Thursday, October 19, 2017

HiFi Bar


Last night, word circulated on social media that HiFi Bar on Avenue A is closing.

HiFi was Brownie's from 1989 until 2002, when the concept changed a bit. The Voice called it "a quintessential neighborhood music staple in an era when any indie band with a guitar and a cheap band T-shirt to sell could get a record deal." Those bands included The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, and Death Cab for Cutie.

photo of Stuto by Robert Stolarik, for New York Times

The bar's co-owner Mike Stuto posted yesterday on his Facebook page:

"I (sorta) regret to inform you that my bar HiFi will be closing at the end of this calendar month, ending my 23 year tenure at 169 Avenue A. All parties booked before the end of the month will happen as planned. The story? Quite simply, the renovations we undertook a few years ago to reinvigorate the business were not successful in putting us back on a good financial footing. The generation of people who inhabit this neighborhood on weekends remain mostly indifferent to the place.... while I hoped that would help us have a broad appeal to the newbies, it turns out that it translated as utilitarian (aka boring) to their tastes."

He adds, "I want it to be clear that the building’s landlord is in no way to blame for this outcome." In this case, it wasn't the rent. It was the changing East Village.

In his memorial post last night, Alex Smith at Flaming Pablum noted, "the sting of [Stuto's] observation that the current denizens of the neighborhood are 'indifferent' to the character and legacy of HiFi/Brownie’s remains. Much like the Joe Strummer mural a few blocks to the south and a few other other fleeting signifiers, HiFi is ultimately a fading vestige of the sensibility of a vanished East Village."

As the Times put it in 2014, "Now that the East Village is filled with artisanal restaurants and upscale boutiques, HiFi is no longer just another dive but a tether to this neighborhood’s faded bohemia."

That tether has broken.

photo by Robert Stolarik, for New York Times

Back to the 2015 Voice article:

"Meanwhile, rents kept going up and the East Village continued to gentrify, and so the neighborhood clientele changed.

According to Stuto, the area went from bohemia and blue collar to something he never imagined would occur at his doorstep.

'You never saw someone with a jacket and a briefcase and tie coming out of an apartment in the morning when you were going to work. There were none of those,' Stuto said. 'I still remember the first time I saw one of those people in the neighborhood. The people who use the East Village as a destination today versus the people who used this neighborhood as a destination 20 years ago or more, they’re just different people.'"

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Deconstructing the High Line

Next Tuesday, October 24 at 6:30pm, the editors of the book Deconstructing the High Line: Postindustrial Urbanism and the Rise of the Elevated Park will explore the after-effects of the popular luxury park, looking at gentrification along with causes and consequences of the “High Line Effect.” (See more description and info here.)

I asked co-editor Brian Rosa some questions:

What motivated you to "deconstruct" the High Line? When the High Line first opened, and for quite awhile, it felt forbidden to critique it in any way. Why this book now? How has the possibility of deconstructing the High Line opened up over time?

The genesis for this project was when Christoph Lindner and I first met at an authors’ meeting for a book he was editing, called Global Garbage, in June of 2014. We were wondering out loud why the reception of the High Line had been almost unanimously celebratory. Your op-ed in the New York Times from 2012, along with a few articles here and there, was the only critical work we could find on the topic, particularly in the design and planning fields. In the meantime, as we were going through the process of publication, more critiques began emerging.

I had been studying the High Line since I was completing a Masters degree in City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, and my PhD research in Human Geography at the University of Manchester was focused on the transformation of the spaces along and beneath the Victorian elevated railways of Manchester, England, and how they were implicated in the city’s attempt to reinvent itself as postindustrial.

The reimaging process of the elevated railway corridors in Manchester came along with quite a bit of property- and design-led industrial gentrification as these sites were gradually transformed from light industrial use and semi-abandonment to landscapes of leisure and consumption.

The whole time I was doing this research I would be asked about my opinions of the High Line, and my impression would be that we would see a number of the same dynamics, only on steroids because of the intense real estate speculation that defines urban redevelopment in New York City.

What do you think made the High Line so resistant to critique?

I think the High Line eluded critique at first because it was not yet apparent the impact that its creation—and the rezoning that was integral to the city’s support of the project—would have on the surrounding areas of the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and the area which is now becoming Hudson Yards.

A particular concern of mine is how the High Line fits within the broader framework of rising economic inequality in New York City. Anyone reading the policy documents, along with Mayor Bloomberg’s and Amanda Burden’s support for the project, could have predicted that the High Line would stimulate property values, loosen height restrictions for luxury development, and cause widespread commercial displacement and residential gentrification. It is possible to have underestimated these impacts, but I think claims that the High Line had “unintended consequences” are at best na├»ve and at worst disingenuous.

One only needs to look at the economic justifications that undergirded the strategic documents that made the High Line possible to see that this was a project focused on priming the pump for further luxury development and the revalorizing of a district that had already gained attention and aesthetic prestige through its art galleries and adaptive reuse of industrial structures.

However, I do not think it was until the point that new buildings started going up, the experience of walking through a low-rise industrial landscape was diminished, and it became (as you called it) a tourist-clogged catwalk, that the backlash started finding a vocal presence in public discourse.

In an interview, High Line co-founder Robert Hammond recently said they "failed" to create the High Line for the local community. He has founded the High Line Network to help keep other "adaptive reuse" parks equitable and accessible. What are your thoughts on that project?

It was clear that Hammond received a lot of pushback from donor-members of Friends of the High Line because of his “the High Line failed” statement. I am a member of their email list, and I took note of the PR damage control email that was sent after that article was published. In essence, it said: “when I said the High Line had failed. I didn’t actually mean failed, just that we could have done better at addressing social equity issues from the start.” I agree completely, but I think it was worked into the very fabric of the project that issues of rising inequality would have to be sidestepped in order to see it through.

The area along the High Line has become among the districts in the United States with the highest levels of income inequality, with almost all of the only remaining low-income housing being in the public housing projects. The High Line played a huge part in this. If it weren’t for the projects and some moderate income housing in the form of co-ops, it would be exclusively for the wealthy at this point.

At the same time, I acknowledge that Friends of the High Line has become more focused on social inclusivity, and this is reflected in Danya Sherman’s chapter in Deconstructing the High Line. Along those lines, I am following the newly-created High Line Network with great interest, and will be discussing the topic at the NYU panel. I am trying to do so without cynicism, but it is very hard. Part of the problem is that so much of the discourse of “equity” is about inclusion and participation of traditionally marginalized, but short of making real demands for social justice.

Do you think it's possible for other High Line-inspired parks to be equitable, considering all the development that is attracted to them? If so, how might that be accomplished?

In reality, I don’t think such adaptive reuse projects can do anything but heighten socio-economic inequality in cities with high levels of property speculation, and I think it is doubtful to see such projects come to fruition if there is not a heavy element of market-rate property development incorporated into plans. In areas where there is less development pressure, the gentrification concerns might perhaps be lower, but at the same time there would be more difficulty in securing the sort of philanthropic funding required to create something like the High Line.

There is actually starting to be some real pushback against “vanity parks,” particularly those perceived to be driven by the personal ambitions of the wealthy: the Garden Bridge in London and “Diller Park” in Manhattan are a few examples of new, semi-private parks that have been defeated in the past year.

Bill de Blasio recently visited the High Line for the first time and seemed to refuse to give it any praise. This refusal was met with frustration from the press. What's your interpretation of that?

My interpretation of Mayor de Blasio’s choice not to visit the High Line until recently is that he has been positioning himself as a champion of neighborhood parks, particularly those in the outer boroughs which have been under-funded for decades. From my understanding, his administration has indeed shifted attention to such parks, which is to be applauded.

However, I would note that it is under his leadership that the management of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park has been passed on to a parks conservancy, making the largest park in Queens less public and more commercialized. It is an extension of the “tale of two cities” narrative that got him elected, but in the end his strategies toward issues like affordable housing are largely market-led. I think this is a folly. In many ways, in the dual sense of the word, the High Line is a folly too.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Native Leather to Carmine

Last month I reported that Native Leather is closing after 49 years on Bleecker St. As owner Carol Walsh told me, "I was heartbroken when the landlord told me that he would not be offering me a new lease. The last lease expired 2 years ago and since then he has been trying to find a tenant who will pay double what my rent was."

Now Carol has found a new location for the shop--at 46 Carmine St.

But the move will be a costly one--the old machines have to come out of the basement, the new shop needs a plumber, an electrician, and a new awning. Carol is asking for your help.

Too often, when a mom and pop is displaced, they don't last long in the new location, due to the high costs of relocating, the loss of clientele, and often a higher rent.

Carol has set up a Gofundme page where you can donate. She writes: "If you were sad to see the big red For Rent sign in my window and equally happy to know that I was moving only a couple of blocks away, then I could really use your help."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chelsea Deli & Bakery


Peter writes in to say: "The much-loved Chelsea Deli and Bakery on the southeast corner of 23rd and 8th has just closed for good. It had been there since at least 1999, when it was called Breadstix."

google streetview

And before Breadstix, it was known as S.G.S. Donuts -- I still have a dim memory of that great old sign.

Photo from Peter

It was a friendly and affordable spot. Unpretentious and easy. Exactly the sort of place that doesn't last anymore.

The reason for the closure? Peter says, "Mandy, behind the counter, told us there weren't enough customers lately to pay the rent."

Yesterday was their last day.

Photo from Peter

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Moe's Meat Market


I wrote a piece for the Times this week about the closing of Moe's Meat Market, a butcher shop on Elizabeth Street turned into an artist's studio and gallery in 1977. Back then, Bohemians and working-class Italians mixed on a street once affordable, now taken over by luxury.

Moe’s Meat Market, in Little Italy, hasn’t been a meat market for 40 years. But the floor is still tiled in black and white, the walls covered in porcelain-enameled tin sheets. When the artist Robert Kobayashi, known as Kobi, bought Moe’s and the rest of its building in 1977, he moved in with his wife, the photographer Kate Keller, and installed his studio in the storefront, leaving the walls intact. As a sculptor who worked with tin, maybe he felt an affinity for the sheet metal. Maybe he just appreciated the history.

Read the rest at The Times

the basement wine press

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Noho Star & Temple Bar


On Lafayette Street since 1985, The Noho Star still has an old-school vibe that attracts low-key neighborhood people along with New York luminaries like Chuck Close, Wallace Shawn, and Lauren Hutton. The restaurant's sister spot, Temple Bar, opened in 1989.

Now both are about to vanish.

The owners recently filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) with the New York State Department of Labor, indicating plans to lay off Noho Star's staff of 54 workers and close the restaurant on December 31.

Under "Reason for Dislocation," it says "Economic." The same listing is given for Temple Bar--all 13 employees laid off and the place closed December 31.

Noho Star and Temple Bar were both opened by George Schwarz, a 1930s German-Jewish emigre who began his New York restaurant empire in 1973 with Elephant and Castle in Greenwich Village, followed by One Fifth (since closed). He then acquired and revived the great Keens Chop House when it closed in 1978. From there, he and his artist wife, Kiki Kogelnik, opened Noho Star and Temple Bar. They also bought the building.

Schwarz died not a year ago, in December 2016. His friend Bonnie Jenkins, long-time manager of Keens, is Vice President of the closing restaurants. (Jenkins prefers not to comment on the closures at this time.)

There are no indications that the shutter is coming for Keens or Elephant and Castle.

Eggs Idaho

Only in the past few years did I finally find my way to Noho Star. In a neighborhood of dwindling options, it's one of the last comfortable places to get a decent meal, i.e., a place that attracts a mixed-age crowd and doesn't play loud music (or any music) while you eat. It's a place where a person can dine alone, reading The Times (on paper) or The London Review of Books (as recently witnessed). It's a place where you can think.

I will miss it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Left Bank Goes Online

After being pushed off West 4th Street by a rent hike (and replaced by a cafe that's now gone), and then having to leave their next location due to high costs of business, Left Bank Books has a new life online.

You can't smell the books. You can't touch the books. But at least you can still find and buy the books.

Plus: There's a note in the About section that says the owners "hope to re-open in the Village sometime in the near future."

Fingers crossed.