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.