Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Signing Off: In Memory of Those That Didn't Make It to December

Nail One is one of the New York City businesses that closed in December
By Mitch Broder

Among the obsessions of Vintage New York are the city's departed businesses that seem to have hastened their departure with the names they gave themselves.

So while others take the easy route of frequenting stores that are open, I stand alone outside the ones that are closed and ruminate on their signs.

"Nail One," for example, may be a popular goal, but maybe not the most inviting phrase to a woman in search of a manicure. Below are a few more places that went black before Black December, not that surviving would necessarily have done them any good...

Fusion was for those dining in New York until it closed in December
Signage Rule No. 1: Customers should be able to figure out what your name is...

The Big Cheese is no more in New York
Everybody knows that you can't be The Big Cheese forever...

Butler's was great with the service but diners in New York didn't care to keep it around
Even now, people don't want to dine with the butler...

eShave has closed in December as a fine New York shop
Maybe this will be the last task that people don't do online...

Signage has a way of closing down establishments in New York City
See Signage Rule No. 1, above...

Vintage New York wishes everyone better luck next time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Strangely New York: Delphinium Home Combines Its Curiosities

Variety is the spice of life for New York shoppers at Delphinium
By Mitch Broder

The good news for shoppers is that they can now purchase their Animal Sound Alarm Clocks and their Disgusting Sounds Keychains under one roof.

They should just be aware that the disgusting sounds are sincerely disgusting.

The Solar Queen is among the unique assortment of goods at Delphinium that await shoppers in New York
This unprecedented opportunity is made possible by Delphinium Home, which is now conveniently consolidated if still improbably located. The owners have blended their gift store with their home store to create a new store that, like the old stores, butts the stylishly tasteful against the cheerily tasteless.

Now, in one stop, you can get, say, a stylishly tasteful soap dish and a cheerily tasteless solar-powered hand-waving queen. And you can get all the things that somehow fall somewhere in between, like Pac-Man Potholders, Manhole Drain Covers, and Michelle Obama Tote Bags.

Since these are all no doubt on your list, you may want to stop by, for stores that carry this kind of stuff have been steadily dwindling. Somber has displaced silly, and functional has eclipsed funny. But not at Delphinium. Maybe because it’s so hard to find.

Shoppers in New York will sleep like a log on this log pilloiw found at Delphinium
You can find it on West 47th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, blithely out of the way of the hubs of Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen. To its left are apartments. To its right are apartments. Across the street are apartments. The residents never want for Animal Butt Magnets.

The rest of us have to walk a bit out of our way. But that mystique may be one reason that Delphinium has survived.

It all began with flowers, of which the delphinium is one, and with Broadway singer-dancers, of which the owners were three. Gary Alaimo, Michael Quinn, and John Soroka were roommates who were getting tired of singing and dancing. Michael and John stepped into flower-arranging.

They started at home, moved to a store, then added some other things, which sold so well that they soon had little time for the flowers. In 1996, the alleged flower shop became the Delphinium Card & Gift shop. It was across the street. It’s still vacant. It might make a good flower shop.

Maybe you're in the market for a Lickety Spoon from DelphiniumIn 1999, the three men opened Delphinium Home, around the corner on Ninth Avenue. In 2001, they opened Wear Me Out, a men’s clothing store, in their current space. In 2011, their leases were up, and their Ninth Avenue rent was rising. They gave up the gift store and the home store, dumped the clothes, and launched the combined store.

The odd mix of stuff suits the neighbors and delights tourists from around the world, though it’s not clear which country most embraces the Lickety Spoon. John, who’s the gift buyer, says: “There’s a certain aesthetic to the way I buy. There’s a certain cleverness to the way I buy. There’s a certain city mind that you tap into.”

That mind must favor animals, because they’re a dominant theme. You can get them on useful items for any room in the house. Along with the Animal Sound Alarm Clocks and the Animal Butt Magnets, there are the Fish Shower Curtain, the Walrus Ice Cream Scoop, the Rubber Duck Scrubber, and the Hand-Crank Piggy LED Flashlight.

As for those Animal Sound Alarm Clocks, they come in cat, monkey, and frog.

As for the sounds in the Disgusting Sounds Keychains, you’re on your own.

Cool Cats abound at Delphinium for shoppers in New York.

Step up to the plate at Delphinium Home, 353 West 47th Street, New York City.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

House of Oldies: Selling Last Century's Hits For Half a Century

New York City music lovers find a haven at the House of Oldies
That's Bob.

By Mitch Broder

The House of Oldies stocks around 700,000 records, yet the only thing that’s likely to do any skipping is the store.

It has skipped cassettes. It has skipped CDs. It has skipped downloads. It has skipped catalogs. It has skipped — musically speaking — the past couple of decades. Nevertheless, in at least one way it’s more relevant than almost all the record stores that have come along in the fifty years since it opened:

It’s still in business.

It has outlived Tower and Virgin and HMV and Sam Goody, and (in Manhattan) FYE, the chain that ate chains like Sam Goody. It has outlived mostly forgotten names like Record Hunter and King Karol, and scores of other record shops, record chains, and record departments.

At one point the House of Oldies had outlived it's New York music counterpart Strider Records
It has just outlived Strider Records, the store that most resembled it, probably because it was run by a man who once worked at the House of Oldies. When I heard that Strider, a couple of blocks over, had closed after 32 years, I got worried and went to check on the House.

I had nothing to worry about.

Still wedged into the 700,000 records was Bob Abramson, who has owned the store since 1968. He still runs it alone. He still sells only records. He still sells the records he sold in 1968. And he still plans to keep selling them. “I love being here,” he said. “It’s either a sickness or a passion. I think it’s a passion.”

He likes customers with a passion — meaning customers who know what they want. His is not a store for hours of browsing, since its one aisle gets blocked by one browser. This is paradoxical, since the store has dozens of tempting bins and a wall of tempting album covers and 45-rpm picture sleeves.

But you can spend a little time admiring wall occupants like the Everly Brothers, Bobby Darin, Little Richard, Dion, Ruth Brown, and the Eldorados. And that may help you to know what you want — which may lead you to sticker shock. But Bob says that his prices shock only the people who don’t understand what he sells.

From Madonna to the Best of Joe Turner New York music lovers will find it all at the House of OldiesHe pulls out a copy of the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” It’s marked $90. He slips the disk from its sleeve. It’s shiny and flawless. “Show me where you’re gonna find a first pressing of ‘Let It Be’ that looks like that, from 35 years ago. It’s a first edition. You’re gonna pay for it.” (And actually, it was 41 years ago.)

Nevertheless, he has bargain bins, with LPs for $10. These are generally albums that are in more abundance or less demand. But like the ninety-dollar “Let It Be,” they are guaranteed not to skip. If you prefer the Motels to the Beatles, you go home an all-around winner.

The Motels notwithstanding, prime time here is the fifties and sixties, and most albums cost between $25 and $40. Those prices, too, can elicit comments like “Forty bucks for this? Are you serious?” Bob’s stock reply: “Let me bring that to the attention of my buyer. It probably is too high.”

New York music lovers can spend all day thumbing through record stacks at the House of Oldies
The House of Oldies’ record run started in 1962, when Richard Clothier opened it around the corner, on Bleecker Street. Bob became a customer. Then he became an employee. And at 24, he became the owner. Richard didn’t have the passion.

Bob moved the store in 1980, when his landlord said that the fish store next door was taking over the space, which in fact it never did. If not for that, he probably would never have moved, just as he hasn’t moved since. “I don’t need to be the richest guy in the cemetery,” he says.

Truly vintage as House of Oldies sells only vinyl records
As cassettes and CDs eclipsed vinyl, Bob put his famous sign in the window: “NO CD’s/ NO  TAPES/ JUST RECORDS.” Back then, I saw it as defiance. Decades later, I’ve been corrected. “It was not to be elite,” Bob said, “not to say ‘F-U with your CDs and tapes.’ I did it ’cause the store was small, and I didn’t want 9,000 people coming in here for CDs and tapes.”

The fidelity to high fidelity cost some fidelity in the nineties. The masses abandoned records for the alleged miracle discs. People commonly bought CDs of records they already had. Bob waited for them to come back and buy records of CDs they already had.

Now, with CDs dead and tapes deader, business is good. The customers span generations; Bob calls his teen clientele “huge.” “They’ll come in and say, ‘Got any Zeppelin on wax?’ They love the sound of vinyl on a decent system. It doesn’t have to be a $10,000 system. It can be a $500 system.”

As for his own system, Bob plays the classics — Dylan, Baez, Presley, the Stones. “The greats are the greats because they’re great,” he says. “Everybody thinks I have, like, secret albums that no one ever heard of. I don’t. I don’t have one album that you never heard of.”

But he sells just about every album you ever heard of, especially if it’s midcentury rock ’n’ roll, doo-wop, rhythm & blues, blues, soul, or pop.

And if he keeps on outliving record stores, that copy of “Let It Be” for $90 may just end up being the biggest bargain in New York.

The sign out front says it all House of Oldies Rare Records

Take a spin at House of Oldies, 35 Carmine Street, New York City.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Strangely New York: Stepping Out at B-Bap, Chickpea, and Nooi

Looking for chick peas when dining in New York, you'll find them at B-Bap
B-Bap. It means rice. Sort of.

By Mitch Broder

If I took Step 1 at Chickpea, and Step 2 at My Maki, and Step 3 at Nooi, and Step 4 at B-Bap, I could have the Hummus with Tahini and Eel in Tomato Diablo Sauce topped with Organic Bacon Bits, plus Parmesan and Green Olives, since Nooi has a Step 5.

The My Maki menu offers many options for those dining in New York
My Maki. Before.
But I can’t, since My Maki has just gone out of business, leaving me eelless, so for Step 2 at My Maki I’ll substitute Step 3 at B-Bap, because what could be better in Tomato Diablo Sauce than Julienned Eggs, unless it’s Bean Sprouts, which are 23 cents less?

The point here is not only that I can design a disgusting lunch. It is also that My Maki has just gone out of business. While this doesn’t delight me, it does suggest to me that people may have had their fill of places that require you to write the recipe for your food before you eat it.

The late My Maki (“Sushi How You Like it”) was one of the latest. It opened just last March, on 43rd Street between Third and Lexington. It was proud of your work. In its window it posted a quote from UrbanDaddy exclaiming that “you’ll brainstorm, micromanage, and give birth.” And where better to do those things than a sushi bar?

My Maki has closed because thise dining in New York weren't open to making their own meal
My Maki. After.
In its Step 1, you chose from two Wraps. In Step 2, you chose from 10 Main Ingredients. In Step 3, you chose from 18 Other Ingredients, which included Craisins and Doritos. In Step 4, you chose from eight External Toppings, which included seven Dipping Sauces, which, perhaps for variety, were listed on the store’s menu board as Step 5.

After brainstorming and micromanaging, you could give birth to a soy-wrap eel roll with jalapeño, mango, sundried tomato, cream cheese, and Doritos, topped with crab mix and crunchy tempura, and dipped in citrus ponzu sauce. A few months after the opening I saw a guy at the corner holding up a My Maki sign. I was not surprised.

But for now, other four-step (or five-step) restaurants seem to be flourishing, no matter how much of their job they get you to do. The steps vary, sometimes at the same place, but all the spots give you the same chance to create something so vile that you’ll want to come back and try again.

Dining in New York has another experience at Nooi
Nooi. It means noodles. Sort of.
Nooi (“Pasta-to-Go”) is on Lex between 40th and 41st.  The experience here begins with the appetizing slogan “Simply pick your.” Step 1 is Size. You pick 26 or 32 ounces. Step 2 is Pasta. You pick regular or multigrain. Step 3 is Sauce; you pick from 11. Step 4 is Extras; you pick from six. Step 5 is 2 Free Toppings; you pick from another six. But at Nooi you can also pick different steps.

On its Web site, Step 1 is Step 2, and Step 2 is Step 1, and Step 4 is Customize Your Pasta, though Step 3 is still Sauce. And Step 5 is Add Salads, Drinks or Dessert, since Step 4 combines Steps 4 and 5, which doesn’t explain why only the sign in the store window refers to dessert  —though not to salads and drinks — as Step 6.

Chickpea (“Always baked. Never fried.”) has several stores besides the one I visited, which is on 45th Street between Madison and Vanderbilt. Here you choose your format (pocket, wrap, platter, plate, or salad), and then you Select Your Hummus (original, basil & toasted pine nuts, roasted red pepper, jalapeño & scallions).

Chickpea is another choose your own adventure dining in New York experience
Chickpea. It means chickpea.
If you’re not yet fried, you Add Your Essentials, which include Falafel, Shawarma, Shawafel, Chicken Kebab, Chicken Breast, Chickplant, Lamb Turkey Kebab, and Chicken Cutlet. Then you can choose from Extras, including eggplant, avocado, and fries, except that Extras don’t count as a step, leaving Chickpea with just three.

B-Bap (“Fusion Rice Bar”) is on Ninth Avenue between 54th and 55th. Here “customers can design their own b-bap bowl.” Step 1 is Select Your Base. Step 2 is Select Your Protein. Step 3 is Select Your Toppings. Step 4 is Select Your Sauce/Garnish. Mostly, you’re mixing rice with meat, vegetables, and sauce/garnish, making B-Bap the place with the least room for bad judgment, and the only place I know with Julienned Eggs.

Frozen Yogurt Your Way is the way at 16 Handles for once you're done dining in New York
16 Handles. I assume they did the math.
If you’ve taken steps at one of these places but still want to step out for dessert, the logical next step is 16 Handles (“Frozen Yogurt Your Way”). The chain, which has several stores in the city, invites you to Select Your Cup Size, Fill with Yogurt, Add Toppings, Weigh and Pay. It claims “trillions of possibilities.”

I don’t want trillions of possibilities. I want a cup of chocolate.

Or a bowl of rice. Or a stack of falafel. Or a plate of noodles. OK, with sauce.

I am not alone, for New York has clearly rejected cream-cheese-Dorito sushi.

Though it may have been only because the Doritos didn’t work with the teriyaki.

16 Handles lets those dining in New York have frozen yogurt your way
Getting a handle.

Have it your way at B-Bap, Chickpea, Nooi, and 16 Handles, but not at My Maki.