Archive for the ‘Bars and restaurants’ Category

Beat writers and bohemians: One woman’s memoir of 1950s Greenwich Village

July 19, 2021

“When I got back to New York after my divorce came through there was never any question that Greenwich Village was where I wanted to be,” recalled Helen Weaver in her 2009 autobiography, The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties.

Helen Weaver and Jack Kerouac, undated

It was 1955 and Weaver was in her early 20s. Her brief marriage to her college boyfriend was behind her, and she looked forward to moving to a “patchwork crazy quilt” section of Manhattan filled with “artists, would-be artists, and oddballs like myself.”

“To the overprotected little girl from Scarsdale that I was, the very dirt of the streets and the subway and the stairs of tenements was exciting,” she wrote. “It represented freedom from everything I had escaped: parents, marriage, academia.”

Sullivan Street and West Third, 1950s

Little did Weaver know that she’d find herself part of the fabric of bohemian Village life in the 1950s and early 1960s: a love affair with Jack Kerouac, dalliances with poet Gregory Corso and Lenny Bruce, and a witness to the Village’s transformation from quirky and artsy to a neighborhood with rougher edges.

He story at first sounds like that of any young adult who arrives in the Village on their own. First, Weaver had to get an apartment: a third-floor walkup on Sullivan Street.

“E.B. White wrote that New York City ‘bestows the gift of privacy, the jewel of loneliness,’: she wrote. “That first apartment was a magical place for me because it was there that I learned the art—and the joy—of solitude.” To pay for her space, she secured a position as a “gal Friday” at a publishing house.

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso

A college friend also on Sullivan Street showed her how to live, getting furniture at the Salvation Army, dressing like a Village bohemian (“long skirts, Capezio ballet shoes, and black stockings”), and going to dinner at the Grand Ticino on Thompson Street. They also visited Bagatelle, a lesbian bar on University Place.

A new friend—Helen Elliott, a free spirit who had attended Barnard—became her roommate in her next apartment at 307 West 11th Street, “an old brownstone with a small paved courtyard just west of Hudson Street and kitty-corner from the White Horse Tavern of Dylan Thomas fame.”

So thrilled to have a bigger apartment, it wasn’t until after she moved in that Weaver realized there was no kitchen sink. No matter, they would do the dishes in the bathtub.

White Horse Tavern in 1961, across from Helen Weaver’s West 11th Street apartment

Helen Elliott had become friendly with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac while at Barnard, and one November morning in 1956 the two not-yet-famous Beat writers showed up at Weaver and Elliott’s apartment. They had just returned to New York after hitchhiking from Mexico.

Elliott and Ginsberg went off to see fellow Beat Lucien Carr, who lived on Grove Street. Back on West 11th Street, Weaver and Kerouac began their tumultuous year-long relationship, which was marked by Kerouac’s drinking, long absences, and then the 1957 publication of On the Road, which made him a celebrity.

Upset that Kerouac wasn’t the man she wanted him to be, Weaver had a one-night stand with poet Gregory Corso before breaking things off for good.

Villagers at Cafe Wha?

“The pain of my disappointment in Jack and the pain of rejecting him was compounded by the pain of rejecting the part of myself that felt most alive,” wrote Weaver.

As the 1950s slid into the early 1960s, Weaver moved to a third apartment on West 13th Street. She smoked her first joint with a boyfriend and began campaigning for the legalization of marijuana.

She also became a fan of rising comic Lenny Bruce, attending his show at the Village Theater on Second Avenue (later it would become the Fillmore East) eight days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

In 1964, when Bruce was arrested for obscenity at the Village’s Cafe Au Go Go, Elliott and Weaver started a petition in support of Bruce’s right to free speech. When Bruce heard about it, he got Weaver’s number and thanked her…then came to her apartment, where the two went to bed together.

“All those hours Helen and I had spent listening to his voice on the records: that was our foreplay. And his gig at the Village Theater back in November: that was our first date,” Weaver wrote. In the end, Bruce was convicted of obscenity. (Bruce died two years later of a heroin overdose before his appeal was decided.)

In the 1960s, Weaver moved a final time to West 10th Street. But rising crime drove her to leave the neighborhood she loved.

MacDougal Street, 1963

When she first came to the Village, she recalled being able to walk around at any hour of the night and feel safe. Not so anymore: “Near Sheridan Square I saw a big bloodstain on the sidewalk. Another time in the subway a man punched me in the breast. I started taking cabs home instead of riding the subway. It got so I was afraid to walk to the corner deli after dark for a quart of milk. New York was getting scary.”

In 1971, she sublet her apartment and relocated to Woodstock, where she worked as a translator and astrology writer. Except for short trips back to New York City to see old friends and be part of Beat Generation events, Weaver never lived in the city again.

Helen Weaver in the 1950s

She began her memoir in the 1990s. By the time it was published in 2009, the main characters—Helen Elliott, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso—had all passed away. Weaver died in April of this year at 89. She was perhaps the last of a group whose sense of adventure and artistic leanings defined a certain time and feel in Greenwich Village.

[Top photo: from The Awakener: a Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties; second image: oldnycphotos.com; third image: unknown; fourth image: LOC; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: Village Preservation; seventh image: Robert Otter; eighth image: The Awakener: a Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties]

Beautiful ruins of the early 1900s “Bankers’ Row” on West 56th Street

July 5, 2021

When an area in Manhattan becomes fashionable—as Fifth Avenue in the upper 50s did in the 1880s and 1890s—only people with the most elite names (think Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt, and Vanderbilt) are typically able to acquire property and build their mansions there.

The gaping hole between 17 and 23 West 56th Street

But Gilded Age New York was minting many social-climbing millionaires. So the side streets off Fifth Avenue filled up with beautiful, costly, single-family townhouses designed by top architects. In many cases, these architects gave opulent facelifts and redesigns to preexisting modest brownstones, which were now out of style.

One block in particular, 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, became home to so many financiers and their families, it earned the nickname “Bankers’ Row” after the turn of the century.

30 West 56th Street, former home of investment banker Henry Seligman

And while it’s hard to imagine this block with some notably shabby exteriors and empty lots as a wealthy New Yorker’s enclave, enough of the old dowager beauties with illustrious backstories remain to prove you wrong.

One of these is Number 30 (second from left, above, and below), designed by C.P.W. Gilbert and completed in 1901 for investment banker Henry Seligman and his wife, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

“Henry and Adelaide had three children, Gladys, Rhoda and Walter,” states the LPC. “The lavish townhouse at 30 West 56th Street also housed a Scottish butler; an American valet and chauffeur; a Swedish footman, maid and laundress; two Irish cooks; and three English, Swedish, and French servants.”

The couple lived in the house until their deaths in 1933 (the year Henry died of a heart attack inside) and 1934; it was converted into apartments in 1941, per the LPC.

26 West 56th Street, once home of E. Hayward and Amelia Parsons Ferry

Number 26, currently behind scaffolding, sits two doors down from the Seligman mansion (above, center). Built in 1871, it was remodeled in 1907-1908 with a limestone facade and copper roof and “long occupied by banker E. Hayward Ferry and his wife Amelia Parsons Ferry,” according to w50s.com.

“E. Hayward Ferry was a prominent businessman who served as first vice president of Hanover Bank from 1910 to 1929,” w50s.com states. “He and his wife occupied  this house from 1908 to 1935.”

28 West 56th, in the Arts & Crafts style

Dr. Clifton Edgar is one resident of Bankers’ Row who wasn’t actually a banker. A prominent physician, Edgar had 28 West 56th Street redesigned in 1908 from its original brownstone style to an Arts and Crafts townhouse (above)—one of few examples of this architectural style in Manhattan, states Community Board 5.

Widow Edith Andrews Logan acquired her wealth from her industrialist father and horsebreeder husband, who was killed in the Spanish-American War. In 1903, she bought 17 West 56th Street and had it redesigned in the neo-Federal style, with fluted columns and Flemish bond brickwork, per the LPC.

Mrs. Logan’s townhouse, where her daughter made her society debut

Logan made good use of her stylish home: She held an “informal dinner dance” that served as the debut of one of her daughters into New York society in 1909. The next year, she hosted that daughter’s wedding reception. Long after Logan departed her house, Number 17 became a trendy restaurant called the Royal Box in the 1930s.

These days, what was once Bankers’ Row is now more of a Restaurant Row. Many of the wealthy palaces of the early 1900s have long since been converted into ground-floor restaurants and chopped into apartments.

Some original modest brownstones, others lavish townhouses

Others have been demolished entirely; the block has missing buildings and lots of signs of redevelopment. But beneath the restaurant signs, grime, and scaffolding, some of the former showstoppers of Bankers’ Row are still hanging on.

[Fourth image: Google]

Two portraits of one lowdown saloon in 1919 Greenwich Village

May 24, 2021

The Village has always had dive bars that attract locals and luminaries. But The Golden Swan, on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West Fourth Street, might have been the first—and the most notorious in its day.

Inside this Irish tavern dating back to at least the 1870s, writers, artists, activists, and assorted Village characters of the 1910s gathered to drink. (National prohibition was looming, after all.) While the front of the tavern may have catered to locals and Hudson Dusters gangsters, bohemians made the back room—aka, the Hell Hole—their own.

Charles Demuth was a fan of the Swan. Demuth, who gained fame as a precisionist painter, captured the mood and mannerisms of the Swan’s nightly denizens in a visceral portrait from 1919 entitled “At the Golden Swan, Sometimes Called the Hell Hole.”

Here he “depicts himself and Marcel Duchamp, the acclaimed French Dadaist, seated at the left table of the popular meeting spot for young artists and bohemians,” wrote Christie’s in 2007.

“Other patrons included the artist John Sloan, who produced an etching of the bar in 1917 (above), and the playwright Eugene O’Neill, who incorporated it into some of his plays, including The Iceman Cometh,” stated Christie’s. Social activist Dorothy Day, journalist John Reed, and anarchist Hippolyte Havel were part of the crowd.

Sloan, whose studio was across the street on the other side of the Sixth Avenue El, depicted O’Neill (on the upper right) in his sketch. Both works give viewers a good idea of what the Golden Swan and Hellhole looked like. But Demuth’s feels rawer; you can feel the isolation among all the people packed into the small back room of a bar together, none of them looking at the person they’re sharing their table with.

Christie’s included an excerpt about the Golden Swan from the biography O’Neill, by Arthur and Barbara Gelb: “The Hell Hole was a representative Irish saloon. It had a sawdust covered floor, rude wooden tables, and was filled with the smell of sour beer and mingled sounds of alcoholic woe and laughter. Its barroom was entered from the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street the ‘front room,’ in which women were not allowed.

“Above the doorway swung a wooden sign decorated with a tarnished gilt swan. Farther east, on Fourth Street, was the ‘family entrance,’ a glass door that gave access to a small, dank, gaslit chamber known as the ‘backroom.’ Wooden tables clustered about a smoking potbellied stove, and it was here that respectable Irish widows came to cry into their five-cent mugs of beer…”

The Golden Swan was demolished in 1928 to make way for the subway. But at the corner today is a patch of greenery known as The Golden Swan Garden.

[Top image: Christie’s, second image: Metmuseum.org; third image: New York Post/Getty]

‘Little Hungary’ was once on East 79th Street

May 10, 2021

A few weeks ago, Ephemeral New York put together a post about the former Czech neighborhood once centered around 72nd Street between First and Second Avenues on the Upper East Side.

The post generated many comments, with readers either reminiscing about a vanished enclave they remember well or wishing Manhattan still had pockets of ethnic neighborhoods like that one.

This week while looking through some photo archives, I find these images of a Hungarian grocery store. It could have been taken in Budapest, perhaps, but it’s actually Second Avenue between 78th and 79th Streets—smack in the middle of an area that used to be New York’s Little Hungary.

Like the old Czech neighborhood, Little Hungary had its churches and schools, community centers, and shops selling groceries and delicacies, like this one above. It isn’t the city’s first Hungarian neighborhood; that was on Second Avenue in the East Village. But at the turn of the century, just like their German and Czech neighbors, Hungarian immigrants relocated and colonized Yorkville through much of the 20th century.

Use Google Translate to find out all the unique offerings one could pick up here, foods I doubt you’ll be able to find on East 79th Street today.

[Top photo: NYPL; second photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

Solving the mystery of a Brooklyn cafeteria ghost sign

May 10, 2021

Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Street has been a bustling shopping destination since the 19th century. Storefronts have changed hands many times, and signs have gone up and down over the years as the street went from Gilded Age posh to middle class to more of a discount area through the decades.

But there’s something unusual above a storefront at the corner of Fulton and Jay Streets. Look up, and you’ll see a sliver of a ghost sign between an Ann Taylor and a human hair wig shop.

What’s left of the sign at 447 Fulton Street says “teria,” for cafeteria. The cafeteria logo, an apple with a W on it, is visible as well. What was this cafeteria, and when did it serve hungry Brooklyn shoppers?

It’s a mystery solved by the New York City Department of Records and Information Services. A quick search through their 1940 tax photo archive shows that it was a Waldorf Cafeteria, which appears to have two entrances at this corner: one on Fulton Street (harder to see on the photo’s right side) and one on Jay Street (at left).

Old-time New Yorkers might remember the Waldorf Cafeteria chain. Founded in 1903 in Massachusetts, franchises opened in New York City as early as the 1930s and seemed to stick around until at least the 1950s in various locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx.

The life span of the Waldorf Cafeteria on Fulton Street is unclear. But it might have been in business since the early 1930s, if this is it in a 1931 photo from the Museum of the City of New York that didn’t have a location listed in the description.

The cafeteria was certainly there in the 1940s, as the tax photo shows, and as the dozens of help wanted ads in 1940s New York City papers reveal. This ad comes from the Brooklyn Eagle on May 8. 1944. Women and girls were in demand, with so many young men away at war.

The Waldorf Cafeteria chain also figures into the backstory of a writer’s sordid death in the 1950s. Poet, gadfly, and Greenwich Village character Maxwell Bodenheim met with a literary agent at a Waldorf on Park Avenue and 25th Street the day before he was found murdered in a Third Avenue flophouse in 1954.

The Waldorf remnant sign on Fulton Street looks like it could date to the 1950s or 1960s, though photos from those decades don’t seem to be available. Whenever it dates to, big thanks to Ephemeral reader Joe Mobilia for noticing the sign and snapping the photos.

[First and second photos: Joe Mobilia; third photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; fourth photo: MCNY X2010.7.1.16877; fifth image: Brooklyn Eagle.]

Look hard to see this vintage Hershey’s sign on the Bowery

April 25, 2021

You might need a pair of readers to really see the Hershey’s brand name in this weathered sign hanging from the facade of 354 Bowery, between East Third and Fourth Streets.

But there it is embossed on both sides, advertising Hershey’s Ice Cream—which despite the similar lettering apparently has nothing to do with Hershey’s Chocolate.

How long has the sign been there? No earlier than 1940, as it doesn’t appear in the tax photo from that year archived by the New York City Department of Records and Information Services. This stretch of the Bowery back then was all hardware stores, sign makers, and a low-rent hotel called the Gotham.

However old it is, this it’s a charming relic of a time when the Bowery made room for a deli or luncheonette with ice cream on the menu. It might qualify as a “privilege” sign—a store sign featuring a brand’s name and logo, and typically the name of the store. The store owners didn’t have to pay for the sign because it was free advertising for the brand.

To see a clearer image of the sign, visit the Facebook group Ghost Signs—this snap was taken by Tori Terazzi back in January.

When everyone in New York ate at the Automat

March 22, 2021

The tables were clean, the machines that dispensed coffee, sandwiches, pie, and other items always in order, and the food actually tasty—at least, that’s what New Yorkers who had the opportunity to eat at a Horn & Hardart Automat always say.

The Automat was a welcoming place for newcomers to New York City as well as those who didn’t have much more than loose change to buy their meals. At their peak the city had at least 50 Automats. The spirit of the Automat was a democratic one, according to this rhyme from a 1933 Sun article:

‘Said the technocrat
To the Plutocrat
To the autocrat
And the Democrat—
Let’s all go eat at the Automat!’”

If only we all could still…the last one closed up shop in Manhattan in 1991.

A ghost sign for a family business on Essex Street

March 15, 2021

Back in 2010, a lounge and restaurant called Beauty & Essex opened in a cavernous space at 146 Essex Street—a glittery addition to Lower East Side nightlife back when the neighborhood still had a grittier edge.

Beauty & Essex is temporarily closed, according to Yelp. But there’s another reason to do a walk-by at this address: to see the faded ghost sign that still remains on the facade decades after it went up in the 1960s.

This spot used to be the home base of M. Katz & Sons Fine Furniture—a business founded in 1906 out of a Lower East Side tenement by Meilich Katz, according to the store website. In the 1930s, M. Katz’s sons opened a shop on Stanton Street, and by the late 1960s, a third generation relocated to 146 Essex Street (below, an undated photo of the Essex Street sign).

M. Katz’s still sells furniture; a fifth generation of the Katz family occupies a smaller space on Orchard Street these days. The facade on Essex Street is a palimpsest of a century-old family business still bearing the founder’s name.

[Second photo: Yellowbot]

Tracing Berenice Abbott’s steps in today’s Bowery

March 15, 2021

After spending the 1920s as a cutting edge portrait photographer in Paris, Berenice Abbott returned to the United States to find that her documentary-like style of photography was out of fashion.

In New York, Abbott “was unable to secure space at galleries, have her work shown at museums, or continue the working relationships she had forged with a number of magazine publications,” states the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Lucky for Abbott—and for fans of her unromanticized images that speak for themselves—the Federal Art Project came calling. In 1935, it gave her the means to photograph the streets, buildings, and people of New York City. More than 300 resulting images were collected in Changing New York, published in 1939.

Though Abbott aimed her camera all over Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, she was especially drawn to the Lower East Side, specifically the Bowery. At the time, the Bowery was a “Victorian entertainment district turned skid row, which she likened to ‘wandering through hell,'” according to the text of a 1997 edition of the book by the Museum of the City of New York.

Retracing Abbott’s steps through the Bowery, as documented in Changing New York, is possible today because she kept track of the addresses of the three storefronts she captured.

The top photo, at 103 Bowery, might be one of Abbott’s most famous New York images. This “hash house,” as the Blossom Restaurant was known per the MCNY’s Changing New York, occupied the ground floor while Jimmy the Barber worked out of the basement. The two men in the shot have the harsh expressions expected of men who catered to Bowery bums.

Below it is the storefront today. It’s still a food establishment, but the space has been remodeled. The aura of danger and depression are gone.

The striking storefront—and colorful claims designed to lure men of few means—of the Tri-Boro Barber School (“world’s most up-to-date system”) probably appealed to Abbott. The school was at 264 Bowery, which was lined with barber shops at the time, states the MCNY’s updated Changing New York: “Upon completion of a 10-week course, a student was a ‘full-fledged professional barber’ and could find a job at a starting union wage of $22.50 per week.” Below it is 264 Bowery now, with its similar doorway but ghostly, empty space.

This hardware store at 316-318 Bowery has the crammed feel of a dollar store, proving that the tradition of an overload of seasonal merchandise and lots of sale signs lives on in 21st century New York. “Hardware emporiums, catering to tradesmen from all over the city and day laborers who lived nearby, flourished on the Bowery,” states the MCNY’s Changing New York. The storefront today appears to be another COVID casualty.

Would Abbott be as drawn to the Bowery of 2021 as she was to the Bowery of the 1930s (above, under the elevated at Division Street and Bowery)?

Probably not. This storied main drag that had a brief fling as an elite address in the early 19th century before becoming synonymous with tawdry entertainment, flophouses, and cheap bars now resembles many other Manhattan streets of the 21st century—lacking the signs of desperate humanity Abbott was attracted to.

[Top photo: Smithsonian National Museum of American History; third photo: Artnet; fifth photo: Wikipedia; sixth photo: MutualArt]

A forgotten artist and the city’s ‘terrible beauty’

February 8, 2021

Glenn O. Coleman’s career as a celebrated Gotham illustrator and painter was a short one. Born in Ohio in 1887, he grew up in Indiana and arrived in Manhattan in 1905 to attend the New York School of Art, studying under Robert Henri and Everett Shinn.

“Minetta Lane, Night” (not dated)

Coleman earned a name for himself in the 1910s and 1920s city art scene with “personal depictions of simple, struggling humanity,” as the Spellman Gallery put it.

His illustrations (some of which he made into lithographs) and paintings reflected the subject matter of his Ashcan teachers: Bowery bums, election night bonfires, slum kids, cops, criminals, “silk-hatted tourists,” bar stool sitters, and other denizens of Lower Manhattan’s pockets and corners, typically at night.

“Downtown Street,” 1926

In 1910, Henri said this about Coleman, who was exhibiting a series of drawings in New York called “Scenes From the Life of the People” that his hometown Indiana newspaper said had a “Hogarthian spirit”:

“This work of Coleman’s is no confection of art junk….It is the record of a certain life drama going on about us here in New York—one side, very grim—a side shunned by many, but one he has looked upon frankly with open eyes and has understood as the thinker with human sympathy understands.”

“Election Night Bonfire,” (not dated)

Coleman explained in 1910 that he never wants for material, and his art is inspired by his own personal vision of beauty. “Sometimes it is a mad beauty, sometimes a powerful and terrible beauty, sometimes a happy and refreshing beauty. I do not think one thing is more beautiful than another, that is, when I see each thing in its own place.”

A contributor to the socialist journal The Masses and part the groundbreaking Armory Show in 1913, Coleman exhibited widely. But he never made big money off his art. “He gained first-hand acquaintance with the experience of the urban poor: often penniless, he frequently was forced to forgo painting in order to work menial jobs to support himself,” according to Fine Art Limited.

“Coenties Slip,” 1928

Poverty wasn’t Coleman’s only roadblock; his social realist art soon went out of fashion in favor of more abstract styles, which he at one point adapted to his work.

“In the mid-1920s, Coleman’s focus as a painter shifted away from the social environment of the city toward a preoccupation with such formal concerns as the geometry of its massive new architecture,” wrote Fine Arts Limited. “Just as his paintings assumed a more modernist style, however, he returned to his earliest sketches of the city as a basis for a series of more conventionally realistic lithographs that celebrate street life and the city’s ordinary inhabitants.”

“The Bowery,” 1928

At some point in the 1920s, he relocated to Long Beach on Long Island, continuing to paint “the grim comedy of a relentless city,” as one newspaper put it. His work won prizes and was acquired by museums like the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney.

“One Mile House,” 1928

Though he was well-known in his era, his death in 1932 at age 45 didn’t make it into many newspapers. Today, this artist who stayed true to his own muse and vision, who described New York as a city that “comes to me with a mysterious and powerfully absorbing attraction,” has mostly been forgotten.

In a 1910 magazine article, Coleman said: “My pictures may not be exactly like New York life really is—photographically speaking. Who really knows how New York life really is? I have my vision of it, my thoughts, my ideas of it….So these masks of men and women—these disguises of men and women, these curious shapes and forms, these shadows and masses of buildings are images always on my mind and out of these images my pictures are made because they are wonderfully absorbing to me, and because they have this terrible energy of New York life.”

“MacDougal Alley, 1928”

[First and second images: The Whitney Museum of Art; third image: TK; fourth image: TK; fifth image: Phillips Gallery; seventh image: The Whitney Museum of Art]