Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Then and Now: John's Pizza on Bleecker Street

Warm Memories

John's Pizza, 1976.

One of my common themes for these articles is zeroing in on local joints that mean a lot to the local community. While today's subject is a bit more well known than that, it has been a pillar of downtown Manhattan for almost a century and has meant a lot to many people.

I stumbled across the above photo of John's Pizza taken in 1976 and it intrigued me. For those who aren't familiar with John's Pizza located at 278 Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th, New York City, it is a Greenwich Village institution.

Founded by Naples, Italy, immigrant John Sasso in 1929 (as the canopy loudly proclaims, though it may be even older), John's was an offshoot of Lombardi's Pizza. This is the granddaddy of all pizza joints, a traditional restaurant opened in 1905 on Spring Street down in Little Italy. Lombardi's brought coal-fired ovens to the U.S. world of pizza. They run hot, and anyone who is an aficionado of pizza will tell you that the secret to a good pie is a hot oven. Sasso apparently learned his trade at Lombardi's. That restaurant also began the tradition of classy pizza places not selling by the slice.

John's first location was on Sullivan Street, but in 1934 Sasso moved over to Bleecker Street across from Jones Street.  The Vesce brothers purchased it in 1954, and in 1993, Bob Vittoria, one of their nephews or similarly related, became the majority partner.

Let's take a look at John's Pizza on Bleecker Street in NYC then and now.

Bleecker Street January 1956
The general locale of John's on Bleecker Street, January 1956. Photo by Albert Abbott.

Whether or not the restaurant actually opened in 1929 is a bit hazy. It may have opened to sell "pies" by Filippo Milone at 175 Sullivan Street in 1915, with Sasso taking over due to a marriage ca. 1925. But that's for historians to debate and is irrelevant to the mythology. Until they change the date on the canopy, I'm going with 1929. No matter, we can all agree that John's has been there for a long, long time.

John Sasso and the Vesces,
John Sasso, Augustine Vesce, Joe Vesce, and Lucille Vesce. This is undated, but probably in the 1950s.

John's is well known for its 800-degree brick oven, its cash-only policy, and the fact that it doesn't take reservations. Unless there's a line outside, you can generally just walk in and grab a spot at one of the tables. If you haven't been there, form a picture of that high school or college joint with unpretentious tables and booths you may have frequented where they served big beers and you could throw darts or do something similar. That's the atmosphere. You know, an unpretentious but fun joint. That's John's Pizza.

However, it's not some corner dollar-a-slice pizza joint. They don't even sell slices. Pizza, calzone, and a few pasta dishes and sides, washed down with wine or beer. You sit down, order beer or the beverage of your choice, and partake of a pie with your friends. That's the deal, and it's a good deal for a Manhattan restaurant because prices are quite reasonable given the location.

The location next door that John's later expanded into in 1937
276 Bleecker, which is now part of Johns’s of Bleecker, February 2, 1937. The neighborhood at one time was full of Italian delis and the like, but now only John's remains. Photo by Bernice Abbott

"John's Pizza" has become a signature name. It was never as ubiquitous as "Ray's," which as any longtime New Yorker will tell you became practically the obligatory name for corner pizza joints. However, there have been "John's Pizzas" up and down Manhattan at one point or another. But this is the original one (and no, not the "original" as in the phony "Original Ray's Pizzas," but the real deal).

John's in 2009
John's in May 2009 (Google Street View).

John's also differs from many other pizza joints in not staying open late into the night. Closing time traditionally has been 10:00 p.m. Monday - Thursday and 11:00 otherwise, be there by then or come back some other day. If you waltz in right at closing time, you'll have to take your pie to go. It's a classy joint, appearances can be deceiving.

John's in 2019
John's in June 2019. While the restaurant hasn't changed much in the ten years since the previous photo, the vans outside have gotten sleeker. (Google Street View).

John's has some practical advantages from being around so long. It is grandfathered in to use coal-fired ovens, which otherwise are not permitted. That's a nice barrier to entry for any business, not that John's needs any help. It also has become a selling point for the restaurant online. The pies have a  distinctive look as a result. The crust can be toasted black and crisp, and they slop on a lot of olive oil. Yes, it's quite tasty. New York City's clean and clear tap water from upstate no doubt helps the quality.

John's in 2019

Among other authentic touches, the walls have photos of celebrities who have stopped by over the years. The worn wooden booths have etchings from patrons of long ago. The place has real atmosphere.

I had some great meals at those tables in my otherwise misspent youth. Great place to take a date who is down-to-earth. Or old schoolmates. Or visiting out-of-town relatives. Everyone should be able to afford the meal without taking out a second mortgage and be nice and full when they walk out. I can't say that about other well-known NYC restaurants.

John's in 2019
June 2019 (Google Street View).

John's had to shut down its indoor dining in 2020 due to the pandemic. However, it reopened for indoor dining at 25% capacity on 12 February 2021. It also has or had outdoor dining. You can't deprive New Yorkers of their classic pizza!


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Then and Now: Valentine Avenue at Fordham Road

History in a Bronx Intersection

RKO Fordham Theatre at Fordham Road and Valentine Avenue, 1940
RKO Fordham Theatre at Fordham Road and Valentine Avenue, 1940.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane in the Bronx.

Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, 1951
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking east, 1951 (The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library).

It's easy for me to get caught up in Manhattan, because there's so much to see there. However, I do venture out into the "outer boroughs" now and then, and this is one of those times. Let's do a then-and-now of Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue in the Bronx, NYC

The first thing I want to point out to people unfamiliar with New York City customs is that the avenues are sometimes streets and the roads are sometimes avenues. I know this makes no sense, but the main drag here is Fordham Road and the sidestreet is Valentine Avenue. This isn't Paris and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, but it is a major hub near the Grand Concourse. As Jack would say, that ain't beanbag!

Another thing is that the area had a real small-town feel back in the day. You can spot Whelan's Drug Store, Gorman's fast food joint, Bond's clothier, and the like. If you took that 1951 street scene and transposed it to the midwest of the era, it would not look out of place at all. Believe it or not, there are still scattered sections of the Bronx that have a somewhat similar quaint feel, but it is long gone from Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue.

Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking east, 1960s
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking east, 1960s.

Above, we're looking northeast. In the 1951 shot, you can just see the edge of that billboard on the extreme left.

There are quite a few shots available of Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue. It has quite a history, with its shares of ups and downs, and we'll see some of them play out in these scenes. The top photo on this page from 1951 was taken on Fordham Road looking east toward Fordham University. You can see Keating Hall of the university in the 1951 photo and more recent ones because it was built in 1936 and is something of a landmark in the Bronx.

Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking east, October 2019. You can see Keating Hall at Fordham University, which was built in 1936, in the center of this recent photograph just as in the 1951 one.

Above, the same view looking east as in the 1951 photo. The billboards are all gone, Woolworth's is gone (bankrupt in the 1990s), and now it all has that dreary suburban strip-mall feel.

I'm going to show all parts of this intersection. While it may get a bit confusing which way we're looking, fortunately, there are certain landmarks such as Keating Hall to help us out. 

We've been looking east. Let's turn around and look the other way, toward the west.

East Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1926.
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1926.

Turning around from virtually the same spot as the original 1951 photo was taken and looking toward the northwest, we see on the right (north) side of the street what later became the grand RKO Fordham Theater in 1926. 
RKO Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue ca. 1929
The RKO Fordham ca. 1929.

Designed by William H. McElfatrick and opened on 14 April 1921 as Keith's Fordham Theater, it featured vaudeville acts. With vaudeville on the ropes and the talkies luring moviegoers into the theaters, RKO bought it in 1929 and renamed it RKO Fordham. It became one of seven RKO theaters in the Bronx.

Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1940s
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1940s.

Looking a little further west, we see how the area looked in the 1940s, with streetcars.

East Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1950s
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1951.

The RKO Fordham didn't show exclusive films - that was the job of the Paradise - but certainly was successful.

East Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1960s
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking west, 1950s.

A random street scene from the area. I love the barbershop pole out on the street. I can remember when they had wooden Indians out there. Those days are long gone, of course.

Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking east, mid-1960s
RKO Fordham, ca. 1960.

Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens on the stage together at the RKO Fordham! Bestill my heart! I don't think they ever starred in a film together, so I'm not sure why they were there. However, I think we can call this the halcyon days of the areas.

Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1960s
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1960s.

We're turned around again in the above photograph. I don't have a date on it, but the styles of the cars and what people are wearing make me think it is around 1967-69.

Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking east, mid-1950s
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking southeast, mid-1950s.

A quick look at the southeast corner (I think) of Fordham Road and Valentine Avenue. Looks like the 1950s to me. Imagine being a time traveler set down in some random year in this area, it would be awfully difficult to guess the exact year!

Fordham Road at Valentine St 1974
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, 1974.

In 1974, the RKO Theater was still there, looking a bit worn and tired. It was, after all, over 50 years old by this point and we all show our age over the decades. There are some interesting similarities to how this area looked in 1974 and how it looks recently, however.

Fordham Road at Valentine Ave October 2019
Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue, looking northwest, October 2019.

First, I was able to precisely locate the recent shot directly above to the 1974 scene because a few things haven't changed. Namely, that building in the distance with the billboard is still there (though the billboard has shifted position). The red firebox in the 1974 shot just visible on the left is still there, kind of, though in a vastly different form (no doubt slimmed down to improve intersection visibility). The stoplight looks the same, though it looks as though they shortened the pole and removed the street signs to the opposite corner for some reason.

But, overall, a person transported from 1974 to 2019 should be able to recognize that they're in the same place at Fordham Road and Valentine Avenue even though the distinctive RKO Fordham is gone.

And that brings us, as Paul Harvey would say, to the rest of the story.

The Fordham Theatre lasted through the 1970s and was triplexed in 1976. It added a fourth screen in 1980 as cinemas became multiplexes in a bid to survive against television. However, as the recent photos illustrate all too vividly, the area was in decline.

The neighborhood’s business district lost its small-town feel, the nondescriptive chains moved in, and that was that. The Fordham Theatre closed and was demolished in March, 1987. It was replaced by strip-mall style retail buildings populated by the usual banks and pharmacies and random outlets. 

Sic transit gloria, as they say, at least the old neighborhood had some style and character even if it wasn't perfect.

I hope you enjoyed this random walk down Fordham Road at Valentine Avenue. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and this intersection does illustrate that in its own way. People shop differently now and are entertained differently, and you can see those changes through the camera lenses.

Thanks for stopping by, and please visit some of my other pages in the Then and Now series!


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

A Drive Down 1951 Wilshire Blvd, LA, in Color

Clean and Pristine, Stark and Beautiful

Wilshire Boulevard, LA, in 1951
Wilshire Boulevard in 1951. You can see a Bank of America sign in the distance. Bank of America has a long history stretching back to 1784, but it acquired its name in 1922 with the formation of Bank of America, Los Angeles. It was considered an "immigrant's bank" for Italians in those days, though that reputation was quickly changing by 1951. Amadeo Pietro Giannini, who basically founded the modern Bank of America, had just passed away in 1949. 

I love peeks into the past that provide a new perspective on things we think we know about. New algorithms and apps enable old films to be enhanced to make them more enjoyable for modern audiences.
This film, restored by NASS on Youtube, shows Los Angeles, California, in 1951. That was an important year for LA because the Jack Webb television series "Dragnet" began that fall and showcased the city and its police department for the next twenty years. This film was likely made to provide background shots for films and television productions and, who knows, may even have been made with Dragnet in mind. We go up and down 1951 Wilshire in Los Angelese a few times but get different perspectives each time.

LA in 1951 movie theater
Would you like to go to the movies tonight? That new Richard Widmark picture is playing down on Wilshire.

We know the film is from 1951 because we see two movie marquees. They advertise "The Frogmen," a Richard Widmark film released on 29 June 1951, and "Fugitive Lady," a Janis Paige film filmed in Rome that was released in the U.S. on 15 July 1951. The NY Times called "Fugitive Lady" "meandering claptrap," However, "The Frogmen" fared better, earning two Academy Award nominations. In addition, if you have sharp eyes and know your car history, there are some 1951 models passing by.

Bomb Shelter for $795
Buy a cheap bomb shelter!

The film shows the scenery on Wilshire Boulevard. Do you need a bomb shelter? Get one cheap for the bargain price of $795! The Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb on 29 August 1949, and the fear of a nuclear holocaust permeated the 1950s. The May Company, seen in the background, was founded in Leadville, Colorado, in 1877. It effectively went out of business in 2005-06 when acquired by Federated. We see the La Brea tar pits park before all the development that later occurred around it.

A cafeteria on Wilshire
A Cafeteria on Wilshire. Traffic in those days was a bit more lively than it is now, with drivers "taking command of the intersection" as their driving instructors taught them.

Sometimes the things that you don't see are what matter, like in the Sherlock Holmes tale of the dog that didn't bark. Very few, if any, foreign vehicles. The numerous billboards don't feature any scantily clad models. You won't see any McDonald's or Burger Kings fast food joints in this film. McDonald's was founded in 1940 in San Bernardino but did not really expand beyond a few locations until 1955. White Castle predates McDonald's, but there aren't any on Wilshire. Burger King was not founded until 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Coffee Shop on Wilshire
A typical coffee shop on Wilshire.

In 1951, you went to a "Coffee Shop" or a "Deli" if you wanted lunch. These were not little, insignificant places off on some side street, either. They were bold, magnificent, and often the centerpiece of the block.

Street scene in LA 1951
So little traffic, you often had the road to yourself. I love the sharp angles and sleek styling in this capture.

If you're a fan of art deco, fastback cars, and empty roads, 1951 Los Angeles was the place to be. Some of the scenes look like they came out of an Edward Hopper painting like "Nighthawks" (1942).

Zoot Suit 1951 LA

Men's fashions were a bit baggier in the 1950s. That fellow in the foreground appears to be wearing a Zoot Suit, though I'm not enough of a fashion expert to be sure. If you needed rust-proof gasoline, Richfield was for you! That fellow in the billboard in the distance could have served as an inspiration for James Bond. Incidentally, Ian Fleming began writing his first Bond novel, "Casino Royale," at Goldeneye in Jamaica not long after this film on 17 February 1952.

Ralphs on Wilshire in 1951
Ralphs on Wilshire in 1951.

You may buy your groceries at Ralphs. Well, that chain has been around since 1873, founded in Los Angeles. It opened its most famous store, in Westwood, in 1929. This one a few miles away is pretty impressive, too. That's a sweet convertible in front of it.

Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Wilshire, LA in 1951
An Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Wilshire. The huge Arthur Murray sign dominated the Wilshire street view for miles.

Imagine driving on empty streets like this through the heart of LA today. Maybe at 3 in the morning, but not in the middle of the day. Oh, and if you want to be in pictures, you'd better know how to dance. There's an Arthur Murray Dance Studio over there if you need some lessons (founded in 1925, though he began a previous business that failed in 1912). Compared to Murray, Fred Astaire was the new kid on the block.

Coffee shop/bakery on Wilshire in 1951

Another coffee shop/bakery on Wilshire, with traffic looking like the wild west. Have some art you want to sell? Put up a folding table and a chair on Wilshire and have at it!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this tour down Wilshire in 1951. It hasn't changed that much, but really it's changed completely from the way it was back then. Just another example of how society marches on and completely remakes itself every few generations. Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Then and Now: 58th Street at 5th Avenue, NYC

Time Stands Still On Fifth Avenue

58th and 5th 1984
58th and 5th Avenue in NYC, 1984.

Sometimes, things just stay the same. We like to think that everything involving us is new and improved, so much better than, you know, "before." But that isn't true in a lot of ways. We are just continuations of generations before us, adding our own unique style but really not changing the world as much as we might like to think.

I like city views that show how little time can mean to big cities. If you go to many places in Paris or London, they'll be exactly like they were in the 1800s. New York City has some of those spots, too, though they're a bit less common. But sometimes you come across a view that has changed very little in almost 40 years, and that's saying something.

Above we have a view of 58th and 5th Avenue in 1984. If you're a native New Yorker or a longtime resident, you'll recognize the scene instantly even though it isn't taken from a typical tourist vantage point. We're looking south toward the Empire State Building, which you can see pretty clearly in this shot silhouetted against the sky. If you're a film buff, you may recognize this stretch of road as being close to where Audrey Hepburn's taxi brings her to Tiffany's at the start of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1963). That was when traffic still went both ways on Fifth Avenue, which ended in 1966 so that now it only goes south.

Just for fun, let's do a comparison with how this scene looked recently.

58th and 5th June 2019
58th and 5th, looking south, in June 2019 (Google Street View).

While I couldn't get the same precise angle, the above is close enough. It shows a similar view south toward the Empire State Building. Let's pick out the things that are the same and a very few that have changed.

Southeast corner of 58th and 5th, July 2021
58th and 5th, looking east, in June 2019 (Google Street View).

The first thing you will have noticed if you have very sharp eyes is that the business at the extreme left of the 1984 photo (on the southeast corner of 58th Street) was F.A.O. Schwartz. It was an institution in 1984 and it likely seemed it would never close its flagship store on 5th Avenue. You may remember it from "Big" (1988) when Tom Hanks danced on the giant piano. New Yorkers fondly remember it for its annual Christmas displays, one of the highlights of the season.

F.A.O. Schwartz operated at 745 Fifth Avenue, the site shown in the 1984 picture and the one directly above, until 1986. Then, after some mergers and acquisitions that were all the rage in 1986, a new owner moved it across 58th Street to 767 Fifth Avenue, better known as the GM Building. That would be behind and to the left of where the 1984 photographer was standing.

Alas, after numerous ownership changes and a bankruptcy, F.A.O. Schwartz wound up being bought by Toys 'R Us in 2090. That corporation had a lot of problems. So, the flagship store in the GM Building closed down in 2015.

But not to fear! F.A.O. Schwartz reopened its store at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in November 2018. So, we can all still get our holiday fix there.
The GM Building at 767 Fifth Avenue NYC
The GM Building at 767 Fifth Avenue on the left, with 745 Fifth Avenue at the center-right in August 2021 (Google Street View).

Just to give a little perspective, the above capture shows the two sites of F.A.O. Schwartz on Fifth Avenue. The old site from 1931-1986 is in the center-right, while the 1986-2015 location in the GM Buildings is at the left. Yes, they literally just moved across the street. I personally identify F.A.O. Schwartz as being in the GM Building on the ground floor. It was spacious and had good light. I saw Susan Sarandon, who lives nearby, give some kind of presentation there in 2001. It really was a great location.
Bergdorf Goodman, 58th and 5th Avenue NYC
58th Street and 5th Avenue, looking southwest, June 2019.

Speaking of Bergdorf Goodman, you probably knew that it was that massive building on the far side of 5th Avenue in the 1984 photo. It has been there since 1928, so its centenary is coming up fast. Now, while it may have seemed like F.A.O. Schwartz was eternal, Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue actually is eternal. It seems that if there's ever, God forbid, a nuclear holocaust, the cockroaches will still go to Bergdorf Goodman to buy their $300 sweaters. Bergdorf opened a men's store across the street (on the east side of 5th Avenue) in 1990 and since has expanded to take over the F.A.O. Schwartz space. 

You may remember Bergdorf Goodman from the film "Arthur" (1981). It was already a long-established presence then. However, Neiman Marcus, which owns Bergdorf Goodman, recently filed for bankruptcy due to the 2020 pandemic, so who knows what the future holds in store for it. Strangely enough, due to numerous corporate transactions, F.A.O. Schwartz, which has recently opened stores in Beijing, London, And Dublin, now is probably more financially sound than Bergdorf Goodman. That's life in the big city.
Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, and Sir John Gielgud in "Arthur" (1981)
Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Avenue, in the background of a scene from "Arthur" (1981).

Anyway, so the view of Fifth Avenue south from 58th Street hasn't changed much since 1984 aside from some that. If you go there today, you'll see basically the same view and probably will for decades to come. As I like to say in this series, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the view south from 58th Street down Fifth Avenue in NYC proves it.
Looking north on Fifth Avenue NYC from 58th Street, 2019
58th Street and 5th Avenue, NYC, looking north in June 2019 (Google Street View).

Before we take our leave of this spot, let's do a 180 and see what that 1984 photographer had his or her back to. That's the Plaza Hotel over on the left (built 1905-07 with many later renovations), Central Park off in the distance in the center (created 1857-76), and The Sherry-Netherland at 781 Fifth Avenue on the right (built 1926-27). Yes, this little corner of the world has been pretty much the same (including the GM Building, built 1964-68) for a long, long time.

Thanks for stopping by! Please visit some of my other pages as we look at how things looked then, and now.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Monkees Wild Dancing

Swinging Sixties Baby!

Monkees wild dancing
Outta sight!
I like to post odd stuff on this site that pleases me for whatever wild reason. There's no deep thought involved. Basically, things pop up here just because they do. As the title says, if it pleases me, maybe you'll find it humorous, too. Yes, this is self-indulgent to the X Factor, but I've found that these pages can be surprisingly popular with my eclectic audience.

Yes, this page is going to take an ungodly amount of time to load. Sorry about that, modern technology is on it, it's ON it!

Today, I present to you: Monkees wild dancing!
Monkees wild dancing
Who were the Monkees? Well, if you didn't know that, you likely wouldn't be here in the first place. But, okay, here you go, but you can skip this video if you know who they are.
In brief, the Monkees were a band put together by a guy named Don Kirshner for a television show in the mid-'60s. They started as a sort of joke but eventually became a real band with real hits. Sort of like a boy band of the '60s. Like, oh, Justin Timberlake's old band, I suppose. Oh, wait, some of you probably weren't born in the '90s, either. Okay... well, they were like rappers. But they didn't rap! Well, maybe Peter Tork did occasionally. See how original they were!
Monkees wild dancing
So, who are the dancers in these clips from "The Monkees"? Darned if I know. You're not supposed to know who they are. If you do know, you're one in a million.
Monkees wild dancing
I don't know how you'd characterize this page. If you want to think of it as a Monkees tribute page, that's fine by me. If you want to think of it as an ode to Swinging Sixties dancing, okay then. Or maybe it's all about ... Davy Jones.
Monkees wild dancing
Oh, noes! Love has entered the room! Icksnay!
Monkees wild dancing
By now, you're probably wondering, what was the point of this? Well, here's your answer: there is no point! I just like wild sixties dancing and the Monkees! Yes! That's it!

I guess either you get it or you don't get it. If you don't get it, I sincerely apologize. If you do... you're welcome!

Thanks for stopping by, and consider watching some of my other pointless dancing videos that you can find over there on the right if you're on a desktop! The one with the Hang On Sloopy girl is loads of fun.
Monkees wild dancing


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Then and Now: First Avenue's Downtown Beirut

Gone But Not Forgotten

Downtown Beirut ca. 1987
First Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets, ca. 1987.
The East Village was one of the most eccentric spots in Manhattan in the 1980s. It was run-down, abandoned buildings were everywhere, and it was a lot of fun. It's been gentrifying slowly but surely ever since, but it's nice to reflect on the days when it still resembled the Wild, Wild West.

To an out-of-towner or pretty much anyone unfamiliar with the ways of the East Village, the above street scene probably seems fairly mundane. A bunch of ratty shops in some ancient tenement, long gone and long forgotten.

To people who do know a thing or two about New York City and the East Village, they know exactly why this photo was taken.

Downtown Beirut!

We're going to do a quick then-and-now of First Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets, NYC.
Downtown Beirut, NYC, 1980s randmomusings;
Downtown Beirut, NYC, the 1980s.
What was Downtown Beirut? A bar in Manhattan. You can describe it in various ways, but probably the most accurate is that it was a classic dive.
Downtown Beirut, NYC, 1981 randmomusings;
First Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets, ca. 1981.
As a dive, Downtown Beirut had a lot of company. Some of its peers were Hogs and Heifers in the Meatpacking District (1992-2015 RIP), Scrap Bar, Union Square’s bar/restaurant the Coffee Shop (1990-2015 RIP), and, well, I could go on for a while. But this isn't about them, it's about Downtown Beirut.
NIGHT AT DOWNTOWN BEIRUT, video by Mike Enright
A long city block from Tompkins Square Park, Downtown Beirut acquired an offbeat reputation. If you stayed late enough, some girls in halter tops and boots might get up and dance on the bar. The jukebox was renowned for having a great selection of tunes you were pretty unlikely to hear elsewhere. Want to play some pinball at 2 a.m.? Downtown Beirut was your spot.
Downtown Beirut, NYC, ca. 1990
Downtown Beirut, NYC, ca. 1990.
For such a quirky East Village dive, a lot of people still remember Downtown Beirut fondly. For instance, it was featured in "Come Here Often?: 53 Writers Raise a Glass to Their Favorite Bar" by Elissa Schappell. Mike Enright made a video about it. The New York Times included it in a 2012 list of "Manhattan's Most Mourned Bars." When you start poking around on the Internet looking for beloved New York bars of the past, "Downtown Beirut" always seems to pop up. That's no small feat considering the thousands of little hole-in-the-wall joints that come and go in the Big Apple.
Downtown Beirut, NYC, ca. 1990
It's 3.a.m., do you know where your children are? A clip from a deleted scene from "Night At Downtown Beirut," video by Mike Enright
Unless you've lived in New York, you might not understand how these neighborhood joints served a need. The heavy metal crowd could hang out together at Scrap Bar, the models could sit at Coffee Shop's amazing bar and hold court and then walk over to a table and have some grilled shark (it's very salty), and the punk crowd could spend a few hours at Downtown Beirut. It wasn't that far from CBGB, you could catch Patti Smith and then walk over and play something on the jukebox. It was nice to have a place to just be among like-minded folks and maybe all sing "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" together in July just because you could. Why? Well, if you have to ask... 
First Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets, NYC
First Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets, June 2019 (Google Street View).
Well, New York buildings are eternal, especially in the East Village. The building was built in 1920, so it just celebrated its centenary. Yay 2020! It will probably still be there in 2120, too, because those old buildings never go away. It's what gives New York its charm.
Downtown Beirut, NYC
The best jukebox in town! Downtown Beirut.
As you can see above, "Downtown Beirut" is no longer with us. It closed in 1994 around the time of Rudy Giuliani's election as mayor. That location now houses "Yu's On First," where you can get a nice back and foot rub. If you go to Yu's Facebook page, it tells you that "We Believe Massage Is the Way to Physical Relaxation." Downtown Beirut did the same thing, in its own way. So, as we like to say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I hope you enjoyed this random walk through the East Village. Please visit some of our other pages!