Archive for the ‘Bars and restaurants’ Category

Twenty years of Starbucks in New York City

April 14, 2014

If your experience in New York doesn’t stretch back more than two decades, then you’ve never known a time when the city didn’t have multiple Starbucks stores in almost every neighborhood.

Broadway87thstsignIt was 20 years ago this month when the first Starbucks opened on Broadway and 87th Street.

“At 3,000 square feet, this is the largest of the company’s 318 stores and also one of the largest coffee bars in the city,” wrote Florence Fabricant in her New York Times column on April 27, 1994.

That writeup didn’t capture the conflicting emotions many New Yorkers felt about having Starbucks descend on the city.

“When the store at 87th Street welcomed its first caffeine-charged customers in April 1994, national chains and upscale retailers and restaurants were not common in that part of the Upper West Side,” stated a New York Times article from 2003, the year the first store closed.

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Starbucks “stirs conflicting feelings among people who live near their branches,” another Times article from 1995 said.

“Some see the coffee bars as promising signs of upscale development and badges of sophistication. Others are put off by the sprawling uniformity of Starbucks stores and fear that they may threaten the distinctive character of old-time establishments in their areas.”

Twenty years later, the opening of a Starbucks branch can still whip up the same opinions.

[photo: a Starbucks in the East 20s, one of 283 in the city]

A New York socialite dubbed “King of the Dudes”

March 31, 2014

EvanderberrywallchowdogEvery era in New York history has its characters.

And in the late 19th century city, which celebrated extravagance and excess, socialite and clotheshorse Evander Berry Wall was one of the most colorful.

Born in 1860 into a wealthy family, he inherited $2 million by his 21st birthday.

That was an incredible sum in the Gilded Age, and it enabled party-loving Wall (who sported a monocle, and insisted on only drinking champagne) to not work for a living and instead indulge in his love of fashion.

Evanderberrywall1888How much of a fashionista was this guy? Reportedly he owned 500 pairs of pants, 5,000 ties, loved loud colors and patterns, and changed his clothes six times a day.

“He wore waistcoats that dazzled the eye. He wore violet spats. His spread-eagle collars and startling cravats kept New Yorkers agog,” wrote The New York Times in his 1940 obituary.

In the 1880s, he battled for the title of best-dressed New York man with another foppish dandy. Wall eclipsed the other guy during the Blizzard of 1888, when he entered the luxurious Hoffman House bar clad in thigh-high black patent leather boots.

From then on he was crowned “King of the Dudes.” Dude was kind of an insult at the time, but Wall embraced it with pride.

In 1912, he and his wife (yep, he was married) began living abroad in Europe.

EvanderberrywallmonocleHe befriended royalty, indulged his love of social events and horse racing, and took his beloved chow. wherever he could.

He’s best remembered by his outfits, of course, and as the epitome of the Gay 90s.

“To the end he was a fabulous and eccentric dresser of his earlier days—stiff shirts, tailcoats, Byron collars—and he never went to Longchamps in season without his silk hat even if, as he complained, valets no longer knew how to ‘keep the gloss on your topper,’” wrote the Times.

The only shame is that no color photos survive to really show off what a bon vivant fashion plate Wall truly was.

Staying at Midtown’s Hotel Bristol in the 1940s

March 10, 2014

Today, there’s a Chipotle at the Rockefeller Center address the Hotel Bristol once occupied.

The Bristol, as this postcard shows, was one of dozens of smart, modern city hotels catering to the influx of businessmen and tourists in the early 20th century.

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The Bristol appears to have been a happening place through the 1940s. That Pink Elephant restaurant must have been the site of many boozy business dinners.

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A 1922 ad showcases the Bristol’s endorsement by the YMCA: “A good hotel that Y men can recommend, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue. 400 rooms, 300 baths. Rooms with bath: single $2 to $4. Double $5, $6, and $7.”

I don’t know if there’s any connection to the Bristol Plaza Hotel in the East 60s today—or if it’s a larger version of the six-story Bristol Hotel at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue in the late 19th century.

Cool old phone exchange: Circle!

Gorgeous neon signs illuminating the city

March 3, 2014

What’s more beautiful than block after block of glowing reds and blues and pinks and yellows, emanating light and heat?

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These food-oriented neon signs also make you hungry. The Old Homestead sign looks pretty old, though not as old as this steak house (two words!) itself, from 1868.

Donutpub14thstreet

The Donut Pub on 14th Street, a 50-year-old remnant of New York before cronuts and Starbucks, recently survived a competitive attack by an upstart Dunkin’ Donuts down the block, which quietly closed shop a few years ago.

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DeRobertis Caffe and Pasticceria has been baking sweets for 110 years on First Avenue near 14th Street, when this was an Sicilian immigrant micro-neighborhood featuring Russo Brothers, Veniero, and probably hundreds of small shops lost to history.

Queensign

Queen is an oddly named Italian restaurant (since 1958!) on Court Street in Brooklyn. You have to dig that crown.

Katzsign

And of course, Katz’s Deli, a treasure of New York neon and store signage—and sandwiches and Jewish soul food too.

More sublime neon beauty can be found here.

A short history of tipping waiters in New York

February 24, 2014

Any current city guidebook gives the same advice: the proper tip to a server in New York stands at 20 percent of the total bill. It wasn’t always so.

Delmonicosadmiraldewey1906

“The waiter who hands you the check . . . should get 15 per cent (as should a waitress in a tearoom); in a night club, 20 percent,” wrote Lawton Mackall in his 1949 New York dining guide Knife and Fork in New York.

ChurchillsNYPL1914Fifteen percent 65 years ago was pretty good, considering that decades earlier, the question was whether to tip at all.

“In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the professional middle class, the public restaurant, and the tip were relatively new, the debate was not over how much to tip, but whether tipping itself was so destructive to democracy that it could not be allowed to continue,” wrote Andrew P. Halley in Turning the Tables.

Not everyone was on board with this practice imported from Europe—tipping was seen by some as “morally wrong.”

Tipexcerpt“When the waiter rushes forward to take your coat, hang it up, drag out your chair . . . when he flies to fulfill your order as if wings had been applied to his heels . . . for this wonderful galvanization of the waiter, what does it mean? Merely that he considers it probable, nay certain, that some of the silver change in your pocket will be transferred to his,” stated The New York Times in 1877.

Blossomrestaurantbereniceabbott1935

“By tipping him in this way you are corrupting his honesty, and harming his manliness, for he will be sure in the end to keep his good serving for those who pay, and turn a cold shoulder to the economical.”

Turn of the century labor leader Samuel Gompers came out against tipping any service worker. There was even talk of introducing no-tipping laws in the city, which had been passed in other jurisdictions.

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In 1907, a waiter wrote in to the Times to protest. “No doubt within a short time some of our politicians will introduce  an anti-tipping bill, as other states have done. . . .

Boweryrestaurantwalkerevans3334“An anti-tipping law would mean hardship and misery to the waiters, and it would be not long before they would organize and demand better pay and shorter hours, and the patrons would have to pay for it.”

Eventually, the anti-tipping laws were struck down before any were enacted in New York . . . and tipping servers working in one of the city’s almost 8,000 restaurants, whether a luxe establishment or lunch counter, became customary.

[Top photo: Delmonico's restaurant dinner for Admiral Dewey, 1906; Churchill's ad, NYPL; Blossom restaurant photo by Berenice Abbott, 1935; Three Men Walking Past Lunchroom, New York City, by Rudy Burckholdt, 1939; Walker Evans photo of Peoples Restaurant on the Bowery, 1933-1934]

An old Chinese restaurant sign return to view

February 24, 2014

Inexpensive Chinese restaurants have a long history in the city—chop suey was even invented in New York! Now, a previously hidden sign is back on display.

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Hunan & Szechuan Cuisine, on Fourth Avenue and 13th Street, had been covered up by a different sign for Young Chow Restaurant—it’s now gone, the place shuttered one recent morning and sporting this (1980s?) signage.

John Sloan paints many moods of McSorley’s Bar

February 13, 2014

McsorleysbarjohnsloanBeing ensconced inside a dark bar with a pint and good conversation is many a New Yorker’s  idea of heaven.

John Sloan may have felt that way too.

His famous 1912 painting “McSorley’s Bar” depicts working-class customers comfortably drinking around a wood bar (with bartender Bill McSorley, son of the original owner, who founded the East Seventh Street ale house in 1854), wiling away the hours.

It’s his most renowned McSorley’s painting, but not the only one. Sloan completed at least three more, each capturing various glimpses of loneliness and whimsy and highlighting the small moments of pleasure and respite in a workingman’s life.

McSorleysbackroomjohnsloan

“McSorley’s Back Room” also dates to 1912. “The hushed, contemplative mood of this painting echoes Sloan’s description of the bar as an oasis ‘where the world seems shut out—where there is no time, nor turmoil,’” states the Hood Museum website, quoting Sloan.

“The tavern’s founder was no longer living when Sloan discovered the place, but through this painting and a related etching Sloan appears to pay homage to John McSorley, who, according to his son, always sat there in the sun.”

In 1928, Sloan memorialized the dozen cats living at the bar in “McSorley’s Cats.” Could that be bartender Bill McSorley again, with cats badgering him for food?

Mcsorleyscats1929sloan

With Prohibition still the rule of law, Sloan painted “McSorley’s Saturday Night” between 1928 and 1930. States the McSorley’s website: “everyone seems to have a mug in his hands.”

Mcsorleyssaturdaynightsloan

Sloan moved to New York in 1904 and spent many years depicting the city’s moods, from joy to isolation.

As for McSorley’s, this dusty old saloon, which famously refused to serve women until a court order in 1970, has been memorialized many times in art and literature, most famously by Berenice Abbott, Joseph Mitchell, and e.e. cummings.

Cocktail time at an old 1940s Russian restaurant

February 10, 2014

RussianrestaurantpostcardEver heard of Tarwid’s Russian Bear restaurant? Me neither, but based on their postcard advertisements, I’m intrigued.

“America’s oldest Russian restaurant” boasted that it was “nationally famed the excellence of its Russian cuisine and beauty of true Russian atmosphere.”

Tarwid’s once had a prime location on Lexington Avenue in Midtown. Must have been the site of some truly epic working lunches.

According to real-estate records, the place relocated to Lexington and 57th Street in 1948, and then moved down Lexington to 39th Street in 1952.

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After that, the trail goes cold. Today, the address leads to a 1960s-style apartment building housing several small stores.

Tarwidspostcardfront

I love the ELdorado phone exchange and the old-school ZIP code, only the last two digits necessary for mail to be delivered within New York City.

The sheep pen turned restaurant in Central Park

January 30, 2014

From 1934 to 2010, Tavern on the Green was the kind of touristy New York restaurant that a lot of city residents shunned.

Tavernonthegreen

But the place had surprising roots in post–Civil War New York.

The gabled Victorian building where diners once feasted and danced (in the 1950s, at least, according to the back of this postcard) was constructed as sheepfold for a flock of sheep that grazed, yep, today’s Sheep Meadow.

Sheepfoldcentralpark

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park’s designers, created a pastoral landscape—and 200 or so sheep hanging around and keeping the grass clipped certainly gave the park the feel of a retreat from urban life.

In 1934, the sheep got the boot by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who had other ideas about how Central Park should serve the city.

Sheepcentralpark1910

Plus, on a more gruesome note, apparently there were fears that the hungry, desperate men who built a Depression-era Hooverville in the park would kill and eat the flock!

[Bottom photo: sheep grazing and cutting the lawn, about 1910]

A pioneering photographer’s Greenwich Village

January 27, 2014

Born in 1870 in Ontario, Jessie Tarbox Beals starting taking photos in 1888, the year she won a camera for selling a magazine subscription.

She then scored staff photographer jobs at national newspapers, mostly in upstate New York and New England.

Jessietarboxbealspatchinplace1910

Beals was the rare female news photographer in a field dominated by men—partly because journalism was generally closed to women.

But also, few women could lug the 50 pounds of camera equipment required for the job (while wearing a whalebone corset, no less).

Jessietarboxbealsspaghetti

In 1905, she and her husband settled in New York City. Here she produced some of her most enduring images, particularly after she moved to Greenwich Village in 1917 and opened a studio in Sheridan Square.

Jessietarboxbealsinkpot

A favorite subject was Bohemian life: the tearooms and cafes where writers and artists congregated, as well as the Village’s crooked alleys and mews.

The Ink Pot, above, was a small magazine run from a Sheridan Square office, per the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation.

Jessietarboxbealscrumperie

She also trained her camera on street life scenes, particularly of city kids at school (below, a school lunch at P.S. 40) and at play, selling photos to leading magazines and newspapers and turning some into postcards.

Jessietarboxbealsps40lunchnypl2

She credited her success with her ability to hustle work—and also her inner strength. “‘Mere feminine, delicate, Dresden china type of women get nowhere in business or professional life,’” she wrote in her diary, according to a 2000 New York Times article.

Jessietarboxbealsportrait“They marry millionaires, if they are lucky. But if a woman is to make headway with men, she must be truly masculine.’”

Beals (at left) moved away from New York in the late 1920s to work in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The stock market crash brought her back to the city, where she struggled to make a living in an increasingly crowded profession.

She died in the charity ward of Bellevue Hospital in 1942 at age 71, destitute.

[Top photos Library of Congress; school photo: New York Public Library Digital Collection]


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