Despite the name, and its jaunty Parisian sign, there’s nothing particularly French about Rue B. Indeed, the brilliant collection of black-and-white photographs which clutter the walls is a open-hearted celebration of mid-20th century American cultural or sporting greatness. The effect is quite comforting: these photographs attract your gaze, to the extent that each photo becomes so familiar, each time I return Rue B feels more and more like a second home.
The bathroom is devoted solely to Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. But Rue B, one of a string of establishments on Alphabet City’s Avenue B whose name references the address (B-Cup, B-Side, Bee Liquors), is something rare and special, somehow managing to be a bar, restaurant and jazz lounge. When lights are low a tight three-piece combo swings in the corner, under the watchful gaze of an aging Chet Baker. Last Tuesday I had an excellent cocktail, but I also love the brunch: how could anyone resist something called “Eggs Corleone”?
Drop Off Service is a bar on Avenue A, near the corner of 13th Street in the East Village. Having recently moved to the neighbourhood, I have no hesitations in calling it my new “local”. The bar gets its name from a large etched sign in the window — apparently it used to be a laundromat (ironically I usually go here for a pint while I’m waiting for my laundry). Due to its location Drop Off Service is obviously best enjoyed on a week night or weekend afternoon, where during a long happy hour you can sit back and sample some fine local and European beers. Refreshingly, there’s no big screen TV, instantly eliminating the frat boy crowd in search of college football. To top it all the joint boasts a jukebox selection which may or may not have been inspired by my own record collection. Steely Dan’s greatest hits is disc number 01 — what more could anyone ask for?
I finally tried popular West Village spot Corner Bistro recently, after reading rave reviews in New York magazine. I wasn’t disappointed. The burgers are among the best (and cheapest) in the city, even if they overcook the bacon for my taste. But where else in Manhattan can you find draft beer for $2.50? They play a nice mix of late-’50s R’n’B and Be-Bop with the occasional Stones track thrown in, and there are three TV screens showing three different sporting events, all of which keeps you entertained enough as you join a lengthy queue for a table. Last night I went back with my girlfriend and we sat at the bar, where such aforementioned pleasures combined to the point where I almost achieved a blissful sensory overload. Burger heaven.
David Lynch-inspired graffiti at Corner Bistro in the West Village.
One of the many great reasons to live below 14th Street, the Yaffa Café on St. Mark’s Place is arguably the East Village’s quintessential post-anything after-hours venue. As the giant mural outside screams, Yaffa is “open all nite”, and the ’80s downtown vibe continues inside with its kitsch decor, quirky regulars and unexpected music. Where else can you enjoy a glass of hot chocolate at four in the morning while listening to the Sugarcubes?
My MoMA internship ended on Friday. Three months have flown by, and I have no idea what I am going to do next. I have a return ticket booked for Europe in January, but I’m actually hoping don’t have to use it. Anyway, I’m not the only one in that predicament, and in an attempt to celebrate our time at MoMA Sefra invited a group of the now-former interns to her home in Connecticut for the weekend.
So after work on Friday we boarded a train at Grand Central Station on the Metro-North New Haven line and bound for Greens Farms, near Westport, CT. A giant painted mural of Jerry Garcia greets you at the front door of Sefra’s family home, giving only a glimpse as to the decorative eccentricities which await inside. If this house has not yet featured in Architectural Digest I can’t think why. The place is a beautiful example of New England artsy-liberalism befitting its quirky baby-boomer owners. The rustic kitchen gives way to a comfortable living area into which sofas and chaise-longues seem to have been dropped almost liberally. A giant clock face acts as a coffee table, while original artwork hangs on every wall. Sefra’s mother’s home office is like a little piece of South Beach with its pink-stripey floors and Venetian blinds.
Sefra took us on a tour of the garden, from where she pointed out another house closer to the beach. This is owned by Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein, who had erected a huge white marquee for the reception of his impending wedding to fashion designer Georgina Chapman. After a long evening of lounging, we went to bed (I slept on the couch), and in the morning we drove into town to buy ingredients for breakfast, which we cooked back at the house to the sound of Bob Dylan’s Modern Times. Cat made scrambled eggs, or uova alla Rossi as they soon became dubbed, while Sefra initially refused to eat my “raw” bacon, something I put down to Americans’ habit of overcooking it to the point of brittleness. After breakfast everyone went for a walk on the beach, but I stayed behind so I could wash the dishes and give Bob another listen.
On the train back to New York, I realised I will miss MoMA, but definitely not as much as some of the people I met there. Together we formed a fast and quite unexpected bond, simply through shared experience I suppose, plus a conscious effort by most of us to get to know one another. Even Larissa said it was the first time this had happened amongst her interns, which made it feel like some kind of special achievement. I guess now all that’s left is figure out what to do with the rest of our lives…
Chelsea at dawn as viewed from Sefra’s bathroom window.
On Friday night I was invited along with a few of the MoMA gang to a party held at Sefra’s Chelsea loft. I never figured out how many people actually live there, but much of the sprawling apartment acts as a studio for an artist who I met briefly, and whose strange styrofoam sculptures dominate the kitchen and hall. The apartment is accessed from the roof, which was partially bathed in light by the looming Empire State Building which rose from behind. To help withstand the bitter temperatures we rigged up lights and toasted marshmallows huddled around a small fire. Sefra also did her bit by cooking up some apple cider with Jim Beam which was definitely welcomed. By dawn the view was even more impressive, and a warm, delicate, morning glow picked out the nearby water towers and buildings as far away as the financial district. It wasn’t long before Joni inevitably popped into my head:
The first time I stopped at Abraço, a tiny espresso bar on East 7th Street, they were re-doing the floor so my individually-dripped coffee was offered to me free of charge as I stood in the doorway. I went back when the work was finished and got chatting to Jamie, the friendly and slightly energetic owner. Putting my experience of romance languages to use, I asked him if “abraço” means “hug” in Portuguese but he quickly cut me off: “Embrace,” he calmly revealed, obviously recognizing an enormous difference. Jamie likes to spin vinyl samba records as he makes your espresso, and was quick to reveal Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso has an apartment in the neighbourhood. Soon after Jamie and I actually ran into each other at the singer-songwriter’s concert outside the Nokia Theater near Times Square. Abraço sells Sanbitter in little bottles, but alas no Campari Soda — for that you need a liquor license. Did I mention the coffee is among the best in town?
I’d wanted to visit the Empire Diner ever since I saw John Baeder’s painting of it on the cover of the Tom Waits album, Asylum Years. Roughly twenty years later on a cold Sunday evening in November I got my chance. Though perhaps the quintessential New York diner, this 24-hour Chelsea eatery is far from your average truck-stop, but more a paean to a bygone age.
The food is refined, the Art Deco decor positively glistens, and there’s a hushed atmosphere after-hours. There’s even a pianist tinkling in a corner — he played Leon Russell’s “Song For You” as I sat at the shiny black counter, while reflected in the mirrored walls the yellow cabs silently glided up Tenth Avenue.
Posted in Architecture, Bars & Restaurants, Chelsea, Late night, Music, Nostalgia
Tagged Asylum Years, Empire Diner, Leon Russell, Song For You, Tenth Avenue, Tom Waits
Love Saves The Day is a second-hand store on the corner of Second Avenue and 7th Street. I walk past it every day on the way to the subway. It sells clothes and toys and all kinds of pop memorabilia — it’s essentially a paean to 1980s fashions and culture. Today I discovered it’s the same store which featured in the Madonna movie Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). Some mix-up concerning a jacket and Rosanna Arquette if I recall. Probably the only half-decent film La Ciccone ever made, although it’s perhaps deservedly best remembered for this song:
On Friday I took the 6 train up to the Upper East Side. I got off at 103rd Street, and walked from Lexington Avenue, under Park Avenue where the train goes over, and to Fifth Avenue. At 100th Street I arrived at the Museum of the City of New York, a somewhat awkwardly-titled institution which celebrates the history, culture and greatness of this city. The exhibitions ranged from jazz-age photos of skyscrapers to the history of theater to the glory days of New York baseball. It was fascinating and beautifully presented. The highlight however was a short film — narrated by actor Stanley Tucci — telling the moving story of how New York came to be and why it is like it is.
It was one of those lovely, drizzly autumn days, and so after the museum I walked down Fifth Avenue by the park. Eventually I cut inside and wandered over to Second Avenue. There are many beautiful blocks in-between, and many nice shops and restaurants in that neighbourhood. Among them is Elaine’s, once the hangout for the intellectual A-list and still catering to those celebrities who don’t go by acronyms and who are just old enough to remember a time when a BlackBerry was just a fruit. The first scene of Manhattan (1979) takes place at Elaine’s, where Woody Allen is fretting to his friends about his 17 year-old girlfriend. Later I walked down to First Avenue and under the Queensboro Bridge. I saw the spot where I watched the July 4th fireworks in 1999, and I stopped at Sutton Place to admire the view. This also featured in Manhattan, and on the movie’s iconic poster.
I like a Gershwin tune. How about you?
Posted in Bars & Restaurants, Film, General NYC musings, Museums, Music, Nostalgia, Upper East Side
Tagged Elaine's, Manhattan, Museum of the City of New York, Sutton Place, Woody Allen