Archive for the ‘New York is different’ Category

Tue 1 Sep 2009 10:00 am   //   Posted in: Books, Brooklyn, New York is different

“Sentimental value”

I saw this sign recently near my apartment. I think it sums up the kind of neighborhood I live in:


Mon 15 Jun 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: New York is different, Travel

Times Square Without Cars


Times Square is like a whole other place now that they’ve shut down Broadway to vehicles. Not sure yet if it’s better. Here’s hoping the city has bigger landscaping ambitions than scraped asphalt and traffic cones.

Tue 9 Jun 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different

The ghosts of Non Stop Discount

This is one of my favorite buildings in my neighborhood, at 19th and 5th Avenue. Why do I like it so much?

Because when you walk by it, all you see is Non Stop Discount, a pretty typical Brooklyn variety store. (They have great prices on fans.) But the more you look, the more you see. Stand back and it’s clear this building used to be a bunch of other things. At the top, there’s a sign for BA Furniture. Below that, there’s an even-more faded logo for Frost Stores. The words “Warehouse Outlet” are there, too, along with callouts for “Washers” and “Televisions” and other faded things. Below the Non Stop Discount signage, there’s even fresher paint: graffiti tags.

This building is probably 100 or 120 years old. How many different coats of paint have been on it? How many different stores has it contained? Did any of them make anybody rich, or drive anybody to ruin?

I like to live in a neighborhood that has ghosts. People here reuse old shells with the resourcefulness of hermit crabs.

Sat 6 Jun 2009 12:32 pm   //   Posted in: New York is different, Stray data

Forgotten Astor Place history: Shakespeare riot!

One great thing about New York is that the longer you live here, the more historical trivia you learn. It’s a bottomless well.

Consider where I work. My office abuts Astor Place, a weird block-and-a-half street between the East and West Villages in New York. It’s part of a tangle of streets that merger near Cooper Union, an area rich in history, arts and architecture. I could fill a page listing all the random stuff that I know has happened there, from Abraham Lincoln speaking to the filming of the original “Taking of Pelham 123” movie.

Today I read an article about rude behavior at theaters, and it made a passing reference to the Astor Place Riot. Why had I never heard of this? Naturally, there’s an illuminating page about it on Wikipedia.

One hundred sixty years ago, there were two stagings of Macbeth at theaters a few blocks apart, one starring a famous British actor and the other a famous American. Audiences were sharply divided over which actor played the Shakespeare role better. The tension had as much to do with class and nationality as it did with theater. On May 10, 1849, the simmering dispute boiled over into violence. The National Guard used their weapons to restore order. In the end, 25 people were dead and at least 120 were injured.

The riot happened at the Astor Place Theater, which today is known as the more-or-less permanent home of the Blue Man Group.

Thu 28 May 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: New York is different, Photos

Is that supposed to be a building or what?

One of the most interesting new buildings I’ve seen recently is the new Cooper Union building in the East Village.

Tue 19 May 2009 7:13 am   //   Posted in: Food & drink, New York is different

Does food taste better from a truck?

It’s Mister Softee season, but old-school ice cream trucks risk being driven out of town by a new wave of gourmet food trucks now overrunning New York. Of course there’s the Mud Truck (pictured in a Holga photo from March 2008), actually a fleet of trucks that have been pouring strong black coffee for years. But now there are more. Unlike conventional ice cream trucks, these new gourmet food carts don’t blast computerized music while cruising slowly up your block. They show up somewhere and park for the day. CNet had a story yesterday about food trucks using Twitter to tell people where they are.

In Union Square, a new truck offers pizza, which is incredible given the amount of heat required to make pizza. (The entire back of this truck is an industrial oven. It must weigh ten tons.) A Belgian waffle truck makes regular weekend appearances in Park Slope, and presumably elsewhere. I spotted a gourmet ice cream truck parked at Union and 5th in the Slope last week, painted with pastel colors and descriptive copy about all-natural ingredients. Imagine that: An ice cream truck!

If you were to start a food truck, what would you sell?

Also, where would you use the bathroom and wash your hands?

Sat 25 Apr 2009 4:54 pm   //   Posted in: New York is different

“Central Park Green” is a real paint color

It’s the first really warm day of spring, and it’s a hell of a day to be in Spanish Harlem. I joined some volunteers for a New York Cares “Hands on New York Day” project at Thomas Jefferson Park up on 112th Street. I was part of a team painting a wall, some others did some gardening. Ambient sound: Kids playing baseball, dogs yipping, and the din of cars on the FDR. In the distance, Metro North trains passed on the overhead track out of Grand Central, and across the river the Amtraks crossed the Hell Gate Bridge. Pizza arrived for lunch, it had fried chicken on it. Our volunteer team included people from the Nielsen Company, JP Morgan Chase and News Corp. We chatted with the parks guys, got dirt and paint under our fingernails, and felt good about doing work.

Fri 17 Apr 2009 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Food & drink, Hard times, New York is different

There’s always a recession at Gray’s Papaya

Gray’s Papaya is the most famous of Manhattan’s many hot dog lunch counters. Gray’s has locations all over town, and like its many clones, it sells pretty good dogs and dubious fruit drinks. When I moved to New York, I was immediately amused by Gray’s signage. The owner likes to use current events to promote deals on hot dogs, and back in 2002, big signs in the windows advertised a “Recession Special!” That slogan is copied all over the place, but Gray’s basically owns the idea.

In fact, in the last seven years, I don’t think Gray’s Papaya has ever stopped offering a Recession Special. After all, it takes a year or so to know when a recession has started or ended, but it only takes a minute to sell a hot dog.

Fri 27 Mar 2009 10:00 am   //   Posted in: Hard times, New York is different

Also, don’t bother run the spell check.

(Seen this week at an office building on Lafayette Street in the city.)

Sat 21 Mar 2009 10:00 am   //   Posted in: New York is different, Photos


After years of delay, steel is finally rising above grade at the World Trade Center site. March 17, 2009.

(Update: That steel is going to become the Freedom Tower, which will be New York’s tallest building… assuming they finish it. There’s a story in the Wall Street Journal today about the progress at the WTC site, and it’s not reassuring: Developer of 9/11 Site Seeks Aid.)