Monthly Archives: August 2015

Living with Strangers: Crown Heights

The Irish girl’s name was Charlene. We agreed to meet outside her apartment on Dean Street in Crown Heights. It was about 20 blocks from Prospect Park, which is still technically walking distance. I was in the neighborhood fifteen minutes early and decided to wander about. The streets of Crown Heights were verdant with mature trees and lined with undiluted swaths of brownstones whose lovely exteriors belied an extreme anomaly in New York City housing.

 I was a few blocks away from the apartment imbibing the small of a jerk chicken when I got a text from Charlene saying she was finally home from Midtown, where she worked as a sales associate at a boutique shoe store. I expected her to tell me she was a bartender or a waitress; I hadn’t met a young Irish person in New York City who wasn’t a bartender or a waitress. I was surprised to learn she worked in retail. But surely she would be pale and freckled—and if not pale and freckled, then sunburnt by the fierce Yankee sun.

But Charlene ended up being the tannest Irish person I had ever met. She could have passed for a New Jersey Italian. Her dark, curly hair was swept up into a subtle side-tail and she wore a black t-shirt with a print of a car wearing a crown.

We met at her stoop and she gave me bubbly smile accompanied by a firm handshake, as if I was buying an apartment from her instead of renting a room. I followed her into the building and down a red-tiled hall toward her apartment on the ground floor. As we entered she pointed out two bedrooms near the front door, but not the third bedroom that her ad mentioned. So I inquired, concerned that I would find it in the living room, partitioned by sheets.

“Oh, it’s separate from the rest of the apartment,” she said. “It’s down the hall.”

Down the hall was delivered like a question. I around to see if there was a hall beyond the bathroom.

“Oh, no, down the other hall,” said Charlene. Her confusion at my confusion was evident even behind her retail poker face.

“Where’s the other hall?”

“Oh, it’s out the door–you know the hall you came through?”


She pointed out the apartment entrance and down the hall, to a door about twenty feet away, amputated from the rest of the apartment.

“That’s me room.”

Besides feeling a little voted off the island, being in such a room would yield serious complications to one’s bladder and hygiene, among other things. I thought of what it must be like for Charlene every time she wanted to take a shower. I imagined her wrapped in a towel, with her ear to the door, listening to see if anyone was coming down the stairs before darting into the hall, hoping and praying that her towel would not slip while she fumbled with the keys to open door. Hangovers and midnight diarrhea would also be problematic.

“You’ve never seen an apartment like this?”

I had not, but apparently Crown Heights was full of them.

down the hall

down the hall

The grand tour continued after I reoriented myself. First Charlene took me to the room she was trying to rent out. She stood in the doorway as I made a cursory glance. A full-sized bed and a large drawing desk made room for little else. The occupant, a college student who graduated in May, had installed a shelf that wrapped around the circumference of the room, hovering just a couple feet below the ceiling. The diversity of books added a touch of vibrancy to the tooth-colored walls. I wonder if the college girl was afraid of one of the larger tomes landing on her in her sleep.

I asked Charlene why there was a room opening up, even though it is usually a moot point to inquire about exiting roommates. People generally respond with reasonable answers or well-rehearsed lies. I don’t have a foolproof method of knowing if someone’s bullshitting or not, but I might get concerned if my question is followed by a long silence, a sigh, darting eyes, or a blank stare. If one can answer promptly with a story that’s not too rich or scarce in detail, I figure we’re getting somewhere close to the truth. The only things that would really deter me from moving into a room are bedbugs, poltergeists, or if someone was brutally murdered in it—things people don’t generally fess up to anyway.

Charlene’s explained that her roommate was unable to find work and was moving back home with her parents. It was a plausible scenario but  I was not sure if I liked the room anyway. It was small—something I am willing to overlook if there is a nice view with natural light, but the blinds over the window were drawn and I felt like I was in a cellar.

“Can I just open these?” I asked more as a formality more than for permission, since I already had my hand on the cord.

“Sure—there isn’t much of a view.”

There was a good view of a neighbor’s wall right across from mine, but not of much else. It was then that I decided I didn’t want to live there, but went through the motions of the rest of the tour.

Charlene pointed out the door to the other bedroom as we headed down the hall towards the common space. At this point I was tired, and she seemed tired, too. Tired of being on her feet, tired of selling things, and maybe wondering what all the other three-bedroom apartments in New York City looked like. But she persevered and kept playing retailer.

“This is where Tricia lives. She’s such a sweetheart. And she’s never home—she usually stays at her boyfriend’s.”

I wonder what Charlene really thought about Tricia. If it were up to Craigslist ads and apartment tours, one would think that every roommate in New York City was superlative.

Charlene then led me to the kitchen. In the manner of Vanna White, she pointed to and named each appliance. This is the microwave. Here’s the espresso machine. And the juicer. And the dishes and silverware, and the pots and pans. “This is all mine, but I share it with everyone—it’s for all of us to use.”

Same went for the couch and the armchair in the living room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. The fireplace looked a lot less festive than it did in the Craigslist ad, but there was ample light flowing from each of the windows. I looked outside and noticed that there was a large yard in the back.

picture from

“Can we use that?” I told Charlene I’ve always wanted to have a garden. I actually have a yard now, but only the landlord’s wife and mother are allowed to plant things in it and since there are no keys to the gate I have to climb over a fence to get in.

“I don’t know…the landlord isn’t here very often, so—but I don’t know. I think so.”

No was clearly a dangerous word for retailers.

I didn’t like the apartment, but I wasn’t ready to scratch it off my list for the simple fact that the place was not horrible, and I would have a common space and a slight possibility of having a garden—and because it was better than being homeless. And my list was not that long to begin with.

Charlene and I agreed to stay in touch. She seemed nice enough, but honestly I really hoped I wouldn’t have to talk to her again.

THE END–for now. Stay tuned for the next week’s installment, and be sure to read last week’s post: Living with Strangers Part I: Craigslist


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Living With Strangers Part I: Craigslist

This is the first in a series of realistic fiction I started writing last year. It is based on my search for a room share in New York City. 

If it weren’t for Craiglist I would be homeless, but also if it weren’t for Craigslist I wouldn’t have flirted with the idea of homelessness at least a couple times in the past few weeks. I mean, other than a top bunk in someone’s bedroom in the Lower East Side for $500 a month, what’s left for people like me when the spawn of the affluent are paying really good money to live like squatters? Because I don’t know what I would tell my mother if I actually decided to be homeless, I press on.

Half of the available rooms in my price range are in Brooklyn, and ninety percent of those are in Bushwick or Crown Heights, and all of them were some sort of awesome.

Awesome five bedroom apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood just ten stops from Bedford on the L

New roommate needed NOW in AWESOME Bushwick!!!!!!!///////\\\\!!!!

****Awesome roommate needed ASAP in awesome newly renovated Crown Heights apartment ****

I clicked on one ad in which the poster wasn’t too ashamed of their hovel to put up a picture of it. Though they should have been. The grey, dimly lit room resembled the interior of an empty dumpster. The ad insisted that the room was a catch because it was private and featured a built-in closet.

After a few days of fruitless searching for something that looked halfway decent I felt like I’d be lucky to land in a thousand dollar-a-month windowless shaft in some post-industrial, pre-apocalyptic part of Brooklyn with no trees. All along the L line and spilling to every corning of the city, every trust fund baby disguised as a freelance artist is clamoring to live the hardship they were deprived of in their youth, and landlords respond by turning into mad scientists—trying to discover the half life of a New York City apartment. With great zeal they set about bisecting their units ad infinitum until even the most affluent millennial struggling to struggle would not want live in them.

Besides the rent being too damn high, the landscape of Craigslist has become fraught with new dangers. One always had to be fluent in reading between the lines. Apartments described as having a “relaxed, easy-going environment” were always something to look our for, since relaxed meant your reaction to a roach infestation is expected to be “it is what it is”, and easy-going as in you’ll have to be okay with the fact that goop encrusted dishes will be languishing in the sink for weeks at a time while weed stems and bottle caps gather in the cracks of the couch–if there is one.

These days dozens of “roommate services” that have sprung up. The housing situation has gotten so bad that instead of finding people apartments, brokers can now make a living finding people rooms and roommates and getting them to sign a lease with complete strangers. A girl with bad credit has no choice but to hike up her galoshes and sift through the muck and mire and see what kind of strangers she can live with.

At first looking for a room share was entertaining, and sometimes others joined my search. My friend Elisa and I spent at least two hours sitting on her couch, looking at apartments like we were on an Etsy shopping spree. Elisa of course didn’t have to get involved, but she insisted on helping and even confessed to having fun.

“It’s kind of like spying,” she said.

Craigslist is one of the few forms of legitimized voyeurism in a city filled with gawkers, myself included. One of my favorite things about walking the streets is seeing how people curate their lives through their windows. Each window tells a story, whether they are shuttered behind blinds, or if they have flirty lace curtains that inhale and exhale with the breeze, revealing a print of one of Gauguin’s naked ladies. Some have the makings of a pasta sauce, with basil and tomato plants occupying a windowsill. Sometimes a caged bird peers at its free brethren cooing on a fire escape. Other times an old woman, living like a caged bird, spends her day at the window watching everyone who can come and go as they please.

It is through their windows that people show the outside world what goes on inside; some people share a lot, others very little. The drawback to looking inside people’s windows is that you can’t get away from the creep factor. Craigslist is the same, but there, people want you to peer into their homes. Some people, being private, coy, or lazy, can’t be bothered to write more than a sentence about their homes. Others lean towards exhibitionism, and include their personal histories with cat allergies, their life as a vegan, their career as a filmmaker, their entire menagerie that includes a boa constrictor, that they are a holistic health healer who wants to live with like-minded individuals, that they are a male looking only for female roommates who don’t mind sleeping naked in his bed. Some people are stingy with photographs, others take pictures of every corner, treating their Craiglist ad as a spread for Town and Country.

From Elisa’s living room in Queens we peered into apartments all over the city. At first there were constraints. All I wanted was a room share in a decent place, with nice people, with at most a 45-minute commute to my office. And a park in walking distance. And a common space. For less than a thousand a month.

I had been living in the same apartment in Washington Heights for four years; it was half a block from Highbridge Park, had a yard, and even a large common space. I paid little over $700 for my room and utilities. But real estate had become a different beast. Elisa and I quickly realized I was asking for too much, so we starting applying different metrics. The quality of the ads became very important. How awful is the grammar? Are there more than three sentences? How liberal is the use of exclamation points? Are amazing and awesome used more than five times? Did someone take the time to post pictures? But we made sure that each ad I responded to had at least one thing I would like. Other than that the only original parameters that remained in effect as we scanned Craigslist were the price cap and commute time.

Our heads were bowed and our faces were bathed in the glow of our respective screens—Elisa was using an iPad, and I was borrowing Elisa’s computer. Every one in a while we came up for air and reported our discoveries.

“Hey Robin, these people have a dog—look how cute he is! I think this place would be good for you.”

The one picture that was included in the ad showed a golden retriever snuggled into the crevices of a couch, like a giant throw pillow. Elisa sent me the link to the place—in Lefferts Gardens. Amazingly, it was less than $900 and looked to be only a block away from Prospect Park. Then she found another place with some nice bay windows somewhere in Crown Heights, then an apartment with exposed brick, and another that had a view of the Manhattan skyline from the rooftop. I found a place with a lesbian who liked to dance while she cooked. Another prospective apartment had a living room decorated entirely with maps. We searched in Harlem, Washington Heights, in parts of Queens I had never heard of, and all over Brooklyn. Most of the places looked good, but I was not going to be happy with just good.

“This is pretty awful.”

Elisa remained optimistic for my sake.

“Hey there’s this one with an Irish girl who seems nice. And I like the decorations she has on the mantle.”

Elisa pointed to a picture revealing a common space that had a defunct fireplace with the mantle still intact. A painting and some candles were artfully arranged on it. There was a couch and an armchair. A real common space! The ad’s creator revealed many details, including that she was from Dublin. There were four roommates who shared three bedrooms; the Irish girl and her boyfriend inhabited the third. She didn’t seem concerned with overpopulation, however, as she explained in the ad: Everyone has a different schedule so it’s almost like you won’t have any roommates!

I actually like it when I can interact with my roommates, but heck, you can’t always get want you want.

I sent at least eight emails that night. The first people I reached out to were the people with the dog in Lefferts Garden. I told them my particulars. Civil servant. Likes to cook and throw dinner parties. Does not have a live-in boyfriend. Friendly Midwesterner. Not new to the City. Not a substance abuser. I customized each email to include details that would make it evident that I had in fact read the entirety of the Craigslist ad. I have sublet my own room out enough to know that there is a subset of desperate fools, usually couples, who don’t bother reading ads and miss out on important details. They copy and paste one-sentence particulars (We are a nice couple with a pitbull and want to move in immediately.) and send it off to hundreds of people a day.

So, before I sent my own copy and pasted messages, I include at least one detail to signify that I am not one of those people. I would love to walk your dog! I had a sublet in Astoria once—such a nice neighborhood! I, too, like dance parties in the kitchen!

The Irish girl was the only one who wrote back.

THE END. UNTIL NEXT WEEK. For now, here are some windows.









East Harlem

East Harlem





East Harlem

East Harlem


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Fighting for Space

Washington Square Park is a multi-layered cake of noise. Not all flavors compliment each other, but a thick slice of sound is always delivered whether you ask for it or not. It’s just what you get when you go through the park.

I cut through it all as I cross the park to a café on the east side. In the northwest corner men play card on the chess tables. Who knows where the chess players went. The men are slamming the cards down with heavy hands, as if they would like to smack the world upside the face. This is not just a game for them. I wonder if rent money, child support, Con Edison bills and subway fares are probably riding on the outcome.

I continue through a gauntlet of jazz musicians and pigeons who flock around a man who tosses them chunks of a pretzel. Vagrants are ensconced in their sleeping bags and blankets. They are sprawled out on the grassy lawn like elephant seals. On the same stretch of grass the children of the upper crust who live near the park are playing soccer. A ball jets past a goal marked by two backpacks and nearly bumps into an unkempt man who lays prostate on the grass.

“Don’t hit the homeless people!” calls one of the mothers.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes parade by. An old Great Dane with subcutaneous fatty cysts is prompted along by his owner. A little Jack Russell Terrier nearly yanks his owner off his feet to chase a teenager on a skateboard. The startled youth dismounts, leaving the dog to chastise the skateboard and nip at its wheels.

I sit on a bench and realize the man next to me is rolling a blunt. A lanky college student walks by in nothing but a cape and a thong. In the empty fountain three boys are playing with a remote control motorcycle. A few feet away a girl is hammering away on a keyboard, singing Stay with Me.

Next to the benches a man with a saxophone plays Summertime. His daughter is sitting next to him. The man is playing beautifully, but his daughter looks nonplussed. I give him a dollar because his music moves me and also I’m thinking it might staunch the disapproval emanating from his daughter’s eyes. She stares off into the distance, willing herself to become invisible. Fathers are always embarrassing, no matter how cool they are. But maybe they are more embarrassing if they make their money off the street.

The sound of the saxophone crashes into the sound of the keyboard, and both sounds are punctuated by someone who is mercilessly and arrhythmically pounding together two drumsticks. I cannot tell if it’s supposed to be music or performance art.

Wafting above all of it is the sound of bagpipes. I look towards the far reaches of the park but instead of seeing a bagpiper I see two college students practicing martial arts on a patch of grass not occupied by children or homeless people. One of the guys is wearing bright blue tights. The other sports a mustache. The bagpiper remains elusive—accomplishing the rare feat of being heard but not seen on this Serengeti Plane of sound. Each noise fights the other off  to gain the upper hand in a fight for New York City’s least available resource: space. So does each person, rat, cockroach, pigeon, floating plastic bag, tossed water bottle, takeout container and weed growing through a crack in the sidewalk. Today I fight the other computers at the café.

The café is the size of a small warehouse, but every square foot of surface is occupied by books, elbows, spilled coffee and computers. But I spy a space on a counter near the door and hurry to it, planting my computer as a flag. The guy next to me is a NYU student who is sipping a latte and studying math notes in a Moleskin notebook. I ask him to watch my computer while I grab a coffee.

When I head back to my computer I am greeted by the smell of sweat and garlic, which I hadn’t perceived before. Maybe deodorant wasn’t in the student’s budget after lattes and Moleskin notebooks. But as soon as I get back the student hastily closes his notebooks and nearly jumps out of his seat as if he thinks I am the source of the odor.

Across the void left by the student I see that another man has sat down. He has a tan leather bag and a flappy and filthy brown jacket. He doesn’t immediately look homeless, but he immediately smells it. This is the sweat and garlic offender. And he is talking to himself. From a pike of bags gathered at his feet he takes out a Walkman, changes a CD, and puts on his earphones. At first I think he’s singing, but conclude he’s just trying to drown out the voices in his head. Turning his head this way and that, discoursing with the wall, his hands, the counter.

Fine. Have it your way.


 Why don’t you say something interesting.


 I get a little nervous when he looks too long in my direction. But I don’t budge. Space is precious in New York.

On the subway back to Brooklyn I sit next to a young woman who is reading. I am also a young woman who will be reading, so we sit reading together but separate for the next few stops. A large barrel-bellied man steps onto the train. He carries disintegrating Duane Reade bags and wears a baggy grey shirt that has endured serious abuse since its last wash. Giant blotches of grease look like continents on an alternative map of Earth. Brown smears look like a storm system hovering over North America. A shit storm for sure. His khaki pants are in a similar state of misery.

He emits a grunt as he lands in his seat. I think of leaving, because I certainly don’t want to be around in case this one’s a shouter. But the man doesn’t seem to have any bitter diatribe or invisible foe. He sprawls his bags on the two nearest seats. An empty can of Hi-Life nearly teeters out. The man has mismatched shoes and grubby socks that look like they were fished out of the La Brea tar pit. His white hair that sticks up like down on a baby bird. He digs into one of his plastic bags and pulls out a bottle. Expecting to be hit by a whiff of whiskey, I am happy to see that it is just apple juice.

I decide to stay put. But a couple of people evacuate in a hurry at the next stop and run to the car next door. At another stop the door opens and a young man hovers at the entrance before opting to go to a different car. I must be in the eye of the storm because I don’t smell anything.

Suddenly there is a wealth of space on the train. I turn around to see who else is left, and then the smell hits my nostrils. Now I am immersed in stink and space. Before the next stop I have to choose if my value for one outweighs my revulsion for the other.

At Jay Street I got up and moved to the next car. I stood the rest of the ride home.

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The Last Days of Big Nick

I was digging through my files over the weekend and found this article I did in February of 2012 on the 50th Anniversary of Big Nick’s Burger and Pizza Joint, formerly at West 77th Street and Broadway. The first time I went to the place was back in 2005 when I was visiting the city over the weekend, and a friend and I were hungry after a late movie. Big Nick greeted my friend–who frequented the place when he went to high school at La Guardia.

The tight labyrinthine place conveyed a cozy sense of claustrophobia. The decades-old tables and chairs did not expand concurrently with America’s waistline, and instead of paint, nearly every square inch of space was colored by signs vaunting menu items–special or standard, signs with declaratives (Big Nick’s is not a library, or a place for open laptops. It is just a SMALL STORE and a good place to eat! SINCE 1962) and signs with imperatives (PAY YOUR CHECK AT THE REGISTER ONLY.). There were enough neon lights to garnish Times Square and a jukebox that played only oldies.

I wrote this thinking I could get it into the local community paper. I was wrong, but now I like to think of it as a primary source that can be used to learn about a vanishing city. After over 50 years of being open 24/7 at 77th and Broadway, Big Nick’s closed in 2013 due to a rent hike. Its loss was mourned near and far, and left many an Upper West Sider wondering where the heck to eat at three in the morning–definitely a legitimate question in a city that never sleeps.  

Big Nick’s Turns 50

While time travel remains impossible for most, patrons of Big Nick’s Burger and Pizza Joint were able to step into the past on Wednesday, when the restaurant celebrated its 50th anniversary by offering its renowned fare at 1962 prices. Patrons enjoyed quarter-pound hamburgers and a side of fries for less than a dollar. Most people expect to receive gifts on their birthday, but Big Nick’s birthday was a present to the people.

“I wanted to return a favor to the people who came to my place for so many years. I wanted to use this day to say thank you to them,” explained Big Nick, the restaurant’s namesake and founder. In response, people came from near and far to help celebrate.

Cristian Duarte of Washington Heights sat contentedly in front of three recently emptied plates. “I waited a half an hour to get here. I used to come here at least once a week.”

For his loyalty and patience he was awarded a bargain dinner. “Today I had a cheeseburger, fries and coleslaw. I usually spend ten to twelve bucks. Today I spent a dollar and some change.”

Dozens of people stood outside waiting to take his place.

“There was a two block line from 11 o’clock in the morning until now,” said Big Nick himself as the clock approached midnight. He had already been there for over twelve hours, but that man showed no sign of fatigue.

The usual din and bustle of a busy diner swirled about him, but Big Nick was never too busy to offer a warm salutation to his customers. “I never get tired when I talk about restaurants, you know? It’s part of my life. That’s why I succeeded so far for so many years. I’m never tired of it. It’s in my blood after all these years.”

Big Nick’s is now also part of the genetic makeup of its Upper West Side home. Longtime resident Zack Hample, a baseball writer and collector, was indoctrinated at a very young age. “I remember having my sixth birthday party here with my entire first grade class. I’ve definitely been to Big Nick’s more than 1,000 times over the years. There was a time when I was going there so often that Nick gave me a free dessert whenever he saw me.”

Big Nick’s renown is not restricted to the Upper West Side, or even this side of the Atlantic.

“I came all the way from Germany for this,” joked a tall middle-aged German national who divides his time between Munich and New York City. “I have been here many times, the first time in 2007. I ordered a cheeseburger with cheddar.”

Now he comes in every morning for coffee and a croissant.

“I feel at home when I come here, because Nick and all the guys say ‘Hi, great to see you again.’ I was away for two years and when I come back they said, ‘Hey, where have you been for so long?’ The guys here remember you. I send all my friends here. This is, in New York, a unique place. As a European guy, this place to me is like American Graffiti.

American Graffiti takes place in 1962, the same year that Big Nick’s opened. The interior has not changed since then. If the walls could talk, they would have many stories to tell after all these years.

But Big Nick likes to tell his story himself. He came to New York fifty-one years ago from the island of Stamos in Greece, starting as a dishwasher.

Big Nick’s the restaurant also had humble beginnings. “We were here during a bad time on the west side, when the west side was a jungle all around. They used to throw people out of hotel windows. Seventy-second Street was a needle park, with all kinds of junkies.”

Despite the gritty backdrop, Big Nick’s has flourished long enough to enjoy a more Apollonian West side. Since 1962 Nick started six more restaurants in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. As Big Nick’s businesses grew, so did the menu. What started out as a two-page menu offering standard diner fare is now a 25-page tome.

“It’s one of the biggest menus in New York City. We cater to all different kinds of people. We have breakfast, we have late snacks, we are open twenty-four hours a day. We don’t even have a key for the door,” said Big Nick. “The main thing is to keep people happy, you know?”

And that is just what Big Nick has been doing for fifty years.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. It is also in the burgers, the pizza, and the line of customers that spilled out the door and around the corner ten minutes before midnight.


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Big Nick Himself

Nick Imirziades, better known as Big Nick

Nick Imirziades, better known as Big Nick

This is the unabridged interview I did with Big Nick, back in 2012.

When did you first get into the restaurant business? 51 years ago. First place 76 and Broadway. It was a diner, open 24 hrs a day. I was working there, then after that I came to big Nicks. After that I opened another restaurant I was working in the day time at the restaurants and going to school at night. I got a hotel restaurant management degree at NYC College in BKLYN.

How many people have come today? I have no idea. I am lost. There was a two block line, from 11 oclock in the morning until now.

Are you tired? I’m not that tired. I never get tired when I talk about restaurants, you know? It’s part of my life. That’s why I succeeded so far for so many years. I’m never tired of it. It’s in my blood after all these years. It’s the proof in the pudding that I’ve been open for so long and I’ve studied this kind of work, too. I started from zero. I started as a dish washer, you know? I’ve run this business for fifty years and I’ve never compromised quality with quantity. The main thing is to keep people happy, you know?

What is your favorite thing on the menu? Hambuger. My menu is endless, it never ends. It is an Italian place, a Greek place, an American place, an international place. It’s one of the biggest menus in New York City. We cater to all different kinds of people. It’s a destination, not just for people in the neighborhood. They read about it in all different magazines. Tourists, they come over here with their books. We have all different kinds of hamburgers for all different kinds of people. Different strokes for different folks. I like the bacon cheese-burger myself. We have breakfast, we have late snacks, we are open twenty four hours a day. We don’t even have a key for the door. We were here during a bad time on the West side, when the west side was a jungle all around. They used to throw people out of hotel windows—the pimps they used to throw the girls out of the windows. 72nd street was a needle park, with all kinds of junkies. I came from the other side without speaking one word of English. I started out as a dishwasher and because I was dedicated I succeeded.

What do you like about the Upper West Side? The Upper West Side is great because the neighborhood is not like the East side. The East side is cold. The West Side is always more warm. You see more small businesses that have been around

Why have 1962 prices? I wanted to return a favor to the people who came to my place for so many years. I wanted to use this day to say thank you to them.

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