Full Tilt E.Vil. Nostalgia

September 14, 2007


Don’t miss The New York Times article about the best nabe in the world (still!), the East Village. The article mentions that Abbie Hoffman started the yippie movement in a basement apartment he lived in at 30 St. Marks Pl. I happen to live in one of two basement apartments that still exist at 30 St. Marks. The video (which is also excellent, don’t miss it) indicates that the “basement apartment” is now the Japanese restaurant Go, but I wonder if that’s correct, given that the restaurant is on the ground floor and there are still two basement apartments in the back. Does anyone know for sure which space Abbie Hoffman actually lived in? (I took the above photo in front of the store Trash and Vaudeville several years ago, which is the space where Yoko Ono and other artists held “happenings.”)

There is also a downloadable audio walking tour. Click here for that.

Howl Festival

September 8, 2007

Tompkin Square Park is alive with the Howl Festival. I happened to catch The Little Death NYC featuring Moby this afternoon. The whole park was rocking. Along the outside fence are murals by local artists. Here is one of the more compelling juxtapositions (click to enlarge):


For a short slideshow of last year’s Howl parade down St. Mark’s Pl. at the end of the festival, click here and scroll down to the sixth item.

Rev. Billy Ready for Close-Up

April 19, 2007


So I’m toiling away at Mudspot, which I do nearly every day, when in comes Rev. Billy, founder of the Church of Stop Shopping, in full regalia, with Today Show correspondent Natalie Morales and a film crew in tow. Apparently, they have been shooting all over the E.Vil. for a segment to be aired in the not-too-distant future. While the Rev. Billy and his tent-revival mocking, anti-consumerist gospel may not be ready for primetime, he’s good to go for daytime.

Question from Morales to Mudspot owner Nina Berott: “Is Rev. Billy an activist or a crackpot?”

Laughter from the Mudspot regulars drowned out her answer, so tune into the Today Show to find out!

BTW: He may not be Tom Wolfe, but isn’t it kind of tacky for a reporter to wear a white suit while covering The Rev. Billy, who’s signature dress is a white suit, kinda like upstaging a bride by wearing a white gown? (Click to enlarge photo.)

E.Vil., How Do I Love Thee…

January 23, 2007


I have a tendency to come to these things a little late, but better late than never. For more than three years, I’ve been living in the the East Village — hands down, the coolest neighborhood in the world (okay, I haven’t been to every nabe in the world, but a little hyperbole never hurt anyone). And yet, I still find myself walking past any number of cool things without hardly taking note, only to one day stop in my tracks and say, “Hey, what’s that?” This happened at a tiny storefront on First Avenue (near Houston) called East Village Radio, where I would glance at the DJ spinning records behind the glass and think, “I need to check that out.” So I finally did:

Based out of a store-front studio on First Avenue, embedded in the heart of the East Village, EVR is an Internet radio station … with a wide array of musical genres … Over 60 DJs and hosts provide 16 hours of LIVE programming a day, broken up into 2 hour show blocks, 7 days a week.EVR’s store-front street level studio helps maintain its independent artistic sensibility. According to [a] study of pedestrian traffic in New York City, almost 1,000 (1,800 during peak travel times) pedestrians pass by the sound booth per hour.

1000-1800 pedestrians PER HOUR! That just boggles the mind, and yet it isn’t even the main point here. The point is, check out East Village Radio — with its eclectic schedule and now of course everything is podcast — and revel in the creativity that could only acculturate in the agar of the East Village. The storefront was renovated last summer, which was covered by Fader (where I got the above photo). BTW: The Fader show on Fridays is it.

Whole Paycheck

January 16, 2007


With Whole Foods’ stock tanking, I was beginning to wonder if the long-promised store on the Bowery was ever going to open. That is, until I encountered a Whole Foods employee on St. Marks Pl. gathering signatures on letters that will be sent to the New York State liquor control board, urging it to approve a license so the grocery chain can sell booze next door to its Bowery store (state law prohibits grocery stores from selling anything other than beer, an asinine law if there ever was one). The employee, pictured above, said the store is still on track to open in April.

A few fun facts about the Bowery: The street was originally an Indian trail, then a cow path to Peter Stuyvesant’s farm (“bouwerij” is the Dutch word for farm). It was the first street in America with a trolley car. It was New York’s theater district before Broadway became Broadway. At the turn of the last century, there were an estimated 25,000 Bowery bums who lived in flophouses and on the street. Read more about the street at Forgotten New York.

(Location) x 3

January 10, 2007

picture-3.pngPolis readers know I eagerly await the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery. In the meantime, the museum is sponsoring a series of lectures in the neighborhood. Tonight’s panel discussion, “Location Location Location,” sounds like it’s about real estate, but thankfully it’s not. The role of regional culture in a global world, and whether provincialism is as bad as it sounds, will be discussed by Saskia Bos, the dean of the School of Art at Cooper Union; the architect Teddy Cruz; the artist and MacArthur Fellow Julie Mehretu; and Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic of The New York Times (6:30 p.m., Cooper Union, Seventh Street at Third Avenue, East Village, (212) 219-1222; $6).

Photo by Nicole Bengiveno for the The New York Times: The artist Julie Mehretu in front of her “Rise of the New Suprematists” at the Project in Harlem in 2001.

Shut the Door

January 7, 2007

muddoor.jpgAs far as inside jokes go, they don’t get any more obscure than this homage to the Mudspot door. Mudspot (for the uninitiated) is one of those places that became an instant hangout for E.Vil. neighborhoodies because the warm and welcoming atmosphere guarantees good conversation with funny and interesting people (oh, and the coffee’s good too).

But the door, you see, is a hundred year-old solid wood thing that doesn’t shut automatically, it has to be pulled with some umph. When it’s cold out, regular Mudsters like to make a show of getting up and slamming it after non-regulars (i.e. outsiders) have sashayed out, coffee in hand, leaving a trail of obliviousness behind them. Many jokes and complaints later, someone suggested the door should have it’s own web presence. And sure enough, last winter, there it appeared, the MySpace Door At Mud page:

Status: Swinger
Here for: Friends
Sign: Virgo (because it opens in early Sept.)
Home Town: E. 9th St.

The MySpace Mud Door page now boasts 35 friends who leave clever little notes such as: “Oh MudDoor how I long to complete thee! I could not dare count the brisk fall & winter days I’ve stared at you longing to move you with my eyes alone, to press my body up against you and slam you against your frame…. to hold you tightly so you could be moved by none other!”

mud3.JPGThis January weekend, when temperatures hit 70 degrees, the door at Mudspot, as you might imagine, was pretty much wide open all day, and the conversation, as you might also imagine, centered on one topic: Everyone is rather guiltily enjoying the 70 degree weather.

The most recent joke about the door: before too long, it’ll be dismantled and used as a flotation device when Lower Manhattan is flooded by rising sea levels. But until that day of reckoning comes, the Mudspot door will continue to swing.

New Yorbanism*

January 5, 2007

astorthumb.jpegI was talking with a very knowledgeable person recently about what is perhaps the biggest luxury condo failure built in New York during the real estate boom: the “Sculpture for Living” by Charles Gwathmey at Astor Place. We agreed the interiors are great, but otherwise it landed like a spaceship in the East Village, an opinion shared by many people.

But what I didn’t realize is that the base of the building — perhaps the worst part, because there is absolutely no street context and has all the character of big box retail — was not entirely the architect’s fault. It turns out, the blocky base was a compromise to satisfy NYC zoning requirements that all new buildings address the street in an essentially uniform and measured distance. In other words, what we have here is an urban planning theory, a la Jane Jacobs, rigidly applied in the form of zoning, which of course results in the law of unintended consequences. It might not have saved the building from disaster, but how much more interesting the block would be if the undulations came all the way down to the street? Furthermore, if ever there was an example where an architecture team should prod the city to address issues of the surrounding area (i.e. the deadzone that is Astor Square), this is it.


Which brings me to my real point. Over the holidays when Polis was on break and I was eating and drinking like there’s no tomorrow, I received an email from John Lumea, he of horizonr, a rockin’ new urban planning/architecture blog (the horizonr mission statement: “Practical knowledge about how, exactly, buildings create urban environments must get in the hands of the general urban-dwelling public; and the public must use this information to build better cities”).

He sent an email alerting me to an in-depth, thought-provoking piece he wrote which coins the term “New Yorbanism.” This phrase represents his theory that the last 30 years of bad building in New York is the result of a misinterpretation of Jane Jacobs mashed up with New Urbanism and cemented into untouchable dogma, which then fomented in a real estate feeding frenzy.

One of the interesting points he makes is to challenge the universally accepted idea that the superblock of the World Trade Center site should be broken up and reconnected to the street grid. This was certainly an idea I accepted without question — and that is always where the trouble comes in, no? When a sentence starts with, “Everyone knows that …” Well, how do we know, exactly? That is PRECISELY the default mode of thinking that Jacobs questioned in the first damn place.

wtctowers.jpgMr. Lumea quotes Jacobs in an interview with Adam Gopnik, suggesting that perhaps the street grid at the WTC shouldn’t be restored at all. “I was at a school in Connecticut where the architects watched paths that the children made in the snow all winter, and then when spring came they made those the gravel paths across the green. Why not do the same thing here?” Aside from the fact that we’ll never see snow in New York again, this is SUCH a wonderful Jane Jacobsian statement: beautiful in its simplicity and brilliance.

But then Mr. Lumea adds this: “Jane Jacobs recognized that the [WTC] site itself is a giant X-intersection; that the whole thing is a corner; and that this corner will not be a ‘lively heart’ … if it is choked with streets and real estate — including the memorial — that max out the site too quickly, (1) robbing this heart of the room it needs to expand and (2) making the next World Trade Center a less, not more, hospitable place…”

In other words, the superblock was not the problem, and the street grid will not fix it. Rigidly applied formulas are the problem that get writ large when mixed with greed, grief, and political opportunism. Jane Jacobs is dead. Long live Jane Jacobs.

Read the entire horizonr post here.


Cash Cab on St. Marks

January 4, 2007

E.B. White once said something to the effect, don’t come to New York unless you’re willing to be lucky. That is the subtext of a game show on the Discovery Channel called Cash Cab. Comedian Ben Bailey drives around NYC, picking up unsuspecting game show contestants. If they agree to be on the show, taxi riders answer general trivia questions to win cash on the way to their destination. So I’m walking down St. Marks Place this afternoon, and I see a cab and a cameraman and I’m thinking, that’s got to be Cash Cab. Sure enough, so I stop and wait. (At the end of the ride, the contestants can risk all their earnings on a final video trivia question, and if they answer correctly, they double their money. If they answer wrong, they get no money but a free cab ride.) So the camerman and I are standing at the ready when we hear from inside the cab, “WHOOO!” The cab door flies open and out pop three Cash Cab winners waiving a fistful of $100 bills. Only in New York can the random urban encounter be married with transportation to win cold hard cash!



Last Stand in the E.Vil.

January 2, 2007


The Times rarely weighs in on neighborhood development fights. But Charlie Bagli has a piece today about one of the last anti-gentrification battles in my nabe over a school that was bought in 1998 and sits in the cross-hairs of development v. anti-development interests in the East Village:

The opponents include not only neighborhood activists but nearly every local elected official, the pro-development Bloomberg administration and the owner of the penthouse next door at the Christadora House, a 1980s symbol of encroaching gentrification where protesters once chanted, “Kill yuppie scum.” …

More than eight years after Mr. Singer bought the building, there is no end in sight. P.S. 64 is a blight even as Tompkins Square Park, the site of a homeless encampment and riot in 1988, has been transformed into a quiet oasis for the white-collar professionals who live nearby.

Keep reading, and one discovers that neighbors have likened a proposed design to a Nazi concentration camp. Dog doodoo is being flung about, literally. The owner has threatened to turn it into a giant homeless shelter (take that, you liberals). Susan Sarandon has even gotten involved. And of course, The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission is being used as a political tool (no big surprise; read a piece by Tom Wolfe eviscerating the Commission here). This is a must-read cautionary tale.

Photo by Marilynn K. Yee

Happy Holidays from St. Marks Pl.

December 15, 2006


I’ll be taking a break from Polis until the first of the year (although I have a tendency to say that and then post anyway, so check back if you’re so inclined). In the meantime, below is a year-end review. Happy holidays!


December 11, 2006


Now we’re talking smart public toilet design. Victoria, BC is having such a problem with nighttime public urination, the city has installed a test case urinal that disappears underground during the day and pops up at night. We need at least two of these on St. Marks Place, one at Astor Square and another near Tompkins Square Park. I guess the ladies still have to wait in line like we always do, while the “girls gone wild” crowd and the guys who love them get their very own public urinal design:

By day, the Urilift is lowered below street level for a nice clean look. Then at night, an operator comes by with a remote and the Urilift hydraulically lifts to sidewalk level in about two minutes. Then the unit is ready to serve all the nighttime party animals who don’t mind peeing in a very exposed public urinal.

There’s even a hilarious promo video extolling the many virtues of the Urlift, including the fact that in addition to the urinal, there’s also a drain in the floor since “people may have trouble with their coordination.” Check it out here.

Underground Pool

December 5, 2006


Bank the Nine has a great story (and an awesome photo) about discovering pool games underneath bodegas on the Lower East Side. Next time you step on a metal cellar door, imagine this scene taking place below your feet.

Trash and Fashion

November 29, 2006


Fashion shoot, St. Marks style: Yes, the guy with smudges all over his face is part of the shoot, not a random street urchin crashing the scene (photographed this afternoon between 2nd and 3rd Aves).

St. Marks Roundup-O-Rama

November 13, 2006

Mid-November on St. Marks Place: The punk kid summer convention is (mostly) dissipated. The Halloween puke has been hosed into the sewer. And a new restaurant is set to open (among other news).


  • gama1.JPGGama, a new Korean place in the space where Cafe San Marcos used to be (12 St. Marks, built in 1885 as the German American Shooting Society, and was once home to St. Marks Bookshop, which is no longer on the block). Gama had a lovely tasting on Saturday night and will likely open this week (click to enlarge photos).
  • CBGBs is opening a store in the building that has at various times been a German music club wherecbgb.JPG a Jewish mob shootout happened in 1914; the Polish National Home, known as The Dom, which turned into a popular bar; the Electric Circus which hosted Andy Warhol and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, among others; a drug rehab center; and now it is a refurbished building with expensive condos on top and Chipotle, Super Cuts and other assorted retailers at street level. So it’s pretty much indisputable: CBGBs has officially sold-out. Going to Vegas is one thing, but opening a retail shop in this squeaky clean retail spot is another, even if it is St. Marks.
  • fuego2.JPGLast but not least, Cafe Fuego, which opened very quietly in August, is a Cuban spot at 9 St. Marks and is co-owned by international male model Gabriel Aubry, who is dating Halle Berry. On Tuesday, there will be a big red carpet event that Ms. Berry is going to attend, along with 300 other glam types who probably couldn’t find St. Marks on a map. The press release for this event calls St. Marks one of the hippest blocks in Manhattan. Well, it will be Tuesday night, anyway. Not so sure how hip it will be once the Berry entourage departs for environs less likely to have heroin addicts doing the nod in front of Trash and Vaudeville

Thanks to New York Songlines, as always, for the historical info.