Monday, June 27, 2016

The Holdouts

“The Holdouts” is a comedy series about New Yorkers who can’t afford to live in the new New York. Co-created by Stephen Girasuolo and Dan Menke, it stars Kevin Corrigan as Kevin Shanahan, a rent-controlled tenant who refuses his landlord's buyout as he bemoans the hyper-gentrification of the city: “They won’t be happy until this whole island is one big Duane Reade with a Starbucks inside and an IHOP inside that and a Bank of America inside that.”

The creators have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the show, which they hope will help bring attention to the plight of the vanishing city.

I chatted with Girasuolo and Corrigan about the show, the lost New York, and the life of a holdout.

Q: So the inevitable first question: What inspired you to do this project?

Stephen: I was being forced out by my landlord of 25 years in Hell's Kitchen at the time and my co-creator Dan Menke wanted to write a part for Corrigan as a man out of time in New York City. Something started there.

And I was away living in Paris and Brazil for 7 years and came back to a city I honestly didn’t recognize. That fed into it.

I was born in the Bronx and, except for the years 2000 - 2005, I’ve lived in New York my whole life. Even during those five years in Los Angeles, I kept my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, on West 51st Street. Like Stephen, I was forced out by my landlord. I wonder if we had the same landlord.

In 2007, I began following Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. It was hard not to notice all the shutterings of all the old places. The closing that really got under my skin was Socrates Diner on Hudson and Franklin. I thought if they could close that place, they can close any place.

One by one, all these places began to disappear. It seemed like some terrible coincidence. As we know now, these changes are quite deliberate, calculated by developers, city officials, community boards.

I started to feel like Jim Carrey’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as if some force of nature was targeting my memories and wiping them out, one by one. It was not uncommon to have the impulse to go somewhere I hadn’t been in a while only to find that place closed down, whether it was a record store or a restaurant or bar.

I took it personally. And then, finally, I was kicked out of my 51st street apartment. I’d become just like the doomed movie theaters and restaurants I loved. They were closing me down, like I was some old business, some thing from the past that needed to make way for the new.

Q: I feel disoriented in the city from day to day, it's changed so rapidly and so completely in recent years. How would you characterize the changes?

I was used to, in Paris, just lounging around at a cafe or bar, meeting people on the fly. So when I came back to Hell's Kitchen, those places were not there. There was a place that had good chocolate cake and was open late at night. Now it was a gift shop. Very expensive places. There were fewer local coffee shops, doughnut shops, bars.

Union Square was completely revamped with Whole Foods, and I walked up to a city kid working there and asked, "Where are all the New Yorkers?” He said they moved to Canarsie.

Kevin: In this age of omnipresent technology, it is nearly impossible to form the kinds of relationships we grew used to pre-internet, when you had to deal with people directly, where you had to engage the city, one foot in front of the other, eye to eye. You had to make physical contact. You needed an imagination. Today, there is a disconnect, relationships are “virtual.” You don’t have to leave the house. An implied relationship will suffice. Places don’t stick around as long as they used to. No one expects anything to last. So the idea of developing attachments to places is archaic.

In order to fall in love, you have to have a heart. You have to be willing to put in the time. Being a regular somewhere, enjoying the company of familiar faces, this is a beautiful thing, to be part of a community.

Q: On the show’s Kickstarter page, it says, “Let’s take the stand together.” How do you see The Holdouts as taking a stand in the fight to preserve New York? What impact do you hope it'll have?

Stephen: It could wake up the need to address the rising costs more, for one. People are getting marginalized. It’s the people really. The storefronts are a huge problem, but fighting for the right to live and afford in the city you love and grew up in, or call your home, is important. Mayors know that. They should do more to address it. Serious comedy is one way to increase that conversation.

Q: Going back to that idea of the “man out of time,” and the holdout—obviously a holdout is someone who resists his or her landlord’s pressure to leave an apartment, but it’s more than that, too. Especially in today’s city. What does it mean to you?

Stephen: It means preservation and fighting to preserve a piece of history that is meaningful not only for me but for the people who come after me. But when they start building around you, it becomes sad, too. It’s affecting all classes of people.

Places give you purpose. A language will die if you don’t speak it. I came back to the city and a type of language had died while I was gone. A holdout fights to keep something alive.

Q: What language is that?

Stephen: A certain interaction of respect between us, of looking out for one another a bit. It’s still there but harder to find. Things are more distant. Separated. Many people I encounter have an entitled air. It’s a good question. I’m getting older, but younger people--"OH My god, oh my god"--young people like myself didn’t talk like that. That’s the new language.

Q: Kevin, in the trailer you give a dirty look to a table full of young women cooing over their iphones--how do you experience this "language" of many newcomers to the city?

Kevin: Everyone’s looking at their phone these days, even me. But like I said, it’s essential to know how to do things the old fashioned way, to make friends, to know how to banter. You have to be curious. How can you live in New York and not be interested in people, places, and things?

My father was a first-generation Irish American. He grew up in the South Bronx, as did my mother. By the 70s, they, and my brother and me, settled in the north part of the borough, the Norwood section. It was, and still is, a diverse neighborhood, and my parents never left. My father passed away in February, but he was a devoted Bronxite to the end. He would look out on Mosholu Parkway from his bedroom window. That was his Riviera. He was a conservative man, but a truly compassionate one, who appreciated the diversity of the neighborhood. He was my teacher. My love for New York, and particularly “old New York” came from my parents, and especially my father. He used to work in the Daily News building, so I remember being in there many times as a kid and marveling at the globe in the lobby where they shot Superman, the one with Christopher Reeve.

You have to love the idea of New York being a melting pot. You have to proud of the tradition and the history of this place where a thousand languages are spoken, where diverse cultures co-exist. It’s that thing of treating everyone with whom you cross paths with respect an open mind, and an open heart, because they could be God in disguise. They could have the answers you’ve been looking for.

Q: So Kevin is the holdout in the show, and then there's his preppy friend, who plays the foil. He likes Whole Foods, I imagine, and Starbucks, and those $20 glasses of wine. I'm curious about their relationship. How do they get along?

Stephen: The newbie Jayce character is in awe of Kevin because he is a "real New Yorker." Jayce wants to be a real New Yorker, but how? It’s funny. They have different views. They’re an odd couple. Jayce feels sorry for Kevin for being stuck in past. But we are playing with Kevin really getting to Jayce to the point where Jayce begins to side with him and holdout. He is a high-school teacher. His salary sucks. How can one live in the city on a teacher’s salary?

Kevin: I can’t say I have that much against Starbucks because my father and I used to meet every Friday at the Starbucks in the office building where he worked on 34th street and 7th avenue. Sometimes we’d have to wait for a table because people coming out of Macy's or waiting to catch the Long Island Railroad would be in there, drinking coffee or sharing their computers. My father didn’t mind waiting. He didn’t mind sharing. And, when I was with him, neither did I. All the people at that Starbucks knew and loved him. So I have no quarrel, except of course with the fact that they gutted that Starbucks, took over the 99-cent store next door and made a bigger Starbucks, which had none of the cavernous, cozy charm of the previous store.

Which reminds me, there used to be a great diner called The Astor Riviera on Astor Place. One night in 1987, Al Pacino took about ten or so students there from the Lee Strasberg School. The students had been in a play. Al came to see the play because these were students of Al’s mentor, Charlie Laughton. I wasn’t in the play, but I was a student of Charlie’s and I got to tag along. So, yeah, I had dinner with Al Pacino at the Astor Riviera, which is now a Starbucks. I remember Al saying, “All the world’s a stage, and the stage is your world.”

New York City is a big stage. Down every street is a memory. You come here and you
live out the movie of your life.

Q: Stephen, Kevin Corrigan is an inspired choice for Kevin Shanahan. He and I have been chatting online about the vanishing city for a while now, so I know he's passionate about it. How did he get connected to the project and how do you see him fitting the role?

Stephen: Dan Menke, my co-creator, is friends with him. They are passionate about the topic. Dan wanted to write a role for him. I suggested we use the gentrification as a backdrop. Kevin liked the idea. It’s also a lead role for him. He should be playing lead roles in TV. He's very versatile.

The script Dan wrote at first was called "The Characters," just two actors in New York City. One from New York, one newbie. I thought the script was hilarious, but felt it needed something more urgent and relevant.

Corrigan loves the smell of New York. He deeply understands the culture. He’s in love with the grittiness. He misses the squeegee guys. His deadpan personality, with the humor of someone lost in his own town, is funny. Putting him in a fancy wine bar or condo with a swimming pool is funny.

Kevin: RE: the smell of New York. I don’t always love it, but right now it’s nice. It’s 3AM and it’s 64 degrees outside. That’s a nice clean smell coming in the window. Coming in from the Harbor.

Q: When I watch Kevin in the trailer, it's uncanny, like looking in a mirror. So I have to ask--and this might be a rather egocentric question--how much Jeremiah is in there?

Stephen: Ha-ha! He said he is a big fan of yours, but he told me after we shot that. He could be channeling you. If he is a mirror, that’s a good sign.

Q: Kevin, the character has the same name as you--how close are you to him?

Kevin: He’s me, but he’s also my friend George from Astoria, and some other people I know from the Bronx. And he’s you, Jeremiah.

Visit The Holdouts on Kickstarter, watch the trailer, and consider kicking in some funds--time is ticking

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Clean Is Not Enough

In 1978, Fran Lebowitz told People magazine, "When you leave New York, you are astonished at how clean the rest of the world is. Clean is not enough."

Nearly four decades later, in the age of the Sterilized City, the quote has surfaced on the side of a building in Chelsea. Specifically, on the Yves luxury glass condo at 18th Street and 7th Avenue, where Core realty has a first-floor office from which they sell more luxury glass condos.

mingum7 posted a photo of the wall to Instagram and wrote: "I'm having trouble thinking Fran Lebowitz would approve of advertising this glass condo. But she must know, right?"


Does Fran know? Would she approve? I also doubt it, but someone will have to ask her.

Either way, the quote is utterly inappropriate for the side of a luxury glass condo, which is all about being antiseptically clean, and not New York, and not enough. We need more than clean.

Cleanliness does not make a city. Real cities are messy. They are dirty--and dirt is fertile, the opposite of sterile.

But the new people keep coming from the rest of the world to live in these sanitary boxes, seeking some semblance of their suburban lives. They say: Walk-ups are cute "but this is just so much better in so many ways. It’s like living in a hotel. Everything’s always convenient, always safe, always clean. You don’t have to worry about gross things. Like mice! And creepy things like that."

They are not--and don't want to be--city people.

inside Yves

May I suggest a few other, more recent New York quotes from Fran Lebowitz to slap on the sides of luxury condos:

"To move to Manhattan, you have to have a rich father. The kids who come here are either rich or are moving here to make money in business, which is a dull kind of kid anyway."

"You can like people with lots of money for certain reasons, hate them for certain reasons, but you cannot say that an entire city of people with lots of money is fascinating. It is not."

"Of all the places in the world that should never have embraced this idea of safety, family values, it is New York. I mean, they have the whole rest of the country."

“America has gotten its revenge on New York, because it’s moved right in. Now it is a mall. That’s the final victory of the suburban sensibility.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Acne on Horatio

Last year, the little stationery store at 8th and Horatio that used to be Typewriters & Things, along with the newsstand next door, was forced to close due to a steep rent hike.

Something new has opened in their place. And guess what--it's a global luxury chain.

Acne Studios, with locations around the world, has moved into the spaces and then some.

I see their ads all over the place and, every time, I think to myself: Why in God's name would you name your luxury lifestyle brand after a painful and disfiguring skin disorder? The answer is on Wikipedia: "The name ACNE stands for Ambition to Create Novel Expressions."

Anyway, it's sleek and expensive and enormous. And it's not a newsstand or a stationery shop or anything else a person might actually need. So it fits right in with the new Greenwich Village.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Campanile & Rubber Stamps

A reader wrote in to let us know that the Campanile restaurant on E. 29th Street has closed. It's been awhile. Eater shared the news a year ago--and I missed it. They wrote:

"Northern Italian eatery Campanile has closed after 18 years of business. According to the restaurant's Facebook, the building was sold and the landlord wants to turn it into a high rise."

The building that housed Campanile at 30 E. 29th was originally the very old New York Telephone Building. I can't locate any plans for a high rise here, but something's happening along this block.

One building away, neighbor Stampworx is also gone. They'd been around since 1946. Probably as long as Campanile's pink neon sign's been hanging there, the remnant of another restaurant.

Stampworx was located in a wooden house owned in the 1800s by the Pringle family. It has a lovely second-floor facade and an interesting history.

Life used to take me to this block somewhat regularly. I liked standing outside and looking up at the twin vertical signs of RUBBER STAMPS and RESTAURANT. That sliver felt like part of an older city.

One night, I saw a man in the doorway of the building between the two. He was behind the glass, playing a flute. The Campanile's neon sign shone pink, making the night air blush.

I meant to write about it, but never did. I took a photo, but that's lost somewhere in the clutter of my photo archive. Still, I remember it well. It was one of those little New York scenes that only happen in old buildings.

Campanile's gone. The rubber stamps shop is gone. And the man who played the flute is probably gone, too. I don't know what will come to replace them all, but we can guess.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Three Lives & Co. Bookstore

This just came in to my mailbox. I would like to be more eloquent about this, but right now, I am not happy. I love this fucking bookstore.

Dear Three Lives & Company Customers,

I am writing to you about a possibly significant event for the bookshop in the upcoming months. The building in which Three Lives & Company occupies the corner retail space has been put up for sale. In preparation for this sale the owners did not renew the bookshop’s lease earlier this year and we are now on a month-to-month lease. As you are certainly aware, the white-hot real estate market in New York City means this could present some challenges for the bookshop.

Ideally, we would like to stay in our space, our address for thirty-three years, when a new owner for the building is found. 154 West Tenth Street has been a wonderful home for all of us, staff and customers alike, for all these many years. Jill, Jenny, and Helene, the founders and original owners of Three Lives, built an amazing bookshop and an incredible space in which to display books. We hope to work with the new owner when that time comes to keep this wonderful shop.

Should a lease not be offered to Three Lives then we will look for a new space to build our home. The shop has moved once since it originally opened on the corner of West Tenth and Seventh Avenue, and there’s always the possibility for a third life for Three Lives. It is our desire to stay in our neighborhood, the West Village, but we will need to find the right space at the right price, not an easy task considering the current commercial rental conditions in the area.

It is important to note that this is not about a small, independent bookshop being battered by chain retailers, or online retail conglomerates, or new electronic devices on which to read a book. Three Lives & Company is a thriving enterprise. We have had record years the last three years as the independent bookstore market in general has found its footing despite many challenges. A bookshop with an interesting selection of books and staffed by passionate, professional booksellers has a place in the book world.

This letter also allows us to recognize and thank the extended Levine family, owners of the building at 154 West Tenth, for the opportunity they gave Three Lives & Company when we moved into their building in 1983, their cooperation to ensure our long-term success, and their understanding of the importance of locally owned businesses to enrich a neighborhood.

Our dear customers, we want you to know we will do all we can to ensure a long and vibrant future for Three Lives & Company. We know how important this bookshop is to many of you, the history you share with Three Lives. It is your passion and support that keeps us going, that makes every day a joy. We all remark that it is still a thrill to slip the key into the lock every morning and open the door to Three Lives. We want to keep that experience going and we want you to be able to stop by, find some interesting books, chat about a recent favorite read, or to simply share the news of the day. Whether we continue to welcome you to our corner spot on West Tenth and Waverly or from a new location, we look forward to being your bookseller in the years ahead.

For now, it’s business as usual at Three Lives & Company. Books are arriving every day, special orders are still an important part of our business, we’re reviewing and ordering Fall ’16 titles (it’s going to be a good one, new books from Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer, Michael Chabon, Ann Patchett, Michael Lewis, Colson Whitehead, Anne Carson, Jay McInerney, George Saunders, and all those books we don’t even know about yet!). And, we’re reading and recommending some great new books for the summer.

On behalf of the staff, I would like to express our great appreciation for your patronage and our gratitude to have you as our customers. We will keep you updated with any news.

In the meantime, come on by and let’s talk books.

Toby Cox

Caffe Vivaldi

Back in 2011, I reported that Caffe Vivaldi in the Village was being forced to close by a tripled rent hike from their landlord, the now infamous Steve Croman.

They survived, and got a new lease, but the struggles continued. Now, even while Croman has been hit with a 20-count indictment for harassing tenants, Vivaldi reports that their harassment continued.

The owner of the 35-year-old jazz cafe has posted a petition online. He tells the whole story there, and explains:

"Today, I, Ishrat Ansari, owner and operator of Caffe Vivaldi since opening our doors in 1983, reach out to you yet again to help us save our 'cultural institution.' We need your help, your support, your voice. We need you to sign our petition, and to comment if you will.

Our objective is simple: the more we can draw in community support, the more we can show to the Supreme Court judge, who will be deciding our case against Mr. Croman this June, that Caffe Vivaldi deserves to remain open."

Vivaldi has live music 7 days a week and no cover charge. They serve ravioli. They have been featured in films by Woody Allen and Al Pacino. Customers past and present include Andy Warhol and Bette Midler. They also have a fireplace.

In his plea and petition, Mr. Ansari adds, "I am not making any claim for special allowances. We all have personal views about gentrification, about the speed of development versus the integrity and nostalgia of old neighborhoods. I totally understand this and am not one to stand in the way of modernization. But I have had over 20,000 creatives, artists, intellectuals, come through my doors at Caffe Vivaldi to blow us all away with their talents, and I want to keep my doors open, paying a reasonable rent, and operating without the harassment and threats of a landlord, whom I leave to the court of public and legislative opinion to judge."

Read his petition, sign and share it, and #SaveNYC

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Replacing Milady's

Tonight, the Liquor Committee of local Community Board 2 will hear an application for the space that held Milady's bar for 81 years.

Sean Sweeney, Director of the SoHo Alliance, writes in to say that "two restaurateurs have approached the SoHo Alliance to notify us that they are applying for a liquor license for a 65-seat restaurant and bar" in the space. But the space has sat empty for so long--two years--it is no longer zoned for bar/restaurant use. Also, writes Sean, "the area is already saturated, with more than its share of licensed premises."

He says, "there are about ten licensed premises already within 500 feet of Milady’s. New York State Liquor Authority laws require that an applicant for a liquor license must demonstrate that providing an additional liquor license would 'serve the public interest' in any area that is already saturated with licensed premises. It is highly unlikely the applicant would be able to demonstrate that."

One of the applicants for the space is Karim Raoul, son of Mr. Raoul, owner of the 40-year-old celebrity hangout Raoul's.

The other applicant is Brian McGrory, a partner in the Highlands Restaurant Group, which has run several popular gastropubs in the city, including Highlands, Whitehall, and Mary Queen of Scots, in addition to Surf Lodge, a trendy late-night hot spot in Montauk that racked up several violations--over $100,000 in fines--for "the business’s site plan, illegal clearing of wetlands, overcrowding and other categories," like noise and parking.

Sean Sweeney is concerned that the bar and restaurant Raoul and McGrory will bring to Milady's space will be another loud and crowded trendy spot to drive the neighbors crazy. He adds, "Although Milady’s was a popular neighborhood bar and kitchen, this new place is not going to be the Return of Milady’s. It will be another late-night, trendy restaurant. Is that what we want?"

If you'd like to tell them what you want, go to the hearing tonight at 6:30 at St. Anthony’s, 151-155 Sullivan Street, Lower Hall.