(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 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.
Upper East Side Shoe Repair Shops
(For names and locations, see the Neon Shoes set on Flickr)
I’m dealing with a lot extra-curricular crap at the moment, including heartbreak and a dead fridge, so I’m a bit behind on everything, including Project Neon posts. I’ll try to catch up over the next few days.
First up: a couple of weekends ago I went on a photo walk on the Upper East Side. I was particularly hunting one of my favorite types of neon signs: shoe repair shop signs.
I know they’re probably off the shelf as often as custom made (and I usually vastly prefer custom neon), but there’s something so charming about the giant shoes, even when they’re anatomically imposible. I also love how New Yorkish they are — we need a lot of shoe repair with all the pavement pounding we do.
John’s, (which I made a proper visit to last year) above, is probably my favorite for it’s colorful minimalism, but Sam’s is great, too, especially when you see it together with the other half, also featuring curly eses. The giant Andrade loafers are also excellent. So many great neon shoes, boots, heels, and more.
I know there are a jillion more of these signs, both on the Upper East Side and elsewhere. I need to have more neon shoe walks to hunt down as many of these as I can find. Unfortunately as you can see above, many of them are behind bars by the time darkness sets it, so it may be next winter before I really get the photo set filled in properly.
Last night I bundled up, packed my binoculars, and subwayed over to Battery Park to see the comet. It was frigid, but the sunset was lovely, and I made the happy discovery that the Colgate Clock is back on over in Jersey. So an expedition there soon if I can work out the logistics. Or maybe I’ll wait until it’s a *little* bit warmer.
(On First Avenue @ 66th Street in the Upper East Side)
I’ve already written about Goldberger’s Pharmacy, but those of you who have been following along since the beginning may recognize that this is the first neon photo I posted to the Project Neon Flickr set, exactly two years ago today. Yep, it’s Project Neon’s 2nd birthday. Goldberger’s (together with the Cork & Bottle) was the original inspiration for Project Neon on a dark December night two years ago. Those weren’t the first neon signs I’d photographed, but they were the first signs in New York City, and so began this project.
I’d like to thank all of you who have been following along, everyone who supported the Kickstarter project, and all the shopkeepers and neon repairers and sign makers who make the city nights brighter. Without all of you Project Neon never would have happened.
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.
Neil’s Coffee Shop
(On Lexington Avenue at 70th Street in the Upper East Side)
[Pardon if my sentances don’t parse properly — I’m listening to the Beastie Boys as I write this in a futile attempt to drown out the racket of my upstairs neighbors. Oy.]
I’m pretty much bound to feel affectionately toward anything with “coffee shop” in the title and Neil’s has a great sign. Lovely script and block letters in channels hanging over the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 70th Street in glowy pink and deep orange will lead you to an old-school diner in the shadow of Hunter College. The service is not what you’d call attentive, the interior decor is a symphony of beige, and the standard diner fare is nothing to write home about (I had a decent grilled cheese and a disappointing milk shake), but it’s an old reliable in a neighborhood with too many snobs and show-offs. Add in a lovely neon sign, and I’m happy.
If you’re in the neighborhood you should ch-ch-check it out.
Wanna see some neon from 1970s New York? OK, here you go. (Thanks, Paul.)
Wanna see Times Square neon in 1957? Have a look at this. (Thanks, Curt.)
Wanna see some fun neon in Austin? Lookee here.
EDIT: Oh, hey, guys — I think I forgot to tell you I wrote a guest post for I Love Old NY. Did I tell you this? If not, take a look — it’s a great site!
[Pardon the jpeg junk on the photo above — this was one of the problems with Aperture. I was going to reupload the photo via Lightroom, but my trial copy ran out and Adobe won’t let me buy it for some reason I can only decipher between 9a and 5p. Hopefully I can fix this soon. If so, I’ll upload a better looking photo.]
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?
(Original Upper East Side location on 86th Street @ 3rd Avenue)
I bet even if I hadn’t labeled this post, most New Yorkers would be able to name that pink P in the green… what do you call that shape? Cinched rectangle? The Papaya King sign is about as iconic to my New York as the statue of liberty. Oddly, though, I can’t remember the last time I ate here.
It’s an impossibly narrow storefront, but there are multiple doors, so if you can’t squeeze past the cowboy-hatted fellow pulling a wheeled suitcase, just step out into the sidewalk and go back in the next door, which is what I did, to wedge myself in at the counter between a police officer and a shady character with his hood pulled as far down over his face as he could manage. Once in place, I dined on a snappy hot dog with sauerkraut and a delicious papaya juice, the specialty combo of the house and, at $3 and change for the pair, an excellent deal. I’m not sure their papaya juice is as healthful as they proclaim, but it sure is an excellent accompaniment to a hot dog.
While I ate leaning against the narrow counter, I watched the buses, cabs, and sedans heading uptown reflecting bits & pieces of the neon glow of Papaya King’s awesome sign. My only complaint is that I wish this place was within lunch-break distance of my work. Well that, and that I wish they’d get rid of the little plastic thing on the left of the sign with the weird drawing. Pure neon is the way to go, my friends!
I left well satiated for my ensuing neon explorations up- and mid-town. Thanks, Papaya King—long may your sign glow onto the uptown-bound traffic of Third Ave.
(This photo is also from earlier this winter—I didn’t have time to wait for the sun to set last night!)