(on First Avenue at 62nd Street in the Upper East Side)
I needed some solace today, both from the terrible news from Boston and from the day-to-day weariness of this and that. Milkshakes soothe both my soul and my stomach, so I stopped in at the Ritz Diner at lunch time for a chocolate shake to go.
The Ritz is, despite what the website says (“not just a diner, but a ‘ritzy’ diner”), a pretty classic diner (with pretty classic prices, considering the neighborhood). Counter, tables, grilled cheese, etc. — it’s all there. Most importantly, it is:
The main sign is pretty straightforward — just mazy channel letters spelling out RITZ DINER — but that seems about right for this place. I need to go back some time after dark and get better photos (these are old), though it’s a big tricky with the awning. For now I’ll just say I’m glad the Ritz is still keeping 1st Avenue aglow (along with Goldberger’s and others).
RIP Lobster House neon
(on City Island, on Bridge Street between City Island Avenue & Minnieford Avenue)
The New York Neon blog reports that the iconic City Island Lobster House sign was destroyed by Sandy. Happily the restaurant itself is up and running, but I’m sad that such a great sign has been lost. I’m glad I was able to visit while it was there. (Here’s what it looks like now.)
Another neon loss reported in that same New York Neon blog post is the lovely Shore Theatre sign in Coney Island. It was missing its tubing, so I never saw it lit, but it was nevertheless a landmark of Coney Island. Another serious blow to New York’s neon collection.
As you may have heard, Sandy’s effects are still being felt by too many residents & small businesses of New York & New Jersey. Some suggestions for how you can help are in my last post.
(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!
(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.
Hey, will you be coming to the opening of the Project Neon photo show on Friday the 23rd? Please do! If you like neon signs, if you like New York, if you like the fantastic City Reliquary, or if you’re just curious about any of the above, you should definitely come.
And you guys, I have SO MUCH work to do between now and then. I have to finish a bunch of stuff for the app tonight, send out the last few Kickstarter rewards over the next couple of days, do show planning over the next week, print & trim photos, install, etc. etc. It would be a great favor if you could help me spread the word. Thanks!
The photo above is a fantastic neon sign provided by Project Neon sponsor NeonSigns4U.com. It’s the sign (which is about two feet in diameter) sitting on my kitchen table. It’s so bright! And the lightning bolt and light rays coming off of it can flash (or be steady). I had a very busy weekend following up on a previous project, so I just now got to unpack it and plug it in. Very cool!
You can see the sign in person at the show—it’ll be hanging in the window. I hope to see you there!