Monday, July 30, 2012

Vanishing New York, or Doma (No) More

Doma, back in April 2007
I'm a regular reader of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, a blog devoted to cataloguing the rapidly disappearing vestiges of pre-Bloomberg Manhattan (and to a lesser extent, Brooklyn and the other boroughs), be they restaurants, barbers' schools, bodegas, gay leather bars, you name it, be they 10 or 100 years old. One can rightly argue that Manhattan is always changing and has been for over three and a half centuries, but what Jeremiah Moss captures, much as I've observed in my much less attentive way, in his sometimes overly nostalgic and sentimental but always informative posts is that the pace of transformation from the post-9/11 moment to today, driven mainly by hypergentrification, the accelerating colonization of neighborhoods by chain stores, and the vicious cycle and unaffordable rents, except by the superrich and mega-corporations, outstrips the pace of change of the previous ten years.

Even the behemoth NYU, which has rescrambled its neighborhood more than once, couldn't clear out and knock down and throw up buildings as quickly during the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, as it has done over the past decade. (It also has managed to come back from ICU status to now somehow hosting campuses not just in Manhattan and Brooklyn--where it snapped up not just its former engineering and architecture departments, which Polytechnic University of Brooklyn had taken over, during its troubled period thirty-something years ago, but that entire institution!--but in Abu Dhabi and, if I read correctly, in Shanghai, China very soon.) No matter how sharply pitched the outrage by neighborhood residents, the faculty, and politicians, NYU, like New York's bossy imperial mayor and its still growing cadre of billionaires and multimillionaires, is getting its way.

But my point with this post was not to launch into a tirade against my (one of them) alma mater. If you Google "NYU village plan outrage" or a similar combination you will find more than enough material to decide on the appropriate emotion. (Or just let Fran Lebowitz [cf. below] do it for you.) I also suggest visiting Jeremiah's site, which often points to places you might want to drop by in order to catch them before another high-end condo building crams into the spot they once occupied, or learn about a planned action to save a struggle bookstore, or chase down links to peruse if the mention of the words "hipster" and "artisanal" and "luxury" and "Ivy League" in the same sentence sparks in any emotion in you. Or if you just want to witness other people's exasperation at entitlement and privilege and no care for the swift, capitalist erasure of the past and present.

Doma, on March 22, 2012
I began this post to memorialize a spot that Jeremiah did not cover, a café-wine bar that was close to my heart, Doma, because, as he wrote to me in a polite email reply, others had covered it. What was Doma and why was it special to me? It was a tiny café that sat at the corner of 7th Avenue, Waverly Place and Perry Streets, in Greenwich Village. It was quite affordable as New York spots go, had decent coffee, slightly better pastries, very good aguas frescas, economical wine (though I rarely drank there), and, at least for a while, a very relaxed atmosphere that encouraged creativity. (The Czech name, Doma, means "home" or "at home," and it certainly had a Bohemian air.) It was a neighborhood-centric joint, with a revolving monthly gallery, that also drew people from all over the metro area, and among the regulars (including an elderly artist who drew extraordinarily elaborate pencil and ink abstractions, or local graduate students, or people working on hieroglyphic math problems--professors? post-docs?), there would be the occasional glamorous or semi-glamorous person (Calvin Klein, Elizabeth Wurtzel, John Cameron Mitchell--I saw all of them, so not just making this bit up) sliding in and out without much to-do.  One cool element of the place was that they had a bookshelf of all the books written or revised within Doma over the years, and it was quite a little library. The café-restaurant, which opened in 2002, stayed fairly relaxed up through about 2007, I think, and then, as the pace of gentrification ticked faster, it glitzed up a bit, becoming a bit more bistro-esque after 6. But during the day it still retained, to the extent possible, what it had been. I also think musicians played there, but I never caught a performance, since those usually happened after my clearing-out time.

It was also the place where I wrote, discussed and revised a good deal of Seismosis during the summers of 2003 to 2006 with my fellow collaborator, Chris Stackhouse. Since it was convenient for both of us to get to, I'd often go there, sketch a bit, work on revisions I'd drafted initially at home, and then show and discuss them with him. He often had to get back to Brooklyn or head somewhere else, so after our discussions I would just chill, write a little more, grit my teeth and not complain because the place did not have Wifi (though if you sat close to the front windows, you could pick up a free connection from time to time), and Doma was also not far from the Village Copier, on Hudson Street, where I copied and bound not only the many drafts of that book, but other many short stories, novel chapters, poems, and so on, over the years. (It too is gone, and its storefront remains empty, occasionally filling with sets for photoshoots.)  Even though Doma was changing--though the other café where I worked on Seismosis, Il Panino Giusto, just down Perry and up Hudson, is thankfully still open--and I'd found a new favorite spot at the New York Public Library's Research Branch, I tried to drop by there from time to time when I was back in New York.

And then, this past March, during spring break, I went by Doma to get a cup of coffee and catch up on reading I'd had to put off because of the academic quarter, and it was closed. Emptied out. A shell. March 18, I believe, was its terminal day. I knew its hour of reckoning was coming, given that it sat on one of the primest spots in lower Manhattan, but I also though that the clientele, some of whom did belong to the 1%, could keep it afloat. But then again, since Doma did not own the building, if those 1%ers weren't directly negotiating with the landlord to keep the rent reasonable--a threat to many a business across New York--or if one of them wasn't the landlord and thus could decide to go against the grain and not gouge, the café-restaurant was going to have to clear out. It did. Sic know how that goes.
Doma na Rohu, on Morton St.
But the story doesn't end there. Because Doma miraculously did find a new spot, a bit out of the way and further south in the Village, at 27 1/2 Morton, at Seventh Avenue South. In addition to the new location, it found a new name: Doma na rohu. (Uh huh, and yes they use the lowercase letters, and I'm not making that up.) And from what I can tell it has morphed into a more beer-centric spot, with an Austro-Hungarian/Mitteleuropa focus (double huh?), perhaps because, at least a year or two ago, beer bars and beer gardens had become quite popular in New York. And Germany, which I have been noting various people in comment sections keep threatening to move to, or urging others to do so. (WTF? Also, I love beer, but grew up in a city where German beer gardens and rathskellers and street festivals featuring beer and beer itself were so plentiful it might as well have been Munich, or Prague. Ich möchte nicht in Deutschland leben jetzt oder später. That's from my high school German, and I think that's close to right, yes?) Perhaps the beer gardens still are popular, and perhaps the rich people will go live in Germany if Barack Obama wins reelection in the fall (though he does everything he can to keep them happy except tuck them into bed every night and promise them endless tax cuts, even though he's ensure they got to keep the ones that have made them obscene rich and thrown the entire US economy out of whack).

Anyways I have not yet hied myself over to Doma Na Rohu yet, though I keep saying I will. I haven't even been back in New Jersey for an entire month yet, so that's my excuse. I will get over there, though. I'm closer than the Brooklynites and their beer gardens, but it still isn't as convenient to get to as the old spot was, and I really am not looking to drink beer in the middle of the day, pleasant as that sounds (though if it gets hot again and I'm not already in Newark, I just might reconsider), and as I said I'm not so gung-ho on the whole heavy-duty Middle European thematics--and let's not talk about the scary mess that contemporary Hungary has become, at least not in this post--but I will check it out. Uh...soon.

1 comment:

  1. Na rohu=on the corner. It's interesting; Czech pubs usually have location names, though almost always with the preposition "u," meaning "at," which I'm told dates to the days before street addresses; you would tell someone that the pub could be found "u Kalicha" (the name of the pub in The Good Soldier Svejk), which means "at the chalice," or "at the sign of the chalice." Meaning that the pub could be identified by the picture of a chalice hanging outside the door. Basically every Czech pub ever has that preposition in its name. So I think it's odd and interesting that Doma would use na instead.

    This has been more-information-than-you-ever-needed-or-wanted-about-czech-pub-names-which-maybe-you-knew-already-anyway-because-you-know-a-lot-of-things, brought to you by Miriam being online late at night.