Friday, December 30, 2022

Lights Out 2022: Signs We Lost This Year

The New York Neon blog may be clinging to life, just barely, with new posts once a year.  The same cannot be said however of the signs and businesses featured below, which are gathered here for our annual roundup of neon landmarks dead and gone from the landscape.  (As usual, some of these may have disappeared before 2022 but their loss only came to my attention this year.) 

Mike's Diner, 2237 31st St, Astoria, Queens 

Originally opened in 1928, Mike's Diner in Astoria this year sadly joined the ranks of businesses Google lists as "permanently closed." The Astoria Post reports that the business shuttered in late summer amid a rent dispute between the landlord and the restaurant's operators. While its modest building had been updated several times, the sign appeared to be the product of an early 1960s makeover. The city's circa-1940 tax photo shows a previous sign hanging outside a real showstopper of a classic streamlined diner building whose spirit lived on here until the business ended a 94-year run this year.  Historic photo is via the NYC Municipal Archives.

Queen Marie Italian Restaurant, 84 Court St, Brooklyn

Somewhat overshadowed by the loss of a certain other Queen this year, downtown Brooklyn's Queen Marie restaurant quietly decamped from its longtime home on Court Street early in 2022.  Opened in 1958, the Queen Marie had been a neighborhood staple for generations. The restaurant has since been reincarnated under the same ownership as "Ristorante MV" in Bernardsville, NJ. Brooklyn's loss is Jersey's gain. 

Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W 47th St, Manhattan

The former Mansfield Theatre on 47th St. in the Theater District gained this lovely sign circa 1960, when it was renamed for veteran New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson.  The sign vanished this year when the theater was renamed again, this time for the late singer and actor Lena Horne, eminent lady of the stage and now the first African American woman to be honored with a theater bearing her name. I know embarassingly little about Atkinson, but whoever lettered the sign that bore his name had some of the best neon penmanship I'd seen anywhere.  Ms. Horne's name is now rendered in simple block letters that are nice enough but leave us wanting for the jaunty pizazz of their predecessors.  For the record, they're rendered in genuine neon. 

Ernst & Young, 5 Times Square, Manhattan

Not especially old, but a bona fide New York neon landmark in the traditional sense: the monumental Ernst & Young sign loomed over the south end of Times Square for about 20 years, from the time the giant building from which it hung was built in 2002.  Rising up nearly a 30-story stretch of the tower's east facade, the sign enjoyed an unobstructed vista down Seventh Avenue that allowed it to be seen from Greenwich Avenue, a mile and a half down the island.  

Blarney Stone, 410 8th Ave, Manhattan

The Blarney Stone bar by Penn Station and MSG had shed pretty much all of its bad-old-days trappings in a lobotomizing makeover sometime circa 2004, during which its hallmark deli case, tattered Naugahyde bar stools and ancient terrazzo floor all got cleared out in favor of an "Irish Pub" themed interior cobbled together from what looked like stock moldings from Home Depot. The bar's old sign, however, remained here to testify that this Blarney was in fact the real deal, an authentic, card-carrying survivor of the umpteen Blarney Stones that once existed all over Manhattan in decades past.  Alas, the old sign vanished this summer to make way for a schlocky LED approximation of its predecessor. The scene inside the joint however is otherwise a pretty compelling throwback to the Blarneys of old (caveat - not on game nights).  Of thirty-some known Blarney Stones that once existed in Manhattan, this is one of just two that remain.  

Flats Fix (née Live Bait), 14 E 23rd St, Manhattan

When a "for rent" sign went up over the storefront of the former Live Bait bar on 23rd Street at Madison Square during the pandemic, I thought surely it would be just a matter of time before some savvy restaurateur came along to revive this old space and light those great old signs up again for all of us to enjoy.  I soon found myself choking back the vomit rising in my throat when I rounded a corner early this year only to find the signs felled and the storefront gutted to make way for a new Popeyes fried chicken franchise.  The old Live Bait signage (the bar was known as "Flat Fixed" in its last days) made for one of the more vibrant vintage storefronts anywhere in New York, though its exact provenance eluded me. Its owners, the same group that ran everyone's favorite Coffee Shop down on Union Square, never responded to requests for an interview. The BAR RESTAURANT fascia sign appeared to have come from somewhere else; traces of older neon signage could be seen hidden behind it. Buildings Dept records indicated that the vertical BAR sign, which beamed out in three glorious directions, had been installed in 1940 for an establishment known as the Metro Tavern.  Hopefully someone salvaged those signs to shine again one eday.

Patriot Saloon, 110 Chambers St, Manhattan

Speaking of Blarney ... the Patriot Bar opened in 2003, inheriting its space (and its vertical BAR sign) from a certain Blarney Cove bar that had occupied this address for years prior (the storefront actually housed Pearl Paint before that).  The Patriot's BAR sign had already disappeared a few years back when a new residential building went up next door. The Tribeca Citizen reported this past summer that the bar itself has now followed its neon herald into the great beyond.    

Holland Bar, 532 9th Ave, Manhattan

The Holland Bar and its sign were both survivors, having been deposed from their previous home in the Hotel Holland on 42nd Street some time circa 1987.  The bar found a new home around the corner on 9th Ave and 39th Street, but when sign proved too big to fit over the tiny storefront, the owners found a spot for it inside above the back bar.  Festooned in Christmas lights, it presided over all sorts of proceedings at what became one of New York's more likable dive bars for another few decades until the old Holland quietly bowed out this year.  In the Neon Book I noted that the sign held the ashes of longtime regular Charlie O'Connor, who lay in repose in an urn nested between the letters "O" and "L."  Historic photo from an old postcard. 

79th Street Wine & Spirits, 230 W 79th St, Manhattan

For decades, this fantastic ensemble of liquor store signs stood on West 79th Street directly across from the flashing neon harp of the old Dublin House Bar, giving us a two-for-one neon special that made this otherwise ordinary Upper West Side block a place I always looked forward to seeing any time I happened to be up this way.  A crowdsourced funding campaign helped finance a loving restoration of the Dublin House sign a few years ago. Sadly that outpouring of affection across the street was lost on the proprietors of the liquor store, who junked their great fascia and vertical signs for plastic faced LED crap early in 2022.  

Forlini's, 93 Baxter St, Manhattan

The late, great Forlini's of Baxter Street was just about the last vestige of Little Italy below Canal Street.  A classic, unpretentious redsauce joint, its location near the downtown courthouses made it a go to for everyone from Manhattanites on jury duty to future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Founded in 1944, its storefront boasted at least two generations of neon signage, the last of which covered its neon tubes behind red plexi.  Its demise was sealed when the Forlini family recently sold the building and bowed out of the restaurant business.  

National Jewer's Exchange, 2 W47th Street, Manhattan

New York's "diamond district," a one block stretch of West 47th Street between 5th and 6th Av's, is still a haunt for some of the more interesting signage left in Manhattan, but sadly its best sign - that for the National Jewelers Exchange - has finally bit the dust.  Something about this one always made it one of my favorites.  Its pre-Helvetica block letters, half of them slightly askew, its battered sheet metal box, really gave it the look of something that had seen it all.  It had been blocked by scaffolding and dark for years, but was still hanging in there until about a year ago, when the great old building off which it hung (along with the one next door) got themselves dates with the wrecking ball amid yet another stupid redevelopment project that we really don't need.   

World Telegram, 125 Barclay St., Manhattan

Speaking of large, handsome Art Deco office buildings being destroyed for stupid redevelopment projects that we don't need . . . New York's old World Telegram building in Lower Manhattan is being skinned at press time to make way for yet another glassy, soul crushing piece of junk, because, you know, New York needs more glassy, soul crushing pieces of junk.  The World Telegram's massive roof sign had already been gone for many years, but the big old steel framework that once held it aloft was still there, an interesting relic from a time when giant signs like this beamed out across the harbor from all directions.  The building below it was a lesser-known Art Deco gem designed by Howell & Thomas in 1930.  Its vibrant green terra cotta scored it a feature in Andrew Garn and Eric Nash's new book "New York Art Deco," published just this year. 

Eneslow Shoes, 2563 Webster Av, Bronx

Eneslow's ghost sign off Fordham Road in the Bronx was already a husk, its lettering having been pulled off years ago.  It made a great then-and-now study contrasted against a period photo loaned to me by Justin Langsner of the LaSalle Sign Co., who made this and the great Papaya King sign in Manhattan (see below).  Eneslow's ghost sign has finally vanished, but the fantastic old-school shoe retailer the sign advertised is actually with us still, at a new location over on 3rd Ave in Midtown Manhattan - one of NYC's best kept secrets and oldest retailers of any kind.   


Papaya King, 179 East 86th St, Manhattan

It's almost hard to imagine there was ever a time when a little one story building could occupy a prominent Manhattan street corner without being eyed as a "development opportunity" yet for decades that's just how it was the NW corner of 86th and 3rd, where the erstwhile hotdog dispensary known as the Papaya King has been an Upper East Side landmark for nearly 60 years (and at a different address for another 30 years before that). At length, the corner seems finally poised for a major redevelopment - here's hoping that incredible sign finds a good home somewhere. 

Columbus Hardware, 852 Ninth Av., Manhattan.

Columbus Hardware relinquished its longtime home on 8th Ave in Hell's Kitchen last year, leaving its old sign behind.  The mom-n-pop hardware store lives on at its new address but the sign remains abandoned and awaiting its fate at the old storefront. 

Subway Inn, 1140 2nd Ave., Manhattan.

The venerable Subway Inn endured a successful transplant over to 2nd Ave and E60th St when developers plowed under its original home by Bloomingdale’s back in 2015.  The bar quickly took root at its new location - a rare success story, until the its new digs found themselves in another developer’s crosshairs in 2022. The bar closed this past summer and moved its sign to a new location up the block, but both storefronts remain empty at press time, leaving the future of one of Manhattan’s longest running watering holes (established 1937) very much in doubt. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Lights Out 2021: Signs We Lost This Year

Well, it has come to this: my one and only blog post for an entire year is this annual doomsville round-up of vanished or vanishing signs.  In my defense, I did manage to crank out another book during that time!  Anyway - for all the obvious difficulties of the past year, 2021's list of neon casualties is mercifully short. (Please let me know if I've missed any.)  In a few cases, the signs are gone but the old businesses they advertised have survived.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that the list includes some real bitter pills, none harder to swallow than the loss of the Clover Deli on 34th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.  As with previous round-ups, the list below includes a few that disappeared prior to 2021 but whose loss only came to my attention this year.  With that, let's dim the lights for our funerary feature. 

Angelo's of Mulberry St., 126 Mulberry St., Manhattan. c. 1955

Angelo's ancient Italian restaurant was one of the real stalwarts of Little Italy.  Opened in 1902, the restaurant never bobbed back to the surface when others started to re-open after pandemic closures.  While there are rumblings that new management might bring it back to life, its fantastic swing sign has already vanished.  The sign was a simple beauty, with stainless steel channel letters mounted to a stainless steel box - stainless-on-stainless being a classic hallmark of New York sign shops.  All that stainless steel was beautifully offset by the icy blue hue that glowed within its fantastic mid-century script lettering.  Hopefully the sign found a good home somewhere.  

Patriot Saloon, 110 Chambers St., Manhattan. (Vertical sign only)

The Patriot Saloon on Chambers Street was home to one of New York's dwindling population of classic vertical BAR signs mounted high up over its storefront.  With only a one story "taxpayer" building next door, the sign seemed free and clear of zoning ordinances that precluded such installations outside residential windows.  But when the little taxpayer building got itself torn down and replaced with luxury apartments recently, the Patriot's old BAR sign suddenly found itself in harm's way - it's a goner now, though the bar's fascia neon remains.

Clover Delicatessen, 621 Second Ave., Manhattan. Globe Neon, 1956.

The Clover Deli bit the dust last year, after a more than 70-year run in east midtown.  Opened after WWII, urban renewal displaced the deli from its original location after just a few years.  But the business landed on its feet at the prominent corner of 34th and 2nd, where it stayed for 65 years before finally closing amid the pandemic in 2020.  For a while there was talk of a new business moving in and keeping the signs in place, but that never came to pass: the deli's owners donated the signs to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, which came and picked them up in late August.  The signs are now in safe hands, but need some TLC (you can make a donation towards their restoration here). Still, Manhattan just isn't the same without the Clover.  

Goldberger's Pharmacy, 1200 First Ave., Manhattan. c. 1960.

Like the great Clover Deli, Goldberger's was particularly exciting as one of the few remaining neon-bedecked corner storefronts left in New York, with especially evocative period letterforms beaming out in two directions from its perch at 65th Street and First Ave. It was one of the very few neon storefronts to even get a shoutout in the AIA Guide to NYC ("The Old New York, still dispensing").  Sadly, @sign_of_the_time reported on Instagram this past August that the store had to pack up and move down the block.  The signs were partially salvaged for display inside.  And happily the business, around since 1898, survives.  But one of Manhattan's best neon landmarks is no more. 

Rose Wine & Liquor, 449 Columbus Ave., Manhattan. 

This age-old Upper West Side liquor store is still around but their fantastic old sign has vanished and been replaced with an approximation of the original, for reasons that at the very least are far from obvious to the vested observer.  The original featured blue porcelain sign faces framed in stainless steel edging and accented by stainless channel letters tracing classic "pre-Helvetica" squared-off block letters, each rendered in four-count'em-FOUR strokes of red neon, all of it vested with the hard earned patina of probably 70 years reigning over this stretch of Columbus Ave.  The new sign is still neon - fine! - but the neon has gone from four strokes to two, the tubes are too deeply recessed in the channels, the stainless and porcelain has yielded to aluminum, the patina is gone-daddy-gone, and all you can say for the letterforms is at least they're not Arial. Some things I'll just never understand. If anyone needs a case study for the merits of an old sign purely in aesthetic terms, here it is on a silver platter.  

Columbus Hardware, 852 Ninth Ave., Manhattan.

Another case of an old business that had to give up its longtime storefront and lost its neon in the process.  Columbus Hardware has moved just a few doors down but abandoned its lovely old vertical sign in the process.  Unforgiving zoning ordinances and other cold hard realities apparently complicated the prospect of installing the old sign over the new storefront to the point of practical impossibility.  What will become of the old sign, a glowing glory of pink fluorescent neon over canary-yellow porcelain, remains unclear.  

(Google Streetview; NYCMA /

Mercer Street Parking Garage, 165 Mercer St., Manhattan. 

A lovely sign, if not so old, this vertical neon still had a classic flavor to it, and was likely the descendant of an older sign that probably hung in the same spot, though none appears in the c.1940 tax photo for this property.  One of New York's last big flashers, it blasted out its not-so-subtle mating call to Manhattan motorists with the words PARKING and GARAGE cast aglow in alternate sequence from a very old cast iron SoHo facade.  Interestingly, what the old tax photo does show is that the painted signage on that facade hadn't changed much in at least 80 years.  But in a land of red hot real estate such as SoHo, something so prosaic as a parking garage behind that beautiful historic facade was on borrowed time: sure enough, the garage got the boot for luxury residential circa 2017-18.  The facade is resplendent now.  It dripped in neon-lit bird doo before; it drips in something else now. 

Schmidt's Candy, 94-15 Jamaica Ave., Woodhaven, Queens. 

Still another case of an old business still around but without its venerable neon: @sign_of_the_time reported the loss of Schmidt's sign this past February; the business owners said the city Dept of Buildings forced them to take the sign down due to non-compliance issues.  The sign was demonstrably if not certifiably old - it shows up in the city's circa-1940 tax photo - which is normally enough to get some clemency.  Somehow that didn't happen here.  Prewar storefront signs are exceedingly rare in New York today, and sadly, they're even rarer now.  Bits and pieces of the old sign have been hung on the wall inside - let's go pay them a visit in 2022.  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Lights Out 2020: Signs We Lost This Year

2020 has been cataclysmic for the kinds of businesses featured on this blog.  Sure enough, this year's New York neon casualties count a number of pandemic-related business closures among them: two of them are among the lost businesses featured on the cover of the 12/7/2020 issue of New York Magazine.  Yet somewhat surprisingly, this year's roster of lost neon storefronts is not much out of step with that of previous years.  For those of us who have long bemoaned the loss of New York's independent storefront businesses in the face of soaring rent hikes, it comes as a bit of a curveball to find their survival now threatened by an extreme of under-stimulation that is the very opposite of the hypergentrification that had been their leading cause of death up to now.  One wonders if perhaps the reason this year's list isn't longer than it is might be taken to mean that even a global pandemic is less toxic for such businesses than a typical year's worth of crushing rent-hikes - in other words, if the mandated shutdowns wound up canceling out the lethal effect of the rent-hikes that normally kill off these businesses.  

That said, the devastating effect of the pandemic shut-downs is far from over.  Particularly for bars and restaurants, it is not just the old neighborhood stalwarts that need our support - it is everything under the sun.  

As always, this year's roundup includes some businesses that closed before 2020, but that only came to my attention this year.  Not listed are some non-neon favorite storefronts we lost, like Gem Spa, John Jovino, the Paris Cafe, or Frank's Cocktail Lounge in Brooklyn.  Nor the ancient R32-series "Brightliner" subway cars that the MTA pulled out of service (but then briefly resurrected) after 56 years with nary a mention.  And the "ones to watch" list is enormously abbreviated - in reality it could include just about every neon storefront in town.  In 2021, it will be incumbent on us to look for ways to help one another get back on our feet again as this (hopefully) uniquely difficult year recedes in our wake. 

Palomba Academy of Music, 974 East Gun Hill Road, Bronx
The Bronx's Palomba Academy of Music had been a neighborhood anchor since the 1950s, but closed down permanently when in-person music lessons became impossible during the pandemic.  Happily, the sign has been preserved at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati (with help from Let There Be Neon and photographers James & Karla Murray), but the museum can still use some support towards its restoration. 

One Penn Plaza, 242 W34th St., Manhattan
The big neon "1" atop this midtown office tower quietly disappeared this year. Though not especially old (the building itself dates from the early 1970s), it was nonetheless one of the largest neon installations in town and one of very few illuminated signs on the New York skyline.  

New Corner Restaurant, 7201 8th Ave, Brooklyn
Brooklyn's New Corner restaurant was a neighborhood anchor that traced its origins to 1936; its third generation family owners decided it was time to retire in the face of the protracted difficulties of running a dine-in restaurant amid pandemic business closures. 

Spruce Florist, 222 8th Avenue, Manhattan
Most recently operated as Spruce Florist, this Chelsea flower shop had earlier been known as Village Florist and earlier still as Nick Case Florist. It had occupied the same 8th Avenue storefront since at least the 1930s until it finally closed around 2017.  The sign hung around for a few more years before it finally disappeared in December.  I am happy to report that it has found its way to a collector who plans to restore it to its former glory.  

Loeser's Deli, 214 W 231st St, Bronx
This Kingsbridge Kosher deli had been a neighborhood stalwart since 1960.  It appears to have closed permanently at the end of 2019 owing to a buildings department gas line snafu.   

Health Wise Pharmacy, 1494 York Ave., Manhattan
The Upper East Side's Health Wise Pharmacy ditched its circa-1960 neon in favor of plastic-faced LED signs early in 2020.  Its lovely script window sign had already vanished, the result of a stray taxi that launched itself through the storefront back in 2016.  

Quinn Funeral Home, 35-20 Broadway, Manhattan
Astoria's landmark Quinn funeral home decamped to Woodside in late 2018, and the bell has since tolled for its lovely script raceway sign.  

Miller's Prescriptions, 173 Broad St, Staten Island
Miller's is still around but I'm sorry to report that they ditched one of Staten Island's very last neon storefront signs for more LED plastic bleh, which as far as I know leaves just one historic neon storefront on all of the Island.  


Clover Delicatessen, 621 2nd Ave., Manhattan
Clover was just about everyone's favorite.  Located near the east midtown hospitals, they became a kind of a mascot for many of the frontline workers who trudged back and forth along 34th Street on their way to and from work, and for the neighborhood at large, which they served through three generations of family ownership.  Alas, citing a downturn in traffic and the general difficulties of running a business during the pandemic, the owners decided it was time to bow-out and Clover quietly closed in the summer of 2020.  The family owns the building and is hoping to lease the storefront to a business that might want to keep the signs right where they have been since they were installed in 1956, so stay tuned on this one. 

Flat Fixed, 14 E23rd St, Manhattan
One of New York's more vivacious neon storefronts, the restaurant that most recently operated under the name "Flat Fixed" closed up shop amid the pandemic, leaving for-lease banners under those darkened signs. These signs are a bit of a mystery; the vertical BAR sign appears to have been installed here for a business called the Metro Tavern in 1941. The horizontal raceway sign looks to be from the 1950s. Here's hoping a new occupant will set these things aglow again soon.

Trailer Park, 271 W 23rd St., Manhattan
Though not old-old, Chelsea's Trailer Park was part restaurant, part museum, and one of the few spots that seemed to stay afloat more than a few years in a neighborhood that has been an epicenter of high rent blight lately.  Its lovely signs are the work of Roadhouse Relics of Austin, Texas.  It's one of several places that have remained closed-up tight since the first pandemic shutdowns went into effect in March.  

Fedora Restaurant, 239 West 4th St., Manhattan
Both restaurant and sign at Fedora were recent reincarnations of the originals, which had been fixtures here from 1952 until their owner - the beloved Fedora Dorato - retired in 2010 at the age of 90.  The restaurant subsequently reopened as a sort of updated tribute to its former self, in a sequence of events that seemed to be a trend for neon-crowned stalwarts in Greenwich Village at that time (n.b. the cases of Minetta Tavern, Rocco Restaurant  Cold comfort, perhaps, for those of us who loved these places as they were, but the owners kept the signs (or facsimiles thereof) shining and there was something to be said for that, particularly now as the Fedora reboot has become another casualty of the pandemic.  Whatever comes next, let's hope it keeps this neon landmark of the Village right where it has been for the past 68 years.


We would be remiss to let the year pass without noting one bit of good news, which was the rescue of incredibly old Neir's Tavern in Woodside, Queens, rescued from the brink of extinction by a groundswell of community support just before the pandemic hit.  Though not neon, this is still a cheerful story that might serve as a useful case study as rescue efforts become the order of the day in the year to come.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Neon News & Links / April 2020 - Part 2

Some bits and pieces of neon news here to help pass your springtime quarantine and give us all something to look forward to on the other side of the COVID-19 lockdown.  

(Frere Jones)

• Have you heard about the fabulous resurrection of the Essex Market sign on Manhattan's Lower East Side AND the new font it inspired? It's a story that warrants its own in-depth blog post and that's just what it gets via the graphic designers Frere Jones.

(Ephemeral New York)

• From the Ephemeral New York blog, we pause to admire the loveliness of Veniero's Pasticceria and its neon. 


• In Brooklyn, the Turk's Inn has brought some vintage Wisconsin neon to Bushwick.  


• From the this-sounds-almost-quaint-in-our-current-dystopian-reality department: "New York is Allowing Developers to Kill The City" looks at three neon-crowned mainstays that hit the chopping block in 2019. 

(Old Salt Blog)

• From the related subjects department - New York State has banned giant Times Square-style floating billboards from circulating around the harbor on barges. 

(Sign Of The Time / Instagram)

• On Manhattan's Upper East Side, Healthwise Pharmacy has ditched its neon and gone LED.  

(NY Post)

• From the NY Post, a look at Times Square's ongoing LED-ification

(Atlas Obscura)

• Via Atlas Obscura: a celebration of Berlin's vanishing commercial typography


• A status check on Seattle's vintage neon, via Crosscut: "The city's most iconic signs are losing their vaunted glow to LED replacements. But not everyone is giving up on neon." 


• From the why-not department, via Buzzfeed: "Finding Your Soulmate Based On The Neon Signs You Choose." 


• From, a deep dive into the fake neon trend (reported on in this blog back in 2018) in graphic design. 

(Debra Jane Seltzer /

 Debra Jane Seltzer has been making the rounds updating her encyclopedic, coast-to-coast documentation of signs and ephemeral architecture.  The news is predictably not good but the findings are as fascinating as they are heart wrenching, and, as with all of Debra Jane's output, meticulously organized.  Some updates by category: 

   - Midcentury Modern Architecture

   - Signs from Arizona to California 
   - Signs from Florida to Louisiana
   - Roadside Architecture - Gas Stations and Eateries
   - Car Dealers, Giant Animals, and Miscellany


• And finally, something to look forward to, we hope: this September, the third annual Neon Speaks symposium is still on in San Francisco.