Open Post — Show Us Your Neon
There’s no picture here… why? Because it’s your turn!
You’re probably all out traveling and such for Memorial Day Weekend (although technically Memorial Day isn’t until Wednesday), but anyone who has a moment, please share your favorite neon photo here. Let’s stick to photos you yourself have taken for now, OK?
You’ll need a Tumblr account to do so, but they’re free, so why not? Neon only, please, and preferably a photo that’s really about the neon, not just a tiny neon sign off in the distance. I reserve the right to delete any photos that displease me. If this all works out, I will make it a semi-regular occurrence.
I’m not sure when the next regular Project Neon post would be — I’m having some back problems that make hauling a camera around on a long walk pretty unappealing. Hopefully a restful three-day weekend will sort all that out.
OK, let’s see your neon!
(Tumblr seems a bit wonky this morning — let me know if you have trouble photo-replying)
(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!
(on Nassau Avenue at Guernsey Street, in North Williamsburg/Greenpoint)
Soundtrack: Okkervil River’s “He Passes Number Thirty-three”
Hello there, neonistas, some newses for you, rather than a neon visit today (hopefully I’ll get one in later this week once the rain stops its raining):
* I walked by Old Town Bar earlier this week, and the sign was in dismal condition — flickery, dim, and choked by some new scaffolding. I very much hope this is a temporary condition.
* Murray’s Sturgeon, alas, reports that their sign is likely to be hidden by scaffolding (which they have no control over) for some time to come. I really want to get a good picture of this great sign…
* A nice little round up of cool neon things, including, ahem, a small mention of this very blog over at Imprint.
* A fascinating look at an American footnote to the early history of neon sign development from The Atlantic.
* I was going to keep this secret a little longer, but maybe you’d like to know that I’m working on a collection of longer essays, each one centered around a particular New York neon sign or two. They’re likely to be a bit rambling (duh, it’s me we’re talking about), but will be about the urbanism, design, and various civic things I think about when I’m walking around the city on neon hunting expeditions. Also about bars, Coney Island, and small shops in the age of mega-word-infinity-chains. And neon! And New York. And lots of other things. I imagine I’ll self-publish this somehow or other with a lot of photos (unless someone wants to hook me up with a publisher?), but we’ll see what happens. Who knows how long it will take, but I’ll keep you updated on progress. I apologize if this cuts a bit into posting here, but there are, of course, only so many hours in the day. Suggestions for good places to write that are quietish and don’t mind lingerers are encouraged! (The first chapter is about Dublin House — here’s to the regular who bought me Guinnesses last time I was there. You are supporting the arts, sir!)
* Photos from New York City in 1971, over on Retronaut, including some great neon signs. A very important year, because it is the year of my birth. Yes, I am that old!
* Gonna try out a monthly neon group post, beginning next week, if anyone’s interested. So get your best neon photo ready to share! You will have to have a Tumblr account (I’ll be trying out the photo reply feature), but hey — they’re free, so why not?
* This is not neon related, but news from another project I was a part of: the Hypothetical Development Organization is going to be part of the Venice Architectural Biennale! I am so honored to have a part, however small, in that august architectural shindig. (I made two huge drawings for the project, though I’m not sure what the actual installation will look like.) Wish I could jet off to Venice to see it. It’s especially pleasing as I’ve been feeling glum lately about the diminishing possibilities for me in the field, but that’s a real resume builder, eh? The New York Times’ 6th Floor Blog has a brief write-up.
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.
(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).
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.
52nd Street, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1948
4x5 color negative
From the Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress
Project Neon is all about celebrating the great signs still up and glowing, but sometimes when there’s bad neon news like the loss of Maiman’s, I need to retreat to the golden age of neon for a moment.
William Gottlieb was a remarkable photographer who chronicled the New York jazz scene of the 30s and 40s. The Library of Congress has a great collection of his photos, from which the above is taken (I cropped out the film edges so you could better see the content). 52nd Street was Swing Street back in the day, and wow, wasn’t it amazing even before you could get inside to hear the music? And all those dark & curvy cars, together with the wet street, really reflect the glow beautifully.
The Dingman Collection
Preview June 8th, Auction June 9th & 10th
Hampton, New Hampshire
You guys, I want to buy ALL THE SIGNS. Can someone give me the money and a warehouse to put them in? The first half of this video is Michael Dingman talking a bit about his collection of signs, which are largely transportation related, though they also include motels, gas stations, restaurants, etc. (In the second half he talks about his collection of antique cars.) An incredible, beautiful set of signs. There are over 1,400 for sale. I hope at least a couple end up in a museum or somewhere they can be seen.
Apparently earlier this year more of his signs were sold. So many signs.
PS: When I was looking for info about the sale, I came across this (unrelated) amazing neon-covered truck. Cool!
(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!
(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.