Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Old New York: Colony Records Packs Up the Beatles and Elvis

By Mitch Broder

The “Yellow Submarine” lunchbox will cost $650 till the end.

The Colony never changed anything, so it’s not about to change that.

You won't find nostalgia like that which is on display at Colony Records anywhere else in New York City
The Colony is Colony Records, a Theater District treasure-hunt of sheet music, recorded music, and musical relics. It’s been around since 1948, but now it appears to be closing, possibly in just two weeks, though at the Colony you never know.

Michael Grossbardt, the CEO, told me that on September 15th he will shut down the store that his father, “Nappy” Grossbardt, opened sixty-four years ago. He also assured me that he will conduct no going-out-of-business sale, which is appropriate for a store whose legend has rarely involved bargains.

Years ago, I experienced Colony as a frustrating place, because it had things that nearly took my breath away at prices that finished the job. But the problem was me. As soon as I started thinking of the place as a museum, I could go in knowing that the things I wanted were there only to look at.

This Old New York classic record store is great to look at but not touch some of the incredible memorabilia

Colony will end its storied life as a museum indeed, a shop that gave in to CDs in the nineties but to nothing much since then. It’s worth a last visit, since the lack of a sale is keeping the place intact, and since you will never, at least in this city, see its likes again.

Colony Records celebrates classic Old New York performers like Sinatra and Elvis

Stroll past the tourist trinkets, and find new CDs and DVDs selling for $25 and up. Then find old LPs selling for $35, $40, $75, $125 and up. Then find some LPs selling for $15. They are the same ones you have in your closet that you couldn’t pay your local record store to take.

Colony Records is a great place for a musician to stop by and thumb through the sheet music and songbooks that adorn the walls

Much of the rest of the space displays sheet music and songbooks, recalling the days when songs were born in the Brill Building, which has long housed the store. But look deeper and find the display cases hoarding remnants of music history that you won’t find in real museums because they can’t handle the Colony’s markup.

Treasure hunters will find a trove of Old New York classics at Colony Records including this Elvis doll
Top prizes include that Beatles lunchbox at $650, and an Elvis-in-uniform prototype doll, at $1,800. Among other treasures are a Fabian pillow ($150), a Dick Clark “American Bandstand” Secret Diary ($200), and a Supremes Special Formula White Bread wrapper, priced no doubt for its irony, at $600.

As fascinating as the artifacts are the display cases themselves. They are not, to be gentle, meticulously maintained. The case labeled “Elvis” holds the Beatles stuff. The case labeled “Beatles” holds no Beatles stuff. The case that holds Elvis stuff has no label and, besides the Elvis stuff, holds the Michael Jackson Cordless Electric Microphone.

The “Streisand” case has a Streisand bag, but it also has TV Guides with cover photos of Chad Everett and Louise Lasser. But the “Frank Sinatra” label is accurate. Its case offers unused Sinatra tickets and unused Sinatra eight-tracks, which are about equally useful.

If Chad Everett and Louise Lasser don’t ring a bell, just know that they are hot stars compared with some others for sale. On high glass shelves, which incidentally display the dust of the decades, are the Burns & Allen Coffee Server and a poster for the Popsicle “Parade of Stars,” whose stars included Dick Haymes, Arthur Godfrey, and Fanny Brice.

It doesn't get much more classic then a Supremes Special Formula White Bread wrapper that you'll find for sale at Colony Records.

Keep looking up and see 8-by-10s of the likes of Leonard Nimoy, Daryl Hannah, Phil Donahue, Demi Moore, and Paul Hogan. They run around $100, though Demi is $200. They may all have been autographed once, but the evidence has often faded.

The doors to this Old New York establishment are now closed, but Colony Records served the city well.

The Colony, of course, wasn’t always like this. It was a rockin’ place, as most places that sold records once were. It opened at Broadway and 52nd Street and soon became a musical landmark. It had a famous DJ named Symphony Sid spinning platters in the window.

The music that played in the store also played out on the street. Getting heard on the street speakers could make a record a hit. The store continued to rock even after it moved in the seventies. Sinatra and Lennon shopped at the Colony on their way to becoming display cases.

Patrons were left with a great feel of nostalgia when Colony Records closed it's door left with only the simple saying With the seismic changes in the music business, the Colony courted tourists. But apparently, what got it in the end was rent. The owners, Michael said, could once have bought their building for $250,000. It was last sold five years ago for about $150 million.

Michael told me that what doesn’t sell in the store will just get boxed up and eventually put back on sale online.

So go now to look or to buy — but not to save. And if you’re really well off, and you really like this blog, keep in mind that I really want the Dick Clark Secret Diary.

Old New York will always remember Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve and as the founder of American Bandstand, he just so happened to keep a secret diary that could have been purchased at Colony Records.

Take a last spin at Colony Records, 1619 Broadway, at 49th Street, in New York City.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Old New York: At the Oyster Bar, You Can Summer Like It's 1959

Head out to see at the Old New York destination, The Oyster Bar

By Mitch Broder

To grab your last taste of August, set sail for the Oyster Bar, the only Midtown restaurant that wants to make you feel like you're at sea.

This is not the big, century-old Grand Central Oyster Bar. It's the little, half-century-old, theater-district Famous Oyster Bar. Aside from their name, the two restaurants have only as much connection as all the restaurants in New York City that have a sign that says "Pizza."

From the outside the Oyster Bar looks like just another Old New York restaurant

Unlike the Grand Central Oyster Bar, the Famous Oyster Bar has a ship, an ocean mural, and seashells on the ceiling. It opened in 1959, and back then you needed a ship, a mural, and seashells in order to operate a seafood restaurant.

The Oyster Bar just recently got a new bar

But the Oyster Bar recently got a slick new bar, which makes me fear for the future of the ship, the mural, and the shells. If you want to see them, I'd get sailing. The place has a delicious crab cake. It made me forget about the new bar, which was making me crabby.

If you're looking for Seafood in New York City, the Oyster Bar is your old New York destination

Anchor yourself at the Oyster Bar, 842 Seventh Avenue, at 54th Street, in New York City.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New in New York: Catch Those Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls

Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Ball is a tasty treat that is New in New York
By Mitch Broder

The groundhog’s at his Hamptons timeshare, but he has dispatched the Imperial Woodpecker to report the good news that there will be six more weeks of winter this summer.

This is startling, since the Imperial Woodpecker is supposed to be extinct. Then again, the groundhog is supposed to be 126.

Patrons enjoy their Sno-balls treats at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Ball a tasty treat that is New in New York
Still, the woodpecker saw its bill, or whatever it is that it does, and predicted abundant snow in New York City through September 24th. The snow will be saturated with flavored syrups, served in paper containers, and sold at the coincidentally named Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls.

Make no mistake: This is snow, not ice. A snow cone is ice; a sno-ball is snow. It comes from a sno-ball machine, in this case the SnoWizard sno-ball machine, which is made in New Orleans, which is the home of sno-balls. Ask the Bronx Zoo who predicts ice.

The machine is owned by Neesa Peterson, who is as warm as snow is cold, and whose store, correspondingly, feels like a little party. She makes sno-balls in forty-six flavors, and she will make them through the end of summer, which, she recognizes, does not fall on Labor Day weekend.

She makes a sno-ball by switching on the sno-ball machine, which shoots snow into the container that, with luck, she is holding at its spout. She adds flavor from one of the bottles of gaily colored syrup, along with a spoon and a straw, since you start with the spoon and finish with the straw.

This New in New York treat is literally made out of snow which comes out of this machine

Her flavors ($4 to $8) include Granny Smith Apple, Pink Bubblegum, Red Velvet Cake, and her favorite, Tiger Blood, which fortunately is strawberry-coconut. Her cream flavors (“Add $1”) include Almond Cream, Chocolate Cream, and her favorite, Sweet Lou’s Nectar Cream. Her grandfather was Sweet Lou.

There are also three toppings (“Add $1”): condensed milk, vanilla ice cream, and marshmallow cream. In the end, though, the flavors and toppings matter less than the sno. Whatever it happens to taste like, it’s fluffy and refreshing, which is why it’s been around for over seventy years.

The menu at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls lists all kinds of New in New York treats

The first sno-ball machine was reputedly made by Ernest Hansen in 1939 (though the SnoWizard company claims their guy made one in 1936). Before that, guys sold sno-balls from carts with snow they shaved by hand from ice blocks. Ernest found this unsanitary. Luckily, he was a machinist.

Also luckily, his wife, Mary, was a pretty good cook. So Ernest made his Sno-Bliz machine, and Mary made sno-ball syrups. They sold sno-balls under a tree, then moved into a store. The store, Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, still exists, along with a flurry of other New Orleans sno-ball stores.

Neesa is not the first to bring the sno-ball to New York City. In 1996, Mary Frey opened Guru Sno-Balls in the East Village. It was in an abandoned gas-station office on Lafayette Street. Guru was her Rottweiler. It’s not clear what he could predict.

This treat that is New in New York is made with real snow and some delicious syrups which are lined up at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls
Mary had roughly the same flavors — plus, in deference to Guru, Doggie Balls, which came in Chicken or Beefy. She moved on in a couple of years, but she left people wanting more. That’s good news for Neesa, who is also a  hit and who doesn’t seem likely to drift from her snow.

She came to New York a few years ago and worked at modeling agencies but discovered that her heart was in her New Orleans roots. She opened Imperial Woodpecker last year on Seventh Avenue South, but it was open just through August. This year she plays the full season.

In fact, she wants to open a year-round store, with warm stuff in winter. And she’s already marketing sno-ball stands for weddings and bar-mitzvahs.

She’ll be happy to tell you anything you want to know about sno-balls. But if you want to know why hers are Imperial Woodpecker, you’ll have to ask the bird.

It's hard to miss this new in New York establishment as the bright sign of Imperial Woodpecker Sno-balls stand out from the street

Summer at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls, 124 MacDougal Street, between West Third and Bleecker streets, in New York City.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Old New York: Grand Central's Colorama Told Us to Live Large

Colorama of water skiers featured at Grand Central Station in Old New York
By Mitch Broder

Please set your smartphone to "IMAX," because these photos are 60 feet wide.

Or else set it to "Last Century," because that's where you'll find Coloramas.

You'll find them in Grand Central Terminal, over the East Balcony — actually, blocking the East Balcony — from 1950 to 1990. They will show you that life is happy and thrilling, not to mention wet, and that, wet or dry, it's virtually always photogenic.

And if you didn't spring for those phone settings, you can revisit the Coloramas at Grand Central now, in an exhibition called — well, "Colorama."

Discoteque Colorama that was featured at Grand Central Station in Old New York
"Discotheque," by Neil Montanus, was displayed February 13 through March 3, 1967. At the top, "Waterskiers, Cypress Gardens, Florida," by Hank Mayer, was displayed August 5 through 26, 1968. All the Colorama photos here are Copyright Eastman Kodak Co. and Courtesy George Eastman House.

It just opened at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex (which last year remembered the old Pennsylvania Station). But its photos are actually not their original 18-by-60. The biggest they get is about 2-by-6. At close range, though, that gives you a sense of the biggest thing that people in the terminal got to see, besides their trains.

Old New York Colorama of Cowboys in the Grand Tetons which was displayed at Grand Central Station
"Cowboys in Grand Tetons, Wyoming," by Herbert Archer and J. Hood, was displayed October 5 through 26, 1964. 

The original Coloramas were backlit color slides. They were billed as the world's largest photographs. At the least, they were the world's best ad for the company that ruled photography when photography meant things like color slides.

Old New York features a Colorama of Bathtime at Grand Central Station
"Saturday Night Family Bath," by Lee Howick, was displayed February 17 through March 9, 1964.

Eastman Kodak Co. sold practically all the film in America in the days before cell phones with IMAX, time machines, and, incredibly, cameras. It installed the Colorama to show millions of travelers that with its cameras, film, and flash bulbs, everything — and anything — could be beautiful.

Colorams that were displayed at Grand Central Station in Old New York includes a family in front of a fireplace
"Family by Fireplace," by Norm Kerr, was displayed March 15 through May 5, 1965.

In its forty years, the Colorama display held 565 photographs, one every few weeks, and the exhibition sums them up: "They proffered an almost unchanging vision of idealized and perfect landscapes, villages and families, American power and patriotism, and the decorative sentimentality of babies, puppies and kittens."

Classic Colorama of a Family In A Convertible once on display in Old New York at Grand Central Station
"Family in Convertible," by Jim Pond, was displayed June 3 through 24, 1968.

In the early years, every picture showed someone taking a picture (or planning to), though, apparently, exemptions were given to waterskiers. In any case, the mission was colorfully voiced by Adolph Stuber, a Kodak ad man who helped to conceive the display: "Everyone who sees the Colorama should be able to visualize them self as being able to make the same wonderful photo."

Visitors take a step back to Old New York to view this Colorama exhibit

The exhibition has thirty-six of the wonderful photos, almost all from the sixties, when you could still show a family of five in the bathroom. While most are scenes of America, they include shots of the Taj Mahal, the Matterhorn, Machu Picchu, and Earth itself, as seen from the moon.

Old New York featured Coloramas displayed under this sign at Grand Central Station

There's also a photo of the Colorama display in its Grand Central home (before the East Balcony staircase was built in the nineties renovation).

The Apple Store has replaced the East Balcony of Grand Central Station where the Coloramas were once displayed

In its place now is a store, with today's version of a Colorama: a big backlit white apple with a bite taken out of it.

Another Colorama that was on display in Old New York's Grand Central Station called See You At The Fair
"See You at the Fair," by Donald Marvin, was displayed April 13 though May 4, 1964.

Find your rainbow at "Colorama," through October, at Grand Central Terminal, in New York City.