Category Archives: New York City

Felix Salmon Is An Idiot

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[Photo courtesy Eater NY]

It’s pretty much impossible to overstate how much of an idiot Felix Salmon is. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Many of Felix’s opinions, published on myriad platforms at unexpected moments, strike me as smart and correct. But that’s a headline and lede I’ve always wanted to type, and Felix has offered the perfect opening with his deeply misguided Medium essay today about developer Aby Rosen’s decision to turn the kitchen and front of house at Manhattan’s iconic Four Seasons restaurant over to the power trio behind the Major Food Group: Rich Torrisi, Mario Carbone, and Jeff Zalaznick.

Two personal memories of The Four Seasons. My first-ever visit there, invited by a flack to a business lunch with some chief executive something back when I covered telecom for a trade magazine in the late 1990s. I was ascending the carpeted stairs up to the dining room level when David Stern brushed past me on his way down the stairs. David Stern! The commissioner of the NBA! Way cooler than one’s average Hollywood celebrity sighting, to my mind then (and now), and a sure indicator of a true power lunch spot.

Second memory is from 2006. Eater had turned a year old, and someone in PR at The Four Seasons thought it a good idea to invite Leventhal and Steele in to have lunch and meet the front of house svengali, Julian Niccolini. After we’d been seated, Julian came over and joined our table. As the extremely animated conversation unfolded — Niccolini is not a quiet, reserved man — it became clear that he had only the vaguest idea of what Eater was. This frankly delighted me, as did his subsequent move in which he proffered a giant white truffle, then shaved more of it over our twin pastas than I have ever seen in one meal in my life, before or since, while screaming ecstatically throughout. After which he was off like a rabbit, hopping from table to table, bestowing truffles and good cheer throughout his kingdom.

That sort of showmanship epitomizes Niccolin’s Four Seasons, a place that every day features more wattage of the David Stern variety than any lunch spot in New York. Which is why it’s all quite amusing to read Felix’s take on the restaurant, which boils down to his analysis that The Four Seasons is a mausoleum that happens to serve food.

That the rooms comprising The Four Seasons — designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, the architects of the Seagram Building on whose lower floors the restaurant sits — are modern masterpieces is self-evident. That they are also landmarked, and hence unable to be tampered much with in any meaningful way, is also clear. “I think we are respecting and celebrating,” Rosen told Jeff Gordinier, mentioning plans to upgrade the lighting and the leather upholstery. Gordinier: “He stressed that any changes would be cosmetic, saying, ‘You won’t walk in there and say, ‘What the hell has happened here?’” Say it ain’t so!

Probably the biggest aesthetic decision awaiting the Carbone/Torrisi team faces is whether to retain the Garth Huxtable service pieces. As Pete Wells correctly points out, the newcomers would be fools not to, and I predict that they will. In fact, I’ll predict that pretty much everything about the current Four Seasons experience remains the same under new management, with one major exception: the food.

To Felix, that the food at The Four Seasons is terrible is somehow part of the charm of the place: “Is it French? Is it American?” he asks. “The answer is: nobody really cares. There’s more than enough reason to dine at the Four Seasons already; the last thing it needs is foodies.”

While I couldn’t agree more that the last thing any place or anyone needs is foodies, certainly it’s not too much to ask in 2015 that the restaurant have food worth eating. And the Carbone/Torrisi team brings that in spades. And while Felix characterizes their style as big, it’s a word that really only fits Carbone and, to an extent, Dirty French. The first Torrisi was, if anything, too small, and what they’ve got going over at Santina right now is festive more than it is large. The thread pulling their empire together, however, is the excellence of the food.

There are people out there who don’t like the brashness of the Torrisi boys; I get that. But that brashness is more a personal critique than it is a critique of their restaurants. And I predict that they will find just the right person to run the Front of House — an absolutely critical piece, as Sifton notes — one who can keep the billionaires as content as they were yesterday, except now they’ll actually be eating good food.

Finally, this strange aside from Felix — “No one would object if [Team Torrisi], say, took over the space at Eleven Madison Park” — deserves comment. Because first, uh, what? And second, because the Eleven Madison Park team of Daniel Humm and Will Guidera are in fact working towards opening what appears to be their own play at a midtown power lunch spot. The restaurant will be a double-height beauty designed by — wait for it — Sir Norman Foster. Here’s an actual quote from the developer: “It will be Four Seasons on steroids for the 21st Century.”

Some people purport to really like the service touches of the Guidera/Humm empire. Personally, I find them cloying and overly precious. I predict the billionaires will feel the same way, and that the reborn Carbone/Torrisi Four Seasons (under a new name, of course) will not only keep what everyone loves about the current restaurant but also won’t feel the need to juice its service with steroids to stand out.

The fun part is, we’ll only have to wait a few years to find out who’s right and wrong about all of this. Felix, care to wager?

The Contest, Judged

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[graphical credit: Greg Morabito]

I wrote about Eater’s The Contest here the week before last, explaining that I was lining up a super-secret guest judge to help me render a verdict on the crazed Cheap Eats dining competition including Eater editors, Vox Media superstars, and Eater readers that had already gotten underway.

A few hours after publishing that post, a better idea struck me: I would adapt the ersatz scoring system devised by Verge entertainment editor Emily Yoshida for her Game of Game of Thrones recaps, and render daily judgements in that style. And so I did, though not before the judgements drove me as close to the brink of madness as The Contest did its contestants: Day One, Day Two, Day One and Two Bonus Rounds, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five Part One, and the grand finale, Day Five Part Two. For the record, that’s as many total words as I’ve written in any week since forever.

In the end, I didn’t end up judging the reader winner — Amanda and Robert handled that — which is really for the best or a week later I’m sure I’d still be scribbling scores on a napkin and trying to finish writing this damn thing. Still: The Contest! Total blast. Here’s hoping it does get renewed for a second season in 2016.

Eater’s The Contest

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I love stunts. And, delightfully for folks like me that share that love, Eater’s latest stunt is shaping up as an all-time classic. It’s called The Contest — hashtag #thecontest — and it’s part of Eater’s Cheap Eats Week 2015, which kicks off today across all Eater sites. But it’s only New York City that gets to participate in The Contest.

The gist: each participant — and there are a dozen Eater/Vox folks playing, plus anyone in the general public who wants to get in on the fun — has $10 total to spend each day on Cheap Eats out and about in the five boroughs. No home cooking is allowed. Plenty of alcohol is allowed. Check out the insanely specific rules, and the Eater editors’ report on their Day One breakfast and lunches.

Eater Editor-in-Chief Amanda Kludt asked me to judge The Contest, and honor which I accepted, only later to learn that I was the second choice. Regardless, I kicked off my judging duties a tweetstorm about it this afternoon:

Originally, Amanda and I thought judging would take place on a daily basis, but seeing how The Contest is playing out on Day 1, it’s clear that some contestants are making week-long themes a cornerstone of their Contest strategy. There’s no great way to judge that day-by-day. So: The Contest will end at 11:59pm on Friday, and I’ll spend the weekend judging, likely with a secret special guest co-judge, with the scoring and winners revealed on Eater NY next Monday.

Meantime, follow along on Eater NY, on Twitter and, perhaps most crucially, on Instagram. #thecontest

Momofuku Ko Wine Table

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Joanne has the practice of not naming anyone she dines with on her blog. Admirable restraint. Here, it’s the opposite: if we’re dining together, expect to get namechecked. In fact, expect more than that: after a few more months, we’re reviving Ken’s genius idea from back in the day and finding out who the various personages here can take in a fight. Stick around for that; good times assured.

Long way of saying that I went to a very special dinner at the new Momofuku Ko on Extra Place in the East Village last week with Joanne and Ken and Michelle and Lindsey, and Joanne beat me to blogging it. As per usu, Joanne’s got the complete rundown, so I won’t double up effort here. The crux of the thing is that the new MomoKo has two six-person tables adjacent to the horseshoe-bar where patrons normally dine, and executive chef Sean Gray and team are creating an experience that’s entirely different from the “normal” MomoKo deal — which, based on a friends and family tasting back in November, remains sublime unto itself.

Dave Chang explained it to me thusly: “I want the people at the bar to be jealous of the people at the tables, and I want the people at the tables to be jealous of the people at the bar.”

And so it shall be, eventually. We were only the second party to dine at the tables, which are being crafted as a wine-first experience by MomoSomm extraordinaire Jordan Salcito. Jordan and I talked in the days leading up to the dinner and picked four amazing wines to accompany what turned out to be a nine-course meal, depending on how you count things like amuses and canapes. Everything was a highlight, but especially the raw platter…

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… which everyone couldn’t not Instagram, even as Jordan and Sean looked on…

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… because the thing was it was a GIANT FISH STUFFED WITH SASHIMI, and that’s sort of the thing that in my experience one is drawn to Instagram. Pity the amazing uni atop pureed watercress, served with this course but in separate bowls, that didn’t merit the photographic attention.

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We were told there’d be pie, but who knew it would be meat pie, even after they showed us two perfectly roasted pheasants then severed up cuts from them alongside, both bathed in foie gras and black truffle sauce? If this isn’t one of my five favorite courses of 2015, then 2015 will have been a really, really good year.

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And that after that, we’d get an entire Tribute to an American Steakhouse, with creamed spinach encased in parker house rolls and twice-baked potatoes served along with the New York Strip? And yet, like Joanne, I wasn’t overly full either. It’s possible we’ve genetically adapted in some unforeseen way; studies to follow.

We finished with dessert and then canapes and still more wine. Mercy. All-in, we came to this conclusion: the Momo folks are crazier than ever, and God bless them for it.

Cosme

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[Duck carnitas at Cosme; photo by Daniel Krieger for Eater]

One goal for this blog is to use only photography taken by yours truly, but that’s not going to work for Cosme, the stunning Mexican restaurant from famed Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera that opened last fall. Cosme is shoehorned into one of those mid-block spaces endemic to the Flatiron which feature a small wall of windows facing the street and a space that stretches back into a forever darkness behind. This layout works well for few places, but it works at Cosme, especially since the owners torn down a wall halfway back in the restaurant that initially separated the bar area from the dining room. It’s a dark room, to be sure, but it works for the food, which is pretty much universally agreed to be great.

I’ve had two big meals at Cosme over the past two months, the most recent in the restaurant’s private dining room with a group of eight. Even more than the restaurant itself, the PDR is a dark den, made worse by the lack of noise baffles that made our dinner an echoey cacophony. At most restaurants, this would have been a huge problem. But the Cosme team made up for it as it does, with the food.

I haven’t had a bad dish at Cosme — or even a mediocre one. Everything here shines. Our PDR dinner was divided into five courses, with two or three family-style offerings per course. Course one, seafood: scallop aguachile, smoked raw sepia, octopus cocktail. Course two, vegetables: eggplant tamal, white ayocote bean sald, burrata with salsa verde and weeds. Course three, more seafood: broiled red snapper, half lobster pibil. Then, finally, the meat, which while fish and vegetables star here, must be seen to be believed. Which is why I’m putting Krieger’s photo of the duck carnitas at the top of this post (equally worthy are the other parts of our the fourth course: cobia al pastor and the New York strip steak tacos).

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The one photo I took that wasn’t terrible was the dessert course seen above (clockwise from top): husk meringue with corn mousse, sweet potato flan, and a chocolate ganache with mezcal and blood orange. As good as the rest of the meal was, this course may have been the highlight.

As our dinner wound down, someone in our crew spotted Pete Wells eating in the dining room. He hasn’t yet filed for the Times on Cosme. The immediate debate that erupted at our table about whether the place would get three stars — it couldn’t get four, right? Right? — recalled the early days of BruniBetting. And confirmed Cosme as a restaurant worthy of all the chatter it’s receiving.

Blizzard* of 2015

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[Pickup football on Peck Slip last night.]

I found myself bursting with manic energy last night after getting home from work. An impending blizzard will do that to me: it’s part of the deal of growing up in New England. I traded phone calls with Bro Steele and Mom Steele in Massachusetts, then bided some time until I figured the snow would really start dumping by researching past NYC blizzards. My first big one was the April Fool’s Day blizzard of 1997; more recently, I remember well the December 2010 storm that Lindsey and I raced in our car from Christmas in Massachusetts down through Connecticut, grinding out the last 50 miles at 25 miles an hour in blinding snow then finding ourselves in a late-night Lower East Side winter wonderland.

But my most memorable NYC storm — caveat: not counting Sandy — goes to the Presidents’ Day blizzard of 2003. It sticks in the mind because I had a couple, an Australian and a New Zealander, staying on the floor of my one-bedroom apartment that weekend. I’d met them traveling in Northern India in the summer of 2001, when they were on month 18 of an around-the-world journey that had so far cost them $6,000. By 2003, they were heading to South America by way of New York City, and might they crash on my floor for two days to save a few bucks? When the storm hit and their flight got rescheduled from Monday until Thursday, they offered to move out and find a hostel, but I told them no way and in return for the extended hospitality, they painted this wall of my place red.

Everyone who ever hung out at my old apartment, at 110 Rivington Street, has heard that story. Sorry about that.

The other lasting memory from that blizzard was going to Alexis’ apartment for the finale of Joe Millionaire — a wonderful show and a memory confirmed by my diary of the snow day I found last night while searching the web for a passage from a William Gibson novel in which two characters walk down a street in Soho or Nolita in the middle of a New York City blizzard. (I failed to find the passage. I think it’s in Pattern Recognition, which it seems I was reading during the storm in 2003. Huh.)

The Blizzard of 2015 ended up being a bust, dropping about 8″ down here at the Seaport. Were I to construct a numbered list a la LS.com 2003, it would read something like this:

1) Stood in a line wrapping around FiDi food store Zeytuna to procure cherry tomatoes, the one critical recipe piece that the wife hadn’t been able to procure at Whole Foods.
2) After dinner — chicken with shallots and tomatoes — I suggested that we walk down the block to enjoy a beer at Paris Cafe, our local, before the heavy bands of snow moved back in. Bundled up and ran down the street to find Paris pitch dark, shuttered up tight. Stupid 11pm subway curfew.
3) Back at the apartment, between episodes of our Season 2 of The-Wire-Now-in-HD rewatch, enjoyed observing various permutations of fun in the snow in the open median that runs down the middle of Peck Slip. This space had been occupied by construction equipment for years until the end of last summer when the work wrapped up and the city tossed some blacktop over it, with promises of a landscaped park to come. (About this, more someday soon.) Scaped in white, it played home last night to several snowball fights and a pickup football game. Today, it was filled with kids cavorting on the snow. Score one for public space.
4) And score one for my beloved Quinciple, which braved the storm to get our delivery through last night. Solid effort in an underwhelming storm.

Shall We Lunch?

The New York City media world owes something to Quantum Theory in the sense that all trends about the New York Media world are true, until one of them is observed and written about. At which point that trend ceases to be true, leaving only all the other trends.

This thought occurred to me anew while reading John Koblin’s Styles piece today on the death of the Power Lunch among the younger New York mediaset. John interviewed me for the story, and included a quote of mine that I’m immensely proud of: “Just walking down the street to go to Pain Quotidien is considered a massive, impressive lunch move.”

Whether or not this is entirely accurate is a measure of some dispute, but let’s take stock of the larger issue here. If lunches are OUT, what are we to make of this Styles piece from 2007 that declared that, among the young movers, power breakfasts are most definitely IN? I’ll let the me of back then make the case from a Balthazar banquette:

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New York media and Quantum Theory being what they are, I expect to be around and be quoted in 2021 when the Styles section declares afternoon snacking either absolutely IN or deeply, completely OUT.

The Year in Eater

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[The garden at Narcissa. Photo: LS.com]

Every year, Eater asks its colleagues and friends to sum up the year that was in New York City dining, and publishes the results in the week leading into the new year. Here now, my selected responses excerpted from the full shebang:

Top Restaurant Newcomer
I tend to binge on restaurants when they open, which is what I did this summer at Bar Primi and Claudette, and this fall at Dirty French and Marta. Love all those spots, but my newcomer of 2014 is the restaurant I wish I’d dined at way more often: Narcissa. I first ate at John Fraser’s reinvention of the haunted Standard East Village restaurant space in January, right after it opened, and was blown away. I dined there again early in the summer, and then outside, tucked into the garden, in early September. Each meal was among the best I had all year. Three times just didn’t cut it; I’m doubling down on Narcissa in 2015.

Top Restaurant Standbys
My lunch standbys rarely change from year to year — Lure and Rosemarys, now and forever — but my wife and I did discover a new dinner standby in 2014, right under our noses: Mark Joseph Steakhouse, on Water Street in the South Street Seaport. Living in the neighborhood, we’ve long been fans of Mark Joseph, a chophouse cast unapologetically in the Luger tradition (albeit with better wine and drinks). But we’d never made a go-to move of dining at the bar at Mark Joseph as often as we did this past year. Becoming a regular at a steakhouse is a strange and wonderful thing, good for the soul if not necessarily the diet, but I expect us to be perched there as often next year as we were this year past.

Best Dining Neighborhood
Midtown West. When Eater HQ relocated from its longtime perch near Astor Place to the Vox Media offices on West 40th Street near Bryant Park last spring, let’s be honest: we feared for our stomachs. First we sussed out Culture and Cafe Grumpy, two real solid coffee shops. The sandwiches and salads from Maison Kayser almost made us forget Il Buco Alimentari. (Almost.) Then someone figured out that Szechuan Gourmet delivers, a fact which changed the life of Eater’s head of product, Eliot Shepard, and everyone on the 10th Floor forever. Toss in this fall’s opening of the Midtown outpost of sandwich shop Alidoro, and well, dude, it’s all happening in Midtown West.

Single Best Meal of the Year
A year of eating across the country and the globe proved again that we’ve got the best of it in New York City. My meal of the year came unexpectedly in November, when a group of old friends gathered for a new monthly tradition of enjoying dinner at a restaurant deemed special by one member of the group. Our first month’s organizer deemed that we’d dine at the original Blue Ribbon on Sullivan Street, for all the reasons that are obvious to anyone who’s ever dined there. They gave us the big circular booth near the front of the room, and oysters, and from there it unfolded into the kind of night that confirms why we dine out so often in this crazy, beautiful city.

A few additional notes that didn’t make it onto Eater: I haven’t dined at Bâtard, Drew Nieporent’s upscale Tribeca addition to the New York City dining scene, but it topped Pete Wells’ list of the 10 best restaurants of the year and, back in November, won the Eater Award for NYC Restaurant of the Year. I’m pissed I haven’t made it to Bâtard yet; Drew Nieporent is pretty much the fucking greatest.

That said, it’s now clear that the NYC Restaurant of the Year is Cosme. That it didn’t open until September cost it from consideration in the Eater Awards, and Wells hasn’t even filed his review. I didn’t make it in for my first proper meal until early December, when Ben Leventhal invited me to join him and Charlie Bird impressario Robert Bohr at Cosme for dinner. We ate practically the entire menu, hit after hit. This is Mexican cuisine like I’ve never tasted in this city, which explains why this has become one of the toughest reservations in New York recent memory. The move: the bar, of course, which recently started serving the full menu. When we showed up at 8:45pm for our 9pm reservation, we easily grabbed two bar seats.

(You know this, but the restaurant of Winter 2015 is the new Mission Chinese on East Broadway. Haven’t been yet. Who’s in?)

My top meal of the year regardless of locale was, yeah, Noma. Other nights that register strong in the memory in the five boroughs: a January night at Blanca, the tasting restaurant behind Roberta’s; my first meal at River Cafe since Sandy, with ice floes floating by on the East River; an ribeye large format at Momofuku Ssam Bar with a big fun group in the spring; and the string of meals at Dirty French in September and October when I almost made good on my plan to dine there 93 consecutive nights.

Beyond NYC, I remember sushi omakases in Los Angeles at Sushi Zo and Sushi Park that reminded me why it’s almost not worth it to bother with serious sushi omakases on the east coast; my two meals at April Bloomfield’s Tosca Cafe in San Francisco, which might be the most perfect dining room in the country; the fascinatingly odd dinner at Odd Duck in Austin (Eater’s restaurant of the year); every meal ever at Hominy Grill in Charleston, the best pure southern restaurant in the south, for my money; a summer-finishing meal at Portland, ME’s new standout, Central Provisions; and everything in Nashville.

(Final bonus/new year thing: I contributed a thought to Doree’s What People in Media are Excited About in 2015. Now, enough recapping and predicting; on with it.)

Fulton Center Enlivens #SoBeCaLiving

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On Monday of this week, after more than 10 years of talk and the requisite absurd budget overruns, the new downtown Fulton Center opened to the public. I missed opening day while working from the Vox DC office, but stretched out my morning commute today to check out this new public space. I even brought my iPhone to snap some pics.

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Strolling in from Fulton Street, with Calatrava’s soaring wings visible just a few blocks up at the World Trade Center site — a commute that, coming up from the Seaport, I won’t be doing on any kind of regular basis based on the location of the 2-3 lines — the first thought that hit me was: airport!

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It’s like a real nice new shiny airport, with lots of interactive information screens and even bigger wider video screens flashing words like BURBERRY. This isn’t a terrible thing; airports are much nicer places these days than they used to be, and unabashedly upscale advertising sure beats the usual MTA advertising cohort.

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Coming out into the center of the Center, I beheld the oculus, the fancy architectural word for the big circular element above that got bandied about at the time of the Barclays Center opening. (If your large public/private works project doesn’t have an oculus this decade, you’re not even in the game.) To its credit and that of the Fulton Center architect, Grimshaw, it’s a pretty good oculus. I wasn’t the only one standing under it this morning, iPhone arched skywards, bemused cops looking on while randomly deciding which passengers’ bags to search.

Recently, Evan Reeves wrote a behind-the-scenes about the Fulton Center oculus on Curbed NY. He quotes a Grimshaw architect thusly: “Grand Central station is the obvious reference point, but I wouldn’t want to purport a direct comparison.” Smart move… though then the architect goes and compares the oculus’ size to that of the Guggenheim’s spiral. I’d avoid any and all such comparisons. The thing is cool enough in its own right. Once the three stories of stores that are to be nestled behind the oculus and its “sky reflector net” designed by James Carpenter open, there’ll be a new perspective on it which may make the oculus even cooler. It will at any rate be a good excuse to say the word oculus again.

Fellow downtown resident and author Paul Greenberg took the Fulton Center’s opening to merit and entire rethinking of downtown neighborhood nomenclature:

As Greenberg sees it (quite clearly, imho), FiDi is FiDi. The question is what should we rename this revitalized swath above FiDi, adjacent to City Hall and the Seaport. From the best nominees from the Twitter thread, I’m endorsing Jonathan Glick‘s suggestion of SoBeCa. It’s got the right pedigree, and sounds sufficiently obnoxious that it’s sure to piss off everyone who doesn’t live down here. Plus, neighborhoods with Lo- prefixes have a bad track record of catching on.

The new Fulton Center. We’ll see you in SoBeCa soon.

Happy 50th Birthday, Gentrification!

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Until last week, I had no idea that the word gentrification was coined in 1964 by a British sociologist “seeking a word to sum up what she saw happening in the London borough of Islington, where creative young professionals were suddenly re-appraising the neighborhood’s Georgian terraces and intimate squares,” as Steven Thomson wrote in a wonderful essay on the history of gentrification for Curbed. Nor did I know that the stem of the word is “gentry.” In my gentrification ignorance, I was not alone.

So gentrification — the word if not the reality — turns 50 this year, the same year Curbed turns 10. For the past decade, the topic of gentrification has been a big part of the Curbed narrative. That’s because, as Curbed NY’s Hana Alberts writes, the topics of real estate and neighborhood change, Curbed’s raisons d’être, are inexorably intertwined. It’s also because the word gentrification gets used in ways that transcend its literal definition, which I think is well captured in the graffiti in the photo at the top of this post.

In that slightly broader spirit of gentrification discussion, Curbed NY asked a bunch of writers, bloggers, and NYC neighborhood citizens “to share with us one moment in which they knew their home had irrevocably changed. A shop opens; a dive bar closes. An industrial tank gets torn down; a pile of glassy condos launch.” Curbed’s resulting compilation of carnage makes for outstanding reading.

I moved to New York city in August 1996; my first apartment, in the odd cul-de-sac of East 5th Street between Avenues B and C in Alphabet City, was on a run-down block. Two weeks after I moved in, Neil Strauss wrote a story for the New York Times called Life Beyond Avenue A. Strauss wrote, “For many New Yorkers and tourists, Avenue A is a boundary line, east of which they will not cross. Beyond Avenue A, the streets get darker, the commercial offerings more sporadic. Stepping through a brightly lighted doorway could take you into a trendy new bar or a cockfight in progress, a fence may hide a burgeoning community garden or a sprawling garbage dump.” Indeed, the first bistro, Cafe Margaux, had just opened further up on Avenue B; hailing a cab on Avenue C was impossible, as cabs simply didn’t drive there. Less than four years later, the Times returned again, this time with a real estate reporter to tell the new story of the neighborhood: “It is impossible to take a stroll around the avenues and their connecting blocks without encountering concrete being poured, foundations for new structures being sunk, and old town houses and tenements undergoing facelifts.”

Save for one year in the West Village and one year abroad, I lived in the East Village and Lower East Side consecutively from 1996 until 2011. In that era, my answer to Curbed’s question about the moment of irrevocable change would be when the gas stations closed.

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It happened mostly in the 2005-2006 era; perhaps I remember it vividly because I was doing most of the writing on Curbed back then and found myself fascinated with the sudden closings of nearly every gas station below 42nd Street. The Gaseteria at the bottom of Avenue B? Gone. (Now apartments and a bank.) The gas station on the north side of the Houston/Broadway intersection? Gone. (Now that giant sleek Adidas building.) The one on lower Sixth Avenue, between Canal and Houston? Gone. (And only now being developed into apartments, if I recall correctly).

In this same era and area, I’d count the preservation of so many of the community gardens of the East Village as the biggest preservationist win. What would the East Village be without the garden at Avenue B and Sixth, or Avenue C and 10th? And gas stations, well, one wouldn’t think that’d be such a big loss. We’re now a city of Ubers, anyway. Yet it’s what sticks in my mind when I think about the downtown that was, and isn’t any more.