Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Red Flame Coffee House: Don't Look Twice, It's All Right

Red Flame Coffee House Restaurant New York City Midtown Vintage Destination
By Mitch Broder

When I finally returned to one of my favorite New York coffee shops, I thought it was a bank.

Eventually, everything in New York is.

It was the massive new glass fa├žade that forgivably led me astray. But when I looked through it, I saw the truth: It was still my coffee shop. Dressed like a bank.

The coffee shop is the Red Flame, near Times Square, which used to call itself a coffee house but now calls itself a diner. It closed last year for renovations. I was afraid to go back. Places that completely evoke the feeling of an era should never close, especially for renovations.

What I realized was that the Red Flame didn't completely evoke any era. I hate to say it. It had atmosphere, but it didn’t look like much. It opened in 1979 and had been made over since, but the last motif was — well, red. A renovation held promise.

Red Flame Coffee House Restaurant New York City Midtown Interior

When I focused, I saw that the layout was just the same. Mostly, the motif has been changed from red to white. Everything seems white, except for the seats, which are brown-yellow-and-green — which, oddly enough, evokes 1979.

I sat in my usual booth and had my usual waiter, who still brought me a newspaper and didn't ask where I’d been so long. Soon after, he brought me what is still one of the best diner hamburgers, along with still-excellent lentil soup and still-sweet slaw in a white pleated cup.

The tables still have fresh flowers. People still wait to sit down. I suspect that if I’d gotten a Coke, it still would have been refilled. And they still give out New York calendars, but this year I was too late. Maybe that will teach me not to be so afraid of change, but I doubt it.

Find The Red Flame at 67 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, in Manhattan.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strangely New York: At Any Moment You Can Be Taken for a Ride

New York City Midtown Street Scene
By Mitch Broder

My carriage was waiting at the corner of Madison Avenue and 49th Street. I approached, and a sunny woman offered me a free trip through the city. I climbed in. My driver welcomed me and we embarked on our regal journey. It was just the reception that I’d dreamed of to greet my new city blog.

It really happened. All except that the coach was a pedicab that looked like a golf cart, and that the woman was representing Wells Fargo Bank, and that she offered me the free ride because no one else seemed to want one, and that it had nothing to do with my blog outside of giving me this post.

But it was close.

And perhaps it was destiny. Wells Fargo is debuting as a bank in New York. I am debuting as a blogger about New York. Wells Fargo is taking over Wachovia Bank branches. I don’t have any branches. But I have nothing to put in them anyway.

I was en route to one of the old places I’m supposed to be blogging about when I was invited into the pedicab, outside that corner’s bank. I knew it was a corporate promotion, but it was the kind you mostly find in New York. That’s why I bit. And anyway, Wells Fargo is 159.

The cab bore the Wells Fargo slogan, “Together we’ll go far.” My cabbie, whose name was Joaquin, explained why we wouldn’t. The free rides, he said, were limited to three or four blocks. But I was headed to 51st Street, so we’d be going far enough.

It was for the best. Pedicabs can be a little scary, and though Joaquin was a good pedaler, my ride was pretty bumpy. This may have been to simulate the bumps of the old Wells Fargo stagecoaches, or to warn riders of the even bigger bumps they'll get if they owe that bank money.

Still, I enjoyed my trip, and though the Wells Fargo rides have ended, the company that gave them, BicyTaxi, gives free rides for lots of companies. Watch for weird pedicabs and hop in. Ignore speeding SUVs. And whatever your cab says on the side, remember it’s promoting me.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Katz's Delicatessen: NYC's Oldest Deli Meets NYC's Newest Blog

Katz’s Delicatessen New York City Lower East Side Vintage Destination
By Mitch Broder

This month, I have learned, the world-famous Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is launching a brand-new slogan.

The old slogan was “A Delicatessen For 122 Years.”

The new slogan is “A Delicatessen For 123 Years.”

I have picked this milestone as the occasion on which to launch my brand-new blog. You can count on me to bring you this sort of breaking news yearly.

Actually, I was already planning to launch the blog this month, because I had originally planned to launch the blog last month. But I am happy to share my debut with Katz’s Delicatessen’s slogan, because Katz’s is the perfect example of what I’m launching for.

It’s a New York City haunt that’s old but beguiling. It’s a place that takes you back in time and makes you want to stay. It’s a revelation not just to tourists but to procrastinatory New Yorkers. It’s a landmark that you think will always be there — but might not.

Katz’s Delicatessen New York City Lower East Side Interior
Katz’s is a roisterous emporium where people go to eat pastrami in peace. Everyone else is eating it, so everyone can eat it without guilt. Along with the pastrami, Katz’s has hot dogs, corned beef, brisket, salami, and other delicacies that have long fueled hardy Eastern European Jews.

 Katz’s Delicatessen New York City Lower East Side Lunch Receipt
My ticket curled up at the
bottom because it fell
into the sauerkraut.

It is very exclusive. You need a ticket to get in. A man hands you one, and signs warn you of a fifty-dollar fine if you lose it. Katz’s has both waiter and cafeteria-style service; all purchases are marked on the ticket. If there’s a better system, they haven’t found it.

The roisterousness and the tickets are among the reasons why I used to begin my visits to Katz’s with an anxiety attack. But now I swagger in, secure that I am fully capable of ordering two frankfurters and a knish and finding a seat. Katz’s builds character.

I swaggered through lunch, after which I was joined at my table by Alan Dell, whose slogan is “A Katz’s Owner for 25 Years.” Alan is often on the floor, chatting with the regular customers, and he’s always on the walls, in photos of him with the famous customers.

Katz’s Delicatessen New York City Lower East Side Neon Sign
He reminded me that Katz’s has two other slogans.

One is “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army,” coined during World War II. The other is “That’s all,” coined by a sign painter. Grandpa Katz, Alan says, ordered a sign for the store. The painter asked what he wanted on it. A testy Grandpa said: “Katz’s, that’s all!” That’s what the painter painted.

Yet somehow I remain fondest of “A Delicatessen for 123 Years.” So I’ve decided to steal it. Mitch Broder’s Vintage New York: “A Blog for One Day.”

Join me as I explore the things that make Manhattan vintage. I am confident that, together, we can make my slogan change, too.

Discover Katz’s Delicatessen at 205 East Houston Street, at Ludlow Street, in Manhattan.