Blending New York City History, Anarchism, Contemporary Painting, and Home-brewed Ale

AleA fascinating slice of synchronous civic history was on display on the Lower East Side of Manhattan recently. At 50 East First Street, on a one-of-kind block tucked just north of East Houston, is a new gallery/activist venue called OSMOS Address. Kyle and I enjoyed the exhibit at the purpose-driven space run by socially conscious curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. The show features the paintings of Peter Dreher, who for forty years has devoted himself to painting domestic objects—a water glass and a chalice, for instance—in an ongoing series of meditative still-life works. Along with Dreher’s mesmerizing paintings, the evening offered visitors to the gallery the chance to taste a savory reddish pale ale—brewed by Austin Thomas, artist, gallerist and craft brewer—with aromatic fresh-baked bread from Table on Ten in Delaware County, New York, each small loaf sporting a sprig of rosemary—serving as an earthy tasting companion to the ale.Bread

Quoting from a handout distributed at OSMOS Address, the small batch ale was brewed as part of an homage called “Beer on Sunday,” honoring a distinguished nineteenth century tenant of this same address, “a German-American anarchist named Justus Schwab, who kept a ‘Beer-hole’. . . where writers, artists, radicals and other misfits met to drink and talk in to the night.”

The free-thinking anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) knew Schwab well and said this about her close friend:

“Schwab was the traditional Teuton in appearance, over six feet tall, broad-chest, and strait as a tree. On his wide shoulders and strong neck rested a magnificent head, framed in curly red hair and beard. His eyes were full of fire and intensity. But it was his voice, deep and tender, that was peculiar characteristic. It would have made him famous if he had chosen an operatic career. Justus was too much the rebel and the dreamer, however, to care about such things.”

A reprinted article on hand, originally appearing in the New York Times of March 7, 1879, chronicled a criminal trial in which Schwab was the defendant. He had been arrested at 50 East First on July 22, 1878, accused with dispensing alcoholic beverages at his Beer-hole shortly after the clock turned midnight and ticked over in to that early Sunday morning. Arrested at 12:15 am, Schwab was charged with a violation of Sunday closure laws—aka “blue laws”—a sign of churches’ influence on local regulations, which were still on the books in many municipalities well in to the twentieth century. Hearing the case, a three-judge panel found in Schwab’s favor, pointing out that the law as written forbade the serving of alcoholic beverages between one o’clock and five o’clock in the morning, and made no mention of midnight as the cut-off. Schwab was acquitted and the judges ordered court costs to be paid to him by the arresting officers. A pretty big win for the activist who not only kept beer taps in his establishment, but also operated a printing press with which he issued broadsides and political pamphlets in service of the causes embraced by Emma Goldman and other radicals of the time. The plaque about Schwab at 50 East First Street relates a friendship he shared with keen misanthropic writer Ambrose Bierce, a writer primarily identified with San Francisco, whose later disappearance during the Mexican War remains a mystery. I was unaware he had spent time in NYC.Schwab plaque

Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Austin Thomas presented all this lore alongside the works of Peter Dreher in an adroit blend of hitherto hidden history and adventuresome aesthetics. I look forward to attending other events at OSMOS Address—where Rabinowitz told us she plans to set up a printing press—and at shows put on by Austin Thomas of Pocket Utopia. Kyle and I also enjoyed meeting longtime residents of 50 East First Street, artists Christin Couture and William Hoise, keen appreciators of nineteenth century aesthetics and collectors of objects and antiques from the era.

Best Pumpkin Pie Ever, Baked by Kyle Gallup

Posted yesterday at, sister blog to this one, a brief post with a photo of some amazing baking done by my wife Kyle Gallup, an artist in paints and pastry. Pumpkin Pie post

Taste of Persia, Flavorful New Restaurant Near Union Square

A few weeks ago I read a restaurant review of A Taste of Persia, a new eating spot near Union Square in Manhattan. The review was by Ligaya Mishan, who writes a NY Times column called Hungry City. The piece was delightful, with paragraphs like this:

“For two decades, Mr. [Saeed] Pourkay, a Tehrani émigré, ran a print shop across the street from the pizzeria. After cashing out his share in the business a few years ago (to go “searching for my happiness,” he said), he started selling ash reshteh, a wondrous, wintry, outrageously thick Persian soup, at the Union Square Holiday Market. Fans clamored. Happiness was found. This past March, he returned to 18th Street and set up under his former neighbor’s roof. Here, in an imposing vat, is the justly fabled ash reshteh, a result of the eight-hour communion of five kinds of beans, a riot of herbs and onion cooked down to a sweet density. Dark and luxuriant, it has no broth and only a trace of oil. Broken strands of linguine snake through it. Fenugreek lurks, faint but insistently bittersweet, underscoring cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. But it is the garnishes that turn it into poetry: caramelized, verging-on-burned garlic; dried mint flicked in a pan; crispy fried onion; and a swirl of kashk, a Persian whey more sour than yogurt, with a bite like feta.”

This was a chef whose food I really wanted to taste.

Last Sunday, which happened to be my birthday, Kyle and I headed out to the Brooklyn Book Festival. We had a great time at this event which for us has replaced BEA as the most enjoyable book event on our literary calendar. I’ll post some pictures from the fair later, and meantime here’s just one of the shots that Kyle took.Reader

After nearly 3 hours in Brooklyn, enjoying the crisp autumn air, blue skies, bright sunshine, and many serendipitous encounters with friendly bookpeople, we took the subway back in to Manhattan and walked over to 18th Street for our first meal at A Taste of Persia.

Not as spicy as some overly familiar Indian fare, the dishes we tried were distinctive and different from any similar food we’ve encountered in the city. The tastes and textures left no doubt that the dishes had simmered for hours. There was a smoothness and total mingling of flavors that only comes from slow and patient cooking. We met Chef Pourkay, as genial and hospitable as any maitre’d you’ll ever be greeted by in a four-star hotel dining room. He exudes genuine warmth and takes great pride in serving this food. Even after we’d finished our angus beef stew with celery and a chick pea dish cooked with tomato and cilantro, he offered us a gratis take-away sample of a lamb stew he’d just finished preparing.

We met two other diners, one of whom said he works in the fashion industry. These Iranian New Yorkers were breaking up pieces of a soft flatbread and dunking them in a savory soup. Chatting with them while Chef Pourkay readied our take-away, I told them that I enjoy listening to Iranian-Canadian Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio’s daily culture and current affairs program “Q”, which is carried in New York City on WNYC FM weeknights at 10 PM. I told them and Chef Pourkay that I will urge Jian to visit A Taste of Persia the next time he comes to NY for a live taping of “Q.” I’m sure he’ll love the food. Below are photos Kyle and I took during our visit to the restaurant. What a great way to spend my birthday!

Summer Fun Cruising up the Hudson and Dining in Harlem

As I learned earlier in the summer when a painting of my wife’s was part of the Motown to Def Jam exhibit in Harlem, there’s a lot of exciting cultural activity and economic development taking place in upper Manhattan. The latest venture, which I discovered during a bike ride yesterday, is the West Harlem Gastro Cruise, in which a sunset cruise up the Hudson may be combined with a later stop-off and stroll to any one of ten Harlem-area restaurants. The cruises have been taking place each Monday in August, with one more left this month, on August 26. I learned about all this from two friendly local businesswomen I met, seated under a tent in the West Harlem Piers park at 125th Street.

Branded with the logo of Amalgamated Bank, under the red canopy were Bethlehem B. Belatchew–an Amalgamated VP and manager of their 564 W. 125th Street branch–and Savona Bailey-McClain, Curator of the West Harlem Food & Beverage Association, and former chair of Community Board 9’s Economic Development Committee. She explained to me that the association is a trade group focused on food, beverage, and nightlife in West Harlem. The cruises actually begin downtown at the World Financial Center Ferry Terminal, on the ship, Marco Polo, making a stop at the West Harlem Piers and then sailing up to the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, the namesake of this blog. Prices are quite reasonable: a $45 package price for the cruise and dinner at any of the participating restaurants; $20 per person for the cruise alone. Both options have reduced prices for children. More pricing info and sailing times are in the scanned brochure below with web link here, too.

Though I wasn’t able to join the cruise last night, I’m hoping I will have the chance next Monday night. It would be a great send-off to August! Here also are links to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Hudson cruise 1Hudson Cruise insideHudson Cruise back

Tosca, a San Francisco Retreat, Facing Eviction

When I worked for Carroll & Graf Publishers from 2000-2007 I used to travel 2-3 times a year to the Bay Area for sales conference with our parent company Avalon Publishing Group. Though Avalon was based in Berkeley, I learned from my senior colleague Herman Graf that it was far more interesting to stay in San Francisco, and drive over the Bay Bridge to the East Bay in the morning for our meetings. Years earlier Herman–who I recently helped fete to mark his 51 years in publishing–had years before I joined the company staked out a motel that suited his needs perfectly, and mine too once I became semi-frequent on the Jet Blue flights from JFK to SFO.

This establishment was the Royal Pacific Motor Inn, and I see from the Web that it’s still thriving. The Royal Pacific had everything we wanted–perfectly adequate and clean motel rooms; free guest parking, which Herman appreciated since he was the one of us who rented a car (never mind that driving with him was often a hilarious if not nerve-wracking adventure); and great restaurants and nightlife all around us in the Chinatown/North Beach neighborhood. The motels current reviews on make clear that, depending on your personal preferences, it can be an ideal and reasonably priced place to stay when you’re in the Bay Area.

The nearby streets offered innumerable Italian and Chinese restaurants (I still recall and savor the fresh whole Dungeness crab cooked Szechuan-style I ate one night at a Chinese place less than a 100 steps from the motel); coffee bars; City Lights Bookstore and Black Oak Books; and Tosca Cafe, an after-hours bar and hang-out that was a pleasant cave-like retreat from the busy sidewalks outside. Its soft lighting showed red booths, eye-catching murals on dark walls, and a long bar to stand at or park a stool in front of. Back in the day, Enrico Caruso frequented Tosca, so the excellent jukebox sported not only rock n’ roll, but opera. Whatever the musical genre, it was never up too loud. There was also a back room with a pool table, where I once shot a game or two with astronomer and author Timothy Ferris. Over the years Tosca’s clientele has been reported to include Sam Shepard, Gov. Jerry Brown, and Francis Ford Coppola, who with Tosca’s owner Jeannette Etheredge, started an initiative for homeless denizens of North Beach, according to C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle. Like such legendary watering holes as Greenwich Village’s White Horse Tavern, remembered fondly in Pete Hamill’s memoir, A Drinking Life, and Elaine’s Restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Tosca always seemed like a place that didn’t try to do too much for its customers, but what it did do, it did very well.

These recollections of the Royal Pacific, North Beach, and Tosca are prompted by a column by reporter Nevius in last Saturday’s Chronicle. He reports that Toscas’s landlord, a strip club owner named Roger Forbes, is seeking a substantial rent increase that Etheredge says she she simply cannot afford to pay. If the two are unable to reach a settlement, Tosca may be evicted. Etheredge laments the situation, telling Nevius, “Look at the place. It’s out of an Edward Hopper painting.” Like the late Elaine Kaufman of Elaine’s, who was known to sometimes treat customers with disdain, Etheredge is also no shrinking violet. Nevius writes,

Etheredge has a long history in North Beach. Her family owned Bali’s, a restaurant there, and she purchased Tosca in April 1980. However, it is probably too much to expect that she would polish a few of her rough edges. One of her endearing traits is that she treats famous actors just like everyone else–she yells at them, too.”Everybody knows she’s a pain in the ass,” said [her attorney] Keker. “And everyone loves her.”

Well, maybe not Roger Forbes. For his part, Nevius adds,

That’s why, although Forbes may have all that strip club cash, I don’t like his chances. It is possible that he could evict Tosca and put in another generic stripper revue in its place. He might even make a little more money. People are reportedly warning Forbes not to mess with Tosca. Putting in a strip club is one thing. Evicting an institution is another. You’ll still get a nice sum in rent and you won’t incur the wrath of the city’s famously combative true believers. That’s good advice.

Urban homogenization is increasing everywhere these days, whether banks and chain drugstores taking over the commercial blocks on the upper west side of Manhattan, or North Beach submitting to the siren song of tourist-friendly peep shows. As a New Yorker who’s seen favorite businesses lose their lease or disappear overnight  (farewell Calcutta Cafe on Broadway at 104th St.), I hope Tosca can hang on. After reading about Tosca’s troubles, I called Herman Graf to let him know and share some old North Beach memories. He reminded me that during sales conference week, other Avalon Publishing Group clients, such as Morgan Entrekin of Grove Atlantic, would end up at Tosca in the wee hours, one of the very best times to hang out there. To get a sense of the bar’s splendid interior and rich history, I urge you to view the rest of photographer Carlos Avila Gonzalez’s excellent slideshow and read Nevius’s entire column via this link.

Julia Child at 100

This is a real sweet blog post by Seán Collins, longtime radio person and multimedia broadcaster, recalling the lunch that Julia Child once fixed for him when he was working for WGBH in Boston. He tells the story with charm and affection, and good photographs, via this link on his blog, Commonplace Book, which carries the clever tag line, “one man’s hedge against failing memory.” He learned Julia’s own formula for making a delicious vinaigrette for the salad she served him. Here’s one of the photos from Seán’s post, an amusing shot. I couldn’t find a credit but I think it must be to WGBH, with the crew out of camera range from a TV taping.

It being Julia’s 100th today, I also want to point my readers to a charming remembrance of her from this AM on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning from Toronto. Guest Marion Kane knew her going back to the 80s, and recalls a special day when the French Chef visited Toronto, all here in 6 minutes of fond and vivid recollections via this link to today’s program.