Thursday, July 30, 2015

The NIMBYs of New York

Crain's published an article this month on "the masters of derailing projects in the city." I haven't derailed anything, regrettably, as much as I've tried, but they included me on their list anyway -- along with a number of folks who are getting stuff done.

NIMBYs? "Anti-change activists"? Are these the right terms for people who aim to preserve the character of New York City?



Here's my bit:

The shadow player

Mr. Berman is one of the most visible anti-development activists. Others, like Jeremiah Moss, operate in the shadows. Mr. Moss uses a fake name and refuses to have his picture taken, yet his blog, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, has become the go-to hub for those who lament New York's loss of character.

Mr. Moss uses his online following to stage attention-grabbing theatrics, like hosting a funeral for a beloved 82-year-old shoe-repair shop under threat of closure.

He recently shifted tactics from covering the frequent closure of iconic New York dive bars and restaurants to getting involved in the effort to save those businesses. He doesn't consider himself as influential as Mr. Berman or as effective as Mr. Gruen.

But he hopes his "#SaveNYC" movement, a self-described do-it-yourself anti-gentrification crusade, can persuade the City Council to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to help commercial tenants avoid being priced out.

"I'm good at making noise," Mr. Moss said. "I think of myself as a cage-rattler. Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tony's

Like old barber shops, I love old shoe repair shops. Every time I see one that looks promisingly ancient and unchanged, I go in for a shine. For years, every time I went by Tony's Shoe Repair on West 35th Street, the gate was down. My timing was never right.

And then it was.



Currently run by Guy Pisani, Tony's has been around for 81 years--and then some.

Their Facebook page reads: "Since 1934 Tony's Shoe Repair has been a family run business in the heart of the garment district on 7th Avenue in New York City. For three generations our family has faithfully served the mid-town area through thick and thin."

Mitch Broder explains the lineage: "Tony is the son of Tony, who also isn’t Tony, but who is also the son of Tony, who also wasn’t Tony. The real Tony was the guy who opened the store in 1928 and sold it six years later to another guy, named Gaetano. Gaetano kept Tony’s sign, thus becoming the second Tony and setting the stage for his son Dan and grandson Gaetano, or Guy, to become the third and fourth Tonys."



It's the kind of place where the shine men chat amiably amongst themselves, old friends who have been there forever.

They wear blue smocks. Their hands are stained with polish.

The man who shined my shoes offered not brown polish, but cordovan. "Yeah, that's definitely cordovan." He pronounced the syllables individually, each with equal emphasis: COR-DO-VAN. Just hearing the word was a pleasure. And then he said it again, for good measure.



The interior decor, the signage, all recalls the old New York, unfussy and unfixed up, weathered and real. Perfect. One sign in the window advertises SHOE DYING, a poignant misspelling.

The place hasn't been redecorated since 1966. On a back wall, photos of forgotten boxers peel away, souvenirs from nearby Madison Square Garden. Otherwise, the chairs are red. The walls are paneled.

And the shine is good.

That's all you need to know.




More cobbler shops--mostly lost:
A. Fontana Shoe Repair
Jim's Shoe Repair
Magic Shoe Repair
David's Shoe Repair
Hidden Shoe Repair Shop
Andrade Shoe Repair
Cobblers of Brooklyn
Louis Shoe Rebuilders

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Duke's

Tonight is the last night of the original Duke's "roadhouse" bar in Gramercy.

Ken Pierce shares their goodbye email: “To our loyal Duke’s Customers, After 20 years in the Gramercy Neighborhood, we are closing our doors at the end of the summer. Thank you for all the great times throughout the years. Our Murray Hill location at 860 Third Avenue will remain open and we hope to see you there for more of your favorite food, drinks, staff and good times.”

Are we seeing a mass die-off of the urban faux-roadhouse and honky tonk? First Rodeo Bar was booted by a rent hike, then Hogs & Heifers by a massive rent hike, and now Duke's, for reasons as yet unknown. They were all in their 20s. When will Trailer Park succumb?



Can't say I was ever a big fan of Duke's. It was, for a brief time, an after-work spot when I worked near there. That's about it.

New York describes the place: "The kitschy touches at Duke's begin right at the door, where a large hotel-style neon sign advertises color television and vacancy. You'll find both inside, where the crowd is strictly J. Crew and the nine big-screen TVs, usually tuned to this day in sports." And "The per-capita percentage of curved-bill baseball caps is frat-basement high."

Monday, July 27, 2015

48th and 7th

Across 48th from soon-to-vanish Rudy's Music Stop, more is vanishing from this little old block.

Earlier this spring, the Smiler's deli on the corner of West 48th and 7th Avenue closed. The building was purchased by SL Green for $41.1 million. Wrapped in black netting and scaffolding, it has been demolished.



There used to be several Smiler's all-night delis in the city. Now there are only a few. In the 70s, this one was an Orange Julius and The Doll theater--LIVE ACTS ON STAGE SEEING IS BELIEVING!

Constructed in 1927, it was a nice-looking building, too.


photobucket

The little old buildings to the east of this one--down to what was Manny's Music--have all been acquired by the Rockefeller Group.

The Post reported that SL Green will build a three-story building on the corner. Others have speculated that he'll buy out Rockefeller's parcel and put something enormous here.

Winick has the rendering: "over 5,400 SF of brilliant, high-resolution digital LED signage to carry your animated brand messaging in all directions"! And there's a website for the building, which is more billboard than building, with an animation that might give you a seizure.



With the lovely Loews Mayfair building demolished on 47th and 7th to make room for another glass and digital monstrosity, this elderly block--once filled with interesting things--is fading fast.

What is the future for the secret peep theater buried beneath it?






Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Homeless Reappearing (& Vanishing)

There's been all this panicked talk recently about an increased visibility of homeless people. The neoliberal media is worried about a return to the city's "bad old days." Mayor de Blasio just sent a swarm of NYPD to guard Tompkins Square Park from the people who sleep in it. Again, there has been no recent spike in the homeless population--the massive increase happened under Bloomberg's stingy policies. They're just not getting hassled, dragged away, and imprisoned like they were under our previous two mayors. The homeless have always been with us.

Which brings me to a 1960 essay by Jack Kerouac, "The Vanishing American Hobo." Wrote Kerouac, "The American Hobo has a hard time hoboing nowadays due to the increase in police surveillance." Prosperous towns "don’t want old bums any more."

Bums, hobos, homeless--they don't vanish because the city takes care of them, giving them psychiatric care and affordable housing. They "vanish" because they are put in jail or swept to the margins. Bloomberg even hatched a scheme to load them onto old cruise ships and push them out to sea.

Anyway, here's a selection from Kerouac's essay in which he focuses on the old Bowery.


from Lionel Rogosin's The Bowery

The Bowery is the haven for hobos who came to the big city to make the big time by getting pushcarts and collecting cardboard. -- Lots of Bowery bums are Scandinavian, lots of them bleed easily because they drink too much. -- When winter comes bums drink a drink called smoke, it consists of wood alcohol and a drop of iodine and a scab of lemon, this they gulp down and wham! they hibernate all winter so as not to catch cold, because they dont live anywhere, and it gets very cold outside in the city in winter. -- Sometimes hobos sleep arm-in-arm to keep warm, right on the sidewalk. Bowery Mission veterans say that the beer-drinking bums are the most belligerent of the lot.

Fred Bunz is the great Howard Johnson's of the bums -- it is located on 277 Bowery in New York. They write the menu in soap on the windows. -- You see the bums reluctantly paying fifteen cents for pig brains, twenty-five cents for goulash, and shuffling out in thin cotton shirts in the cold November night to go and make the lunar Bowery with a smash of broken bottle in an alley where they stand against a wall like naughty boys. -- Some of them wear adventurous rainy hats picked up by the track in Hugo Colorado or blasted shoes kicked off by Indians in the dumps of Juarez, or coats from the lugubrious salon of the seal and fish. --Bum hotels are white and tiled and seem as though they were upright johns. -- Used to be bums told tourists that they once were successful doctors, now they tell tourists they were once guides for movie stars or directors in Africa and that when TV came into being they lost their safari rights.

...


Fred Bunz, where Whole Foods is today

American hobo Lou Jenkins from Allentown Pennsylvania was interviewed at Fred Bunz's on the Bowery. -- "What you wanta know all this info for, what you want?"

"I understand that you've been a hobo travelin' around the country."

"How about givin' a fella a few bits for some wine before we talk."

"Al, go get the wine."

"Where's this gonna be in, the Daily News?"

"No, in a book."

"What are you young kids doing here, I mean where's the drink?"

"Al's gone to the liquor store -- You wanted Thunderbird, wasn't it?"

"Yair."

Lou Jenkins then grew worse----"How about a few bits for a flop tonight?"

"Okay, we just wanta ask you a few questions like why did you leave Allentown?"

"My wife. -- My wife, -- Never get married. You'll never live it down. You mean to say it's gonna be in a book hey what I'm sayin'?"

"Come on say something about bums or something."

"Well, whattya wanta know about bums? Lot of 'em around, kinda tough these days, no money -- lissen, how about a good meal?"

"See you in the Sagamore." (Respectable bums' cafeteria at Third and Cooper Union.)

"Okay kid, thanks a lot." -- He opens the Thunderbird bottle with one expert flip of the plastic seal. -- Glub, as the moon rises resplendent as a rose he swallows with big ugly lips thirsty to gulp the throat down, Sclup! and down goes the drink and his eyes be-pop themselves and he licks tongue on top lip and says "H-a-h!" And he shouts "Don't forget my name is spelled Jenkins, J-e-n-k-y-n-s. --"

Another character -- "You say that your name is Ephram Freece of Pawling New York?"

"Well, no, my name is James Russell Hubbard."

"You look pretty respectable for a bum."

"My grandfather was a Kentucky colonel."

"Oh?"

"Yes."

"Whatever made you come here to Third Avenue?"

"I really cant do it, I don't care, I cant be bothered, I feel nothing, I dont care anymore. I'm sorry but --somebody stole my razor blade last night, if you can lay some money on me I'll buy myself a Schick razor."

"Where will you plug it in? Do you have such facilities?"

"A Schick injector."

"Oh."

"And I always carry this book with me -- The Rules of St. Benedict. A dreary book, but well I got another book in my pack. A dreary book too I guess."

"Why do you read it then?"

"Because I found it -- I found it in Bristol last year."

"What are you interested in? You like interested in something?"

"Well, this other book I got there is er, yee, er, a big strange book -- you shouldn't be interviewing me. Talk to that old nigra fella over there with the harmonica -- I'm no good for nothing, all I want is to be left alone."

"I see you smoke a pipe."

"Yeah -- Granger tobacco. Want some?"

"Will you show me the book?"

"No, I aint got it with me, I only got this with me." -- He points to his pipe and tobacco.

"Can you say something?"

"Lightin flash."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

La Taza

In May, I reported that Chelsea's wonderful La Taza de Oro had been shuttered for a month, due to problems with the neighboring building and Con-Ed's intensified restrictions and regulations enforced after the Second Avenue gas explosion.

Now I've heard some good news.



When recently checking in on the place, I chatted with a man who seemed to know what he was talking about. He told me, "We're opening in November."

Keep your fingers crossed.


Monday, July 20, 2015

M&G to Capsule

Harlem's M&G Diner shuttered back in 2008 when the beloved soul food restaurant went on vacation and never returned. It had been around for maybe 40 years.

Most of the antique signage was removed and the spectacular facade was made miserably dull.

Now reader Christina Wilkinson sends in a shot of the new business in the space. It's called Capsule. They sell men's "streetwear," brands like G-Star, Billionaire Boys Club, Ralph Lauren.


Christina Wilkinson

Photographers James and Karla Murray took before-and-after photos of M&G awhile back.


James and Karla Murray: Click photo to enlarge

In the older shot, the façade is resplendent, its red awning announcing SOUL FOOD in a typeface slightly serifed, while above, neon signs fringed in lights deliriously announce “Southern fried chicken” that promises to be “old fashion’ BUT Good!” (The letter “i” is dotted with a star.) Is the “BUT” meant to mean “nonetheless,” to say that while the chicken is old-fashioned, it yet tastes good? I don’t think so. The “but good” is likely the idiomatic expression, dating back as far as the 1930s, to mean extremely and thoroughly. In which case, “old fashion'” is not something to apologize for, but something to celebrate.

Casting your eyes over the old M&G, there is so much to look at it, to be stimulated by, to feel and to think about. In the after photo, there is nothing. The signs, the typefaces, the awning, the yellow paint, the crooked doors--all gone, replaced by dull sheets of glass. No variation. No unevenness. No life.

Today, you can find an artifact of the old M&G at Marcus Samuelsson's Streetbird restaurant.