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Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Evacuation Day... and more

We hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday weekend. Yesterday's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was one of the largest in the parade's history--but did you know that in the early days, the parade started all the way up at 145th Street? You can read more about that in our Thanksgiving Day blog post from a few years ago.

Today is also a holiday: Evacuation Day, which celebrates the end of the Revolutionary War. The war ended November 25, 1783, right here in New York City. More details about Evacuation Day can be found at this blog entry or in Inside the Apple.

And speaking of Inside the Apple, since today is also Black Friday, we'd be remiss if we didn't remind you of all the ways you could get a hold of copies of our book for the people on your holiday shopping list.

The book is available from a number of independent bookstores, including our friends at Shakespeare & Company. Or, to find if there’s a bookstore in your neighborhood that carries Inside the Apple, use this handy Indie Bound site and just plug in your zip code.

All the Barnes & Noble stores in the city also carry the book.

Indie Bound
will point you to a local indepedent bookstore or Barnes & Noble’s website will show you if the book is in stock.

carries us, of course (usually at the best price) along with B&N, but so do a host of other retailers, including Powell’s, and some you might not think of, like and

·         Kindle
·         Nook
·         Sony E-Reader
·         Google Books
·         @ iTunes
·         @ Android Market


Monday, November 21, 2011

What's a Gustavademecum?

As we enter the week in which Americans spend more on food than any other (including $875,840,000 on turkey alone), our thoughts turn naturally to dining. We were combing through the Inside the Apple archives the other day, when we came upon this charming little booklet from 1940: the "Gustavademecum for the Island of Manhattan," a sort of scientifically-minded forerunner to Zagat. As the cover notes, the booklet was "prepared for the convenience of mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and explorers," and it's a small wonder.

For those whose Latin is a little rusty, "Gustare" is to taste and "vade mecum" literally means "to go with me" but colloquially refers to a handbook. Thus, a Gustavademecum is a tasting handbook.

On the inside front cover, the guide has a key to its descriptions and symbols. Some are straightforward, such as C for Cafe and R for restaurant. Then comes "DATA, verifiable," including:

L=general illumination, measured in lumens per square foot or foot-candles. When L=0.1, menu is just legible. L=1, one wax candle one foot distant. L=200, north window at noon, January 1.
N=noise level, measured in decibels. N=20, country house, no children. N=50, conversation intelligible at 3 feet. N=70, shouting level.

For most entries in the book, all that is provided is the address, type of cuisine, and price of the least expensive meal. All the other data was to be filled in by the user. One of the most complete entries is the Greenwich Village Casino which has D50EO7x2 -- that means it had a 50-square-foot dance floor, entertainment, and two, seven-piece orchestras.

The least expensive restaurant in the guide is the Actor's Kitchen at 229 West 48th, where dinner was just 35 cents. (As the name suggests, the Actor's Kitchen existed to provide cheap meals to working actors.) The priciest entry is The Colony at 667 Madison, where the least expensive meal was a three-course dinner for $4.00. The Colony--which first became known as a gambling den--will be the subject of a future blog post.

Perusing the list of eateries, most are now gone. Some old favorites are listed such as the "21" Club, Fraunces Tavern, and Tavern on the Green, but most of these restaurants are now just a dim memory. On the page excerpted above, the only place we recognize that's still going is Marie's Crisis, the venerable West Village piano bar. However, the ghost of Moneta's at 32 Mulberry Street is still hanging around. If you go to this block of Mulberry (just north of Mosco Street, opposite Columbus Park), you can see the faint trace of Moneta's sign on the facade of 32 Mulberry, revealed when the bar Yello went out of business and its awning was removed.

In the coming weeks, we'll research some of the old restaurants in the Gustavademecum and post our findings. Is there any old New York eatery you wish you knew more about? Let us know.

* * *

Read more about New York in the 1940s in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Pomander Walk

Photo by PilotGirl on flickr. 
Our friends over at Curbed published a nice map of New York's mews (mewses?) today, including one of our favorites, Pomander Walk. Though, as Curbed rightly notes, Pomander Walk isn't actually a mews because it never housed stables.

Pomander Walk was built in 1921-22 by Thomas J. Healy, a real estate developer and nightclub owner. When he acquired the lot between 94th and 95th Streets (near West End Avenue), Healy planned to put up a sixteen-story hotel. While waiting to raise the necessary capital for the project, Healy constructed this row of apartments (each house facade was originally designed to conceal two apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs) in a mock-Tudor style. He named it after Pomander Walk, a popular play that had opened on Broadway in 1910 and which was set on a similar, cute London Street. In truth, the Pomander Walk of the play was like many London terraces: every house was identical to its neighbor. To visualize what Pomander Walk probably should have looked like if Healy had been faithful to his source material, visit Washington Square North's "Row" between Fifth Avenue and University Place.

It was never Healy's intention to allow these apartments to stay; they were what's known as a "tax payer" -- properties designed to bring in enough revenue to pay the property taxes. As soon as Healy secured financing, these buildings were to be torn down and his hotel erected in their place. Healy, however, never moved forward with the hotel and charming Pomander Walk remains.


Read more about New York's hidden nooks and crannies in
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Birthday to Moby Dick

photo by wallyg on flickr
"There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward…. Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries."
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick 

One hundred and sixty years ago, on November 14, 1851, Harper & Brothers published Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Now considered one of the great pieces of American literature, it was a commercial and critical failure when it came out. (A fire at the warehouse in 1853 destroyed the bulk of Melville's unsold works, making a first edition a real rarity today.)

If you happen to be downtown today, you can celebrate Melville by visiting his birthplace--or, more precisely, by visiting a plaque in the wall. Melville was born on August 1, 1819, in a boarding house at 6 Pearl Street, a building which is now gone. Melville's father, Alan, was climbing the ladder of success, but in 1819 this once-fashionable neighborhood was rapidly declining as piers and warehouses were built to accommodate New York's role as America's biggest port.

Finding the Melville birthplace can by tricky. It is tucked away in the plaza behind 17 State Street. If you are on State Street, cut through between 17 State and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, and you'll see Melville's bust on the far wall.

(And if you can't down to Pearl Street, you can celebrate Moby Dick in pictures here.)


Read more about Herman Melville's Manhattan in

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Should Tavern on the Green Be a "Casual" Restaurant?

As reported recently by DNAinfo, the Parks Department is on the verge of soliciting proposals for a new concessionaire to run the storied restaurant in the Central Park, Tavern on the Green (after an aborted attempt two years ago to install new management).

However, a number of attendees at the recent Community Board 8 meeting objected to the park's idea that the new Tavern be a "high quality casual restaurant." The problematic word in the Parks Department's presentation was "casual," which has led some to think that the new Tavern might not be fancy enough. (Or, as Gothamist succinctly put it: "NYers Worry an Olive Garden-Type Restaurant Will Open at Tavern on the Green.")

But how fancy should Tavern on the Green actually be? When the restaurant was created by Robert Moses in 1934, he promised that it would be a place where "the general public can get what it wants."

Through the early 1930s, the upscale restaurant in the park was called the Casino (where Rumsey Playfield now stands), which Moses wanted to tear down. As we write in Inside the Apple:

Moses had two primary objections to the Casino: one was that it that it catered to the city’s wealthy residents at the expense of the majority of park users. (In an era when a cup of coffee at a Horn and Hardart Automat cost a nickel, the Casino charged 40 cents.) Secondly—and perhaps more importantly—the Casino had been a favorite haunt of disgraced Mayor Jimmy Walker.... To remove the Casino, Moses needed to find an alternate spot for an eatery. And, since public sentiment opposed building anything new in the park, Moses instead came up with a clever plan to convert the 1870 sheepfold at 65th Street (constructed by Jacob Wrey Mould) into a “popular-priced” restaurant.

Scores of workers from the Civil Works Administration began converting the old sheepfold into the restaurant in February 1934. (In true Moses fashion, the conversion was well underway before the city announced what it was doing.) As the New York Times reported, the new Tavern on the Green promised "reasonably priced table d'hote luncheon and dinner and a la carte service within reach of the average purse. There will be no cover charge. A sandwich and a glass of beer will be served at a reasonable price if a more elaborate meal is not wanted."

Though it took some time for Tavern to figure out its pricing, the restaurant soon settled on a price-fixed dinner of $1.50--not the cheapest meal in town in 1934, but well within reach of many middle-class New Yorkers. The question now is whether or not the new Tavern on the Green will return to Moses's populist roots or be more like the glitzy tourist attraction of the 1970s and 80s presided over by the late Warner LeRoy. Stay tuned.....


Read more about New York's Robert Moses and Tavern on the Green in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

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