(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!
(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!
Ardente Supply Co.
(On Valley Street at Eagle Street in the Valley neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island)
On the way to Olneyville, following some excellent directions suggested by Google (I never would have deciphered that tangle of streets so well myself), we passed this great sign for the Ardente Supply Co., purveyors of plumbing, heating, and lighting supplies. It’s like Google knew it should route me past any nearby neon.
The street was dark, the sidewalks bare, and the motorists speeding past seem to pay little heed to the glow. So interesting which businesses in which neighborhoods decide to host a lovely neon sign like this.
The combination of neon red and just slightly turquoise green is fantastic, as is the very idiosyncratic and lovely script on the right, a perfect counterpoint to the bold ARDENTE. It’s common to see block letters paired with script like this, but I think I’ve only ever seen the proper name in script (and usually with fully joined-up cursive letters), not as here with the proper name in block letters and the remainder in a script with loose but separate letters. The circle period is a nice touch, too. So happy I came across this! What other hidden gems are hiding in Providence & the rest of Rhode Island? One more fun find coming later tonight…
St. Mark’s Bookshop
(In the East Village on 3rd Avenue at E 10th Street)
So last night, because this is what I do, I went to look at neon. Since I wanted to get home before the annoying people took over the city, I didn’t go too far, but instead went to visit some old friends in the East & West Villages. The real instigation for the walk was to visit, probably for the last time in its current location, Rocco Ristorante:
Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reports that Rocco’s last day will be January 2nd, though they are looking for a new location (and it sounds like they’re taking the sign with them!) I didn’t have time to stay for dinner, and when I stopped by they were busy decorating for New Year’s Eve festivities, so I didn’t want to bother them for a drink (and I’ve already written about visiting). I *really* hope they find a new home nearby soon.
I wandered around after that, ending up at St. Mark’s Bookshop, in the East Village. I’ve been meaning to stop by here as I know they’ve been struggling lately. Happily they made it through the latest crisis, but I know times are tough for small, independent bookstores. And they happen to have a nice neon sign.
Sadly, the neon is behind a thick wall of plastic (hence the slightly blurry look above), but the lettering is great — look at how the secondary lines giving the letters thickness kind of dive in and out of the words. And so nice that they made the apostrophe blue to contrast with the green. I do wish St had its period, but the book-like stacking effect of the words just about makes up for that. And the green & blue combination is cheery while still feeling dignified. The bar of white on the side (outside the plastic) is a bit odd, but adds a kind of rakish asymmetry that makes it even more unique.
The bookstore inside leans heavily to political and academic writing, but has a great design section and a well-curated fiction section. Books are given room to breathe, with many turned out to face the browser so you don’t have to spend your entire time there with your head tilted to the right, squinting at spines. I spent a pleasurable half-hour or so browsing around, and while they didn’t have everything I had been thinking about looking for, I came away with two novels (The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell) I’ve been thinking about reading for awhile now. I don’t often let myself into bookstores as I have waaaay too many books in my house (and way too few bookshelves) as it is, plus a compete inability to leave a good bookstore empty handed. But St. Mark’s Bookshop is worth it. Happy memories of other books I’ve bought there intermingle with the many possibilities around, and I always walk out feeling like I’ve just sat through a particularly interesting class that introduced me to a new way of looking at the world I hadn’t quite thought of before. Long live St. Mark’s!
Updates on this & that:
I noticed while walking past the future new entrance to Gonzalez y Gonzales (they’re still remodeling the interior) that there’s a letter in the window stating that they have Landmarks approval as they’re not altering the facade significantly. So, alas, that must mean that the beautiful old sign is going to be inside. I’m glad they kept it, but disappointed it won’t be freely visible from the sidewalk.
Heartbreak is, oddly, closed for renovations (according to a sign in the window). They just opened not long ago, and the whole building is pretty new — I wonder what needs renovating? It’s one of my favorite new signs. I love that heartbreak literally breaks around the corner. I hope they reopen soon!
In case you missed it, nyneon.org has a rundown of the signs we lost in 2011.
Project Neon posters & prints are available for sale on Etsy.
I’m in the midst of a couple of additions and updates to the Project Neon app. If you have any suggestions, please let me know! Due to downloading issues I have to limit the size of the database so I can’t add too many new signs without removing some, but if enough people lobby for a particular sign being added, I will definitely consider it.
I got the wonderful new book, Polish Cold War Neon, by Ilona Karwinska for Christmas. It’s beautiful!
I added 2 new sets on Flickr: one of a few of my Project Neon favorites (in case you don’t have time to look through 859 — and counting — photos), and one of animated gifs, some of which were used in the online version of today’s New York Times article. For the animations, you have to view the original size, otherwise Flickr just shows a still. Right click on any photo and choose ‘original.’
It looks like next weekend (January 7th & 8th) will the the last weekend for the Project Neon show at the City Reliquary, so head on over!
Capitol Fishing Tackle Co.
(In the Garment District on W 36th Street btwn Broadway & 7th Avenue)
First of all, thanks to everyone who came to hear me ramble on about New York neon last night. I was, I will admit, a little nervous about whether anyone would show up, whether anyone would be interested in what I had to say, or whether anyone would throw rotten fruit. But no, no one threw anything and people clapped and even chuckled when I said funny things. And it was a packed house. And it was actually fun to talk all about neon. So thank you! And it was great to meet more neon fans in person — always a pleasure.
I took yesterday & today off of work with some pretense to myself of a) preparing for the talk (check) and b) maybe getting going on some holiday things. Well, I kinda failed at part B, but, guys, I finally FINALLY made it to Capitol Fishing Tackle! I’ve been wanting to see this sign lit since shortly after I started this project, when I just walked by on my way somewhere else in time to see the sign dark and the gate rolling down. It closes pretty early (especially in the winter when fishing season isn’t really at its peak around here — does anyone ice fish in NYC?) and subsequent attempts to rush out of work and across town in time all failed. Then the days got longer and the nights got shorter and WHAM! Daylight Savings Time happened and I had to give up hope.
Until now. To be honest when I took today off I had a small thought in the back of my mind that maaaaybe I could plan a neon mission to tackle this sign, so to speak. But of course who knows what the weather will be a couple of weeks later, right? And then, yes, it turned out to be a rainy day. But just before sunset I noticed the rain wasn’t raining so hard, so I grabbed my camera, a plastic bag, and a larger waterproof bag to stow everything and hopped the subway to Midtown.
Believe me, it is nothing short of a critical mission that will make me take the subway to Midtown at rush hour on a day off. But I did it and dashed past the Macy’s Christmas windows and around the corner to Capitol. Before I could see the sign, I could see smudges of red and green light on the vans and trucks parked opposite. Could it be? Yes! Success! OK, I had actually called them before I left to see how late they were open (I think their hours are a little more regular before Christmas when people are buying presents), but still, you never know. I also wasn’t sure if the photos would turn out since I had my camera in a plastic bag (with the lens sticking out) which screws up the light sensor in the eyepiece a bit, and I was standing in the street since a FedEx truck was parked right where I would have liked to stand, but it all worked out. Hooray! Now to add it to the iPhone app…
I love this sign. Partly because I discovered it by chance, partly because I can’t believe I never knew it existed, but partly because it’s just a really nice sign. Red & green to get you in the holiday spirit (thought the green, charmingly, is just the slightest bit aqua), and lovely letters. Look at the C in Tackle. So graceful! And the C in Capitol is a little rakish. And I really admire the gentle infill of the red letters when they widen a bit. Also, that K! Perfect. Maybe my next project should be to make fonts out of neon lettering? Of course I know next to nothing about making fonts…
Anyway, I’m really glad this sign continues to light up the gritty Midtown streets, especially since Gray’s Papaya is no longer nearby. It’s just a block away from Mood Fabrics, so if you’re headed there, make a stop on 36th. You won’t regret it.
The shop is small but well stocked with fishing equipage of all kinds. I decided to get a colorful lure, not to actually fish with (I haven’t done that in a very long time), nor to use as jewelry as Patti Smith mentions doing in Just Kids, but to act as a Christmas ornament. I passed by realistic rubber frogs, hot pink abstract squid, and chose a Smithwick Suspending Pro Rogue, silver with a pink belly and big yellow eyes. Two different fishers came in to purchase actual expensive fishing gear, though, so I didn’t want to take up too much of the time of the two people working, but I did compliment them on their beautiful sign before leaving.
Curious about why “cutlery” is on the sign? You can read a bit about the very interesting history of this shop on their website. I wonder if the sign dates from when the shop was below the Chelsea Hotel? Maybe next time I stop by I’ll ask if they know.
Queens Wines & Liquors
(71st Avenue @ Myrtle & Forest)
I finally made it back to Queens Wines & Liquors this evening—third time’s the charm! I’d been once before to see the lights (what a great sign!) earlier this winter, but the next couple of times I went out to Ridgewood, Queens I somehow go the hours wrong. The sign’s so long (and with a small bonus Liquor & arrow up high) that it’s hard to make a photograph that really captures the brightness and glow, so I was eager to return, zoom lens in hand.
Behind the sign is a great liquor store, with a vast selection. I wanted something summery, and debated for awhile over St. Germain or Lillet, but in the end went with Pimm’s. I’m drinking some over ice in a little Turkish teacup now.
I’m not a huge cocktail drinker (I usually stick with beer) but a nice summer cocktail is a lovely thing (and summertime neon expeditions are a bit limited since so many things close early—and the trees are in leaf—but the days are getting shorter…) I’m sure I’ll be visiting several more bars & liquor stores before the summer is over! I had no I idea when I started this project that one side benefit would be an expanded liquor shelf.
In other Project Neon news, the iPhone app is proceeding apace, I’m working on fulfilling Kickstarter rewards (I just sent some more out and have a small pile here to send out this weekend), and I’ve added a little Shop page to the blog (though the shop actually lives over on Equals Architecture, one of my other web sites, so I can have a little more control over the layout than here on Tumblr). The shop is more of a test run for now than a proper online store, as I need to finish Kickstarter rewards before I can fulfill any orders, but when I’ve cleared the decks a bit I’ll expand it and get it all ship shape. (You’re welcome to buy photos & posters from it now, but orders will be put in queue behind the Kickstarter rewards.)
(7th Avenue South btwn Grove & Bleecker Streets)
Casa Oliveira is a swell wine & liquor shop in the West Village. It was a bit of an old home week to stop by there last night, since I used to work nearby and would pop in whenever I needed some booze. I made the trip back, as I have a bunch of cherries at home and, together with the new cherry pitter I picked up at the Brooklyn Kitchen, I’m all ready to make brandied cherries (and maybe cherry ice cream with a hint of brandy as well?), except for an utter lack of brandy at Project Neon headquarters.
I was so very happy to see the sign not just in working order (last time I was there the Casa Olivera was out), but brighter than ever. I love this sign not only for the animation (“Liquors” alternates with “Fine Wines”), for the sidewalk sign with the great address number (also shown above), but also for the lovely patina of the red and white painted backdrop of the swing sign and the enameled backdrop of the facade sign. So beautiful. I do wish the sidewalk sign had outlined instead of single-stroke letters, but that’s a quibble. The overall effect, especially when the sign is as bright as it was last night, is splendid. (If you can’t see the animation, click the box below.)
The people at Casa Oliveira have always been gracious and helpful, too. It’s a small shop, but I’ve always found what I wanted.
It was nice to see a sign in working order, especially after hearing about the remnants of Jade Mountain (the iconic Chow Mein sign has been removed, and part of the remains of the channel letters crushed) and finding that Morscher’s Pork Store in Ridgewood has replaced their wonderful neon with a tacky plastic sign. I am really heartbroken about both of those. But happily there are still places like Casa Oliveira, who are willing to maintain beautiful signs like this one.
Block Drug Store
(in the East Village on 2nd Avenue at 6th Street)
Yesterday I left work early to go to Block Drugs to pick up something for this terrible cough I’ve had for a few days. According to my research I hadn’t yet reached the point of needing a doctor (no fever, cough hasn’t lasted over a week yet), but I wasn’t sure what kind of medicine I needed exactly, so I headed down to the amazing (inside & out) Block Drugs.
As the cool curved corner neon says, Block was established in 1885, and even though the sign turns off at 7p every day when they close (so you can only see it in full glow during the winter), it must be a favorite since this is my most popular Flickr photo ever, beating out even cute kittens and baseball.
The inside, though tiny, is full of great antique details. And the staff are incredibly helpful and very friendly. It’s nice to have someone tell you to fell better as they hand you your medicine. Thanks, Block—I’ll be back. And I’ll definitely be back in the fall when the sun sets a little earlier to take more photos!
Kickstarter update, for them that are wondering: I have nearly finished all the membership cards (they look fantastic!) and many of the photo prints (they also look great!), but I still need to re-shoot a couple of blurry images for the posters. Being sick has slowed me down on that, but I hope to get it done in the next week. The mailers have just arrived, so hopefully I’ll be able to start sending a few things out as soon as I’m feeling better (I don’t want to send you any germs!) I’ve also begun work on the database that will run the app, but there’s still loads to do there. Right now, though, I’m just going to have some more cough syrup and take a nap.
Cork & Bottle Liquors
(On 1st Avenue between E 63rd & E 64th Streets in the Upper East Side)
Cork & Bottle Liquors is another one of the early Project Neon subjects—it’s hard to miss that huge pink sign with the classic neon infill texture I call mazey since the dense lines with their turns and angles make me think of mazes. A lot of neon signs are sans serif, but here we have a great slab serif font for the horizontal name sign, complementing the san serif of the vertical “Liquor” sign.
One thing I’ve noticed as I try to sort out which neon signs I like best and why, is that despite the fact I am a staunch champion of simplicity and white space in most graphic design, I don’t mind complexity and density with neon (as long as there aren’t any LEDs mixed in, or too many other materials). This sign isn’t crazy or anything, but normally I would ask why two different font styles? But the bright pink neon and the mazey texture mean that to be 100% honest, I didn’t even realize they were different until I was looking more closely at the photos now. Plus of course I love ampersands. Who doesn’t? Fun fact: I couldn’t write one to save my life. I get them all muddled with G-clefs and cursive capital Gs. I supposed I should sit down and force myself to learn one day, but in the mean time I’ll just admire them in the wild.
I stopped into the Cork & Bottle (I love that name) this evening because I have been fresh out of Jameson for months now, and I am also out of coffee extract (key ingredient in boozy Vietnamese coffee ice cream), which I make with Jameson and ground coffee. It’s a clean, well-lighted store with helpful staff and a good selection (wines more than liquors, oddly). The prices seemed a little Upper East Side, but I’ll definitely be back some time to support their fantastic neon.
Unfortunately my booze needs are pretty limited and there are quite a few New York City liquor stores with excellent neon left to visit. Anyone need me to pick them up something?