Friday, March 16, 2018

El Quijote


After nearly 90 years in the Chelsea Hotel, the great and wonderful and gorgeous El Quijote is closing on March 30.

Eater reports: "Staffers at the historic restaurant, located at 226 West 23rd St. between Seventh and Eighth avenues, were given two weeks notice. Ownership allegedly told employees that the restaurant is being renovated and will re-open eventually. Eater NY has reached out to the restaurant for comment."

Back in 2014, I reported on this coming closure. At the time, I was told that El Quijote would be upscaled and sanitized in a fashion similar to what happened to Minetta Tavern.

The plan was denied -- and then confirmed. A rep for Ed Scheetz, the man who took over the hotel, said at the time that they would "retain the signature look and feel of El Quijote" while "maintaining its authenticity."

But then life went on. El Q remained untouched. We held our breath.

When -- and if -- the place reopens, it won't be the old El Quijote anymore.

Banksy's Back

Banksy is back in town. He unveiled a mural on the Houston Street wall today, urging the liberation of Turkish artist Zehra Dogan.

A Banksy rat appeared on a clock at 14th and 6th Avenue, atop the old Greenwich Savings Bank that will soon be torn down for luxury condos.

photo via Banksy

Now Instagrammers are finding more possible Banksy easter eggs around town, including one somewhere in East Harlem:

And another at Avenue I and Coney Island Ave -- both with a similar message for the capitalist class:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Silver Spurs


The Silver Spurs coffee shop has been around since 1979. After this month, it will be no more.

The original on Broadway and 9th Street shuttered in 2013, thanks to an expired lease that was not renewed. The landlord hiked the rent, breaking hearts, and the space went to Starbucks. That left one other Silver Spurs, at Houston and Laguardia.

A reader in the Village sent in the news and spent some time talking with Kiki Bourekas, the manager of the restaurant, who said the place is closing because business is down. As we know, coffee shops are closing all over the city.

Kiki says, “It was like Cheers in here. It was family. Customers became friends. You came here and made friends in the neighborhood. I’ve been here since it opened 22 years ago. People in the neighborhood call it ‘Kiki’s.' 'Let’s go get some of Kiki’s coffee,' they say. I stayed on all that time because I liked it so much."

The place is family owned and got its western theme in 1979 "Because of the uncle. He liked western."

They used to be open 24 hours a day on the weekend, Kiki recalled, and the place was always full, often with college and graduate students. "But two years ago, we stopped being able to make it. Not enough customers, especially at night. It’s very sad. Me and all the guys are out of a job.”

The last day will be March 29 and Kiki says, “Be sure to come in and get your last hamburger!” She gets off work at 3:30 if you want to say goodbye.

As for what's coming to take the place of Silver Spurs, Kiki hears it'll be an ice-cream place. “Expensive," she says.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shakespeare & Co.


It's rare when bookstores open. It's rare to get any good news in this town about local businesses. And yet. Yesterday we heard that Shakespeare & Co. is opening two new stores in the city.

There will be one in Greenwich Village, in the spot long occupied by Jefferson Market (closed in 2008, turned into a Gristede's, and then a luxury condo showroom). Another will come to the Upper West Side at 2020 Broadway, between 69th and 70th Streets. (None for the book-starved East Village?)

They are slated to open in the fall/winter of 2018.


I asked CEO Dane Neller a few quick questions.

Q: Downtown, we still miss the Broadway location near NYU (closed in 2014 and turned into a Foot Locker). Will the new shop on 6th and 11th Street have a similarly curated selection?

A: Yes, with more selection since it’s a larger store.

Q: With so many bookstores closing across the city, what's the secret to surviving -- and growing -- in the current market?

A: Being community based; offering an intimate setting and literary cafe for customers to convene, socialize, and browse; providing a forum for self-expressions and creation with the Espresso Book Machine technology; and having a thoughtfully curated selection of books geared to the neighborhood patrons, with knowledgeable and friendly booksellers.

Q: So is it a myth that people are reading (and buying) fewer print books?

A: Absolutely. Printed books still represent over 75% of total industry sales.

At the Shakespeare & Co. uptown

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wong Kee


Reader Ted Rao writes in:

"The amazing Wong Kee, located on Mott Street between Canal and Grand, succumbed to a new landlord and rising rents. Its last day was 1/21/18."

photo via Yelp

According to this video from SinoVision, Wong Kee was in Chinatown for nearly 30 years.

The lease ended and apparently was not renewed by the landlord. According to SinoVision, "The landlord plans to take the property back and construct a pharmacy in its place." There are already several pharmacies nearby.

Monday, March 12, 2018

'99 Snapshots

The following is from photographer Michael Berman:

’99 Snapshots is a documentary project about people I met and photographed in 1999. I met them on sidewalks and in places of business in each of Manhattan’s many neighborhoods. I am now re-photographing and interviewing as many of the 300+ original people as I can find, seeking details about who they were in ’99, who they are now, and their thoughts on multiple topics including New York but also big ones like life and the passage of time. Because I encountered the people in 1999 randomly, the group as a whole reflects demographic diversity. I aim to turn this into a book and a documentary film.

Marian and Lindsay, Harlem

I’m able to find many people on my own, using social media and the phone book (I have their 1999 names). But some people I can’t find, so I post “ISOs” to the project’s Instagram feed, with hopes that people might help out.

Sometimes I find out that a person has died. If possible, I want to include them anyway. So I try to find out about them by speaking with people who knew them. I feel it's important to pay homage to who they were.

Here are a few examples from the project of people who I have found. There are more on the Instagram feed.

Nina, real estate broker. That might be the biz she’s in, but she has real problems with how much real estate costs have skyrocketed. She’s read “Vanishing New York." She acknowledges that the cost of an apartment in New York has increased too much for many people. When asked what could be done about this, she said: “Oh, god. I wish I knew. I don’t know if there’s an answer really. It used to be that city planning was a big thing. But now it’s all being done behind closed doors. The profit motive is just too strong, and it seems to outweigh everything.”

Abdul, food cart operator on lower Broadway. When I photographed him in ’99 he was one of only 2 small carts on the northern edge of what is now Zuccotti Park (then it was called Liberty Plaza Park). Now he’s across Broadway and he’s one of about 7 carts there. I asked him when it expanded to more food carts at that location and he said soon after 9/11, because tourists started coming and the area got a lot busier. He told me that several years ago he fell and injured his foot. Now he has a muscle that doesn’t work properly. He has health insurance but cannot take time off for surgery because recovery would be six months, and that would be time without income. He is married with 4 children.

Here's Jon, an advertising exec on the creative side, waiting to catch his train from Grand Central in 1999. Jon now works from home in Connecticut and has his own small agency.

James, in 1999, worked at the Empire Diner. In 2018, he’s living in Park Slope, making paintings and working as a personal assistant.

Below is a photo of someone who passed away several years ago. When I photographed him in ’99, he said his name was Michael Peterson, but I believe he later went as Michelle Rostelli. Michelle was a regular fixture on the Lower East Side, and lived on Rivington Street. She loved making the rounds of the local businesses there. She helped herself to coffee and cookies at Sugar Sweet Sunshine, and they never let her pay. They have a memorial sign in her honor on the wall when you walk in.

If anyone who reads this knew Michelle/Michael well enough to talk about the person she was, please contact me to do an interview at (Note: I prefer on-camera, and will ask you to sign a release.) I’m also told that there may have been a film about her. If anyone knows who the filmmaker is, or how to locate the film, I’d love to find out.

See more on Vimeo


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The St. Denis Building

The St. Denis building south of Union Square is full of stories. For 165 years, it's been a place for the famous and the radical. Most recently, it's been full of shrinks.

But that's all coming to an end as the building is emptied--displacing hundreds of small business people (myself included)--and as Union Square changes under the pressures of hyper-gentrification and City Halls' "Tech Hub."

I talked to the people inside the St. Denis, and wrote up the story of the Death and Life of a Great American Building for the New York Review of Books Daily. Read it here.