Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Umour De-gentrification Ritual Successful

The De-gentrification Ritual performed by Ritual Specialists Kol and Loudmouth Bill in NYC in December (and documented on the main page of this site) seems to have already achieved some success. Behold the spectacular return of the Holland Bar. This is exactly why the current economic meltdown will, ultimately, be understood for the huge blessing that it surely is. All hail this life-affirming ill-wind which bringeth down those Philistines that have corrupted and desecrated our magical city. The following article is from todays N.Y. Times:

In Midtown, the Return of a Barfly’s Paradise

Published: January 26, 2009
Three men appeared when Gary Kelly lifted the steel gate one weekday afternoon on what used to be the Holland Bar. They used to drink there, and were eager to know when their exile would end.

“I feel like a homeless person without a cardboard box,” said one of the men, who gave his name only as Harry because he did not want his girlfriend or boss to learn more about his drinking habit than they already knew.

“Don’t worry,” said Mr. Kelly, who had only stopped by that day to talk to his electrician. “I’ll get you your cardboard box.”

For decades, the Holland Bar, on Ninth Avenue between 39th and 40th Streets in Hell’s Kitchen, made a name for itself serving cheap beer to loyal drinkers who did not mind squeezing into a tiny, crusty room barely wide enough to fit the bar and the stools in front of it.

The regulars came around noon for a pint to accompany their bag lunches, watched the horses, then left, only to return for another drink after quitting time. Slumming professionals and tourists who read about the place in guidebooks mixed in enthusiastically. Anthony Bourdain, the chef and host of the cable television program “No Reservations,” described it as one of the city’s best dives.

Then last summer the Holland became one of those typical New York institutions: the beloved local haunt forced to shut down. According to Mr. Kelly, who has owned the bar since 1998, the landlord refused to renew the lease in the hopes that he could make more money converting the building for residential use or selling it off. But such plans apparently did not work out, and the landlord offered Mr. Kelly his old space back starting Jan. 1, albeit at a 20 percent increase in the rent. Now the Holland is scheduled to reopen its taps as soon as Wednesday.

(The landlord, Ebeden Wong, did not return telephone messages.)

Although the location will be familiar to patrons, Mr. Kelly still had to start practically from scratch in recreating the place. Since the Holland closed its doors, the bar had been destroyed, the plumbing had been removed, the floor had been ripped out.

And much of the physical record of the bar’s history that had been pasted to its walls — the photographs of customers who had died years before, the posters for shows at the dear, departed CBGB — is gone, too. Mr. Kelly sent many framed pictures home with regulars as farewell gifts, other memorabilia went into storage. One of the relics of the Holland’s lore — an urn containing the ashes of Charlie O’Connor, a former bartender — had gone missing.

But Mr. Kelly refused to give away the 12-foot neon sign that spelled out the bar’s name, a reminder of its original location at the Holland Hotel a few blocks away. That never left its place on the wall behind the bar, even after the bar had been demolished.

“People wanted to take the sign, but I said no,” Mr. Kelly said. “I wanted to be optimistic. I always thought there was a shot.”

The sign is, indeed, still there, along with the words “Holland Bar, established 1927,” painted on the storefront window, although Mr. Kelly said he doubted it had actually been around that long.

For Mr. Kelly, 63, who is a salesman for Time Warner Security, the past six months were the first time in many years that he had not been behind a bar. He said he spent much of his free time nagging his once and future landlord for a new lease.

Holland’s other bartenders drifted to dives in the surrounding blocks. Bill Leary, known as Dr. Bill, took over the Monday and Tuesday shifts at the Bull Moose Saloon, on 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, and Steve Bibko has been serving free hot dogs along with Jameson shots and Budweiser back at Rudy’s Bar and Grill, at 44th and Ninth.

Some of the former Holland regulars are patiently running tabs at Rudy’s. Hank, a former regular who declined to give his full name because he “didn’t want people calling me on the telephone,” chuckled at the idea of Mr. Kelly spending his days with architects and electricians instead of gamblers and drinkers, and said he missed the claustrophobia of Holland.

“There’s something about a small bar, people talk to one another,” he said. “After five o’clock this place is full of yuppies,” he said of Rudy’s. “I don’t know them from Adam.” He shook his head. “I’m waiting.”

A few blocks away at the Bull Moose Saloon, Dr. Bill, whose title was bestowed upon him by barflies rather than an accredited medical school, said some of the Holland regulars had found him through word of mouth and a few phone calls. Others run into him and always ask when the Holland will be back. But many of those from the old lunch crowd have not made the trek five blocks north, so he goes to work not knowing whether he will see any of the old faces.

But Mr. Leary worked at Holland for almost 20 years, and remembered other seismic shifts in its history: the move, when the bar relocated from the hotel that gave it its name in 1987, and the upheaval that came when Mr. Kelly took over the bar and installed televisions, drawing criticism that he is still smarting from today. (For his part, Mr. Leary said he did not mind televisions as long as they were muted so he could hear the jukebox.)

“It was a unique place, especially at the beginning,” he said. “Then as the years went by, everybody sort of died off. The old regulars were replaced by new regulars.”

Mr. Kelly said he was confident that many of the old regulars would reappear, just like they had been doing whenever he lifted the steel gates to work on rebuilding the place. He said that the bar’s philosophy, that people would rather pay $4 for a beer here than $8 for the same drink at the bistro across the street, would remain the same. But he also said that he knew the new Holland Bar would be different from the place he feared he had closed for good last year.

Asked what exactly would change, he did not hesitate.

“Nothing, I hope,” he said.

Friday, January 16, 2009

An Act Of Ubique Umouriation

From yesterday's N.Y. Times; dripping with juicy Umouriation:

January 15, 2009
Art Hoax Unites Europe in Displeasure

LONDON — Why didn’t anyone realize right away that there was something seriously weird about the new piece of art in Brussels?

The piece, an enormous mosaic installed in the European Council building over the weekend, was meant to symbolize the glory of a unified Europe by reflecting something special about each country in the European Union.

But wait. Here is Bulgaria, represented as a series of crude, hole-in-the-floor toilets. Here is the Netherlands, subsumed by floods, with only a few minarets peeping out from the water. Luxembourg is depicted as a tiny lump of gold marked by a “for sale” sign, while five Lithuanian soldiers are apparently urinating on Russia.

France? On strike.

The 172-square-foot, eight-ton installation, titled “Entropa,” consists of a sort of puzzle formed by the geographical shapes of European countries. It was proudly commissioned by the Czech Republic to mark the start of its six-month presidency of the European Union. But the Czechs made the mistake of hiring the artist David Cerny to put together the project.

Mr. Cerny is notorious for thumbing his nose at the establishment. He was arrested in 1991 for painting a tank, a Soviet war memorial in a Prague square, bright pink.

In the case of “Entropa,” Mr. Cerny presented the piece as the work of 27 artists, one from each country. But it was all a huge hoax.

After being challenged by reporters this week, Mr. Cerny admitted that he and two of his friends constructed the whole thing themselves, making up the names of artists, giving some of them Web sites and writing pretentious, absurd statements to go with their supposed contributions.

For example, next to the piece for Italy — depicted as a huge soccer field with little soccer players on it — it says, “It appears to be an autoerotic system of sensational spectacle with no climax in sight.”

The fake British entry, a kit of Europe in which the piece representing Britain has been taken out, says, “This improvement of exactness means that its individual selective sieve can cover the so-called objective sieve.”

Before the hoax was discovered, the Czech deputy prime minister, Alexandr Vondra, said “Entropa” — whose name alone should perhaps have been a sign that all was not as it seemed — epitomized the motto for the Czech presidency in Europe, “A Europe Without Borders.”

“Sculpture, and art more generally, can speak where words fail,” he said in a statement on Monday. “I am confident in Europe’s open mind and capacity to appreciate such a project.”

But he does not feel that way now.

“An agreement of the office of the government with the artist clearly stated that this would be the common work of artists from 27 E.U. states,” he said. “The full responsibility for violating this assignment and this promise lays with David Cerny.”

On its Web site, the Czech government said that it was “unpleasantly surprised” to learn the truth behind the mosaic.

The work has undoubtedly upset other people, too. The Germans are probably not too thrilled that their country is represented as a series of highways that, looked at a certain way, possibly bring to mind a swastika. Spain has to settle with being a huge construction site, while Romania is shown as a Dracula-themed amusement park.

According to the Czech News Agency, the Bulgarian government — the one whose country is shown as a bunch of toilets — summoned the Czech ambassador in Sofia to lodge an official protest. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian permanent representative to the European Union was quoted as saying: “It is preposterous, a disgrace. It is a humiliation for the Bulgarian nation and an offense to our national dignity.”

The Czechs have said that they are not sure what steps they will take before the official unveiling, scheduled for Thursday.

As for Mr. Cerny, on his Web site he said, “We knew the truth would come out.”

He added, “But before that we wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself.”

Thursday, January 08, 2009

UMOUR boys @ The High Line

A short time ago, Mr URS and Loudmouth bill attempted to access the Highline, a very odd blindspot/landmark in New York City. For various reasons, I was unable to attend but instead ended up at The Stone down on Avenue C.

Back back in the 1970s and, I swear, in the early 1980s, I remember seeing the trains of the high line. Unlike Chicago's subway system, these were true-blue freight trains, and I remember thinking "Well that's an odd site seeing a train ooze between buildings like that."

To this day I have wondered what it must have been like to work on that line: Imagine driving such a train into Manhattan and then, as raw hides of beef are being (un)loaded, or new clothes from the Tribecca factories loaded and sent into the hinterland, what must have it been like to be an engineer from, say, Kansas, getting out down on Hudson and walking into a building up at the second or third floor and then walking downstairs to have a pastrami-on-rye or maybe a hot dog? What was it like to walk around in a pre-post-industrial New York and working class downtown Manhattan? To have bumped into a shabbily dressed Pollack or Kerouac or Monk or Parker? (Of course, as a train driver you would likely never have guessed who these men were, but there would have been something solid and memorable about these brief encounters.)

As the high line closed to trains, and perhaps even before, like the Gowanus Canal, the High Line entered our blindspot: You didn't really see it or think about it anymore. It became something that, although incredibly strange in hindsight, you coluld nonetheless block it out and completely forget about it, as it did not fit into the collective image of a richer city that was emerging, or at least was being thrust upon us through the medium of increased rents.

Oh how I hope and pray to return with a complete set of UMOURiators to the scene of their crime with an axe one day and hack open that chain and lock and ascend to the High line and perhaps build a shanty or other perpetual tribute to impermanance.