Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hank's Saloon


Brooklyn music bar Hank's Saloon will close by the end of 2018.

On Facebook, the owner writes: "the building was taken over by a new developer who had plans to build big. We knew it was only a matter of time before we got the news that we would have to close Hank’s and move along."

And "it deeply saddens me that one of the last NYC bars of this kind will no longer exist. These places are extremely special to New York and add genuine heart and soul to the community."

They're looking for a new space.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017



In the East Village for 27 years, the Continental will be closing. The owner writes:

"Continental has less than a year left. Some time after the end of August 2018, this corner will be knocked down and developed. It’s truly heartbreaking that we and so many Old Skool places are falling by the wayside but unless you own your building that’s how it goes."

photo via EV Grieve

Read the rest at the bar's website.

And, yes, this entire corner will be gone, from the shuttered McDonald's to Papaya King. Something new and horrible will rise in its place.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Meet Me at the End of the World

Jesse Malin just released a video for the title track of his EP Meet Me at the End of the World, an album that Rolling Stone calls "a mix of Lower East Side grit and Simon & Garfunkel Americana pop."

The video features the great Ray's Candy and B&H Dairy, two luminaries of the East Village small business scene -- plus a cameo from Ray himself.

Check it out:

Monday, October 30, 2017



Frankel's clothing shop has been in Brooklyn for a very long time. Tucked into the shadows of the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park, the shop's painted bricks announce: "An American Treasure Since 1890," "The One," "The Only," and "We're Still Here."

But Frankel's won't be here much longer. Third-generation owner Marty Frankel has decided it's time to pack up and move the shop to Jersey.

With its selection of steel-toed boots and Carhartt work clothes, Frankel's caters mostly to laborers. They've covered his doorway with union stickers.

"You know how the Jewish people have the mezuzah on the door and they kiss it? The union guys do it with a sticker," Marty says. "They walk out and kiss it." He demonstrates, kissing his fingers and then touching them to the door frame.

Before work clothes, Frankel's specialized in western wear. Cowboy boots and cowboy hats. Marty would put horse manure in the dressing rooms to give the place that country aroma. Before that it was Timberland boots and "ethnic clothes," snakeskin pants and Italian knit sweaters, bandannas in gang colors. He shows a photo of customers Method Man and Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan. Before that, going back to when Frankel's began, they outfitted the seamen coming in off the big ships at port. But they sold more than just clothing.

"In the 1950s," Marty says, "condoms were illegal in a lot of places. So we'd get cases of Trojans and take 'em down to the ships," to sell them in bulk to foreign sailors who'd smuggle them back to their home countries. "I'm responsible for a lot of people not being born. I like to say I sold condoms to seamen." He smiles at the joke.

A warm and welcoming guy, Marty likes to joke around. He's got a roll of packing tape on the counter with the word SEX written on it. "That's my sex tape," he says. "Don't mind me. I got Tourette's."

Somehow he gets to talking about the designer Ralph Lauren, who changed his name from Lifshitz, or was it Lipshitz? "They used to say: If your Lipshitz, what does your asshole do? Don't mind me. I got Tourette's."

When Brooklyn's piers shut down and the seamen sailed away, the neighborhood changed. In the 1970s it got rough. Marty would go to work strapped with two guns and a bullet-proof vest. It was a daily thrill. "I miss it," he says, looking out the window to the street. "It was exciting to come in and see who got shot over the weekend. I saw a guy get shot on that corner, a body dumped over there, and another guy get his ear shot off right there. It was a tough place back then. If you weren't black and blue, it meant your father was in jail."

But Marty survived. He was part of the scene. He grew up in the neighborhood and came to work in the shop with his father. The place is full of antiques, including a bowler hat that belonged to Marty's grandfather, a shoe-fitting fluoroscope (for x-raying feet while emitting radiation), and a long wooden bench that goes back a century.

"My whole life was spent on that bench," Marty says. "I slept on it as a child. That was my crib. I don't know anything else. All I know is this store."

Marty owns the building and doesn't plan on selling it. But it's time to close.

"I'm 76 years old," he explains. "I'm tired. I fell asleep going home on the Pulaski Skyway. I'm lucky to be alive, but I get tired driving home to Jersey every night." And the parking around the store is terrible. "It's not easy down here. There's nowhere to park. They call this Sunset Park? They should just call it Sunset."

Besides, the majority of his customers have moved away from Brooklyn.

More and more, old-time locals come in and tell him their landlord has sold their building and they're getting evicted, moving to Pennsylvania or some other state. The neighborhood is changing again. A nearby Costco has taken a bite out of Frankel's -- "It hurts. Costco gets all the deals" -- and the newcomers to the neighborhood haven't helped.

"Hipsters. They're all white guys with Chinese girlfriends and rescue dogs," says Marty. "They try on twenty pairs of shoes, but they won't buy here because the store doesn't look nice. They like to take pictures of my barcodes, though, and then buy the shoes online."

Still, Frankel's is well loved by its regulars and the neighborhood people. A guy walks in and calls out, "Hey Marty, I gotta take a piss," and heads to the restroom. A woman comes in and chats about life, the school they both went to years ago. Customers come and go, buying boots and hats.

They all know Marty and enjoy his easy talk--and his sense of humor. Like his trick of leaving an old boot on the sidewalk as bait. Passersby pick it up and bring it in, saying, "You left a boot outside." He thanks them and then, after they go (hopefully after buying something), he tosses the boot back on the sidewalk.

"It's going to be hard to leave," Marty says, sitting down on that antique bench. "Mentally, it's hard. I'm like the watering hole here. People come by and ask What happened to this guy? and Have you heard from that guy? I've got three generations of people shopping at this store. Now that they know I'm closing, they write me emails. They say, How can you do this to us? Do it to them? I have trouble sleeping at night, thinking about the move. But it's time. A hundred and twenty-seven years? I figure that's long enough."

By the end of November, Frankel's will be gone.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Argo Electronics


After close to four decades, Argo Electronics on Canal Street has closed. Tribeca Citizen shared the news today, writing, "I’d have to wager that the building—and the one(s) to the west—aren’t long for this world."

photos from 2015

Argo was a beautiful little remnant of old Canal, its wares organized in cardboard boxes spilling out to the sidewalk, a cacophony of useful junk and stuff.

Power cords. Extension cords. Remote controls. Rolls of duct tape. Rolls of masking tape.

Motherboards. Keyboards. Key chains. Coffee pots. Flip flops. Watch bands.

I never got the chance to go inside, but I always liked the look of the place and photographed it each time I went by, mostly because it had that look.

You know the look. The one that says: I won't last much longer in this new New York.

For videos of the inside, visit Tribeca Citizen.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

One October

Rachel Shuman is the director of the film One October, a time capsule of New York in 2008, "when gentrification is rapidly displacing the working and middle classes, Wall Street is plummeting, and Senator Obama is making his first presidential bid." Along the way, radio host Clay Pigeon talks with everyday New Yorkers to "poignantly reveal urbanist Jane Jacobs’s idea of the 'ballet of the good city sidewalk.'"

One October will be screening on November 8, complete with a live score and discussion with the director, at the Rubin Museum. Buy tickets here.

I asked Shuman a few questions:

JM: You ended up with a film in which many people speak about the changes of the city, about gentrification and "mallification." Did you know you would get that? Was that the intention or an accident of sorts?

RS: The film was inspired by Chris Marker’s film "Le Joli Mai," which is portrait of his native Paris in the month of May 1962, a moment when France had just signed its peace treaty with Algeria after 8 years of war and while a big push for urban renewal was spreading around Paris. In the film Marker notes how the streets of his beloved city were changing, "In ten years, these images will look stranger to us than today do the images of Paris in 1900."

In the mid 2000's I felt like we were in a similar moment; we'd been at war in Iraq for several years and I began noticing the sweeping urban renewal that was happening in NYC, particularly in the East Village and Lower East side so I decided that I wanted to make a film like "Le Joli Mai" about my city to create a kind of time capsule of what was happening, in part to be able to remember of how the city looked at that moment in time.

By 2007 when I really started thinking about going ahead with the film, I was living in the East Village and had become quite alarmed by the rapid changes happing to the neighborhood. At that point it seemed like no one was really talking about it, so part of the impetus to make the film was also as a rallying cry to say, “Hey, do you see what is happening here?!”

A defining moment for me was standing on the corner of University Place at about 12th street late one night and noticing that all four corners were aglow in the harsh neon light of various bank fa├žades. It was very eerie, and metaphorically I felt like a war was happening and that the enemy had managed to capture all four street corners and we were doomed….

So yes, when I set out to make the film I was very interested in finding out what people were thinking about the changes in city in that moment. And certainly by the time we were filming in October 2008, the changes had started to register and people expressed their feelings about it.

Clay Pigeon interviews Stacie who is worried that the changes in Harlem will push her out of the neighborhood.

JM: How do you think the city has changed between 2008 and today? (I noticed many of the buildings in your shots are gone. Demolished.)

RS: It seems that this pace of hyper-gentrification, as you call it, has just become more accelerated. Whole blocks have been completely taken over by outsized luxury condos and mega-chain franchises.

In thinking about this interview, I decided to take a walk through some of the neighborhoods that we filmed to see specifically what had come of some of our locations. The most shocking change is a vacant lot that Stacie, a worried mother in Harlem, mentions in the film. She predicts that in six months to a year it will become a Marshalls or a Gap and says, “In five years I won’t even be living here no more.” Indeed she understood what was happening cause that spot is now home to the new Whole Foods in Harlem and Marshalls is across the street. Of course as you know many other spots are gone too, the Mars Bar is now a TD Bank.

The banks are absolutely everywhere! Corporate sponsorship seems to dominate every event.

The vacant lot where Stacie is standing in Harlem in October 2008.

JM: What made Clay Pigeon right for this project?

RS: In the Marker film, the interviewer is not a character and is almost never seen, but I knew that I wanted to cast the role of interviewer in the film and one night a friend of mine who used to have a radio show on WFMU suggested I listen to Clay’s "Dusty Show" and within the first few minutes of hearing his show I just knew he was the person I was looking for. Since an inherent part of Clay’s radio show is his interviews with strangers on the street, I chose to follow him as he was doing his normal rounds and some of the interviews that are in the film were also broadcast on WFMU as part of his show. I did talk to Clay about the themes in my film, but we have a lot of overlap in that regard so it was a natural fit for him to incorporate some of my questions into his conversations.

Clay is from Iowa and he talks about how being from a small town really informed his approach to interviewing. He says that growing up he was always stopping to chat with people on the street and I think it fostered his genuine curiosity about people. He’s not afraid to ask difficult questions. Some may call them probing or invasive, but that’s not what motivates him. He connects on a human level and he has a lot of compassion for people and their stories.

The other appealing thing was that though Clay had been doing his show for ten years (mostly outside of NYC) he had only moved to the city a year before we began filming and he was still kind of in awe of the place. I loved seeing the city through his fresh eyes cause part of my mission was not only to show the changes that were happening, but also to film the things I loved about the city as a way of preserving them.

That corner lot is now home to the new Whole Foods in Harlem.

JM: There is a sense of hope in the film -- that Wall Street's corruption will be defeated, that New York will be saved -- so where are we now?

RS: In all honesty, things seem much worse now. As your readers know well, hyper-gentrification and corporatization have taken over most corners of the city. And politically…well, I can’t even touch that. Even though the film does rest on some optimism about Obama, there is a lot of tension there and I feel like the film actually foreshadows a bit of where we are now. But I do think we need to take the long view.

At the beginning of my film I have a quote from "Harper’s Monthly," from 1856, that says, “New York is never the same city for more than a dozen years altogether.” So change is the nature of this beast, but I do agree that this wave of change is unlike any other the city has seen. It’s not the Jews replacing the Italians replacing the Irish; it’s of an entirely different order.

As citizens, we will have to work hard to shift the direction it’s going. But I do like to think of Roberto in the film who in his 83-year-old wisdom says that every 100 years or so everything comes back around and repeats itself. It reminds me that this particular phase of the cycle won’t be where we are forever.

And as Clay says in the film, for those just arriving, "these are the good old days."

Mars Bar then...

...and now

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tales of Times Square: The Tapes

Author and musician Josh Alan Friedman was working for Screw magazine, covering the Times Square beat through the late 1970s and early 80s, when he wrote the cult classic Tales of Times Square.

Recently, he dug up the tapes he made from that time--interviews with the denizens of the old Deuce--and turned them into a podcast. Tales of Times Square: The Tapes takes you back in time through the voices of "strippers, old fighters, burly-Q men, peep show girls, hustlers, cops," and one man who ran the penny arcade at 42nd and 8th since 1939.

I asked Josh a few questions.

All photos via Josh Alan Friedman's blackcracker

You've had these tapes for decades. What inspired you to digitize and turn them into a podcast now?

Two years ago people started asking if I was involved with The Deuce going through on HBO. So I offered to contribute but they wouldn’t take our calls. My wife, Peggy, said, "What about all those cassettes you recorded back in Times Square?" Stacked on the wall among hundreds of others. I’d forgotten about them, just scratch tapes. But she told me to digitize them before they dissolved. I’d just finished my last album, working from Logic Pro on my home computer. So I was able to formulate a podcast. I’m still not sure what’s workable, but I’ve managed six episodes so far. It’s spinning off differently than Tales of Times Square, the book. Hindsight and the fate of these characters.

What will people find in the tapes that they can't get from the book?

It’s startling to hear the ghosts of old Broadway come back alive. Voices were different then, like Edward G. Robinson or Cagney, see. Unnerstand? That beautiful New Yorkese, the Damon Runyon lingo you might remember from Guys & Dolls.  

Tales of Times Square came out in ’86, after a decade spent covering the Square. It’s had four different editions and a cult following--some of these readers are giddy to finally hear the actual voices—as well as seeing their pictures on the podcast site,

Seedy old 1970s Times Square is enjoying a revival, especially through The Deuce. What do you think it is about that place that draws so much interest?

Right after the Times Square Redevelopment Corp. and the Shuberts finally condemned the theaters on 42nd street, they approached the great Broadway composer, Cy Coleman. They were rebuilding the New Amsterdam, the Lyric (Foxwoods), and The Selwyn (American Airlines Theater). They told Coleman they wanted to designate the whole street for musicals only, get people back on 42nd Street. Coleman said he had a great idea. Great, whaddya got? Pornography.

His hit musical, The Life, played the Ethel Barrymore in 1997. Pimps and hookers, all singing, all dancing. Right after they’d eliminated all of it from the street. A future episode of my podcast is with Cy, who we lost a while back.

Nostalgia is easy once the danger is gone. During the years I spent in Times Square, I felt the dying embers of Old Broadway, a century of show biz, which was invented there. I loved the old days. And I guess I also loved the incoming Live Nude Girls, the peeps and burlesque; the way it intersected and cross-faded with old Irish bars and delicatessens, the faded glamour and Joe Franklin’s office. High life and low life, side by side. Of course, some of it descended into utter depravity on the street. What I hoped for was a compromise. Dial back some of the depravity, but keep a red light district in Times Square. Even if just one block, say 42nd between 6th & 7th, keep just one block for the millions of us who require a little decadence to stay sane. The city can have 50,000 other blocks for corporate domination and chains. But no, they had to bulldoze everything, to get rid of the social ills. No more ghetto entertainment or sex or urban spontaneity. A whole culture eliminated.

Why do you think people today are so nostalgic for 1970s Times Square? Is it a response to something lacking in the present moment?

The grit, the grime, and the attitude have been wiped clean. Is it possible that some millennials are beginning to realize that this total corporate domination and soulless architecture has a downside? Like no more wild west--which is what Times Square was. Pornography is not sex--but Times Square sex was a lot more interactive than internet porn. Neon is more beautiful than Godzilla-sized computer graphics. (But even neon was considered ugly and crass in the 1940s, by an earlier generation that preferred incandescent light bulbs). I say skip the nostalgia and bring it all back.

Listen to the tapes here.