Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Before McHale's

The late great McHale's Bar and Grill, formerly at 46th and 8th, is known to some of us as a place we either went or (in my case) wish we'd gone to soak up the flavor of "old" New York.   Big neon signs outside, timeworn ambience within, it had all the attributes that an old place can only get by being, well, old.   Booted out in 2006, developers soon after bulldozed the brick building that housed it and threw up a 46-story luxury residential high-rise, modestly christened "Platinum 247."

McHale's Then-and-Now. (James and Karla Murray)  See more of Jim and Karla's before-and-afters here.

Even though such establishments were already patently endangered by the time McHale's closed in 2006, something about its disappearance struck an especially resonant chord: lengthy eulogies ran in almost every paper and all over the blogosphere.  The loss of its handsome neon, which I never managed to photograph, helped prompt me to write my book on New York's old neon signs.  

But even though it seemed to have been there from time immemorial, McHale's had predecessors of its own.  And as I learned while researching the neon book, McHale's neon was not the first to decorate the northeasterly corner of 46th and 8th. 

McHale's neon predecessor at 46th and 8th shows up in business directories as the matter-of-factly named "Fish and Chips Corp." (Signs of the Times magazine, used with permission)

Behold, the long lost little corner eatery known succinctly as Fish-and-Chip Corp., here illustrated in a 1934 ad for Dongan neon sign transformers.  Some pretty remarkable storefront neon, no?  This was, after all, the real golden age of neon signage in New York, the period when sign makers went all out with some very clever, highly original designs.  This particular signage was the work of the Artkraft Sign Co, before the merger that gave us the legendary Artkraft Strauss Sign Co.  

Go raise a glass to McHale's neon, preserved and displayed at Emmett O'Lunney's Irish Bar at 50th and B'way. (T. Rinaldi)

And yet it is McHale's neon for which we remember this corner today.  Grand as they were, the Fish-n-Chips signs lasted just a few years before McHale's (or the Gaity Cafe, as it was known in its first years) opened its doors around 1939.  Food for reflection, then, on the utter unlikelihood of longterm survival for any sign or business in this dog-eat-dog town, and our admiration for those like McHale's that manage to defy the odds.

SPECIAL THANKS to Jim and Karla Murray for the McHale's before-and-after up top.  See more heartwrenching then-and-nows from Jim and Karla at Jeremiah's Vanishing New York.

•  Eulogies for McHale's passing, at Flaming Pablum, the New York Times, and the Lost City blog.
•  Afterlife for McHale's neon, at JVNY and at the Lost City blog.

•  By way of Jeremiah Moss and Bowery Boogie: the recently departed Famous Oyster Bar neon is slated for resurrection on the Lower East Side.
•  Via Project Neon: RIP Kiosk Neon in SoHo, at least for now.
•  Some So-Cal neon eye candy from Debra Jane, here and here.
•  From the Lost City blog: good news for some of my favorite script neon in town (even though it's sheathed in Plexi) - Sarge's Deli in east Midtown is back

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Flash Dancers

Some weeks ago, while stealing back toward the 8th Avenue subway from my farewell visit to the now-vanished Famous Oyster Bar, I happened upon another neon casualty in the streets above Times Square.  Near the corner of Broadway and 52nd Street, FlashDancers, that veritable institution of bread-n-butter New York sleaze, has gone LED.  

This doesn't exactly tell us anything we don't already know.  FlashDancer's old neon was pretty mundane – not even a pale ghostly echo of the Pussycat Theatre, an extravaganza of neon smut that once stood just down the street.  Yet if the new sign's icecold LED glare and ultraboring Arial letterforms are any indication of the state of neon or sleaze in New York today . . . Heaven help us.

• Stay tuned for an announcement on my next New York neon walking tour!
• New York neon admiration from the Ephemeral New York Blog.
• A new project to document San Francisco's enviable assemblage of vintage neon.
• Similarly SanFran: a SF neon scavenger hunt.
• And still more Bay Area neon, courtesy of Debra Jane.
• From Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, a reminder that the Subway Inn is on borrowed time.  Gather ye cheap beers while ye may.
• From Project Neon, a lovely homage to the newly-relit Long Island Restaurant neon in Brooklyn.
• Like it or not: North Jersey's great Marcal factory sign has been reborn, with LEDs.
• Shorpy brings us this historic detail view of a rare opalescent-neon hybrid sign.