— Louis Zukofsky, from “55 Poems” (1941)
Now and then there are flashes in the world of business, finance, sport, art or theatricals a colorful figure which comes we know not whence or how. But because it exerts enormous influence and kicks up dust generally, and because it works in its own manner, upsetting precedent and succeeding by unguessable ways and means, we regard it with suspicion and call it hard names. Or we give it high admiration— and call it a “character.”
Such a personage is Brooks of Sheffield— writer, activist, parent and aesthete— who can make or break a coffee shop, an alehouse, an old French restaurant, an insufferably nouveau real estate development featuring “maisonettes” or a newspaper (almost). He used to be called the Frozen Custard King of Wisconsin but word on Court Street is he left that part of his career behind. Ask any fairly informed person who Brooks of Sheffield is and the answer will vary from “Oh, he’s a kook” to “Gee— he’s a wow!”
I think Brooks is both, and in the best of ways. If I don’t agree with everything he writes, so what? We learn from informed difference and Brooks has his own sharp eye about things. Anthropologist of palimpsests, promoter of weird plastic signs in overlooked spaces, a mixed drinks connoisseur, a sentimentalist, a hardboiled egg and a whale of a good fellow, Lost City Brooks is a blinking neon beacon of stubborn individuality in South Brooklyn and beyond. Long may he proffer another view: the one that— unlike the corrupt, corrupting and thoroughly venal Mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg— can’t be bought.* — Caz Dolowicz
* The historically and ethically minded might like to study the life of Lewis Tappan (1788-1873)— who died at his home at 218 Degraw Street— for a comparison of what some people do with their wealth.
Brian Berger: I know you didn’t grow up in the city but did you visit New York as a child or have any notable impressions from tv or movies, Madigan or Kojak or All In The Family or Annie Hall or Barney Miller? I’m assuming that if you weren’t local most of the New York media was unknown to you, no yule log, no grease stained Daily News clips taped up at the pizza place screaming George Steinbrenner fired Billy Martin— again!!— the fuck, no Howard Stern on 660 AM, WnnnnnnnnnnnnBC.
Brooks of Sheffield: I grew up in Wisconsin, around the Milwaukee area, and, yes, it’s safe to safe to say that I had next to no impression of what New York was when I was growing up, not even from the movies and television shows I watched. We once took a family vacation to Avalon, New Jersey in 1977. My parents and older siblings took a day trip to New York to see a Broadway show, but I was termed “too young” to go, and was left behind. Which was bullshit, since I was 13 at the time. I think their impression of New York was it was a place where you could get killed. Hey, in 1977, maybe they were right.
Brian: Maybe they wanted to spare you the hirsute nudity of Hair? Too bad, because Galt McDermot is a genius of a sort and Hair is infinitely better than goddamn Beatlemania, which opened in 1977. Anyway, what brought you to New York as an adult, if not America’s Tribal Love-Rock Musical? You mention moving here in 1988, which was the summer I saw Sonic Youth performing most of Daydream Nation at CBs and Maxwell’s (in Hoboken) before recording the album. That was also the summer of Public Enemy It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and Brooklyn-native Big Daddy Kane’s first album, Long Live The Kane. Let it roll, get bold—
Brooks: I came to New York to go to graduate school at Hunter College, of all places. I arrived, in retro fashion, by train, pulling into Grand Central…
Brooks: … I don’t know whose idea that was. Perhaps mine. But we never had a ton of money, and it probably was cheaper. I was also a hopeless romantic by then, and actually thought train travel was glamorous. I spent short times living in downtown Brooklyn and Harlem, before settling in the Lower East Side. Most people who visited me were either frightened or appalled by my living circumstances, but somehow New York’s grit and grime and the tawdriness of many of its apartments never phased me. For a midwestern boy, I moved about the mean streets pretty easily. I never graduated from Hunter, by the way. I ran out of money and had to get a job, the first of many in publishing.
Brian: How’d you get back to Brooklyn after the LES? In my book I wrote something like “until the late 1980s or so, nobody— not a solitary soul— moved to New York City with the intention of moving to Brooklyn. Or, let me qualify that, nobody except a lot of black folks and Puerto Ricans (who have been American citizens since 1917).” That’s changed dramatically, of course. I had an Aunt in Coney Island, one of those Trump Village buildings off of West 5th Street, which was a wild scene—still is too.
Brooks: Before 1994, I, like most solipsistic Manhattanites, thought Brooklyn was another country, and not worth the subway token. But I started dating a girl who lived in Clinton Hill and went to Pratt—
Brian: Like Daniel Clowes, “Art School Confidential”!
Brooks: So I started getting glimpses of the borough. When we got engaged, Brooklyn seemed a natural choice to live. I don’t know who suggested Carroll Gardens, but I liked it almost immediately. We ended up living on the top floor of a brownstone, above an old Italian longshoreman. I’ve been here ever since. It’s hard to imagine not living in Brooklyn. It feels like home, and is more friendly and neighborhood-like than anyplace I’ve ever lived. That includes Wisconsin. I also like having bakeries, butchers, tailors, liquor stores, all those little merchants, at my disposal. Malls and supermarkets give me the chills.
Brian: I hear you, those Ratner monstrosities on Flatbush are beyond vile; the first Brooklyn mall, Kings Plaza out in Marine Park, was crap too but it was so bizarre it almost qualified as exotica. I know Brooklyn kids would ride their bikes out there…
Speaking of athletics, are you into sports at all, either as fan or participant? I had some affection for the 1980s Mets—a pretty damn characterful bunch—but basketball was my true love. When the Knicks went into their pathetic 21st century death spiral, I quit them altogether, tho’ I still miss Walt Frazier on the mic. Today I despise all the big league American sports because of the politics of sports stadiums, especially the Yankees, a franchise which—the ghost of Phil Rizzuto excepted— deserves infinite public scorn: George Steinbrenner, Rudy Giuliani, Randy Levine, Mike Bloomberg, Adolfo Carrion, etc. ad naseum.
Brooks: I never gave much of a damn about sports, though my family is connected to the Green Bay Packers and worships them. I grew up in a typical sports-oriented high school. Everything centered around the team and the big game, and the rest of the school programs suffered. I’ve always thought sports to be the enemy of thought and creativity in this country. I used to complain to my parents about the sports report taking up a whole third of the news broadcast every night; with everything that could be reported on, what could be more ludicrous?
Brian: Absolutely; that’s the reason I stopped listening to NPR. I can accept that their cutsey pie schtick isn’t to my taste but I don’t need to hear “public” radio (with Wal-Mart commercials, natch) jerking off the same exact sports culture crap as every other media outlet.
Brooks: I wish most people gave half a damn about something important the way they give a whole damn about their favorite team. And today, it’s hard for me to fathom whey people care at all, since it’s fairly clear that a good proportion of professional athletes are cheats, clear and simple.
Brian: For a Brooklyn based writer, you have a particularly keen appreciation for midtown Manhattan. I assume you’ve worked there over the years?
Brooks: Yes, I’ve worked a fair amount in midtown over the years. The less said about that, the better.
Brian: Gotcha. I don’t know if you’ve read it but a slightly diminished version Josh Alan Friedman’s Tales of Times Square is so part of my adolescent experience the area has been mostly dead to me since the late ’90s, when the egalitarian peep show game was killed off, Show World RIP. Still, by necessity I found lunch time refuge at the Gotham Bookmart, the old Coliseum Books, Record Explosion at 5th and 43rd, the classical room at the 5th Avenue HMV— even the Lincoln Center Tower Records if I had time to walk up there. Forget work per se, what Midtown spots have been an oasis over the years, and do any remain?
Brooks: Jimmy’s Corner and the Edison Coffee Shop give me solace. And I used to patronize the Gotham Book Mart, too. I used to go to McHale’s a lot— obviously, since my blog was created because that bar went down. And I still appreciate the beauty, inside and out, of the Broadway theatres. The Broadway community itself may be a ripe subject for satire, and the tourist patrons are annoying, but the theatres themselves are magnificent. There’s nothing like that anywhere else in the country.
Brian: I didn’t explore it as much as I wish because I was a little young but what parts of old Hell’s Kitchen I got to in the ‘80s and early ‘90s I enjoyed a lot. It had its own sense of polyglot otherness—Greek bakeries, Spanish record companies, businessmen sneaking out of brothels after their “lunch meeting,” leftover Irish old-timers, etc. Granted, I might have been seeing it through the eyes of T.J. English’s The Westies but I relish the feeling. Any memorable experiences west of 9th Ave?
Brooks: I’ve been to the bar Druid’s a few times, and the Market Diner. There’s a good theatre company called Ensemble Studio Theatre out there, too.
Brian: I saw Penn & Teller wherever it was they had a run in the winter of 1989 but otherwise, proper theater isn’t my strong suit. I might be wrong but I assume you know much more than I—the giveaway was your appreciation for the weird old French restaurants around Broadway.
Brooks: I like theatre, when it’s good, which it often isn’t. I more know the old restaurants of Times Square from exploring the streets during my lunch breaks, when I used to work in the area. I loved those walks, and thought the people that ordered in and ate at their desks were crazy. Sometimes I’d drag people along, and they’d have no idea why I would go ten blocks out of my way just to eat a sandwich at a particular old diner on 9th Avenue.
Brian: You and others like Vanishing Jeremiah have recently written about the threats to the old music row buildings, which are important to me too—moreso on the jazz side of things but going right up through Brooklyn’s greatest songwriting team, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. In the demimonde of “rock” hegemony it’s seems like you have to be gay (Footlight Records RIP) or antiquarian to appreciate these things but I know that’s not true. Tell me your song(s) of New York.
Brooks: Good question. And hard to answer. I love the history of popular song in America up to the Age of Rock. I love rock, too, but the tin pan alley guys really knew how to compose a tune of wit and romance. Every fall I sing “Autumn in New York.” it may be my favorite New York song. “We’ll Have Manhattan,” of course. It’s a mini-geography lesson of New York.
Brian: Lee Wiley owns “We’ll Have Manhattan”!
Brooks: Also, “Way Out West on West End Avenue,” “Lonely Town,” “My Kind of Day” (from Guys and Dolls, which I love for its many references to old New York), “Buddy, Can you Spare A Dime”" (which is an overall Depression-era song, but I relate it to life in New York). “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel communicated the sadness and desperation New York can bring on, as does their “The Only Living Boy In New York.” There are a few. I like many more.
Brian: It’s a complicated story but twice in my life I briefly worked as a messenger and gofer for a relative in the garment biz, with an office on 38th between 5th & 6th. You have what I might call a Ben Katchor-like fondness for specialty business districts, yes?
Brooks: Yes. Spot on. For me, Ben Katchor sees the heart of New York as few others. His Julius Kinipl, Real Estate Photographer, roams the city in much the same fashion I do.
Do you think that 20 years of wind
off the Atlantic won’t change you?
Or 30 years? 40?
— Gilbert Sorrentino, from Corrosive Sublimate (1971)
Brian: My first literary totems of Brooklyn were Henry Miller, Hubert Selby and Gilbert Sorrentino, later joined by Wallace Markfield, Daniel Fuchs and the brilliant poets, Charles Reznikoff and Louis Zukofsky. More recently, except that the College Bakery is oddly absent—which proves it’s fiction!— it’s hard to fault the range of intensities of Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude. Is there any literary Brooklyn constellation you look towards or are you more interested in New York City generally?
Brooks: My initial interest in New York was literary, all the great writers that lived and starved and thrived here. I loved the tales of the various salons and watering holes, Chumley’s, the White Horse Tavern, Minetta Tavern, the Hell Hole, Bruno’s Garret, the Cedar Tavern, Cafe Royal, the Lion’s Head, that famous boarding house on the south side of Washington Square Park where all the writers lived, and on and on.
That all seemed to have disappeared when I arrived in the 80s. Even the Brat Pack movement was over. But I searched out the traces and wondered how it might have been. My beacons were the typical ones that spellbind many young writers, the literary lights of the 1920s, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, etc. Though for some reason I always loathed Hemingway. I knew I would hate him in person. In later years, I became more entranced with the great literary journalists: Joseph Mitchell, A.J. Liebling, Gay Talese, John Mcnulty, anyone who told the real stories of New York in an engaging way.
Brian: Do you enjoy Theodore Dreiser at all?
Brooks: I read Sister Carrie early on. It was one of the first great novels I ever read. I can’t say I’m in love with Dreiser, but that story hit me so hard. It was so cruel. Hurstwood’s end, turning off the light and turning on the gas in his empty flat. So lonely. It told me, subconsciously anyway, what a life in the Big City could be if you didn’t watch out. These bleak, Great Recession days, I feel it keenly. One step away from the curb.
Brian: One of the things I most admire about Lost City is what I’ll call an “intuitive” or exploratory approach to history—you do research also but you seem to start from the streets, which is a great way to go, especially since there’s a dearth of useful Brooklyn historiography, and those who fake it always get things wrong, like that absurd urban legend about cows walking from Red Hook to Governor’s Island to graze even though British Naval maps tell us the shallowest part of the Buttermilk Channel was over ten feet deep! Maybe they were Red Hook Sea Cows?
Any thoughts on this and are there any books, films, photography and so forth you’ve found inspiring or useful?
Brooks: I’ve spent my fair share of time pouring over New York guides and histories (probably the same ones every New York history geek does). But nothing beats just roaming the streets and discovering things on your own. Having watched New York for a couple decades, my instincts are pretty good at this point. When I spy something that looks interesting, there usually ends up being an interesting story behind it. Of course, what I think is interesting (what business occupied that crummy old brownstone in 1923) may be thunderously boring to someone else. Also, I can’t stand it when I can’t figure out a curious or peculiar address. I don’t rest until I get to the bottom of it.
Brian: What was the most complicated investigation you’ve done? I’ll throw up a link to it so people know.
Brooks: Cafiero’s, an old Italian restaurant in my area that closed in the 1970s, but was a social center in its day. I’ve been digging up stuff on that place for two years, and have found quite a bit. I’ve gotten inside the building, culled dozens of first-hand stories, and finally even heard from two of the descendants of the Cafiero family, who sent me pictures of the founders! That was gratifying.
Brian: Speaking of journalism, I believe you’re a Pete Hammill fan. I’m ambivalent about his work. He’s a fine reporter to be sure and his introduction Meyer Berger’s New York is lovely. When he veers into history I have a lot more problems, as he perpetuates a lot of myths about pre-WW II Brooklyn and even as a memoir, there are such huge holes and what I think are purposeful evasions (especially of Gilbert Sorrentino, whose Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is the essential mad-comic roman a clef of the Cedar Tavern scene and other) in A Drinking Life I wanna 86 from the Irish tavern of my mind.
Brooks: I am a fan. I guess I’m a fan of the kind of journalist and the kind of journalism he represents— a world I was too late to be a part of when I moved to New York in 1988. I like A Drinking Life. You may be right that he bobs and weaves among the truths. All memoirs do. But if it’s a lie, it’s a beautiful lie.
Brian: Lost City keeps a running tab on beloved or threatened Manhattan and Brooklyn landmarks (with some forays further abroad) but what keeps it from morbidity I think is that you also seek out new places of wonder during your travels. What new discoveries have especially surprised or delighted you and what older losses still hurt?
Brooks: I do try to cover the Bronx and Queens as best as I can, but I should do better. I am amazed when I discover age-old classics that I didn’t know existed, ever after living here 20 years. Recently I found the Glaser bakery in Yorkville, an old German place that’s been there 80 years. Completely unchanged. I didn’t know about the French restaurant Le Veau d’Or until three years ago, and it’s been around since 1933. As for losses, I still can’t get over not having experienced the Sunview Luncheonette in Greenpoint before it closed two years ago.
Brian: Oh, that’s a shame. I insisted to my writer Jean Thilmany, when she did an old Williamsburg and Greenpoint piece for the book, that she include the Luncheonette and Caffe Capri, which is still there on Graham Avenue… very near what was the old town center of Bushwick.
This is a good way for me to ask what do you think of the evolution of neighborhood names? I used to be scornful of changes until I learned a lot more about 19th c. and pre-WWII Brooklyn history; now I try to combine playful mockery with fatalism. Things evolve—the question is why? The inventions of Ulmer Park or Parkville or Futurama— which didn’t stick— strike me as different than the clearly racist “Carroll Gardens.”
“Funny” how real estate again commemorates (after Carroll Street and Carroll Park) a Baltimore slave owner at precisely the same time some want to seperate themselves dark-skinned and declasse Red Hook and South Brooklyn, the inane “Boerum Hill” and the fanciful “Cobble Hill,” although if Cobble Hill had remained Fort Swift it would have been funny. Jerry Lewis is Lenny Bruce compared to “Columbia Street Waterfront District.”
Brooks: I hate it that it seems to be left to real estate brokers to rename neighborhoods. Still, in the end, you get used to some of the names, and some are even appropriate. Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens make sense historically. But I still think just plain “South Brooklyn” is an excellent place name. I, however, loathe “Columbia Heights Waterfront District.” The name will never pass my lips.
Brian: Thank you, brother. On a related issue, the most common overused trope about Brooklyn and NYC in general is the one about “diversity.” As someone who lives in an area with significant Irish, Italian, Norwegian, “Spanish” (first mostly Cuban and Spanish, later Puerto Rican and Dominican) black and Arab heritages, all of which—except for the cartoon version of a so-called “Mafia”— are underknown in detail, how do you relate to these layers, some more lost than others but all obscured by the near-monoculture of the media?
Brooks: How do I relate? As best as i can, i guess. I relish the cultures that surround me and do my best to interact with them. Sometimes it’s very difficult to penetrate the walls that remain between us, however. Still, I’m happy my son is growing up being exposed to the traditions of so many different peoples.
Brian: When I first moved to South Brooklyn, the existence of the Anthony Anastasio Memorial Longshoremen’s Medical Center at Court and Union blew my mind— whoa! It was combination of disbelief and elation but between that and the Gowanus Canal—fetid as it was—I was sold. When did you become aware of the enormity of South Brooklyn’s criminal and labor heritage?
Brooks: After a few years of living in Carroll Gardens. The neighborhood’s history is actually quite frightening, when you think of it. People romanticize mob culture to a ridiculous extent in this country. Sometimes I wonder if they even know what they’re idolizing. I have no affection for that world. It’s only as history that it interests me.
Brian: Well, it’s complex situation, especially when you go back to the Black Hand, the Unione Sicialane, and all that, which few people do; they’d rather watch The Godfather, or Good Fellas or whatever.
Anyway, another quality I admire about Lost City is that you sometime have a hardass side, which any true New Yorker will recognize as their own. I’ll admit I was surprised by your criticism of the Red Hook post office, Not that your observations weren’t true—I know all too well they were 1000% accurate— but it was impressive you still have the energy/idealism expect more. I admit it, I gave up, and just try to follow the path of least resistance—I’ve been to a lot of post offices in Brooklyn and nearly all of them are some kind of nightmare, even if there are individual workers who try their best.
Brooks: Nobody should be satisfied with the way the post offices are run in Brooklyn. Nobody. It’s unacceptable. I’m old-fashioned. I think that, even if you hate your job, you should take some pride in doing it well, if only out of self-respect. I’ve disliked most of the jobs I’ve held, but I would never like to think that people thought I was lousy at what I do, or that I didn’t try to help them when they needed help.
Brian: Preach, Brother! You’ve convinced me.
On another topic, what are some of the South Brooklyn losses you feel? Mine are the Longshoremen’s Medical Center; Helen’s Place, a great old-guy red sauce joint on Court; Happy Horse Tire Shop; the Puerto Rican social clubs on Smith Street; Latticini Barese on Union and the original House of Pizza guys. Bleach House! And oh, what was the name of that antagonistic coffee shop lady on Court St? I miss the former quiet Red Hook but that’s another topic; I miss its roughhouse lunchpail vulgarity and brothel commotion too but that’s another, older story. [See Lisanne McTernan, usually of Found In Brooklyn, "Once Upon A Time In Gowanus" for part of it.]
Brooks: I miss some of those exact things, particularly Helen’s and Latticini Barese. The latter had the most amazing sandwiches. I miss them to this day. The original Cammerari Bakery. Mola Pizza. Lombardi’s. But I’ve been lucky. Really, quite a lot of the South Brooklyn places have remained.
Brian: Has Brooklyn besides Gage & Tollner played a part in your Brooklyn cosmology? It’s not ideal but I’ve always dug Fulton Street, and I liked the whole crazyass Beat Street Records scene, which got almost no attention in the so-called “neighborhood blogs” or local press; it was a real crossroads for hip-hop and DJ culture. Even today I’ll take a sneaker stores over some ridiculous luxury baby emporium.
Brooks: Downtown Brooklyn drives me crazy. I can be romantic about a lot of things, but not about present day Fulton Mall, which is almost wholly hideous. When I walk down the strip and think of the wonderful old buildings that are hidden behind those garish signs, I want to scream. The area needs to be reclaimed from its current commercialized sinkhole.
Brian: Hah! You should have seen it before Willoughy and Myrtle were razed because of goddamn Metrotech, tho’ I think you’d have liked those streets more than Fulton proper, as there was a good mix of street level retail with apartments above. It was more like what Fort Greene was, although less genteel.
This is a good point to ask for your take on historic preservation? I know you have a keen interest in signage, which is generally overlooked in favor of “architecture” per se. Digital printing of awnings has really diminished the art of sign making in painting and neon and also the glory of plastic letters that decay or fall off over time: Peper Bros aint in Bushwick is perhaps my all-time favorite, tho’ it’s great “Joe’s uperette” on Smith Street remains.
On the other hand, public interest in the sign attached to Domino Sugar still puzzles me; what is it besides a FREE AD for an international conglomerate (Lyle & Tate) with a very mixed legacy in Brooklyn? Why not just smash the fucking thing and commission artists to do some kind of labor memorial instead, or at least charge money for the advertising? I ask you, Brooks of Sheffield: where’s the line between historicism and bullshit nostaglia?
Brooks: I have always tried not to err on the side of mindless nostalgia on Lost City. Some people will rail against the closing of some no-account t-shirt store if they think a Popeye’s is going to open in the same space. But you have to choose your battles. If you protest the closing of every old business, you cheapen your argument for preservation. Some things are worth fighting for, others are worth only a heavy sigh.
Brian: Dude, that reminds me, remember when the corner of Smith and Union was that Italian used car lot? Then it was sold and turned into a parking lot except the owner was such a clown, he thought he could make curb cuts— right through the subway grate! So much for the banners he printed up telling people they could enter on Smith St, ooops.
Then it’s Spring of 2004 and the scary troll himself Marty Markowitz is here because it’s the ribbon cutting of the new Eckerd store. Just what South Brooklyn needed! I tried to ignore iy but I happened to ride my bike by at the exact moment Marty was starting to speak—I forget who else was there, some Brooklyn business yokels, the store manager, maybe even somebody Regional! At first I rode past it muttering been then I thought… I have to go back.
Marty starts bullshitting about in front of a yellow ribbon about how great this new store is for Brooklyn—meanwhile the same generic portraits in every American strip are up in the window— it’s dynamic and exciting and I finally have to interrupt and say what the hell are you talking about Marty? There are TWO mom and pop pharmacies within three blocks of here, and at least five bodegas—how is this is good for Brooklyn?
I’ll say this, Marty’s slick sometimes and tries to flip it back to me and he quickly says “And this is what’s great about Brooklyn too—we speak our minds.” I get irritated a bit and say something like, come on Marty, tell me the names of the pharmacies on Court St that were so bad this is just what Brooklyn needed?
Then—and this was beautiful—a mom with a young child in a non-luxury stroller steps up and goes in on Marty for Atlantic Yards and the then-new downtown redevelopment plan. I was laughing ecstatic—GO MOM!!—even if it was just a moment.
So-called Atlantic Yards and borough politics—your move.
Brooks: Atlantic Yards was and is a political and social crime of massive proportions from start to finish. No questions. The history books will tell us all the backroom chicanery that went on. It was a see-through scam, a bad idea designed to line pockets. It consigns Ratner, Markowitz, Bloomberg, Pataki, the New York media to infamy for the rest of time. This may seem like hyperbole, but no words can completely capture the public scandal that is Atlantic Yards. And any public official that cries, “Hurrah! An Eckerd’s has arrived!” is insane and a bane on the city.
Brian: I’m proud it was a Brooklyn boy, Jack Newfield, who doggedly pursued bad politics but would also praise those public officals he found meritorious, even if Jack was the co-author of a book that misread largely misread Giuliani, “City For Sale.” Rudy was—and remains— one of the a great American frauds, from the ghost of Patrick Dorismond (RIP) to the Thunderbolt rollercoaster ad nauseum. was useful if not nothing else as a uniter of dissent, although that doesn’t excuse any of his foul conduct, from Patrick Dorismond on down.
Then we have the allegedly “beyond political,” Mike Bloomberg, a more affable fraud on his good days but still a loathseome, dictatorial, corrupt and corrupting figure. Go Mets! Go Yankees! Fiscal Austerity! NYC 2012, baby! It was hilarious to watch Bloomberg flirt with national politics in 2007 until… he was utterly rejected and then bought out the City Council to overturn term limits, which I was fucking stupefied by. Tom Robbins of the Village Voice wrote a brilliant, scornful column about the Bloomberg’s Coup and the venality of the City Council but those are just words. I wonder how much Bloomberg paid your Council member, Sara Gonzalez to let him buy the Mayoralty again?
Brooks: Anyone who reads lost city knows what I think of Bloomberg. It’s unfortunately a minority opinion at this point. I hope it does not remain so. He is truly a toxic force, antithetical to the true nature of the city, and an unvarnished megalomaniac and misanthrope.
Brian: Perhaps the most controversial post is your low-opinion of the beloved-by-many D’Amico’s; what’s the problem there and what do you look for in coffee beans? I’ve been drinking a variety of roasts from Jittery Joe’s in Athens, Georgia; this morning Espresso, later Terrapin Wake-N-Bake, described as “Dark roasted and earthy Zimbabwe beans are complemented by the bright acidity of Costa Rican Tarrazu and mellowness of Nicaraguan Matagalpa.”
Brooks: Really? That was my most controverial post? I had no idea. I’m sorry. I’ve drunk some of the great coffee in the world in my time. D’amico’s doesn’t come close. It tasted burnt. It just tastes burnt. D’amico’s is a case, I think, where people’s romantic feeling for the place gets in the way of their judgment. For instance, I love sam’s pizzeria. But do I know that Babbo makes much better Italian food? Of course i do! You have to have some perspective. What do I look for in an espresso? A strong, tight, low shot with a good cream, full-flavored but not too meaty or thick. A good espresso should not pack a huge caffeine wallop.
Brian: Oh, I’m not offended—always looking to learn more, thank you. Conversely, I’m not much a drinker, although I have my favorite old Brooklyn spots like Randy’s Hide-A-Way and Vern’s Happiness Lounge… What are your favorite drinks in different bars, i.e. for scotch you go here, for beer there, cocktails another place, etc.
Brooks: I’m a big wine and cocktail drinker. I’m fussy, so for those drinks I tend to favor the newer, high-end bars where the bartenders know what they’re doing. For a simple beer or scotch, though, I’m happy at an old-time tavern like the Brooklyn Tavern, Old Town Bar, P.J. Clarke’s, etc.
Brian: As part of my research for our conversation I have a list here of popular drinks from the golden 1890s, allegedly the age marking the rise of the bartender. I’m buying—what will you have?
Tom & Jerry
New Orleans Punch
Brooks: My favorites among these are the Manhattan, Sherry Cobbler and Gin Fizz. I also like a Sazerac and Old-Fashioned, which you didn’t list.
Brian: What’s next for Lost City and is there a way people can support some of your causes?
Brooks: What’s next. Don’t know. I sort of make this up as I go. I have an aversion against getting too organized and “corporate” about the blog. It’s one of the few pure things I do in my life. As for what people can do, just frequent New York’s classic businesses, help them stay in business. And don’t be lazy and shop at the chains. They’re your enemy.
And, please god almighty, don’t vote for Bloomberg.
Caz Dolowicz was born on Sands Street in 1923; King Asiatic Nobody’s Equal and a retired MTA Tower Operator, he lives in Bay Ridge.
All photographs by Brian Berger