Six Decades of Labor Day Leisure in NYC

Sometimes the ads in the Village Voice tell you as much about what was happening as any of the articles


In the late 1950s the Voice was often only twelve or sixteen or twenty pages, not yet the cultural juggernaut it would become in the next decade. But Jonas Mekas was already covering movies that were not coming from Hollywood, and over Labor Day weekend in 1959 he was alerting readers to films from the “new French wave,” such as The 400 Blows, The Cousins, and Back to the Wall, a “coldly, clinically executed thriller, impersonal, grim, humorless, too humorless.”

If that didn’t sound fun enough, you could at least go to the “Cool Brooklyn Paramount” (it was air-conditioned) on Flatbush and see Kim Novak in Middle of the Night. There were also plenty of Bergman flicks in town, but if that was also just too grim, you could head to the Greenwich theater (also “Air-Conditioned”) for Billy Wilder’s uproarious Some Like It Hot.

Come 1968, with the counterculture in full bloom, you could spend the weekend shopping for groovy threads in the East Village: velvet shirts at the What-Not Shop on St. Marks Place, Cossack shirts and dresses at Eko on Second Avenue, and hand-embroidered and beaded dresses at the Secret Garden on East 5th Street. And if you were looking for a gross of black lights, all you needed to do was head over to the Gelb Fixture Co. Inc., on Avenue A.

Well…the Seventies. September of 1978, to be exact. Still hadn’t seen John Belushi’s rollicking turn in Animal House? Better that than the unintentionally laughable Jaws 2. And Robert Stigwood’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band featured everyone except any of the Beatles. The result was predictable.

Ten years later jazz is representing all over town, although the Blue Note and other clubs were dark on Labor Day Monday. But you know what you could do back then, after a late night in the East Village? You could still go to Yaffa Cafe. Man, do we miss Yaffa.

Come 1994 and movie theaters are for losers. All you need is a VCR and the Tower Outlet on 4th Street and Lafayette. What better way to spend a three-day weekend than plowing through Ambulance, The Big Sweat, Batman II, Caddyshack II, The Cemetery Club, Crocodile Dundee II, The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag, Joey Breaker, Uncommon Valor, Whore, “and tons, tons more!!!!”

C’mon — what do you expect? This wasn’t Kim’s…

And for the new millennium? Wigstock. Sure, the move to the West Side piers had sapped the event of its original Tompkins Square Park/Eighties exhilaration, but a girl could still dream, no?