RIP Cork & Bottle
(on First Avenue between E 63rd & E 64th Streets in the Upper East Side)
Sad, sad news shared by Gary Wright: The Cork & Bottle neon was scrapped and replaced by back-lit plastic lettering this morning. This (together with Goldberger’s Pharmacy) was one of the first New York neon signs I photographed and those two signs were really what inspired the whole project. I want to believe it’s not true, but I know I’ll have to see it for myself on Monday morning on the way to work.
That amazing ampersand! That steadfast letter C! The classic vertical Liquors! There was also a tiny unlit “LTD” to the right of Bottle that I loved — a secret little addition I imagined getting relit some day. As I’ve said before, pink is not a color I like much in most of life, but pink neon is really wonderful.
The sign was always a tough one to photograph, with signs, trees, traffic, and the awning in the way, so I don’t feel like I fully did it justice, but it will have to do.
RIP Cork & Bottle neon, you will be missed. New York is a darker place without you.
(in the Upper West Side on Broadway between 105th and 106th Streets)
I’ve got a couple of posts I’m hoping to have time to get to this weekend, but first I’d like to say thanks to Lisa Hix, for the Project Neon interview she’s written for Collectors Weekly. Thank you, Lisa, for making me sound vaguely coherent!
The photo above from Riverside Liquor on Broadway is one of my favorites (as you may have guessed from its inclusion in the Limited Edition Prints). When I stopped by for a visit last weekend, though, the sign was looking a little the worse for wear:
It’s still a great sign, but I do hope it gets repaired soon. Speaking of repairs, I also stopped by Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, hoping that the removal of the scaffolding from the building meant they had maybe fixed their neon. Alas, no luck.
Riverside is a small liquor shop with an indecipherable (at least to me) cataloguing system. You’re best off asking for help, which was what I ended up doing. I was buying some blended scotch to try scotch & soda — believe it or not, I’ve never had it! — as part of a new project of mine, A Culinary Companion. (It’s a writing project, not a pictures project, about food & literature.) I was surprised to find both scotch & soda and brandy & soda very pleasant. Not as forceful and warming as the straight up liquors, but neither were they just watered down nothings. More just a gentler form of drink, refreshing with the bubbles. A pleasant accompaniment to a lazy afternoon.
Anyway, the staff at Riverside were friendly and helpful, and there was a steady parade of patrons from all walks of life. The sign is a bright spot on broadway, with the classic mazey infill that I love. I’ve said before that pink isn’t one of my favorite colors (I guess I’m not a very girly girl), but pink neon is just fantastic.
OK, I’ll be back later this weekend with more neon news, links, and photos. See you then!
(in Midtown on Lexington Avenue between 61st & 62nd Streets)
To those of you following along on Twitter, apologies for not posting this last night. I think you’ll understand why.
After a long week at work that began rainy but ended with that perfect early summer dry warmth, I probably should have ventured up to the Bronx or to one of the further-flung pins on my Neon To Do map, but instead I stopped off at this nice liquor store on Lexington. It had only occurred to me to stop there late in the afternoon, so I hadn’t done a good survey of my ridiculously overstocked (for someone who lives alone, rarely throws parties, and doesn’t drink cocktails much) liquor stash. There’s one liquor I need to save for a different neon visit, and I knew I wanted something summery, but that still left the field wide open.
Embassy Liquors is on a chaotic block (most of Lexington in Midtown is pretty chaotic — lots of shops, narrow sidewalks, subway entrances, etc.), and the chaos was continuing inside on Friday night. A buxom woman with bleached hair in an undersized acid-green tank top (pleeeeease don’t call that color neon) was handing out samples of something that did not appeal, while several men wheeled handtrucks stacked high with heavy cases of wine and liquor down the narrow aisle. There were about 8 people besides me in the tiny shop, none of the others customers.
There’s a neon sign inside that shows the way to the “Bargain Basement,” which is just a corner down a step in the back. Ha!
I find most liquor stores overwhelming. I know little about cocktails and less about wine, and the packaging and layout tends to confuse me. What about Lillet? Do I have that? I couldn’t remember. Would pear liquor be delicious or disgusting? What about sherry? In the end I remembered that I had wanted St. Germain — elderflower liqueur from France — at one point in the past, but ended up buying something else. Of course it was no where to be found, but one of the many handtruck-haulers stopped long enough to go to the basement and get some for me.
Ack! $41! Ah well, all in a good cause. And it is kind of a fancy bottle (though I don’t like the oversized plasticky cap), so it must be worth it, right?
I stopped, of course, to admire the sign on my way out. It’s a simple swing-sign hanging over the sidewalk, but classic. The red and white colors seem very official somehow (though I have no idea which embassy they purport to be associated with, it’s not too far to the UN so there are a lot about, though none on Lexington that I know of).
On the same block is a pet shop. I would never buy a puppy or kitten from a place undoubtedly supplied by mills, but it does always make me smile to see the kittens gamboling on one side and puppies on the other. And at night after they’re all asleep, the neon cat and dog come out.
I headed down to 53rd & 3rd (humming the Ramons to myself) to get on the subway and escape Manhattan. Back in the ‘hood, I picked up some lemons, limes, and tonic water, not sure how to deal with the St. Germain. On my doorstop, I found a lovely sack of radishes with my name on them. Hurrah for spring produce and for gifts from friends! I headed inside to make a drink, and ended up with a gin & tonic with a healthy dose of St. Germain to boot. Oh wow it was, I think, the most delicious cocktail I’ve ever had. So good. This is totally going to be my jam this summer.
I decided to make some open-faced radish & butter sandwiches to go with my classy cocktail, and OUCH! Sliced well into my thumb with the mandoline. Don’t drink & slice, kids! I managed to catch myself before the flap of skin was severed completely, but a second later the blood welled up and was everywhere. So I had a second St. Germain gin & tonic (they need a better name) with my delicious radish sandwiches. And it still hurt quite a lot after that, so I had a third.
Before the first one, I managed to remember to take a picture. Notice the glass — I just got a pair of kind of old-fashioned looking champagne goblets. Such great glasses! And infinitely superior to flutes, which are nearly impossible to drink out of without getting bubbles up your nose, and if you’re so worried about the bubbles escaping quickly, you’re probably drinking too slowly. So yeah, I recommend goblets for cocktails of all kinds. By the way that’s Scout all blurred out in the background, helping with the photo shoot.
OK, now I’m craving radish sandwiches again (though I think I’ll skip the cocktails tonight). Wish me luck!
Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Hillside & Jamaica, Queens
Here are a few of the photos from my expedition across Queens earlier this week. I was disappointed to find that one of my destinations, Nino’s Pizzeria, is empty (though the place is for rent — someone please open a great pizza place here and re-light the sign) and the florist on the same block I had hopes for is still operating but the fantastic sign is defunct.
The scary flame & steak face above is a detail from the great T-Bone Diner sign, one of two for diners I saw. I was a little disappointed at first by the other —the Georgia Diner — as the sign closer to Queens Boulevard is partly out, but another sign by the parking lot is fully lit. While I would change the purple (maybe for green?), it’s still a great sign. The painting on the peach is incredible. The neon on the diner itself is a bit odd — abstract, but sort of oceany looking, with hypnotic yellow swirls that blink on and off in a dizzying pattern (someday I’ll upgrade to a camera that can shoot video!) Still, though, the peach alone makes this 24-diner worth a look.
Midland Wine & Liquor (top photo) was a happy discovery near Nino’s that made the trip to the end of the F line worth it, and the A&S Subway Bar nearby, where a sign in the window promises live cricket, has a nice little roof sign as well. Elmhurst Animal Emergency Hospital had a nice little menagerie (besides the cat above (love that it has an eye!), a dog and a bird). The red cross above I like a lot, though it was just a small window sign for a place that seemed to just be called “Family Medicine” nearby. All in all, a great bunch of neon in the Borough of Queens.
Queens Wines & Liquors
(71st Avenue @ Myrtle & Forest)
I finally made it back to Queens Wines & Liquors this evening—third time’s the charm! I’d been once before to see the lights (what a great sign!) earlier this winter, but the next couple of times I went out to Ridgewood, Queens I somehow go the hours wrong. The sign’s so long (and with a small bonus Liquor & arrow up high) that it’s hard to make a photograph that really captures the brightness and glow, so I was eager to return, zoom lens in hand.
Behind the sign is a great liquor store, with a vast selection. I wanted something summery, and debated for awhile over St. Germain or Lillet, but in the end went with Pimm’s. I’m drinking some over ice in a little Turkish teacup now.
I’m not a huge cocktail drinker (I usually stick with beer) but a nice summer cocktail is a lovely thing (and summertime neon expeditions are a bit limited since so many things close early—and the trees are in leaf—but the days are getting shorter…) I’m sure I’ll be visiting several more bars & liquor stores before the summer is over! I had no I idea when I started this project that one side benefit would be an expanded liquor shelf.
In other Project Neon news, the iPhone app is proceeding apace, I’m working on fulfilling Kickstarter rewards (I just sent some more out and have a small pile here to send out this weekend), and I’ve added a little Shop page to the blog (though the shop actually lives over on Equals Architecture, one of my other web sites, so I can have a little more control over the layout than here on Tumblr). The shop is more of a test run for now than a proper online store, as I need to finish Kickstarter rewards before I can fulfill any orders, but when I’ve cleared the decks a bit I’ll expand it and get it all ship shape. (You’re welcome to buy photos & posters from it now, but orders will be put in queue behind the Kickstarter rewards.)
(7th Avenue South btwn Grove & Bleecker Streets)
Casa Oliveira is a swell wine & liquor shop in the West Village. It was a bit of an old home week to stop by there last night, since I used to work nearby and would pop in whenever I needed some booze. I made the trip back, as I have a bunch of cherries at home and, together with the new cherry pitter I picked up at the Brooklyn Kitchen, I’m all ready to make brandied cherries (and maybe cherry ice cream with a hint of brandy as well?), except for an utter lack of brandy at Project Neon headquarters.
I was so very happy to see the sign not just in working order (last time I was there the Casa Olivera was out), but brighter than ever. I love this sign not only for the animation (“Liquors” alternates with “Fine Wines”), for the sidewalk sign with the great address number (also shown above), but also for the lovely patina of the red and white painted backdrop of the swing sign and the enameled backdrop of the facade sign. So beautiful. I do wish the sidewalk sign had outlined instead of single-stroke letters, but that’s a quibble. The overall effect, especially when the sign is as bright as it was last night, is splendid. (If you can’t see the animation, click the box below.)
The people at Casa Oliveira have always been gracious and helpful, too. It’s a small shop, but I’ve always found what I wanted.
It was nice to see a sign in working order, especially after hearing about the remnants of Jade Mountain (the iconic Chow Mein sign has been removed, and part of the remains of the channel letters crushed) and finding that Morscher’s Pork Store in Ridgewood has replaced their wonderful neon with a tacky plastic sign. I am really heartbroken about both of those. But happily there are still places like Casa Oliveira, who are willing to maintain beautiful signs like this one.
Cork & Bottle Liquors
(On 1st Avenue between E 63rd & E 64th Streets in the Upper East Side)
Cork & Bottle Liquors is another one of the early Project Neon subjects—it’s hard to miss that huge pink sign with the classic neon infill texture I call mazey since the dense lines with their turns and angles make me think of mazes. A lot of neon signs are sans serif, but here we have a great slab serif font for the horizontal name sign, complementing the san serif of the vertical “Liquor" sign.
One thing I’ve noticed as I try to sort out which neon signs I like best and why, is that despite the fact I am a staunch champion of simplicity and white space in most graphic design, I don’t mind complexity and density with neon (as long as there aren’t any LEDs mixed in, or too many other materials). This sign isn’t crazy or anything, but normally I would ask why two different font styles? But the bright pink neon and the mazey texture mean that to be 100% honest, I didn’t even realize they were different until I was looking more closely at the photos now. Plus of course I love ampersands. Who doesn’t? Fun fact: I couldn’t write one to save my life. I get them all muddled with G-clefs and cursive capital Gs. I supposed I should sit down and force myself to learn one day, but in the mean time I’ll just admire them in the wild.
I stopped into the Cork & Bottle (I love that name) this evening because I have been fresh out of Jameson for months now, and I am also out of coffee extract (key ingredient in boozy Vietnamese coffee ice cream), which I make with Jameson and ground coffee. It’s a clean, well-lighted store with helpful staff and a good selection (wines more than liquors, oddly). The prices seemed a little Upper East Side, but I’ll definitely be back some time to support their fantastic neon.
Unfortunately my booze needs are pretty limited and there are quite a few New York City liquor stores with excellent neon left to visit. Anyone need me to pick them up something?