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kottke.org posts about NYC

A Map of the 637 Languages Spoken in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2019

NYC Language Map

The Endangered Language Alliance has produced a map of the 637 languages and dialects spoken by the residents of NYC (past and present).

It represents ELA’s ongoing effort to draw on all available sources, including thousands of interviews and discussions, to tell the continuing story of the city’s many languages and cultures. The patterns it reveals — the clustering of West African languages in Harlem and the Bronx, a microcosm of the former Soviet Union in south Brooklyn, the multifaceted Asian-language diversity of Queens, to name a few — only hint at the linguistic complexity of a city where a single building or block can host speakers of dozens of languages from across the globe.

The online map embedded in the page works ok, but a $50 donation to the organization will get you a 24″ x 36″ print for your wall.

According to a Gothamist post about the map, the size and diversity of the city sometimes means that a significant chunk of a language’s worldwide speakers live in NYC:

Seke is a language spoken in just a handful of towns in Nepal-worldwide, there are fewer than 700 people who speak it. More than 100 of those people live in Brooklyn and Queens, according to the Endangered Language Alliance, a group that seeks to document and preserve smaller, minority, and Indigenous languages across New York City.

(via gothamist)

Thanksgiving Dinner Served on the L Train

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2019

File this under “I Love NYC”. On Sunday night, riders on a Brooklyn-bound L train were treated to a full Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of some of their fellow straphangers. For more than 20 minutes, a group of riders dined and passed out plates of turkey, collards, stuffing, squash, and mashed potatoes to other folks in the car. Here’s a 21-minute chunk of the action:

They started the meal with a prayer and everything. An onlooker said of the event:

It was a 7 PM Sunday L from union square and was not crowded at all. They said it was an inclusive gesture to emphasize no one should go without food on Thanksgiving. They were loud but not rowdy or a nuisance. They even handed out plates to everyone in the car — I got one and the turkey was a solid 7/10 and collard 8.5/10. I’m glad I got to experience something like this. Makes a great story!

There were even MTA employees amongst us but no one objected.

Here’s a shorter video with some of the highlights:

(thx, johana)

The Typologies of New York City

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2019

Using almost 1300 photos from Instagram of iconic/stereotypical shots of NYC, Sam Morrison spent 200 hours creating what he calls a crowdsourced hyperlapse video of the city. I love it. Reminds me a little of the old Microsoft application Photosynth, which could stitch together hundreds of online photos of, say, the Eiffel Tower or Golden Gate Bridge into a composite 3D image. (via a newly resurgent waxy.org)

Incredible Low-Angle Satellite Photo of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2019

Low Angle NYC

That’s much of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens captured by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, but at an unusually low angle. Here’s a closer view of the southern tip of Manhattan:

Low Angle NYC

Says Daily Overview of the shot:

This particular shot is made possible due to the focal length of the camera in this satellite that is roughly 32 times longer than that of a standard DSLR camera.

I don’t know what practical value low-angle satellite photos have, but they sure are beautiful.

See also a low-angle satellite photo of San Francisco.

What Killed City Bakery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

Last week, the beloved NYC eating establishment City Bakery closed its doors due to financial troubles.1 Rachel Holliday Smith dug into what happened for The City. It sounds like the company over-expanded, couldn’t get out of the debt it took on, and got into a series of increasingly bad lending situations.

One of those bad deals was borrowing $75,000 from a financial services firm called Kalamata Capital Group and promising to pay back $105,000. That’s a 40% interest rate, firmly in loan shark territory. But this is the bit that really got my eyebrows heading north (especially the bit in italics):

In a statement, the chief operating officer of Kalamata Capital Group, Brandon Laks, said the company “is truly sorry City Bakery decided to close” and stressed that many Kalamata Capital Group employees loved the establishment.

He said KCG made amendments to the funding agreement as City Bakery struggled and “without KCG’s capital and amendments, City Bakery would have closed, and jobs would have been lost, much sooner.”

“Unfortunately, many small businesses close and it is a risk KCG takes when we help fund and support these businesses,” he said.

Let’s be clear here: City Bakery was primarily a place for folks who can afford $5 croissants, but this is one of those instances where capitalism has become deeply disconnected from the people it’s allegedly supposed to benefit. All those KCG employees that loved City Bakery? Meaningless bullshit. A local lender that wants to invest in the community and its businesses doesn’t charge 40% interest. City Bakery needed some solid financial advice, a plan for getting out from under their debt (if possible), and a loan with decent terms. All KCG did was give City Bakery more rope to hang themselves and called it “support”.

Update: A couple people have pointed out that we don’t know the length of the loan and so cannot calculate the annual interest rate. Even so, as the article details, these “merchant cash advance” loans are under increasing scrutiny for being predatory:

As the Duncans soon learned, tens of thousands of contractors, florists, and other small-business owners nationwide were being chewed up by the same legal process. Behind it all was a group of financiers who lend money at interest rates higher than those once demanded by Mafia loan sharks. Rather than breaking legs, these lenders have co-opted New York’s court system and turned it into a high-speed debt-collection machine. Government officials enable the whole scheme. A few are even getting rich doing it.

  1. I was in NYC last week and City Bakery shuttered on the very day I was going to wander over for one of their chocolate chip cookies, my #1 all-time favorite cookie.

The New MoMA

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

After months of renovations and a week or two of previews, MoMA officially reopens for business today. I was able to attend a press preview last week and here are some observations I had about my visit.

New MoMA

One of the main goals of the museum’s expansion was to “focus new attention on works by women, Latinos, Asians, African-Americans and other overlooked artists”. I’ll leave the question of their success in more qualified hands, but even making the attempt is an admission by one of the most influential museums in the world that the art that society considers important is highly subjective. If there are good paintings that aren’t currently considered that interesting or important (because they’re not by Picasso or Degas or Cezanne), maybe that can change depending on what stories you tell about them. Look at what the Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim did for example.

The display of the main collection is now not just paintings and a sprinkling of sculpture but also includes photography, film, architecture, performance art, design, and drawings. The art is also placed into much more of an historical context than before…the visitor gets more of a sense of what was going on in the world when these pieces were created and what societal happenings the artist may have been reacting to in creating their work. I very much enjoyed these improvements.

New MoMA

The general feel of the place is more casual than before. In Amy Sillman’s Artist’s Choice gallery, paintings and sculptures were resting on risers around a large room, all unlabelled. Gallery titles were sometimes colloquial instead of formal or academic. In the one of the exhibitions, the gallery titles were in all lowercase — “a revolution of limits” vs “A revolution of limits” or “A Revolution of Limits”.

In some areas, the space still smelled vaguely of construction.

One of the things I love about The Whitney is how it incorporates the city into the art viewing experience. On the top floors, you can look at what’s on display and then head out to the terrace to see the city on display: the architecure, the construction, people walking on the High Line, the Hudson River traffic. It doesn’t have the best location to work with, but the new MoMA tries to do this a little more after the renovation. There are new overlooks to the sculpture garden and larger windows with street views.

Was it my imagination, but was Matisse’s Swimming Pool room actually a bit warmer and more humid than the other galleries? You know, like an actual indoor swimming pool?

New MoMA

Honestly, the best part of my experience was how few people were there. This was the last of four press previews and was sparsely attended because most people had already filed their stories. In many galleries, I was completely alone with these amazing works of art. I stood in front of Starry Night for two minutes all by myself — same with Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950 and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Monet’s Water Lillies gallery was empty. Empty! I sat for several blissful minutes taking it all in — it was almost meditative. This reveals a sad truth about large and popular art museums like MoMA: they are often not good places for actually viewing art. They’re just too crowded. Starry Night is basically an Instagram selfie wall at this point. During a normal visit, you can’t actually look at the thing to see what van Gogh was up to with his brushstrokes because there are 20 people waiting their turn to see it too. But you can’t spend $450 million on a renovation and just let a few hundred people a day into the place, right?

Jenny’s Holzer’s VIGIL for Gun Violence Victims

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

This past weekend for a project called VIGIL, artist Jenny Holzer projected texts about the impact and realities of gun violence onto the buildings of Rockefeller Center.

Jenny Holzer Vigil

Employing her signature text-based practice, Holzer will project testimonies, responses, and poems by people confronting the everyday reality of gun violence onto the iconic buildings at Rockefeller Center after sundown. These hauntingly sober first-person accounts serve both as an acknowledgement of communities impacted by gun violence and an invitation for dialogue around the prevalence of this issue in the United States. Holzer will feature texts from the compilation Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, stories from Moments that Survive collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, and poems by teens who have grown up in the shadow of mass shootings.

Gothamist has a story about the project, which includes several photos of the projected texts.

Five True Tales of Manhattan

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Great Big Stories has collected five of their video short stories into a collection: 5 True Tales of Manhattan. The stories include a restaurant that serves Cuban-Chinese cuisine, Sunday night jazz concerts in a Harlem apartment, and a woman who rehabs dozens of turtles in her small apartment.

Machine Hallucination

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

Machine Hallucination

After seeing some videos on my pal Jenni’s Instagram of Refik Anadol’s immersive display at ARTECHOUSE in NYC, it’s now at the top of my list of things to see the next time I’m in NYC.

Machine Hallucination, Anadol’s first large-scale installation in New York City is a mixed reality experiment deploying machine learning algorithms on a dataset of over 300 million images — representing a wide-ranging selection of architectural styles and movements — to reveal the hidden connections between these moments in architectural history. As the machine generates a data universe of architectural hallucinations in 1025 dimensions, we can begin to intuitively understand the ways that memory can be spatially experienced and the power of machine intelligence to both simultaneously access and augment our human senses.

Here’s a video of Anadol explaining his process and a little bit about Machine Hallucination. Check out some reviews at Designboom, Gothamist, and Art in America and watch some video of the installation here.

Treasures in the Trash

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

Treasures in the Trash is a short film by Nicolas Heller about former NYC sanitation worker Nelson Molina, who started (and still maintains) an unofficial museum of more than 45,000 objects that people have thrown out over the last few decades.

Favorite NYC Spots Lovingly Illustrated

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2019

Downtown Collective

Downtown Collective

The Downtown Collective is a project by illustrator Kelli Ercolano in which she is drawing & painting all of the NYC cafes, restaurants, and bars she’s fallen in love with. You can check out more of her work and process on Instagram.

The Art and Science of Tripping Up the Stairs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2019

This is a short video of a set of subway stairs in Brooklyn where one of the steps is juuuust a bit taller than the rest, which makes most people trip on it.

We don’t often think about it but even the least graceful humans move in a finely calibrated way. When we’re climbing stairs, our feet don’t clear the treads by much, so that even the tiniest deviation in the height of a step can spell trouble.

I’d love to see a study of how quickly our bodies learn how high the steps are in a new flight of stairs. Like, maybe we clear the first couple of steps by an inch or two but then we’re locked in and subsequent clearances are much smaller.

Is there a word for the way people tend to speed up after they trip climbing stairs? The stumble hustle? It’s such a small & endearing little thing that most people do.

My least favorite flight of stairs in the entire NYC subway system are, I believe, at the SW corner of 14th St and 6th Ave in Manhattan. Each of the steps is a different height, making for a tricky ascent and a downright dangerous descent. I keep thinking they’re gonna get fixed, but I used them on my last visit to the city in June. At this point, they’re like an old friend who’s kind of a jerk but you’ve known him so long that whaddya gonna do? (via @fishtopher)

Update: On Twitter, André Filipe Barro shared the Brazilian phrase for speeding up after tripping up the stairs: “went on a chicken chase”. Excellent!

30 Years of New York Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2019

Lucinda Rogers

Lucinda Rogers

Lucinda Rogers

Since her first trip in 1988, UK artist Lucinda Rogers has been traveling to NYC to draw the city and its inhabitants. Rogers is working on a book of her illustrations, which she hopes to publish independently with the help of Kickstarter.

With your support this book will for the first time reveal and re-assemble around ninety drawings made between 1988 and 2018.

Working with the designer Simon Esterson we are producing the book independently and by using Kickstarter we have total control of the design and quality of production, resulting in a beautiful edition — if we reach the target!

I am delighted that the introduction will be by Luc Sante, the brilliant writer and chronicler of cities, known best for Low Life : Lures and Snares of Old New York.

The project is most of the way towards the goal with a little over a week left. Let’s help push it over the finish line. (thx, david)

Vintage Photos of NYC’s High Line

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2019

Gothamist recently posted some vintage photos of NYC’s High Line taken by Jake Dobkin back when it was still an abandoned rail line and not an immaculately designed space surrounded by luxury condos. Meg & I snuck up there in Feb 2004 and walked all the way down from 33rd St to the Meatpacking and back again. Here are a few photos I snapped that day:

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

A couple of these were kindly included in Phaidon’s book about the making-of the High Line park.

Here Grows New York City, a Time Lapse of NYC’s Street Grid from 1609 to the Present

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

Using geological surveys, geo-referenced road network data, and historic maps drawn the from the collections of the Library of Congress and New York Public Library, Miles Zhang made this time lapse video of the development of the street grid of NYC from 1609 (when Henry Hudson first explored the area for the Dutch) to the present day.

The resulting short film presents a series of “cartographic snapshots” of the built-up area at intervals of every 20-30 years in the city’s history. This process highlights the organic spurts of growth and movement that typify New York’s and most cities’ development through time. The result is an abstract representation of urbanism.

Zhang has written up his research methodology for the video as well as some observations and analysis of the data.

For almost the first half of Manhattan’s history, walking was the primary means of transport. This preference was manifested in the shorter distances between residential, industrial, shipping, and commercial areas — and more frequently their overlap. With street systems, the reliance on the foot is manifested in narrower streets widths not designed to accommodate greater width from carriages, trolleys, and later cars. In fact, the average width of secondary arterial streets increased from 30 feet for streets opened between 1624-1664, to 45 feet for streets opened 1664-1811, and then a uniform width of 60 feet for any cross street opened after 1811. Later widenings increased many of these smaller and pre-1811 streets to width between 100 and 130 feet. In other words, moving from the older networks in the south to newer networks in the north, the width of streets and size of blocks generally increases. These new widths might be influenced by growing population size from only 25,000 in the 1770s, to 64,000 by 1811, and 247,000 by 1834, thereby requiring wider streets for expanding population and higher buildings.

These gradual changes in planning reflected increasing reliance on carriages and horse-drawn trolleys instead of walking. Each mode of transport required a different minimum street width and was associated with different speeds.

(via @john_overholt)

Neighborhood Golf Association

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2019

Street photographer Patrick Barr has been out photographing NYC since the 1990s. Barr also goes by the name of Tiger Hood (or Nappy Gilmore) and when he’s out on the street selling prints of his photographs, he passes the time playing a street golf game of his own invention.

It’s a game that requires only three items: a golf club, a newspaper-stuffed milk carton, and a crate. What was initially just a way for Barr to pass time has gained traction from major news outlets and celebrities on a global scale. However, street golf seems to overshadow his true passion… photography. Barr’s archive consists of thousands of mind blowing film photographs of NYC from the 1990’s to 2000’s. His goal was to preserve a time and place that he predicted would dissolve in the coming years. With his archive as evidence, he predicted correctly.

You can find some of Barr’s photos on Flickr and Instagram but if you want to buy a print, you’ll have to catch him on the streets of lower Manhattan.

The Forgotten Father of Pizza in the USA

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

A recent series of discoveries have upended the widely accepted story of the history of pizza in America and have the NYC food world in a tizzy. The typical origin story of American pizza is this:

In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi applied to the New York City government for the first license to make and sell pizza in this country, at his grocery store on Spring Street in what was then a thriving Italian-American neighborhood.

But research by Peter Regas (who looked in Italian-language newspapers from the late 19th century) has revealed a previously unknown pizza kingpin behind some of the NYC’s first pizzerias and moves the probable introduction date of the pizza back into the 1800s.

Of this forgotten older generation, one baker stands out. Filippo Milone came to New York in the late 19th century and likely established two of the most famous New York pizzerias that still exist today, Lombardi’s on Spring Street and John’s of Bleecker Street.

Regas explains, “Filippo Milone likely established pizzerias in at least six locations throughout New York City. Of these locations, three later became famous under different names: ‘Pop’s,’ ‘John’s,’ and ‘Lombardi’s.’ Pop’s in Brooklyn closed decades ago, but the other two in Manhattan still exist. Milone, a pioneer in what has become a $45 billion industry, later died in 1924, without children to preserve his story buried in an unmarked grave in Queens.”

Wow! This 1903 advertisement is for a pizzeria of Milone’s on Grand St.:

Pizza Milone

As for Lombardi’s founding in 1905, Regas has the receipts for that too:

While proof of that license has never materialized, Regas has tracked down Gennaro Lombardi’s birth record, naturalization papers, and other supporting documents that tell a different story. Gennaro Lombardi first came to America in November of 1904 at age 17, classified as a “laborer”. If he became involved with the pizzeria at 53 1/2 Spring Street in 1905, it was as an employee not as an owner. By that time, it had already been established as a pizzeria probably by Milone in 1898 but certainly by another proprietor named Giovanni Santillo who followed Milone in 1901.

As Pete Wells writes:

This is as if some other dude we’ve never heard of wrote both the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers and then handed them over to Adams Franklin Jefferson Madison Hamilton etc.

Regas is documenting his research here on an eventual book about all of this, due out sometime later this year. Boy oh boy, they’re gonna have to reprint a lot of NYC pizzeria menus with incorrect origin stories in them… (via @adamkuban)

“Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” Exhibition in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

The “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” exhibition at NYC’s Morgan Library & Museum is “the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations”. Running from January 25 through May 12, the exhibition includes drafts, drawings, maps, and memorabilia related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, including hand-drawn maps done by Tolkien of Middle-earth.

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

I’m totally going to this the next time I’m in NYC.

Update: Note to those who are heading to exhibition: cosplaying your favorite LoTR character at the Morgan Library is totally permissible.

Tolkien Exhibit

But all Gimlis, Legolases, and Gandalfs, leave your weaponry at home. (via @arbesman)

“Ask a Native New Yorker” in Book Form

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

One of the most popular recurring features on Gothamist is Jake Dobkin’s “Ask A Native New Yorker” column (which I’ve mentioned here more than once). In the column, Dobkin gives advice related to NYC issues like cycling in the city, dealing with problematic roommates, coping with bedbugs, and strangers sitting on your stoop.

Now Dobkin has turned that column into a book with all-new material: Ask a Native New Yorker: Hard-Earned Advice on Surviving and Thriving in the Big City.

The book version features all original writing and aims to help newbies evolve into real New Yorkers with humor and a command of the facts. In 48 short essays and 11 sidebars, the book offers practical information about transportation, apartment hunting, and even cultivating relationships for anyone fresh to the Big Apple. Subjects include “Why is New York the greatest city in the world?,” “Where should I live?,” “Where do you find peace and quiet when you feel overwhelmed?,” and “Who do I have to give up my subway seat to?” Part philosophy, part anecdote collection, and part no-nonsense guide, Ask a Native New Yorker will become the default gift for transplants to New York, whether they’re here for internships, college, or starting a new job.

Instant pre-order.

The Last Chess Shop in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

From directors Molly Brass and Stephen Tyler, this is a really lovely & poignant short film about Chess Forum and its owner, Imad Khachan, a Palestinian refugee who came to America to get a PhD in American literature and ended up as the owner/operator of a classic NYC establishment.

Anybody who doesn’t speak any language or different languages, they can sit here and play chess. You can still hold a meaningful conversation without saying a word.

In the 90s, Khachan opened Chess Forum across the street from another chess shop, The Chess Shop, after a disagreement with its owner.

After an ownership agreement between Khachan and a former business mentor fell to pieces, Khachan opened the Chess Forum directly across the street from his former partner’s shop, The Chess Shop. His move triggered what, in New York chess circles, is still known as the Civil War on Thompson Street.

“Sometimes attack is the best defense,” Khachan said of his decision.

His move tore New York’s tight-knit chess community in two. A ceasefire eventually settled in, with each shop courting its own customers and suppliers. His business rival closed in 2012, but the feud taught Khachan a lesson as strong as any he learned on the board.

“Like any chess game it’s the thinking ahead that keeps you one step ahead of the guy who’s shooting after you and not hitting you,” he said. “You have to keep moving.”

Update: Speaking of “holding a meaningful conversation without saying a word”, Gregor McEwan sent in links to a pair of papers he co-authored that argue that game play should be considered conversation: Chess as a Conversation: Artefact-Based Communication in Online Competitive Board Games and “I’m Just Here to Play Games:” Social Dynamics and Sociability in an Online Game Site.

Our analysis provides new evidence that even simple turn-based games contain a great deal of interaction richness and subtlety, and that the different levels of communication should be considered by designers as a real and legitimate vehicle for social interaction.

The Wrong Color Subway Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

Wrong Color Subway Map

From the orange 123 line to the green ACE to the purple 456, the color designations on the NYC subway lines on the Wrong Color Subway Map will mess with your head. Get the print here. From the folks who brought us the One-Color Subway Map. (via @khoi)

New York City Street Tree Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Nyc Street Tree Map

The NYC Parks department maintains an online map of the city’s street trees — currently 678,674 mapped trees from 422 different species.

Our tree map includes every street tree in New York City as mapped by our TreesCount! 2015 volunteers, and is updated daily by our Forestry team. On the map, trees are represented by circles. The size of the circle represents the diameter of the tree, and the color of the circle reflects its species. You are welcome to browse our entire inventory of trees, or to select an individual tree for more information.

The map only shows trees that grow on land under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks. This includes trees planted along sidewalks or other public rights-of-way. You might not see trees that are planted on rights-of-way maintained by the NYC Department of Transportation, or by the state or federal government. You will also not see trees planted on private property.

Each tree on the map is clickable; when you do so, you can see the tree’s species, diameter, and the ecological benefits. (For example, this large oak tree along Central Park West provides $540 of ecological benefits each year…from capturing storm runoff to removing air pollutants.) You can also keep track of your favorite trees, join a tree care group to help take care of the city’s trees, or record activities you’ve done to care for trees in your neighborhood.

It’s easy to become a tree steward! We host volunteers all year long. We can train you in basic activities such as watering trees, adding mulch and soil, and removing weeds and litter; as well as advanced activities such as installing a tree guard, expanding tree beds, and installing or removing stone or brick pavers.

When Melbourne, Australia assigned each of their trees an email address to report problems, people started writing love letters to their favorite trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

Each of NYC’s trees has a ID number too…let’s give them email addresses! (via @halobrien_wa)

Seven Species So Endangered that Their Remaining Members Could Fit in a Single NYC Subway Car

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

Some animals are so endangered that fewer than 100 members of their species remain in the world. For The Guardian, Mona Chalabi depicted the remaining members of seven of those species fitting into their own NYC subway car.

Subway Species

The data was taken from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Rest In Pancakes, Kenny Shopsin

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2018

Shopsins

Word is filtering through the NYC food community that Kenny Shopsin has passed away. Together with his wife and children, Shopsin was the proprietor of Shopsin’s General Store, an iconic NYC restaurant, an establishment.

Calvin Trillin wrote a profile of Shopsin and the restaurant for the New Yorker in 2002.

One evening, when the place was nearly full, I saw a party of four come in the door; a couple of them may have been wearing neckties, which wouldn’t have been a plus in a restaurant whose waitress used to wear a T-shirt that said “Die Yuppie Scum.” Kenny took a quick glance from the kitchen and said, “No, we’re closed.” After a brief try at appealing the decision, the party left, and the waitress pulled the security gate partway down to discourage other latecomers.

“It’s only eight o’clock,” I said to Kenny.

“They were nothing but strangers,” he said.

“I think those are usually called customers,” I said. “They come here, you give them food, they give you money. It’s known as the restaurant business.”

Kenny shrugged. “Fuck ‘em,” he said.

Kenny’s daughter Tamara published a memoir recently called Arbitrary Stupid Goal…I read it last month and loved it. The book is not only a love letter to her family’s restaurant and the old West Village (which is now almost entirely gone), but also to her father, who is featured on nearly every page.

Shopsin published a cookbook back in 2008, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin.

“Pancakes are a luxury, like smoking marijuana or having sex. That’s why I came up with the names Ho Cakes and Slutty Cakes. These are extra decadent, but in a way, every pancake is a Ho Cake.” Thus speaks Kenny Shopsin, legendary (and legendarily eccentric, ill-tempered, and lovable) chef and owner of the Greenwich Village restaurant (and institution), Shopsin’s, which has been in existence since 1971.

Kenny has finally put together his 900-plus-item menu and his unique philosophy-imagine Elizabeth David crossed with Richard Pryor-to create Eat Me, the most profound and profane cookbook you’ll ever read. His rants-on everything from how the customer is not always right to the art of griddling; from how to run a small, ethical, and humane business to how we all should learn to cook in a Goodnight Moon world where everything you need is already in your own home and head-will leave you stunned or laughing or hungry.

Much love to the Shopsin family right now.

Update: Several people wrote in mentioning I Like Killing Flies, a 2004 documentary about Shopsin. There are a few clips of it floating around on YouTube. The NY Times filmed Shopsin making his macaroni and cheese pancakes, one of the hundreds of items on the restaurant’s menu.

Update: The NY Times has an obituary of Shopsin and Helen Rosner wrote Remembering Kenny Shopsin, the Irascible Chef-King of Lower Manhattan for the New Yorker. Yesterday, Kenny’s daughter Tamara posted a photo of her dad on Instagram with the following caption:

@shopsinsnyc will be open Wednesday. My dad won’t be there in body but he will be there. I love you dad.

The Community of The Tables

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2018

The Tables is a short documentary about the ping pong tables in NYC’s Bryant Park and the cast of characters who play there frequently — homeless folks, pro players, bike messengers, and a guy who uses a block of wood for a paddle.

The carrot is not important. Chasing it is.

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2018

Arbitrary Stupid Goal

I finally picked up Tamara Shopsin’s Arbitrary Stupid Goal the other day. This is how it begins (emphasis mine):

The imaginary horizontal lines that circle the earth make sense. Our equator is 0°, the North and South Poles are 90°. Latitude’s order is airtight with clear and elegant motives. The earth has a top and a bottom. Longitude is another story. There isn’t a left and right to earth. Any line could have been called 0°. But Greenwich got first dibs on the prime meridian and as a result the world set clocks and ships by a British resort town that lies outside London.

It was an arbitrary choice that became the basis for precision. My father knew a family named Wolfawitz who wanted to go on vacation but didn’t know where.

It hit them. Take a two-week road trip driving to as many towns, parks, and counties as they could that contained their last name: Wolfpoint, Wolfville, Wolf Lake, etc.

They read up and found things to do on the way to these other Wolf spots: a hotel in a railroad car, an Alpine slide, a pretzel factory, etc.

The Wolfawitzes ended up seeing more than they planned. Lots of unexpected things popped up along the route.

When they came back from vacation, they felt really good. It was easily the best vacation of their lives, and they wondered why.

My father says it was because the Wolfawitzes stopped trying to accomplish anything. They just put a carrot in front of them and decided the carrot wasn’t that important but chasing it was.

The story of the Wolfawitzes’ vacation was told hundreds of times to hundreds of customers in the small restaurant that my mom and dad ran in Greenwich Village. Each time it was told, my dad would conclude that the vacation changed the Wolfawitzes’ whole life, and this was how they were going to live from now on — chasing a very, very small carrot.

The restaurant was Shopsin’s, no longer in Greenwich Village, and after a start like that, I read the next 80 pages without stopping. Really wish I’d heeded much advice to pick this up sooner.

See also “I’ve never had a goal”.

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2018

I really like these drawings of NYC with a historical bent by illustrator and “amateur historian” Julia Wertz.

Julia Wertz 01

Julia Wertz 02

They’re from a book Wertz wrote & illustrated called Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City. Gothamist recently interviewed Wertz about the book and her work.

Q: Bob Dylan (and my boss, Jake Dobkin) both like to exclaim that “nostalgia is death.” Which probably says more about them, and their own particularly complex relationships with nostalgia, than anything else. But do you think of yourself as a nostalgic person? How does nostalgia play into your appreciation of the urban landscape?

A: I understand what people mean by that expression, but it categorizes nostalgia in too simple a way. Nostalgia is like an intoxicant — in moderation it can be a rewarding experience, but if abused/overused, it becomes toxic. To indulge in nostalgia is to romanticize the past and stop living in the present. This could be totally fine for short periods of time, just a nice way to remember a pleasant time you experienced, but if it becomes a way of thinking, it ruins the present because there’s no way the present moment can compare to a fabricated, romanticized version past. Nostalgia has a way of erasing the shitty parts of reality. Like when people are nostalgic for, say, NYC in the 1800’s — the horse and buggies, the handmade shop signs, the elaborate suits and dresses — they’re forgetting (or perhaps never knew) that the city then was a filthy cesspool of trash and sewage, disease was rampant, and the clothing was insufferably hot and restrictive, and sometimes even deadly for women cooking with open flame.

NYC is boring

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2018

In The Death of a Once Great City Kevin Baker argues that the current affluence of NYC has made the city “unremarkable” and “boring”.

New York has been my home for more than forty years, from the year after the city’s supposed nadir in 1975, when it nearly went bankrupt. I have seen all the periods of boom and bust since, almost all of them related to the “paper economy” of finance and real estate speculation that took over the city long before it did the rest of the nation. But I have never seen what is going on now: the systematic, wholesale transformation of New York into a reserve of the obscenely wealthy and the barely here — a place increasingly devoid of the idiosyncrasy, the complexity, the opportunity, and the roiling excitement that make a city great.

As New York enters the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is in imminent danger of becoming something it has never been before: unremarkable. It is approaching a state where it is no longer a significant cultural entity but the world’s largest gated community, with a few cupcake shops here and there. For the first time in its history, New York is, well, boring.

The chimeras of the NYC subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

The NYC subway is home to many interesting characters and creatures but perhaps none as delightfully weird as Matthew Grabelsky’s straphanger chimeras.

Matthew Grabelsky

Matthew Grabelsky

Matthew Grabelsky

(via colossal)

Through a Different Lens, a book of Stanley Kubrick’s photography

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2018

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

There is much to admire in how Stanley Kubrick’s movies are constructed, but the director’s keen compositional eye is perhaps the most noticeable. Before becoming a filmmaker, Kubrick honed his observational skills as a photographer in NYC. Look magazine hired him when he was just 17 years old to fill the pages of the publication with photos of life in the city. A new book, Stanley Kubrick Photographs: Through a Different Lens, celebrates Kubrick’s photography, showcasing how that youthful talent would eventually translate into a great filmmaking career.

Through a Different Lens reveals the keen and evocative vision of a burgeoning creative genius in a range of feature stories and images, from everyday folk at the laundromat to a day in the life of a debutant, from a trip to the circus to Columbia University. Featuring around 300 images, many previously unseen, as well as rare Look magazine tear sheets, this release coincides with a major show at the Museum of the City of New York and includes an introduction by noted photography critic Luc Sante.

Kubrick’s photos are also on display at the Museum of the City of New York until late October 2018.