Archive for the ‘Bars and restaurants’ Category

The 1984 murder of a Studio 54 “miss party girl”

September 18, 2017

Connie Crispell lived in New York City from 1974 to 1984.

Her life in the city hit many of the cultural touchstones of the 1970s and 1980s—nights at Studio 54, after-hours clubs downtown, panic over AIDS. Yet her name and her tragic murder have mostly been forgotten.

Born to a prominent family in Virginia, Crispell came to Manhattan at age 22. She rented a two-bedroom at 12 East 86th Street for $500 a month and tried her hand at various jobs—marketing jewelry made out of subway tokens, founding a bartender-for-hire service.

But her true place in the city seemed to be on the dance floor at Studio 54.

Crispell and her roommate, “fell into a routine that began with taking a nap after work,” stated New York magazine in a 1984 article, which quoted a friend describing her as “miss party girl of New York City.”

“They rose at about 10 p.m. and showered. They put on disco music to get themselves in the proper spirit, and Crispell often made a pitcher of vodka tonics. Then they hopped in a cab and headed for Studio 54,” arriving back on 86th Street (below left) at 4 a.m.

By the end of the 1970s, her roommate gave up the party scene and moved out; Studio 54 shut down briefly. Crispell continued to spend money she didn’t have and was evicted from her apartment.

“With some financial help from her family, Crispell moved into a studio apartment in the old FBI building, on East 69th Street,” wrote New York. “She seemed to identify with the heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and she sometimes called her place ‘my Holly Golightly apartment.'”

As the 1980s began, Crispell worked in an office position with designer Carolina Herrera, then as an account executive at Ogilvy & Mather and later as a salesperson at Brooks Brothers.

Studio 54 reopened again, and Crispell returned night after night. “She became a kind of celebrity of the dance floor and was often admitted to the club without paying,” according to New York.

She dated a blue blood preppie and then moved in with a 60-something diamond tycoon. After that relationship ended, she took a $120 a week room at the all-female Martha Washington Hotel on East 30th Street.

She supported herself by signing up with an escort service that gave her a beeper and sent her to meet men at the city’s poshest hotels.

As her former roommate and other friends fell into more settled lives, Crispell continued to live on the edge. She told people she thought she might have AIDS, and she did a 10-day stint in Bellevue after threatening to jump from a 9th floor apartment.

Once she was released, she was back at Studio 54, inviting fellow club-goers home with her to her new sublet at 58 West 58th Street (above right) in the wee hours of the morning. “Soon Crispell’s home became a kind of salon,” wrote New York, attended by heiresses, designers, and Village People band member Randy Jones.

One of those after-hours party guests, however, was a 20-year-old convict named Charles Ransom. According to newspaper accounts, Ransom said that he and Crispell had sex after she hosted a Kentucky Derby party in April 1984. Afterward, Crispell told him that she thought she had AIDS.

Ransom said he blacked out and strangled Crispell, stuffed her nude body in a trunk, and put the trunk on the balcony of the apartment. He invited two prostitutes to stay at the sublet for several days before the owners returned and called police.

Ransom got a minimum of 25 years in prison. A month after the murder, Crispell’s friends held a memorial at Fifth Avenue’s St. Thomas Church to mourn “the loss of the girl who always wanted one more moment of fun,” wrote New York.

[Top photo: New York; second and third photos: Biography.com; fourth photo: Manhattan Scout; fifth photo: streeteasy.com; sixth image: Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin; seventh photo: New York Post via New York]

A brutal murder on 23rd Street rocks Manhattan

September 4, 2017

By all accounts, life in 19th century New York had been good to Benjamin Nathan.

A spectacularly rich stockbroker known to wear diamond studs on his dress shirts, Nathan was born in Manhattan in 1813.

In the 1850s, he became vice president of the New York Stock Exchange and as a member of the Union Club was one of the few Jewish residents embraced by New York’s business elite.

He used his wealth to support various charities and build himself, his wife, and his eight kids an elegant brownstone at 12 West 23rd Street (above). His four-story house was across from the Fifth Avenue Hotel (below in 1886) in one of the post–Civil War city’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

So who murdered him in his brownstone on the night of July 29, 1870, bashing his skull repeatedly with an iron bar and leaving blood splattered on the walls and floor?

Nathan’s brutal murder rocked the city, and the details are particularly gruesome. His body was discovered first by his 22-year-old son, Washington Nathan, who like his father and older brother, Frederick Nathan, 26, was staying at the house while the rest of the family was summering at their New Jersey estate.

At 6 a.m., “Patrick McGuvin, a janitor at the elegant Fifth Avenue Hotel, was hosing down the sidewalk outside the hotel when Washington Nathan burst screaming from the brownstone at 12 West 23rd Street,” wrote Josh Nathan-Kazis (a descendant of Benjamin Nathan) in Tablet magazine.

McGuvin thought Washington was drunk, but then Frederick came onto the stoop screaming too. Both brothers had their father’s blood on their clothes.

When police arrived, they noted that Nathan’s body was found on the second floor (illustration above), and that “Mr. Nathan’s watch, and diamond studs had been stolen, the safe key taken from his clothes, the safe unlocked and some of the contents scattered on the bed,” wrote the Brooklyn Daily Eagle the next day.

“There were indications that a terrible struggle had taken place at the office door,” stated the Eagle. The working theory was that Nathan—who was last seen by his son Washington at about midnight—had interrupted a burglary.

But questions lingered, and they focused on Washington. “[Washington Nathan] was an intemperate man who frequently fought with his father over his ‘habits of life’—drinking, whoring and reckless spending,” states Murder by Gaslight.

“His character made him the likely killer, and the press noted that he did not exhibit the same level of emotion as his brother Frederick.”

Both brothers had tight alibis. Frederick had gone to Brooklyn to visit a female friend on Carroll Street, then ate a late supper on 21st Street before coming back to the brownstone around midnight, wrote Nathan-Kazis.

Washington spent his time at several Gilded Age hot spots. “Between 7:30 p.m. and 12:20 a.m., Washington claimed to have visited the bar at the St. James Hotel three times, read a magazine at Delmonico’s, visited the Fifth Avenue Hotel, taken in an open-air concert at Madison Square Park, and spent nearly three hours at a brothel.”

After an inquest, however, both brothers were cleared—as was a live-in housekeeper and her adult son, who lived on an army pension and did odd jobs for the Nathans.

In the end, no one was indicted. The police believed he was murdered by professional thieves, even though the value of the items taken was small and it seemed odd to burglarize a house when Nathan was home, rather than on one of the days he was at his summer estate.

It’s been 147 years since Nathan was bludgeoned to death. As Murder by Gaslight put it, quoting infamous NYPD detective Thomas Byrnes: “The Nathan case is, ‘the most celebrated and certainly the most mysterious murder that has ever been perpetrated in New York City.'”

For more on the crimes and tragedies that rocked the Gilded Age city, read The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

[Top image: Tablet; third image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 30, 1870; fourth image: Murder by Gaslight; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: NY Times; seventh image: NYPL; eighth image: Murder by Gaslight]

Everyone loved Central Park’s mineral water spa

August 14, 2017

You know how clean-eating New Yorkers never go anywhere without a bottle of water? Well, water—specifically mineral water—was a huge health trend in the 19th century city too.

Drinking and bathing in it was known as the “water cure,” which supposedly could treat fever, digestive complaints, and other body issues, as Ann Haddad wrote in in a blog post for the Merchant’s House Museum.

Wealthy New Yorkers took advantage of water curatives hawked by trendy hydrotherapists. They also headed upstate to visit the newly popular mineral spring resort spas.

For those of more modest means, an alternative came to Central Park in 1869: a mineral water “spa” that served several different types of spring-fed water.

The spa was the idea of a mineral water company owner, Carl Schultz, who (along with doctors touting the powers of H20) petitioned the Board of Health to allow him to open a venue in the park that would dispense water.

“The pavilion was erected in 1867 at the request of numerous physicians who felt that here was an opportunity of combining a mineral water cure with exercise in the open air,” recalled Scientific American in 1905.

After getting the go-ahead, Schultz had Central Park co-designers Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould build a delightful, Moorish style pavilion north of the Sheep Meadow at about 72nd Street.

“The waters are of two kinds: first the natural mineral waters from all the famous springs at home and abroad, and second mineral waters prepared artificially and scientifically, thus ensuring a definite chemical combination at all times,” wrote Scientific American.

The mineral water pavilion wasn’t just about clean water. It offered “morning summer recitals as an entertainment for the water-ingesting masses,” stated Ann Haddad.

Morning was an especially popular time at the mineral water pavilion, as seen above in an 1872 Harper’s illustration. According to the caption, these were Jewish New Yorkers socializing and enjoying the refreshing water.

Trends come and go, of course. After the turn of the century, with clean Croton-delivered water available to almost every home in New York City, the popularity of Central Park’s mineral water pavilion took a dive.

By 1960, the colorful little building with the fanciful roof was demolished. Today, the location is marked on park maps as “Mineral Springs,” a testament to the spa’s 19th century popularity.

[Photos NYPL Digital Collection]

What remains of a Gansevoort Street restaurant

July 15, 2017

In 1938, the short, unremarkable building at 69 Gansevoort Street was home to R & L Lunch—a luncheonette that I imagine primarily fed the men who worked in the Meatpacking District (but hey, ladies invited, per the sign!).

Forty-seven years later, Florent Morellet turned what became R & L Restaurant into Florent, the legendary 24-hour haunt of late nighters, club kids, sex workers, and New Yorkers who enjoyed eating brunch in a place that often felt like a party.

Below, Florent in the mid to late 1980s; note the pink neon Florent sign in the window.

Florent closed in 2008. The space housed a couple of short-lived restaurants, if I remember correctly, and now this time capsule of a storefront has recently transformed into a branch of a national fashion chain.

At least they kept that wonderful aluminum sign, which these days is one of the last authentic pieces of the days when the Meatpacking District actually was home to meatpacking plants.

[Top photo: Sol Libsohn via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York; second photo: New York City Department of Records Photo Gallery]

Going back in time at the Village’s Corner Bistro

July 10, 2017

The wooden table tops with generations of names scratched into them have been replaced, and signs posted on the back brick wall remind patrons that smoking is forbidden.

But the two little rooms of the Corner Bistro maintain that time-traveling Village taverny feel.

Maybe it’s the pressed tin ceiling that could date back to 1875, when the tiny space on the first floor of 331 West Fourth Street was a saloon run by a man named John Ebers (the site of an interesting crime, below).

Or perhaps it’s the old-timey clock in the corner or the long carved mahogany bar, which could have been installed in the early 20th century, when the Corner Bistro says they began serving customers (above, in 1933).

But the Corner Bistro resounds with what I imagine as the feel of the Village of the 1950s and 1960s, when locals and poets and artists and the men who worked the Hudson River docks went there for alcohol and camaraderie in a neighborhood that hosted lots of corner bars with the same mix, like the Lion’s Head and the White Horse.

To get a sense of what the place must have been like back then, read what the former longtime owner, Bill O’Donnell, had to say about the heyday of the Bistro, as regulars called it.

O’Donnell gave this interview to WestView News in 2012. After college and time spent at sea on board a ship, O’Donnell became a bartender at a place on Greenwich Avenue called Jack Barry’s.

“A few years later, one of the two owners of the Corner Bistro—his name was Curtis—wanted to sell his interest,” he told WestView.

“I scrambled together some money from my brothers and me and that’s how I began at the Corner Bistro. I took over 50 percent interest in February 1967 and ten years later bought the other 50 percent.”

The Bistro back then was “a mixed clientele and an eclectic crowd. You had neighborhood people, beatniks, some longshoremen, and tourists. You also had aspiring actors, writers, poets and the intellectual types. So it was a collision of cultures and sometimes it didn’t mix so well!”

“There seemed to be a lot more drinking then. Today you can’t do anything in a bar because, as soon as someone belches too loudly, people are on their cell phones!”

O’Donnell created the iconic Bistro burger, which Mimi Sheraton gave a rave review in the New York Times in 1978.

“The Bistro still represents something of the past and people like that,” he said. “It’s reminiscent of old New York and it’s maintained its integrity.”

[Second photo: 1933, NYPL; third image: 1875, New York Times]

Do you recognize this 1920s corner speakeasy?

July 7, 2017

Few artists depict New York’s lights and shadows like Martin Lewis. In the 1920s and 1930s, he created haunting, enchanting drypoint prints showcasing day-to-day street life—from factory workers to gangs of young boys to lone men and women exiting subways and hanging around bars.

This drypoint above, from 1929, is titled “Relics (Speakeasy Corner).” Considering that New York during Prohibition hosted an estimate 20,000 to 100,ooo speakeasies, it’s hard to know where this is.

The Old Print Shop on Lexington Avenue (which has priced this drypoint at $70,000!) solves the mystery.

“The location is Charles Street and West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village which was near Lewis’ house at the time on Bedford Street,” a page on their website tells us.

Google street view shows that this corner is almost exactly the same as it was 89 years ago, except the speakeasy has been replaced by Sevilla, one of the Village’s old-school Spanish restaurants.

More Martin Lewis prints can be found here. [Print: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

A Dutch sailor’s photos of the New York of 1979

July 3, 2017

In 1979, Peter van Wijk was a radio officer in the Dutch Merchant Marine. That summer, his ship docked a couple of times in New York Harbor, giving him the opportunity to visit Manhattan and wander the streets.

Like all curious newcomers to New York, he brought a camera along with him, and he took photos of iconic tourist spots like the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, and Times Square.

But he also captured the seemingly ordinary street scenes that offer fleeting glimpses into the heart and soul of the late 1970s city: shoppers going in and out of mom and pop stores, musicians and vendors drawing crowds, and taxis navigating traffic-choked streets.

Thirty-eight years later, van Wijk decided to share his previously unseen images, and Ephemeral New York has the wonderful privilege of posting them.

It goes without saying that the Gotham of 1979 was a vastly different place. These days, everyone wants to live in New York; in the 1970s, residents couldn’t get out fast enough. The city’s population dipped an incredible 10 percent from 1970 to 1980, to just over 7 million.

Ed Koch had been elected mayor a year earlier on a law and order platform. The city’s nickname, Fear City (or more ironically, Fun City), was a nod to rising crime and rampant graffiti.

Cuts in city services left garbage on the streets, and shells of buildings sat empty in the South Bronx, East Village, and the Lower East Side, among other neighborhoods.

You wouldn’t know any of this from looking at these photos. The city in this collection of images is animated and colorful, with life and energy.

It’s a New York that feels almost small scale compared to the contemporary city—more a collection of neighborhoods rather than an island of cookie-cutter stores and development.

The gritty, street-smart New York of the 1970s is often hailed as a more authentic version of the city. How true that is has been up for debate lately.

These photos don’t take a side. They’re simply fascinating portals into the past that bring memories back of the city in the late 1970s, before crowded subways, a critical mass of Starbucks and Duane Reade stores, and an army of residents wearing white earbuds as they go about their day.

[All photos:copyright Peter van Wijk]

Turtle soup: the hottest dish on New York menus

July 3, 2017

In 1783, George Washington feasted on it (washed down with punch, according to later accounts) at Fraunces Tavern during his farewell banquet for Continental Army officers.

Early 19th century tavern owners took out newspaper ads letting the public know when a fresh pot would be whipped up.

And it was on the menu at New York’s biggest and best restaurants until the early 20th century, when it almost entirely disappeared from bill of fares all across the city.

What dish was such a delicacy? Green turtle soup, and New Yorkers of the 18th and 19th centuries couldn’t get enough of it.

“In 19th century New York, the only dish that could rival a juicy beefsteak or a dozen plump oysters on the half shell was turtle soup, and it’s partisans were legion,” writes William Grimes in Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York.

Two restaurants vied for turtle soup supremacy: the Terrapin Lunch on Ann Street and Broadway and Bayard’s, at 11-13 State Street.

Bayard’s turtle soup was recalled by an old New Yorker, Charles Haynes Haswell, in his Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, published in 1896.

“Here turtle soup was dispensed which was worthy of the animal of which it was made; not the puree of this time, which is served at some of our leading restaurants and clubs; not a thin consomme of that which might be calves’ head or veal, but bona fide turtle, with callipash, callipee, and forced-meat balls.”

It stands to reason that the first turtles and terrapins who ended up in New Yorkers’ soup bowls came from the waters around the city (like Turtle Bay, perhaps). Into the 19th century, however, they arrived here from the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean.

Why did turtle soup fall out of fashion? Maybe it had to do with the fact that turtles themselves were almost harvested to extinction, says Leslie Day in Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City.

Or perhaps it was just a food fad that lost its buzz.

[Top photo: Saveur magazine; second image: Evening Post, 1807; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Evening Post, 1812]

All that’s left of a Pearl Street Chinese restaurant

June 26, 2017

Thousands of restaurants have come and gone in New York over the years, and this is one of them: Pearl de Orient, an interestingly named but otherwise ordinary sounding Chinese restaurant in the Financial District.

Aside from an ad in New York from 1993, I couldn’t find a trace of the place. The corner of Pearl Street and Maiden Lane looks like it’s been renovated and modernized since then.

All that’s left of Pearl de Orient is this matchbook. Remember restaurant matchbooks?

Dining “among the rooftops” of New York in 1905

May 29, 2017

Spending a warm evening in a New York rooftop bar or restaurant is one of the city’s sublime summertime pleasures.

New Yorkers in the Gilded Age thought so as well. After the first roof garden opened on top of the Casino Theater at Broadway and 39th Street in the 1880s, other theaters and hotels opened entertainment venues on their roofs, offering cool breezes and panoramic views illuminated by the city’s new electric lights.

“A number of hotels, including the Waldorf-Astoria, the Vendome, Hotel Belleclaire, the Majestic, and the Women’s Hotel, all have charming roof-gardens,” states a 1904 article in Leslie’s illustrated magazine.

French artist Charles Hoffbauer was captivated by the roof garden craze too. In 1904, this Impressionist painter created a series of paintings depicting well-dressed men and women dining on a New York City rooftop.

Yet amazingly, Hoffbauer had not yet been to New York. His rooftop paintings, like “Diner sur le Toit” (top) and a second unnamed painting (middle), were inspired by a book of photos of the Manhattan skyline.

He would come to New York in 1909 and paint many enchanting, atmospheric landscapes street scenes that captured the city’s day and nighttime beauty.

But even without having experienced Gotham, his rooftop paintings (third image, a study for “sur le Toit”) accurately reflect the “bigness and bustle” of the early 20th century city, as one critic put it, of its summertime magic and energy and the fashionable urbanites set who populated its roofs.