“NO TRESSPASSING — AUTHORIZED PERSONELL ONLY”. That sign will shortly grace the front door of our apartment. After a year in which our building has switched 3 owners, the current landlord seems to be emptying house. At present, 6 apartments bear that sign — by the end of the month, it’ll be at least 8. Either the leases are not being renewed, or the proposed increase in rent is so high that nobody can afford. There’s a huge cart outside from Allstate Demolition for throwing things out in bulk. We could’ve fought to stay here, but after two sexual assault incidents on our block in the past three months, we’ve decided to move. The East Village of today isn’t the one we knew two years ago, let alone the one from “Rent”, or the one that Charlie Parker, Allen Ginsberg and Astor Piazzolla knew in their time.
Our block seems to be in a giant holding pattern. The four corners of 12th and A — once occupied by a funeral parlor, a copy shop, a “straight” bar (“The Raven”) and a “gay” bar (“The Cock”) — have all been emptied, and on the rental market for at least a year, but no takers. (“The Raven” burnt down in a fire in late summer 2006 — but then the whole building was promptly vacated and is only now in black scaffolding, one year later.) The church, “Mary Help of Christians”, and the adjacent flea market, closed a few months ago under rumors that the land was being bought for a condo development and/or NYU dorms.
At least two live-music venues closed this year in the neighborhood: Tonic (on Norfolk street), and Mo Pitkin’s (on Avenue A). Another venue, Drom, is having difficulties with its landlord, and its opening has been delayed for months. Another venue, The Living Room, lives on — but thanks to generous support from its graduates, like Norah Jones. The Second Avenue deli is gone, as are the Polish meat stores on 1st Avenue.. But Veselka thrives, and so it may for the revival of many an Eastern-European soul, seeking quality borscht.
We’ve been trying to guess which of our nearby storefronts would become the first Starbucks on Avenue A, but then we realize that it’s not so simple — the local Community Board would have a field day collecting signatures against it. But if not for a giant corporate outfit, who else could afford the rent? Certainly not a coffee shop, designer store, neighborhood bar, or any other store which doesn’t have a strong mail-order business or other means of support.
One of the things that is great about the East Village is its diversity — and largely that diversity has been driven by real estate, a very different kind of “Old Money” than uptown, on 5th Avenue. On our block lives a man whose rent is $140/month for a two-bedroom; a musician specializing in Cuban music lives in a storefront. They’ve lived through rough times, and have seen the neighborhood change for the better. But could they cash in their low-rent and move elsewhere? One thing that hasn’t changed at all is the Subway access. Despite luxury condo developments on Avenue D, they’re still going to be a 15-30 minute walk from the nearest stop. The NYC Subway — unlike the real estate market — takes years to make a decision. Wouldn’t it be great if (for example) the L train stopped on 14th Street and Avenue C, or if there was a subway line along 23rd Street that went straight to Greenpoint?
We’ll miss the East Village which we remember, but we well know that it no longer stands. Whoever owns the buildings and storefronts has something different in mind now, and we wish them well.
==>Here’s a collection of photos I took in the E. Village on the day before Halloween.
==> Here’s a list of places we’ll deeply miss being walking distance to — please support them, lest they may soon disappear:
— Veselka — the gleaming beacon of Ukranian/Polish cooking, open 24-hours a day, with free WiFi and excellent borscht, vegetable soup, and stuffed cabbage.
— Neptune — the absolute best outdoor patio secret in the East Village, with lovely vegetable soup and cold borscht.
— Ciao for Now – despite our best attempts to stray from its beloved smells, Ciao For Now is our neighborhood bakery of choice. The scones are Inna’s favorite worldwide, the vegetable soup delicious. Stay away from the coffee – it’s miserably weak.
— Pukk — Inna votes this as the best overall Thai restaurant in Manhattan, and despite its Vegetarian-only dishes, even carnivores go here for the wonderful curries and sates. Great vibe, superb lunch specials and quick delivery.
— Fake Orchid — another tiny delicious Thai eatery, which we’ve eaten at very rarely, as it’s mostly closed. Try their specials, they’re delicious.
— Hummus Place — Fresh Hummus made in the great Israeli tradition – mostly by cooks from Mexico & South America. Regardless, the experience of going to the Hummus place is as authentic as can be found. Thankfully, the Hummus Place empire has expanded to the Upper West Side
— Curly’s Vegetarian Lunch — a fantastic family-run Vegetarian restaurant, with all the great healthy staples. California vibe and decor, superb service. Our mainstay brunch..
— 7A — great brunch specials, best Eggs Florentine in the neighborhood. Open 24-hours a day. Delicious.
— Kamui Den — a lovely and stylish new Japanese restaurant, which has yet to get its liquor license.
— Westville East — a loud all-American joint which serves delicious, healthy food. We stress that it’s loud — but it’s really good. Great “market” specials on the board.
So long, East Village! Hello, beloved Upper West Side.