Tony’s Luncheonette, Brooklyn 2005
When we received a request by London artist Stuart Free to paint Tony’s Luncheonette from our book STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York, it got us thinking how New York City luncheonettes have also been an enormous inspiration for us and how we always have felt that they are sort of a symbol of what is disappearing from the street-scapes of the city. When putting our book together luncheonettes were definitely some of our favorites subjects.
We were immediately attracted to the untouched and timeless simplicity of the Luncheonette Fountain in Greenpoint Brooklyn photographed here in 2004.
Lexington Candy Shop, above, has been in business since 1925. It’s the oldest continuously operating luncheonette in Manhattan. The present owner is John Philis, grandson of the founder. The store’s interior is original and has appeared in numerous commercial spots as well as in the 1975 Robert Redford movie, “Three Days of the Condor.” The font used for the sign has been really popular with fans of typography who follow our work.
We interviewed John Philis, the third-generation owner in 2005: “My grandfather opened this luncheonette on Lexington Avenue in 1925 and the last time it was renovated was in 1948. That’s when the sign outside and all the interior seats and counters were installed. Unfortunately, I had to change the exterior slightly and put new granite up in 1995. But other than that, everything else has been here since 1948. We still use my grandfather’s recipes for chocolate syrup drinks, malteds, rice puddings, and we even use the same combination of blends for the salads we sell. The Hamilton Beach mixer we use to make malteds is from the 1940’s and we still make them the old-fashioned way with malt powder rather than syrup. We also continue to make coffee using an old gas-fired coffee urn. Our most popular item for breakfast is our egg special and for lunch it’s our grilled cheese or tuna fish sandwiches. We have a few customers that still return here to eat even though they have moved away from the neighborhood. And we have some third-generation customers who live in the neighborhood and still come in with all three generations of their family together to dine here. I started working here as a young boy, when I was only 12 years old. This neighborhood has always been one of the nicer and better neighborhoods in New York City. I would say that the people living here have gotten younger since the 1980’s but it’s always mostly been a neighborhood full of people in their 30’s and 40’s. Wealthy people live here, like professionals and Wall Street types. The hanging neon sign outside that says, “Lexington Candy Shop” was put up around 20 years ago because the original one got blown down in a windstorm. We kept the permit for the sign going and eventually replaced it because those permits…the City does not give them out anymore. That’s why you don’t see overhanging signs that much anymore. These kinds of overhanging signs are grandfathered. It’s an asset that we thought we could use again. It helps visibility and visibility always helps in business.”
The Luncheonette, above, in Borough Park, Brooklyn has been in business for over 75 years. We understand that the store was given the iconic Coca-Cola sign for free by the soda company and some seem to have incredible longevity. This one struck us with the little sparkles added around the logos.
We spoke with owner Shaif Fidel in 2004. “I bought the business over 20 years ago from an old Jewish man, Martin Wassell, who recently passed away at the age of 97. He sold the store because he was in his 70’s and wanted to retire. I’ve kept everything just about the same as it’s
always been. The storefront and sign are original and date back to the late 1920’s.”
As we mentioned, the subject of Stuart Free’s work is Tony’s Luncheonette which has been in business for over 55 years. Antonio Lombardo, the owner spoke with us about his shop in 2005:
“I bought this coffee shop in 1972. The storefront and interior are all original, including a very unique circular wrap-around counter. This Bensonhurst neighborhood has changed a lot over the years. It used to be a very Italian neighborhood with lots of large Italian families but now a lot of Chinese have moved in and they don’t usually eat here. Luckily, my wife and I own this building so we don’t have to worry about the increasing rents in the area or anything.”
This image has always been special to us, which is why we were so pleased when we recently received Stuart’s request to paint one of the façades featured in our book and that he had chosen Tony’s Luncheonette as his subject. We were flattered and excited to see the results. In the past artists have achieved wonderful results after being inspired by our store front photography.
Stuart Free is a fine artist/ painter living in London in the UK. He contacted us explaining that he has witnessed a similar predicament in London and has, for twenty years, painted rundown shop fronts, cinema facades, warehouses, derelict theatres and street-life, many of which has now long gone.
He explained that in London they continually face redevelopment and radical face-lifting, and more often than not all traces of the past are obliterated.
“For as long as I remember I have photographed this city with a passion for recording the streets before they vanish, needless to say I have thousands of documents and for twenty years I have been making large scale paintings of them for posterity and social historic value.”
He sent us shots of his work in progress as well as the finished work and we were amazed.
Here’s some of Staurt’s shots of his work in progress:
And the gorgeous finished painting complete with a shout-out to us… absolutely beautiful:
The skill, the time taken, the attention to detail and the obvious love of the subject matter made us feel incredible and totally unified with Staurt in our love for what we do.
Find more of Stuart Free’s brilliant work here:
In the future we will do a post compiling more artwork inspired by STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York and highlight more of Stuart’s work painting stores we photographed.