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.]
(In Tribeca on West Broadway at Thomas Street)
Usually neon visits are a frugal affair, but this past weekend I decided to splurge on a swanker spot: the Odeon in Tribeca. The Odeon, originally the Tower Cafeteria (hence the sign on the Thomas Street side that says Cafeteria — possibly the last neon “cafeteria” sign in New York City?), is styled in classic French bistro style, understated and comfortable. I split a really delicious burger with my friend Paul and we finished up with a butterscotch sundae, another perfect, classic dish. It’s a pricey place, but if you sit at the bar and split a burger, it’s not so bad.
But you want to hear about the neon, not the food, yes? It’s simple, but again classic: curved, outlined red lettering on the outside that glows pleasingly from the fascia onto the striped awning. That much I’d seen before (though I hadn’t photographed it), but until I took that neon class last weekend, I didn’t realize that the lights *inside* were neon, too. Stupidly I didn’t take a photo of them (for some reason I thought I’d find one online), but they’re lovely vertical sconces, semi-cylindrical, enclosed in ridged glass (with, I think, stainless steel or chrome bases). The really interesting thing, though, is the quality of light. I love neon, but I’d never thought of it for interior lighting before. David Ablon (who is head of the American branch of Tecnolux (who also donated the neon for my City Reliquary show!) and Director of Operations at Brooklyn Glass) showed us some wonderful neon lighting in the upstairs offices at the class last weekend — a simple swirl of neon tubing, but with very carefully chosen colors. Neon uses less energy than incandescent (though it’s slightly less efficient than its cousin fluorescent) but lasts practically forever. Once you can get the color right (as David has with his “candlelight” tubing), it’s a pretty great. So the Odeon glows inside and out.
Don’t forget on Thursday I’ll be introducing Jef Klein’s talk at Dublin House.
I started a new Tumblr to document my volvelle collection.
(on Richmond Ave between Eltingville Boulevard & Wilson Avenue in Eltingville, Staten Island)
Spring is not an easy time for Project Neon. Between my allergies to all the pollens and the dreaded approach of Daylight Savings Time, bane of neon glow, I generally prefer autumn. And now DST is ridiculously early — it starts this Sunday at 2AM! — so I forced myself out into the night after work last night to return to Eltingville and see if I couldn’t catch Delco Drugs’ sign aglow. Two subways, a ferry, and a train later, I did! It’s beautiful!
What you see above is one half of the sign. It sits next to Lenny’s Cleaners & Laundry (which wasn’t open, but the sign was on) and just a few blocks away from the Eltingville Pharmacy, which you may remember from my trip to Staten Island last November when Delco was off, which nearly made me cry. It’s a hassle to get there (about 2 hours minimum, if you time the ferry, train, and subway transfers correctly), but I was so happy I did before DST took Delco away from me (it’s open until 8p on weeknights).
The script is lovely — look at the loops on that D! — and l love that it’s outlined instead of just a single stroke. Makes all the difference, I think.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to get a straight-on shot of the whole sign (much less the two neon neighbors) because of trees and crosswalk signs and lamp posts, but I stitched three photos together to show you the full Delco Drugs (I wish the words were a little closer together), and here’s the best I could do of Delco with Larry’s together. You can also see the whole sign pretty well from an angle (the photo above is angled, too). You might be able to see that it’s channel lettering and that there’s a bit of red-shift on the right end of Drugs (which I love — kind of like neon’s version of patina), but you probably can’t see that it’s on a wonderful textured chrome background behind the sign.
As I was taking these pictures a fellow & his friend walked up to me and asked me if I liked the sign. Of course I said I did, and he introduced himself as the owner of the store. I didn’t catch his name and he seemed on his way somewhere, but before he left he told me how much he loved the sign and how much care and repair he puts into it. He said the sign (and its neighbor) is about 45 years old, but I think it may be a smidge older (as NYNeon.org says) and he was probably forgetting how far into the 21st century we are, as I always do. At any rate, he headed off and I finished my photos then popped inside to pick up some Advil before heading back up to the train station (conveniently just a block away) and homeward.
Eltingville is lucky to have three really great neon signs on the same street, and a bunch of other nice neon around, too. Now if I can only find another den of neon like this elsewhere on Staten Island. Any tips?
In about an hour I’m leaving for the neon bending workshop at Brooklyn Glass. I’m very excited!
Jackson Hole Airline Diner
(Astoria Blvd btwn Hazen & 70th Streets)
Aha! Yes! Two people guessed correctly — Heather (by comment) & juliadantchev (with a reblog comment). I *think* Heather was first, but I’m not positive. I’d also like to say thanks to Ben K. for reminding me that I hadn’t yet gotten here.
Jackson Hole is a local chain of burger joints, and this particular location was, in a past life, the Airline Diner. The name makes sense when you realize how close it is to LaGuardia — just off the Grand Central Parkway a few blocks away. The older part of the sign with the green airplane (alas, not in 100% full glow) blends right in with the airplanes overhead.
Not all the neon was in full glow when I was there, but most of it was operational. The Greek key pattern around the fascia of the diner in blue with yellow highlights is lovely and dinery, the animation (if you can’t see it above look here) on one sign features tiny airplanes while the other alternates green and pink for DINER. So great! And the Jackson Hole part of the sign isn’t bad either (if a bit incongruous). I like that there’s a period after Jackson Hole. For some reason punctuation in a neon sign always makes me happy.
I can’t say the burger was anything to write home about. It was, as advertised, big and greasy. Not a lot of flavor though. I think next time I come (and I’d like to get some better photos), I’ll stick with diner classics like milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches.
The interior, by the way, is as beautiful as the exterior. All kinds of great details from pillowed stainless steel to an ancient Just Born case (sadly bereft of peeps, though it did contain other candy).
The other Jackson Hole Diner location in Queens also has some neon (though not as great as this), so I’ll hit it up sometime, too.