman's

In 2010, I did a little post on the word "novelties," and about how it's been vanishing from the cityscape. In the post, I mentioned Shackman's, a toy store long on 5th Avenue and 16th Street, since replaced by the Anthropologie clothing chain.

photo by Ed Sijmons, flickr

I'd not been able to find any photos of the old shop. But then Ed Sijmons of Amsterdam got in touch to share some wonderful shots he'd taken of Shackman's on a trip to New York back in 1980.

photo by Ed Sijmons, flickr

Shackman's had been selling toys and gifts since 1898. The "B" in B. Shackman stood for Bertha, who was killed by a car on Amsterdam Ave. in 1925.

photo by Ed Sijmons, flickr

You can still find a number of vintage Shackman items on Etsy--paper dolls, miniatures for doll houses, dolls, and cards.

photo by Ed Sijmons, flickr

You can also see many more shots of Mr. Sijmon's 1980 trip to New York on his Flickr page.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Essex Street Judaica

Recently, Tablet magazine reported on the struggles of West Side Judaica, an 80-year-old shop swamped by the Upper West Side's rising rents and increase in chain stores.

It makes me wonder what I sometimes wonder: What happened to the Jewish supply stores of Essex Street? I keep walking down there, trying to find them--to find just one of them--but they all vanished, and in just a few years.

All photos taken in 2007--all have since vanished

It seems impossible. For decades, the street between Grand and Canal was full of them. Their signs swung out over the sidewalk, announcing Sefer Torahs, Mezuzos, Tallises, Bar Mitzvah Sets.

Customers roamed the shops, checking out the wares, buying everyday things and important items for special occasions.

Walking by, even in the late 2000s, you felt like you were in a Berenice Abbott photo. You know, that feeling. Especially at Zelig Blumenthal's, with the old writing painted on the window. It had been there for 60 years.

And then a big change came, all at once.

Blumenthal shuttered in 2010. The shop was gutted and given over to Cafe Grumpy, with high-priced apartments above. A neighboring shop, also 60 years old, followed in 2011.

One by one, in the span of only two or three years, all of the Judaica shops were pushed out by neighborhood changes, high rents, and pushy landlords. Deep history annihilated in an instant.

Today it's all cafes, bars, galleries. Something called "The Juicery." Everything new. Everything for the new population. I keep walking up and down, thinking I'll find one Judaica store, one sign, a lone survivor, but I haven't found one yet.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Marble Cemeteries

From my piece in today's Metro NY:

...Mostly marked by plaques, some of the vaults here have monuments above them. One of the largest belongs to Mangle Minthorne Quakenbos, real estate magnate with a spectacular name. But the most famous here is Preserved Fish—famous for his curious name, not for his life, which was spent in shipping and banking and outliving one wife after another.

A cemetery volunteer shared the apocryphal story behind Mr. Fish’s naming: “As a baby, while traveling by ship, he fell overboard. He washed ashore and was found by a whaling captain, who gave him the name.” Because he was like a fish preserved.

It’s a pleasure to stroll through a cemetery, a peaceful activity not often possible in Manhattan. As people wandered over the graves, long-time East Villager Helen Stratford played her accordion. She wore a black dress and black-feathered wings, the angel of death playing Andy Williams hits, like “Moon River” and the “Theme from Love Story.”

Please read the whole essay here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Bronx Morning found this amazing artifact of old New York. Made in 1931, it shows 11 minutes of life on a Bronx street.

From the text:  

"A Bronx Morning is a 1931 avant-garde film by American filmmaker Jay Leyda (1910–1988). Described as 'city symphony,' the eleven-minute European style film recorded a Bronx street in New York City before it is crowded with traffic... In 2004, A Bronx Morning was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.'"

Visit Ubu to view the film.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

5Pointz Falling

I took a walk around what's left of 5Pointz recently.

You can see the destruction as you roll past on the 7 Train, looking down into rubble. And get a closer look on the ground, through a grimy plastic window in the plywood demolition fence.

The entire rear section has already been demolished.

Across the street, a tribute in spray paint: "RIP 5Pointz: Rest in power" and "Enjoy Your Legacy Gerry!"

That probably means Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of the property who was behind the white-wash and now the demolition.

Coming to this spot will two high-rise luxury towers, 47 and 41 stories tall, glittering and dull as downtown Dallas office complexes.

It was also have some very bland people hanging out in its very bland courtyard, where a "graffiti wall" will give the place "street cred."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Subway Inn on the Move

If you've been wondering and worrying about the fate of the Subway Inn, the owners have just released this statement on their Facebook page:

Statement from the Salinas Family on the Future of Iconic Subway Inn Bar

On behalf of my entire family-- I have some wonderful news to share. Earlier today we signed a long term lease on a new location which the Subway Inn will now call home.

On December 2nd, 2014-- the Subway Inn will close at its current location on 60th and Lexington Ave. to begin its relocation and REPLICATION (EXACTLY AS IT IS NOW) less than 2 blocks away on the same side of the street --at 60th and Second Avenue. Our move and REPLICATION is expected to take approximately 10 weeks to complete.

We had requested to remain in our current home til the end of the year so that none of our family members or employees would be without a job over the holiday season. Unfortunately, the landlord denied our plea.

We are excited about this development and have put the right team in place to make certain that every piece of furniture, including our famous neon signs, the current bar, every bar stool, even the original bar booths—(that Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio sat in) will make their way a stone’s throw down 60th Street and be set back up exactly as you see it today.

And, it won’t just be the contents that will be the same. The space will look exactly the same. Colors, floor and all! In fact, our replication architect is hard at work making sure our new home will be nearly identical. Also, our prices will not change.

We realize this is a tremendous, risky undertaking, and will be very expensive to replicate—however my family is committed to keeping our tradition alive—and making sure Subway Inn lives on for many more generation’s to enjoy.