Wednesday, August 27, 2014

City Opera Thrift

A typed letter in the window of the City Opera Thrift shop says they're working to negotiate a new lease with the landlord. They were sold after the opera was forced to declare bankruptcy. (This after Mayor Bloomberg told the beloved institution to drop dead.)

But even with that big, ominous "Retail for Lease" sign across the front, all is not lost.

I hear that the sign is just a formality and that the negotiations are going well, that the landlord is being patient, until the thrift shop is adopted by another organization, possibly another opera.

Nothing here should change and that's a relief. It's a wonderful thrift shop. The architecture of the interior alone makes it worth a visit, with its second-story gallery and its leaded windows in the back.

The book selection is suprisingly well curated, unlike in most thrift stores where all you find are mass-market detective novels and self-help books. City Opera Thrift knows their books, and they have a very contemporary selection of fiction.

It's also a great spot for people watching.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Night at Forlini's

If you're looking for a good time in the old New York, you have to go to Forlini's on a night when Angelo Ruggiero is performing in the back room.

For one thing, Forlini's is something of a hidden treasure. Cut off from Little Italy by Canal Street, it's tucked away on Baxter, surrounded by Chinatown and unspoiled by tourists. The out-of-towners don't seem to know the place exists.

Established in 1943, Forlini's is pure and authentic. New Yorkers eat there. It's a favorite place for judges, lawyers, and other people involved in the justice system, thanks to its location close to the State Supreme Court house.

The rooms are filled with diamond-tufted, peach-colored banquettes and booths, the walls hung with an odd and fascinating assortment of massive oil paintings in heavy, gilded frames.

The staff -- all family -- greet you with warmth and respect. Don't expect any "fixed-up," "revived" Italian food. Forlini's is old-school red sauce all the way. The food's fine, but I don't go to restaurants for the food. I go for the place itself, for the history and the people. For the emotions that the space generates.

And--especially on the nights when Mr. Ruggiero sings--Forlini's is loaded with history, emotion, and wonderful people.

The crowd of regulars shows up early. Italian-Americans, they come in from the outer boroughs, Jersey, and Long Island. They all know each other, and if you haven't been before, you might feel like you're crashing somebody's Golden Anniversary party. But if you're friendly, unfussy, and have fun, you'll be welcomed.

Ruggiero's wife, who looks a little like Liza Minnelli in a glittering tunic and fedora, sets up the music machine and makes the rounds, greeting each person. Then Ruggiero, as bald as Mr. Clean with a big, bright smile, takes the mike. The crowd goes wild. It's all Sinatra, 1950s doo-wop, and Neapolitan folk songs. Ladies swoon. Everyone sings along. During the Italian songs, people swing their napkins through the air.

By the time dinner is done, everyone is dancing in the narrow spaces between the tables (take a look), and you've made some new best friends.

Ruggiero performs at Forlini's about once a month or so. Next up, he'll be there September 5. Be sure to make a reservation.

Monday, August 25, 2014

At Donohue's

For my piece in this week's Metro NY, a visit to Dononue's Steak House on Lexington near 64th.’s the people who really take you back to an older New York, before restaurant chatter was about nothing but money, work, and the latest technological toy—before people became so boring.

At lunchtime, around the bar at Donohue’s, you’ll find the real New Yorkers. The scientist sipping a Manhattan knows everything about everything. The older lady quaffing white wine sounds exactly like Maureen O’Sullivan, with a slight slur that makes her only more elegant. The bartender, with his German accent, referees the conversation with jokes.

In a discussion that bounces from George Orwell to life in India, a newspaper headline shifts the talk to Robin Williams. Comedians really are unhappy people, the group decides.

“It’s the old Pagliacci thing,” says the scientist. “The weeping clown. It’s the misery behind the laughter.”

Jerry Lewis? Miserable. Lenny Bruce? Wretched. Milton Berle? He might have been okay, but Lucille Ball was decidedly unpleasant. They move on to other celebrities with difficult personalities. “Hey,” says the bartender, readying a joke, “you know what Sinatra said when he introduced Mia Farrow to his mother? He said, ‘Mama, Mia.’ You see? Mama Mia!” ...

Please read the rest of the essay in the paper here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

C'est Magnifique


After 56 years in the Villages West and East, the legendary vintage and custom jewelry shop C'est Magnifique closes tomorrow.

Thomas Paladino writes in:

"My family has owned and operated a small downtown jewelry store called C'est Magnifique since 1959, and it will be closing permanently this weekend. We were originally located on MacDougal street in the West Village up until two years ago, when rising rents forced us to move to East 9th Street. Unfortunately, the new location was not as lucrative as our previous one, and combined with a death in the family of my uncle (who was the main proprietor of the shop for the last thirty years), the store will have to close its doors.

We have a rich and interesting history, having sold our wares to over five generations of the most interesting New Yorkers you can imagine, from all walks of life, including celebrity clients like Iggy Pop, Madonna, and Johnny Depp (among many others)."

At the shop's Facebook page, Alfred Albrizio III says farewell. He writes: "I learned so much from working with my father, and I plan to continue utilizing those skills and making jewelry. Although the physical space of C'est Magnifique will be gone, my family's legacy will live on. I am devoted to my craft and customers. I'll still be doing custom work and selling my original designs from my website which should be ready soon."

C'est Magnifique will be having a farewell party tomorrow, at the shop (328 East 9th St.) from 1:00 - 7:00pm. Light refreshments will be served. All are invited to come and say goodbye.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

3 Star Coffee Shop

Recently, I was disappointed to read about the shuttering of the Upper West Side's 3 Star Coffee Shop.

On her Tumblr blog, Raven Snook took a photo of the papered-over windows and noted: "Apparently, 3 Star Coffee Shop went out with a whimper in February when it failed to reopen after being closed down for a third time by the Health Department due to violations."

West Side Rag went inside for a look at the trashed interior.

Located at Columbus and 86th, across from a Starbucks, next to a Chase bank, and down the block from new luxury condo 101 W. 87, the modestly named 3 Star (why not 4 or 5?) Coffee Shop had that look of something that could not last.

3 Star had an A rating at the time of its closure. Do city agencies like the health department target these old joints, especially when they're located on desirable corners? It often makes me wonder.

Most of the reviewers on Yelp loved this place, citing it as one of the last old-school coffee shops left in the neighborhood.

3 Star's shuttered storefront means one more for a stretch filled with long-shuttered businesses. As West Side Rag noted, "The south half of the block is now almost entirely shuttered, except for one remaining dry cleaners. The Olympic deli on the North corner is also closed, but is seeking a new tenant. Some of the businesses have been empty for years, and they don’t seem like they’re looking aggressively for new tenants."

All in the same building. We have to wonder if the landlord is holding out for a block-long chain to move in.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Death of a Block 6

We've been following the death of one block, 9th Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets, since 2008. One building, filled with several mom-and-pop shops was sold and sold again. Then all the businesses were evicted, their spaces gutted and upscaled.

The empty retail space has been on the market for several months, and now a local tipster reports they've got their first shiny new tenant.

It's a bank. Another bank.

Multinational Wells Fargo is one of the "Big Four" banks in America, with about 25 locations in the city, all in Manhattan.

The two spaces that this branch is taking over once belonged to Tamara Dry Cleaners and the New Barber Shop. Those businesses were an integral part of the community. They didn't only provide important services, they held people together and gave them a place to go, to connect. A bank branch can't do that. Neighborhood people fought for those businesses. They loved them and the people who ran them. A bank branch won't be loved--and it won't give love.

We are losing too much--and for nothing. The sterilization of the city continues.


Follow the whole story:
Death of a Block: One

Saving 9th Avenue
Sweet Banana Candy Store
New Barber Shop
Chelsea Liquors
New China

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another Newsstand Gone

For many years, by the northeast corner of 23rd and Park Avenue South, there stood a lovely little newsstand. It was bright blue. It remained, until very recently, an unlikely survivor of Bloomberg's Cemusa onslaught.

I wish I could find my other photos of it

Here it is (was) on Google maps, surviving defiantly in front of Pret A Manger, Bank of America, 7-Eleven, New York Sports Club, and Baked By Melissa cupcakes, across from Walgreens, Bath & Body Works, and the Vitamin Shoppe.

It was crooked and quirky, just like all our newsstands used to be. It had character. Really, it was the only bit of original New York character left on that chain-strangled corner.

I always admired it when I walked by, grateful to it for still standing against the dull tide of glass and chrome. But on a recent walk past, I found it was gone. Some construction is being done to the subway entrance.

"Where's the newsstand?" I asked a nearby construction worker. "Disappeared," he said. "They got rid of it."

I asked another, who told me, "The City took it away."

Then I asked a neighboring newsstand vendor.

"I don't know. Maybe they're putting in one of these," he said, gesturing to his generic Cemusa box. "They did it to me."

He explained how the City removed his newsstand and then took two years to get him a new one. During those two years, he had no business. It's important to understand that the city's newsstand vendors used to own their stands, some passed down for generations, but Bloomberg took them away and gave them to Cemusa, a Spanish corporation that now leases them to the vendors who used to be owners.

"I consider that stealing," I told him, paying for my peanut M&M's.

"Yes, well," he replied with a shrug, "the City doesn't see it that way."

See Also:
History of the New York Newsstand
More Newsstand Deaths
Newsstand Slaughter
Hojo's Lost Newsstand
Another Newsstand
Union Square Newsstand