Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Last Supper at The Riviera


The Riviera Cafe will have its last day of business tomorrow, on August 31, as previously reported here. So I went for a last meal.

They've redone their menu to feature a goodbye note and family photos.

"Yes, it's true," the menu reads. "We will be closing our doors for the last time on August 31. It has been a great run of 47 years." The letter recalls the old days--and the old prices--and says, "the current landscape is nothing like it was... we are now saturated with restaurants that keep coming and going. They usually don't last long, but sure enough someone else always shows up to take over. After nearly a half-century, we decided it was time."

"Simply put, given the current environment we can't survive and be what we've always been: a nice neighborhood coffee shop/restaurant that welcomes all with no pretense at an affordable price. And we aren't going to change that format to 'keep up with the Joneses.' It is for that reason, and that reason only, we decided to wrap it up."

Whether it's the rent or the taxes, the price of doing business in a hyper-gentrified neighborhood is usually to blame for these closures.

I'll miss the Riviera. It was always there when you needed an affordable and unpretentious place for a meal. Something that's becoming evermore impossible to find.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Poetry and Punk

This summer, Columbia University Press published Do You Have a Band? Poetry and Punk Rock in New York City by Daniel Kane. I asked Daniel a few questions about his book.

Q: You make the point throughout the book that poetry in the 1950s and 60s, specifically New York School and Beat poetry, was far more transgressive than rock and roll of that time. How so?

A: Well, poets could write things like "fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy" as Allen Ginsberg did in his poem "Howl," or publish a magazine entitled "Fuck You: a magazine of the arts," as Ed Sanders did, and kind of get away with it. Sure, these poets faced hassles with the law--Ginsberg's publishers were charged with obscenity, as was Sanders later on, but these charges were later dismissed. These poets set the stage for the literary freedoms we've enjoyed since.

Pop music at the time simply didn't have that kind of radical ambition or sense of possibility. Particularly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, American pop music was schmaltzy and safe--think Perry Como's [Correction: Pat Boone's] "Love Letters in the Sand." Even in the late 1960s the MC5 had to overdub Rob Tyner's cry "Kick out the jams motherfuckers!" with "Kick out the jams brothers and sisters!" before Elektra Records could distribute their first album Kick out the Jams to the hoped-for masses. Poetry was where the really transgressive action was taking place, especially the poetry that was happening in the Lower East Side. Examples are endless. Amiri Baraka's and Diane di Prima's works dedicated to taking down the State, Leonore Kandel's outrageously explicit erotic poetry, Aram Saroyan's bizarre one-word neologistic texts including one of my personal favorites, "lobstee"--we could go on and on.

Q: How did poets kickstart the punk movement in NYC?

A: Richard Hell, Lou Reed, Patti Smith--even Lydia Lunch!--all moved to New York City initially to be writers, not musicians. They had all read the Beats before they made the move, but living in NYC meant they could actually encounter writers such as Ginsberg, and be introduced to New York School-affiliated poets including Ted Berrigan and Bernadette Mayer, who quickly challenged their notion of poetry as a "higher calling" and more generally schooled them in an anti-establishment poetic culture. Poetry, these future musicians understood, could be made in groups, collaboratively. It could be the occasion for wild, politically charged and drug-fuelled parties. Poetry readings were actually busted by city authorities, and poets dragged to court. These were not your parents’ visions of genteel poetry readings, by any standards.

In short, I make the case throughout my book that writers and the "scene" affiliated with the New York School of poetry (from, say, Frank O'Hara through Mayer, Berrigan, and others) taught these budding musicians -- at least in part -- how to be punk. I don't want to overstate the case, of course. Reed, Hell, Smith, and related artists certainly were responding to a wide range of artistic practices taking place in NYC during the period. And they obviously had their own innate genius to work off of! I just don't think that the work of the poets who were these musicians' contemporaries has gotten its due as informing proto-punk and punk rock sound, lyrics, and style. We often hear from critics about Rimbaud, Baudelaire, etc in relationship to punk -- my book takes a different approach.

Gerard Malanga and his whip

Q: You describe the scene at Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable on St. Mark’s Place, where poets showed people how to dance to the Velvet Underground. What do you think gave the poets this ability to translate the Velvets’ music into movement?

A: Yeah, you know Gerard Malanga was a poet throughout his tenure as assistant to Andy Warhol, right? And he was the guy dancing in leather pants while whipping Mary Woronov on stage during Velvets performances! I'm not sure why poets were so tuned in to the Velvet Underground that way, but perhaps -- and this is a grotesque generalisation, admittedly -- they had a particular sensitivity, given their work in avant-garde writing, to the possibilities of lyricism and rhythm in otherwise discordant, disjunctive sound. They could hear more complexly than most people at the time (I think the poetry I discuss throughout my book proves that), and maybe that ability helped them figure out how to dance to things like "Venus in Furs."

Q: What makes a punk poem punk?

A: I think Frank O'Hara nails it in his manifesto "Personism": "I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have, I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, 'Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.'"

The poetry I write about in Do You Have a Band really responded to and expanded on that improvisatory, playful, and irreverent style O'Hara embodied so wonderfully. The poems are almost like a corollary to that punk slogan "this is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band." That kind of anti-specialist, no more heroes, neo-dada thing we associate with punk (however generally and arguably) was, I think, anticipated by the poets the punks read and in some cases hung out with.

Q: What’s the punkest thing a poet’s ever done?

A: How about poet Jim Carroll's transformation of Ted Berrigan's poem "People Who Died" into a pop-punk hit loved by millions? Jim Carroll, what a story -- poet becomes punk star, then soon says goodbye to all that and becomes a hermetic poet again.

Q: Who was the punkest poet? And the most poetic punk?

A: If we could combine Frank O'Hara, Eileen Myles, John Giorno, and Dennis Cooper into a multi-headed monster, I'd say that's the punkest poet. For me, the most poetic punk, even though he'd probably hate me for saying this, is Richard Hell. The surrealist imagery and radical enjambment evident throughout his lyrics, the fractured squall of his music and the way he synthesized that with a deliciously “pop” sensibility, makes him, in my mind at least, the most poetic punk of the New York scene.

Patti Smith reading poetry

Q: A few years back, punk poet Patti Smith said, “Find a new city,” explaining that New York has “closed itself off to the young and the struggling." Poetry and punk has often come from the young and the struggling. So does it still exist in New York? Can it still exist? And if not, then where?

A: Sadly, I must ask how could anyone not agree with Patti Smith's depressing conclusion? When she and Richard Hell and others came to NYC it was a time -- as you of all people know -- when you didn't have to have stable employment to live here. You could just show up, find a part-time job at a bookstore, maybe another part-time job as a bartender, rent a crappy apartment in the East Village, lose your crappy job, get away with not paying rent for a month or two or more, find another part-time job to tide you over, work on your art, your music, your writing.

Economics was crucial to providing young people with the time and space to do what they had to do. And, importantly, there were some rich New Yorkers that served as patrons to these artists. Think of, for example, the legendary Lita Hornick, publisher of Kulchur magazine, who held swank parties in her Upper East Side apartment where writers including Baraka, Ron Padgett, etc rubbed shoulders with high society figures, admen, doyennes. Or George Plimpton, who held similar parties, hired Tom Clark as poetry editor of the Paris Review, who went on to publish Lou Reed lyrics in the magazine! Or even the 1980s, when Madonna mingled with Basquiat, lived off nibbles at art gallery openings, etc.

That New York, as far as I understand it, is gone. On a brighter note -- though I am way too old and out of it to know where the new New York is -- I'm sure a new version of it is still there, but it’s just somewhere else.

Like, I was in Berlin in the early 2000s, and saw that possibility--so romantic--I was staying at a friend's squat, impossibly complicated music was being composed by her friends, she was writing poetry, artists mingled with architects, anti-fascist politics mixed merrily with hedonistic parties, sexuality was all over the spectrum, just heavenly....and of course, everyone there said I should have been there in the early to mid-1990s when it was really happening!

My friends who have moved out of Manhattan and Brooklyn have told me Detroit, and Buffalo, and certain sections of Queens, maybe, are pretty wide open. Are these places passé now? I personally don't know. At this stage, let’s face it, I’m not the person to ask where the new New York is. I'm almost 49 years old, after all, I live in fucking Hove, England, in a Victorian terraced house with my beloved wife, Jenny, and hilarious daughter, Bramble. As the Ramones put it, “we’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, me Mom and Daddy.”

Go see Daniel Kane discuss his book on September 7 at NYU's Fales Library:

Monday, August 28, 2017



Clayworks pottery shop and studio has been on E. 9th Street since 1974. In mid-September, it will be forced to shutter.

In a letter to her customers, potter Helaine Sorgen writes:

"Clayworks survived everything the mad universe pitched at it--Hurricane Sandy, blizzards, The Great Recession, swastikas painted across the storefront, the front window being intentionally blown out, water main breaks, ceiling caves, the crack epidemic, and of course 9/11...

That is, until the recent and well documented invasion of the EV by predatory landlords and perfidious financiers. You see, Clayworks now occupies real estate deemed too valuable to allow it to stay. The new building owner and the plethora of shell companies he hides behind wants me out, and this is a war that I cannot win. I have spent the past 2 years fighting. I am tired and my time is up. Let me be clear—this is not the story of an unsuccessful store hanging on for dear life. This is the intentional stomping out of yet another mom and pop store by predatory real estate weasels. We small businesses are a family. Every store whose light goes out is a small death among us, another cross in the graveyard. There, we are legion."

Helaine's building, 332 E. 9th St., is one of 20 in an East Village portfolio owned by Raphael Toledano, the 27-year-old developer who has been making news for his notorious reputation -- and his recent bankruptcy on the properties.

I spent some time in the shop, talking with Helaine. A native of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, she moved to the East Village in 1973, seeking "like-minded souls," and opened her shop in 1974. She throws pots in the back--or she used to, before the ceiling caved in--and presides over the place from a high stool behind the counter, a spot she calls her "bully pulpit."

"This isn't just about commerce," she says about the small-business crisis in the city, "it's about creating a neighborly society. What kind of society do you want to live in? Where people are meaningful to you? Where you belong to a place? Or do you just want to sit in your apartment?"

She understands that the retail model is changing and many people buy online, but her customers, she says, "want the tactility. There's something moving and connected about clay. It's earth. People are missing that connection." They often tell Helaine, "The only thing I've not bought online is the vase I bought from you." Or the mug, or the plate, or the bowl. "It's got my fingermarks in it. It's got my heart in it."

"A pot has to do its job," she explains, "not just minimally, but fabulously. Sometimes you can solve people's problems with a pot. That's what makes it worthwhile." The best thing a customer ever told her was, "Your mug saved my marriage." (The worst? "Did anybody important make any of this or just you?")

We talk about customers, human behavior good and bad, and the changing East Village, how small shops are being killed off while politicians do nothing.

Helaine wishes the local Community Board would "pick up the hammer" and protect the neighborhood fabric. She's written to the political representatives who talk about saving small businesses--Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and council members Rosie Mendez and Robert Cornegy--but she's never gotten a response from anyone.

"They talk about small businesses just before elections," Helaine says. "Then it's back in the junk drawer. Back in the closet."

A young woman named Katie walks in and greets Helaine. She's been coming to Clayworks for years and stops in every few months to take her time among the wares, picking them up and holding them, before she decides on the just-right item. Ever since she found "the best mug ever," she can't stay away. She joins the conversation about the changing city, worrying what will happen as the glass high-rises--and the rents--continue to rise.

Another customer comes in carrying a plastic bag full of fresh vegetables. Her name is Judith and she's on her way to the opera. She hands the bag to Helaine, whose eyes widen. "What did you bring me this time? Cukes? I love cukes."

"And green beans," Judith says. "From my garden."

As the two women shop and gather their purchases on the counter, Helaine recalls when her mother would join her in the store.

"My mother never wanted me to have a shop," she says. "She wanted me to have a real job, like the women in Bob Newhart with their typewriters and desks. She'd sit by the register here and whenever customers came up to pay, she'd say to them, 'What do you need all that for? Why are you buying so much stuff?' It was never helpful to have my mother here."

Judith selects a serving plate. "I just love it," she says. "It's very tactile. The feeling of it in your hand is so lovely."

Katie keeps on browsing, holding each mug in her hands, looking for the just-right fit as she imagines morning coffees. She talks about the occasional heartbreak of a broken Clayworks mug.

"I can't stand seeing my stuff broken," Helaine says, wincing. "It's like roadkill."

When pots do break, she gives the pieces to Jim Power, the East Village's famed Mosaic Man, and she's glad to know her work is being recycled, decorating the light poles and sidewalks of the neighborhood.

At the end, when the shop is closed for good, and the only pots left are the ones that "should never have seen the light of day," Helaine will take out a hammer. And she will smash.

"It'll be cleansing," she says. "And it's anger management."

Like many small business people forced out, Helaine is angry about losing her shop, the place where she has spent most of her life. She's also grieving.

"It's very hard to give this place up. It's a sacred space," she says with tears in her eyes. "It's not so much me--it has its own life. It exists. Things happen here. It's a place where people feel comfortable. This space is doing what it's meant to do. It has done its best to do good and contribute. It's sad to have that go--and turn into what? When you take these things away, it disrupts the balance of nature."

Friday, August 25, 2017

Exorbitant Rent

The Golden Food Market on 7th St. and 1st Ave. shuttered suddenly a few weeks ago.

As Grieve reported at the time: An LLC bought the building for $5.8 million. "According to a reader who spoke with the Golden Food Market (aka Ali's) staff, the lease was up for renewal and the new landlord wanted an increase that was more than the store could manage."

This week, someone has expressed their displeasure about the closing, writing "EXORBITANT RENT" across the front door.

Inside, the place is already gutted. And through an upstairs window, an apartment is gutted, too. No doubt, there is more to come. This graffitist has a lot more work to do.

If the City Council had passed the Small Business Jobs Survival Act by now, we might still have our corner market. You can help before the next one goes.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

St. Mark's Starbucksed

We knew it was coming, but still. To stroll out of Tompkins Square Park on a hot summer evening earlier this week and see a Starbucks, smack on the corner of St. Mark's and Avenue A, well, it was shocking.

And yet not shocking enough.

To say it doesn't belong there feels right, but "there" isn't there anymore. New York recedes into the past.

Our old pizza place long gone.

Same corner, 2011, Google Maps

And all that came before.

So continues the devolution of authentic to mass-produced, local to globalized, mom-and-pop to corporate monoculture. Call it whatever you want, just don't call it "alive."

Same corner, 1980s, photo by Brooke Smith

How did it begin?

Starbucks was already on Astor Place when they sued local East Village shop Little Rickie in 1999 for selling stickers that changed the words on the Starbucks Coffee logo to say FUCK OFF. Starbucks also sued a number of other local businesses for distributing the stickers, including Alt Coffee on Avenue A. Said the owner of Alt to the Times, "New York City is being mallified and when you start to sterilize things and limit choices, people in the East Village don't like it."

But the people in the East Village have changed since 1999. And the new people like it very much.

Starbucks has 307 locations in the city. (Make that 308.) There’s one every 5.5 blocks in Manhattan. And Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has said he gets many emails from New Yorkers asking for more, more, more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Village Voice

The Village Voice is vanishing from the streets of New York--and something critical will go with it.

Yesterday, the Hollywood Reporter announced that the Voice will soon be going digital only. No more print. No more paper. No more ink. After 62 years of gracing the streets of the city, from newsstands to red boxes, no more.

The decision came from the paper's latest owner, Peter Barbey, media mogul and heir to the billion-dollar fortune behind retail brands like The North Face and Timberland. Barbey has recently been at the center of a struggle with the Voice's union workers--they published an open letter to him just last month, asking him not to weaken the union and cut benefits.

And now this cut.

Across social media, public outcry against the decision was swift, with many New Yorkers fondly recalling the days of waiting for the paper to come out each week, lining up at the old newsstand on Astor Place to grab the first copies from the pile, to be the first to search for jobs and apartments.

Wrote the Times, "Without it, if you are a New Yorker of a certain age, chances are you would have never found your first apartment. Never discovered your favorite punk band, spouted your first post-Structuralist literary jargon, bought that unfortunate futon sofa..." "But," they concluded, "the printed paper was also an artifact of a downtown world that no longer exists."

Astor Place

A vanished paper from a vanished city?

I asked Michael Musto and Penny Arcade their thoughts on the Voice's physical demise.

Michael Musto said, "The Voice has long valued their online presence, so I think it will stay valid. There's something lost in that the actual paper was historic and there's something about holding a paper in your hand that was always personal and special. But things are changing, and the focus on the Internet venue--while not necessarily as lucrative as the paper used to be--still allows for possibility, surprise, and hopefully relevance."

Penny Arcade told me, "Truth is, the Village Voice was destroyed and made redundant by 1995. It was an exquisite relic, like some Catholic saints that die but do not physically rot, a monument to a way of life that was eroding in our city. But when New York was New York and downtown was downtown, the Village Voice was the communication organ we were all connected to, not only those of us who lived in New York, but from all over the world. Like-minded people communicated through the Voice. It was the town crier. That back page was the neighborhood bulletin board. The Voice was a tangible piece of New York, so I suppose now that New York itself is no longer tangible, the physical, palpable Voice is no longer necessary."

The original Astor Place newsstand, 2007

It may not be what it was, but the Voice's physical presence on the street still maintains a certain gravitas. You see it almost everywhere you go, reading its headlines as you pass. Opening the kiosk door and bending down to grab a copy, folding it under your arm as you hurry on, it feels right, part of the urban hustle and routine.

The people holding the Voice exude a cool intelligence. When you see them, you feel a kinship. Of course, you see them less and less, all those artsy lefties, all those cranky city people. Where did they go? Back in 1994, in an article titled "Last of the Red-Hot Lefties," Voice publisher David Schneiderman told New York magazine, "The perception that we're actually difficult, cranky, and cantankerous is our reality."

"Cantankerous" might be the word most often associated with the paper. That used to be a good thing around here. It meant dissent. It meant New York. But that good, old crankiness that kept the city so brilliant and brisk has been under assault for awhile.

In the suburbanized, corporatized city, crankiness isn't welcome. They don't want us to be difficult.


Back in 1995 David Brooks wrote in the neoliberal, conservative City Journal, “It would be a shame if New York dragged on through the next decades as a wayward home for cranky, marginalized dissenters.” The city was changing in a new way, and Brooks saw the future. “Over the longer term,” he wrote, “New Yorkers might--dare I say it?--change. New York liberalism will gradually dissolve; cultural attitudes will drift toward the mainstream.”

Today the mainstreaming of the city is nearly complete. The corporations, real estate developers, and financial elites--along with their aspirational followers--don't like the cantankerous and the cranky. They want us to be docile, to go along with it, to lie back and think of England while they do their business.

If you resist? They'll call you cranky--and they won't mean it as a compliment.

I am often dismissed as cranky by these people. Recently, I was fortunate to be on the cover of the Voice--and to be reviewed in its inky pages. It was an honor. I write a blog, but I have little love for the digital. Print is powerful. Print is legit. The digital is--too often--a lot of noise. Stuff to be skimmed. Piles of content to feed our increasingly shitty attention spans. I'd like to think the Voice included me because they saw me as cranky like them. In the good way.

The Voice was born of New York's rebel spirit. Over the last two decades, the teeth have been taken from the mouth of this town crier. And now it will be deprived of its body.

Maybe the Internet will free it again, make it wild. But many of us will miss its physical presence, the way it took up space on the streets, how it accompanied us as we walked along, plowing the sidewalks, cranky and difficult and very much alive.

The Voice on paper, however much of a relic it has become, still stands as a visible reminder of what the city used to be. Let us not forget.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Taxi Parts

Two years ago, a little taxi parts shop called, aptly, Taxi Parts, was forced out of its long-time home and moved to the East Village. Now it's gone.

As E.V. Grieve reported, they moved to East Harlem. We can guess it was the rent that pushed them out.

Before this, the shop had been up on 10th Avenue and 35th St. for 25 years, on the ground floor of an old tenement building near Hudson Yards. They had to move when it was decreed that the building would be demolished for the Hudson Spire, planned to be the tallest building in the United States. But, as Curbed reported last year, "those plans have since been abandoned."

So the original Taxi Parts space sits empty. And now the next Taxi Parts space sits empty -- along with a few other empty spaces along First Avenue in the East Village.

This is what happens in the hyper-gentrified city. Stable, long-lasting small businesses get pushed around by rising rents and developers, and then they're not so stable anymore. And neither are the streets of our city.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Doughnut for Domino

The first building in the luxury mega-development replacing Williamsburg's Domino Sugar factory is now seeking tenants. 325 Kent just put out the welcome mat, a big banner on view to Manhattanites along the East River.

Go close-up and you'll find their "Walk-ins Welcome" signs feature different flavors of doughnuts.

They look artisanal, of course, because it's Williamsburg. (Does the neighborhood still hawk hundred-dollar doughnuts dipped in 24-karat gold?)

They're also square, like the building, and no doubt are meant to appeal to the foodies who have claimed Brooklyn in the 2000s.

Anyway, I walked in, but didn't feel especially welcome and walked right back out.

As Curbed reported: "market-rate apartments in the building will start at $2,495 for studios, $3,250 for one-bedrooms, and $5,195 for two bedrooms." And "The first retail tenant will be a 4,000-square-foot outpost of Clinton Hill craft beer bar Mekelburg’s, known for serving 'epicurean baked potatoes,' apparently."

On Saturday, August 19, you can see The Domino Effect, a documentary on the rezoning and subsequent hyper-gentrification of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. It's playing at 2:00 at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, 161-04 Jamaica Ave in Queens. A "talk back" with the filmmakers will follow the screening.

The Domino Effect (Trailer) from The Domino Effect on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Empire City

Empire City, a documentary film from 1985, is now streaming for rental on Vimeo.

While it was originally meant to contrast 1980s New York with the "golden age" from 1830 - 1930, it provides a rare and fascinating glimpse of the city at the very moment it shifted fully from the socially progressive era and into the Neoliberal Age of radical free-market economics.

Looking back three decades later, we can see the beginning of the glossy, greedy epoch in which we now live.

The film features the creators of today's city, from Donald Trump to Felix Rohatyn and David Rockefeller. In one scene, a young Trump stands with Mayor Ed Koch at a topping-out ceremony for yet another Midtown tower and says, "This mayor has created such a tremendous atmosphere with respect to the city of New York. Eight years ago, I must say, I was embarrassed to say I was in the real estate business in New York. Today, I can honestly say I'm proud of it."

That atmosphere was one that explicitly favored developers over everyday New Yorkers.

In the 1980s, under Koch, City Hall’s goal became to re-create New York, making it friendly to big business, tourists, real estate developers, and upscale professionals. In the process, City Hall turned away from its citizens. CUNY professor and urbanist David Harvey has called this the shift from managerialism to entrepreneurialism, meaning that the city government changed its main priority from providing services and benefits for its own people to competing with other cities for outside human resources and capital. In the new competitive city, attracting tourists, newcomers, and corporations was (and still is) more important than taking care of New Yorkers.

Koch discusses this shift in Empire City, saying that New York is now for "banks, insurance companies, white-collar jobs," and not manufacturing. During his tenure he gifted developers and corporations with the expansion of three kinds of tax abatement: J-51, giving subsidies to landlords to renovate apartments and increase gentrification; 421a, reducing taxes on luxury buildings to induce their construction in “underused” areas; and individual incentives that gave hundreds of millions to corporations like AT&T to bribe them into doing business in New York. It was an expensive smorgasbord. According to urban anthropologist Roger Sanjek, “Between 1984 and 1989, J-51 and 421a tax losses together cost the city $1.4 billion.”

(In 2016, the Times reported that, over the course of his career, Trump “reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants, and other subsidies for luxury apartments, hotels, and office buildings in New York.”)

For the rest of the city, it was austerity -- disinvestment, cut-backs, and layoffs.

Empire City provides a tale of two cities as it takes a look at the impact of austerity and urban renewal on New York's most vulnerable citizens. Director Michael Blackwood visits Harlem and the Bowery, interviewing locals, authors, and activists like Jane Jacobs.

On the increasing class and race segregation, Herman Badillo says, "The mayor is not the mayor of New York City. He doesn't represent half the people of New York City. He only represents the whites. He's not interested in the black or Hispanic communities. He's only the mayor of the affluent part of New York City."

Discussing early gentrification, social worker Rita Smith notes, "Poverty is a business. They move you into areas, and then a slum results, and then they move in and build it up. There is a purpose to everything that is going on."

Empire City from Michael Blackwood Productions on Vimeo

The decisions made at that time still reverberate today. They laid the foundations for hyper-gentrification and the vast gap of inequality that plagues New York in the twenty-first century. This is not "change as usual." It isn't natural and isn't inevitable. It was deliberate. It had a purpose--and that purpose has now been realized.

As Norman Mailer says in the film, "Manhattan has been sacked architecturally. Its neighborhoods have been destroyed." Tall towers with "repellent surfaces" speak to the "nature of power: It's abstract, it's impersonal, it's immense, and you can't get near it. What it says is that we at the top don't give a damn about you at the bottom."

For more on this topic, read my book, along with Fear City and The Assassination of New York.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sal Debates

Democratic mayoral candidate Sal Albanese has qualified to debate Mayor Bill de Blasio. The first primary debate is scheduled for August 23 at 7:00PM (aired on NY1 and WNYC radio), and the second is on September 6 at 7:00PM (WCBS-TV, 1010 WINS, and NewsRadio 88).

photo: Jennifer S. Altman

From the press release:

"Sal Albanese’s mayoral campaign reports that not only has the campaign had its best fundraising month ever – bringing in about $65,000 – but that the campaign has exceeded the financial 'raise and spend' bar required to be in the official debates. The campaign has raised approximately $190,000, and has spent at least $174,000.

'I never doubted that we’d raise enough money to be on the debate stage,' said Albanese. 'Each month, as our message gets out, we are raising more awareness and more money. Everywhere we go, people are unenthused and even angry about Mayor de Blasio’s performance. He is uninterested in the job, and is a part-time Mayor, at best. I am looking forward to the debate. I hope to show New Yorkers that it is possible to have a Mayor who actually wants the job, will show up for it on time, every day, who will stop the legalized corruption that’s filled City Hall and who will work tirelessly for the everyday New Yorker,' he added."

Albanese supports campaign finance reform, along with real protections for our small businesses. For more on Sal, check out my interview with him here.

He still needs to raise another $150,000 to qualify for 6 to 1 matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board. Consider making a donation. Large or small, every dollar counts.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

French Roast 2

Recently I posted on the closure of French Roast's Village location.

Here it is today, the windows covered in paper.

A sign on the door says, "We are closed for renovation" and "Thank you for all the great years together as French Roast." Which makes me wonder if this restaurant is coming back as some other version of itself.

Or not.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Carole Teller’s Changing New York

As part of their online Historic Image Archive, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has just released a new collection called Carole Teller’s Changing New York.

Veselka, by Carole Teller, c. 1980

They write:

"Carole Teller is an artist who has lived in the East Village since the early 1960s. As a photographer, she had a keen and often prescient eye, capturing in her daily travels people and places that struck her, but which were also often on the precipice of change or disappearing. In some cases these were buildings in the process of being demolished, like Penn Station or tenements being cleared for urban renewal. In other cases they were fading painted signs growing fainter by the day. But often these were people, businesses, street scenes, or layers of grit or decay which were integral parts of her New York, but which were frequently on the edge of transformation, revival, or removal."

Astor Place, Carole Teller, early 1980s

For this post, I've selected a few choice shots from around the East Village.

There's the old Veselka before its renovation. And Astor Place before the Green Monster landed, back when the parking lot provided for a "thieves' market" and the public space was a true public space.

Block Drugs and M. Schacht's, Carole Teller, mid-1980s

Block Drugs is still there today, with its glorious neon sign, but M. Schacht's is long gone--along with "APPETIZING." Gem Spa remains, but the St. Marks Cinema has vanished.

There are many more photos to browse, and they are for sale as prints, with funds going to support the preservation work of GVSHP.

Gem Spa and St. Marks Cinema, Carole Teller, c. 1980

Monday, August 7, 2017

Amato to Nothing

Back in 2009, we said goodbye to the great Amato Opera House, on the Bowery for 60 years.


The building was sold and sold again. Recently, the plywood was removed to reveal this--a stark white box awaiting a luxury chain store or an art gallery or a restaurant. Certainly not a rag-tag, affordable opera house.

As Bowery Boogie noted last year, infamous local landlord Steve Croman was "converting 319 Bowery into a mixed-use dwelling befitting Bowery 2.0. Three glitzy, full-floor apartments, including the aforementioned penthouse will sit atop the ground level store. The retail space was last on the market in 2014, asking a whopping $35,000 per month in rent."

Gothic Cabinet to Blue Mercury

Last year, Gothic Cabinet Craft closed on Third Avenue in the East Village. As E.V. Grieve noted, this location was its first, "when Theodore Zaharopoulos set up shop on the corner in 1969."

Now it's this.

Blue Mercury: "an iconic high-growth luxury beauty retail chain."

Friday, August 4, 2017


The heart of old Music Row has been just been cleared for demolition.

Fast Company reports:

"The former site of Manny’s Music at 156 West 48th Street in Manhattan has been approved for demolition, according to a city permit issued last month. It’s a final nail in the coffin for the legendary music store that served as a mecca for generations of musicians and once stood as the crown jewel of New York’s famed Music Row."

Manny's was here since 1935 and closed in 2009. It was a mecca for musicians famous and not. Then Music Row started getting murdered. One after another, the shops shuttered, replaced by Dunkin Donuts or nothing at all. Rudy's Music Stop and Alex Accordion were the last to go.


I walked along that block of West 48th a few weeks ago to see what had become of it.

The name MANNY'S embedded in the doorstep was oddly missing. It had been cemented over. Why? The only reason I can think of to do such a thing is to "scalp" the building, a tactic used by developers when they don't want a building landmarked before they can demolish it.

Manny's was not landmarked.

*UPDATE: Chris writes in the comments: "I heard from a trusted source that the MANNY'S terrazzo at the front door was removed and taken to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland."


According to Fast Company:

It was "unclear if the former Manny’s site would even rise to a level city officials would consider worthy of such protection. A spokeswoman for the landmarks commission told me the agency has not received any requests to evaluate the building."

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Riviera Cafe


Sad news for yet another classic dining spot. Word went buzzing around social media last night that the Riviera Cafe in Greenwich Village is closing August 31. I've not confirmed it with the Riviera, but the source is credible.

Michael Musto wrote on his Facebook page:

"Riviera Cafe & Sports Bar is closing at the end of the month after 48 years. I recently plugged the place in the Post for its great al fresco people watching. I go virtually every Friday for dinner with Lynn Yaeger and I have the salmon burrito or the corn salad with chicken. I LOVE THIS PLACE and the manager, Jean. It has long been an essential part of a West Village jaunt en route to Marie's, Pieces, Hangar Bar and Rockbar. I pray some generic shithole doesn't go up, or worse a high rise."

photo: Wally Gobetz

The Riviera might look like just another sports bar, and a Boston Red Sox bar at that, but it's much more. A classic hangout for hipsters (the old-school kind) since the 1960s, this is where Lou Reed kicked John Cale out of The Velvet Underground.

More recently, it's been a comfortable and affordable spot, a place to meet friends, an oasis away from the usual ugliness that Greenwich Village has become.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Great Jones Returns


After seemingly shuttering and inspiring teary goodbyes, the Great Jones Cafe is rising from the almost-dead.

Word is shooting around social media, and the cafe's website confirms it:

"The Reports of Our Demise Were Greatly Exaggerated (to paraphrase Twain). After a week off, we reopen Wednesday, August 2nd at 5 PM. See you then !!!"

Said one commenter on the cafe's Facebook page, "This has been an emotional roller coaster ride."

UPDATE: Here's the inside scoop.