Friday, August 29, 2014

Arthur's Tavern


Some terrible news to kick off your holiday weekend: It looks like the great and venerable Arthur's Tavern is about to vanish.

A reader alerted me to a new real-estate listing, where the jazz club's building is for sale at $6,250,000.

This "Newly available mixed use building in the heart of the West Village," writes the broker, is located "off the high-end retail district of Bleecker Street." It will be "delivered 100% vacant" and includes a "ground floor commercial space."

Of course, that ground-floor space has been Arthur's Tavern since 1937. "Called the 'Home of the Bird,'" reads the website, "this historic West Village entertainment nightclub is the last continuously operating New York City jazz club once regular host to the legendary Charlie Parker and the great Roy Hargrove."

There is no cover charge at Arthur's Tavern and it's a wonderful place to just sit at the bar, listen to good music, and talk to interesting people. It's truly one of the few spots left in the Village that still feels like the Village--and still feels like New York.

I've worried about it for some time, ever since its neighbor Rose's Turn was turned into the digs of a luxury designer (known as "the darling of young Wall Streeters ... the go-to decorator for a great many of today's young titans of finance and technology"). Next to that, how could scrappy, divey Arthur's hold out?

In 1978, New York magazine's Paul Gardner described a night here with piano singer Mable Godwin:

"Her syncopating rhythm and honeyed voice make Arthur's Tavern the kind of storybook joint where characters from a John O'Hara novel, caught between despair and desire, might perch on a ragged bar stool all through the night... The liverish yellow lighting and glitzy mirrors behind Mable's piano make everyone look positively sleazy. And that's exactly how it should be."

Mable is gone, but not much else has changed. The bar stools are ragged, the light is good and sleazy, and the music plays on. The Grove Street Stompers are still here--every Monday night for more than 40 years.

In his book, Discovering Vintage New York, Mitch Broder writes about Arthur's history. He notes that it was owned for decades by the Maisano family, and then sold--along with its building--to Danny Bensusan. The Bensusan Restaurant Corporation runs several clubs, including the Blue Note and B.B. King's.

A phone call to the bar yielded no information or confirmation about the sale. From the listing, which also includes a shot of the bar's interior, it looks like this will be the end for the historic Village spot. The realtor calls it "an ideal property for an individual seeking a great rent roll, an ultra private live-work space, or a renovation project."

A second listing on the same property hails the club, and notes that it is currently on a "month to month lease rented at $10,000/month." The listing reads: "The possibilities are wide open to create a dream owner’s duplex apartment in the heart of the Greenwich Village with your own private patio and rooftop terrace, plus generate income from the prime commercial space/retail on the ground floor!"

Of course, a community-minded multi-millionaire who loves jazz and New York history could buy the building and choose to maintain Arthur's Tavern at the current rent, right?

With that unlikelihood in mind, here's another one to worry about: With Rose's Turn gone and Arthur's going, what hope could we possibly have for good old Marie's Crisis?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rebranding Harlem

Hyper-gentrification--the jet-fueled process in which city government and corporations collude to displace the existing culture and population of New York and replace it with something shinier, wealthier, and homogenized for your safety--is often used by real estate agents to rebrand and sell "newly discovered" neighborhoods.

Sometimes, the sell can be unabashed in its revanchist rhetoric. A reader sent in a newsletter from one real estate agent working to sell Harlem. I'll let the text speak for itself.

- "New Yorkers are always debating which hood is the hottest. Is Bushwick the next Williamsburg? NoHo the next Tribeca? It’s Harlem: buy now and you will thank me."

- "Harlem is getting a tech-led makeover, thanks to a new series of economic development initiatives aimed at combating the neighborhood's infamous high unemployment rates and widespread poverty."

- "Blue-collar retirees are watching their neighborhood, once crime-infested and poverty-stricken, being reborn and rechristened as money-hungry real estate investors mine for gold in the pocket between W. 125th St. and W. 150th St."

- "Harlem is facing another wave of gentrification, which will push prices up further than the current median."

- "Call it the Whole Foods Factor. The organic grocery has the power to remake neighborhoods
, and it’s planning a new location at Lenox Ave. and 125th St."

- "That will add to a bevy of bars and restaurants that have opened up in the last few years, like Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster and the 11 commercial banks on 125th Street from Lenox Ave to Morningside Ave. Some of the other retail giants following Whole Foods is H&M and Forever 21."

11 banks! And, ooh look! There's an Olive Garden, too!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

City Opera Thrift

A typed letter in the window of the City Opera Thrift shop says they're working to negotiate a new lease with the landlord. They were sold after the opera was forced to declare bankruptcy. (This after Mayor Bloomberg told the beloved institution to drop dead.)

But even with that big, ominous "Retail for Lease" sign across the front, all is not lost.

I hear that the sign is just a formality and that the negotiations are going well, that the landlord is being patient, until the thrift shop is adopted by another organization, possibly another opera.

Nothing here should change and that's a relief. It's a wonderful thrift shop. The architecture of the interior alone makes it worth a visit, with its second-story gallery and its leaded windows in the back.

The book selection is suprisingly well curated, unlike in most thrift stores where all you find are mass-market detective novels and self-help books. City Opera Thrift knows their books, and they have a very contemporary selection of fiction.

It's also a great spot for people watching.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Night at Forlini's

If you're looking for a good time in the old New York, you have to go to Forlini's on a night when Angelo Ruggiero is performing in the back room.

For one thing, Forlini's is something of a hidden treasure. Cut off from Little Italy by Canal Street, it's tucked away on Baxter, surrounded by Chinatown and unspoiled by tourists. The out-of-towners don't seem to know the place exists.

Established in 1943, Forlini's is pure and authentic. New Yorkers eat there. It's a favorite place for judges, lawyers, and other people involved in the justice system, thanks to its location close to the State Supreme Court house.

The rooms are filled with diamond-tufted, peach-colored banquettes and booths, the walls hung with an odd and fascinating assortment of massive oil paintings in heavy, gilded frames.

The staff -- all family -- greet you with warmth and respect. Don't expect any "fixed-up," "revived" Italian food. Forlini's is old-school red sauce all the way. The food's fine, but I don't go to restaurants for the food. I go for the place itself, for the history and the people. For the emotions that the space generates.

And--especially on the nights when Mr. Ruggiero sings--Forlini's is loaded with history, emotion, and wonderful people.

The crowd of regulars shows up early. Italian-Americans, they come in from the outer boroughs, Jersey, and Long Island. They all know each other, and if you haven't been before, you might feel like you're crashing somebody's Golden Anniversary party. But if you're friendly, unfussy, and have fun, you'll be welcomed.

Ruggiero's wife, who looks a little like Liza Minnelli in a glittering tunic and fedora, sets up the music machine and makes the rounds, greeting each person. Then Ruggiero, as bald as Mr. Clean with a big, bright smile, takes the mike. The crowd goes wild. It's all Sinatra, 1950s doo-wop, and Neapolitan folk songs. Ladies swoon. Everyone sings along. During the Italian songs, people swing their napkins through the air.

By the time dinner is done, everyone is dancing in the narrow spaces between the tables (take a look), and you've made some new best friends.

Ruggiero performs at Forlini's about once a month or so. Next up, he'll be there September 5. Be sure to make a reservation.

Monday, August 25, 2014

At Donohue's

For my piece in this week's Metro NY, a visit to Dononue's Steak House on Lexington near 64th.’s the people who really take you back to an older New York, before restaurant chatter was about nothing but money, work, and the latest technological toy—before people became so boring.

At lunchtime, around the bar at Donohue’s, you’ll find the real New Yorkers. The scientist sipping a Manhattan knows everything about everything. The older lady quaffing white wine sounds exactly like Maureen O’Sullivan, with a slight slur that makes her only more elegant. The bartender, with his German accent, referees the conversation with jokes.

In a discussion that bounces from George Orwell to life in India, a newspaper headline shifts the talk to Robin Williams. Comedians really are unhappy people, the group decides.

“It’s the old Pagliacci thing,” says the scientist. “The weeping clown. It’s the misery behind the laughter.”

Jerry Lewis? Miserable. Lenny Bruce? Wretched. Milton Berle? He might have been okay, but Lucille Ball was decidedly unpleasant. They move on to other celebrities with difficult personalities. “Hey,” says the bartender, readying a joke, “you know what Sinatra said when he introduced Mia Farrow to his mother? He said, ‘Mama, Mia.’ You see? Mama Mia!” ...

Please read the rest of the essay in the paper here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

C'est Magnifique


After 56 years in the Villages West and East, the legendary vintage and custom jewelry shop C'est Magnifique closes tomorrow.

Thomas Paladino writes in:

"My family has owned and operated a small downtown jewelry store called C'est Magnifique since 1959, and it will be closing permanently this weekend. We were originally located on MacDougal street in the West Village up until two years ago, when rising rents forced us to move to East 9th Street. Unfortunately, the new location was not as lucrative as our previous one, and combined with a death in the family of my uncle (who was the main proprietor of the shop for the last thirty years), the store will have to close its doors.

We have a rich and interesting history, having sold our wares to over five generations of the most interesting New Yorkers you can imagine, from all walks of life, including celebrity clients like Iggy Pop, Madonna, and Johnny Depp (among many others)."

At the shop's Facebook page, Alfred Albrizio III says farewell. He writes: "I learned so much from working with my father, and I plan to continue utilizing those skills and making jewelry. Although the physical space of C'est Magnifique will be gone, my family's legacy will live on. I am devoted to my craft and customers. I'll still be doing custom work and selling my original designs from my website which should be ready soon."

C'est Magnifique will be having a farewell party tomorrow, at the shop (328 East 9th St.) from 1:00 - 7:00pm. Light refreshments will be served. All are invited to come and say goodbye.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

3 Star Coffee Shop

Recently, I was disappointed to read about the shuttering of the Upper West Side's 3 Star Coffee Shop.

On her Tumblr blog, Raven Snook took a photo of the papered-over windows and noted: "Apparently, 3 Star Coffee Shop went out with a whimper in February when it failed to reopen after being closed down for a third time by the Health Department due to violations."

West Side Rag went inside for a look at the trashed interior.

Located at Columbus and 86th, across from a Starbucks, next to a Chase bank, and down the block from new luxury condo 101 W. 87, the modestly named 3 Star (why not 4 or 5?) Coffee Shop had that look of something that could not last.

3 Star had an A rating at the time of its closure. Do city agencies like the health department target these old joints, especially when they're located on desirable corners? It often makes me wonder.

Most of the reviewers on Yelp loved this place, citing it as one of the last old-school coffee shops left in the neighborhood.

3 Star's shuttered storefront means one more for a stretch filled with long-shuttered businesses. As West Side Rag noted, "The south half of the block is now almost entirely shuttered, except for one remaining dry cleaners. The Olympic deli on the North corner is also closed, but is seeking a new tenant. Some of the businesses have been empty for years, and they don’t seem like they’re looking aggressively for new tenants."

All in the same building. We have to wonder if the landlord is holding out for a block-long chain to move in.