The Beatrice Inn
On W 12th St between W 4th St & 8th Avenue in the West Village
I’ve been meaning to stop by and see the restored Beatrice Inn sign for a while now. The Beatrice Inn is too swank for me (especially on a Saturday night), but maybe some weekday I’ll switch out my Chucks for something more fashionable and slip in for a quick drink. And I do love the impossible-sounding address. The West Village can be so wonderfully confounding.
At any rate, the sign is lovely. Classic pink & green, and the patina was left intact (read more about the restoration by the very wonderful Let There Be Neon over on Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York). So the opposite of the Fedora sign, which I want to like — I’m always in favor of keeping neon aglow — but that was just replaced with a vaguely similar sign instead of being repaired & restored, and it shows.
I walked around the West Village last night, revisiting some old favorites (Casa Olivera is no longer animated, but the white horse on the White Horse Tavern's sign is back to blinking off and on). All in all the West Village still has a good glow, though if you want to see it on a weekend, you'll have to deal with a lot of hoi polloi to do it.
Those of you following along on Flickr may have noticed some big (for me) news: I saved a slice of my tax refund to buy a slightly fancier camera body (the rest went to paying down debt — so boring!) Last night was my first night out with it and I’m really, really pleased. The high ISO settings are really going to be great for dimmer signs. It’s a little heavier than my old camera and I still haven’t sorted out all the settings, but I’m hoping once I get the hang of it, there will be a noticeable increase in the quality of my photos. Plus I got my lenses professionally cleaned. Improvements all around!
Oh, hey, look — the beautiful Long Island Bar is hiring! I hope when it reopens it will be even 1/10th as special as it used to be (though maybe that’s too much to ask). At any rate, I’ll be so very extremely happy if I can see the sign lit. We need more good neon news!
(in Chelsea on 9th Avenue between 17th & 18th Streets)
I’ll leave the pizza reviews to the always excellent Slice Harvester (plain slice, of course) and the inimitable Mr. Slice (fennel sausage) — I think they both got it pretty right. The neon, however, I will tell you, is pretty great, especially for such a small storefront. The red, white, and green, the stripes, the fascia & sidewalk signs, and the quilted stainless steel behind the main sign all add up to a lovely slice (so to speak) of the neonopolis.
Coming here at the end of a longish neon walk that started disappointedly for various reasons, continued annoyingly (have you ever had one of those days when every light turns red as you walk up to it?), became even more annoying at the lovely Golden Rule Wine & Liquor, where some jerk busy on his phone in front of the shop kept making smart comments about didn’t I want a picture of him? (my least favorite and most frequent photographer heckle ever) etc., became nearly unbearable a bit further up 9th Avenue where women in stilettos and jeggings flirted precariously on uneven sidewalks with God’s-gift-to-the-ladies types in a style that completely blocked the sidewalks to anyone who might actually want to pass through rather than hang out with their eminences. Ugh. So anyway I was cranky, starving and tired when I approached Stella’s and, frankly, not expecting much. It turned out to be a pretty sweet little spot, though, so all’s well that ends well — and in the end I did in fact get some decent photos in addition to Stella’s (but I’ll remember in future to steer clear of the Meatpacking District on Friday nights).
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.
(Thompson Street between Houston & Bleecker Streets in the West Village)
I was pretty disappointed when I got to Rocco Restaurant this evening and found not the lovely, flickering sign I’d seen recently, but a nearly burnt out sign—the back was completely out and the green on the front was, too. I was sad not just because it’s always a little sad to see a neon sign in need of repair, but because I wanted to make a subtle neon animation inspired by the mostly fashion-related animated gifs of From Me to You. The awning was blowing about a little so I made it anyway (it’s pretty subtle), but I’m definitely going to experiment more with flashing & flickering signs.
But back to Rocco’s. Even though the sign uses single-stroke letters (usually not as appealing as outlined or filled letters unless it’s a script), I still love this sign—especially when the green part is lit. It’s on a great great red & white base with curves that put me in mind of a tiered wedding cake. Plus I’m pretty fond of signs that hang over the sidewalk. And while I enjoy the Kabuki-like black paint used to disguise tubes connecting letters, I’m also pretty fond of this style where the tubes dive in and out of the sign through tiny rabbit holes. Plus I like the stretched-out lettering in “Rocco” and the way the stems of U and R seem to combine to create a single outlined stem.
I’d seen this sign in the distance often when I worked in the neighborhood, but I’ve never been in, so tonight I got my friend Paul to join me for a classic red-sauce dinner. Clams Casino followed by pasta (tortellini bolognese for me, spaghetti carbonara for him) and tiramisu—a classic Italian dinner in a classic setting. The restaurant’s been around forever (well, since 1922) and I’m guessing hasn’t changed a whole lot. A warm glow & a pleasant chatter of conversation make this a cozy nook in the raucous Friday night West Village. The food was good if not great, but a totally great place to spend an evening. Here’s hoping the cost of our dinner will go toward repairing the classic sign of this classic red-sauce joint.
PS: Hey, welcome to the bazillions of new followers and subscribers! Don’t forget to visit the Project Neon Kickstarter page, where you can get cool rewards (membership cards, photo prints, and posters) for supporting my project to make a digital guidebook to New York’s best neon signs.