Monday, July 28, 2014

Rodeo Bar


By now, most of you know that Rodeo Bar was closing. It shuttered yesterday, after nearly 30 years on 3rd Avenue.

In a farewell profile to the popular honky-tonk, the Times writes today that the closure came "after 27 years of holding out, Alamo style, against rising rents and marching chain stores."

I had never heard of Rodeo Bar until some readers wrote in, weeks ago, to tell me about the closure. I'm really not the Urban Cowboy type.

Recently, I went for the first time, for lunch, which is probably not exactly prime-time to go. It was quiet. I had a burger. While a western-style bar is not the sort of place I generally frequent, Rodeo was a survivor, a long-lasting small business standing since 1987 against the corporatization of the city, and that's something.

It is yet another casualty of New York's massive, homogenizing shift.

From the Times:

"The owner, Mitch Pollak, said changes in the neighborhood had made him decide to close. When he bought the Rodeo Bar in 1996, his monthly payments for rent and insurance averaged $10,000, he said; today they amount to almost $50,000. Chains occupied many of the neighboring storefronts, including 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, Starbucks and Duane Reade Express, and they made the block feel sterile, Mr. Pollak said."

"Young customers have also drifted off in recent years to new, local bars that offer sports on flatscreens, rather than honky-tonk tunes and Texas beer. 'The neighborhood changed a lot,' said Mr. Pollak, 55. 'We didn’t change at all.'"

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ding Dong Lounge


The Ding Dong Lounge, a 21st-century dive bar up by Columbia, is closing.

Ding Dong DJ Linda Rizzo writes in: "The Ding has lost its lease. Victim to landlord greed, avarice, and douchebaggery. The Ding Dong Lounge at 929 Columbus Avenue will close its doors (hopefully only until a new location is found) on Thursday, July 31. It was a real pioneer being a rock & roll dive bar/music venue above 14th Street, and one with nary a television."

photo: Linda Rizzo

Opened by Bill Nolan, former owner of Motor City Bar (also just vanished), the Ding Dong got started in 2001, so not a very long time ago, but it gained a reputation. Gothamist called it "dirty in all the right places," a "blissfully local" "cheap dive with oodles of personality that is almost never filled (and certainly never with Columbia kids)."

The Village Voice named it the Best Cheap Manhattan Dive New York 2013. They described it: "There is not a single television set. The bathrooms are—well, the place has bathrooms. There's usually a DJ who likes classic punk and new wave."

In 2002, the Times credited the bar with helping to revitalize the neighborhood. And you know what that means. Said Nolan at the time, "I think this neighborhood has real potential, especially for entrepreneurs. There aren't many places left in this city where you can be the first of anything. I just need some more adventurers."

There's just one week left to check out the Ding Dong before it joins the rest of dirty, cheap New York--under the boot heels of the latest adventurous entrepreneurs. Linda will be spinning tonight and on 7/30, when, she says, "to quote Parliament, I will ‘tear the roof off the sucker.'"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

El Paso Restaurant


Reader Carol Gardens lets us know that the old El Paso restaurant on West Houston Street has closed. The place has been emptied and abandoned, with no explanation of when or why. The phone number has been disconnected and the website is gone.

A Yelper wrote on July 11: "Went there tonight and it's closed and it looks like for good. Menu is down. Metal grates over door and windows. RIP."

El Paso served Mexican-Spanish cuisine here since--well, I don't know since when. Possibly the 1960s. Maybe the 1980s. They had a big anniversary recently, with reduced prices, and I meant to go back but never did. Now I'm kicking myself.

They specialized in a cheap lobster dinner.

From Vinyl to Starbucks

The Starbucks that took the place of Bleecker Street Records has got its signage up, sans Mermaid, according to Richard Morgan who shared this shot:

Luckily, the record shop successfully relocated to 188 West 4th Street, along with their big kitties, Skuzzball and Creeper. But still. They lost their last spot after 20 years when the landlord jacked up the rent to $27,000 a month.

Village Voice

At the time, on 1010 WINS, Chris Simunek (of High Times) predicted, “what’s going to go in there is a Starbucks or something, or just something that we already have plenty of.” I thought it would be a frozen yogurt or candy shop, but Mr. Simunek wins the prize.

This is the city's 9,000,000,000th Starbucks location. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Last Days of the Last Kim's

As you may already know, Kim's Video & Music on First Avenue is not long for this world. They've just increased their goodbye discount with a 50% off "Everything Must Go" sale. I was told they expect to close either by the end of July or the middle of August. 

As for reopening elsewhere, I was informed (in typical Kim's style): "The sign says Closing Sale. If we were relocating, it would say Relocating Sale." So, no.

This is the last location of the once great Kim's mini-empire. Originally on Avenue A, opened in 1987 in Yongman Kim's dry cleaners, it expanded to multiple locations, including two on St. Mark's Place, two on Bleecker, and one uptown.

The 21st century has not been kind to Kim's. The Avenue A location, known as the "mean" one, shuttered in 2004. Kim's Underground on Bleecker is now a Duane Reade. In 2008, Kim's Mediapolis uptown closed, thanks to a rent hike from Columbia University and the popularity of Netflix. Also in 2008, Mondo Kim's on St. Mark's shuttered. The inventory shipped to Sicily--and was never heard from again. That was the end of rentals from Kim's.

At the same time, we learned that Kim's would open a retail establishment in the former Kurowycky butcher shop. Many of us were relieved to hear that Kim's would continue--and that a planned upscale celebu-chef restaurant would not open in this space. (Though I was rooting for the XXX rumor to be true.)

Kim's Grand Opening: 2008

Who knows what will come next? But you can bet it will have deep pockets. The listing says "Ideal for Bank, 711, Starbucks."

Yongman Kim let his newsletter subscribers know the score: "We are NOT closing because record stores are dying, business is bad, it's not like it used to be and oh terrible world. The lease is up in July and the rent is being raised to an amount we simply can't work with."

Once again, the rent is too damn high.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Roxy Luncheonette


In 2012, I checked in with the Roxy Luncheonette, a little swivel stool and counter place down on John Street that had survived since 1944.

Now, in its 70th year, the Roxy has shuttered.

Roxy egg cream, 2009

Reader Frank writes in with the sad news and recent photos:

"At some point in the last 18 months or so, the owner sold it to new operators. They modified the name, calling it Roxy's East West Diner. It was basically the same--still a diner--but not quite as good."

"Worse," Frank adds, "the ongoing, hellish construction on John Street kept the Roxy (and its neighbors) hidden under a sidewalk bridge. Tragically and ironically, workers carted off the sidewalk bridge last week--just in time for the Roxy to close."

Roxy today

In 2012, a reporter asked the Roxy's long-time owner how long he thought he'd be able to stay open with all the construction outside. "Couple more months," said the owner. "Maybe a few more months."

The little Roxy lasted two more years, and yet succumbed--another victim of hyper-gentrification. The construction that killed it is due to: A new Pace University dorm with a TD Bank and an Urban Outfitters, a new hotel, and the Fulton Center, "with an increased focus on retail."

An auction was held at the luncheonette yesterday.

An egg cream at the Roxy
Roxy suffers under John Street construction

Monday, July 21, 2014

St. Mark's Bookshop: Open

This weekend, the new St. Mark's Bookshop opened for business on East 3rd Street between 1st and A. They opened for a few hours on Saturday, then went full-time yesterday, noon - 10pm. Traffic flowed steadily in and out of the shop, and people were buying books.

The new space is smaller than the one on Astor Place, yet roomier, with white undulating shelves that curve around the perimeter in "a continuous series of horizontal bands which allow the eye to glide around the space without visual friction." Book subjects are carved into the wood.

In the center of the shop is an assortment of stacked roll-away tables. The design is meant to better accommodate readings and other events. The rear part of the shop bends to the right into an alcove-like space.

You can take a look at the design here.

I will miss the old space, its many sections and its spaciousness, along with the vestibule filled with fascinating local announcements. I'll miss the big, enticing windows off Astor Place. But I look forward to St. Mark's new lease on life and their plans to hold more events.

It took a lot of work, from a lot of people, to get here.

Back in 2011, struggling to pay high rent, the bookstore's owners asked landlord Cooper Union for a break. Cooper Union was not "particularly sympathetic."

Over 44,000 people signed a petition urging Cooper to help keep the bookstore in place, much like other universities have done. No dice. Michael Moore visited the bookstore and gave a rallying cry, saying, "It's not asking for a free lunch. Oh, God forbid! It's just asking for some decency."

I organized a Buy a Book Weekend, then another, and many of you went and bought books.

In November, Cooper Union agreed to a deal, but it wasn't enough for the bookstore to survive on. By April 2012, St. Mark's was back on the ropes. I organized a cash mob, and again many of you showed up to buy books. The bookstore ran a crowd-funding campaign, raising a pile of money for their move.

In March of this year we learned they'd be relocating to E. 3rd Street. And now they're there. Finally, we can relax--St. Mark's is settled in. Through hard work, patience, protest, and a lot of complaining, we got our bookstore back. St. Mark's still remains one of the longest surviving bookstores in the city.

Now--dump that miserable Kindle, cancel your Amazon account, and go buy some real books!

St. Mark's earlier plea for help, 1980s

Inside the old St. Mark's, 1984: New York Magazine