Thursday, August 17, 2017

NYC Stands Up to Hate

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Vanishing New York & Mr NYC -- Blogs of a Feather

Once upon a time (2007, actually), two New Yorkers got brilliant ideas for blogs about their favorite city ...  one was called Mr NYC; the other, Vanishing New York

Unlike Mr NYC, Vanishing New York hit the big time. The eponymous Jeremiah's blog about the demise of Old New York City has attracted vastly more readers than Mr NYC ever did (and now a legit book deal and lots of media attention too). 

I bear no umbrage; Vanishing New York deserves its success. Its single-minded, determined effort to chronicle the changes of the NYC landscape is impressive and, especially these days, badly needed. It's a beautifully presented and extremely well-written blog.

Mr NYC has always been more general-interest and ramshackle. It's about everything and anything NYC. It has no specific focus. It has no specific theme. That's both its virtue and, I suppose, its shortcoming. 

But both blogs were born of a love for NYC and everything it means to people.

I do take some pride, however, that, while both Vanishing New York and Mr NYC started in 2007, mine started in March of that year and Jeremiah's began in July -- so this blog, technically, has some seniority. 

And yet, to quote Christopher Walken in "True Romance", that's of minor importance. What's of major effing importance is that both blogs started within months of each other at what was, in retrospect, an inflection point in NYC's history. Back then, the city was still recovering from the trauma of 9/11, the psychological wounds still raw, a sense of inertia still intact. But things were changing -- slowly at first, then faster and faster. NYC was, to quote then-Mayor Bloomberg, going from "open to business" to "back in business." The buildings were getting bigger and glassier, the mom and pop stores and old neighborhood businesses were disappearing at a quicker rate, and the already hot real estate market was turbo-charging thanks to the influx of foreign money. It was, many of us felt at the time, going to be a very different city in the years ahead. 

How right (unfortunately) we were. 

NYC in 2017 looks quite different than 2007. There are more and more big buildings, more and more chain stores, and less and less neighborhoods that look and feel like actual neighborhoods. This is still a great city but its spirit has been enervated by gentrification. 

Still, that spirit has not died completely. That spirit is reflected, in part, by Mr NYC and Vanishing New York and the fact that both blogs have lasted more than a decade. That fact should be a point of pride for both of us. So kudos to to both of us. May both blogs last another decade -- and more.

P.S. Grubstreet has a good list of some old school bars and restaurants that have yet to vanish. Go before they do!

Monday, August 14, 2017

"Electric Car" - They Might Be Giants @ Central Park Summerstage 8/12/2017

Great family show this past weekend. When there's so much sadness in the world, it's important to remember that there's still lots of beauty and joy. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Naughty Nostalgia: Robin and Al

My favorite new show of the summer is the Netflix series GLOW (a.k.a the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), a fictional comedy/drama about the crazy, off-the-wall syndicated show of the same name that ran on Saturday mornings from 1986 to 1990. If you haven't seen GLOW, you must! It's really good nostalgia.

Shows that look back several decades, to a specific time/place/scene, appears to be a new trend. Hence, the new HBO show The Deuce that'll premiere in September, about the 1970s NYC porn scene. I blogged about this  show recently and can't wait to see it. 

I don't remember the 1970s, and I sure don't remember the porn scene, but (Mom - if you're reading this, STOP NOW), I do remember Channel 35, the nasty after midnight cable channel that showed, well ... not porn exactly but the next best thing.

Namely, Al Goldstein's Midnight Blue, the only "porn" news show that's ever existed, and The Robin Byrd Show, where the host would interview various strippers and porn stars and they'd dance. 

Both shows were very bizarre and lots of fun. If you were a teenager in NYC in the last 20th century, it was paradise.  

Of course, today, in the age of the Internet, they shows are long gone. Al Goldstein is dead and Robin Byrd is doing live shows (I've blogged about both Al and Robin in the past, go to a Search for more). But the ways in which NYC has changed isn't just in the buildings that've been built and torn downs or the stores and restaurants that have closed, it's also what's on TV or on the radio or in the newspapers (see Liz Smith). They exist today only in our memories.

P.S. Robin Byrd is on Facebook and I sent her a message, asking for an interview, but she still hasn't responded. Robin, if you're reading, or if you're someone who knows her, please tell her to respond. I REALLY want to interview her!

Where have you gone, Liz Smith?

One of the reasons Donald Trump is (ugh yak puke) the President of these United States is because he became a so-called "tabloid darling" in 1980s NYC. He was "good copy" and sold papers (today it would "get clicks") and the city tabloids couldn't get enough of him. He got publicity, the papers got sales, and The Donald rose to become a reality star and finally POTUS. (I'm not happy about, it's just what happened.)

Perhaps his biggest chronicler and cheerleader was Liz Smith whose column appeared in the New York Post and other tabloids for decades. Liz Smith was the gossip columnist in NYC, no name was bigger, no one else got the biggest scoops -- in a city of 8 million people, no one knew more than her.

Liz Smith is now 94 and hasn't had a regular column in a city paper since 2009. And, as this article makes clear, as she watches her Frankenstein monster wreck havoc on the whole country, Liz Smith realizes that she's a relic of a different time, another city and another country. She bemoans these changes and wishes she was still in the game.

Everything changes.

P.S. When I'm 94, if I'm lucky to live that long, I don't think I'm going to want to work so God Bless her.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Studio 54@40

The legendary disco club Studio 54 opened in NYC forty years ago. Here is its story.

The Facelifts of NYC

The definition of plastic surgery is, "the process of reconstructing or repairing parts of the body ... either in the treatment of injury or for cosmetic reasons."

As this definition indicates, sometimes plastic surgery is necessary -- when people get disfigured, it helps them restore their appearance and improve their lives. But most of the time, plastic surgery is just tinkering, an attempt by people to "improve" their appearance even if they look fine to begin with. And, of course, the fact that it's plastic surgery means that they look less than natural, their appearance is no longer organic. The reality is that people who get plastic surgery usually look worse than they did originally. Most people who get plastic surgery do so because they want to look younger than they are -- but, in reality, they don't look younger, just weirder.

NYC has never been this boring -- or this weird. 

Boring, because the city is getting gutted and homogenized, the businesses and buildings that made them unique are being destroyed and replaced by mega chains and uninteresting glass constructions. Weird, because there's something unnatural about this transformation, about how the city no longer feels like a special place but some kind of McCity. We talk a lot about "gentrification" but really, in my mind, it's the equivalent of urban plastic surgery -- tinkering with the face of NYC in an attempt to improve it but that really just ruins it.

And there's a reason for this beyond the usual complaint about gentrification -- tourism. As this exhaustive article from VICE indicates, the bending over backwards to tourists in NYC is one of the reasons why this city feels less and less like it belongs to the people who actually live here.

Of course, the face of NYC has always been changing -- just in a more organic way.

Once upon a time, on Riverside Drive, there used to be amazing mansions lining this most beautiful of boulevards. However, as these mansions became more and more expensive for their residents to maintain, and as the demands for housing exploded, these mansions were torn down and made way for apartment buildings (the building I grew up in used to be the site of an old mansion). This article is about one of those mansions that, before it was destroyed, was touted to become the official residence for the Mayor of New York City (the plan fell through when Mayor LaGuardia quashed it and, instead, Gracie Mansion was chosen). So the face of NYC has always changed -- but it used to be for the benefit of the people, not the visitors.

That said, some wrinkles of the past still appear on the face of NYC today. Take, for instance, the Ear Inn, the watering hole in Lower Manhattan. It's over 200 years old and still in business. I recently went there with a friend and it's still a vibrant, busy place. We quite enjoyed ourselves and felt, for once, at home in our hometown.

As long as we preserve some aspects of the past, NYC won't be entirely plastic -- and its soul will never die.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Fate of Diners in NYC

I love diners. Always have. I've dined at Per Se, Jean Georges, Nobu, and 11 Madison Park -- some of the fanciest restaurants in NYC -- but a good diner will always be my favorite place to eat in this town. If heaven had a restaurant, it would be a diner: phone book menus, big portions, refills, padded booths, you name it, I love everything about the taste and feel and vibe of diners. 

How can you not love a place that serves breakfast all day?

But like so many old-school institutions in NYC, places that provide comfort instead of glamour, diners are vanishing. They are being displaced, as is common now, by flashier "cafes" -- if they are being replaced at all (many are simply being closed down and replaced by retail stores). A great diner is like what NYC used to be -- affordable and inclusive -- and, as diners are pushed out by high rents and gentrification, they are replaced by what it's become -- expensive and exclusive. There are still some diners in NYC here and there but, more and more, they are becoming curiosities of the past, not stable parts of our present. As the current President might Tweet, "Sad!"
The withering of diners in NYC has not gone unnoticed. Grubstreet recently published an article and WNYC recently had a segment about the vanishing diners of NYC.  

And this is not a recent development. Back in 2007, in 2007, during the first months of this blog, I noted that the old Moondance Diner on lower 6th Avenue had been sold and literally moved out to a small town in Wyoming (this is the same diner where Jonathan Larson, creator of the musical Rent, used to work). I worked right near the Moondance in 2007 and I remember seeing this once thriving diner close, get uprooted out of the ground, and disappear. (Now some fancy building with an expensive restaurant exists there.) Anyway, I did a little research on what happened to the Moondance in its Western incarnation and it appears that it closed in 2012 and went up for sale. I can't find any more info about whether or not it was ever bought for the $300K asking price so, if you have any further info on the fate of this NYC institution, let me know! 

As for some of my favorite diner in NYC: the Neptune in Astoria. It's right on the corner of Astoria Boulevard, right after the Grand Central, next to the N/W train station. Everything about it's great: the location, the layout, you can always get a table, the service is great, the portions are big, and it's open 24 hours. It's still there and, for the ultimate NYC diner experience, the best place to go. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Forty years ago tonight NYC was plunged into darkness and the city was never quite the same again. Here are some memories that historic night.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Ford to City: Drop Dead" Redux

If I didn't have two little kids to raise, I would probably be spending every night this month at Film Forum. Until July 27, you can see some of the greatest movies made in NYC during the 1970s in a series called Ford to City: Drop Dead (inspired by the infamous 1975 Daily News headline).  

NYC in the 1970s has become an almost mythical place: a cauldron of crime and sleaze and deterioration but also a wellspring of excitement and creative activity, especially when it came to movies. The movies made in that decade and in this town are extraordinary: Panic in Needle Park, Serpico, The French Connection, Klute, Saturday Night Fever, Dog Day Afternoon, Where's Poppa?, Shaft, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Three Days of the Condor, Marathon Man, Annie Hall, Manhattan, The Warriors, Super Fly -- and that's just some of them! 

Almost all these movies are playing in this retrospective and it's truly a New York and movie junky's dream. Go see it and be immersed. 

Here's an article about the real life August, 1972 bank robbery that inspired the 1975 movie Dog Day Afternoon and the infamous line "Attica! Attica! Attica!"