Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rudy's Under Attack

The Clinton Chronicle reports that beloved Hell's Kitchen dive bar Rudy's Bar & Grill is under attack by Community Board 4 for serving alcohol in its backyard late into the night.

Saundra Halbertstam and Eliot Camerara report that members of Community Board 4 have "actively worked to shut down and destroy Rudy’s Bar and Grille, a Hell’s Kitchen landmark, in business since 1933."

The writers says these members have "prompted complaints against Rudy’s Bar" and "smeared Rudy’s by sending word through the community that they were operating without proper licenses." So far, Rudy's owners have spent $24,000 defending the bar.

It's a lengthy story--to read the whole piece, pick up a copy of the Clinton Chronicle or read the PDF here. Saundra gave me the upshot in an email: "By closing the backyard, they will force Rudy's to close, since the back represents over 30% of their revenue."

photo: retro roadmap

News of noise complaints against Rudy's goes back to this summer. As DNAInfo reported, Rudy’s management said "those complaining were suburban transplants who don't understand Hell's Kitchen."

“To have somebody come in from suburbia and say that we want to change this neighborhood because they paid an exorbitant amount for a co-op is not fair to the people in the community,” the bar's lawyer, Thomas Purcell, told DNA.

The blog stated, "under Rudy's liquor license, which dates back to 1992 when the current owner Jack Ertl, 88, bought the bar, the venue is allowed to use the backyard space until the wee hours with no restrictions, according to documents and bar management."

Monday, November 23, 2015

125th Street in Chains

The Pathmark supermarket on East Harlem's 125th Street closed this weekend amid controversy, more controversy, and the despair of 30,000 customers who have few places left to buy groceries.

After the Pathmark opened in 1999, a number of small grocers shut down, leaving residents dependent on the big supermarket.

The Times reported that the grocery store's intended role would be to increase development: "the Pathmark's popularity is having a big impact on the neighborhood. Not only has it altered the fortunes of the unsightly intersection where it is located, it is also helping to spur development across 125th Street."

At the time, Karen A. Phillips, chief executive of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, who put in the store, said the supermarket had "done what it was supposed to do -- inspire new commercial development" through the heart of Harlem.

Then, last year, Abyssinian sold the Pathmark site to mega-developer Extell for nearly $39 million. Extell, as you may know, is creating a giant luxury city at Hudson Yards, with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other subsidies from Bloomberg.

Said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito of the Abyssinian and Extell deal for Pathmark, “I believe they threw this community under the bus.”

A look inside the supermarket on Saturday evening revealed shelves already stripped bare, the registers closed, and the employees--200 of whom will now be out of work--gathering to say goodbye.

Also around 1999, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, with mega-developer Forest City Ratner (known for getting eminent domain land and subsidies from Bloomberg to develop Atlantic Yards), developed the Harlem Center to the west, a suburban-style shopping center with an Old Navy store, among other chains.

As promised, more development has come to 125th Street, especially after the major boost of Bloomberg's massive "river-to-river" rezoning in 2008, a brainchild of Amanda Burden, then director of the Department of City Planning.

The eureka moment came after a Roberta Flack concert at the Apollo, when Burden discovered there was simply nowhere to eat in Harlem--nowhere, not even at Sylvia’s or Manna’s or any of the other soul-food restaurants nearby. She realized that the neighborhood would have to change. “There should be a million different eateries around there,” she told the Times, “and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to frame and control growth on 125th Street.”

Well, now Amanda Burden can eat at Red Lobster. There's one right next to the Apollo, just after the Banana Republic.

Since the rezoning, several mom-and-pops have been evicted and several chains have gone in.

How many?

I took a walk along 125th Street, from the Hudson River to the onramp of the Triborough Bridge. Along the way, I counted 77 national chains and 15 commercial banks -- even though Burden said that the rezoning would limit “bank exposure on the street level, positioning the banking floors on the second floor to encourage more vitality,” because "Banks can deaden an environment.”

The majority of those 92 chains and banks are located in the core of central 125th Street, which is maybe 7 blocks wide. That’s about 10 chains per block. And more keep coming. A new development under construction flies a banner that announces the future arrival of a Burlington Coat Factory.

As if the story can't get any worse for 125th Street, back on the easternmost end, just one block east of the Pathmark development, a group of businesses is under siege from the city government.
In 2009, the Bloomberg Administration blighted a whole block on 125th Street and 3rd Avenue, using eminent domain to claim it for a massive $700 million development project, the 1.7 million-square-foot East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center, aka "MEC."

This, in addition to the eminent domain deal gifted to Columbia University at the westernmost end of 125th, means the street has been bookended in Bloomberg's land grabs.

Today this eastern, edge-of-the-earth block contains a dry cleaners, a hair braiding salon, a gas station, a flat-fix shop, an auto-body shop, a Baptist church, and other businesses. The city has already seized property, including a building from Demolition Depot. The owners are still fighting in court. Reported the Real Deal: "the de Blasio administration has not announced plans for the site, and is instead moving forward with the land seizure without defining a clear purpose for it."

blighted block

Call me crazy, but I don't think it's any coincidence that this block sits right over the Third Avenue Bridge from the waterfront of the South Bronx, where another Bloomberg rezoning helped to usher in major development.

Here, from Lugo's Flat Fix stand looking north, you can see clear to the so-called "Piano District," where luxury towers will soon be rising.

It would be naive to deny that it's all connected.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Help Jerry

A couple of years ago, I visited Jerry Ohlinger's amazing movie material store in the Garment District. In business since 1976, it was the last store in New York City dedicated to movie photos.

Struggling with the rent, Jerry closed his shop and moved most of his "one million and one hundred thousand" photos to a warehouse in New Jersey as he downsized to a much smaller shop on West 30th, with limited hours.

Now Jerry needs help. The items in the warehouse need to be moved again, and there's no money to do it. Visit his GoFundMe page and consider giving him a hand.

Read my whole story on Jerry's former shop at The New Yorker.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

One-Thing Wonders

The following is a guest post by Mitch Broder, author and blogger.

It’s unlikely that nineteenth-century New York had an oatmeal saloon, but it reportedly had several hundred oyster saloons. The city more or less launched its food scene with its oyster joints, which set the stage for the present-day oatmeal joint, not to mention the present-day stuffed-bagel-ball joint.

In this century, spots like those two have been proliferating, not surprisingly as store rents have been tripling and sextupling. Non-billionaires who have a dream of opening a traditional city restaurant often find themselves scaling the dream down to, say, a city schnitzel spot.

This economic reality is what inspired me to write a book called New York’s One-Food Wonders: A Guide to the Big Apple’s Unique Single-Food Spots. The book tells the stories of all our offbeat one-food places, along with the stories of all our offbeat one-thing places.

My previous book, Discovering Vintage New York, covers the city’s classic old spots, but I’ve always seen the singular places as classics of their own. Like so many of the vintage spots, they keep originality — and peculiarity — in a cityscape that’s quickly and sadly losing both.

They also keep independence here. Nearly all of these spots were founded by passionate people, not by dispassionate investment groups. They’re a last stand for creativity — and some of the young ones are getting old. Peanut Butter & Co., the all-peanut-butter joint, is in its eighteenth year.

The places in the book range from far older to far younger. But this blog is city headquarters for the far older. So here, exclusively for Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, is my list of the elder statesmen — Manhattan’s ten oldest one-food and one-thing wonders.

1946: Fountain Pen Hospital (10 Warren St.) Though now more store than hospital, it’s still run by its founding family. And it’s the last major place to get pens that don’t come twenty to a blister pack.

1936: Kossar’s Bialys (367 Grand St.) This is the last major place for people who still know what bialys are. It’s run by two guys who took it over two years ago. Call first, since they’ve been renovating.

1932: Papaya King (179 E. 86th St. and 3 St. Mark’s Place) Hot dogs and tropical fruit drinks count as one thing, because in New York City they’re married — and this is the stand that married them.

1929: Marchi’s Restaurant (251 E. 31st St.) For the Marchis, I stretched the book’s concept; their single thing is their single meal. Every night they serve only the same five-course dinner they’ve been serving since the end of World War II.

1927: Gem Spa (131 Second Ave.) This newsstand actually has lots of things, but it’s famous for just one thing: its egg cream. The recipe for it is as closely guarded as the one for Coke.

1917: The Drama Book Shop (250 W. 40th St.) If it’s stardom you’re bound for, here’s where you find your vehicle. The shop stocks about ten thousand plays, and in 2011 it won its own Tony.

1913: Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant (Grand Central Terminal) It’s a grand reminder of the city’s aforementioned oyster era. Also a grand reminder of what you can do with a ceiling.

1911: JJ Hat Center (310 Fifth Ave.) The last of the traditional men’s hat shops takes you back to a time when a gentleman was always topped off, and generally with something other than a baseball cap.

1910: Jean’s Silversmiths (16 W. 45th St.) It began as a curiosity shop, and a century later it still looks like one. (It was named for Jean Valjean, the celebrated silver collector.)

1910: Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery (137 E. Houston St.) Even Yonah succumbed to economic reality, says the shop’s owner, Ellen Anistratov: “He wanted to teach people spirituality,” she says, “but there was no money in it.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Party's Over

Lately, there's been a reappearance of the infamous East Village graffiti symbol "The Party's Over," the upside-down martini glass created by Peter Missing to protest gentrification and development in the neighborhood.

You'll see them around if you look. There's one now on the plywood that wraps the construction of Ben "The Sledgehammer" Shaoul's 100 Avenue A, where the ground-floor retail space was just listed at $24.5 million.

In silver marker someone has written EAT THE RICH and MUG A YUPPIE.

"The martini glass became a symbol of causing trouble," radical comic book artist Seth Tobocman told the Times in 2002. "To a lot of people it said, 'Start something."

Is someone trying to start something today, in this new age of hyper-gentrification? Peter Missing replies on Facebook: "this is not my writing ,,,,nor would i ever write mug a yuppie ,,,,,,the sad side of people coopting my logo."

For history on this, check out "Cult of Rage," a 1988 news report on the "shadowy group" Missing Foundation and the early days of gentrification in the East Village. Witches! Yuppies! Mysterious satanic rituals! And for more on The Missing Foundation, visit Flaming Pablum.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Lost Arcade

The Lost Arcade, a new documentary film by Kurt Vincent and Irene Chin, tells the story of the legendary Chinatown Fair.

On Mott Street since 1944, the arcade owners lost their lease in 2011 and made plans to move to Brooklyn.

New York Daily Photo

"Its very existence was an anachronism," said The Verge; "the lone hold-out of a culture that had been long since overshadowed by the meteoric rise of home consoles." The arcade managed to re-open in the same spot, but it wasn't the same. Co-owner Lonnie Sobel called it "a cross between Dave & Busters and Chuck E. Cheese."

"But as the neighborhood gentrified," the filmmakers write, "this haven for a diverse, unlikely community faced its strongest challenge, inspiring its biggest devotees to next-level greatness."

See The Lost Arcade at its world premier November 14 and 18 at IFC Center as part of DOC NYC. Click here for tickets.

Exclusively for Vanishing New York, the filmmakers have put together a clip featuring the history of Chinatown Fair--and the story of its famous dancing and tic tac toe-playing chickens:

The Lost Arcade (Exclusive Clip) from ArcadeMovie on Vimeo.

For more on the arcade's history and those chickens, check out:
DeNiro, Streep, Chicken
Chinatown Fair

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Astoria Rexall

Norwood Rexall Drugs in Astoria has been in its spot for 60 years, but it was recently forced to move by a rent hike, according to a note in the window.

Reader Scott Levine sends in a photo of the letter to customers from owner Syed Naqvi, who's been running the shop since 1977. He explains that the building was purchased by TK Management. And then, "All of a sudden, the new owner wants to double the rent, plus add the real estate taxes, without giving us reasonable notice."

photo by Scott Levine

The storefront is an antique, with curved, deeply set window displays and a vintage Rexall sign on the glass.

2014 -- photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Mr. Naqvi was featured in a HuffPo piece last year. He told Nancy Ruhling about his move from Pakistan, and how he worked hard to take over the drugstore and keep it going over the years.

"The price wasn't high because the owner was retiring," he said of the time, "and the shelves were bare because he had not kept up with the inventory in anticipation of leaving. I paid him $20,000 plus some notes, and it was mine. I had to borrow $5,000 from a friend."

today -- photo by Scott Levine