Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mitchell's Neon Returns

There's good news for the vintage neon Mitchell's Liquors sign on the Upper West Side. After reporting earlier this month that the sign was removed, to be junked, I heard earlier this week that it would be returned.

Stephen wrote in: "I thought you'd appreciate that it appears the neon sign will be returning. They have remodeled both the inside and the facade and there are definitely new holes placed where neon tubes should go. Can't wait to see it completed!"

He sent in the following photo of the new sign in progress:

I also heard from William, who wrote: "I passed Mitchell's Wine and Liquor today and the neon sign seems to be going back up! I saw the letters on the ground and they were drilling new holes in the facade to mount them. I also spoke with the workers who said it was, in fact, being reinstalled."

And behold!

West Side Rag shares the following shot of the new sign--a replica of the old. And Rob writes in, "The new sign is maybe not as elegant, and I haven’t seen it lit, but it sure looks good."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Last month, I first reported that Tekserve would be vanishing. Then we heard that they'd be looking for a new location, with plans to "morph with the times." Alas, those plans have changed.

Tekserve will shutter.

CEO Jerry Gepner wrote in to say:

"Tekserve is sad to announce that in a few months when our lease is up on 23rd Street we will close our retail service and sales business. We have been working on plans to move to a smaller retail location, but it has proven to be an impossible goal.

Tekserve started when there were few service options for Apple products in New York. Sales and foot traffic have fallen with the growth of the internet and the spread of Apple stores. Products have become more reliable and manufacturers have changed their service strategies and requirements. In addition, retail rents are out of sight. We simply can’t find a sustainable retail business model in this environment.

Our amazing corporate and professional team, which spun off into T2 Computing in 2014, will continue to thrive, joined by the Tekserve SMB (small and medium business) team. As Tekserve transitions to a business oriented company they will continue to provide exceptional solutions and services for their customers.

We will continue to operate our service center, accepting items for warranty and non-warranty repairs and data recovery, until July 31st. If you have a previously serviced device that you have not yet picked up, we ask you to do so promptly, and absolutely by August 15th. Abandoned items will be recycled. Our retail store will operate until August 15th.

The nicest thing you can do to give us a good sendoff is to continue to shop our retail store until we close it. All new items carry their manufacturer’s full warranty, and we will continue to offer AppleCare Protection Plan for new Apple products.

As times, culture and technologies change, so must businesses – and with all of the changes that have occurred since we started repairing Macs in 1987, it is time to leave retail behind. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work and grow with you over the last thirty years."

Jerry the Peddler

DW Gibson, author of The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century, has a new project.

"Jerry the Peddler" is a documentary about a locally legendary Lower East Side squatter--and about an outlaw urban lifestyle that is rapidly vanishing. Visit Seed & Spark to find out more, and consider sending in funds to help complete the film.

I talked with DW about squatting in New York.

Q: How do you see squatting as "a critical challenge to our prevailing interpretation of 'The American Dream'"?

A: By and large, the American Dream is defined by property ownership. It carries all kinds of connotations with it but at its core it’s about having a place of your own for you and your family to be comfortable, and in America that means owning a home. But there are two other major elements of the American psyche that can be found in the world of squatting: hard work and personal liberty.

I don’t think most people understand that squatting, by and large, is about taking care of a building because no one else would do so. It’s about stewardship and making something out of nothing. And it’s about sharing space instead of obsessing over owning it. At first glance this last point is very un-American but when you think about it we actually have a substantial capacity to share space, as evidenced in our world renowned National Parks system. Those parks are our cathedrals and they are shared among us all. So we do know how to get away from our obsession with private property — or at least balance it with other aspirations. And squatting has a lot to say about this part of our collective character.

Q: What elements does a city need to make space for squatting and for people like Jerry?

A: There are still so many distressed and abandoned properties in NYC. Why not create a system — even if it has to be a lottery — where New Yorkers who do not have the money to buy property still have the opportunity to earn a place to live through stewardship of buildings? Let people with skills in carpentry and electric work and plumbing — or those who desire to acquire those skills — earn their homes. There are so many non-profits that could help organize and manage such a program (e.g. UHAB) with public — and perhaps private — resources.

Q: When the city government, in collusion with developers and business, wants to gentrify a neighborhood, one of the first things they do is to raid the squats. The East Village of the 1990s is a famous example, but we saw this also in Gowanus in more recent years, at the Bat Cave. How does squatting pose a roadblock to gentrification?

A: Squatting poses a roadblock to gentrification because a lot of developers (read as hardcore capitalists) are terrified by the idea of squatting. It completely undercuts their approach to commodifying shelter. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the city embraced squats (and here I specifically mean buildings maintained and repaired that would have otherwise fallen into disrepair) instead of running squatters out. Let’s remember that squatters are plumbers and electricians and woodworkers — they are stewards, the people who have put in sweat equity to keep a building standing and to cultivate community.

By embracing existing squats in any given neighborhood the city could *preserve existing affordable housing* instead of bending over backwards to try to get developers to add scant affordable housing to new projects. Let the developers' new projects become integrated into neighborhoods that already have strong squatting traditions. That would absolutely create dynamic neighborhoods and I guarantee you that the upper class home buyers in New York, ready to drop a million bones, would, in their own way, cherish the romance of co-existing with squats. That’s the kind of proximity to “cool” that all millionaires are pursuing when they buy up homes in places like Bushwick and East New York.

Photo: John Penley

Q: Back in the 1990s, when Giuliani attacked the squats by sending his NYPD through the East Village in an armored vehicle from the Korean War, New York magazine said, “The East Village squatters are New York’s last true bohemians. And they’re in serious danger of extinction.” What's your take on that quote? Were they the city's last bohemians? And how extinct have they become?

A: When we talk about squatters we’re talking about a wide range of communities and politics: anarchists, communists, libertarians, etc. I think that’s important to recognize. That said, the practice of squatting does indicate a revolutionary view in an American context because it rejects the idea of commodifying land. Which, again, is the foundation of the American Dream. We built — stole — this country on the idea of commodifying land.

Squatters don’t see it that way. Squatters see land as something to care for and a place to build and maintain shelter. So in that sense, squatters do represent the city’s last bohemians. Squatters are working outside the context of the singular force driving the city: commodification — and not just land but intellect and art and trade skills. Squatters are willing to live in a world not governed by legal tender, but by how much work you are able and willing to put in to any given task and the pride therein. That’s impressive--and in 2016 that’s definitely bohemian.

Q: What does it say about the city that squatting was once possible and today it's not so much?

A: Squatting is still possible in New York, though increasingly rare. People do still open buildings, but the chances to do so are, indeed, quickly vanishing. This speaks to New York's place in the international real estate market and our priorities as a city. We have made our commitments. And those commitments have been made to the international real estate market, not to New Yorkers.

The city values the people who bring money to the city over the people who bring life and energy to the city. Those priorities have to change if New York is to remain interesting and invigorating and a hotbed for intellectual and artistic output. As it is now, we’re becoming a city much less likely to make art and much more of a place to buy art.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Troll Museum and Reverend Jen


Legendary Lower East Side performance artist, poet, Elf Girl, and curator of the Troll Museum, Reverend Jen Miller has been evicted from her apartment, which also doubles as the museum.

In recent days, a city marshal entered Miller's apartment, where she was dressed in only a towel from the shower, and reportedly told Jen he wished he had a gun to deal with her. Video of the event has been posted to Facebook.

Misrahi Realty is her landlord. Sion Misrahi has had a major hand in changing the culture--and the residents, and the rents--of the Lower East Side. As he told the Times in 2007, "We decided to rent to bars and restaurants who would bring in the hipsters and change the neighborhood."

photo by Mr. E

Today, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, the Troll Museum will be dismantled. 

All are invited to help "pack up one of the last magical places left in this fucking greedy city," in the words of the invitation.

photo by Mr. E

Reverend Jen shares a press release on her Facebook page in which she explains her case and adds:

"The Lower East Side used to be a great neighborhood but has now turned into the greediest shitshow on earth. The Troll Museum was one of the final holdouts of bohemian culture. Now is your chance to get pictures of Downtown's little gems. It's been featured on television all over the world, in magazines and newspapers. But if everything is not removed by 4 PM today, it will be destroyed. So, come get it and help bohemia kiss the Lower East Side Goodbye."

She is also asking for any legal help. You can contact her via email at:

Mimi's Pizza


At 84th and Lexington on the Upper East Side for 59 years, Mimi's Pizza is no more.

On Sunday they wrote on their Facebook page: "It is with a heavy heart that after 59 years, today is our last day of business. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are forced to close our doors. We want to take this opportunity to thank our loyal customers and neighbors on the Upper East Side for your friendship and patronage. This is an extremely difficult time for our family, but we hope to see you in the future."

Andrew Fine shared the news and a photo on Twitter, announcing today's auction of the pizzeria's equipment:

"Mimi" is short for Dominic, the original owner, according to this little film about the place:

Mimi's is considered a local institution. Paul McCartney was a regular. Bobby Flay used to roll out the dough.

It will be missed.

*Update: The Daily News followed up on this story and reports the closure is due to a rent dispute with the landlord. So what else is new?

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Holdouts

“The Holdouts” is a comedy series about New Yorkers who can’t afford to live in the new New York. Co-created by Stephen Girasuolo and Dan Menke, it stars Kevin Corrigan as Kevin Shanahan, a rent-controlled tenant who refuses his landlord's buyout as he bemoans the hyper-gentrification of the city: “They won’t be happy until this whole island is one big Duane Reade with a Starbucks inside and an IHOP inside that and a Bank of America inside that.”

The creators have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the show, which they hope will help bring attention to the plight of the vanishing city.

I chatted with Girasuolo and Corrigan about the show, the lost New York, and the life of a holdout.

Q: So the inevitable first question: What inspired you to do this project?

Stephen: I was being forced out by my landlord of 25 years in Hell's Kitchen at the time and my co-creator Dan Menke wanted to write a part for Corrigan as a man out of time in New York City. Something started there.

And I was away living in Paris and Brazil for 7 years and came back to a city I honestly didn’t recognize. That fed into it.

I was born in the Bronx and, except for the years 2000 - 2005, I’ve lived in New York my whole life. Even during those five years in Los Angeles, I kept my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, on West 51st Street. Like Stephen, I was forced out by my landlord. I wonder if we had the same landlord.

In 2007, I began following Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. It was hard not to notice all the shutterings of all the old places. The closing that really got under my skin was Socrates Diner on Hudson and Franklin. I thought if they could close that place, they can close any place.

One by one, all these places began to disappear. It seemed like some terrible coincidence. As we know now, these changes are quite deliberate, calculated by developers, city officials, community boards.

I started to feel like Jim Carrey’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as if some force of nature was targeting my memories and wiping them out, one by one. It was not uncommon to have the impulse to go somewhere I hadn’t been in a while only to find that place closed down, whether it was a record store or a restaurant or bar.

I took it personally. And then, finally, I was kicked out of my 51st street apartment. I’d become just like the doomed movie theaters and restaurants I loved. They were closing me down, like I was some old business, some thing from the past that needed to make way for the new.

Q: I feel disoriented in the city from day to day, it's changed so rapidly and so completely in recent years. How would you characterize the changes?

I was used to, in Paris, just lounging around at a cafe or bar, meeting people on the fly. So when I came back to Hell's Kitchen, those places were not there. There was a place that had good chocolate cake and was open late at night. Now it was a gift shop. Very expensive places. There were fewer local coffee shops, doughnut shops, bars.

Union Square was completely revamped with Whole Foods, and I walked up to a city kid working there and asked, "Where are all the New Yorkers?” He said they moved to Canarsie.

Kevin: In this age of omnipresent technology, it is nearly impossible to form the kinds of relationships we grew used to pre-internet, when you had to deal with people directly, where you had to engage the city, one foot in front of the other, eye to eye. You had to make physical contact. You needed an imagination. Today, there is a disconnect, relationships are “virtual.” You don’t have to leave the house. An implied relationship will suffice. Places don’t stick around as long as they used to. No one expects anything to last. So the idea of developing attachments to places is archaic.

In order to fall in love, you have to have a heart. You have to be willing to put in the time. Being a regular somewhere, enjoying the company of familiar faces, this is a beautiful thing, to be part of a community.

Q: On the show’s Kickstarter page, it says, “Let’s take the stand together.” How do you see The Holdouts as taking a stand in the fight to preserve New York? What impact do you hope it'll have?

Stephen: It could wake up the need to address the rising costs more, for one. People are getting marginalized. It’s the people really. The storefronts are a huge problem, but fighting for the right to live and afford in the city you love and grew up in, or call your home, is important. Mayors know that. They should do more to address it. Serious comedy is one way to increase that conversation.

Q: Going back to that idea of the “man out of time,” and the holdout—obviously a holdout is someone who resists his or her landlord’s pressure to leave an apartment, but it’s more than that, too. Especially in today’s city. What does it mean to you?

Stephen: It means preservation and fighting to preserve a piece of history that is meaningful not only for me but for the people who come after me. But when they start building around you, it becomes sad, too. It’s affecting all classes of people.

Places give you purpose. A language will die if you don’t speak it. I came back to the city and a type of language had died while I was gone. A holdout fights to keep something alive.

Q: What language is that?

Stephen: A certain interaction of respect between us, of looking out for one another a bit. It’s still there but harder to find. Things are more distant. Separated. Many people I encounter have an entitled air. It’s a good question. I’m getting older, but younger people--"OH My god, oh my god"--young people like myself didn’t talk like that. That’s the new language.

Q: Kevin, in the trailer you give a dirty look to a table full of young women cooing over their iphones--how do you experience this "language" of many newcomers to the city?

Kevin: Everyone’s looking at their phone these days, even me. But like I said, it’s essential to know how to do things the old fashioned way, to make friends, to know how to banter. You have to be curious. How can you live in New York and not be interested in people, places, and things?

My father was a first-generation Irish American. He grew up in the South Bronx, as did my mother. By the 70s, they, and my brother and me, settled in the north part of the borough, the Norwood section. It was, and still is, a diverse neighborhood, and my parents never left. My father passed away in February, but he was a devoted Bronxite to the end. He would look out on Mosholu Parkway from his bedroom window. That was his Riviera. He was a conservative man, but a truly compassionate one, who appreciated the diversity of the neighborhood. He was my teacher. My love for New York, and particularly “old New York” came from my parents, and especially my father. He used to work in the Daily News building, so I remember being in there many times as a kid and marveling at the globe in the lobby where they shot Superman, the one with Christopher Reeve.

You have to love the idea of New York being a melting pot. You have to proud of the tradition and the history of this place where a thousand languages are spoken, where diverse cultures co-exist. It’s that thing of treating everyone with whom you cross paths with respect an open mind, and an open heart, because they could be God in disguise. They could have the answers you’ve been looking for.

Q: So Kevin is the holdout in the show, and then there's his preppy friend, who plays the foil. He likes Whole Foods, I imagine, and Starbucks, and those $20 glasses of wine. I'm curious about their relationship. How do they get along?

Stephen: The newbie Jayce character is in awe of Kevin because he is a "real New Yorker." Jayce wants to be a real New Yorker, but how? It’s funny. They have different views. They’re an odd couple. Jayce feels sorry for Kevin for being stuck in past. But we are playing with Kevin really getting to Jayce to the point where Jayce begins to side with him and holdout. He is a high-school teacher. His salary sucks. How can one live in the city on a teacher’s salary?

Kevin: I can’t say I have that much against Starbucks because my father and I used to meet every Friday at the Starbucks in the office building where he worked on 34th street and 7th avenue. Sometimes we’d have to wait for a table because people coming out of Macy's or waiting to catch the Long Island Railroad would be in there, drinking coffee or charging their computers. My father didn’t mind waiting. And, when I was with him, neither did I. All the people at that Starbucks knew and loved him. So I have no quarrel, except of course with the fact that they gutted that Starbucks, took over the 99-cent store next door and made a bigger Starbucks, which had none of the cavernous, cozy charm of the previous store.

Which reminds me, there used to be a great diner called The Astor Riviera on Astor Place. One night in 1987, Al Pacino took about ten or so students there from the Lee Strasberg School. The students had been in a play. Al came to see the play because these were students of Al’s mentor, Charlie Laughton. I wasn’t in the play, but I was a student of Charlie’s and I got to tag along. So, yeah, I had dinner with Al Pacino at the Astor Riviera, which is now a Starbucks. I remember Al saying, “All the world’s a stage, and the stage is your world.”

New York City is a big stage. Down every street is a memory. You come here and you
live out the movie of your life.

Q: Stephen, Kevin Corrigan is an inspired choice for Kevin Shanahan. He and I have been chatting online about the vanishing city for a while now, so I know he's passionate about it. How did he get connected to the project and how do you see him fitting the role?

Stephen: Dan Menke, my co-creator, is friends with him. They are passionate about the topic. Dan wanted to write a role for him. I suggested we use the gentrification as a backdrop. Kevin liked the idea. It’s also a lead role for him. He should be playing lead roles in TV. He's very versatile.

The script Dan wrote at first was called "The Characters," just two actors in New York City. One from New York, one newbie. I thought the script was hilarious, but felt it needed something more urgent and relevant.

Corrigan loves the smell of New York. He deeply understands the culture. He’s in love with the grittiness. He misses the squeegee guys. His deadpan personality, with the humor of someone lost in his own town, is funny. Putting him in a fancy wine bar or condo with a swimming pool is funny.

Kevin: RE: the smell of New York. I don’t always love it, but right now it’s nice. It’s 3AM and it’s 64 degrees outside. That’s a nice clean smell coming in the window. Coming in from the Harbor.

Q: When I watch Kevin in the trailer, it's uncanny, like looking in a mirror. So I have to ask--and this might be a rather egocentric question--how much Jeremiah is in there?

Stephen: Ha-ha! He said he is a big fan of yours, but he told me after we shot that. He could be channeling you. If he is a mirror, that’s a good sign.

Q: Kevin, the character has the same name as you--how close are you to him?

Kevin: He’s me, but he’s also my friend George from Astoria, and some other people I know from the Bronx. And he’s you, Jeremiah.

Visit The Holdouts on Kickstarter, watch the trailer, and consider kicking in some funds--time is ticking

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Clean Is Not Enough

In 1978, Fran Lebowitz told People magazine, "When you leave New York, you are astonished at how clean the rest of the world is. Clean is not enough."

Nearly four decades later, in the age of the Sterilized City, the quote has surfaced on the side of a building in Chelsea. Specifically, on the Yves luxury glass condo at 18th Street and 7th Avenue, where Core realty has a first-floor office from which they sell more luxury glass condos.

mingum7 posted a photo of the wall to Instagram and wrote: "I'm having trouble thinking Fran Lebowitz would approve of advertising this glass condo. But she must know, right?"


Does Fran know? Would she approve? I also doubt it, but someone will have to ask her.

Either way, the quote is utterly inappropriate for the side of a luxury glass condo, which is all about being antiseptically clean, and not New York, and not enough. We need more than clean.

Cleanliness does not make a city. Real cities are messy. They are dirty--and dirt is fertile, the opposite of sterile.

But the new people keep coming from the rest of the world to live in these sanitary boxes, seeking some semblance of their suburban lives. They say: Walk-ups are cute "but this is just so much better in so many ways. It’s like living in a hotel. Everything’s always convenient, always safe, always clean. You don’t have to worry about gross things. Like mice! And creepy things like that."

They are not--and don't want to be--city people.

inside Yves

May I suggest a few other, more recent New York quotes from Fran Lebowitz to slap on the sides of luxury condos:

"To move to Manhattan, you have to have a rich father. The kids who come here are either rich or are moving here to make money in business, which is a dull kind of kid anyway."

"You can like people with lots of money for certain reasons, hate them for certain reasons, but you cannot say that an entire city of people with lots of money is fascinating. It is not."

"Of all the places in the world that should never have embraced this idea of safety, family values, it is New York. I mean, they have the whole rest of the country."

“America has gotten its revenge on New York, because it’s moved right in. Now it is a mall. That’s the final victory of the suburban sensibility.”