Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to Loeser's Deli?"

My Nov. 30 "Who Goes There?" column for Eater took me to The Bronx for only the third time in the history of the feature. Here's the piece:

Who Goes There? Loeser's Deli
A year or so ago, I profiled Liebman's Deli in this space. At that time, the Riverdale section of The Bronx hosted a relative bonanza of pastrami and pickles. There were three, count 'em, three kosher delis. Since then, one of them, Skyview, has succumbed. That leave only a duece: Liebman's and this 51-year-old specimen.
Of the Riverdale kosher delis, Loeser's is the most modest, the most humble. It's barely a restaurant at all, though there are a few no-frills tables in back. It's also the only one where you're guaranteed to find the joint's namesake on hand. Freddy Loeser, a wiry, careworn character with the face of a Catskill tummler, is usually there to take your order, as well as extol the virtues of his wares should there be any question about it. "Best in the city!" he proclaims, pointing to a New York Daily News article that named Loeser's Pastrami the city's ultimate expression. In case you miss the article, the news is trumpeted on banners inside and outside the narrow, 231st Street storefront.
Who comes here, we asked. Mainly Riverdale folk? "People come from everywhere," said Loeser. "We've got a VERY GOOD reputation." This is probably very true. Though, when we were there, the visitors were all local, and Freddy knew each one of their names. "How was yesterday?" said one. "Very busy," said Freddy. "All day." The yesterday mentioned was Thanksgiving, and Loeser's was open for business.
At one point, a large Latino family entered. They clearly didn't know what they had stumbled upon and, after the kids groused a bit about the unfamiliar surroundings and menu, they departed. But the mother wandered back in and started asking questions. She knew something good when she saw it.
Loeser's was founded in 1960, when Freddy was just 17. (He used his bar mitzvah money to start the place.) Back then, Freddy's father Ernest handled the meat, later tutoring his son. The shop still has the feel of that era. There's wood paneling on the wall. The fridge is filled with every amiable flavor of Dr. Brown's. Specials are announced by cardboard signs, some of them handmade. "Hot Soup." "Hot Coffee." "Ice Cold Drinks." The one bit of out-of-sync weirdness is the large, Anglophilic, fox and hounds mural along the side of the wall.
The menu, by deli standards, is refreshingly succinct, with a limited number of choices. And the sandwiches, while advertised as "overstuffed," do not venture into Carnegie-Deli levels of excess. A single mouth can devour one handily. I had the pastrami. It was delicious—on the lean, as opposed to fatty side. Cole slaw was fresh. But the overdone fries needed work. The prices are not Carnegie level either. I had all over the above, plus a soda, and got change back on my $20.
—Brooks of Sheffield

Monday, 27 August 2012

A Good Sign: Gramercy Cafe

Get rid of the awning. The neon sign is all this cafe needs. In Gramercy Park.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Don't Ignore Form/Technique When Execising.

Form is not a matter of life or death, but it can be. It's just a matter of staying safe. Ignoring proper form especially for a beginner will cause problems down the road. It will teach them bad habits, and they will eventually injure themselves.

Do not sacrifice form for more weight. Weight should not concern you, technique should. It's better to start light than to look ridiculous pressing to

Monday, 20 August 2012

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Bring Out Your Dead: 2012 Roundup of Lost New York City Landmarks

Every year since I began this blog has seemed like a bad year for New York landmarks, with too many classic restaurants, bars and stores falling under the steamroller of progress. But somehow 2012 feels like one of the worst. Maybe that's because of the exceeding quality of the places that have closed. Any year that includes the exit of such irreplaceable establishments as Bill's Gay Nineties, Prime Burger, Donovan's Pub, Lascoff Drugs, Colony Music and Manganaro Grosseria Italiana has to be counted a black year. So, here is the final sad and sorrowful tally. 

Gone, Baby, Gone

Lenox Lounge, a 1930s, art deco, jazz icon, whose owner Alvin Reed decided not to renew his lease after the landlord doubled the rent. Richie Notar, the managing partner in the Nobu Restaurants group, will be taking over the space under a different name.
Bill's Gay Nineties, a Prohibition-era former speakeasy, which operated as a bar at this address for nearly a century, forced to close after its Ireland-based landlord would not renew the owning family's lease. It has reopened as Bill's Food & Drink, though the former owner took all the famous bars and interior artifacts with her.

Stage Deli, one of last of Manhattan's classic Jewish delis, closed after 75 years in response to an imminent rent hike.
Prime Burger, the classic midtown deli with the unique grade-school-desk-like, single-seater booths, after 74 years.
El Faro, the 85-year-old Greenwich Village Spanish restaurant.
The Tap & Grill, a holdover from Rockaway Beach's past of a beach-oriented summer funland.
Skyview Deli, a 62-year-old Riverdale kosher deli.
Hungarian Meat Market, an old Yorkville butcher that dates to the 1950s, and promised to reopen after a devastating 2011 fire, but has now closed for good, taking a lot of local Hungarian history with it.
Lafayette French Pastry, an 85-year-old Greenwich Village institution, run by three generations of the same family. 
Sokol Brothers Furniture Store, one of the last surviving holdouts from Columbia Street's past as a major Brooklyn commercial center.

Timboo's, a classic Park Slope dive, founded in 1969, now a bar called Skylark.
La Traviata, at 34 years old, one of the oldest businesses on Brooklyn Heights' Montague Street.
Crown Deli, an old school Jewish Deli in Borough Park, founded in 1960, and probably shuttered as a result of the scandal surrounding the owning Rubashkin family.
Lascoff Drugs, a frozen-in-time Lexington Avenue, Upper East Side landmark, after 113 years in business.
Colony Music, a Times Square icon, and throwback to the area's days as a music-making mecca, after a half century.
Holiday Cocktail Lounge, a historic East Village dive, one-time haunt of W.H. Auden and Allen Ginsberg, and a bar from Prohibition days.
Manganaro Grosseria Italiana, a 19th-century, Ninth Avenue Italian grocery, known for its timeless interior and irascible service.
Ben Benson's Steakhouse, a midtown institution, closed after 30 years, unable to meet an unreasonable rent hike.

Endangered Landmarks

Donovan's Pub, the landmark Woodside, Queens, bar and restaurant known for its peerless burgers, was put up for sale. For now, it's still open.
Gallagher's Steak House, an 85-year-old Times Square steakhouse that is changing hands, with its exact future in doubt.
Hinsch's Confectionary, the timeless Bay Ridge soda fountain, which closed in 2011, then reopened under new management, then closed again, then reopened again.


Leske's Bakery, the Bay Ridge remnant of the neighborhood's Swedish past, which closed, and then reopened under new management.

Might As Well Be Gone

O'Connor's, a wonderful old Park Slope dive, which has been so changed and renovated by its management (and remains closed for now), that it might as well be dead.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Sunny Twister Stepper with Handle Bar

Sunny Twister Stepper with Handle Bar

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Thursday, 9 August 2012

They Got the Number Right

The world is still waiting for Greenwich Village's classic speakeasy, Chumley's, to come back from the dead. But here's a good sign. The joint's iconic address is back up!

Many theorize that the term "86"—as in scram, nix that, lose that, get rid of that, cancel—derived from Chumley's address of 86 Bedford Street. Whenever the cops would raid the speakeasy, the bartender would get a heads up, and the patrons would quickly file out the back door into a courtyard that led to Barrow street. The customers were "86"'d.

I spoke to the new owner a few weeks ago. There had been various reports that the bar would open this fall. He told me the reports were inaccurate and that there was no guarantee that he's open for business by Dec. 31, although he wished he would. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was doubtful he would, though.

However, seeing the old number 86 back where it belongs warms the heart.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to John's Pizzeria?"

As the number of artisanal pizza options has risen in New York City over the last decade—as well as the pitch of the debate as to which serves the best and most authentic pie—I've come to rely on, and cherish, old standbys more and more: Totonno's, Arturo's, Patsy's, Sam's, and, of course, John's in Greenwich Village. Here's my latest "Who Goes There?" column from Eater:
Who Goes There? John's Pizzeria
John's Pizzeria doesn't get the respect accorded to other old New York pizza institutions, like Patsy's, Totonno's, or Di Fara. Nor does it get its due as a Greenwich Village icon the way places like the White Horse Tavern, Village Vanguard, or Cafe Reggio do. This, I imagine, is because it's a tourist magnet and perpetually filled to the gills with regular (i.e., uncool) people.
But, for me, John's holds up. The plain pie is not the city's crowing achievement of the pizzaiola's art. But it's good enough to be a standard bearer. The tang of its sauce and the char of the crust are remarkably consistent; the coal-fired brick ovens are still doing their job. I've never had an unsatisfying pie there. And, unlike Lombardi's—another landmark in New York pizza history, but one that is now a theme-park shell of what it once was—John's has retained its character. The main room—with its high, red tin ceilings, twitching ceiling fans, vintage concert posters, and battered wooden booths etched with the names of decades of whittling patrons—is simply one of the greatest, New Yorkiest spaces in the city. One can imagine the Italian denizens of Bleecker Street eating here in the 1930s and '40s; the jazzmen and beatniks of the '50s; the folkies and flower children of the '60s. History lives here.
Despite its reputation as a fave of the weekend bridge-and-tunnel tribe, John's still gets plenty of locals. It also attracts a lot of families, because no one blinks at kids being kids here. I recently dined here with eight tweens, and they couldn't have felt more at home. They inhaled the slices and happily poured themselves glass after glass of Coke from plastic pitchers. They also found the ancient bathrooms an infinite source of fascination.
John's was founded in 1929 by John Sasso, who reportedly learned his trade at Lombardi's (as did the founders of Totonno's and Patsy's). The original pizzeria was on Sullivan Street. When Sasso lost his lease, he dismantled the brick oven and moved it to the present location on Bleecker. There it has stayed. Sasso sold the pizzeria to his brother in 1955. It was eventually taken over, in 1973, by Sasso's great-grandnephews, Peter Castellotti and Robert Vittoria. It's still run by Peter (who was born in a building directly across the street from the restaurant) and his children, Peter Jr. and Lisa. During the Castellotti reign, John's began to expand. There are now three other restaurants, including a massive one in a former church space in Times Square. The latter is always swamped, with 45 minutes waits, because it's one of the only affordable eating options in the Theatre District. The pizza, however, doesn't match what's served up on Bleecker Street. You can't duplicate the effects of an 83-year-old oven. 
—Brooks of Sheffield

Saturday, 4 August 2012

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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Carving Your Name in the Fallen Tree Trunk

The trunk of the old Carroll Park tree that was felled by Hurricane Sandy on the south side of the park still lays there. A parks worker told me they were going to remove it, and the metal fence it crushed, soon. In the meantime, locals are making the best out of a bad situation. Some have stopped to count the rings (just as I did a while back). 126 rings, they insist. Others are using it as if it were still a standing tree on some lover's lane. No one's been as industrious as to carve their names in the trunk, but they have used magic marker. Kinda sweet. "Yeah," observed the parks worker. "Some people gotta lot of imagination."