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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Where Have All the Hipsters Gone?

What’s going on around here? Where the hell is everybody? I’ve been living in the West and East Villages for the past 13 years and I’ve known a gang of people all over New York, but where are they now? I went to the recent peace congregation in Washington Square and with the exception of a pair of friends from a subterranean newspaper and the peripatetic Nat Hentoff, I saw not one face I recognized. Not one! including those on the speakers’ platform, and I’ve been pounding against the abomination of this war since 1964. Where is that whole happy tormented crowd I used to know? Driven from the Village to the Lower East Side too … where? Where are they? Or maybe the question should be: where am I?

Recently I decided to break out of and away from certain stultifying and treacherous patterns to which I had anchorweighted myself; things as simple as always taking the same out when going from one place to another. When I lived on Charles Street in the Village (’59 to ’63) I pretty much stayed in that community. Since ’63 I have lived on the Lower East Side (nine bleeping years! a quarter of my life!). Since I’ve been here I haven’t gone back to the Village much so I decided that for old times’ sake I’d right-angle it down MacDougal and east across Bleecker one Wednesday morning a week or so before the peace thing. It was a bad idea. It has become Desolation Row.

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In the early ’60s residents of the Village complained that creeping moneylust was going to turn Bleecker and MacDougal into another Coney Island. On that recent Wednesday morning ramble I couldn’t help thinking it should only look as nice as Coney Island. The old familiar places the crucially vital organs — gone: the Remo the Figaro the Kettle of Fish the Cafe Bizarre … now vacant stores and even the occupied ones have dusty windows the hue and texture of pavement. No one — but no one on the street. Wine bottles lumping in clusters of paper bags in the doorways — and somehow I couldn’t believe they were left by the cheerfully wrecked poets and painters of beat-time — but rather by those professional mourners from a few blocks further east where Third Avenue bends into Bosch.

Where are they? Where have all the hipsters gone? The people whose speech was musically suffused with slang five years before people in Boston and Chicago even knew what the words meant. People who did all the new dope before others knew it existed. I remember a black actor-friend in 1960 telling me (as we went out to haul beer back to the endless party) of “this really insane dope I took. I don’t even know what it’s called — but it’s just a little brown [word missing] cube of sugar and I stayed high all day Man …” People who dressed like Bonnie and Clyde in 1963 — before it became fashionable — when it was hip. You had to have some kind of together head to carry that.

Someone recently asked me, “What’s happening on the Lower East Side?”

I answered, “I don’t know. I haven’t lived there for three or four years.”

“But I thought …”

“Oh my apartment is still there. And I sleep there almost every night. I just don’t live there.”

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It’s been too scary. In ’63 I could sleep comfortably stoned in Tompkins Square Park on a bench by myself and be awakened around dawn by pure sweet saxophone music. Lately I get nervous there on Sunday afternoons with four friends. The last time I walked the length of Avenue B was two and a half years ago when I moved into the place in which I now life. I had to go to the lumber yard on 13th for bookcase material. The lumber yard and most of 13th Street between B and C is now gone — as though the hand of Wotan descended from empyrean precincts and removed it as some kind of arcane warning to us witless mortals.

And the joints. Those warm giddy bars and stupormarkets which used to pump such fine bright highs into the neo-bohemian nights. Stanley’s, at 12th Street and Avenue B, once the best hip bar in the city, seems to have reverted to the Polish-Ukrainian neighborhood tavern it was before the onslaught of chinhair and tits at the beginning of the last decade.

The Otherplace looks foreboding, and we all know what happened to Linda and Groovy downstairs from the Annex which was putatively responsible for its closing. In order to travel the streets of the Lower East Side at night on foot you have to be with a paranoid of friends, totally ripped on booze, or so stoned on something else that your interest is psychopathically focused on things not concerned with survival.

The jollies I got in the Village I once could get on the Lower East Side. I even got an 11-pound novel out of it. I don’t get those jollies now in either place — but there is an area in town where I do still get that fine jumping rush, an area where the women seem more together in their heads than elsewhere, where men regard one another with apparent friendly warmth (which is not to say that there is a lack of healthy cynicism), where blacks and whites still seem able to inter-act without visible hostility, an area where you can say “Bird” or “Brautigan” or “gesso” and people will know what you’re talking about. SoHo.

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I’ve been roaming SoHo lately and though the fear-vectors are somewhat present for me (they’re everywhere now I guess) there is that precious old rush that jab-and-tingle of intense energy-levels loose on any given seemingly-deserted block. You can actually feel it zapping out of the buildings and it shakes your nervous system by its very vitals. It is as though you become enveloped in a dense paisley fog of productivity. That dance.

Frug on down to SoHo any Saturday afternoon on West Broadway on Prince on Spring … and you’ll see a lot of people who look like the people who used to come to the Village on Sunday to pin the beatniks. Very like them. They stream into and pour out of the galleries and honky-tonks. Remember how it used to be on 10th Street between Third and Fourth? Same number. A couple of months ago a painter-friend said (as we ate a midweek lunch of beer in a rather charming little bar/restaurant he had introduced me to that very day), “You should make it down here on a Saturday afternoon when the painters take this place over.” At the time the clientele was composed of about one-third painters, one-third truckdrivers, and one-third indistinguishable others.

The following Saturday I did go back. When I pushed through door were perhaps eight people in the front half of the smallish establishment. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I got a beer, sat down at an empty table, and began rather offhandedly jotting down first-draft notes for a recipe I’m thinking of writing. Twenty minutes later I looked up from the scribbling and there were 400 people in the place and 20 times more hair than there was on the stage at the last Miss America contest. It was Stanley’s and it was 1963 again. You couldn’t get to the men’s room. The waitress had to quit waitressing because she couldn’t get herself, let alone a tray of lush, through that luscious throbbing jam. Theoretically one could probably have gotten laid (or maybe “stood” would be a more accurate word) without anyone but you and and your sexual conspirator knowing it. It was not a little exhilarating. Everybody seemed to know everyone else and it was like the kitchen at home on Christmas Eve. Like a warm hip square-dance in the wilderness with everyone simultaneously doing the calling to his own private do-see-do allemande left. Even I knew a lot of people, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. Since the Lower East Side was alive and not fraught with incendiary creeps and ghouls. I saw people from Stanley’s. And people I had been avoiding calling for months and the relationships were pretty much all cool and straightened by the time I left. I miss that kind of place.

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But some people who live down there have told me that they give the scene maybe two years in its present state — and that made me sad. Maybe they’re wrong though. There are no quaint shops and art movie houses and charming brownstones down there such as those which attract accountants and their wives to the Village. No Nathan’s. No Blimpies. Just a lot of shabby gray loft buildings. And a few galleries. And a few choice bars. And a couple of sweet little eatfood places. And probably more intensely concentrated creativity than you’ll find anywhere in America. Maybe even the world. But you can’t see that from a tourist bus.

Talent in New York does have an abstruse way of coming together like that. In ’63-’64 at Stanley’s (before anybody knew who most of them were) you might have walked in on any given afternoon or evening and encountered writers such as Ishmael Reed, Calvin Hernton, David Henderson, Ron Sukenick, Allen Ginsberg, Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Sanders, and Lennox Raphael; actors like Moses Gunn, Mitch Ryan, Lou Gossett, and Cicely Tyson; musicians such as Odetta, Marion Brown, and Richard Andrews; Khadeja the fashion designer who was Afro before people knew what that meant; Tom Dent, one of the founders of the Free Southern Theatre; Walter Bowart, who tended bar there and later was the original publisher of EVO — and Clark Squire, one of the Panther 21.

Perhaps a variation of the old Circle Theory is in play after all. When the coin-schleppers drove less fortunate artists and writers from the Village more than a decade ago they repaired to the Lower East Side — a veritable slum — but rents were more agreeable — some even fair. There are now buildings down here — renovated to be sure — which command $380 a month for three rooms. In a slum. Dig that. It is not inconceivable that the time is coming when wretched poor people won’t be able to live in this slum — when artists who Have Not Made It won’t be able to live here either. Then the apartments will go to the quasi-hip brokers and lawyers who want to vamp Where It’s Hapnin Baby (or was). These situations in New York City have been historically cyclical. Greenwich Village, for instance, was a black ghetto for some time after the Civil War — before Harlem. And Harlem. My mother lived in Harlem for a few years in the ’20s while she waited tables midtown. Today she wouldn’t go there in an armored car with the Mayor riding shotgun.

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Ten years ago speculation had it that when the Lower East Side would inevitably turn into the East Village (as we knew it would have to) all of us lesser lights would probably then make it to the Lower East Side (where some had even then already moved) to Stanton Street and Essex and Delancey. But the hot action moved to SoHo — where the painters and sculptors and craftsmen (and craftswomen) (and craftsgays) (have I got everyone?) can’t be all that poor judging by the rents. Lately I hear more and more of the successful of their number are buying the buildings they live in — and the moderately successful banding together as corporations to buy their individual lofts in buildings as a whole. It is hard to tell where the as-yet-unsuccessful strugglers are living — but they’re partying in SoHo. The vibes are apparently of the right intensity and consistency. Or else all the artsy-smartsy dudes know the right gangster landlords.

There are priorities and necessities which must be present (on all sides) in the emerging of any “artists’ colony” — and economics is certainly one of them. In the summer of 1963 I lived on the Lower East Side for more than three months on something less than $150 cash. Today it would take a grand. Minimum. From the speculators’ point-of-view it seems that the very presence of artists in abundance is sufficient: they follow close on their heels judiciously snapping up properties, naming them with hysterical designations such as the Hip Bagel and the Hippydrome and the Rock and Roller Skating Rink, and when they own everything they’ve killed their golden goose and then must begin following the next exodus to the new land of paint and money. The people who already own businesses in the area before it “happens” (once they get over their abject disgust at bohemians and begin catering to what money they have and that which their presence attracts) flourish while they are there (like Bleecker and MacDougal — like Avenue B and Saint Marx) and languish when they have been driven elsewhere. You don’t have to wait in line in the cold at midnight to get into Stanley’s on a Thursday anymore.

Yet maybe my informants are right after all. I went to the aforementioned bar in SoHo after the peace mingle (I won’t give the joint’s name because then you’ll steal it from me) and walked into it shortly after 3. The bar and tables were almost completely filled with about 40 people in their 30s and 40s all of whom looked like they had alighted from a bus from Queens or Staten Island. They left together shortly after I arrived and I asked the bartender who they were. They were from Virginia. Yes Virginia, there is a SoHo. SoHo knows there is a Virginia. And that it is coming to get them.

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But it can’t happen to SoHo! (A discotheque in a cleaned-up loft called the Paint Rag?) What about all the rats down there? Big as small babies. What about the panhandling winos and the apprentice corpses in the doorways? They carry pistols and machetes. What about the huggermuggers lurking in every shadow just waiting for purses and watches maybe desperate enough to kill? They are men (and women) without consciences. What about the narrow repugnant streets? They’re all right if you don’t mind puke-covered shit. And there’s nothing down there at night … it’s deader than Wall Street for chrissake! What about …

Perhaps in the virtues of voyeurism lie its own rewards.

Note: After having written this, last Sunday, jiving along down Second Avenue at 14th Street I heard my name called out from the window of a bus. A black radical whom I hadn’t seen for quite some time because he had fled The Man to a commune in New England:

“Bill!”

“Hey Baby!” (Lock palms and thumbs — no more popping.) “Whas hapnin?”

(Bus begins to pull away.) “I’m staying down on Spring Street in SoHo under the name of *** *****! CALL ME!”

I guess maybe it takes one to know one. ♦

 

 

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From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Style

Rei Kawakubo: Like the Boys

This is the story of a new boutique on Wooster Street that looks like a cement bunker, is called Comme des Garçons, and is making a fortune. It opened at the tail end of August, the designer is Japan’s Rei Kawakubo, and the owner is Dianne Benson, former Bendel’s buyer and owner of the Dianne B. shops on Madison Avenue and Soho’s West Broadway.

It’s not just another boutique. The negotiations between Rei Kawakubo, 41, an extraordinary Japanese businesswoman/designer and Dianne, 38, produced an instant, screaming success. Which is not really a surprise because Rei Kawakubo is not just another designer, but a woman with a total aesthetic, a world view; perhaps the Chanel of the ’80s. Last summer, her “black bag” clothes looked extremely weird scruffling along Wooster Street on a lanky, blonde fashion freak. Today, strong professional women around New York are wearing them, like Amy Levin, editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle.

Rei Kawakubo does things in what I’m sure Diana Vreeland would call a Big Time Way. She’s a tough independent lady with a genius for design, a brilliant sense of marketing and business, a lust for control, and her very specific idea of what women need in 1984. She has 168 stores and boutiques within other stores; she owns about 25 of them.

Last spring Paris’s Passion magazine described Rei’s clothes as “stark, violent elegance in sculptural form.” The Comme des Garçons boutique she opened there in 1982 was the talk of Paris. Her torn cotton knit T-shirt was selling for 600 francs.

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Rei Kawakubo, it is said, started Comme des Garçons so she could have total control over her life and answer to no one. In all, this is a very feminist story. “Basically,” said Dianne last August, “Rei’s is the biggest idea around, the most modern, because it’s so total.” Rei does everything, from designing the stores (stark gray cement), the environment — the music, pens, stationery, bags — to the employees, directing everything from their posture to their paper clips to their cars. There’s no postmodernist flip in her minimalist aesthetic. Rei acted as architect on the Soho store. Its bleak lines are almost Joe D’Urso/black leather/hospital gown antiseptic. While New York blossoms with a postmodernist pallette and the AT&T building sprouts Chippendale curves, Japanese architects hunker down in oriental high tech. Sol Le Witt’s 1968 white Modular Cube/Base illustrates Kenneth Frampton’s A New Wave of Japanese Architecture; Le Witt, along with fellow minimalists Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, inspires the Japanese new wave. Whether Rei’s “Machines for Living” aspect will throw people, as did Le Corbusier’s (or Paley’s despised office decor rules for Black Rock, CBS headquarters) remains to be seen. She even so far, Future Shock seems to have thrown a lot of True Believer customers Rei’s way, into a calm, orderly world with few decisions to be made about one of the less important things in life: one’s clothes.

Mr. Kateyama, the business director of Comme des Garçons, has an interesting office in Rei’s Tokyo headquarters. Cement, like the stores. Minimal furniture. Filing cabinets. And one entire wall covered with a map of the world. Below, a low built-in ledge holds only a tray of monotone thumbtacks. At the pace they go, they envision everyone in the world being in their clothing. It’s a big wall. The island of Japan has hundreds of tacks. New York, several. Philadelphia. Houston. Paris. Milan.

Is Rei a feminist? It’s hard to determine. She seldom speaks to the press. In photographs he has a strong handsome serious face that needs no makeup. Johanne Siff, who spent two years in Japan on a Watson Fellowship studying the emergence of women in the contemporary arts, explains that there is no organized feminist movement to parallel what American women experienced in the ’70s. “But Rei’s right on the edge,” she [says]. “Her politics are definitely integrated with her art.” Johanne, who started as a part-time weekend worker, now manages the Comme des Garçons boutique. (She couldn’t afford CDG clothes when she lived in Tokyo.)

Rei, according to her bio, was born in Tokyo in 1943. She was either three or four when the atom bombs exploded at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. She started Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys) in 1973, showing her first collection two years later. The following year she opened her Paris office and first overseas boutique and splashed ice water in the faces of the French.

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Karen Rubin, the general manager for all three of Dianne Benson’s stores, seemed less than enthusiastic about Dianne’s wild idea of opening and owning a CDG boutique in Soho. Of course Dianne was the boss. “But,” she adds, “when I sat down in their offices in Tokyo last year, I knew it would work. It’s the most serious idea around. It’s a whole way of life.” Rei’s offices look just like the stores, and rumor has it that her apartment does too. Rei’s office has one telephone, black; four concrete walls; one low black table; one black leather sofa; one intense light. Nothing else.

Everyone who works for Rei believes in her idea. What exactly is it? Something about everything for the simplest and purest life. How women should look and how they should feel. Her designs have a lot to do with freedom of movement, wearing flat shoes. Rei doesn’t wear makeup and tells her people point-blank not to wear it.

Susan Brownmiller notes in her new book Femininity, “Serious women have a difficult time with clothes, not necessarily because they lack a developed sense of style, but because feminine clothes are not designed to project a serious demeanor.” A statement of Rei Kawakubo’s: “I have always felt it important not to be confined by tradition or custom or geography, I hope to remain free of these influences in expressing in shapes and colors and textures an idea of mobility… I wish to design garments which the owner can feel confident in, and which do not discriminate ideas of mobility — and yet remain anonymously distinctive.” (I think by those two references to mobility she means no indications of social class.) Rei’s clothes, worn as a uniform, allow the woman to forget about her closet and get on with life. Or that’s the theory. Karen Rubin says Rei’s idea may be as simple as the title of a current hip-hop record hit: “It’s Like That, and That’s the Way It Is.” CDG is so far away from a Seventh Avenue operation it’s amazing — Rei ships supplies at her cost, because she wants that specific hanger design. “It’s just a whole other idea.” The Americans figure Rei works about 20 hours a day, running every facet of the business. Shy, intensely private, she’s “so absorbed in what she’s doing her personal contact is minimal,” says Karen. Rei’s press person, Stella Ishi, married to an American painter, speaks perfect English; she’s the interface. Rei is the Sherman tank.

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As Dianne Benson told me in mid-1982, “I’m into working, making money, and not being confused. Getting my priorities straight. I’m into nobody yelling at me.”

Dianne B. is one of those people who give an impression of total chaos then pull diamond-studded rabbits out of elegant top hats. A Mike Todd type. Her CDG store is a triumph of cutting through the traditional molasses of Japanese-American business negotiations. With Rei, the two women personally put together what Dianne described in August as “a very intriguing, sensible financial agreement which should reach break even in a year.” (Her West Broadway store took 15 months, rather than the projected 12, to turn a profit.)

Working with her souped-up Radio Shack TR S-80 home computer, Dianne started negotiations less than a year ago. They would Telex in the morning and talk over the phone at night. “Between the two of us we came up with a give and take. I wrote up the deal with a letter of intent, four schedules, a projection of volume, expenses, etc., and then the lawyers came in. All the main points boiled down to the biggest legal issue: under which country’s law is this? The lawyers cost a little over $12,000. We split it.” The deal was done in under three months, the lease signed for a prime 6,500 foot location at 116 Wooster Street June 1. Construction started 20 days later; they opened in late August.

Dianne and her partners capitalized the store with $200,000 up front to secure the lease and start construction. (They later got an additional construction loan from the Bank of New York.) There was no capital left to buy merchandise, so Rei fronted the money, with a letter of credit from Tokyo’s Fuji bank. There was $250,000 worth in the first month. Dianne loved doing business with CDG. “Stella Ishi and Kateyama are Rei’s two henchmen. They’re so cool and so groovy and funky and smart. They’re unlike an other Japanese businesspeople. There’s nobody that comes this close. It’s a very strange and different group, and real smart. And all these people are about 34.”

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The day of the opening CDG took in $10,000. And now the story is coming in. Many New Yorkers find the CDG things to be wearable, comfortable, addictive clothing. A way of life. And, the projected break-even? Not a year. Only four months to turn a profit. Dianne did $600,000 in retail sales by year-end. The CDG Homme menswear sold out completely and they had to close the downstairs Homme area until they could restock.

The revolutionary speed of these negotiations are mirrored by some revolutionary management developments in the CDG store. Originally Dianne slated six salespeople, three assistants, a cashier, etc. The staff of 10 to 15 that evolved is described as “socialistic,” though CDG is definitely all about making money. The entire group, including manager Johanne Siff, rotates jobs. “It’s kind of like overnight camp,” explains Karen, “when you had your job wheel in the bunkroom.” And the entire staff, except for Johanne, makes exactly the same salary. There’s a great CDG team spirit; after six weeks, each employee gets enough of Rei’s clothes to fashion a week’s wardrobe. “But believe me,” explains Johanne, “it’s taken some time to instigate Dianne’s idea of management. Some people weren’t into it. The fashion freak types sort of freaked out. Three people were fired for internal stealing.” Two more left.

“Now, we work as a unit. We’re more versatile, flexible; not as rigid and limiting as what might be Rei’s hierarchy in Japan. Dianne takes Rei’s structure and softens it. And she’s much more accessible.”

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Dianne says “Rei’s totally radical.” But in what sense? Dianne’s a fashion person; a fabulous purveyor of words, stance, attitude. Rei seems to be getting at something more political; feminist; free; revolutionary. A lot of New Yorkers were saying last year that the Japanese were stealing their ideas from the English designers. If the talk sounds similar; the clothes are totally different. In the August issue of London’s The Face, Katherine Hamnett explained why she thought a designer had power: “I suppose it means you dress the elite… you’re creating their persona.” Hamnett’s fascination is with the dialectic between the clothes you wear and the attitudes you express. In late August, Vivienne Westwood, about Rei’s age, described her own clothes to The Guardian as “strong,” “grand,” and “free.” They then had a lot of Roxy “hip­-hop” references like Smurf hats, Keith Haring graffiti prints, and triple-tongued sneakers. The business impulse behind Westwood is Malcolm McLaren, purveyor of the Sex Pistols and Adam Ant, who noted these clothes did well in Japan. “Japan was for so long an isolated island that it has never got over its hunger for the status of ideas.”

So is Rei making an English-inspired statement? Betsey Johnson says, “London is laughing about the old way with clothes… It’s a street peoples’ musical statement, I see Bow Wow Wow, Boy George, Dexie’s Midnight Runners, MTV.” The Japanese clothes? “A very sophisticated, typically Japanese approach to cloth and texture and drape. The Japanese finally once and for all had to make a big time statement for themselves in clothing. But it’s completely different — the English is from the street, the Japanese is from an expensive, sophisticated fashion point of view.

***

Dianne Benson is now in Tokyo negotiating with Rei to open a Comme des Garçons on Geary Street in San Francisco. She’s probably wearing her CDG clothes. She says they make her feel sexy. And powerful.

And another tack will probably go on Mr. Kateyama’s world map. ■

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Embracing Bombay Bread Bar, Floyd Cardoz’s Naan-Proliferation Eatery

Floyd Cardoz is very much back on his bullshit. Two decades after New Yorkers first embraced him as a pioneer of modern Indian-American cooking at Danny Meyer’s Tabla, the 57-year-old Mumbai-born chef seems to have hit another stride, converting his sleepy one-and-a-half-year-old Soho restaurant Paowalla into the boisterous and flamboyant Bombay Bread Bar this past February.

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That this vibrant new venture looks straight out of a Wes Anderson flick is no accident. Film production designer Kris Moran, whose body of work includes 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, headed up renovations, which remarkably took just ten days. Instead of the demure ecru facade Paowalla debuted with in 2016, the Bombay Bread Bar announces itself to passersby with an intense, eye-catching cerulean that’s impossible to ignore from the street. Inside, Moran’s breathed new life into the formerly staid beige and gilded space. Multicolored oilcloths cover the tables; the centerpiece wood-fired oven Cardoz inherited from the previous tenant, an Italian restaurant, has been painted so that the opening of the hearth looks like a gaping tiger’s maw; and framed against an expanse of green-and-white floral wallpaper are portraits of dapper besuited anthropomorphic animals recalling Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. At the back of the room, a massive pop-art wall mural from Pakistani Canadian artist Maria Qamar depicts a wistful couple who look like they’ve been waiting a bit too long for their cocktails to arrive, something that can occasionally happen here when it gets crowded.

Mutter paneer pizza, and Bombay Bread Bar’s oven

Long before opening the Bombay Canteen in his birthplace three years ago, or his brief interlude with broader New American cuisine at Danny Meyer’s North End Grill and Tribeca’s felled White Street prior to that, Cardoz’s twelve-year tenure working for Meyer at Tabla cemented his status as one of the country’s top kitchen talents. His cooking remains as finely tuned and approachably creative as ever, but unlike Paowalla’s sedate formality, the cordial atmosphere here is far better suited to the updated, more casual menu, which still mostly focuses on shared plates and the breads and breathtaking chutneys (Lemon! Mango! Mint-cilantro!) that have long been highlights of Cardoz-run kitchens. While a recent building snafu has rendered the tandoor ovens momentarily inoperable (leaving the doughy offerings abbreviated), Cardoz and his crew have taken to baking their naans, parathas, and papadums in pans, “like most Indians do at home,” the chef says. In the meantime, I hope he’ll consider bringing back Paowalla’s tingmo, the steamed Tibetan bread he used to brush liberally with bracing chile paste.

Lamb sandwich naanini

What’s available is fantastic, though, especially the wheels of bacon-and-cheddar-filled kulcha ($14) cut into quesadilla-like triangles, which have a smoky richness best complemented by the jammy tomato chutney spiked with earthy nigella seeds. Sourdough naan anchors two of the best dishes — a mutter paneer pizza ($17) of garlic bread baked with spring peas and melty cheese, and Tabla’s pulled lamb “naanini” ($26), a hefty dream of a sandwich layering shreds of yogurt-doused, black pepper–braised meat between turmeric-mustard mashed potatoes. Thinner, flakier parathas ($5) make prime vehicles for walnut-beet raita ($5), the sweet and tart yogurt sauce shaded an intensely hot pink, and “Goan guacamole” ($9), a holdover from Tabla that finds the mashed avocados shot through with cumin and cayenne. The chewy flatbreads are also perfect for scooping up lamb Haleem curry ($14), a dish of falling-apart soft neck meat stewed with lentils, cracked wheat, and mint that comes adorned with a welcome scattering of crunchy puffed grains.

Black pepper shrimp

You can cobble a meal together from any of the breads plus a few appetizers, or opt for one of only a few entrées, like stone bass caldin ($24) mingling tender Atlantic wreckfish in a Goan coconut-turmeric curry studded with cauliflower. Among the small plates, Paowalla fans might recognize the creamy lake of semolina upma polenta ($13), sweetened with coconut milk and ginger, that, per the season, now incorporates fresh peas and asparagus for a grassy kick; or else the salad of baby fenugreek and spindly pea tendrils ($12) laced with honey and a toss of peanuts and sesame seeds. And those with even longer memories should celebrate the return of Tabla’s asparagus foogath ($14), a seasonal sauté that pairs the verdant spears with ginger, mustard seeds, fresh coconut, and sour kokum fruit. It’s to Cardoz’s credit that years later, dishes like these still feel fresh and exciting.

Gulab nut dessert

Like so many restaurants these days, the Bombay Bread Bar keeps things relatively simple with desserts, to reliably satisfying outcomes. Denser than Milwaukee’s sturdiest frozen custard, inverted cones of kulfi ($16) ice cream — in flavors like mango, strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate — arrive surrounded by fruit or crushed nuts. Then there’s Cardoz’s gulab nut ($12), a doughnut made of dehydrated milk solids that gets deep-fried, soaked in rum syrup, and piped with silky pistachio cream. I’d encourage him to trademark it before Dominique Ansel, the cronut king whose popular patisserie sits a few storefronts down Spring Street, gets anxious for his next breakout baked good.

Bombay Bread Bar
195 Spring Street
212-235-1098
thebombaybreadbar.com

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ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

8-Ball Community Keeps Downtown’s Artistic Spirit Alive

Decades ago, before the Prada boutiques and cronuts, back when the cobblestone, cast-iron warren south of Houston was just “Downtown” and not “Soho,” the neighborhood was the beating heart of the city’s art world. From the 1960s through the 1980s, it was a place of vibrant creativity — quirky galleries, affordable artist lofts, and, most importantly, a mix of working-, middle-, and creative-class denizens. The many lofts of Soho, once used by manufacturers, were vacated in the 1960s, the buildings left empty for years, too small for modern manufacturing but zoned for commercial use. Until artists showed up and started making the neighborhood their own. By the end of the 1960s, the population of painters, sculptors, performance artists, and jazz musicians in the area was so high that the Soho advocacy group the SoHo Artists Association (SAA) was founded with the goal of protecting Soho artists’ rights and improving their living conditions. The arts, back then at least, were the lifeblood of the neighborhood. Much has changed since then, but the area’s creative flame has been kept alive in places like 8-Ball Community.

8 Ball Community Center
8-Ball Community’s Howard St. storefront

The stretch of Howard Street between Crosby and Lafayette is a quintessential microcosm of a modern-day Soho — there is the buzzy French restaurant Le Coucou to one side, an upscale bar to the other, Glossier’s penthouse showroom just around the corner, and Opening Ceremony down the block. But it’s what is underneath the street that may matter the most. Below a women’s clothing store and an Italian sunglass shop, down an old-fashioned elevator, and through a narrow hallway is where the place calls home — at least for now.

Stepping into 8 -Ball’s Soho headquarters for the first time feels like gaining access to a superhero’s hideout — if the superhero was some mythological lovechild of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Laurie Anderson. The space is covered in ephemera — flyers from past shows, a zine library, artwork from previous installations. There’s a sitting area in one corner with publications for visitors to thumb through. People are constantly buzzing around — one person is busy prepping for a talk show on 8-Ball Radio, another few are working on graphic design projects, while nearby a new volunteer hangs out, waiting for the afternoon shift to start. The energy of the space is palpable and intoxicating, a cross between an artist’s studio, an art gallery, and my bedroom.

8 Ball Community Center
8-Ball Founder Lele Saveri at the Out of Ink event

8-Ball Community, an independent not-for-profit arts organization, was started in 2012 by a small group of friends looking to help out a Brooklyn billiards hall that was in danger of going out of business. “The owner asked us to introduce him to the ‘new neighborhood’ by throwing regular parties,” says 8-Ball founder Lele Saveri. “We thought that it would be a better and more sustainable form of support if we redecorated the space and invited various people to curate weekly events. That’s how the community was built — with screenings, readings, performances, parties, and eventually the fair.” Their annual 8-Ball Zine Fair, which began in that same billiards space in 2012 and has been a focal point for the community, is now in its twelfth edition in New York City, showing and selling zines by collectives and organizations such as the Bettys, Sula Collective, and Printed Matter. Saveri, thirty-eight, was born and raised in Rome before moving to London in his twenties, eventually relocating to New York City, where, with a background in photography, he spent ten years shooting for many different magazines. He now teaches art at an after-school program in Brooklyn when he is not running 8-Ball.

8 Ball Community Center
Guests going through pay-what-you-want zines at 8-Ball

Throughout the past six years, 8-Ball Community has taken many different shapes. There was the “Newsstand” installation that once lived in the L Lorimer station, and Petra Collins’s Pussy Pat show, which 8-Ball held at the Williamsburg gallery Muddguts. They’ve brought their art cross-country and overseas to places such as Tokyo, Amsterdam, and San Francisco. There’s the radio station, featuring hosts from across the worlds  of art and music, including the Bellport, Long Island–based art collective Auto Body. Also housed in the Howard Street headquarters is 8-Ball TV, the all-access television network that can be streamed right from your computer, with programming 24-7. On a random morning, its schedule included coverage of the DACA Protest in Foley Square, a show titled Resist Fascism by photographer Pete Voelker, and The Because You’re Here Show by Brooklyn-based multimedia and performance artist Megha Barnabas. The manifesto posted on the 8-Ball website includes ideals such as “Everyone is welcome,” “We have no elitism,” and “We do not have any association with brands.” When Saveri is asked about 8-Ball’s most memorable experiences, he rattles off a diverse list: “The ‘Gazete Bayii,’ a reading library of underground and self-publications in Istanbul was pretty important; the Kurdish Film Festival in New York; ‘River’s Bedroom,’ an installation we did at Foam Museum in Amsterdam last year.” Saveri pauses to catch his breath before continuing, “A fundraiser telethon show we did last year for our TV with artist Jaimie Warren, and the ‘Newsstand,’ the underground bookstore we had in Brooklyn, that was then recreated as an installation for MOMA and now it’s part of the museum’s permanent collection.”

8 Ball Community Center
Detail, 8-Ball Community Center

8-Ball has no hierarchy and Saveri stresses that the volunteer who just started yesterday has as much power as someone who joined the collective years ago. “To give an example of the age range, last year we did a book with Jill Freedman, who’s in her late seventies,” he says, “and this year the curator of our weekly performance series is Rainer, an eighteen-year-old kid from New York City.” Like flies to honey, people are attracted to 8 Ball — their mission is genuine, their home base like a sanctuary.

The community, however, is currently on the lookout for a new home — its current location is being converted back into a factory space. Saveri and company are taking the development in stride — they have relocated every few years since the collective’s inception, a sort of expected caveat that comes with being a not-for-profit arts collective in a rapidly changing city. As long as the organization and its mission are still thriving, everything else will fall into place. In the meantime, 8-Ball Community will have temporary locations for the next few months until it finds more permanent headquarters — their radio show is moving to Playground Coffee in Bed-Stuy; the TV studio will be staying in their old Howard Street basement location through June; and the rest of operations will run out of Boohoo-Hooray, an archiving studio based in Soho.

8 Ball Community Center
Stanley Gambucci performing at 8-Ball Community

Their final Howard Street art show was held the last weekend of March. Titled “Out of Ink,” it featured work from more than ninety artists who had been actively part of the community for the previous three and a half years. The artwork, presented in the form of Xeroxed copies, was a nod to past collectives, such as Club 57, that used Xerox to create a cheaper and more democratic way of showing art.

“I’m hoping more people will be inspired to get together into collectives that create work and platforms for others, outside the commercial, capitalistic structure of the art world,” says Saveri. “It is hard to find spaces that are open for people with no commercial value whatsoever, that are also totally inclusive and don’t follow hierarchic schemes, so the more the better. I understand how hard it is, especially in cities like New York where rent keeps getting higher, but there are always ways around this, or at least I hope so…”

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Halloween

Smoke machine in the West Village
West Village

West Village
West Village
MAGA costume, SoHo
Police-lined street in SoHo
SoHo
SoHo
Canal Street
Canal Street Subway
SoHo
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San Carlo Osteria Piemonte Pushes Piedmontese Cuisine Into the Spotlight

If the first image that comes to mind when you hear the words Italian food is a red and white checkered tablecloth set with chicken parmesan and pastas doused in red sauce, you’re not alone. Authentic Piedmontese dishes, let alone entire restaurants dedicated to them, are difficult to find this side of the Atlantic, which is exactly why San Carlo Osteria Piemonte‘s (90 Thompson Street; 212-625-1212) Soho opening sticks out. Italy’s diverse regional cuisine, outside Campania, has revealed itself in recent years, with restaurants like Sessanta (Sicilian) and All’onda (Venetian) demonstrating that New Yorkers were ready to experience everything the boot had to offer.

The fifty-seat eatery has subtle undertones reflective of its homeland, the northwestern region of Italy that borders France and Switzerland. Here you’ll find food showcasing the area’s multifaceted culinary culture, all of it residing within a decidedly refined atmosphere. Outside the entranceway, a brass bull engraved in the sidewalk greets guests with a Piedmontese symbol for good luck; inside, the dining room is planning to feature an art installation depicting Turin’s Piazza San Carlo — the inspiration for the restaurant’s name.

“In Italy, we say kilometer zero. Everywhere you go, you can find something good,” says CEO Carlo Rolle, a Turin native who dreamed of opening a restaurant in Soho. Local is the only kind of source in Italy, which is why Rolle and chef Riccardo Zebro spared no expense in making sure the dishes on their menu could just as easily be found in Turin, Cuneo, or Biella. Grass-fed Piedmontese beef, perhaps the region’s best-known export, comes direct from Pat LaFrieda’s ranches in Montana, the only place allowed to raise and distribute the certified product in the United States. The restaurant is also working with Eataly to ensure that ingredients like Castelmagno cheese are always in stock.

Guests seeking to familiarize themselves more fully with Piedmontese offerings will find the region’s love of anchovies well represented — the fish was introduced there so that residents could get affordable salt. There’s also a fritto misto (made with sweetbreads, asparagus, and frog legs), among other lightly fried delicacies to choose from. The menu is made up of small bites followed by a traditional antipasti and first and second courses. Right now the restaurant serves only dinner, but it plans to debut a lunch and brunch menu in the coming weeks.

“I would like that when people go away, they can say, ‘Oh, nice. Italian is not only spaghetti. It’s not only meatballs. It’s not only pizza,’ ” says Rolle.

The six-seat bar is also offering guests a chance to acclimate themselves to the region’s infamous Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards by offering 10 wines by the glass as well as nearly 150 bottles. Spirits and cocktails — such as the Milano Torino (a riff on the negroni) and the French aperitif pastis — will round out the drink list.

Get a first look at San Carlo Osteria Piemonte right here:

Tonno di Coniglio: Rabbit marinated in olive oil
Tonno di Coniglio: Rabbit marinated in olive oil
Risotto with Castelmagno cheese and toasted hazelnuts
Risotto with Castelmagno cheese and toasted hazelnuts
Gnochhi with Piedmont cheese sauce, hazelnuts
Gnochhi with Piedmont cheese sauce, hazelnuts

 

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Meet La Gamelle, the French Restaurant Mathieu Palombino Has Been Waiting to Open

Mathieu Palombino gained recognition for his mastery of seafood at BLT Fish before transitioning to firing Neapolitan pizzas at Motorino, where he gained a cult following. Now, though, he’s opened a restaurant that bares his soul. La Gamelle (241 Bowery, 212-388-0052), Palombino’s new French brasserie, is a labor of love that’s been fifteen years in the making.

“This is the restaurant I came to this country for,” says Palombino, a native of Belgium. “Fifteen years ago, when I left my bag and I said to myself one day I will open a restaurant, [La Gamelle] is the restaurant I had in mind.”

When Palombino arrived in New York, he found himself drawn to French restaurants — they were, after all, where he could find fellow expats speaking his native tongue. He was enamored of the décor and classic menus full of steak frites and escargot.

When he picked up the Bowery address, though, he decided to try his hand at American comfort food, and he opened Bowery Diner. “I got it into my head to open a diner,” he says. “The truth is, I did this because I am not a fan of doing what I should be doing. Nothing about it was me.”

He soon realized he would much rather spend his time providing the Parisian brasserie experience to the Bowery, and he and his partners closed Bowery Diner to open Chez Jef, a pop-up restaurant born of the chef’s annual trips to Paris, where he became reacquainted with the brasserie. “In one week, I’m going to turn this around,” he says of the transition. “It’s going to be a funny pop-up. It’s going to look very wacky. At this point, I didn’t have anything to lose. We did this pop-up, it was fun, we put the food on the plate, and right away we got a good response. People loved the food, people loved the wine…the food being served this way. Right away I loved it.”

Pâté en croûte
Pâté en croûte

The team decided to explore the concept’s potential, and eventually settled on opening La Gamelle (French for “canteen”) in the same space. The chef teamed with Alex Gherab — who has designed many of New York City’s bistros — for the design. The result: a custom-made 18-seat zinc bar (installed by Palombino himself) and a 110-seat dining room filled with antique chairs and wood-trimmed mirrors.

From the kitchen, comfort fare is king; steak frites is served with a side of béarnaise, and you can supplement your order with pâté en croûte and ratatouille. Desserts include crêpe suzette, meringue, and strawberries with almond cream and chantilly. Bar offerings focus on European beers and wines as well as sparkling wine and house cocktails.

“This is a French restaurant you will find in France,” says Palombino. “The food is not Americanized. I worked in a lot of French restaurants that you have to adapt to the New York palate. The soup needs to be thicker, you have to put less sauce, you have to do less fries. New Yorkers are well educated enough to be appreciating what the French cuisine is without having to adapt it for them….It’s a super-simple place where you go; it’s not super-refined, but the environment is somehow refined. The food is always generous, well priced; it’s a place nobody should fear. You find your favorites, you eat with your friends, and it’s not about analyzing this new green purée and talking about it for 45 minutes. It’s about eating two steak frites face to face with a friend you haven’t seen in a while and drinking a little bit too much wine.”

The zinc bar and main dining room
The zinc bar and main dining room
Tripel Karmelet
Tripel Karmelet
Strawberries, almond cream, chantilly
Strawberries, almond cream, chantilly
Floating Island: meringue, crème anglaise caramel
Floating Island: meringue, crème anglaise caramel
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This Weekend’s Five Best Food and Drink Events – 1/30/2015

Super Bowl Sunday is here, which means it’s time to get your fill of nachos and wings. If that’s not your bag, though, you should still eat: There are plenty of non-sporting-themed food and drink events happening this weekend, too.

New Bottomless Brunch, Florian, 225 Park Avenue South, Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m.

Cure your hangover (or get started on a new one) at this new brunch, where you’ll find endless champagne cocktails for $19.50. The restaurant offers three varieties of prosecco with fruit purées as well as a healthy bloody mary made with carrot and apple juice. Pair your drinks to dishes like pistachio cannoli waffles, crabmeat and shrimp hash, a vegetable frittata, and spaghetti carbonara.

5B Pizza Pop Up, Old Bowery Station, 10 Kenmare Street, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

The warmth of oven-fresh pizza is a beacon of hope around this frigid time of year, so cozy up with a pie at this pizza pop-up party. For $30, guests receive five unique slices of pizza as part of a tasting menu, with topping combos like sweet Italian sausage and broccoli rabe, arugula and prosciutto de parma, and homemade meatballs. A cash bar will serve beer, wine, and sodas. Limited tickets will be sold at the door and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Brooklyn Soup Takedown, Littlefield, 622 Degraw Street, Brooklyn, Sunday, 2 p.m.

Soup is a winter staple, and come Sunday, you can get in on judging a boiling-hot competition among several varieties. Home chefs from across the city will compete to see who has the most soothing broth and accompaniments. Tickets are $20.

Third Annual Whisk(e)y Fest starring Pappy Van Winkle, Bottlerocket, 5 West 19th Street, Sunday, 3 p.m.

America’s most reclusive whiskey is sneaking out from underneath the covers, and you might be able to purchase it. Bottlerocket’s month-long whiskey festival kicks off on February 1, and in addition to free nightly tastings, the store is holding a raffle for the chance to purchase a bottle of Pappy at a discounted price. You’ll just need to make a purchase to enter. Check out the full tasting calendar on the shop’s website.

The Super Bowl, Multiple Locations, Sunday

Even if you’re not really into football, you might consider stepping out for these two Super Bowl events, which are offering particularly good deals. Two Door Tavern in Williamsburg is hosting a $40 (before tax and tip) all-you-can-drink draft special from kickoff to final whistle. The deal includes a halftime buffet of buffalo wings and loaded nachos, and reservations are strongly recommended. Over at The Meatball Shop in Chelsea, the game will be screened downstairs, with free mini Chicken Buffalo Balls during the first quarter and $4 PBRs throughout the event. All locations will offer a “Bucket O’ Balls” takeout special for $45, which includes 25 meatballs of any type — including the pizza ball special — paired with any sauce.

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This Week’s Five Best Food Events – 9/8/2014

September is a glorious month in New York City. Make the most of it with these five events, our best food events in NYC this week..

New York City Honey Week, multiple locations, Monday through September 14

Enjoy honey without having to fight off the bears and the bees at this seven day celebration, and taste everything from honey-based cocktails to a honey dinner in The Cleveland’s backyard. Check out talks about urban beekeeping and tours of local apiaries. Find the full line-up of events as well as tickets on the NYC Honey Week website.

Mid-Autumn Festival with Weird Chinese Food, China Blue, 135 Watts Street, Monday, 7 p.m.

At this festival, China Blue will prepare a few obscure Chinese dishes just for the sake of a good time and because some friends wanted a party. Beer, wine, and mooncakes are also included in the cost of admission; you’ll need a ticket to attend.

Tomato Fest 2014, Alobar, 46-42 Vernon Boulevard, Queens, Thursday, 5 p.m.

In celebration of the harvest season, Alobar will offer a special five-course tomato tasting menu from chef Greg Profeta on Thursday. The festivities include a live jazz performance, and a portion of ticket sales will also go towards the efforts of No Kid Hungry, a charitable organization designed to address child hunger issues. Tickets are $48.

Brooklyn Oyster Riot at New York Oyster Week, Palm House at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, Thursday through September 28

On Thursday, New York Oyster Week begins an 18 day celebration that includes shucking showmanship, a chance to meet growers, and plenty of slurping back shellfish. Select events, such as the Brooklyn Oyster Riot on Thursday, include access to an open bar; others pair the mollusks to spirits — like the September 25 oyster and sake pairing menu. A full line-up of events as well as option to purchase tickets can be found on the event’s website.

All the News That’s Fit to Eat: Where Food and Media Intersect, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, Thursday, 7 p.m.

If you’re still sitting on that great food blog idea and need a boost, consider heading to the Upper East Side for an evening of advice. Listen to an expert panel — which features people like Kerry Diamond, author and owner of Nightingale 9 — talk through making the transition into food media from various careers. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased through the venue’s website.

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This Weekend’s Five Best Food Events – 8/1/2014

Need a reprieve from sand and sun? Here are a few food events for those seeking something to do — and for those interested in eating free crepes.

Free Crepes, Eight Turn Crepe, 55 Spring Street, Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m.

This Soho crepe shop is celebrating its first birthday by giving away 40 free crepes each day this weekend. Guests looking for a savory lunch option can choose the new crepedog — kurobuta sausage, fresh veggies, fofu sauce, banana ketchup — while others select something on the sweet side such as mango cream. Saturday’s giveaway will also include a performance by a DJ. The complimentary crepes are available on a first come, first served basis, and there’s a one free crepe limit per customer.

Meet and Greet with FC Bayern and Extended Happy Hour, Paulaner, 265 Bowery, Friday, 11:30 a.m.

If you’re lucky enough to have Friday afternoon off, head to this German beer hall for two-for-one drink specials on wine, cocktails, and the brewery’s unique brew offerings until 6 p.m. The event will feature two players from FC Bayern Munich, who will sign autographs for football fanatics from 5 to 6 p.m. The restaurant will also debut its new bar bites menu for the occasion; look for fried pickles and brat burgers.

Spoon University’s Brainfood Conference, Alley NYC, 500 Seventh Avenue, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.

Geared towards college students and young professionals, this first time conference is designed to help those interested in a food industry career pick up a few tips. Seminars include “The Secrets to NYC’s Culinary Success” with Del Posto’s Mark Ladner and “How Our Generation Talks About Food” with The Infatuation’s Chris Stang. Additional guest speakers include the founder of Rua Tea, Tyler Gage, as well as Priya Krishna and food photgrapher Daniel Krieger.Tickets are $35 and can be purchased through the conference’s website.

Korean BBQ & Korean Language Class, New York Kimchi, 16 West 48th Street, Sunday, 10 a.m.

Immerse yourself in Korean culture with this two-for-one package, which teaches students how to properly pronounce and cook the country’s barbecue specialties. The 90 minute sessions, which begin at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., include recipes for BBQ short ribs, kimchi, and spicy chicken bulgogi, with each food getting its own unique class. Sessions start at $85.

Local Creative Styling Workshop, Makeshift Society, 55 Hope Street, Brooklyn, Sunday, 11 a.m.

Learn what it takes to be a pro food stylist pursuing a career in food styling or get tips for your next dinner party. Artist Maryanne Moodie will create unique table runners for attendees, while the group feasts on treats from Ovenly and lunch from Whole Foods. The class will also cover food photography tricks, and you’ll sip wine and receive a special gift. Tickets are $225.