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.
Pearl Street Diner
in Lower Manhattan on Pearl Street at Fletcher Street
I recently learned from the NYNeon blog that the Pearl Street Diner has been closed since the hurricane. I should have guessed and gone to check on it, but I go down to Wall Street so rarely these days that I sometimes forget about the good things tucked in amongst the concrete canyons. I really hope the diner reopens soon — and I’ll be there for a proper neon visit the minute it does. (That NYNeon blog post linked above also lists some other sad neon losses from the last year.)
Adios to 2012. It’s not my favorite year so far, but there have been some bright spots. Most importantly, thank you all for following along, for contributing, and for chiming in. Fellow neon fans definitely make my world brighter
See you all in 2013!
(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!
John Shoe Repair
(On the Upper East Side on 67th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues)
The cobblers of New York City are a wonder. Operating out of shoe-box sized shops, each packed with the detritus of a lifetime of repairing our worn-out footwear, the enable us to keep pounding the pavement in style. There must have once been so many more of them, in the era before sneakers and the rise of disposable fashions, but there are still a good number today. And a good number of them have neon signs, usually small skeleton signs hanging in the window like this one, but with a wide variety of shoe types from boots to high heels. When winter comes (these one-man operations (are there any women cobblers in New York?) tend to close early), I’d like to finally take a shoe-neon-only walk, and gather a whole poster’s worth of neon shoes.
I dropped my shoes off this afternoon with John. I inadvertently wore through the heels (and nearly through the soles) last winter. I hope he can fix them. I’ll find out tomorrow. If he can, it will have been a bargain — $5!
Half of his tiny shop was filled with a massive shoe lathe that looked like some kind of intricate contemporary sculpture. The other half, more assemblage, featured piles of hardened glue, scraps of leather, and bits and pieces of this and that, with assorted pliers and punchers and whatnot here and there. I would have been claustrophobic to spend too long there, but for a brief visit it was wonderfully quiet and private and soothing, all earthy browns and cozines, with the iconic pink and green shoe glowing softly out the window. Here is New York, alive and busily industrious.
PS: Happy birthday to my mom today!
PPS: Did I tell you? I started a new project to explore New York by daylight: apicnicineverypark.tumblr.com
UPDATE: Shoes look great! When I picked them up, John told me, I think, about his forthcoming trip to Athens (where he apparently hails from), where it is even hotter than it is here, though of course everyone leaves the city when it gets too hot, or goes swimming (communicated largely through miming breast stroke). He is very nice and an excellent cobbler and you should take your shoes there. Oh, and be prepared for the overwhelming smell of shoe polish when you open the door.
Little Cupcake Bakeshop
(on Prince Street at Mott Street in SoHo)
Oh man, I had the best neon expedition planned for this evening, which is, from what I can tell from indoors, the loveliest evening ever. Alas, I’ve been at home feeling poorly the last couple of days, and an exploratory trip to the post office this afternoon revealed that I was not up for anything more ambitious. Perhaps later this weekend if I’m feeling better and the weather continues fine.
And so! Here is one from the files for you. This is the Little Cupcake Bakeshop’s outpost in SoHo (the original location is in Bay Ridge). As you can see, they included quite a nice neon sign with channel letters (that’s the metal part surrounding the neon tubes) hanging over the sidewalk (I think on the Mott Street side, if I’m remembering correctly).
I know some people get annoyed about cupcakes, labeling them (unfairly, I think) as harbingers of gentrification doom, but this is in fact a bakery with a wide ranging menu and a lovely place. I can’t remember where I was coming from or going to last summer when I stopped in, but I got caught in one of those volatile summer rainstorms. As the rain was soaking me through, I remembered I’d been meaning to stop in this bakery and realized I wasn’t far. So stop in I did, trying not to drip too much, and ordered a banana pudding.
Once you’re safely indoors, a rainstorm on a hot summer day makes for very entertaining people watching. At least a dozen people huddled inside the doors of the Bakeshop (while dozens more rushed past or sheltered under neighboring overhangs), though most of them neglected to sample the wares. The staff was friendly nonetheless, but they missed out — the banana pudding I had was quite excellent.
The shop is a cheerful addition to the neighborhood, and the new neon is a delight!
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 Eltingville, Staten Island on Richmond Road btwn Oakdale Street & Lyndale Lane)
I made it to Staten Island at last! And I even found some good neon, though the sign I went for was not on (apparently it’s on a timer, which hasn’t yet been set back for the end of Daylight Savings Time — I’ll have to go again later this winter). I stumbled across this sign, though, by following a hunch, and also got to see Delco Drug’s sister sign, which is for Lenny’s Cleaners, mostly on (except part of Laundry and the tail of the Y in Lenny’s) before I left, since I ended up walking for a solid two and a half hours in search of neon, mostly through dark and lonely suburbs full of crowded, overgrown ranch homes. I know there’s more neon hiding in Staten Island. I will find it! I definitely need to go wander around St. George, too (there’s gotta be at least one good sign there, right?), but after the walking and the 90 minutes by subway, ferry, and Staten Island Railroad (!) to get there, and another 90 minutes back, I didn’t have time or energy last night.
In my wanderings, I did come across a few nice little signs, but Lenny’s and Eltingville Pharmacy were really the highlights. This sign, in classic neon pink, is behind a fine mesh, but the mesh is nearly invisible, and I think I prefer that to plastic. Naked neon is the best, of course, but mesh isn’t the end of the world.
I wonder if this sign was made by the same people who made the Delco Drugs & Lenny’s Cleaners signs? It’s just down the street from them, and has a similar very precise script lettering. Lovely! In ‘Pharmacy’ I love the way the cross-pieces (is there a real typographic name for that?) in the R and A don’t connect on the left side, I love the solid proportions of the letters, and I love seeing the little bends and holes where the tubes dive backstage to connect up. And I really love the script on the left, especially the Greek e at the end and the elegance of the intitial E. Perfect!
Now if I can just find a few more hidden neon gems in Richmond County. Any tips?
(On 5th Avenue between 85th & 86th Streets in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn)
I have pinkeye. This is a little ironic because I’m not really a big fan of the color pink in general—I guess I’m not much of a girly girl. Pink is warm and flattering and sweet, but it’s just not me. I find, however, that I do love pink neon signs. I even love red and pink neon together (I mean, look at the Project Neon logo!), which is a pretty much abhorrent color combination in most other contexts. Possibly all other contexts.
I mention the pinkeye not just as an excuse to discuss color in general or the colors of neon in particular (though I will happily do either all day), but to explain why I’m cheating a bit here. I am not really up to venturing out into the sleet right now to visit any neon, so I’m going to tell you the story of a recent visit to Hinsch’s instead. Consider this a warm-up post, OK?
Hinsch’s Confectionary is mostly a diner, though they do have ice cream and home-made candy. I feel I must warn you that the food is not really worth the pilgrimage, especially if you, like me, go when the R train isn’t running. It’s way the hell out there in Bay Ridge. But it does have a couple of fantastic neon signs which are worth the trek.
The best sign you can see above—it just says, “Hinsch” in classic pink neon. No possessive, just the name in beautiful script with extra strokes to fill in the wider spots, immense and glowing. The “Luncheon” and “Hand Made Candy” in the window seem like mere afterthoughts, lost in the glow of Hinch, though they are nice, too. I find neon is never as impressive in windows like that as it is when it has a dark background to show off the glow.
The vertical sign up above the storefront would also be fantastic, but more than half of it is burned out. Man, I hope they fix it. The whole thing up and running must be a sight to see.
Since I travelled so far, I stopped in for French fries and a coffee milkshake. There weren’t a lot of people there, but it was a very chatty spot. First a guy on his way out admired my Alaska curling sweater at length (it is pretty cool) and then the fellow behind the counter who made my milkshake asked me if I like to take pictures, why on earth I would take pictures of their neon sign, and explained that he also likes to take pictures. All of this took a lot of gesticulating as my Spanish is pretty limited and his English was, too, but it was nice to chat with a fellow photogropile. An excellent visit to a classic New York spot with a classic neon sign.