Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Old New York: Find the Ficoseccos at the Accordion Museum

The Accordian Museum certainly has an Old New York feel to it.

By Mitch Broder

To be honest, I was mostly looking at the twin bejeweled mermaids, but Alex guided my attention to the instrument they festooned.

It was the E. Galizi Bro. White-and-Gold Pearled Piano Accordion, which is kept locked up in a case, which is kept locked up in a room. “This was made here in New York, in the 1920s,” Alex said. “I keep it here. I never touch it. But you gotta hear this.”

The E. Galizi Bro. White-and-Gold Pearled Piano Accordion is under lock and key at the Old New York Accordian MuseumHe lifted the squeezebox, sat down, and played “Under Paris Skies.” It was glorious, and French songs normally make me queasy. In his expressive Italian accent, Alex offered a cogent explanation for my redemption: “Make music on this was like make gold.”

Cases and cases of squeezeboxes adorn the Accordian Museum
If so, he’s in a gold mine, for he walks among the accordions, many of which are treasures like the one from the Galizi brothers. Alex is Alessandro Carozza, New York City’s Accordion King and the owner and curator of New York City’s Accordion Museum.

It is part of his two-floor accordion complex, in which he buys, sells, repairs, and otherwise attends to a century or so’s worth of accordions. He loves to show off his museum, because he loves his museum, because moving his accordions there from his apartment kept his wife from killing him.

He showed me his little red Hohner model from 1945. “It’s funny, but no joke,” he said. “It’s a real accordion.” He showed me his big black Pasquale Ficosecco model from 1921. He has accordions from three Pasquale Ficoseccos, including the one who still works at the store.

The curator of the Old New York Accordian Museum is happy to start a jam session for you

He left me to take care of some customers and locked me into the room. I felt secure, knowing that I finally had enough time to learn how to play. I always wanted to play the accordion because I wanted to push all those buttons. But I now know that accordions are serious instruments, though I’m still not sure about that red one.

Accordian enthusiasts will find a mirade of classic accordians at this Old New York landmark

I admired the 1927 Excelsior, the 1910 Paolo Soprini, the 1906 Beaver Brand. I admired the rhinestones, the sparkles, the silver lace, the gold mesh, and, needless to say, the mermaids. I found all of the accordions in the museum fascinating — and yet not quite as fascinating as their king.

When he let me out, I learned that Alex was born in Italy and grew up in Argentina, where he mastered the accordion trade. “I came here with four hundred dollars in my pocket when I get off the plane,” he told me. “No English — just Italian and Spanish.”

But he went to NYU and had a career as a documentary filmmaker, while moonlighting as accordionist for a group called Alejandro y Los Internacionales. “We brought Latin jazz to America,” he said. “Then they came out with the boogaloo. Everybody went crazy with the boogaloo.”

An accordian player can even get his-her instrument repaired by the curator at the Accordian Museum.
Can you find Pasquale Ficosecco?
When he got tired of lugging cameras, he joined a store called Accordion-O-Rama (which at the time was New York’s accordion place but has since moved to New Jersey). Then he moved to Music Row, where he became manager of the Sam Ash store. He opened his own repair shop forty years ago and then his own store across the street.

That store, Alex Music, made him rich and famous, he says, and led to an offer to be the president of the Gibson Guitar Corp. He considered that a high honor. He turned it down. He didn’t want to be a chief executive. He just wanted his accordions.

So twenty years ago he gave up the big store and opened his little store, one floor below his original repair shop. A few years later, he added the museum, to help preserve accordion history. You get in by making an appointment. There’s no guarantee you’ll get out.

Alex, of course, could retire. Instead, he buys accordions by the hundreds and sells them at $1,000 to $15,000 a pop. His place is a mecca for many of the great accordionists of the world. And that, he told me, is the reason that he doesn’t retire.

“Can I tell you something?” he said. “They don’t let me — the professionals. They need me, and I have to do it. They come from so far. From New Zealand, they come over here to fix accordion. They say, ‘Don’t die, Alex, ’cause if you die, we don’t play anymore.’”

Classic accordians abound at the Old New York landmark, the Alex Accordian Museum border=

Take your squeeze to the Alex Accordion Museum, 165 West 48th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, New York City. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Old New York: This Room at the Iroquois is One for the Books

Step into Old New York at the New York Library at the Iroquois

By Mitch Broder

I walked into the Iroquois Hotel, selected a book called “New York Confidential,” opened it up, and saw a picture of Mayor Ed Koch milking a cow.

The Algonquin hotel is undergoing a renovation
You just can’t do that at the Algonquin.

Assuming that you’d want to.

One good reason that you can’t is that the Algonquin is boarded up. It’s enduring a renovation that could drag on till the summer. But you couldn’t even do it when the Algonquin was open, because, unlike the Iroquois, the Algonquin never had the New York Library.

The two hotels do have things in common. They’re both over a century old. They’re both named after Indian peoples. They’re both on the same block of West 44th Street. But after that, everything changes. The Algonquin got famous. It had its Round Table. It’s had its Cat. It has an entry on Wikipedia.

A true old New York experience awaits inside the Iroquois HotelThe Iroquois has accepted this gracefully. And now it is accepting gracefully that for possibly half of this year its bigger competitor is on the DL. It has a chance to show Algonquin patrons what it’s got that their place hasn’t, which may not be an awful lot but does include Koch and his cow.

The New York Library is a room off the Iroquois lobby whose name leads some people to think that it’s a branch of The New York Public Library. It is not. But it is an eclectic collection of books about New York City, which may be freely enjoyed by hotel guests and by suitably discreet visitors.

The titles include “Subwayland” and “Old Penn Station,” “Broadway Musicals” and “Times Square Spectacular,” “Wall Street” and “212 Views of Central Park.” There’s “Lost New York,” “Antiquing New York,” “Tales of Gaslight New York,” “The Battle for New York,” “The Best Bars of New York,” and, nostalgically, “Great Blizzards of New York City.”

It's near impossible not to relax with a cup of warm apple cider and the newspaper inside the New York Library at the Iroquois Hotel

The books are accompanied by likewise quaint offerings such as newspapers and magazines, along with warm apple cider in the cool months and cool citrus water in the warm ones. All this can be savored on the leather sofa or the matching leather chairs, in the sunlight from the street windows or in the glow of the chandelier.

A step back in time is manufactured at the not so Old in New York spot which was recently renovated 12 years ago at the Iroquois Hotel

The faux-vintage room replaced an actual-vintage barbershop about twelve years ago, in the course of the hotel’s own renovation. It seeks a balance in time, since it’s also equipped with two computers, a printer, and a touch screen for airline arrivals and departures that made me jumpy just to look at.

A touch of the New in New York features a computer in the New York Library at the Iroquois Hotel
A rude guest can further break the mood with cell-phone conversations, but that can happen anywhere, and here you can glare at close range. Mostly, the library’s a refuge. And at times it’s a dining room. It hosts dinners for up to eleven, to help support itself.

Ironically, all its books don’t do much to help the Iroquois compete with the Algonquin’s literary past. Nor does its own claim to fame, which is that James Dean slept there. For years. Guests ask to stay in his room. But it’s not the same as a legendary lobby.

Of course, there’s the other Iroquois story. That’s the one about Paul Geidel, the teenage bellhop who murdered a wealthy guest for a nonexistent windfall. He was locked up in 1911 — and stayed locked up for sixty-nine years. For his stretch, he made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Dean and Geidel together, though, can’t equal Dorothy Parker and Matilda the Cat. So the Iroquois, library and all, is content to keep its place. In fact, the manager, Robert Holmes, told me that he sympathizes with the hobbled Algonquin. He added only: “It certainly doesn’t hurt us that they’re closed.”

The New York Library also hosts dinner for the Iroquois Hotel

Get between the covers at The Iroquois New York, 49 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, New York City.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New in New York: Alexander Berardi Brings Springtime to Soho

Jack the Rabbit is an attraction at the New in new York Alex Berardi boutique.

By Mitch Broder

When you see the crowds gathering outside the Alexander Berardi boutique, you figure that either Berardi makes swell clothes or else he has bunnies hopping in the window.

Fashion lovers will take a second look at the New in New York Alex Berardi boutique in SohoWell, he does. Make swell clothes. And have bunnies hopping in the window. But he’s the first to accept that the crowds are drawn less by the clothes than by the bunnies.

Alexander Berardi is a rising star in fashion. The bunnies are rising stars in downtown window dressing. They are Jack and Miss Cooper, Holland lops, and lately each has been appearing separately. But alone or together they bring a warm wink to Soho, a place that could use more than one.

They live in a 3-by-4-foot pen with glass walls and fake grass, which they share with two headless models wearing the clothes that pay their rent. Throughout the day they get fresh vegetables, water, Sunaturals Timothy Hay, and more attention than a fashion star gets no matter how high he rises.

Their attention comes mostly from people, but their most dedicated admirer is an off-white, wiry labradoodle by the name of Rubio. He shows up each weekday at 4:15, plants himself in front of the window, and stares at the rabbit du jour for fifteen minutes straight.

Animals and animal lovers alike will stop at Alex Berardi boutique to see the New in New York live bunny display
All the photos are of Jack. This one is also of Rubio.

“It’s like Rubio’s ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’” said his walker, Wonderly White. “Honestly, he’s in love. That’s all I can say. He wishes no ill will to the bunny. He just wants to make friends and play, but rabbits don’t play with dogs. It’s an unrequited love. But he keeps hoping.”

Kids get hands on with the bunnies at Alexander Berardi's Boutique that is New in New YorkLess tragically, the rabbits are admired by myriad little girls, many of whom bounce in to do what Rubio can only dream of. Two eight-year-olds arrived on their way home from school with a woman named Michelle Jassem. Michelle noted: “I’ve never bought anything here. We just come to visit the bunnies.”

Alexander Berardi had rabbits before he had a store. So he decided to create a store that was designed to accommodate rabbits. “I just thought it would be a good idea to bring them to work,” he told me. “Otherwise they’d be home alone all day. They’re our store sidekicks.”

Rabbit duty is shared by Christopher Kulukundis, the store manager, who appears to know as much about rabbits as he does about ready-to-wear. He gives them Brussels sprouts, broccoli, arugula, and carrots, along with the hay for their teeth, and regularly vacuums up the tangible evidence with a Dustbuster.

The bunnies not the clothes are the main attraction at Alexander Berardi's Boutique in New York City
Originally, Jack and Miss Cooper shared the window, Christopher said. “They were inseparable. They would sleep on top of each other and clean each other.” But they took to quarreling, so now they take turns at the store, while undergoing marital counseling in the privacy of their home.

Some fans are disturbed by this. On a recent Jack day, a little girl worried that Miss Cooper might need her. “You get some characters,” Christopher said. “I’ve had some people come in just to sing to the bunnies. One woman couldn’t get Jack out of her mind and wrote him a pop song.”

So far, it’s hard to tell whether the rabbits are selling any clothes. But Alexander and Christopher foresee a payoff from those little girls.

“We have a joke,” Christopher said. “We’re going to be the most popular New York fashion line for Prom Night 2020.”

Jack The Bunny draws in crowds at the New in New York Alexander Berardi Boutique

Look into Alexander Berardi, 174 Prince Street, near Sullivan Street, in New York City.