(In Red Hook on Conover Street btwn Reed & Beard Streets)
I’ve written about Sunny’s before, but I’m here now to tell you that Sunny’s needs your help. This wonderful bar is in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and as many of you know, Red Hook was hit hard by the storm. Sunny’s did not escape damage.
Head on over to Kickstarter to help reopen Sunny’s, or head to Hamilton Gallery Theater on Saturday for another fundraiser. Their Kickstarter project has some really great rewards, including a miniature version of their awesome neon sign. Help out if you can!
Dublin House Tap Room
(On the Upper West Side on W 79th Street between Broadway & Amsterdam)
I’ve been to the Dublin House Tap Room quite a few times since I started this project (though I didn’t always bring my camera), but haven’t done a proper post yet. And I’m still not doing one! I will say it’s one of the most memorable neon signs in New York, and a wonderful bar (especially on weeknight evenings, or early on — but then I’m an old fogey who likes quietish bars when you can hear yourself think).
You guys, the day job has been taking up more of my energy than usual lately — I apologize in advance for what will likely be a slight slowdown in the neon department for the next couple of months (not a stoppage, just a bit of an ebb). Happily, though, I’ve got a lot of neon fun to work on this weekend, some of which I’ll tell you about later, but one thing I’ll share now, which is the reason for posting the picture above: I’m reading Jef Klein’s book The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York, because I’m going to be giving a short introduction to her upcoming talk:
The History of the Dublin House & Irish Pubs on the Upper West Side
An informal talk by Jef Klein, author of
The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York
Introduction by Kirsten Hively of Project Neon
$10 for the general public, free for Landmarks West members
Thursday March 22, 6:30 PM
The back room of Dublin House, at 225 West 79th Street
You should come!
Campanile Restaurant (formerly the Weathervane Inn)
(In Midtown on E 29th Street between Madison & Park Avenues)
I came across this sign for Campanile Restaurant back in March, but I knew I had to go back for a proper visit after I heard from Nancy Levine, granddaughter of the proprietor of a former incarnation, the Weathervane Inn. Nancy (author, by the way, of The Tao of Pug) told me that her grandfather, Nat Levine, came to New York from Poland in the 1920s. He was an electrician, and did electrical work as a contractor for restaurants before opening his own: The Milk Bar on Nassau Street. He later opened the Weathervane Inn, a family business eventually taken over by his sons Paul (who also played piano in the restaurant) and Irwin. Nancy recalls that her mother pitched in, too, at one point handing out flyers on the street advertising a lobster tail lunch for $5.99.
Nancy asked her mother about her memories of the Weathervane Inn, and she recalled that the neon sign was considered important enough that they carried a service contract that meant the minute a single letter went out a service person immediately came to fix it. She also noted that the building was owned by the Bartenders Union, so anyone who wanted to tend bar — even the owners — had to be full union members.
Nancy also remembers her father bringing home autographs from famous patrons, including Joe Namath, Lauren Bacall, and Joe Louis. That’s quite a clientele!
In 1973 the restaurant was sold, and then sold again at some point to the current owners. It’s now a pretty fancy (and pricey) Italian restaurant. When I stopped by the Maitre d’ and bartender (and maybe also the owner? I should have asked) peaked out from behind the lace curtains in the window then stepped outside. He beckoned that I should continue photographing if I liked, and when I told him I admired his neon sign, he evidenced great pride in it. He said he had looked into getting it repainted, but that it turned out to be prohibitively expensive (he said it was like auto paint — powder coated). I don’t mind. I like the patina, and except for one temporarily flickering “E” (to the left in the photo above), the neon was in perfect order.
Isn’t the lettering on this sign interesting? It looks almost calligraphic, especially the strokes on the S and E. And I love the merest hint of a serif on the top left of the As, Rs, and N. Plus as I’ve said before, the shift among shades of pink and red is one of my all time favorite neon characteristics. One day I’ll learn the science behind it, but for now I’ll just admire the character it gives older signs.
I also like that this sign is triangular, angled to catch the eyes of people bustling down Madison and Park Avenues to either side. I also like the simple “BAR” at the bottom. Its curved lettering, tightly kerned, nicely sets off the more generously spaced vertical letters of “Restaurant.”
As I mentioned, it’s a pretty pricey place — a couple of cocktails, a small baked clam appetizer, and a bread basket set us back nearly $50 before tips (not quite the $5.99 lobster tail lunch of yore), but everything was quite good. The inside is pleasant though unremarkable. Alas, the Project Neon budget does not allow too many visits to the pricey side of the neon tracks, but I’m very glad I made it to Campanile, née the Weathervane Inn. Long may its neon shine. Many thanks to Nancy and her family for sharing the history behind this classic sign.
(in Midtown on 8th Avenue btwn 30th & 31st Streets)
The esteemed Grade “A” Fancy recently reminded me that I had not yet added the Blarney Stone’s Midtown sign to my collection. Alas, the bar the sign hangs in front of is dreadful — see Grade “A” Fancy for full details — so if you’re taking a neon walk, I’d recommend stopping to admire the sign, then grabbing a drink elsewhere. I did, in fact, stop in for a drink, but it was a loud, boring, characterless place as far as I could tell.
The sign isn’t in great shape: the other side is mostly out and “Restaurant” is off on this side. It isn’t easy to see, either, on this chaotic block, but it’s classic with the Irish green Blarney Stone lettering and the neon-red BAR tilted just a bit towards the establishment in question, with the top serifs giving a feeling of speed. Run in now! Except, as I said, the bar is terrible, so run the other way instead.
If you do run the other way, you’ll find yourself across the street in D’Aiuto bakery (I was reminded that I also needed to stop by here by the always informative New York Neon blog, which recently delved into the history of Grauer Signs, including this one) , and get a cheesecake or a cannolo (or several cannoli). I can’t recommend anything else here, but those two deserts are spot-on. Whether you need a snack on your way to Penn Station or revivification after an exhausting journey out of town, this is a classic (if somewhat utilitarian) sweet spot. No seats, though, so you’ll have to eat as you go or carry it to more hospitable environs.
The illuminated yellow plastic here really cheapens the look of the sign for me, but the lettering of D’Aiuto is fantastic. The flourish on the O, the tapering of the curve on the D (thicker on top to match the slab serifs on the other letters), and the angle of the apostrophe are all great. Plus pink seems to be the right color for bakeries, don’t you think?
Help Wanted Do you know what this sign says? Is it a name? I believe it’s Russian, but I’m not 100% positive. I saw it in Fort Hamilton. If you have any info, please let me know at heyprojectneon *at* gmail or @heyprojectneon. Thanks!
(in SoHo on Prince Street at Mercer Street)
After a move at Angelika the other night (where there’s a cool neon-accented chandelier I should take a picture of sometime), I stopped in at Fanelli. Or is it Fanelli’s? I never know. Possessives aside, it’s a warm, welcoming, and most importantly affordable pub in the midst of the fancy finery of Soho. You can usually find a seat (there’s a big back room if you can’t squeeze in at the bar) and it’s generally a pretty convivial place. Some of the bartenders are better than others, but the burgers & fries are good, and they generally stock Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout, the best beer for an autumnal evening, if you ask me, so I’m always happy to stop in.
The entrance is cut from the corner with a thin, cast iron column to bear the weight of the building above. Jutting above your head as you step up to enter is this neon sign, with a just slightly bluer Fanelli on the reverse. Simple, but a winning color combination, and the lettering in Cafe is beautifully done.
PPS: Have you noticed there’s an update to the Project Neon app? It should show up automatically in your App Store app and includes Foursquare integration, so you can check in via the app. It also solves a mysterious loading problem that appeared out of the blue, so I recommend updating when you can.
PPS: The Project Neon show is still up at the City Reliquary—you can see it Saturdays & Sundays from noon until 6p. I’ve also dropped off some items for their little gift shop including a couple of vest pocket guides, some small photos, and some posters. I’m also making some new new small posters (probably 8x10) and working out the best way to sell things online. Right now a few things are here. Would you rather they were listed on Etsy or Supermarket or somewhere similar? [The Tumblr question/response thingy doesn’t want to work, so you can leave a comment below, use the ? link at the top of the webpage, or send an email to heyprojectneon at gmail to let me know what you think. Thanks!]
(in Brooklyn Heights on Atlantic Avenue at Hicks Street)
Can you believe it—I had never been inside Montero’s until this evening. I can’t explain or excuse it, but that’s the truth. It’s been a rough week. A great week, but exhausting. After seeing my friend Jason’s show nearby, I walked over to Montero’s for a much needed drink.
It’s always a little sad to see caged neon, but Montero’s sign is wonderful enough I don’t mind. It’s all simple, single-stroke letters, but with a classic mid-century look. I especially love the taller second L in Grill and the curved capital N in Wines (is there a word for that?)
I apologize for using an old photo—the excellent second pair of blue stripes is now working—but the threat of rain and the daily commuting squash made it seem easier to use these photos from January. I’m missing the big photo walks, though. It’s been great getting the app together, putting the show up, and fielding all the emails and requests, but I haven’t had enough time for photographic wandering. Soon, I hope—my to do list of neon to photograph is long!
Thanks to everyone who came to the Project Neon show at the City Reliquary! If you didn’t make it yet, it will be up for a while (I’ll let you know when I find out the end date), and contrary to what you may have seen elsewhere, they are open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6p. The Reliquary is a volunteer-run place, so please give a donation if you can. And if you picked up a flyer, you may notice a few mistakes… revised flyers have been placed. There is still one small thing in the show I’ve yet to change. Did you spot it? It’s on the main wall.
Welcome to all the many new subscribers! You can also follow along on Flickr and Twitter. If you have an iPhone, download the free Project Neon app (and yes, I am looking into translating it to other platforms).
Important news: I’m going to wander Wisconsin’s Northwoods for the next week, looking at trees & waterfalls, visiting small taverns, and eating as much cheese as I can manage (believe me, I can manage a LOT of cheese). I will probably be largely out of cell phone range, and at the rate emails have been piling up it may be awhile before I am able to return messages. Please be patient! You may even see a few examples of Wisconsin neon showing up in the old Flickr stream…
(In Red Hook on Conover Street btwn Reed & Beard Streets)
Pardon the repetition, but things have been a little crazy here in New York City this week. We’re hunkered down now, waiting for the hurricane (it just started raining hard). My apartment is on relatively high ground so there’s little danger of flooding, but a power outage seems likely. Scout, Mojo, and I have stocked the larders and battened the hatches, though, so I’m sure we’ll be fine.
Last night Paul & I went to Sunny’s to calm our jittery pre-hurricane nerves. Sunny’s is so snug, and warm, and welcoming, it’s pretty much the best place to be. It’s in the evacuation zone so it’s closed up now, but last night, tucked into the end of the bar and looking down the room past amiable faces to the friendly glow of the anchor & fish in the window, all felt right with the world. A good antidote for too much fretting.
Of course I’m worried about my fellow New Yorkers (and others up and down the Eastern Seaboard), but I’m also worried for New York’s neon signs. Too often uncaring owners use wind damage as an excuse to scrap lovely signs—I hope it doesn’t happen this time.
I’m printing and packing Kickstarter rewards until the power goes out, and this weekend I’ll start beta-testing the app (very excited for this!). Oh, and the Observer posted an article about neon (including a big section on Project Neon) in Sunday’s edition. Very cool! [Edit: there’s a slideshow, too, with some of my photos—though the photo of me in front of Katz’s didn’t make the cut…]
That’s all from here. If the subways are up and running on Monday and I can get around, I’ll check out some signs and file a report. In the mean time, everyone stay safe!
PS: I nearly forgot to say—the Project Neon photo show is set to open on Friday September 23 at the City Reliquary. More details soon!
(in the West Village on W 4th St btwn Charles & W 10th Streets)
Project Neon is all about celebrating the great stuff we’ve got (and other people have the history stuff covered better than I could), but I hope you can allow me one moment of fond recollection for Fedora. If you’re not in the mood for nostalgia, I understand—I’ll see you back here next week!
The Fedora sign still presides over the block of West Fourth Street between Charles Street and West Tenth Street (ah, the confounding geography of the West Village!) and there is still a restaurant & bar called Fedora there (which some people quite like), but it is worlds away from the affable, affordable, inimitable place that came before. Kudos to the new owners, though, for replacing the old sign with a very similar one (the new one is pictured here). That does make me happy.
The old sign had better colors (pink & green! classic!), but the new sign maintains the quirky shape and curved-A lettering. It’s a simple sign, but welcoming and particular—what a neon sign should be.
I have to confess that I can’t bring myself to try the new Fedora. It looked too… too, if you know what I mean, when I stopped by to take the picture above. Uncharacteristically, I think I’d rather keep my memories of the old Fedora intact than give the new place a shot. Maybe that’s a sign of getting old. I know the city changes (that’s what keeps it alive) and countless great new things open all the time, but sometimes I just can’t bring myself to let go of the past.
I only went to Fedora a few times (one of my great regrets), but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more welcome anywhere ever. I wrote a brief post about my last visit that you can read at Catasterist. Wow, I’m tearing up a little just thinking about it. Fedora was, as I said, nothing fancy but everything special. Here’s to the memories!
(in Washington Heights on Broadway at 180th Street)
Have you read this week’s New Yorker? You should, because Project Neon is the Talk of the Town! New Yorker writer Raffi Khatchadourian came along on a recent neon expedition (which included Reynold’s) and wrote about it for the The New Yorker.
I’m so pleased about this, both because it was really great to meet Raffi and talk with him about New York’s neon (while dashing around to several neon hotspots), and because I can’t believe my little project is featured in such an august publication. I think it might be time to renew my loooooong dormant New Yorker subscription, don’t you?
(E 60th St btwn Lexington & 3rd Avenues)
Thanks to everyone who came out to the Subway Inn tonight! It’s kind of loud and, well, green inside (there are green fluorescent lights at each table), but it was fun to see everyone. And I’m so happy to see the facade out from under the scaffolding at last so the subtle vertical arching of “subway” is apparent and it can glow forth at stodgy Bloomingdale’s across the street. Well, except for the BAR vertical sign up higher, which only has a B on one side and an R on the other side. Won’t you fix that, Subway my friend?
I am going to do everything I can over the next three days (Monday May 30th at 11p EST is the deadline) to make Kickstarter happen. Hints, tips, suggestions, and help are all happily accepted, and the steady stream of donations over the last couple of days definitely gave me more energy to tackle the home stretch. Won’t you pitch in and help make it happen?