Monday, March 19, 2007

The Old Home Turf (Bella's Excellent NY Adventure, Part 4)

Glitz, not goombahs. Former site of the Ravenite Social Club, the Mafia hangout on Mulberry St. Photo by Sam Simpson.

After the NBCC luncheon on Thurs., March 8, I met a literary agent for tea at McNally Robinson Booksellers on Prince Street. How strange it felt to be there! It was like a dream: I knew the neighborhood and yet I didn't know it. The buildings and streets were mostly the same, but there were trendy little shops--and hordes of shoppers, even in the frigid cold--everywhere.

At the left end of the bookstore, where the cafe is now, there used to be a place that sold and slaughtered live chickens (referred to by some of us locals as "Chickenwald"). At the right end was a luncheonette. The mob-run garage next door on Mulberry, where the Ex used to park, is now an upscale grocery store.

Next door to that on the south--now a chichi clothing store--was the Ravenite Social Club, which I saw John Gotti and two hulking bodyguards stroll into one hot summer day. There used to be a Doberman that was always inside the Ravenite, day and night. It was suddenly gone one day, and I asked the guy hanging out by the door what happened to the dog. "He died," was the laconic answer. "Of natural causes?" I smirked. No response, but more than 20 years later I read that the Feds, who'd kept surveillance from an apartment across the street, accidentally overdosed the dog when they went to sneak in to search the club.

From my seat in the McNally Robinson cafe, I could see the window of my former apartment on Mott Street overlooking the graveyard of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, immortalized in "Mean Streets." (Read this and weep: When I moved out in March of 1988, my rent--originally $175--was still under $300. And my bathtub was still in the kitchen. And I had thighs of steel from climbing five flights of stairs for 10 years.)

After happily thawing out over a pot of mint tea and Publishing Talk, I walked back to the New School. I peeked into the window of Fanelli's, my old hangout on Prince & Mercer, and was horrified to see someone with whom I'd had a romantic interlude occupying the same bar seat and black leather jacket as he had when we'd met 29 years ago. EEK! I scampered across the street toot sweet.

More changes: The Prince Street Post Office substation, home of the nastiest and slowest P.O. ladies EVER (they wore fuzzy bedroom slippers and moved like Tai Ch'i masters on 'ludes) is now an iPod store. One of the ever-changing boutiques just east of West Broadway is now Cleo & Puket, purveyor of scandalously priced leather goods. There were enormous SALE signs in the window so I went inside, as much to escape the cold as to buy anything. But after wiping my streaming eyes and nose, I found the Bargain of the Year: a black leather bag with a shoulder strap that zips apart so it can be worn as a backpack, for $69--on sale from $389. If there had been a price tag, I would have worn it like Minnie Pearl.

One thing that's unchanged is Soho Wines, still in the same spot on West Broadway that it was when the Ex and I bought a dozen bottles of Freixenet for our wedding party way back when. Same owner too, whom I saw through the window, standing in the same spot as always. Maybe you can go home again...