Thursday, September 23, 2021

Arrivederci, San Gennaro

Nowhere is the collision of nouveau riche and street trash more obvious than at the San Gennaro Feast. Around the corner from where a new Zegna store (home of the $6,000 suit) is opening, there are open vats of boiling oil and fried everything you can think of (not to mention literal street trash).

Of course, the San Gennaro Feast is a shadow of its former self. It’s no longer the crowded free-for-all that opened Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.

In fact, Little Italy (or Nolita, as it’s now called in real estate parlance) is a shadow of its former self. I sometimes joke that Little Italy is now just two old Italian ladies holding hands.

Even the Italian American Museum, which stood on the corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets, was torn down to make way for luxury apartments. Fortunately, it will occupy a space in the new building. (Every organization has learned that its most valuable asset is real estate.)

The neighborhood is clearly in flux.

When I first moved here 34 years ago, nobody even knew where Nolita (or Little Italy, as it was then known) was. It was basically a neighborhood of truck stop diners. I had a diner on every corner, two Korean delis, a newsstand and a laundromat—everything a good neighborhood needs—all practically on the same block.

Now are no diners, one deli, and the newsstand and laundromat have relocated a few blocks away. They’ve been replaced by expensive restaurants and boutiques which come and go faster than one can keep track. At one point there was a high-end kitchen and bathroom store around the corner from my apartment, but they soon went out of business. I guess there wasn’t a strong enough market for designer shower heads.

Spring Street Natural Restaurant, which had been in the neighborhood since the ’70s, tried to relocate several years ago and then closed. Their former space then had a rotating series of restaurants, none of which caught on. It’s now covered with graffiti. The street in front of where it stood has become a de facto skateboard park, with young men skateboarding at all hours of the day and night.

Another beloved restaurant, Mexican Radio, (which I’ve written about on this blog*) also closed a few years ago and was replaced by an Israeli restaurant that has basically commandeered all of Cleveland Place, blasting their music for an endless stream of millennials.

It's hard not to sound like an old fart (and maybe that’s what I am), but I don’t remember behaving so badly when I was in my twenties. I don’t remember screaming every time I got into a cab, or having loud fights every time I left a bar.

It’s hard to cheer for New York’s comeback when it seems to be simultaneously self-destructing. The long-foretold (by Republicans) “return of the ’70s” (aided and abetted by our do-nothing police department) seems to be happening at the same time as ever-more-luxurious high-rises are sprouting on every corner.

Bloomingdale’s windows are celebrating the return of Broadway even as theater owners are holding their breath to see if they sell any tickets.

I guess it really is a tale of two cities.

I just haven’t decided which one I live in yet.


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