San Francisco Neon Book Kickstarter
Randall Homan & Al Barna
As I posted on Facebook & Twitter, I’ve backed Randall Homan & Al Barna’s Kickstarter project to publish a book of San Francisco neon photos. The photos look fantastic and I can’t wait to see the book. Get on over there and pre-order your own copy!
2014 Project Neon Calendar
Maybe for sale next week on Etsy
Hey, so I was thinking I needed a little wall calendar for next year, so I made this one. Maybe you would like one, too? It’s 4” x 6”, printed on heavyweight specially coated matte paper with archival inks. You can hang it with a binder or bulldog clip (or a magnetic bulldog clip), put it in a frame (if it’s under glass, you can write on it with an erasable pen!), use double-sided tape to mount all 12 at once, or just tack it to the wall. I had thought of getting out the jig saw and making a fancy stand, but in the interests of keeping things simple, I thought I’d just let you sort out how to hang it, OK? If I hear some rumblings of interest, I’ll aim to get it listed by next weekend on Etsy, probably for about $25 (a bargain for 12 lovely neon photos!), plus a couple bucks for domestic shipping.
Is this something that would interest you?
Q:What type of camera/lens/setting do you use for your photos?
Hey, OK, I’m very slow to answer questions! Sorry about that charlesfox.
My newish camera is a Canon EOS 60D, and I used to have a Canon Digital Rebel xTi. I nearly always use a 50mm fixed lens, aka the “thrifty 50.” It’s (relatively) cheap, lightweight, and does really well with low light. The downside is that because it is fixed, I often have to stand quite a ways away from the sign, ie in a snow berm or the middle of the street.
I do also have a 17-85mm zoom lens, which I use occasionally, usually when I want to photograph an entire storefront. It’s heavy, though, so I don’t always carry it with me.
I don’t carry a tripod with me, and while I’ve gotten quite good at bracing myself and holding the camera as still as possible, I do need to use a relatively fast shutter speed to avoid blurriness. I aim for at least 125, but will try as low as 80 if I have to. Since the signs are generally flat, I can usually open the aperture all the way, which on the 50mm is a whopping F1.8. My new camera has fantastic ISO settings (up to 6400), but I usually keep it below 1000 if I can. The large aperture and high ISO mean I can usually get the fast-ish shutter speed I need for focus.
One thing that helped me a lot when I was first learning, was looking at the settings of photos I liked on Flickr. It’s now on the right under Additional Information > Show More > Settings.
OK, I hope that was helpful! Happy photoing!
TODAY! 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm
(On Messerole Avenue at Diamond Street in Greenpoint)
A reminder that today (Saturday June 8th) from 5p – 7:30p I’ll be hanging out at Cafe Grumpy to say hello and answer any Project Neon questions you might have. Stop by for neon & coffee, whether it’s a quick pick-me-up before you head out for a hopping Saturday night, or a cheerful end to a quiet day in. I’d love to see you!
PS: Hot dog! Nathan’s Famous at Coney Island has reopened after extensive post-Sandy repairs. I can’t wait to visit again.
You can now see photos from Project Neon (including the photo above of Block Drugs in the East Village) at the Cafe Grumpy roastery and cafe in Greenpoint! Thanks so much to Cafe Grumpy founder Caroline Bell for having me, to Liz Clayton for suggesting it, and to Joan Reidy for hanging the show with me.
So stop by and have a look while drinking some of the best coffee in New York. I’ll probably be stopping by to check on things some evenings this week, and I may add one or two more photos in the next few days. I’m also planning to hang out there next weekend, on Saturday June 8th, probably from about 5p to closing (7:30p), so please stop by and say hi.
The show will be up until July 15th.
Today is the last day of the big sale at the Project Neon shop! Use the code NEON25OFF for, you guessed it, 25% off everything — photos, posters, jewelry and more. Get your neon merch today:
New Park Pizza
(in Howard Beach on Cross Bay Boulevard @ 157th Ave)
[if you can’t see the animation above, try here]
Earlier this week I went to Howard Beach where I saw two great signs: New Park Pizza (above) and Lenny’s Clam Bar:
The full New Park Pizza sign looks like this:
Let me tell you, these are two classic Italian establishments, and both real local scenes, even on a Monday night. I brought Paul along (or rather he brought me along, as he did the driving — thanks!) and we started at Lenny’s for oysters and beers. We had another appetizer… was it baked clams? The food, as you might gather, wasn’t the most memorable part of the evening. Our bartender, Mike, was great, as was the small crowd wedged in the tiny bar (the restaurant is expansive — including dockside dining on warmer nights — but was mostly empty, probably because it was pretty early).
Take a look at this 1978 ad for Lenny’s — the free glass of wine deal is still on, though there are no longer multiple locations.
The Lenny’s signs are classic neon red, with a lovely script and those great double-dimples where the tubes dive back behind the façade. Nothing fancy, but totally perfect. Unfortunately the “clam” in the vertical “clam bar” wasn’t working (though a sign on the side announced the molluskular presence), but otherwise it was in excellent shape.
We adjourned after eating too much free bruschetta along with our beer and oysters (and mystery appetizer) a couple of blocks north to New Park Pizza, where most of the building is taken over by the kitchens, but there’s a glass-enclosed row of picnic tables in front where you can sit and eat your slice while you watch the customers come and go while the staff vociferously debates the relative merits of various sodas and greets nearly everyone who comes in by name. A real neighborhood joint that’s been around since the ’50s.
The sign combines simple san-serif pink outlined letters (I’m surprised they didn’t stick with a tricolore palette) with a large, steaming, inexplicably green-outlined pizza. It’s fantastic. And the steam flashes! The whole thing reminds me a bit of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in a good way.
I’m so happy to see both these Queens institutions going strong.
The Greenwich Hotel
(on Main Street at Church Street in East Greenwich, Rhode Island)
And now we arrive at Part III of the Rhode Island Neon Adventure (for those of you just joining us, part 1 is here, and part 2 is there). You guys, this place is amazing. Alas, I am extremely disappointed to report I didn’t take the possibly superior pictures from the other side (except this one, which is pretty good). I really need to go back and have another go.
The Greenwich Hotel includes a really lovely bar and a hotel, though the hotel (and part of the bar) are in the midst of a major renovation. If you want to stay here, you’ll probably have to contend with a tiny room and a bathroom not just down the hall but downstairs. I would have voted to stay here anyway if the balconies were accessible, but they were sealed with pieces of wood nailed across. How fun would it be to go outside during the night and look right at the top of the sign? Anyway, I definitely want to stay here when the renovations are done — then I’ll take more pictures and also catch the few things I missed in this quick trip, including Johnny Cakes and the Culinary Museum (which has neon signs inside!)
This grand hotel feels almost European with its high ceilings and faded charm, but this sign out front is all-American. There’s so much going on! Scripts, block letters, and that amazing green arrow — look how the lines match up, even though they’re cut off by “Dining & Entertainment.” You could draw the whole thing with a single stroke. The tipsy little martini glass is great, but the most intriguing detail is the purple C on a shield topped by the helmet from a suit of armor. What on earth is the story behind that? And the whole thing shines onto some large engaged columns that set the glow off nicely. It all adds up to some really dynamic signage.
It’s a tour de force of a sign, easily outshining the charmingly named Norman’s Restaurant Tap & Lounge across the street. But the pair of them frame East Greenwich’s main street nicely, despite the many thick phone lines and signs in the way:
There were a couple of neoned diners we weren’t able to see at night (most notably Cindy’s in North Scituate), and I know there are some neon signs in the Culinary Museum. Do you know of any other Rhode Island neon I missed?
Rhode Island certainly is a lively experiment, and I’ll definitely be back. Here in New York City it looks to be a rainy week, so I won’t likely get to make a neon visit until the weekend at the earliest. In the mean time, as those of you on Twitter already know, I’m working on some R&D for some new items to be added to the Etsy shop soon.
Big thanks to Paul for being an expert on Rhode Island culinary specialties, for doing the lion’s share of the driving, and for being willing to join me in my neon chasing expeditions.
(In Williamsburg on Graham Avenue at Skillman Street)
This morning I needed to mail off an Etsy order, so I headed up to Graham Avenue (aka Via Vespucci) where there’s a friendly contract post office. After sending the photos off (thanks for the order, hothands!), I stopped in a place I’ve been meaning to visit for years. Grande Monuments (aka Grande Memorials) is a headstone & monument shop of Italian extraction (like much of this area of Williamsburg) that also happens to offer prosciutto bread, olive bread, and some other brick-oven baked loaves on Fridays and Saturdays. (I recommend that previous link to a story from WNYC about the shop.)
Man, I have missed prosciutto bread! I used to get it years ago from a place on the Northside called Joe’s Busy Corner, but they expanded and changed and when I stopped in to ask for it a few months ago they didn’t even know what it was! This prosciutto bread is very different from what Joe’s used to sell — the bread is denser and sweeter, and the prosciutto is in cubes instead of thin shavings. A slice of this stuff is almost like eating a ham sandwich — and I bet it would make amazing French toast (if I don’t eat this whole loaf straight up maybe I’ll give it a try). The loaves aren’t cheap ($5), but they’re worth it.
The neon wasn’t on this morning, but I’ve walked by it a million times and have photographed it at night as you can see above. It’s just very simple window neon, one side red MONUMENTS and one in my favorite aqua Grande MEMORIALS. Not as fancy as most of the funeral home neon, but still great. The non-neon signage is great, too. (Eating in Translation has a good photo of the bread sign in the window that I’ve somehow never photographed in all these years.) Afterwards I picked up some Brooklyn-roasted Stumptown coffee at Variety and some juice oranges at the greengrocers down the street — a perfect neighborhood brunch.
If you want to pick up some bread yourself, stop in early on Friday or Saturday — I’ve often seen the bread racks empty by mid-afternoon. Joey, an older gentleman in front of me, bought 7 loaves (6 for himself, and one for a friend), then I got my loaf with lots of “Sweethearts” and the advice that with this loaf & a bottle of wine, and I’d be set. A worried-looking woman behind me asked me about prices, and as I left more people were heading in. It’s a very bustling, very Brooklyn scene.
EDIT: made the prosciutto French Toast. Amazing!
Neil’s Coffee Shop
(On Lexington Avenue at 70th Street in the Upper East Side)
[Pardon if my sentances don’t parse properly — I’m listening to the Beastie Boys as I write this in a futile attempt to drown out the racket of my upstairs neighbors. Oy.]
I’m pretty much bound to feel affectionately toward anything with “coffee shop” in the title and Neil’s has a great sign. Lovely script and block letters in channels hanging over the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 70th Street in glowy pink and deep orange will lead you to an old-school diner in the shadow of Hunter College. The service is not what you’d call attentive, the interior decor is a symphony of beige, and the standard diner fare is nothing to write home about (I had a decent grilled cheese and a disappointing milk shake), but it’s an old reliable in a neighborhood with too many snobs and show-offs. Add in a lovely neon sign, and I’m happy.
If you’re in the neighborhood you should ch-ch-check it out.
Wanna see some neon from 1970s New York? OK, here you go. (Thanks, Paul.)
Wanna see Times Square neon in 1957? Have a look at this. (Thanks, Curt.)
Wanna see some fun neon in Austin? Lookee here.
EDIT: Oh, hey, guys — I think I forgot to tell you I wrote a guest post for I Love Old NY. Did I tell you this? If not, take a look — it’s a great site!
[Pardon the jpeg junk on the photo above — this was one of the problems with Aperture. I was going to reupload the photo via Lightroom, but my trial copy ran out and Adobe won’t let me buy it for some reason I can only decipher between 9a and 5p. Hopefully I can fix this soon. If so, I’ll upload a better looking photo.]