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The Corner Bistro, Autumn 2007. (photo by Jackson)

The Corner Bistro, Autumn 2007. (photo by Jackson)

  

“McGovern motioned to Dave the bar-tender for another drink. McGovern was drinking a Vodka McGovern. Dave of course was more than a little familiar with the drink, a rather large helping of vodka, soda, fresh orange juice and a squeeze of lime. It had to be a squeeze of lime.”( “Musical Chairs”, 1991).

 One of Kinky’s favourite eateries is the Corner Bistro on West 4th Street, just opposite Jane Street and McGovern’s apartment in Jane Street. It features in several of his novels and he is taken ill with malaria while drinking there with McGovern at the start of “The prisoner of Vandam Street” (2004).

The Corner Bistro is a Greenwich Village tradition still going strong today. Check it out.

Inside the Corner Bistro

Inside the Corner Bistro

 

331 W 4th St
New York, NY 10014 +1 212-242-9502.

Dining at La Labotomy

La Bonbonniere July 2008 (photo by Paul & Shand)

La Bonbonniere July 2008 (photo by Paul & Shand)

“Charles the cook and proprieter took our order. Charles was one of the few Frenchmen I liked, and that was because he was probably a Greek. Charles is a French name and La Bonbonniere is a French name but the cusiine and ambiance of the place is more like a Greek Coffee shop than a French restaurant. I like Greek Coffee shops more than French restuarants. They’re more American.” (“Frequent Flyer,” 1989).

La Labotomy is Kinky’s pet name for La Bonbonniere his local diner or as we would call it, cafe, in England.

The good news is that La Bonbonniere is still going strong today and of course Kinky was correct when he said its owner was Greek despite its French sounding name. It is located at 28 8th Avenue and by all accounts does a mean hamburger. Be warned however, it does not open in the evenings.

Interior of La Labotomy by NY Mag

Interior of La Labotomy by NY Mag

Here is a recent  review from Yelp: 

Ok, this place is a dump. And I mean that in only the most loving way. When I first moved to New York, dives like this were everywhere. But with the mall-ing of Soho and the proliferation of Starbucks, they slowly and silently died out. I hope this one never does. La Bonbonniere is, essentially, the quintessential mom-and-pop diner and the formica in there is older than I am. They have at least one cat that roams around cozying up to you as you read the newspaper waiting for quite possibly the best blueberry pancakes on the planet, served on heavy diner crockery with a steaming cup-o-java. The windows are plastered with yellowing love letters to the place that echo my opinion. It’s damn good, cheap food. Try to score a table outside on the sidewalk.

La Bonbonniere is at 28th 8th Avenue  New York NY 10014 212-741-9266

Is this 199b Vandam?

Is this 199b Vandam Street?

“I took a place on Vandam Street. It was a sparsely furnished loft in an old decrepit warehouse recently converted to the Church of the Latterday Landlord”. (Blast from the Past, 1998).

All Kinky fans must have harboured a wish at some time to visit the source of his inspiration, the loft at 199b Vandam Street, Greenwich Village. I got the chance last year when I was in Manhattan, so I ankled it over to Vandam to find the hallowed spot and take a photo or two. Only, like Sherlock Holmes’ flat in Baker Street, it ain’t there. There is no 199b Vandam Street. The numbers don’t go past 100.

So does 199b Vandam Street even exist? or was it all a figment of Kinky’s over-cooked imagination?

Read on…… Vandam Street itself of course exists. It is on the south western edge of the Village. This area has been called variously SoHo, the West Village, and most recently, Hudson Square – by developers who are buying up and converting the remaining warehouses. Zoning regulations have protected the development of the area into a residential district so far but there are signs that this is changing. (In spring 2008 Donald Trump’s controversial Soho tower “condo-hotel” was going up at Spring Street and Varick Street, just south of Vandam, and attracting furious protests from local residents and amenity societies who viewed it, correctly, as attempting to exploit a loophole in the zoning regulations).

“I sipped a luke espresso and gazed at New York from the kitchen window. A wall, a billboard, a fire escape. What else did you need?”  (Frequent Flyer 1989).


I considered emailing Kinky himself to ask him direct. And while I was mulling this over, I also went for the hard boiled computer approach. While I was doing this some intriguing facts came to light. First I found a radio interview, back in 1999, where a caller asked Kinky if Winnie Katz’s lesbian dance studio ever really existed. Kinky told him to go and look for it, at 99 Vandam. So where was 99 Vandam? It had to be at the end near Greenwich Street. But I couldn’t find that either. The numbers seemed to stop at No 95, a loft conversion. I knew that Kinky lived on the fourth floor of a 5 storey block, No 95 was a 5 storey loft conversion so could that be it?

I went back to my computer and googled again. At the end of Vandam, on the junction with Greenwich there are two warehouses, one straddling each corner. By a stroke of luck, both buildings had recently come onto the market and I was able to look up the real estate agents’ details for them.

The first warehouse is on the southern corner of Greenwich and Vandam. It is a handsome, refurbished, red brick, 5 storey warehouse dating from 1910 and sold for $20m dollars back in 2006.  It is numbered 531 Greenwich Street in the sales particulars but has an entrance, No 100, on Vandam. The warehouse on the opposite corner, No 533 Greenwich (see photo above) is in a less good state, run down and graffiti strewn on the lower floors, although a glance at the exterior shows that higher- up the lofts are better maintained. Getting warmer…..

No 533 Greenwich Street, turns out to have a chequered history. It is actually home to 12 sitting tenants, who have been there on “rent strike” since 1990! Somehow with the assistance of their lawyer, they have managed to perch on a loophole in the zoning legislation and have refused to budge (apparently awaiting the right incentive, believed to be in the region of 500,000 dollars each).

In spring 2008, after the latest owner lost patience, No 533 Greenwich Street, was put onto the market with the lure of air rights overlooking the river. (In the end it went for auction on 13 May 2008 with a starting price of $1m (final selling price not yet known). So was this the original 199b Vandam?

Then  a second stroke of luck. On the real estate agents’ site for the sale of No 533 Vandam, there was a diagram showing the location of the air rights above the buildings across the end of  Vandam Street and Greenwich Street (the next street north) with building numbers 99 and 101 marked at  street level on Vandam  on the corner building now numbered as 533 Greenwich Street.

There was my answer. Although the main entrance to the warehouse on the corner is now 533 Greenwich Street, the blocked up entrances on Vandam Street are Nos 99 and 101. Kinky added the 1 and the B in tribute to his hero Sherlock Holmes of 22b Baker Street.

And just to prove I was right, a few months later I actually found a shot of  99 Vandam on Flickr website.

99 Vandam Street May 2008 (Michael Dashkin onFlickr)

99 Vandam Street May 2008 (Michael Dashkin onFlickr)

99b Vandam street

Above is the original doorway at No:99.

And here below is the building in full,  in July 2008.

Is this 199b Vandam (photo by Paul & Shand July 2008)

Is this 199b Vandam (photo by Paul & Shand July 2008)

To the right of the tree in the photo you can see an exterior fire escape. If you look carefully you will also see the bricked up doorway which used to be the entrance to No:99 Vandam. There is also a service elevator entrance on the left of the blocked up door.

If you google Vandam Street on Google maps on the Internet, you can drive up and down it in cyberspace and see the buildings. And irony of ironies, the Google shot of the corner of Vandam and Greenwich features a garbage truck turning in the centre of the picture. Life imitating art or what!



Big Wong's July 2008 (photo by Paul-Shand)

Big Wong

“Roast pork I’d observed in the past, was so killer bee at Big Wong’s that it often ran out before anything else on the menu.”(Blast from the Past, 1998)

In his novels, the Kinkster and Ratso regularly ate at Big Wong’s Chinese restaurant  in China Town where they were greeted by the waiters with cries of: “Ooh la la, Kee-Kee, Chee –Chee”. (Kinky never worked out if this greeting was praise or mockery.)

Ratso always orders his favourite meal, “pawk” over eggs, although he doesn’t always get it, as Big Wong’s roast pork is so popular it often sells out.

“I ordered the soy sauce chicken, chopped Chinese style and a bowl of wonton mein soup, the best soup in the world I had to admit, including the matzo-ball soup at the Carnegie Deli. Ratso was enormously disappointed to learn that the restaurant had run out of roast pork. He took it well however and made do with three other dishes including the ever popular squid with sour Chinese vegetables. “(“The Love Song of J Edgar Hoover”, 1996 ).

The good news for Kinky fans is that Big Wong’s is still there today. It changes its name every so often, usually with variations on a Wong theme but remains universally known as Big Wong’s. It is located in Mott Street in the old Chinese Quarter of Manhattan. Historically Canal Street marked the divide between Little Italy (to the North) and China Town (to the south.) .

And despite Kinky’s misgivings that:

“Big Wong’s would continue to be a killer-bee restaurant until some nerd from the New York Times walked in with a bow tie and an umbrella and gave it a couple of stars and soon they’d be serving sweet-and-sour veal and giving fortune cookies and no one would ever say  Kee-kee or Chee-chee again”, “(The Love Song of J Edgar Hoover, 1996 ).

the critics’acclaim does not seem to have dented Big Wong’s essential quality or its continuing appeal.

“Rarely do you find as deep a chasm between style and sustenance as at Chinatown’s Big Wong King, a Cantonese stalwart where the cuisine is as inviting as the furnishings are unremarkable.” New York Magazine Restaurant Critic Stephen Weiss, 2008.

Big Wong’s is at 67 Mott Street, just south of Canal Street  in the heart of China Town, about 13 blocks due east of Vandam Street.

Interior of Big Wong's in 2007

Interior of Big Wong

Mott Street takes its name from an English family, who lived there in the 17th century. It is thought to have been named after Joseph Mott, a butcher who owned a tavern at what is now 143rd and 8th Avenue, that served as an hq for General Washington during the Revolutionary War. Here is an early postcard showing it as the heart of the Chinese quarter in the early 20th century.

Mott Street NY 1900s

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