There Goes the Neighborhood… Wow!

I live in Noho, and in many ways it's the ideal Manhattan neighborhood. My favorite restaurant is down the block. There's great Japanese on the next block, and an art supply store. There are troves of mid-century modern treasures scattered around. The Bowery Hotel's new Italian restaurant, Gemma, opens for dinner tomorrow. Easy bag-hauling proximity to Whole Foods and Astor Wines is awesome. And somehow I haven't missed CBGBs. I wonder how they're doing in Las Vegas? Something's always new around here. Like the new Jack Spade Kiosk at the Bowery Hotel, offering news, necessities, and notions. And art on the walls (NFS).



Downsides? Well, we've been under construction for a couple of years here, and our cobblestone street is like an obstacle course. Since it's landmarked, I'm sure candidate Bloomberg will have the masons out soon to make repairs. But for the most part the building boom has resulted in improvement.

Number one on the charts is Ian Schrager's 40 Bond Street, a surprising building from the great architects Herzog & de Meuron that combines street level "townhouses" with upstairs condos. I was a little nervous at first, but it has grown up into quite a remarkable building. The concept is a re-imagining of the cast-iron loft buildings that made Soho and its northern neighbor famous. Those cast-iron buildings made great use of natural light, and that's the case with 40 Bond and its floor-to-ceiling, fully operational windows. And the steel that's standing in for cast iron is beautifully encased in glass the color of vintage Coke bottles. I can't wait for occupancy, because apparently, at night, internal illumination will cause the glass to glow.

Probably the most controversial elements are the gates which front the building on street level. They were designed on a computer from samples of genuine New York City graffiti. It's nice for something baroque to break out of the box of post-modernism, and I think this transfiguration of artistic vandalism is fantastic. Here are the gates being installed. Call me crazy, but what's not to like?


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Like the Good Old Days, Sort of…

One of the nice things about downtown Manhattan is that you can occasionally sort of blur your eyes and imagine that you're back in a somewhat less horrifying era. Of course, if you were back there you might find it more horrifying than you could imagine. I mean, the fifties had Senator McCarthy, and the roaring twenties didn't have a reliable cure for the clap, and the gay nineties probably weren't all that gay if you were gay. So maybe the simulation is better, in a way.

If you're at the Bowery Hotel you can imagine it's 100 years ago, but the A/C works. At the atmospheric and quirky restaurant Freeman's, on Freeman's Alley off Rivington Street, you can imagine you are at a speakeasy, which the joint once was apparently, but it's unlikely that the place will get raided and you'll be hauled off the slammer. It's the best of a couple of worlds. And I guess the same applies to their delightfully ragged Freeman's Sporting Club, the men's tailor and barber shop affiliated with the restaurant, at the corner of the alley and Rivington.


The atmosphere is great, with lots of quirky flotsam and jetsam and knick-knacks and thingamabobs to intrigue the eye, and a very nice selection of slightly quirky and rather excellent products on display. I wandered in yesterday and came out with two unstructured jackets, one linen and one jersey-dyed with Japanese indigo. The latter has stretch to it and fits like a glove, in a good way. Each jacket was under three Franklins, and the quality is aces.


Freeman's also offers a very handsome line of suits, off-the-rack or made-to-measure, at $2,000 and $3,000, respectively. The suits come in three fits: slim, standard, and full. They have a modern cut, are made from superb vintage fabrics, and are hand-sewn with full canvas construction in the heart of Brooklyn. The store also offers T-shirts, some very nice footwear, mostly moccasins and boots, some ties of fine fabric and perfect width, razors, natural bristle shaving brushes, leather bicycle seats, and more.

Somebody there likes Miller High Life:


Maybe some day I'll drop in and try the barbershop—such as when my guy is in Sicily for the month of August—but I thoroughly enjoyed the boutique. They were playing good music, too, and the sound system seems a perfect metaphor for the place, an iPod playing through an old tube amp.


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Introducing Mr. Mort


There's always something going on at the Jack Spade store at 56 Greene Street in Soho. It's not only a boutique with lots of cool products of character and distinction—including bags, books, ties, sunglasses, socks, iPod cases, flyswatters, and lots more—but it's also sort of like a museum, and sort of like a social club and lounge. They have a lending library, and I bet they even have an ashtray hidden away somewhere.

Last weekend they took the Jack aesthetic to the streets with an alfresco exhibition of a new line of old ties called Mr. Mort. Mr. Mort is the brainchild and nom de cravat of the young, natty, and witty entrepreneur and sartorial consultant Mordechai Rubinstein, who acquired the entire stock of a defunct Brooklyn tie factory. It was an N.O.S. fiesta on the sidewalk in front of Jack Spade, where Mr. Mort himself set up Andy Spade's large wood desk as a showcase for the line of not-too-wide, not-too-narrow ties. Although many fine neckties found new homes for Father's Day, I am assured that the surface of the Mr. Mort collection was barely scratched, and it is now available indoors at 56 Greene.

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Papa's Got a Brand New One

Ricky Clifton is an artist who is perhaps better known as a decorator, but in fact he's the decorator to the artists, so I guess that makes him an artists' artist.

This is Ricky, showing off his new beard style and trying to scare the kids:


Anyway, whatever you call Ricky, he knows a good gift when he sees one, and a month or so ago he gave me a splendid one. He called it a DJ bag. It's from MZ Wallace, the accessorists located at 93 Crosby Street in Soho, and at the store they call it a "Grant Bag," but in fact it is the perfect bag for DJs, especially those of the vinyl persuasion. This is the bag I took with me to Venice for my last jockeying gig, and it held more than enough vinyl for me to play from midnight until after sunrise.


My bag is the expensive one, made from Kevlar with leather trim, which means it's so strong it's bullet-resistant, so had anyone taken a shot at me, I probably would have survived, along with most of my set. I'm not sure exactly how many 12" discs fit in it, but it's a lot, and they fit snugly and securely. And there's also a zippered compartment that was big enough to hold the few 7" 45s I took along, including Edwin Starr's "War," and William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful for What You Got." According to the store, the Kevlar bag is $350 and the nylon canvas version is $225.

My bag is in camouflage, and perhaps that's why it was the only thing that attracted the attention of security as I was heading to the gate for my plane. Maybe camouflage always gets looked at, but I'm sure that no RPG comes packaged in anything this smart. I recommend it wholeheartedly to DJs and civilians alike.

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Def in Venice

Venice. I'm still in your spell. Nowhere else on earth feels so much like home for a person accustomed to the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. For one such as I, the city is truly divine. I come alive there. Motoring down the Grand Canal I can almost hear Lord Byron bullshitting bimbo peeresses. Maybe it's because I'm a Pisces, man, but all that rocking and splashing and sploshing activates me through a negative-ion suntan. The water in Venus shakes you and stirs you. And I dig the seafood, the weird lunar crayfish in the antipasti. Sardines as burger. Venus, you rule here. Death in Venice is great, but getting it on with aquatic urbanity is even better.


I went to Venice on Monday afternoon, and I had to be back for Friday morning. My friend Joseph Kosuth was opening his extraordinary 750-meter outdoor neon installation "The Language of Equilibrium" on the Island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni. Here's how it looked to approach this island, where a community of Armenian priests live in a beautiful monastery. Venice was in the grip of the Biennale, filled with the international citizenry of the art world. Usually the city is occupied by tourists and groups of youngsters and oldsters in sandals and multipocketed hunting vests, looking very out of place. But when the art world arrives they look like they own the place, landing on the quays from smart motorboats in suits and ties and evening dresses and high heels.

Here are a few more views of Kosuth's work, executed in Armenian, Italian, and English.



Kosuth's opening was followed by dinner for 300, featuring the extraordinary conceptual cuisine of chef Corrado Fasolato of the Hotel Metropole. He created a menu reflecting the Armenian tradition of the Fathers who inhabit the monastery where Kosuth's work is installed, the concepts of equilibrium as enunciated by the artist, and the best available ingredients. It was amazing. The dinner was followed by dancing all night for whoever could get to the ancient fortress of Sant'Andrea on the island of Vignole, where Napoleon suffered his great naval defeat and where the legendary Casanova was held captive in 1743.

No expense was spared for the artist's pal il Grande Glenn, who DJed an all night rave-up that kept dancers up for the downstroke for more than six straight uninterrupted or relieved hours. I mean, at times some people sat down, as when I screamed out without a microphone, "This is a ladies' choice, a slow one," and played "Be Thankful for What You've Got" by William DeVaughn. In fact, I played that one twice, once around 2:00, and then again around last-dance time, when the sun was up.

Here is DJ Style Guy en route to the gig in his nautical limo:


And here is maestro Kosuth:


I wished that I could stay and see more of the Biennale, but I had to get back to New York to handle emergency questions from my readers about what color socks to wear, unfortunately missing Richard Prince's naughty nurse exhibition on behalf of his country of birth, Panama.

A shame I had to run because the next day, making a connection in Paris, I had my worst experience ever with "random searches" at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where security seized my antibiotic cream, prescription chapstick, and a room deodorizer, while patting me down like a jihadist. Maybe it's time to shave, but as any regular traveler knows, the world has gone mad.

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Or Is This the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius?

I went to see the new show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic." It might have blown my mind, had that not been accomplished long ago, and with the aid of some of the very same materials on view here. It's a really entertaining show, with lots of art and artifacts from the heights of the sixties (puns intended). There is an excellent selection of concert posters from the Fillmore and other venues, a concise but thoughtful selection of photographs, books, magazines and newspapers, and even some framed blotter acid. There's a snippet of a light show from the famed Joshua Lights. There are underground films from Stan VanDerBeek, La Monte Young, and Jordan Belson, and paintings from Richard Hamilton, Richard Lindner, and Robert Indiana. There's a watercolor by Jimi Hendrix himself.

It's very cool and casual and sometimes intense, just like it was back in the day, although I found that the graphics didn't function quite the same way on my experienced mind as they did on the more virginal system I was operating on back then. The pictures didn't quite pop (pun intended) and strobe and vibrate as they did when I was under the influence, or in the aftermath of. I think there are several reasons for this. Partly it's because there is absolutely no LSD-25 in my system; partly, I think, it's because I became inured to the visual tricks of the vocabulary; but also, I believe, it's that no one with a 2007 nervous system can see in exactly the same way that we saw back in the day of 3 TV channels and analog stereo. Our minds work way too fast to feel the full punch of the style, for the dayglo to seep past our corneas into the cortex without mediation.

Still, it's fantastic. I only saw half of the show at the preview because I had to press on to the Guggenheim Museum for a showing of the new film Chicago 10. More on that later. But I did have my own personal trippy moment, thanks to a full-size facsimile of Mati Klarwein's Aleph Sanctuary.


You may be familiar with the artist Mati Klarwein from a series of fantastic album covers he created in the sixties and seventies for Miles Davis, Santana, Yusef Lateef, and others. Mati was a sort of one-man movement. He was surrealist, pop, and classical all rolled into one, and in many ways he invented psychedelic visual style, but he never indulged in its clichés. He always transcended styles and movements. He was a true master whose perfectionist paintings took months or years to make and were executed in the Renaissance manner in casein tempera. His first mentor was Fernand Léger.

I saw the Aleph Sanctuary in New York City in 1970. I was taken there by Mati's wife at the time, Caterine Milinaire, who happened to be one of the most beautiful women on the planet. I probably would have followed her into purgatory, but instead I followed her into heaven, hell, and purgatory in the form of the Aleph Sanctuary, a truly monumental work, a three-by-three-by-three-meter cubic room consisting of 68 paintings. It was a place one could happily contemplate for hours, with or without chemical mediation.

Mati was a tremendous spirit but not so much a druggy. He liked to take a drink. I remember him drinking snifters of Fernet Branca—a tonic not for the faint of heart. I became friends with him over the years, through hanging out with our mutual pal Jon Hassell, the master musician (who also used numerous Klarwein paintings as album art).


Mati liked to quote Salvador Dali: "I don't take drugs. I am drugs."

I walked into the facsimile Aleph Sanctuary and was beamed right back there to the seventies, and who should I run into in this little room but Caterine Milinaire herself. She has some gray hair now, but her aura is the same. It was the sort of cosmic coincidence that fit right in with the spirit of this extraordinarily vibrant cube of art.

I'll be back to visit the sanctuary again soon, and see the rest of the "Summer of Love" show, which traveled to the Whitney from the Tate Liverpool, where it originated. Actually, I wrote one of the essays that appear in the excellent book published on the occasion of the Tate show, Summer of Love: Psychedelic Art, Social Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960s. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, I didn't see the entire show at the preview because I had to run further uptown to the Guggenheim for a preview of the new film Chicago 10. It was a real evening of flashbacks. This film, part documentary footage and part animation from the transcripts of the conspiracy trial following the demonstrations at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, really took me back to the emotions I felt that summer, the summer after the Summer of Love. I guess you could call it the Summer of Hate, because of the social crisis that was coming to a head. That was the summer that the black neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., were in flames. That was the summer the Chicago Police rioted, beating peaceful antiwar protestors who assembled to make their feelings known to the Democratic Party. This film really had an emotional impact for me, as someone who lived through it. It restoked anger that's almost forty years old, and that's quite a feat, but perhaps more importantly the film provides a good education for people who don't know about what happened during the Vietnam War, and how it was stopped. Maybe studying that could help us stop the war we have now.

Chicago 10 was directed by Brett Morgen, director of The Kid Stays in the Picture. Morgen got his BA degree in 1993, so I would imagine he's in his mid-thirties. In other words, he wasn't born when this stuff happened. The art world audience that attended the preview I saw was mixed in reaction to the film, but I was impressed by Morgen's strategy of using animation to bring the transcripts of the trial of the "co-conspirators" to life with the voices of Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Roy Scheider, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, and others. Live actors would have been corny. But the cartoon Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were entirely believable, as much as the history itself seems unbelievable.

I won't spoil the plot, but I suggest that everyone see this film, which gives you a great feeling for the events of Chicago, during the convention and the trial. Usually we think of this as the Chicago Seven or Chicago Eight Trial. The original defendents were Yippees Hoffman and Rubin, peace activists David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner, and Black Panther Bobby Seale. Seale attempted to defend himself separately, and wound up bound and gagged for much of the trial on orders of the presiding judge, Julius Hoffman, who seems made to be turned into a cartoon character. But then the two defense attorneys, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, were also jailed, Kunstler serving the longest jail term of all, over four years, for contempt of court, while five of the defendants were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent of inciting a riot and were sentenced to five years in prison, of which they served various terms.

This is not the most elegant film ever made, since the animation has a certain video game quality to it, but that very quality may be what makes it accessible and appealing to the young audience that needs to see just how wrong things can go when authority turns arrogant.

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