When I moved into Chelsea in 1979, there was a gritty edge to it, now nearly gone. With in three blocks of 7th ave and 23rd Street there were no less than three methadone clinics. Every block had a passable greasy spoon luncheonette serving full on breakfast specials for a couple of dollars, including bacon and juice. Not to mention the beloved Riss Restaurant now Murray’s Bagels where lovely Anita (who had at that time, the record for being Julliard’s youngest prodigy), would serve amazing home cooked dinners that never disappointed; a case in point, the lamb dinner always a pleaser at $4.75 including a soup or dessert.
Club Kids flocked to Danceiteria, The Dive, and Marty Feldman’s Snafu to enjoy history making live acts, as well as, some of the best Djs NYC had to offer. Squat Theatre performed such avant guard triumphs as The Many Loves of Andy Warhol and Mr Dead and Mrs. Free. Sun Ra and his Archestra came up from Philly once a month to play a sound thumping performance often to a packed house, or sometimes to the benefit of only two or three folks in the audience. Vacant loft spaces in the 20s found new life hosting dance classes open to all for 7 or 8 dollars per class. Don’t even get me started about the Cuban and Spanish food on 8th ave so very dear to me now almost entirely gone.
Now with very few exceptions franchises and chain stores have taken over. Home Depot opened on 23rd St originally open 24 hours. The plan being to attract contractors who would take advantage of the central location, the off hours parking, and comprehensive inventory to be ready to go on local job sites. This didn’t work out, Home Depot scaled back their hours, and iconic neighborhood jewels Kove Brothers Hardware and SOS 24 Hour Locksmiths on 7th Ave continue to serve lucky and appreciative Chelsea residents.
When a neighbor had to rekey their security lock they were helped by a gentleman at SOS who insisted they could disassemble the lock and bring it in. They were asked to provide pictures of the lock, and easy instructions were provided that made it a piece of cake. I have had similar experiences at Kove Brothers, where a competent and helpful associate gave me just what I needed at a fair price.
There are precious few outdoor dinning options left in the neighborhood, Gasgone with fine French fare is all but a fleeting memory, I once had to negotiate for five minutes with the server who would not initially seat my party of three in the half empty garden on a balmy August night after I had, out of courtesy, informed her that we were only there for dessert and coffee.
My session musician friends will remember Night Owl Music a hop skip and a jump from the rehearsal and recording studios in the high 20s where I could pick up a mic cable or connection adapter plug anytime of the day or night topping off that day’s sound recording kit. I always paid a few bucks extra for shielded cables and never had a problem with any of their cables or plugs, although one snooty colleague accused me of “cheating by patronizing a music store.”
Now the High rise buildings are moving West from Sixth Avenue as more and more national franchises take over as commercial street level tenants. Domino’s Pizza was one of the first. Along with Radio Shack which replaced Papa Vincent’s Pizza and is now a Taco Bell “Cantina” (A Taco Bell with a Liquor License).
Fortunately we still have very good Dollar Pizza and the tomato pies of Detroit Pizza if you are feeling a bit fancy. In the past couple of years we have seen a big turnover of new restaurants opening. Many are still struggling to find a loyal clientele. A friend tells me that most are owned by young Hedge Fund Managers, few of whom know anything of the business.
We were very sorry to loose The Garden of Eden, where neighborhood bargain hounds would gather each night at 9pm to take advantage of the half priced hot and cold buffet. They were our first Health and Gourmet oriented Shop predating Whole Foods, Fairway and Trader Joe’s, now to replaced by Westside Market.
I guess that the message here is adapt to change, or else, it is impossible to find peace in one’s environment. I no more wish to glorify the past nor wish to be a forebear of future doom and gloom.
While constructing this Blog Post, the horrid pandemic crisis has struck, now Chelsea has
changed, which I will address in my next Blog Post Until then Be Safe and remember that
Chelsea Is a Work in Progress.