We start off at Ninth Ave at West 33rd Street in the southernmost part of Hell’s Kitchen. The classic New York City neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen is a largely disused name for the area on the West Side of Manhattan, bounded to the south by 30th Street, to the east by Eighth Avenue, to the north by 59th Street, and to the west by the Hudson River. By the end of the Civil War the area was one of the worst slums in the city and known for its dangerous gangs.
The moniker Hell’s Kitchen was most likely acquired from the name of a notorious neighborhood gang. The Irish were the largest ethnic group residing in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1880’s but there were also Scots, Germans, and African Americans. Most Greek immigrants, who came to New York City after the First World War, settled along 8th Avenue between 14th and 45th Streets. African Americans from the South and Puerto Ricans also settled in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1940s. After two children were killed in gang wars in 1959, local organizations sought to improve the image of the neighborhood by promoting the area using its current name, “Clinton” after the DeWitt Clinton Park west of Eleventh Avenue between 52nd and 54th Streets. When the Elevated train line ran down Ninth Avenue, the street was filled with an army of outdoor pushcart vendors, known as Paddy’s Market. When Mayor Fiorella H. La Guardia banned all pushcarts in 1938, food stores were all moved indoors, a number of which survive today.
Cheyenne Diner on Ninth Avenue at W. 33rd Street was in business from 1940- April 2008. It was a classic railroad car diner with original signage. The owner, Spiros Kasimis lost his lease on the property in order to make way for a nine-story residential building. Mr. Kasimis sold the diner structure to a developer who moved it by truck to a new location in Alabama with the hopes of re-opening it as part of a 1940s themed entertainment complex. We have always been a fan of diners, especially New York City’s small, free-standing locations. We shot this diner for our book, STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York, straight on from Ninth Avenue, liking how that view really highlighted it’s width and classic neon lettering. Stainless steel and glass bricks compliment what we consider an iconic spot.
Around the corner is another classic diner that is still open today. This photo of Skylight Diner is from our newly released book, NEW YORK NIGHTS.
Stainless steel, blue tiles and neon signage and the “Best Diner In Manhattan” lettering, to us really make the storefront memorable. A cluster of delivery bikes sits out front.
Next up, walking north is another lost gem, Manganaro Grosseria Italiana which was located on Ninth Avenue between W. 37th and W. 38th Street. It was family-run for 119 years, from 1893 - 2012. The storefront’s façade is also classic New York.
At the time of its closing this past February, the store still had its original old-fashioned tin ceilings and vintage showcases stocked with Italian specialties like prosciutto, sausages, olive oil, pastas and cheeses. There was a restaurant with seating in the back of the store where one could order Italian sandwiches, antipasto, or hot foods such as veal and peppers and pasta dishes. We spoke with Linda R. Dell’Orte, third-generation owner of Manganaro Grosseria Italiana:
“This was originally a liquor store in the 1880’s and then a family took over the space and started an Italian grocery store and restaurant in 1893, which was called Petrucci’s. My family acquired the store in the 1930’s and we haven’t changed what we sell since we’ve opened and we are not going to. I am the only one left in the family who has an interest in the business but I am hoping that my niece or nephew will eventually take over the store.”
Here’s a shot inside Manganero’s showing those vintage details:
Walking north, next up is Giovanni Esposito & Sons Pork Shop on Ninth Avenue at W. 38th Street. It is a third-generation family business that has been open since 1932. The white panels, pig-adorned sign and price signs that have letters and numbers that are slid in and out, along with the typography of the PORK SHOP letters make it one of our favorite looking shops of the entire city.
The storefront and sign are from 1971. Giovanni Esposito founded the business after he and his wife arrived from Naples, Italy in the 1920’s. They raised 10 children in an apartment across the street from the shop. When his son Teddy was 12 years old, he began learning the business and took over after his father’s death at age 91. Continuing the family tradition Robert Esposito, Teddy’s son, took over the family business from his father in 1986. They sell homemade Italian sausages and all types of quality meats, poultry and game. They supply meat to many noted restaurants in the city. While compiling STORE FRONT we interviewed Robert Esposito, third-generation owner of Giovanni Esposito & Sons Pork Shop:
“We are known for our homemade Italian sausage, made from a family recipe almost a century old. Sausages are like handwriting. When somebody tries to copy them, they just don’t come out right. When I started to run the business in 1986, one of the first things I bought was a Rolodex. For years, all of the important phone numbers were written on the walls and only my father knew where they were. Christmas is one of the busiest times of year and we sell more than 400 hams in that week. We get our hams from Gwaltney of Smithfield in Virginia and every ham we sell is accompanied by a recipe. I’ll give a customer a recipe on one trip, and the next time they’ll bring me one of theirs. I’d say that 85% of our customers are regulars. We even send things to Florida when our customers retire and move down there.” The shop is still in business. Here’s a snapshot of the interior showing it’s classic display cases and meat hooks.
Rudy’s Bar is a New York icon by any measure. We had originally shot it for our book STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York keeping with our fairly rigid straight on aesthetic for that project but always felt the shot didn’t tell the bar’s full story. This photo from NEW YORK NIGHTS allowed us to include its beautiful overhanging neon sign. The sign, visible up and down Ninth Avenue, has an interesting shape. Also the night shot shows a peak of the interior and the updated front complete with glass bricks.
Rudy’s Bar & Grill located on Ninth Avenue by W.44th Street was established by the Rudy family in 1933. It operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition starting in 1919 and was frequented by Al Capone. Rudy’s was granted one of the first liquor licenses when Prohibition ended. The 6-foot pig outside the bar called Baron has stood vigil at the door for over twenty years. It was stolen twice before it was bolted down. The bar has an original mahogany bar that was custom-made on the Bowery for $300. It also retains its original wood front door. Helen Rudy family sold the business in 1982 to Jack, a former Merchant Marine. Jack had been a long-time customer at the bar, drinking there since the 1940’s. According to Jack, Helen Rudy kept two big German Shepherds to mind the door. If a customer fell asleep or became unruly, she’s give a signal and the dogs would join the customer at the bar and growl. If that didn’t work, the dogs would bark and bare their teeth until the customer behaved or left. The neon sign is from 1937.
Next up, continuing north is Poseidon Greek Bakery. This bakery is on Ninth Avenue between W. 44th Street and W. 45th Street and is a family owned store that has been in business since 1923. Andy Fable and his wife Lillian currently run the bakery along with their youngest son who is now the fourth generation family member in the business. Our interview with Lillian really summed up what our entire project STORE FRONT was about and exemplified the story we wanted to tell about all of New York’s mom & pop shops.
Lillian Fable, third-generation owner of Poseidon Bakery explains:
“The original Poseidon Bakery was on 41st Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. It was on the south side of the street where the Port Authority bus terminal is now. When the City started to build the bus terminal, they kicked my father-in-law, Michael Anagnostou out. They put a summons on his door and said you have six months to get out. In those years, and that was 1952, no one knew how to fight City Hall because all of the properties around Ninth Avenue were rented by immigrants. So my father-in-law said, “This is never going to happen to me again!” He walked around the neighborhood and he saw this building for sale. He bought the building and he secured a future for himself and for us and his grandchildren. He would never be evicted again.”
Read more of this fascinating interview with Lillian Fable in our book Store Front-The Disappearing Face of New York.
We don’t know much about the Turkish Cuisine restaurant next door to Poseidon but love the sign with it’s repetitive patterns and script.
Name a place on the globe and New York has an ethnic restaurant specializing in it’s cuisine and this one, for us, certainly looks the part.
Next up is Piccinini Brothers Prime Meat, Poultry and Game located on Ninth Avenue between W44th and 45th Streets has been in business since 1922. It is now being run by third-generation family members. The vintage scale in the window caught our attention immediately and the owner’s story about the city’s butcher block demands is a favorite of ours.
We interviewed Rudy Vaccari, second-generation owner and here is an excerpt:
“My father, Guido Vaccari and my uncle, Mauro Piccinini started this meat business in 1922 and called it Piccinini Brothers because Mauro was the oldest brother. They both were from Milano and my uncle had even been a butcher in Italy. I started working in the store when I was 14 years old. I learned from the bottom up. My father passed away in 1960 and I took over the business fully. Now we are no longer able to conduct a retail business here because the U.S.D.A. changed the regulations regarding wholesale and retail business practices. You cannot operate both from the same location so we only do wholesale now and supply many of the City’s finest restaurants. That makes me sad because I really enjoyed seeing my old neighborhood customers come in every week but sometimes they still stop by and say hello anyway. Federal inspectors come in every day and look the place over and recently made us get rid of all our old wooden butcher blocks that we used for years. They said that the wood causes salmonella and other diseases so we had to replace them with plastic ones. A few months later they came back in and told us that they had made a mistake and that the plastic blocks were no good and that we could go back to using wooden butcher blocks again, but by that time we had thrown out all our wooden ones and had to buy brand new ones.”
Please read the full interview with Rudy Vaccari in our book STORE FRONT-The Disappearing Face of New York.
The recently closed Film Center Café is next.
The Film Center Café located on Ninth Avenue near W. 44th Street was in business from 1933 - 2011. It was built in 1932 across from the Film Center Building where all the major movie studios at the time, edited their films. It had an original stainless steel façade and retained much of its original interior, including the wood bar. While photographing the shops that would appear in NEW YORK NIGHTS we found that blue neon is particularly difficult to capture, much more so than red or green.
Amy’s Bread, in business for 20 years, is next up on our walk heading north through Hell’s Kitchen.
Walking the city streets endlessly like we do, the smells coming from small bakeries is always alluring. We like how in this photo you can see the baking being done on the right and the line to buy goods on the left. Amy’s Bread has now expanded and has a location on Bleecker Street as well as in Chelsea Market and has gone from 5 employees at the pictured Hell’s Kitchen location to a staff of 190.
Laundromats never have been fan favorites, but we love shooting them anyway. The colored laundry bags and battered sign make this Hell’s Kitchen shop one of our personal favorites of our collection of NYC cleaners, dry cleaners and laundromats.
Being photographers, we are constantly on the lookout for small mom & pop glass shops, places where we can get odd sized pieces of glass for framing.
If laundromats don’t find their way into many hearts, barber shops seem to be the opposite. Perennial favorites include our photos of the recently closed Brite Lite Barbers up in Harlem as well as the long gone Richard’s Barber Shop in Crown Heights. 3 Aces Barber Shop is one of our personal favorites for its simplicity.
Working barber poles are an increasingly rare find in the city. 3 Aces, last we checked, had been entirely re-fronted.
If barber shops are favorites, pizzerias receive even greater love. Some pizzerias develop cult followings and people travel from all corners of the globe just for a classic slice of New York pie. Casa Nova Pizzeria, next up heading north on Ninth Ave, is just one of thousands of New York City’s neighborhood pizza parlors.
And finally, reaching the northernmost shop on our Hell’s Kitchen walk, we have Thrift & New Shoppe, in business since 1952. In our previous post on Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues we briefly mentioned our love of thrift shops and how we enjoy walking from one to next.
A city bus driver checks out the window display before getting back into his bus parked curbside in the photo. Interestingly enough, in 2005 a bus hit the store and the entire side of the store needed to be replaced. Here’s a shot of it’s original front before it was re-fronted.
Here’s a couple of Hell’s Kitchen panoramic photos we included in our book STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York as fold-outs…
Above is Ninth Avenue close to 44th Street. Rudy’s original door is visible, next to Baron the pig. (Click image for larger view)
Above is Ninth Avenue close to 47th street. (Click image for larger view)
Bleecker Street: http://urbanimagephotography.com/wordpress/?p=4696
Second Avenue in The East Village: http://urbanimagephotography.com/wordpress/?p=4611