Our Town downtown
May 21, 2007
David Crohn’s cover story on the preservation of the character of the South Village got me thinking about neighborhoods and how they change.
If I stand on my corner at 21st and Third and look up Third to 23rd I can see huge construction. I don’t usually notice it, huge as it is. I notice the posters all along the side of the site, advertising movies, and sneakers, and newly-released CDs. Eventually there’ll be some big high rise. What used to be there seemed like it would always be there, like it had always been there. When I moved into the neighborhood five years ago, some of the places on this block under construction were places that stood like veterans, to me the rookie, and I wanted to get to know them and wanted them to know who I was. The big corner newsstand was one of those that sold Foreign Affairs and Boston papers and all the fashion mags. I remember I had run up there the morning after 9/11 to get a newspaper. There were no newsstands open that day in the East Village where I lived then.
Up from the newsstand was a wonderful bar with the wonderful name, Poolbeg Street, named after a street in Dublin. Vinny the bartender by the door knew sports. We got to know each other. Up the block from there was Johnny Fox’s, another venerable pub. Now they’re gone. Those three places mattered to me and to other neighbors. People from outside the neighborhood would take cabs to come there. A big apartment building will make it a whole different block.
Across the street and back toward me is a Starbucks. I don’t go to it anymore. I never went much. I stopped going to all the Starbucks because I read where the owner was asking the city of Seattle to pay for most of the cost of a new arena for the NBA team he owns there. He’s just like all the rest I decided, and he lost me. It’s funny about Starbucks. Those who hate it, hate the chain-ness of it, I guess. They hate its everywhere-ness too. But a block away from where I’m standing in the other direction a new Dunkin’ Donuts opened and people haven’t stopped smiling since. Is it the color of the place? Does it seem less arrogant than Starbucks? Does it remind us of home somewhere, like Tim Hortens reminds Canadians of home? It can’t really be the coffee. Can a chain be lovable? Dunkin’ it seems may be one that can be.
While I’m looking left, I can see that Pete’s Place is dark and will stay that way. Closed awhile ago for health violations, it never re-opened. To have sat in one of the small front tables when they opened the big windows and have the morning sunlight light up your orange juice while you read the paper was as good as breakfast got in the city. Gone now. The citation from the health department was probably just the tipping point. The rent was likely killing him. Sweet-tooth Dunkin’ coming in across the street wouldn’t have helped.
You wonder how long before other places go. The CVS won’t go (and the lines in there won’t go any faster, until the manager calls on the three young employees sitting in different aisles stocking shelves to come up and man a register), but other places might. Please let the first one be the pizza place. I used to say I’d never had a bad pizza. I can’t say that anymore.
Up the street is Molly’s, the great atmospheric Irish pub with the great burger and the sawdust floor and a fireplace in wintertime. Almost next to it is the Lyric Diner which doesn’t close and whose neon sign which raps around its corner-front is classic. Rolf’s the famous German bar and eatery is painting itself white as I write this. It’s worth a trip in late fall and definitely around Christmas time to look in the window. It’s like looking at an applause-inducing stage set. I’ve never gone in, but I’ve smiled through the window at the wonder of the inside.
There are more bars, two of which drive the tenants of my building nuts with their late-night street-smoking/talking noise, and a Korean grocery and a classy flower shop. Two busy bagel places. A Blimpies I’m standing across the street from. A vintage clothing shop that has a wonderful used book section. A small newsstand near Dunkin’ where the guys from the methadone clinic on the block congregate, bumming smokes from one another.
There’s a lot on the block. I’m sure yours has lots too. And change lurking, among all those things.
- Bill Gunlocke