Thursday, March 5, 2015


Last week, I put up a new website: #SaveNYC. It came out of the SaveNYC Facebook group, which came out of the fight to save Cafe Edison. It felt like we had some momentum there and I wanted to keep it going, to bring together many voices in support of legislation and zoning to protect the city's beleaguered small businesses and vanishing cultural fabric. Maybe, with enough voices shouting together, City Hall will listen.

#SaveNYC has already gotten media attention--from DNAInfo and The Atlantic's Citylab, with inquiries from major television news. But we need more of you on the site, telling City Hall what you want to see happen.

There are two ways to get your voice heard on #SaveNYC: Make a video statement or write your statement

A video statement will have more of an impact--and it's easy to do. It requires a simple camera--a point-and-shoot or the one in your smartphone will do the trick. Then upload it to Youtube and send in the link. No need for fancy edits. It takes 5 minutes.

If you're camera shy, do it as a voiceover. Do it as a group. Hold a sign over your face that says #SaveNYC while you talk. Be creative. Just be sure to make it a statement direct to the powers that be. (If technology makes you nervous, ask a friend to film you. Children and young people are good at this stuff. If you're not afraid of technology, offer to film your Luddite friends and older people.)

Another helpful thing you can do is to film your local small businesspeople and ask them to make a statement to City Hall.

If you're tired of sitting around complaining while nothing changes, here's your chance to be heard. The more voices that come together, the more they'll have to listen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


It's been years since I've had a meal at Moran's on 10th Avenue in Chelsea. Every time I've gone by recently, I've thought, "I have to go back before it's gone." And then, "Oh, but Moran's will never go." I mean, it's been there since 1957. How can it just vanish?

By now, you'd think I'd know better.

ArtNews made this announcement on Monday:

"Moran’s, a Chelsea restaurant on Tenth Avenue where auction house specialists, Upper East Side gallery directors, and Lower East Side art dealers have all joined together at some point to eat french fries at the bar and snort cocaine in the not-at-all-inconspicuous-enough bathroom, has closed. The restaurant confirmed this on the phone Monday afternoon, saying its building was sold. The restaurant shut down last Thursday. 'The soul of Chelsea has officially died,' as one art world patron put it to me in an e-mail, I think earnestly."

But that's not the whole story.

I called Moran's in disbelief and was told they are, indeed, closed. But only temporarily. They're renovating and should reopen in 10 - 15 days.

This leaves us with a number of questions. Namely, will Moran's be the same old, unpretentious, cozy joint? Or will it become yet another high-end, High-Lined dining experience?

Update: A reader sent in this goodbye sign. New management. Moran's as we know it has vanished.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dogs & Papaya

Last week, the Observer published an Op-Ed entitled "The Tyranny of Nostalgia." In the article, Anthony L. Fisher essentially named me as Nostalgia Tyrant #1. (If only!) There's so much to argue against in the piece, but I've said it all before, in depth, a million times. So I'm taking the Bartleby route on this one.

That said, one line has stuck with me: "Not too many people eat hot dogs anymore." This is the real reason, says Fisher, that Gray's Papaya was booted from 8th Street and replaced with a Liquiteria. We've been hearing this argument lately. It goes: Tastes have changed, "people" aren't going to "those places" anymore, and that's why they vanish. But there is one reason why Gray's Papaya closed--the landlord nearly doubled the rent. Rent hike or denial of lease renewal is almost always the reason our favorite old places close.

New Yorkers eat hot dogs. Unfortunately, low-priced everyday franks--without the artisanal bells and whistles--can't pay the new exorbitant rents. So we're left with fewer and fewer hot dog stands.

From my count (am I missing any?), Manhattan now has just eight spots to grab a couple of hot dogs and a papaya drink, way down from a once plentiful number. I went to all of them* and ordered the same meal: Two dogs (with mustard and relish) and a 16-ounce papaya drink. The ever-present "recession special," which goes for about 5 bucks.

Papaya King, 179 East 86th Street

The grandaddy of them all, Papaya King opened on this corner in 1932. It was founded by Greek immigrant Gus Poulos. They have the best neon sign. Check out this video (mark 6:16) in which Jerry Rio interviews Peter Poulos on the history and importance of Papaya King.

Back in 1991, the New York Times wrote: "What would be a non sequitur in cities like Omaha and Wichita -- or even Washington and Boston -- is now as unshakable a pairing in New York as as corned beef and cabbage or pastrami and rye. These days it is hard to find a hot dog shop in some parts of the city that does not promote papaya and other tropical fruit drinks with its hot dogs. Almost anywhere one looks there is Papaya King, Papaya Heaven, Papaya Paradise, Papaya Place, Papaya Circle, Papaya World, Original Papaya, Gray's Papaya, Mike's Papaya or Papaya Jack. No doubt there are more."

And the King started it.

This spot's location on the Upper East Side means that men drive up in luxury cars, jump out, get their dogs, and go. In between, its everyday Joes--construction workers, taxi drivers, panhandlers. Women eat hot dogs, too, but I saw far more men in these places.

Papaya King, 3 St. Mark's Place

This outpost of the King opened quite recently, in the spring of 2013. There were others, including one in Times Square that closed sometime in the early 2000s, but now there are just two. Plus a roving food truck. This one always seems kind of quiet. Maybe people don't eat hot dogs on St. Mark's Place.

Gray's Papaya, 2090 Broadway at 72nd St.

Gray's opened on the Upper West Side in 1973. It was founded by Paul Gray, a former partner in Papaya King, who broke away to do his own thing.

There once were more Gray's Papayas, including the still-missed location at 6th Avenue and 8th Street. As previously mentioned, it closed in 2014 thanks to a rent hike, and has been replaced by a Liquiteria.

This dearly beloved spot is busy, even in bad weather. Standing room only, there's no room left at the counters. Here, a homeless man loiters, panhandling for change. As long as he's not getting aggressive, he's tolerated and given a few coins, which he spends on hot dogs.

Papaya Dog, 14th St. and 1st Ave.

With four New York locations (there's a fifth in Hoboken--am I missing any?), there are more Papaya Dogs today than there are Papaya Kings and Gray's Papayas. Still, Papaya Dog goes uncelebrated, treated like the poor stepchild of the elder two (both of which have Wikipedia pages, while Papaya Dog does not).

The Papaya Dogs are a bit rougher around the edges. But this one on 14th and 1st breaks with the standing-only tradition and offers a couple of booths for sit-down dining.

Customer traffic is constant at the Papaya Dogs. School kids flock to them. Workers stop in during their lunch breaks. Laborers pull up their rumbling dump trucks and garbage trucks and plumbing repair vans, and hop out in smudgy coveralls for "two to go with ketchup and onions" or "gimme two with mustard and sauerkraut," a cup of papaya or coconut champagne to wash them down.

At all the hot dog stands, the crowd is racially and socioeconomically diverse. Many people of color are eating hot dogs. Immigrants are eating hot dogs. Tourists and students are eating hot dogs. This is not a food of so-called nostalgia. It is a democratic food of affordability and accessibility. 

Papaya Dog, 6th Ave. and Cornelia St.

This particular Papaya Dog won't last much longer. It's in a building bought in 2013 by a luxury developer. They've got plans to kick out all the funky, long-time little tenants and replace them with national chain stores.

Dog-and-papaya places are especially vulnerable because they tend to be located on corners. That's prime real estate for banks and other national chains. Landlords know this and hike the rent, or simply kick them out.

Papaya Dog, 5th Ave. and 33rd St.

This one's the smallest of all the dog-and-papaya joints, with barely a sliver of counter space for dining behind a trash can. They've got a deal with the pizzeria next door, though, and you can bring your meal over there. At lunchtime, the tables are bustling.

Papaya Dog, 9th Ave. and 42nd St.

This corner spot was also rumored to be vanishing. It's in the old Elk Hotel (go inside the hotel here), which was emptied and put on the market awhile back. But, somehow, the Papaya Dog is still standing. This one also has tables and chairs.

Among the young tourists and families, an elderly woman sits at a table and applies her fire-engine red lipstick. Cops and taxi drivers hustle in and out.

Chelsea Papaya, 23rd St. and 7th Ave.

After the three big guys, a few scrappy papaya-and-dog joints have spawned and survived. Well, not really survived. And not really a few. The 21st century has been cruel. Hot dog stands started vanishing fast when everything else did. Rents went up and up. Yorkville's Green Papaya vanished around 2009. East Harlem's Frank's Papaya went sometime after 2008. Three Mike's Papayas died in the past few years. Many others folded around town.

But Chelsea Papaya remains, an oddball in the dog-and-papaya world, right down the block from the Chelsea Hotel. The window ledge gives you the perfect place to perch and watch the drama of the street unfold. Again the place is intermittently packed, with lines of customers jamming into the small space, coming and going quickly.

Mike's Papaya, 132 E. 23rd St. at Lexington

In my quest to dine at every dog-and-papaya place, I regrettably arrived at the last Mike's Papaya about two days too late. It's gone, closed "due to an unforeseen circumstance," according to the sign in the window.

There used to be a few Mike's Papayas (the Reade Street location vanished in 2012, and another at Broadway and 110th went in 2002). Then there was just this one by Gramercy Park.

We don't know what Mike's "unforeseen circumstance" was, but we can be sure that when the rent on all the dog-and-papaya places is doubled and tripled, it won't matter that they were busy and beloved. We'll hear journalists say that "Tastes have changed" and "People don't eat hot dogs anymore." Eventually, that statement will be true, but only because there will be nowhere left to find such a rare and affordable delicacy.

*I was already nearly finished with this post when the Observer op-ed came out. It took weeks to complete. I did not eat 16 hot dogs in one weekend.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Roseland's Remains

Roseland Ballroom closed last spring. It's been getting demolished, to be replaced with a 62-story luxury high-rise.

Here's what it looked like before demolition, from the satellites of Google Earth:

And here's the same aerial view today, via Jon Ford, who took the shot from his office window up above. It's a bird's-eye peek into the long-loved ballroom, busted open and strewn with rubble:

Jon Ford

Roseland opened in 1919 and moved to 52nd Street in 1956. The boat-shaped ballroom had been a skating rink before then.

Barbara Gee Danskin


The Barbara Gee Danskin shop on Broadway at 82nd Street is closing. They've been in business since 1975.

photo: Elizabeth Shelton

Reader Elizabeth Shelton sent in the news, along with a video interview of their salesman Mike for #SaveNYC.

He says the shop is closing for "economic reasons--rent and everything else that goes along with it."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Is Authentically Harlem?

Last week, the Columbia Spectator published an op-ed entitled "Is Columbia really destroying Harlem’s authenticity?" Written by first-year student Cristian Zaharia, it supports the school's expansion into Harlem, which was made possible via eminent domain. Zaharia argues that Harlem's authentic culture is not African-American, but one of ever-changing cultures dating back to the Dutch, and that the expansion "will be the start of a new, fresh era for the neighborhood."

On his Facebook page, Harlem historian and activist Michael Henry Adams wrote a reasoned and impassioned response. It is reproduced here in full, with his permission:

Adams arrested while protesting the demolition of Harlem's Renaissance Ballroom and Casino, photo by Antwan Minter

Harlem has numerous lovely old buildings reflecting varied cultures, even former synagogues. But throughout history, nothing about Harlem has made it renown, world-wide, apart from black people. One may talk all one likes about other earlier Harlems populated by people who were not black. By contrast, these white Harlems were insignificant. African Americans alone--our culture, drive, and creativity--have accorded Harlem a status as fabled and fabulous as that held by Paris or Rome. Everything, anything else is superfluous, even meaningless, in terms of Harlem's well-deserved fame.

Entertaining any illusions about the possibility of preserving an authentic Harlem, absent African Americans, it's instructive to look downtown. What survives in Greenwich Village or Hell's Kitchen, to suggest an earlier historic black identity today? And so, yes, Columbia and by extension unknowing or unwitting students--through displacement and gentrification--are rapidly helping to destroy Harlem's irreplaceable heritage and rich legacy.

You are not alone. Many blacks, beguiled by white dollars, are just as eager to replace the houses, churches, schools, stores, theatres and other buildings where Langston Hughes, Georgette Harvey, A'Lelia Walker and other Harlem luminaries, lived, worked, played and prayed, with more luxury condominiums.

Indeed, whatever one has to suggest, even if it's making a black congregation's church into a private school for your kids, or a mansion just for you, they are cool with it. A fig leaf of 20% "affordable" housing, and an historic name, derived from some black hero, for the new condo building or the street or park nearby are nice, but hardly essential. Landmarking and preservation that enhance neighborhoods downtown are antithetical to them. "How much longer will blacks exert political sway over Harlem?" they reason, "while whites are buying, we had better sell up."

A few brave voices contest Columbia University’s contention that their Harlem expansion plans will be universally beneficial. "It's nothing but rubbish," says distinguished and scholarly architectural historian Robin Middleton, who formerly taught at Cambridge before joining the faculty at Columbia. "Columbia's plans are simply monstrous, like an Orwellian, Stalinist, or dystopian campus of factories. No one touting how much they cherish 'design excellence,' could possibly approve of what they are doing, unless of course if it were their job to do so. And, it is, isn't it?"

It was around the connected issues of Harlem being up-zoned, and observing Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden much more closely, that I began to see who she really is and how it shapes what's at stake. Did it help the homeless to provide for evermore $900,000 condos, in a community where the yearly wage for half the residents is less than $36,000? Is it beneficial to small local merchants, allowing for 25-story towers where 19th-century buildings with just 6 floors once prevailed? What's the point of confiscating thriving businesses that want to be a part of a new revitalized Harlem? Why were they "compensated" at a rate pegged to the value of property prior to the zoning change allowing greater density? Why clear 17 acres, solely for Columbia's use, and leave only 2 of dozens of historic structures? Ought not the sole Planning Commission vote against this ill-conceived venture, cast by Karen Philips, a black woman who lives in Harlem, to have influenced the chair, who said, "The community is not going to buy in, unless it reflects their culture?"

For a long while, it seemed as if the teeming numbers of poor people here would mean Harlem's and Manhattanville's salvation. Reliable voters, housing project residents seemed sure to elect legislators who would act in their interests. Given the great numbers of low-income people here and the enmity that many affluent have to living among such people, it seemed as if gentrification might just be held at bay.

Now the marketplace seems poised to pressure the elimination of such oasis of affordable civility. More and more affordable housing and other matters affecting the poor are deemed issues only possible to address by warmly embracing the concerns and requirements of the rich. In a city of more than eight million, an utterly unwinnable solution to the massive problem of housing that's unaffordable to most is underway.

Seemingly commendable, government in partnership with developers, is making inclusion of "affordable" housing a condition for building. Ironically though, on average, 80% of all new housing is targeted for those who already have the greatest amount of choice, people who make up fewer than 20% of the population. Conversely, the "affordable" component, typically 20% of units in a new structure, will never meet an ever-growing demand among the city's working poor.

What will remain when it's all finished? No one can say for certain. Some romantically hope for the best. That, miraculously, the African American Cultural Capital at Harlem will somehow survive. Very likely, however, what's in store for Harlem instead is yet another Manhattan community like every other: one boasting the same stores, restaurants, banks, condos, and rich people. As one writer observed, "the same three stores, for the same two people."

Michael Henry Adams is an accomplished writer, lecturer, historian, tour guide, and activist. Born in Akron, Ohio, he lives in Harlem. Michael trained at Columbia University's graduate historic preservation program. His books include "Harlem, Lost and Found: An Architectural and Social History, 1765-1915," and "Style and Grace: African Americans at Home." Currently, he's at work on the forthcoming "Homo Harlem: A Chronicle of Lesbian and Gay Life in the African American Cultural Capital, 1915-1995." He is a passionate supporter of historic preservation, for the Casino Renaissance the fire watch tower restoration and Villa Lewaro, Madam Walker's house at Irvington. Dismayed by Harlem's piecemeal destruction, he is seeking to establish a preservation advocacy organization to Save Harlem Heritage. For additional info, call 212-862-2556.

You can also follow him on Twitter: @harlemhellion

Capturing Manhattanville
Rebranding Harlem
The eviction of 125th
On revanchist hyper-gentrification
Columbia wins right to seize private property in Harlem

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fantasy World & Shack

Fantasy World has vacated its wedge-shaped building at 7th Avenue and West 11th Street. The shop is empty. Signs in the window say they've moved to 333 6th Avenue at West 4th.


In 2013, The Real Deal reported that Fantasy World would not last much longer here. Developer Ike Chehebar "made an application to Landmarks Preservation Commission to add several floors to the one-story building."

“They didn’t really want us here,” Fantasy World salesclerk Aileen Baez told TRD. “It took a lot to get this open because people don’t want a sex shop in their neighborhood. But we’ve never had any problems.”

Chehebar said, “We hope to reposition that asset with a high-end, value-add tenant — something along the lines of Nespresso."

before the closure

I don't know how long Fantasy World was here. In my search for Edward Hopper's Nighthawks diner, I considered their building as a possibility, but it didn't pan out. I did, however, find this 1980s tax photo of the building back when it was a Discount Center. In the 1930s and 40s, it was a liquor store.

From what I can tell, it's never been anything high-end or value-add.

Here's another shot, from a snowy day in the 80s:

photo: Nathan Tweti

For many decades, behind the Fantasy World building there was a little wedge-shaped shack. (I also considered it for Nighthawks.)

The structure was a crooked, ramshackle thing, an odd space that had long ago been the Graziano Market, and more recently the Yavroom jewelry shop.


Well, it has just been utterly fancified--because no little scrap of the city can escape such a fate. Looks like it was completely torn down and replaced with a glassy, glossy version of its old self.

It's 235 square feet and it's going for $5,000 per month. Maybe someone will put in a "specialty" coffee bar and pretend it was once the Nighthawks diner.