new york city

Watching NYC turn into Mall of America

Posted by on Feb 22, 2008 | 0 comments

Over the past 25 years, Manhattan has slowly transformed from a place with seemingly unlimited local flavor to one that looks more and more like every other place in these States of America: a big strip mall.

The small bookstores disappear one by one, replaced by Barnes and Noble superstores. The many hardware stores, where you could stop by to get a single nail or a knife sharpened or tips on how to fix your sink, have all but gone the way of the Dodo bird, as Home Depot moves in. Small eateries move out and banks move in. You can walk three blocks and find another Starbuck’s, or a 7 – Eleven, or a Dunkin Donuts, or a Duane Reade drug store, but that small coffee house, or that little tobacco stand or that local sweet shop and donut store are all gone.

Some of it is due to the race to increase rent revenue by landlords, forcing once thriving and profitable businesses to close, some of it is the result of a struggling economy. But, this story is particularly hard to take since it combines the greed of an increased rent and personal tragedy in what one can only sum up as a life lesson.

Eater reports (and Urbanite at AM New York confirms) that the Upper West Side mainstay Cafe La Fortuna will be closing soon. A quick and hard end for a true New York original.

From Urbanite:

The Upper West Side cafe was a favorite hang-out of John Lennon and Yoko Ono – and until early last year when Trapani gave it to Yoko, the couple’s table was featured in a front window. The interior is still decorated with Lennon photos and memorabilia.

Randy Smith, a 50-year-old legal word processor, who has lived above the restaurant for 17 years told Urbanite a waitress first told him last week the cafe was set to close and then last night he saw the notice confirming the sad rumor.

“I’ve been going there for the iced cappuccino and chocolate Italian ice for 17 years. I don’t know where I’m going to go now,” Smith lamented.

Confused patrons saw the sign this morning before the cafe opened, and knocked on the glass looking for explanations. The cafe has been a stalwart independent in a neighborhood increasingly eaten up by chains.

“It’s like a boutique coffee shop, it’s not a chain coffee shop. It’s an Old World Italian café where you can linger and talk and be surrounded by music and it’s comfortable, and when we lose places like that, the city loses a little bit of soul,” Halliday said over the phone this morning.

She first heard rumors of the closing when a customer wrote a note to the cafe’s Web site address, asking if the place was set to shut down – and then she called Trapani.

“He sounded very sad, like resignation,” Halliday said. “He said, ‘Things change and we have to change with them.”

La Fortuna was an oasis in the city, the place I’d take friends and visiting family during the hot summer days, to sit in the backyard patio and drink an iced cappuccino and share a cheese cake. It was an experience not unlike one in faraway Florence, or Venice.

Having gone there for some 25 years now, it will be a loss of part of the cities collective soul. Cafe La Fortuna is a great example of what has made NYC one of the great cities of the world, a place we all call home and which is populated with people and cafes just like any small town around the world. Here’s a nice slideshow of La Fortuna.

John Lennon understood this simple truth of course, for a very specific reason. He frequented La Fortuna because it was where he could be himself, read the morning paper, unwind, where no one would bother him, the crazy world outside would stop for just awhile, no autographs, no “when are the Beatles going to get back together?”, just life, time and space to be savored, and enjoyed. He’d talk to his fellow locals about politics and parenting.

Such an elemental experience simply does not exist at a Starbuck’s. It doesn’t. And, as Cafe La Fortuna fades away, so does a bit of that community we all crave, pushing us to seek it in other ways- online probably- that are mere shells of what we once had.

There is something to be said for places that allow one of the most famous faces in the world a bit of solace and comfort and the opportunity to be just one person amongst many enjoying the day.

Can you imagine Lennon sitting in a Starbuck’s? You can not. And, therein lay the great sad tragedy of what NYC is becoming, symbolized in the loss of a simple cafe.

Nuff said.

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Grand Central

Posted by on Dec 16, 2007 | 0 comments

What I see in NYC.

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What I see in NYC.

Posted by on Sep 28, 2007 | 0 comments

Looking through the passageway at the fountain in Bethesda Terrace in Central Park. Was walking home from midtown. One of my favorite places in the city. It reminds me of the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris.

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Led Zeppelin survivors plus one to reunite

Posted by on Sep 13, 2007 | 0 comments

Led Zep is poised to reunite (with the son of the late John Bonham behind the drum kit) for what is being reported as a full set of songs for a tribute concert in honor of the late Atlantic records founder Ahmet Ertegun.

My introduction to Zeppelin was via the movie The Song Remains the Same, and while I don’t expect the upcoming reunion show to reach that pinnacle (the loss of Bonham is just too great the years too many), it will be nice to see the old bones together again. Something from that movie to whet the palate:

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hilly kristal kicks a hole in the sky

Posted by on Aug 31, 2007 | 0 comments

CBGB founder Hilly Kristal has passed away after a long battle with lung cancer. He gave an interesting and heartfelt interview recently, in which he is obviously aware that the final curtain is upon this part of his journey. Farewell.

The closing of CB’s was a sore spot for me for a lot of reasons- it’s an example of how NYC is dying to a cultural and artistic way of life chief among them- but, mostly because it was a great place to be. There is no place like it around today. It was an original.

Here’s a little sample of the energy that CB’s could generate. It’s terrible video, and not great sound, but the room was packed like this all the time. Straight Ahead (who some consider to be one of the greats from NYHC) performs “Knockdown” in 1986.

Anyone who can name the big bruiser in the background on the stage with the band (wearing a football jersey) gets special bonus points.

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Sonic Youth Saturday

Posted by on Jul 29, 2007 | 0 comments

Teenage Riot.

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what I see

Posted by on May 14, 2007 | 0 comments

… in NYC.

Desconsol (Grief) by Josep Llimona at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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off the beaten path

Posted by on Apr 5, 2007 | 0 comments

I’ll be posting pictures from time to time from my camera phone of things that I see here in NYC and on my journeys elsewhere. The idea is to post images that most people might not be aware of… off the beaten path so to speak.

Most people probably wouldn’t think that there are baseball cards on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But, here they are, albeit tucked in a little known Mezzanine area in the American Wing.

Clockwise from the top left: Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin of the Bronx Bombers.

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