Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pisacane Seafood

Reader Jean-Luc tells us that the Pisacane fish market on 1st Avenue between 52nd and 51st street is shutting its doors tomorrow--"A huge loss for the neighborhood and city."

Last summer, another reader told me this closure would be coming down the pike. The owners had listed the building for sale, at $6,800,000, to be "delivered vacant."

At the time, I went in for a visit. I was told they were not closing, and had another 10 years. This now seems not to be the case, though I have not confirmed it.

I was also told that the business is 160 years old--with 60 years in one location and 100 years in this one. Or maybe vice versa. In any case, the place has been around a long time.

What I hear from both readers is that the small business has been struggling with inflated property taxes and utility bills -- both of which can kill a mom and pop, even when they own the building.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tony's Park Barber Shop

Now and then, when I get the chance, I like to visit old barber shops in other neighborhoods and get my hair cut.

Tony's Park Barber Shop, on Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, has been here "over 100 years," according to owner Tony Garofalo, who has been with the shop for just over 50 of those years.

The place is beautiful, in the way that old places are beautiful, filled with antiques and souvenirs.

It's painted robin's egg blue and topped with an extravagantly detailed pressed-tin ceiling. The ancient green barber chairs match the cabinetry, where windows read: "Sterilizer."

A busted wooden cash register sits unused next to a Yankees cap, under a note for "No Refunds."

On one wall, above the chairs for waiting customers, a faded sign reads, "Please control your children."

Simon Doolittle at The Brooklyn Paper did a nice piece on Tony and his shop back in 2008:

"Tony 'Felice' Garofalo has done well for himself. He left Italy after World War II and stayed in Switzerland until he was 26, emigrating to Brooklyn in 1964.

Within a week of his arriving, Garofalo got a job in what is now his barbershop, located on Fifth Avenue between 44th and 45th streets. He bought it less than a year later, for $1,800, from another Italian immigrant.

Working a second job loading beer trucks, he bought the building several years later for $35,000. He now owns the salon and the seven apartments above it. Garofalo’s English today bears the imprint of both Italy and Brooklyn. Speaking of his customers who return for haircuts, he said, 'They still-a come here — from Staten Island, from New Joisey.'"

A haircut here still costs just $10. For that price, you get the feeling of being cast back in time.

Monday, May 18, 2015


We've visited Margon before, but now with Cafe Edison gone, it may the only affordable, authentic, local restaurant left in Times Square. It's certainly worth visiting again--and again.

Margon is an old-school Cuban restaurant, and you can find it at 136 W. 46th St.

Back in 2008, Getty Rivas told me how his father came from the Dominican Republic and first worked in the restaurant as a dishwasher. In 1987, after Margon had moved into its current spot, a former go-go bar, Mr. Rivas took over.

The hopping little place continues to be managed and staffed completely by the Rivas family--"aunts, uncles, cousins..."--17 family members in total. They have since added their own Dominican flavors to the Cuban dishes.

You can sit at the small lunch counter at the front, or head to the steam tables in back. Take an orange tray and the server fills your plates with beans, rice, plantains, roast chicken, beef stew.

They also make Cubano sandwiches and a deliciously frothy morir sonando, which tastes like a creamsicle and means "to die dreaming."

Margon is located in one of a cluster of small buildings that hark back to an older Times Square and an older city. They look out of place, just a block off the tourist-clogged corpo-Disneyland of glass towers and Brobdingnagian TV screens. It is a relief to arrive here. It feels like an oasis.

It's a place of second-story businesses. I am partial to the jumble of signage outside the barber shop. You can also sell your gold and diamonds.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

La Taza de Oro

I've been avoiding this one, because I can't bear to face the possibility that we will lose La Taza de Oro, a warm and lovely Puerto Rican restaurant and last vestige of old Chelsea on 8th Avenue. It's been shuttered for over a month now.

Recently, someone posted a sign to the shutter that says "We Miss You."

Back on April 4, NY1 reported that some bricks fell from the neighboring facade, no one was hurt, but Con Ed turned off the gas in the restaurant's building. Scaffolding went up, one of the metal poles piercing the restaurant's awning.

And then these vacate notices appeared on the door of the building:

#SaveNYC group member Trina Rodriguez checked it out. She wrote in to say:

"I spoke to the owner and they're waiting to sign a contract/get a permit to separate their facade from the building next door--the one causing all the problems. She hopes that when that happens they'll be able to move back in relatively quickly."

Of course, once that happens, they'll need to get Con Ed to turn the gas back on. And we know how hard that can be.

Lately, it seems like the city is waging war on our oldest, most vulnerable, and beloved businesses.

Inspections ramp up. Violations are handed out. Gas goes off. It goes on and on. They shuttered La Taza de Oro last fall, too. Coincidence? With the High Line nearby, Google across the street, and Chelsea being called the new Upper East Side, these are now golden properties that plenty of developers would love to demolish and replace with a glass box and a bank.

See more about La Taza de Oro and its history on Neighborhood Slice. Join #SaveNYC to stop the insanity.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

#SaveNYC Mixer

#SaveNYC is having a meet and greet tomorrow, Wednesday night from 6:00 - 10:00 p.m., at the new Subway Inn, 1140 Second Ave.

You're invited to mix and mingle with New Yorkers who are working hard to raise awareness and protect small businesses and cultural institutions in the city. Share ideas. Drink. Make new friends. 

T-shirts will be available for purchase at $10 (which just covers the cost of making them).

Plus: In addition to our main site, #SaveNYC now has a new action blog: "Action City." It's packed with info about what we're doing, what we've done, and ways you can get involved. Check it out.

-View the mixer invite on Facebook
-Come to the #SaveNYC concert June 6 at Hank's Saloon

Monday, May 11, 2015

Which New York?

For the 50th anniversary of the Landmarks Law, Justin Davidson at New York Magazine talked with me and Nikolai Fedak, blogger of the pro-development NY YIMBY. While mostly polite, it was a spirited conversation, at times a grudge match.

An abbreviated version appears in the print edition of the current magazine, and a longer version appears online.

An excerpt:

NF: ...In East Harlem, you have a proposal for a 50-story tower on top of the Target, which is going to be fantastic. People in the neighborhood object, but they can’t do anything about it.

JD: So powerlessness leads to a good result?

JM: I want to go back to something Nikolai was saying earlier and question the idea that New York has to compete, that the city has to keep growing, that it has to be the best. That’s a very corporate notion, and it’s a foreign concept to me. If we just keep growing and competing and winning, where do we end up, ultimately? With a city filled, from borough to borough, with nothing but gleaming skyscrapers. And then the city will die. At what point do we say that’s enough?

NF: But how could that actually happen —?

JM: It already is happening. Julian Brash wrote the book Bloomberg’s New York, in which he described how Bloomberg changed the way we think of the city. He talked about it as a luxury product and about himself as CEO. He treated New Yorkers like consumers rather than citizens. That is a very different way of thinking about people. Citizens speak up and fight for their rights. Consumers don’t.

JD: Fighting for your rights and interests is obviously an important part of citizenship, but it also creates the adversarial situation that Nikolai was describing, in which the wealthy will always have the upper hand. A lot of planning takes place through litigation, which can be democratic without being fair.

JM: Sure, in an ideal world, everyone would have equal access and power, but if they don’t, that just means they have to fight for it.

NF: There’s room here for everyone if you build adequate housing for them. Prewar neighborhoods like the Upper West Side have buildings that don’t meet the standards of 2015. Why should the poor live in such places in order to preserve the architecture?

JD: There are plenty of wealthy people living in old buildings with creaky plumbing, too.

JM: So, Nikolai, do you have a fantasy that if you tore down and rebuilt all those buildings, the people who live there would be able to move back in?

NF: My fantasy is a New York where everyone has access to comfortable housing.

JM: Well, yeah, how can I disagree with that? My apartment is a shithole. But I have to hold on to my shithole. I have to fight for my shithole.

NF: That mentality is what makes it impossible for the city to accommodate more people.

JM: I don’t want to accommodate more people. There are too many fucking people here already.

NF: There! That’s the difference between us. I think the city needs to evolve, and Jeremiah’s nostalgic for the city of the past.

JM: What I’m nostalgic for is the city of the present...

Click here for the full discussion

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lydia Lunch

The legendary No Wave performer Lydia Lunch returns to New York with a photo exhibition and installation. Chris Nutter interviewed her for HuffPo.


An excerpt:

CLN: Why did you decide to come back to New York now?

LL: I left New York in 1990 before it turned into Disney. I'm here now for the people who still remain who know what this place once was. That's in part what I wanted to do with So Real It Hurts. Coming back now just feels right.

CLN: Who is your New York audience today?

LL: To sum up an audience is to insult the individuals who are there. Anyone who comes to me comes for the comfort that I can bring them. My work is for people who aren't afraid to go into the deepest corner of their obsessions, who need to understand and exorcize their demons, and the horror of it all. To break it down it's almost always the most sensitive, the shy boys, the weirdoes, the non mono-gender, the outsiders who come to me.

CLN: You mean the archetypal old school New Yorker.

LL: Absofuckininglutely.


CLN: Do you feel the need to live in New York again?

LL: I wouldn't say I need New York, but I would say New York needs me.

Visit HuffPo for the whole story.