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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
AND THE ONES TO WATCH IN 2023
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.