Archive for the ‘Bars and restaurants’ Category

The 1960s heyday of Village bar the Lion’s Head

May 22, 2017

It had an early incarnation on Hudson Street. And even past its heyday, it lingered on as a popular neighborhood bar until the taxman shut its doors in 1996 (left, during last call).

But the Lion Head’s glory days as a legendary Greenwich Village watering hole was during the 1960s.

That’s when the downstairs bar at 59 Christopher Street equally attracted literary types and longshoremen, and drinkers could rub elbows with writers, newspaper reporters, Irish folk singers, politicians, and a pre-fame Jessica Lange, who waited tables.

Pete Hamill, a writer at the New York Post in the mid-1960s, recalled the energy and excitement there in his wonderful 1994 memoir, A Drinking Life.

“In the beginning, the Head had a square three-sided bar, with dart boards on several walls and no jukebox,” he writes.

“I don’t think many New York bars ever had such a glorious mixture of newspapermen, painters, musicians, seamen, ex-communists, priests and nuns, athletes, stockbrokers, politicians, and folksingers, bound together in the leveling democracy of drink.”

“On any given night, the Clancy Brothers would take over the large round table in the back room. . . . Everybody joined in singing, drinking waterfalls of beer, emptying bottles of whiskey, full of laughter and noise and a sense that I can only describe as joy.”

The Lion’s Head has been shuttered for 21 years; in its place is the Kettle of Fish (below), another old-school Village bar that moved over from MacDougal Street.

Kettle of Fish still packs in crowds, but too many of the regulars who remember the “glorious mixture” Hamill recalls at the Lion’s Head are not with us anymore.

There are accounts like Hamill’s in many books and memoirs, but more and more of the memories of nights at the Lion’s Head are lost to the ages.

[Top photo: Chang W. Lee/New York Times; third photo: Petehamill.com]

The many lives of an 1834 wooden Village house

May 15, 2017

With its steeply pitched roof and side staircase, the house at 6 Weehawken Street might be the most Dorian Gray of Village homes.

Built in 1834, it’s almost unchanged from the way it looked in the mid-19th century.

And all of its various incarnations over two centuries reflect the enormous changes that took place in this part of the West Village, just yards from the Hudson River.

The story of 6 Weehawken Street (also known as 392 West Street, as there’s an entrance on this side as well) begins in the 1830s. That’s when tiny Weehawken Street was created on the former site of Newgate State Prison.

Closed in 1829, Newgate was overcrowded and dangerous, and this waterfront area in the booming village of Greenwich made for attractive real estate.

The city decided to turn the property into a produce, meat, and fish market called Greenwich Market (one of many open-air markets along the Hudson River at the time) bounded by Christopher Street and Amos Street, the 19th century name for today’s West 10th Street.

Weehawken Street was paved, and market buildings in the usual style of the era—open in the front and with projecting eaves to protect the goods for sale from the elements—were constructed.

Six Weehawken is “almost certainly a surviving portion” of a market house, states the Weehawken Street Historic District Report, published in 2006.

The market went bust in 1844, and the buildings were left unoccupied. A boat builder named George Munson bought and renovated number 6 in 1848, adapting it for his boat business and according to some accounts, turning it into a saloon too.

Considering the neighborhood at the time—dockworkers, boat builders, and working class folks who made their living in riverfront factories and the fishing industry—business was probably pretty good.

Six Weehawken continued to change hands. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries (the sketch above on the left shows the building in the 1870s), it housed an insurance brokerage, cigar store, and pool hall, which was the site of a headline-grabbing police raid in 1906 that landed 12 men in jail cells.

As late as 1900 (above right), similar-style wood market buildings still existed on Weehawken Street. Intrigued by their origins, newspapers wrongly claimed they were built in the 1790s.

According to 1905 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article (photo above left):

“Within a stone’s throw of the old prison site stands to-day the original row of frame houses, or shanties, that adorned the same block more than 100 years ago. It is the block bounded by Weehawken, West, Christopher, and Tenth Streets.”

As colorful as it sounds, the Eagle‘s historical information is incorrect.

In the 1920s, with Prohibition in effect, 6 Weehawken became “Billie’s Original Clam Broth House” (above right), which must have been a wonderfully dark and atmospheric place to get a bowl of hot soup on days when those cold Hudson River winds came in.

In the 1940s (at left), a new owner refurbished the building and sold “work clothes, canvas gloves, tobacco, and a strange assortment of odds and ends desired by seafarers and dockwallopers, who constitute his friends and customers,” wrote the Historic District Report.

For the next several decades, 6 Weehawken was occupied by a trucking company and a tire business.

By the 1970s, in a vastly less industrial West Village, gay bars moved in. Choo-Choo’s Pier opened in the 1970s, Sneakers existed through the 1990s.

The latest plan for 6 Weehawken brings it back to the Manhattan of the 17th century.

Last year, the son of artist Louise Bourgeois announced that the building he bought in 2006 for $4 million will be donated to the Lenape Nation and renovated into a prayer house. (An old for-sale listing for the house gives you an interior shot of a loft bedroom.)

Right now, the house appears to be empty, more shabby than chic—a silent sentry whose Hudson River side is marred by graffiti (above), waiting for its next generation of occupants.

The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, has more on some of the city’s most iconic 19th century residences and commercial buildings.

[Third image: Harper’s Magazine, 1870s; fourth photo: MCNY, 1900, x2010.11.3687; fifth photo: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1906; fifth photo: MCNY, 1920, x2010.11.3690; sixth photo: NYPL]

The loneliness of a New York all-night cafe

May 8, 2017

Lamb, beef, and eggs are on the menu board on the sidewalk. Inside, the room is lit up, and people appear to be sitting together, or at least in close proximity to one another.

But this lone figure standing on the snowy sidewalk outside an all-night cafe in New York circa 1900 isn’t part of it. He’s an emblem of the 24-hour, modernized city, a New York with more than three million residents divided and isolated.

Maybe he can’t afford to go in; perhaps it’s not his class or crowd. Painter Everett Shinn, a member of the Ashcan School — artists who focused on the grittier side of urban life — isn’t letting us read the man’s face for clues.

Shinn had a studio on Waverly Place. Could the current occupant of this cafe be Joe Coffee at 141 Waverly?

The past lives of the “bunker” on the Bowery

May 1, 2017

The first people to hang out at the red brick, Queen Anne–style building that opened in 1885 at 222 Bowery were working-class men.

At the time, the Bowery was a cacophonous circus of vaudeville theaters, beer gardens, pawnbrokers, rowdies, and streetcars all under the screeching rails of the Third Avenue elevated train.

Much of New York loved this, of course, and lots of men flocked there, living in the five-cent hotels or in doorways. Reformer Jacob Riis estimated their numbers at more than nine thousand.

But this was the 1880s, and to keep young men who were “not yet hardened” from getting sucked into sin, the YMCA built their first New York branch at 222 Bowery and called it the Young Men’s Institute.

It was actually a novel idea and an example of Gilded Age uplift. The institute was to promote the “physical, intellectual, and spiritual health of young working men in the densely crowded Bowery,” states Landmarks of New York.

Instead of bars and dance halls, men ages 17 and 35 who joined could attend lectures by Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Ward Beecher.

They could borrow books from a circulating library (this is before the New York Public Library was established), work out in the gym or pool, or use the bowling alley. Classes in mechanical drawing, architecture, penmanship, and bookkeeping were offered—and Bible reading too, on Sundays.

After the turn of the century though (above, in 1910), as the Bowery’s fortunes fell even further, membership declined.

The Y sold the building in 1932 and it became a residence on the mid-century Bowery, less a raucous zone of fun and vice and now a strip of forgotten men and bars (1930s Bowery at right).

That’s when the artists arrived—like Fernand Leger. After fleeing the Nazis in Normandy, the French surrealist painter landed in Manhattan and lived and worked at 222 Bowery, even after it was sold to a dental manufacturing company.

By the time 222 Bowery was  turned back into a residence in the late 1950s, more artists and writers came, like Mark Rothko, who painted his Seagram murals in the former gymnasium.

Fellow abstract artists James Brooks and Michael Goldberg (his “Bowery Days” painting, at left) moved in too, as did poet John Giorno. Andy Warhol held parties there. Allan Ginsberg and Roy Lichtenstein spent time at 222 as well.

It was William S. Burroughs (right, with Joe Strummer inside 222 Bowery in 1980) who dubbed the building the Bunker.

Burroughs arrived in 1974 and officially stayed until his death in 1997, though he lived his last years in Kansas.

Patti Smith recalled visiting Burroughs there in the 1970s. “It was the street of winos and they would often have five cylindrical trash cans to keep warm, to cook, or light their cigarettes,” she wrote in Just Kids.

“You could look down the Bowery and see these fires glowing right to William’s door.”

Burroughs’ nickname for this gorgeous survivor of the Bowery’s past life remains.

The building, now co-op lofts, “is still affectionately called by that name,” states the 1998 Landmark Preservation Commission report that gave 222 Bowery landmark status.

[Second photo: Alamy/King’s Handbook of NYC 1893; fifth image: Artnet; sixth image: unknown]

This is the coolest coffee sign in New York City

April 14, 2017

In a city with almost as many coffee places as bank branches and most of them bearing chain store logos, it’s hard to believe that this wonderfully generic plastic sign hasn’t been replaced . . . or fallen off.

It’s on West 21st Street west of Fifth Avenue, advertising a slender coffee house that consists of basically a long counter and chairs—the kind a different New York used to have on almost every block.

Except for the ATM machine by the door, nothing about this storefront seems to have changed in half a century; it’s a sliver of the city frozen in time.

Vintage matchbooks of defunct city restaurants

April 6, 2017

Now this is what I call an old New York eatery: Ye Olde Chop House began its run in 1800 on Cedar Street before moving to the Trinity Building on Lower Broadway next door to Trinity Church.

The matchbook could be as old as the 1960s or 1970s, when New York addresses still used single-digit ZIP codes.

Apparently the food was quite good, the atmosphere old school. In 1946, when the chop house was still on Cedar Street, the New York Times called out the “mutton chops as thick as your fist” and “split chickens and lamb kidneys with bacon.”

The Times also noted the host, Harry Kramer. “Happily, Mr. Kramer is antiquarian and, except for introducing air-conditioning, has done little in the way of modernization. The original bar, worn almost white with shrubbing, still stands; the floors are the same old pine boards covered with sawdust and upstairs there are two fireplaces with carved mantles that were constructed when the house was built.”

Does anyone remember Asti? This West Village restaurant was famous for 75 years for its opera-singing waiters and theater-world customers.

Shuttered in 1999, Asti now only lives on in vintage ads, like this matchbook cover from 1975. Look at the old two-letter phone exchanges: AL for Algonquin, according to this guide, and CH for Chelsea or Chickering.

In June 1972, New York announced that the Upper East Side restaurant Camelot not only had “sumptuous buffet brunches on Saturdays and Sundays ($5.50 for all you can eat and all the Bloody Marys, champagne and rose you can drink), but now there’s a sumptuous buffet dinner every Monday night for $6.95.”

Looks like a Dallas BBQ is in this space now.

A Brooklyn Starbucks’ long movie theater past

March 13, 2017

Starbucks sells coffee out of 307 franchises throughout the five boroughs, and some of these locations have significant history behind them.

Baristas are serving up cafe lattes from the West 23rd Street brownstone where author Edith Wharton grew up.

There’s also a Starbucks inside the former barber shop on West 55th Street where Murder Inc. mobster Albert Anastasia was riddled with bullets while waiting for a haircut.

And on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint is this Starbucks, caffeinating New Yorkers from a former movie palace built in 1914 called the American Theatre (right, in the 1930s—and hey,trolley tracks!).

A century ago, Greenpoint residents hit this 565-seat neighborhood picture show with the proud eagle on top to see stars like Charlie Chaplin and Lillian Gish.

And if the American wasn’t playing anything worth seeing, they had other local theater options, like the Meserole Theater, which opened in 1922.

The American sold tickets throughout the golden age of Hollywood and in 1968 was renamed the Chopin (left, in 1980), possibly a nod to the increasingly Polish immigrant neighborhood.

After the Chopin closed its doors in 1987, the theater remained empty, then housed a succession of fast-food franchises, including a Burger King, into the 21st century.

Starbucks has occupied this space (and displayed their brand on the marquee once reserved for movie titles, actors, and actresses) for several years, amid a dwindling number of businesses bearing Polish names.

The building recently got a paint job, but the eagle on top of the facade still remains.

[Second photo: NYPL; third photo: NYC Department of Records; fourth photo: via Pinterest]

The colossal failure of a 1905 Bleecker Street bar

March 6, 2017

subwaytaverngettyimagesNew York is a city rich with bars: corner bars, dive bars, gay bars, sports bars.

Bar culture is so ingrained here, a tavern functioned as the colony’s makeshift city hall through the end of the 1600s.

But imagine a bar that downplayed its beer and liquor menu and hoped to lure patrons by offering soda, hot chocolate, ice cream sodas—and a dose of religious sermonizing?

That was the idea behind the Subway Tavern, which opened in 1905 in a Federal-style row house on Bleecker and Mulberry Streets near the new subway system’s Bleecker Street stop.

subwaytavernmcny1905x2011-34-2181

Dubbed by a snickering Newspaper Row as a “moral bar,” the Subway Tavern was the brainchild of Bishop Henry Codman Potter (below), leader of New York’s Protestant archdiocese.

subwaytavernbishoppotterAt the turn of the century, saloons were under siege, with the temperance movement bearing down hard.

It didn’t help that in the 1890s, reform-minded police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt began enforcing the excise laws that forbid the sale of booze on Sundays.

Potter thought that outlawing alcohol was a terrible idea, because “the workingman,” needed a place to drink “without hypocrisy.”

“When the day is done,” remarked Potter in a magazine article of the era, “what is to become of those persons whose lives are given over to laborious toil?”

subwaytavernnytimes8311905“I belong to the Century and the Union League and other clubs, and can go to them. But where are these people going?”

“By inevitable necessity to the saloon, and if you place the saloon under the ban you make it one of the most tragic or comic failures in history,” he explained.

So Potter launched his family-friendly tavern. The business plan had it that the manager would make money off the sale of non-alcoholic drinks yet receive nothing for liquor sales. The thought was that he would push the sale of soda—and fewer men would stumble home drunk.

subwaytavernmcny“In the front men, women, boys, and girls are invited to buy soda, and the place has the appearance of an ordinary soda water store,” wrote the New-York Tribune.

“A curtain in the rear leads to a saloon, where liquors and free lunch abound.” There was also a restaurant on a lower level.

Even in a reform-minded city, the Subway Tavern was a flop. Temperance leaders and clergymen denounced Bishop Potter for supporting an establishment that served evil alcohol. Few patrons showed up.

subwaytavern2017

Thirteen months after the Subway Tavern earned national attention as a way to clean up tavern culture without shutting bars down totally, it was shuttered. (Here’s the site today, after the building was razed).

In a city that revels in the ritual of drinking as well as alcoholic debauchery, this saloon was doomed to fail.

[Top photo: Getty Images; second photo: MCNY, 1905, x1905.34.2181; third photo: Wiki; fourth image, 1905 New York Times headline; fifth photo: MCNY, x2011.34.2169]

A Village hotel, a suicide, and a haunting painting

February 17, 2017

Since opening in 1887, the Albert Hotel on University Place and 11th Street has been a magnet for creative souls.

alberthotel

Author Robert Louis Stevenson booked a room in this lovely Victorian Gothic building, receiving Augustus St. Gaudens as a guest.

albertpinkhamryderWalt Whitman and Mark Twain spent time at the Albert, as did Hart Crane and Thomas Wolfe in the 1920s. Jackson Pollack, Robert Lowell, and folk rock bands like the Mamas & the Papas all made the hotel their home base.

But one late 19th century painter who gained notoriety for his moody landscapes and eccentric habits was so taken aback by an experience he had in the hotel’s restaurant, it inspired one of his darkest, most haunting works.

The painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder (left), was a near-recluse. Totally devoted to his art, he often walked from his downtown flat to the Battery late at night to observe the effect of clouds passing over the moon.

alberthoteltheracetrack

“But a roof, a crust of bread and an easel,” was all he needed in life, Ryder reportedly wrote.

alberthotel1907mcny93-1-1-5311Ryder’s brother was the manager of the Albert, so he often took his meals there. One evening, he talked up a waiter about an upcoming horse race, the Brooklyn Handicap, and a favored thoroughbred named Hanover.

“The day before the race I dropped into my brother’s hotel and had a little chat with this waiter, and he told me that he had saved up $500 and that he had placed every penny of it on Hanover winning the race,” Ryder recalled years later.

“The next day the race was run, and as racegoers will probably remember, Hanover came in third. I was immediately reminded that my friend the waiter had lost all his money.”

alberthotelheadline1917

“That dwelt on my mind, as for some reason it impressed me very much, so much that I went around to my brother’s hotel for breakfast the next morning and was shocked to find my waiter friend had shot himself the evening before.”

alberthotelfrom11thst“This fact formed a dark cloud over my mind that I could not throw off, and ‘The Race Track’ is the result.”

Subtitled “Death on a Pale Horse,” the painting was completed between 1896 and 1908.

It belongs to the Cleveland Museum of Art—a work of art whose connection to a Bohemian hotel in Greenwich Village and a horse race in Brooklyn is not obvious yet runs deep.

[Fourth image: MCNY 93.1.1.5311; fifth image: The Sun headline, two weeks after Ryder died in 1917]

A downtown restaurant with pillars from Pompeii

February 17, 2017

delmonicostheepochtimesYou could say that New York’s pricey restaurant culture all started with Delmonico’s.

Opened by two Swiss brothers in 1827 as a cafe serving “cakes, ices, and fine wines” and expanded in 1831 into a restaurant serving European-style cuisine, this luxury eatery pioneered a la carte ordering, wine lists, and multi-page menus.

By the turn of the century, several Delmonico’s operated in prime city neighborhoods: Union Square, Madison Square, and soon uptown on 44th Street.

delmonicosmenu1880sBut today, only one still stands—a circa-1890 beauty at the juncture of Beaver and South William Streets.

This Delmonico’s pays tribute to earlier incarnations by featuring dishes supposedly invented by the restaurant like Delmonico steak, eggs Benedict, and baked Alaska.

The building itself is also a homage to Delmonico’s history and the continent that inspired its cuisine.

How? Look at the two white pillars at the restaurant entrance. They were reportedly excavated from the ruins of Pompeii and brought to New York by one of the Delmonico brothers to flank the entrance of an earlier Delmonico’s on this site in the 1830s.

delmonicosstaff931-1-18421“On July 7, 1891, the new Delmonico’s Restaurant at South William Street opened to the public,” states one history of the restaurant.

“The new structure was eight stories tall and featured, for the first time, electric lights. It also kept several touches from the original structure, including the Pompeii pillars and cornice that framed the entrance.”

delmonicos1890sThe Sun noted the pillars as well when describing the new 1891 building. “Out of the wreck of the old building the two white marble pillars . . . which Lorenzo imported from Pompeii have been retained and form part of the entrance. . . . “

Perhaps it’s just legend. But if the pillars really are from Pompeii, it would make them one of the oldest artifacts in the city.

[Top photo: theepochtimes; second image: MCNY 97.41.293; third photo: MCNY 93.1.1.18421; fourth photo: King’s Handbook of New York, 1892]