the anti-Chelsea

--anti the new Chelsea.

Our block of 23rd Street still has some of the most interesting shops and venues to be found in the City, although the latest developments here are almost surely harbingers of what is to come in this neighborhood.

On the south side, going from east to west, after the subway stairs there is a branch clinic of a large hospital; a (largely European-oriented, small-budget) modest-sized hotel with a new, small, alarmingly-conventional-in-appearance restaurant on the ground floor; a new, relativly upscale Thai restaurant, with an improbable massage/nails/waxing clinic above; the entrance to a large apartment building; a lively middle-eastern deli; a groovy hair salon; a humble arts supply store; a shoe repair and shoeshine shop operated by Central Americans; an on again/off again (now TWIRL) club; an acupuncture healing center; and a fishing tackle store (with occasional fly-casting demonstrations in the street).

Next there is an important guitar store; the Chelsea Hotel and, below it, Serena's bar; a tiny Greek tailor shop; a landmark Spanish restaurant; a serious comic book store; a tattoo parlor; a synagogue; a bank; the entrance to a loft apartment building; a 99-cent store (the new Woolworths?); a wonderful healthfood store and counter; the entrance to more loft apartments; another bank; a restaurant with bar below (sometime venue for Hedda Lettuce); a multiplex cinema; a very good Mexican take-in and -out next to a small stationery store, with apartments above both; a pizza and calzone shop; and, finally the shell of the store until recently occupied by a classic coffee and donut counter, with a bike messenger office above, just before the 8th Avenue subway stairs at the corner.

On the north side, beginning in the east again with the 7th Avenue subway stairs, there is a RadioShack and above it, a "multicultural unisex" beauty salon; a classic Andrew Carnegie library; the original YMCA (its future in question or cancelled); a Chinese laundry; a 1-hr. Photo shop where you can get your image printed on porcelain or fabric; a definitely-not-casual mens clothing shop (fifteen years ago a real, genteel ladies dress shop); a great mid-eastern take-out food shop with four or so chairs; the entrance to an apartment building; a tailor shop; a tax services office; a candy shop which sells cigarettes and sundries; a hair stylist; a great sewing supplies center; the American Communist Party headquarters, with bookstore (books now moving upstairs for lack of interest, or of walk-in business); various foot, teeth and eye doctors combined; a fine pet supply center (no pets); a vacant store; a tiny news and LOTTO store, missing only a pot-bellied stove for atmosphere.

Then there is a classic Italian barber shop; a dentist to the right and just inside the entrance of a large coop apartment house (ours), through which a fabulous garden can be seen; a beautiful woman selling incense on the sidewalk daily; a very bouncy quite-gay clubkids clothing shop (we thought it was tiny clothing for real kids at first); a traditional, very-non-chain copy shop; a record shop for collectible rock only (albums in window all faded to blue); a KrispyKreme (yuck) with wigstore above; a vacant store; a "coming-soon" tanning salon above an extraordinary and very attractive gourmet hot dog restaurant; a pseudo-trampy marguerita restaurant (nice picket fence around the sidewalk tree, but it's gonna choke the Ginko!); a totally boring representative of the chain, Boston Market; the block's very friendly (and more important than we think) sidewalk vegetable and fruit cart under an umbrella; the neighborhood GAP store, with a large more-or-less-straight-acting gym above; and, finally, the classic sidewalk newstand (with emergency umbrellas for sale if rain is forecast), just before the other 8th Avenue subway stairs.

Not a mall in the country can even think about competing with that!

Ok, I guess it's not so extraordinary a mix. You could probably make an equivalent list for any number of New York neighborhoods--except for the sacred Chelsea Hotel, of course. Ah, wonderful town.

Instead of boasting about what's on 23rd Street, I should be lamenting what has left 23rd Street, just in the fifteen years I have been here.

Until the late eighties, what is now the Gap was the site of Woolworth's, where they still sold goldfish, but turtles were already declared contraband. Yes, it included a full lunch counter with hot entries, oyster stew on fridays, club sandwiches, malts and what all (its demise darn near turned some of my older neighbors' lives upside down). That Thai restaurant with the not-so-modest prices was the site of ZIG ZAG, which attracted an attractive mix to its attractive premises. Great bar and great hamburgers (even Ethan Hawke seemed to feel comfortable there). KrispyKreme, the pseudo restaurant and the hotdog venue are on the site of several old brownstones filled with rent-controlled apartments.

My inadequate memory saves us all from a longer list, but it would definitely have some highlights. At least we still have the subway, to get us to Loisaida, Brooklyn or whatever.

I had totally forgotten about Woolworths and their famous lunch counter until I read your list. They made a great spaghetti with meat balls!

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Published on August 6, 2002 5:09 PM.

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