Thursday, February 20, 2020

Thursday's parting shot

Door to door on Avenue A today via Derek Berg...

A Visit to Odessa Restaurant

Text and photos by Stacie Joy

When Dennis Vassilatos and I set a date and time for me to interview him and take pictures at Odessa Restaurant, 119 Avenue A between Seventh Street and St. Mark's Place, the nighttime manager figures that after 9 on a chilly Tuesday will work. He expected this to be a quiet time, which would give him a chance to talk for a few minutes.

However, when I arrive, the phone keeps ringing, the fax machine (!) keeps spewing out orders, and the Seamless app tablet pings on the regular.

I listen as customers phone in specific orders: two Odessa burgers delivered, must be well-done, with extra ketchup. This person calls back to remind Dennis that they need extra ketchup. There's a Turkey Club to stay, plus a newspaper to pass the time. Dennis searches behind the counter for suitable reading material. One order of mashed potatoes with brown gravy and a side of broccoli to go, which Dennis wraps up with a smile.

Dennis, 64, loves the neighborhood and speaks with appreciation about his customers, saying he’s never had an argument, that he can “get along with the stones.” He likes his regulars especially. “They order the same food each time and value consistency.”

Dennis thinks of them like family. “The guys in the kitchen, they already know what to make when they see a regular coming. Makes things easy! The new, young people mostly come in on the weekend... They are not demanding and pretty easy-going with minimal problems.”

After one more order comes in — waffle fries with hot sauce — Dennis has a moment to talk about his time at Odessa, an Avenue A mainstay since the 1960s.

How long have you worked here?

Almost 30 years now — since 1990.

How did you come to work at Odessa?

I came to America almost 45 years ago, in 1976. I was born on a Greek island called Kefalonia, and I had been studying economics, but when I took the college tests I scored only good enough to become a bookkeeper.

I came here on an F1 visa and studied at the New York Institute of Technology for three and a half years ... but I needed money so I answered an ad in a Greek newspaper for a summer job, and never went back to school. I worked as a manager in a West Village restaurant called Tiffany, which is now a bank. Then another place uptown before coming here to Odessa. Been here ever since.

I work nights, so I am not sure I’d be called a manager. Managers are daytime people, to make orders for food and supplies. Daytime stuff. But I assume all the responsibilities of a manager.

How long has the “new” Odessa been open?

It opened in April 1995.

When did the first Odessa open next door? (The original location closed in August 2013.)

In the 1960s, although it got a new owner in 1980 or so.

What is the most-popular item or items on the menu?

By far the Odessa Combination Dinner — pierogies, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa with sauerkraut and potato pancake. Eastern European foods. Our Greek food like spinach pie with Greek salad is also popular. And in American foods the familiar breakfast stuff like challah French toast, pancakes. Also, people like burgers.

Do you have any archival photos of Odessa somewhere in an office or drawer?

No! I wish I did. Back then people didn’t carry cameras everywhere. I am always asking customers if they have photos but no one ever does. I would like to see them.

Your chance to visit a library in a coffee shop today

As we've noted, the folks from the Tompkins Square Library on 10th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B have been bringing their pop-up cafe branch to Ninth Street Espresso — the location a few doors away at 341 E. 10th St. — on a bimonthly basis

This is happening again today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

EVG regular Greg Masters shared the above photo and this recap after the branch's visit on Feb. 6:

The Tompkins Square Library is bringing its collection to the people with a pop-up presence. Every other Thursday, from 11-1, librarian Alyona Glushchenkova, here seen with poet Jeff Wright, sets up shop with treasures to borrow at the Ninth Street Espresso.

Today’s selection included the script for the Robert Frank film "Pull My Daisy," a book on Richard Hell’s LP Blank Generation, Ken Schless’s photo book "Invisible City," and Ed Sanders’ "Tales of Beatnik Glory," as well as the new issue of Live Mag, Wright’s poetry/art magazine.

With each visit, the library will offer books about the neighborhood, its history, culture and artists. You may even check them out right from Ninth Street Espresso.

And upcoming library-Ninth Street Espresso dates:

• Thursdays, March 5 and 19, 11 a.m. — 1 p.m.
• Thursdays, April 9 and 23, 11 a.m. — 1 p.m.
• Thursdays, May 7 and 21, 11 a.m. — 1 p.m.

Previously on EV Grieve:
A visit to the Tompkins Square Library branch on 10th Street

Trash talk on 7th Street

Someone has made homemade signs pointing out who is managing the buildings on Seventh Street between Avenue A and First Avenue where the trash routinely overflows on the sidewalk...

The signs are in front of buildings owned by the Kushner Companies and managed by its subsidiary Westminster, per a tipster on the block... (they note "A Kushner Production")

Per the tipster: "They refuse to hire a super on Sundays to prevent this mess every week. And the fine from sanitation is less than what they’d pay him anyway. Saving money by trashing the hood."

Last March, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Kushner Companies, formerly led by current White House adviser Jared Kushner, planned to sell five of the 30-plus buildings in their East Village portfolio.

The company was also accused of illegally operating nine apartment buildings in the East Village and Williamsburg, according to an investigation by City Council member Ritchie Torres and the watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative. A DOB spokesperson told the Associated Press that the issues stemmed from "paperwork lapses" and characterized the investigation as "pure grandstanding."

MAD Toast House has gone out of business

MAD Toast House is, well, toast here at 332 E. Ninth St. between First Avenue and Second Avenue.

A tipster noted that paper arrived on the door and window yesterday, officially bringing an end to the shop that served a variety of bubble tea, sparkling water and toast-related creations. Yelp and Google both list MAD as permanently closed.

MAD opened early last June, and lasted 43 (and a third) years less than the previous tenant, Clayworks Pottery, which was forced to close in the fall of 2017 thanks to predatory landlord Raphael Toledano.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Police looking for suspect who stole 3 Phase 2 paintings from Avenue C studio

The NYPD is searching for a man who they say stole three paintings by the late graffiti artist Phase 2 from a fitness studio on Avenue C.

According to the police and published reports, the suspect tossed a brick through the window of the A2Z studio at 67 Avenue C between Fourth Street and Fifth Street on Jan. 15 at 3:40 a.m. Police did not provide a description of the suspect — just the above video clip.

Phase 2, who was born Michael Lawrence Marrow in the Bronx, was an influential graffiti artist who pioneered bubble lettering. He died from Lou Gehrig's disease in December. He was 64.

The three paintings are valued at $18,000.

Change is coming to Kmart on Astor Place

An EVG reader shared this photo showing that a Coinstar coin-cashing machine has arrived in the basement level at the Astor Place Kmart.

Just in case you needed to unload some change.

There's also one over at the PayOMatic at 303 E. Houston St. between Avenue A and Avenue B.

And we'll lose the Coinstar machines — in 2023 — when the Food Emporium becomes a Target on Union Square. You know what that means!

[EVG comments screengrab]

Rock on: Remembering Bill Graham's Fillmore East

The New-York Historical Society debuted a multimedia exhibit this past Friday on Bill Graham (1931–1991), the influential concert promoter.

"Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution," on display through Aug. 23, features a large section on the Fillmore East, which had a three-year run starting in 1968 at 105 Second Ave. at Sixth Street.

The sibling to Graham's Fillmore West in San Francisco brought performers such as the Doors, B.B. King, Roberta Flack, the Byrds, the Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez and the Who to the East Village starting in March 1968.

105 Second Ave. opened in 1926 as a Yiddish theater, soon becoming the Loew’s Commodore movie house, followed by the Village Theater. In the 1980s it was the nightclub The Saint, becoming Emigrant Bank in 1995 and then Apple Bank in 2013...

The Times has a preview of the exhibit at this link. Frank Mastropolo, the author of the forthcoming book "Fillmore East: How One Venue Changed Rock Music Forever," has a preview piece here.

The New-York Historical Society is at 170 Central Park West at 77th Street.

Museum hours:

Tuesday - Thursday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Friday: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Saturday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Sunday: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.


Chairnobyl, now on display on Houston between Avenue B and Avenue C.

Thanks to Bill Buchen for the photo!

On second thought, Jiang Diner is moving back to 5th Street

After six weeks at 104 Second Ave. between Sixth Street and Seventh Street, Jiang Diner is returning to its previous location at 309 E. Fifth St. between First Avenue and Second Avenue ...

There isn't any reason cited on the note to patrons, other than that Jiang Diner, which offers Northwestern Chinese cuisine, including the popular Xinjiang big plate chicken, will be back on Fifth Street starting today.

So to recap: Jiang Diner, which has been a hit since opening last spring on Fifth Street, moved to the former Hot Kitchen space on Second Avenue. (According to the Times back in August, Tao An, the owner of Jiang Diner, was also behind Hot Kitchen.)

The Fifth Street location was set to become a quick-serve establishment...

[Photo on 5th Street from Jan. 4]

So 104 Second Ave., long stuck under that sidewalk bridge, will be vacant again. As we've noted, Hot Kitchen, the Sichuan specialists, went from serving terrific food to a more pedestrian hotpot.

At the beginning of December, the restaurant started offering Japanese cuisine under the name Sushi & Sake. That venture lasted a short month.

Thank you to Steven for the photos and tip!


Demolition watch: 183 Avenue B

It appears that the four-story building that was 183 Avenue B has been demolished...

As we reported back in June, there are plans for a new 8-floor residential building here between 11th Street and 12th Street.

According to the permit filed with the city, the building will have 12 residential units with ground-floor retail.

New York Yimby pointed out that the units will "most likely [be] rentals based on the average scope of 689 square feet."

In January 2017, Corcoran listed the property with a $4.75 million ask. The building — with air rights intact — sold for that exact amount in April 2017, per public records. The DOB permit lists Richard Pino via the Tompkins 183 LLC as the owner.

Units in the building had apparently been recently renovated, per the listing at the time ...

... and there was a nice outdoor space out back....

That Thai Direct renovation is taking longer than expected

[Photo from Monday]

At the beginning of the month, we noted that Thai Direct on Avenue A between St. Mark's Place and Ninth Street was closed for a renovation. They were expected to reopen this past Friday.

Now, management reports that the renovations aren't complete, and they're eyeing a Feb. 25 return. Once they reopen, you'll notice a revamped dining room complete with a small bar. CB3 gave approval back in December for a beer-wine license.

Thai Direct will also be debuting several new menu items.

The quick-serve establishment, which bills itself as offering a healthy take on Thai street food, opened here in September 2018.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tuesday's parting shot

A face from the steam stack on First Avenue and 10th Street ... thanks to Rainer Turim for the photo!

Brooklyn Bean Roastery arrives on Avenue A

Brooklyn Bean Roastery has set up shop at 23 Avenue A just south of Second Street.

We heard from several EVG readers who were surprised to find the cafe up and running this past weekend offering a variety of breakfast (and brunch) items. There weren't any announcement's on the Roastery's social media accounts. Management said that grand opening details are forthcoming.

The company sells their coffee pods in stores, including Walmart, across the country ... and online via Amazon.

Here's more about them:

We’re three guys from Brooklyn who love coffee – it’s as simple as that. Together, we started Brooklyn Bean Roastery – pioneering the introduction of single-serve coffee to the market. With decades of experience in product engineering (yes, we are also nerds), our unique tension-based ‘roast2cup’ technology ensures every cup of coffee tastes as fresh as the first.

In December, the West End Lounge on the Upper West Side starting selling coffee from Brooklyn Bean Roastery, marking their first physical presence.

However, the East Village location is their first official dedicated coffee shop.

The previous tenant at 23 Avenue A, Yerba Buena, closed at the end of 2017.

Updated 6 p.m.

The signage arrived today...

Last Dance: Lafayette Street live music venue closes tonight after just 4 months

The Dance, the live music venue opened by Billy Jones (Baby’s All Right, Elvis Guesthouse) last fall, closes tonight after four months and change at 428 Lafayette St.

As Brooklyn Vegan first reported: "With astronomical Manhattan rent and a lack of overnight profits, investors allegedly got cold feet and have pulled the plug."

The Dance released this statement on Instagram:

We were invited into this project by a team that we felt, like us, were dedicated to proving Culture could live and thrive again in Manhattan. It was a long, hard, and complicated development process for everyone involved. When we finally opened to the public in October, we were already facing many significant challenges, both logistical and financial.

In spite of those challenges, we set about in making The Dance something truly special. Over its short lifespan, The Dance felt like an incredible moment of creativity and rejuvenated nightlife in a borough that desperately needed it.

Unfortunately, the ownership group has respectively decided to pull the plug on this dream and go in another direction, thus ending The Dance as it is known today. We’re personally devastated about all of this because we, along with so many artists, promoters, agents, and staff, have put so much time, energy and heart into this labor of love.

We’re very sorry for the inconvenience it caused all the acts and parties that were scheduled and the fans who were excited to come to The Dance especially those that never got a chance. We will do everything we can to make things right...

The venue closes up after tonight's sold-out show by U.S. Girls. Shows scheduled there in the weeks ahead are being moved elsewhere.

The Dance, featuring multiple spaces, including a main stage room that could hold 250 people, officially opened in October in the landmarked Colonnade Row just south of Astor Place.

During its short run, the place hosted an impressive array of shows, including Wavves, Beach Fossils, DIIV, Twin Peaks, Wild Nothing, James Chance and Shannon & the Clams, among many others.

This had been a long time in the making. The Times first mentioned that an "indie music hall and restaurant" was coming to this address in October 2016. No word on the status of the pending restaurant in the space above the Dance.

Tio Pio bringing its rotisserie chicken to 14th Street

Coming soon signage is up for Tio Pio at 250 E. 14th St. just west of Second Avenue...

This will be a new outpost for the quick-serve restaurant that specializes in Spanish-American cuisine, particularly a tasty (we're told) and reasonably priced rotisserie chicken. (Some chicken competition for the KFC next door!)

Tio Pio takes over the space from Mi Casa Latina, which closed late last fall after 10 months in business.

H/T to EVG readers vshaweddy and Shiv!

The Marshal seizes Hotel Tortuga

A bad sign at Hotel Tortuga on 14th Street between Second Avenue and Third Avenue — the Marshal came calling late last week ... and the space is now in the legal possession of the landlord...

[Photo by Shiv]

No word yet about a closure here. The Hotel Tortuga website is offline, and their social media properties haven't been updated since 2018. The phone is also out of service.

A new owner took over the inexpensive Mexican restaurant in November 2017. Staff and menu essentially stayed the same.

The previous owners, David and Jean LaPointe, first opened Hotel Tortuga in 2010. They also ran Curly's Vegetarian Lunch one block to the east on 14th Street until the end of 2011.

Previously on EV Grieve:
Hotel Tortuga, under new management, will reopen soon still as Hotel Tortuga

HDFC homeowners hosting emergency meeting to discuss proposed legislation

HDFC homeowners in the neighborhood are holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday night (Feb. 19) at the Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. between Ninth Street and 10th Street, to discuss proposed legislation from Assemblymember Harvey Epstein.

According to members of the HDFC Coalition, the draft legislation will "radically change the Private Housing Finance Law (PHFL) which governs HDFCs, and introduce draconian rules that would undermine our independence and the viability of our homes."

The Coalition says that Epstein drafted the proposal without properly consulting HDFC shareholders.

The summary of draft bill A9608 "establishes the office of the HDFC cooperative ombudsman; establishes an office of the HDFC ombudsman fund for deposit of a residential unit fee, and directs the administration of such fund."

On Wednesday night from 6 to 7:30, Epstein will field questions about the proposed changes.

For more background, you may visit the HDFC Coalition website here.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Hearts for Gem Spa

[Photo By Derek Berg]

Earlier today, Hash Halper (aka @newyorkromantic) was spotted chalking hearts outside Gem Spa on Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place... showing a little love for the corner shop that has had its financial struggles in recent months... (photos below by Steven)...