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In this month’s issue of NEW New York Books, we venture beyond the printed page to include a podcast and a website, as well as a good ol’ printed and bound book. Writing about New York comes in all shapes, sizes, and media these days, as these three gems will prove.


strangers in the westStrangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900

By Linda K. Jacobs
paperback, 496 pages


Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900 tells the never-before-told story of the first Arab immigrants who came to New York from Greater Syria and settled in tenements on the lower west side of Manhattan, founding an Arabic-speaking enclave just south of the future site of the World Trade Center. It began as a family history project for Linda K. Jacobs, the book’s author, as all four of her grandparents were part of the community, and soon evolved into the first ethnography of this early Arab community. It was a community of peddlers and merchants, midwives and doctors, priests and journalists, belly dancers and impresarios, and between 1880 and 1900 these immigrants built a thriving colony that soon became the cultural and economic center of the Syrian diaspora in America. This is their story.

Linda L. Layne, Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, author of Home and Homeland, says of Strangers in the West:

At a time when the issue of immigration is once again a national concern, Jacobs’ fascinating account of this first generation Arab-American community is a welcome reminder of the challenges immigrants face and the wealth of benefits they bring to American society. Engagingly written, this work of historical demography is a superb resource.

Click here for more information or to purchase this book.


New-France_2_6_Map-of-New-Belgium-or-New-NetherlandNew Netherland Praatjes Podcast

If you visit the iTunes Store, you will see that there is a podcast about anything and everything you have ever wanted to know. There is something for everyone, and this includes old New York enthusiasts.

From the New York History blog:

The New Netherland Institute is now producing a new podcast hosted by best-selling author Russell Shorto. ‘New Netherland Praatjes’ (Dutch for ‘chat’) is a series of chats with historians, archaeologists, and other experts on New Netherland and the world of the 17th-century Dutch.

The latest episode features historian Susanah Romney, whose book New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America won the 2014 Annual Hendricks Award. Romney’s work challenges the assumption that state actors and trading companies were predominantly responsible for the perpetuation of New World colonies.

Subscribe to this series of podcasts via iTunes .

Also available on the New Netherland Institute’s website is the audio of the fifteen presentations at their latest conference, “The Dutch in American Across the Centuries: Connections and Comparisons.” The conference was jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Dutch-American Studies (AADAS).

From the site: “By 1700, the block was part of the large Bayard farm. The farm stretched from what is now Chinatown to the southern part of Greenwich Village, around 200 acres.” (Thomas Howell, ‘Greenwhich Village painting,’ 1768. Via Greene Street Project)

From the site: “By 1700, the block was part of the large Bayard farm. The farm stretched from what is now Chinatown to the southern part of Greenwich Village, around 200 acres.” (Thomas Howell, ‘Greenwhich Village painting,’ 1768. Via Greene Street Project)

Greene Street: A Long History of a Short Block

What can one block, a span of less than 500 feet of a New York City street, tell you? If you look closely enough, you can see 400 years of economic development. In a new website entitled, “Greene Street Project: A Long History of a Short Block,” (, William Easterly and Laura Freschi of NYU and Stephen Pennings of the World Bank have created an interactive timeline covering 400 years that charts the economic evolution of one NYC block, Greene Street between Houston and Prince, that reflects the broader evolution of the entire SoHo area from rural farmland to high-end retail hub, thus placing current day SoHo in the context of New York City’s history.

From Laura Bliss at CityLab:

Led by William Easterly, Co-Director of the DRI and an economics scholar, the Greene Street Project is an interactive tour of the historic development of this single block in SoHo.

Most development economists tend to focus on macro-level units such as cities, or even more commonly, nations. But Easterly believes that such broad assessments belie the more chaotic realities that shape economies at the hyper-local scale.

“There’s a ‘Great Man’ view of history: that great successes happen because some wonderful, wise leaders intended them to happen,” Easterly says. “But looking at development at the micro level allows us the ‘common man’ view: that there were unintended consequences from lots of surprises on this block, and individuals taking advantage of them.”



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Barbara Cohen, a dealer in New York books, at her apartment in Manhattan. “‘The Iconography of Manhattan Island’ is considered the single most important work on New York by many historians,” Ms. Cohen said. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times


In 1915, ISAAC NEWTON PHELPS STOKES(1867-1944) published the first volume of his six-volume The Iconography of Manhattan Island. This year 2015 marks the centenary of this unparalleled reference work that encompasses New York City’s history, architecture, maps, and prints.

In a recent New York Times article, “A Visual Banquet of Manhattan Has Its Own Compelling Past,” David Dunlap celebrates this occasion by by featuring none other than our own fearless leader, Barbara Cohen:

“ ‘The Iconography of Manhattan Island’ is considered the single most important work on New York by many historians,” said Barbara Cohen, who is among the more important contemporary dealers in New York books. She brought the centenary to my attention. (Read the full article here.)

The Iconography of Manhattan Island, I.N. Phelps Stokes' monumental six volume history of New York

The Iconography of Manhattan Island, I.N. Phelps Stokes’ monumental six volume history of New York

Barbara, a huge fan of Stokes, has written about Stokes’ work on this site in the past. Read What is the Stokes Iconography? and Stokes, Wharton, and Love Fiercely, a post about Stokes and the Gilded Age as reflected in Jean Zimmerman’s book, Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance.

With six volumes spanning several centuries, the folio-sized Stokes Iconography is the definitive collection of images related to New York City. Complied from original sources and based on the public and private collections of I.N. Phelps Stokes, it includes reproductions of important maps, plans, and documents, dating from the city’s earliest history.

The six volumes were published between 1925 and 1928 with meticulous care. It includes an exhaustive bibliography and a massive index, itself an impressive reference. It was originally issued in two editions, the first on Holland handmade paper with a choice of two bindings, vellum and bluecloth. The second was a limited edition issue (42 copies) on Japan vellum with extra color plates signed by the engraver and designers.

The first volume took six years of research and covers three centuries: the Period of Discovery (1524-1609), the Dutch Period (1609-1664), the English Period (1664-1763), the Revolutionary Period (1763-1783), the Period of Adjustment and Reconstruction: New York as the State and Federal Capital (1783-1811). Volume II has the earliest cartography of New York, with maps dating from 1500. Volume III continues the historical narrative, beginning from The War of 1812 and the Period of Invention, Prosperity, and Progress (1812-1841), the Period of Industrial and Educational Development (1842-1860), The Civil War and the subsequent Period of Political and Social Development (1861-1876), and finally the Modern City and Island (1876-1909). Volumes IV and V are a chronology of the periods outlined and include reproductions of handwritten and printed accounts of events in Manhattan. The final volume includes more maps and an addendum.

This monumental work can be viewed in its entirety online through the Columbia University Libraries site. Take a few moments to familiarize yourself (or revisit, if you are a student of Newyorkiana) with the Iconography and celebrate its 100 years with us. Cheers!

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imagesIt’s that time of year again! When the New York Society Library begins taking submissions for their New York City Book Awards. Quility books that focus on New York City are published every month, and these awards are a great way of acknowledging the best of the countless New York stories out there.

Here’s a list of last year’s awardees, in case you missed any of them:

imgresAward for Natural History
Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York by Ted Steinberg (Simon & Schuster)

Award for Biography/Memoir
J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist by Thomas Beller (New Harvest)

Award for Fiction
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish (Tyrant Books)

The Hornblower Award for a First Book
Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City by Catherine McNeur (Harvard University Press)

For a full list of past winners, click here.


The New York City Book Awards

The New York Society Library’s New York City Book Awards, established in 1995, honor books of literary quality or historical importance that, in the opinion of the selection committee, evoke the spirit or enhance appreciation of New York City. The city must play an essential role beyond that of the setting. A worthy book, whether academic, literary, or popular, must be well written and engaging. It should shed some new or unusual light on New York City.

The Hornblower Award

As part of the Book Awards, the Library also presents the Hornblower Award. Established in 2011, this award is given to an excellent New York City-related book by a first-time author.


The Library welcomes submissions of qualifying books from publishers and authors. Submissions are now welcome for books published between January 1 and December 31, 2015. Click here for submission guidelines and entry form. Winners will be announced in March 2016.

NYSL buildingHistory

For a century and a half, until the New York Public Library system was founded in 1895, the New York Society Library was known simply as the “City Library.” The New York Society, a civic group, opened the library in the old City Hall on Wall Street in 1754. The first library of its kind, the group felt that New York City needed a subscription library that anyone could join and offered a wide range of books.

For over 250 years, the New York Society Library has made books available to all in New York City. After moving to several locations in downtown Manhattan, the Library moved to its current home at 53 East 79th Street in 1937.

Over the years, the library has been visited by the likes of George Washington, Washington Irving, James Fennimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, John James Audubon, Willa Cather, Herman Melville, W.H. Auden, Clarence Day, Lillian Hellman, Barbara Tuchman, David Halberstam, Wendy Wasserstein, Shirley Hazzard, P.G. Wodehouse, Mary McCarthy, Truman Capote, and thousands of others.


The New York Society Library relies on the support of members and friends to sustain its collection, adult and children’s programs, exhibitions, and extraordinary personal service. Please donate today by clicking here.




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The Iconography of Manhattan Island is considered the single most important work on New York by many historians.  Its full title is The Iconography Of Manhattan Island 1498 to 1909 compiled from original sources and illustrated with photo-intaglio reproductions of important maps, plans, views and documents in public and private collections.  I.N. Phelps Stokes in six volumes, folio-size, and published by R.H. Dodd. Read the rest of this entry »

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Washington Squarimage: Cathryn Swann)

Washington Square Park (image: Cathryn Swan)

As a native New Yorker who grew up downtown, Washington Square Park was, and still is, an enormous part of my life. When I was a little kid, I ran up and down the (old) hills and “swam” in the fountain every summer. That’s how I built up my immunity! When I was a big kid, I hung out there at night with my friends, farther into the night than my parents will ever know (at least until now). Now I bring my own daughter there to swim in the NEW fountain and she spends hours rolling down the NEW hills (others call them “mounds”).


Me, with my mom and sister, in Washinton Square Park, ca. 1977

Me, with my mom and sister, in Washinton Square Park, ca. 1977

Washington Square Park was, and is still, the only wide-open space near my house where children and adults can play. It is such a vital part of downtown, dare I say, the heart? That’s why I am so happy there is The Washington Square Park blog.

Cathryn Swann

Cathryn Swan of The Washinton Square Park Blog

This hyper-local blog is written by Cathryn Swan, a writer, blogger, and entrepreneur living in New York City. Cathryn herself is a fascinating person. She grew up in New Jersey where she wrote a fanzine (“The Aurora”) about Bruce Springsteen while she was in high school. After college, she entered the music business and represented superstar artists like Patti Smith, Sarah McLachlan, Aretha Franklin and AC/DC, to name a few!

Tales of Washington Square Park (click to order)

Tales of Washington Square Park (click to order)

During that time, Cathryn started an aromatherapy fragrance line, B-girl (the name The B-girl Guide comes from this – and is inspired by), which has been sold online and in stores like Fred Segal and Nordstrom. B-girl has been written up in ELLE, IN Style, British ELLE, Paris ELLE, Latina, Seventeen, and more.

In 2000, wanting to give ‘back,’ Cathryn started taking on issues as a grassroots activist and organizer relating to helping the environment, animals & wildlife. For the last seven years, she has written The Washington Square Park Blog focusing on the redesign of the landmark park, its history and events, and touching on New York City issues, including the privatization of public space and more.

Cathryn has also written a book about the Park entitled, Tales of Washington Square Park, a compilation of twelve stories from her blog, and it covers the history, personalities, and nature at the park, information on the park’s redesign, and stories about the many personalities whose lives were touched by the park such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Jacobs, Bob Dylan and Dave Chapelle.

All of this and more can be found on The Washington Square Park blog. Visit it today, and while you are there please consider making a donation to the blog, and pick up a copy of Tales of Washington Square Park for just ten dollars while you’re at it!



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Fourth Avenue, New York (men reading at outdoor book stall), June 4, 1959In 1922, The Douglas Book Shop published Adventures in American Bookshops, Antique Stores and Auction Rooms by Guido Bruno. Despite its title, the book’s focus is the New York bookselling scene that, at times, is not unlike the New York book scene of today.

The following are excerpts from this book, a witty and sometimes snarky review of bookshops and booksellers, that paint a romantic portrait of biblioculture in early 1920’s NYC.



In New York Book Shops

The location of book streets changes with the growth of a city. Seventy-five years ago the book centre of New York was far downtown on Ann Street; after the Astor Library had opened is doors, Fourth Avenue became the city center and soon was lined with picturesque bookshops. The city grew and twenty-third Street became the Dorado of the book-hunter. Then people began to make immense fortunes and build palaces and mansions on Fifth Avenue, Central Park was opened to the public…and Fifty-ninth Street became the book street of New York. Ever further the city expanded. Harlem grew in population and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street is another shopping center for lovers of books and objects of art. (page 39)

sunwise turn

The Sunwise Turn Bookshop

There they are simply quiet and awfully Batik. Another art shop for art’s sake where the returns more than justify us in being artistic. “See this Batik dress, isn’t it expressive, why don’t people dress like that all the time?” Nobody but a Bahaist or a Rosicrucionist or a Greenacre disciple would be seen dead in it. Then there are books, lots of nice books by nice people and bought by nice people. …The room is decorated in the scheme of a musical chord. A rope would be more appropriate for those who are responsible for its decoration. (page 118)



Washington Square Book Shop

Just a while before the time when certain people got the ambition to own teas shop in Greenwich Village, the very same people thought it the aim of their lives to be the proprietors of book shops in the vicinity of Washington Square. Still more ambitious were they. They wanted to print their own books. The Boni Brothers (now Boni and Liveright) started their Glebe Magazine there, and published pretty little books by all sorts of authors; Kreymborg here printed his booklets; and many others, whose fame was too short lived to be recorded, half a dozen of them. One sold out to the other and finally Egmont Arens purchased whatever there was left from pretty Renee LaCoste. His became the bookshop of the neighborhood. (page 52)

schulte1Schulte’s Book Store

Scattered about the throbbing city are a few quiet nooks and corners that seem especially made for the lover of antiques. They are not numerous, but full of a certain charm. Book stores, with big boxes in front of the doors, where you can choose for your pennies tomes in old-fashioned binding and printing. Inside are shelves laden with books in delightful disorder left by the book-hunter who looked through them before you. The narrow passageway becomes narrower on each visit you pay to the shop because of newly-arrived books and pamphlets. (page 81)


The Man Who Knows His Books

Bruno quotes Mr. Corbett, the proprietor of a shop on Thirty-Eighth Street near Sixth Avenue:

“You know,” he told me once, “the bookseller has a very important mission in life. The writer writes his books, but he doesn’t know into whose hands they will fall, the publisher sells them as merchandise to dealers all over the country, but we little shop-keepers come in contact with real readers. It’s up to us to place something in their hands that might make criminals out of them. A few pennies that we might gain might mean the perdition of lives and souls.” (page 67)


An Optimist

Bruno profiles Frank Bender, who at one time was considered one of the leading second-hand book dealers of Fourth Avenue, who says:

…I signed a lease for a little one-story building that stood where the new post-office on Fourth Avenue and Thirteenth Street is at present. I sold enough architectural books to pay my first month’s rent and to buy lumber to fix up my shop. I literally built up my own business. I laid the floors, built the shelves the tables. My shelves remained empty because I had no money to buy books. One day a friendly print dealer came along who must have taken an interest in and pity on me. “Why don’t you hang some prints around your ship to fill out the wall spaces?” he asked. “It will make it look better. I have a bunch of prints I will sell you for forty dollars and I’ll give you six months in which to pay it.” …I accepted his offer, and those prints netted me over five hundred dollars in a surprisingly short time. (page 45)


The Den of a Pessimist

Bruno also speaks to E.A. Custer, who has a shop on Fifty-ninth Street near Park:

There was a time when people really loved books and bought them in order to read. The successful man of today has an automobile, has to go out joy-riding after business hours, has to spend his time in cabarets and roadhouses. He needs books only as decorations when he buys a home or furnishes an apartment. And then he leaves it usually to his decorator to choose the most attractive and expensive bindings in keeping with the color scheme of his library. …I tell you New Yorkers don’t know books, don’t ant to know them. The men read newspapers, the women magazines, and the young people trashy novels. (page 42)



‘Way Down in Greenwich Village

The fad of false Bohemia in Greenwich Village has passed. The purple and orange brand of tearooms and of so-called gift shops where art lovers and artistic people from the Bronx and Flatbush assembled, have gone out of existence. The designers and manufacturers of astounding atrocities who called themselves “modern artists” have disappeared. True there are a few short-haired women left, who parade the streets in their unusual clothes, but they, too, will soon move to other parts of the city with the return of the soldiers, and will reassume their real calling in life.” (page120)


All excerpts from:

Adventures in American Bookshops, Antique Stores and Auction Rooms By Guido Bruno (Detroit: The Douglas Book Shop, 1922)


This and other books by Guido Bruno available online here.

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Adventures in American bookshops, antique stores and auction rooms / (Detroit : The Douglas Book Shop, 1922) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Bruno’s weekly / ([New York, N.Y.] : Guido Bruno, c1915-) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: FRAGMENTS FROM GREENWICH VILLAGE. (NEW YORK : GUIDO BRUNO, 1921) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Greenwich village. (New York : Guido Bruno, [1915]) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Sentimental studies : stories of life and love / (New York : [s.n.], 1920) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Songs of the cosmos : 17 rythms / (New York : [s.n., c1915]), also by Charles Augustus Keeler (page images at HathiTrust)


bruno 2About Guido Bruno, from Wikipedia:

Guido Bruno (1884–1942) was a well-known Greenwich Village character, and small press publisher and editor, sometimes called ‘the Barnum of Bohemia’.

He was based at his “Garret on Washington Square” where for an admission fee tourists could observe “genuine Bohemian” artists at work. He produced a series oflittle magazine publications from there, including Bruno’s Weekly, Bruno’s Monthly, Bruno’s Bohemia, Greenwich Village, and the 15 cent Bruno Chap Books. [1]

From July 1915 to December 1916, Bruno’s Weekly published poems, short stories, essays, illustrations and plays, as well as special sections, such as “Children’s House,” and “In Our Village.” The publisher was Charles Edison[2] Bruno’s Weekly published Alfred KreymborgDjuna Barnes and Sadakichi HartmannAlfred Douglas, articles on Oscar Wilde, and Richard Aldington on the Imagists. Others were Theodore Albert Schroeder, Edna W. Underwood, and Charles Kains-Jackson.


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Delmonicos-ny-since-1837Wining and dining are the center of any social scene in New York City, especially during the holiday season.  From the Bronx to the Battery, countless restaurants and bars have come and gone, and a select few have stood the test of time and are celebrating numerous decades of serving food to hungry New Yorkers, namely, Delmonico’s and the “21” Club.  An obsession with dining in our fair city, however, is a tradition that dates much farther back in our history, to the early days of Dutch settlement, before New York was a city at all or was even called such.

In A Description of the New Netherlands (1653), Adriaen van der Donck described waters filled with sturgeon, salmon, oysters, herring, sharks, turtles and lobsters up to six feet long and fields dense with elk, deer, bear, venison and all manner of fowl.  Van der Donck’s account is affirmed by Nicasius de Sille, a contemporary who enthused, “[t]he Indians bring us wild geese, turkeys, partridges, wild pidgeons [sic], ducks, and various other birds and animals; in fine, one can live here and forget Patria.”  Two Labadist missionaries touring New York in 1679 marveled at trees “so laden with peaches and other fruit that one might doubt whether there were more leaves or fruit on them,” and concluded that “the city was quite like a garden.”  Daniel Denton, in the first English-language description of New York, described rollicking in fields of wild strawberries.  All of the above quotes, other than Van der Donck’s, are found in Bayrd Still’s excellent Mirror for Gotham, which includes more than 600 diverse voices from Dutch times to the 1940’s woven into a historical narrative.

Thomas De Voe as a butcher from The Market  Assistant 1867

Thomas De Voe as a butcher from The Market Assistant 1867

New York, a polyglot society of Belgians, Dutch, English, and African-Americans from its very early days, always offered a uniquely cosmopolitan cuisine.  One man who was fascinated with the foods of New York was Thomas DeVoe, a cattle dealer and head butcher at the Jefferson Market.  DeVoe delved into old newspapers, books and archives to write two excellent books, The History of Public Markets (1862) and The Market Assistant (1867), a compendium of the surprising produce and livestock (including skunk, sold under another name) available in the city’s markets.  Here, DeVoe cites the range of foodstuffs exhibited, provides recipes and methods of preparation, and adds practical advice to housekeepers, offering a window into daily life.  Both books incorporate anecdotes, excerpts from earlier writings and arcane historical facts about old New York:

Black Bear. – The flesh of this animal is the only species I ever knew to be brought to our markets for sale.  Bear, (or b’ar-meat) is the common name to designate its flesh (when spoken of), and is rather luscious but savory eating; that from a young bear, when nearly full-grown and fat, is considered best.  Generally found in our markets in the late fall or early winter months, and some years in great plenty.  The dealers in its flesh cut it to suit purchasers, for roasting, steaks, etc. (The Market Assistant)

A modest cafeteria named Delmonico’s opened on William Street in 1828 and introduced New Yorkers to exotic French cuisine.  Until then, the choice of dining establishments had been limited to taverns, private eating clubs or meals taken in one’s home or boarding house.  Henry Collins Brown’s Delmonico’s: A Story of Old New York is a history of the restaurant that parallels the evolution of New York’s culinary tastes to the restaurant’s own meteoric rise to become one of New York’s most legendary restaurants as it continued to move uptown with the growing affluent classes.  William Grimes writes in Appetite City, his social history of restaurants and food trends in New York, that “[i]n 1860, not long after Delmonico’s had scored the coup of the century by catering a grand ball for the Prince of Wales at the Academy of Music, he [Lorenzo Delmonico] bet once more that the tide of wealth and fashion would surge even further uptown,”  and adds that “. . . Delmonicos’s established the tone for fine dining in New York almost overnight and it would remain preeminent until the 1890’s.”
WD-Astor House letter page 1

In 1836, well-heeled visitors and New Yorkers dined lavishly when John Jacob Astor opened the splendid Astor House, America’s first luxury hotel.  “Black duck, lake duck, meadow hen, short neck snipe, doe witches, cedar birds, grouse, plover, rail birds, mallard duck, robin snipe, surf snipe and venison” were featured on one fall menu.  The Metropolitan, the Saint Nicholas, the Hoffman House, and the Fifth Avenue Hotel followed, evermore luxurious and culminating in the Waldorf-Astoria.

After the Civil War, parvenus such as Astor and Vanderbilt invaded the bastion of the staid, Dutch society and vied with each other in throwing extravagant balls and dinners.  As Allen Churchill writes in The Upper Crust: An Informal History of New York’s Highest Society, “[t]he parvenus seemed to increase daily.  As the year 1880 drew nearer, the number of people in New York Society or aspiring to it was placed at 100,000.  It was a measure of the challenge facing the “Shoddies” [a newly wealthy with no social standing; called shoddies because of allegedly inferior products they manufactured for the Civil War.]

The dining room at the Astor House

The dining room at the Astor House

The passage of the 1920 Volstead Act prohibiting alcohol consumption changed the New York dining landscape forever.  Law-abiding, fine restaurants like Delmonico’s, Rector’s, and Louis Sherry’s floundered, as people of all classes patronized the new illicit speakeasies such as Jack and Charlie’s 21, which remained a favorite haunt called The “21” Club after Repeal, after Rector’s and Louis Sherry’s were long gone.

From 1815 to 1915, and especially in the late 1800s, millions of people from all over the world passed through New York’s harbor. Those who stayed enriched the city’s cuisine and culture.  Rupert Hughes’ The Real New York, 1904 has an extensive description of all manner of restaurants to fit any customer’s desires:The passage of the 1920 Volstead Act prohibiting alcohol consumption changed the New York dining landscape forever.  Law-abiding, fine restaurants like Delmonico’s, Rector’s, and Louis Sherry’s floundered, as people of all classes patronized the new illicit speakeasies such as Jack and Charlie’s 21, which remained a favorite haunt called The “21” Club after Repeal, after Rector’s and Louis Sherry’s were long gone.  Delmonico’s closed its doors for some time but reopened in a new location and is still in business today.

We have everything that every other nation has, and all our own besides. . . .Dining in New York is like other forms of religious worship. There’s something for every taste.  In London all restaurants serve the same thing.  It’s only the prices that vary. . . .In New York you can get almost anything that has ever been heard of.

Chinese chop suey, Southern Italian pastas and sauces, German pastries and Eastern European Jewish staples of dried fish, hot dogs and cold cuts were seen in stalls and stores on the Lower East Side.  The strange and exotic foods of improvident immigrants eventually were integral to New York’s cuisine.  One could sup at the Waldorf-Astoria, down a beer with a sandwich of dubious content in a raucous Bowery saloon and stand at one of the many counters selling fresh oysters all in one day, in one afternoon if one were hungry enough.  Rian James’ 1931 All About New York: An Intimate Guide states:

Within a few square miles, you can sample the foods of India, Syria, Japan, and Normandy; you can eat the foods of the French, the German and the Irish; the specialties of the Italians and the Swedes and the Russians and the Danes.  You can drink Turkish, European and Florentine coffee; rose-water or Danish beer.  You can revel in Smorgasbord, Hors d’oeuvres, or Antipasto; and buy a meal for 50 cents or 50 dollars.

The above was written almost a century ago.  Perhaps today, one could add a few more nationalities to the mix, but the general outlook remains the same: the more, the tastier.  Bon appetit!

Click here for a selected bibliography of titles related to this entry.


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101 objectsA History of New York in 101 Objects
By Sam Roberts
336 pages, Simon and Schuster


From the New-York Historical Society website:

 Can one object define New York City? Can 101? New York Times urban affairs correspondent Sam Roberts has assembled a kaleidoscopic array of possibilities in a new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects. Featuring objects from the New-York Historical Society collection, this exhibition assembles some of Roberts’s choices, which together constitute a unique history of New York.  By turns provocative, iconic, and ironic, and winnowed from hundreds of possibilities, his selections share the criteria of having played some transformative role in the city’s history.

tokenFrom the New York Observer:

The history of New York City has always been nuanced, its narrative hidden in everything from ticket stubs to water tanks. Now, Sam Roberts, the urban affairs correspondent at the New York Times and a Brooklynite at heart, has taken on the ambitious task of excavating the meaning within some of NYC’s most noteworthy artifacts in his new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects.

“It’s sort of an inanimate Humans of New York. It is a subjective, labor-of-love collection of objects that epitomize the transformation of New York over four centuries into the city that we know and love today,” Mr. Roberts said.

“It is not the history of New York,” he added. “It’s not even a history of New York. It’s really my history of New York through 101 objects.”

Within his compilation, Mr. Roberts left no room for nostalgia or ephemerality. Instead, he chose “things that would be more quirky. Things that would be more conversation pieces. Things that would make people think of history in a new light.” For him, it doesn’t matter if something’s trending at the moment. The real objects that define New York are those that will endure for decades to centuries.


knishKnish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food
By Laura Silver
300 pages, Brandeis University Press


From the Daily News:

Brooklyn ‘knish lady’ Laura Silver writes the definitive book about Eastern European potato staple from its roots in Poland to Brighton Beach, the knish is a part of American Jewry. And the city is experiencing a bit of a knishaissance.

She gained from loss.

When Mrs. Stahl’s knish shop closed in Brighton Beach in 2005, most New Yorkers shrugged and moved on at the departure of yet another neighborhood institution.

But Brooklynite Laura Silver took action, researching the seminal Eastern European staple, teasing out family stories, and even connecting with Mrs. Stahl’s descendents for “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food,” a new book that is nothing short of a biography of the Polish potato-filled pastry.


new york modNew York: A Mod Portrait of the City
Written by Zdenek Mahler, Illustrated by Vladimir
128 pages, Universe



Exactly half a century old, this timeless illustrated classic artfully captures the “Mad Men” era of New York City for readers of all ages. The unique essence of New York City is poetically celebrated in Vladimir Fuka’s brilliant, colorful illustrations and collages and Zdenek Mahler’s playful accompanying narrative. The book takes readers on a charming journey of discovery through the magnificent metropolis’s architectural landmarks, cultural hot spots, and neighborhoods, from uptown to downtown, from Wall Street to Coney Island, and the Guggenheim Museum to Yankee Stadium. Interesting historical fun facts about the city and its inhabitants are combined with descriptions of the reality of everyday New York.


nyc 3DNew-York Historical Society New York City in 3D
In The Gilded Age: A Book Plus Stereoscopic Viewer and 50 3D Photos from the Turn of the Century


By Esther Crain and the New-York Historical Society
160 pages (paper), Black Dog & Leventhal

From the publisher:

This smart, upscale, and unique package contains 50 rarely seen stereoscopic images – including spectacular 3D views of bygone architectural marvels, as well as once-in-a-lifetime events such as the construction of the Statue of Liberty – and a paperback book that brings history to life.

Be transported to New York during the Gilded Age and experience daily life in one of the world’s most vibrant cities through mesmerizing, contemporary 3D photography and exciting tales of the time.

Black Dog & Leventhal has partnered with the New-York Historical Society to present New York in the Gilded Age as it’s never been viewed before. This innovative package includes a sturdy metal stereoscopic viewer and 50 stereoscopic photographs of turn-of-the-century New York. The package also includes a 128-page paperback that provides a brief history of the stereograph craze and an overview of the city’s evolution during that time.

rebel soulsRebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians
By Justin Martin
368 pages, Da Capo Press

From The Boston Globe:

In the late 1850s Walt Whitman was living at home with his mother in Brooklyn, scraping by on journalism, not poetry. A compulsive rambler, Whitman found his way to a dark little spot on Broadway and Bleecker called Pfaff’s. Here, he found another family of sorts in the company of writers, wits, actors, and artists. Beer (and banter) flowed freely. It wasn’t quite Cheers, but there, everyone knew the struggling poet’s name.

Whitman now is a central figure in the American canon, but his Pfaff’s pals are all but forgotten. In “Rebel Souls,” biographer Justin Martin brings them wonderfully to life in his enjoyable romp through the milieu. Whitman is the emotional core of the book — Martin’s passages on Whitman’s romantic travails and his experiences tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War are unforgettably moving. But the other members of the Pfaff’s coterie almost steal the show.









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My daughter, like her mother, LOVES books, and, also like her mother, she loves books about New York.  I noticed recently, as I was putting books away after one of the read-a-thons we call “bedtime,” though “booktime” would be more accurate, is that we have a TON of picture books about New York City, and I am guessing that this is typical of many New York households with children.  I think that we, as parents, either consciously or unconsciously, want our children to love New York as much as we do and to understand the beauty and richness and complexity that is their hometown.  There are countless children’s books that have New York City as their setting or subject, and the list keeps growing.  I do not profess to be an expert on the subject, but I am most certainly an expert on what books my New York daughter likes.

One of her all-time favorites is Kay Thompson’s Eloise, a book I never read myself as a child.  From a parent’s perspective, Eloise’s story is a sad one.  She is left to live with her very loving nanny at the Plaza Hotel while her mother gallivants around the world leading the glamorous life and calls every once in a while to say hello or to send for her daughter to join her in some exotic locale.  But Eloise shows us that she is a resourceful and inventive six year old with unlimited imagination and spunk. The Plaza Hotel, that New York landmark that in real life houses her portrait, is Eloise’s plaything and constant companion.  She is indeed a “city child,” as she describes herself, mingling with (and sometimes terrorizing) the hotel guests and using its hallways and grand salons as backdrops for her daily dramas.  My daughter and I have read Eloise countless times, and, as its subtitle states, it is “a book for precocious grown ups,” thus I enjoy it as much as she does, every single time.

Another classic that graces our shelves is not an obvious New York book.  My daughter loves Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen so much that she memorized it word for word.  The only way I know she is reciting and not actually reading it is that she looks at the pictures, not the words, when “reading” it aloud.  The story appears to be set in Brooklyn, where Sendak grew up, and features an unusual depiction of the Manhattan skyline.  From a historical perspective its themes are dark—mustachioed men baking a boy in an oven—but it is also a story about a child dreaming of falling into an imaginary urban landscape where buildings are made from baking ingredients and utensils.

My daughter’s third favorite New York book is a lesser-known, quieter book that has actually moved me to tears.  At Night, by Jonathan Bean, is about a girl who cannot sleep until she decides to set up a makeshift bed on her roof.  She finally falls asleep once she is able to feel her place in the city:

She lay in her bed
on her house in the city,
in the night,
under the sky.

She thought about the wide world
all around her and smiled.

She looked up,
breathed, closed her eyes…and slept.

An illustration from Jonathan Bean’s AT NIGHT

This excerpt loses much without the illustrations, but I have choked back tears when reading this aloud, perhaps because I, too, had trouble sleeping as a child when faced with the dark night.  To my daughter’s relief, by the time the protagonist falls asleep on the roof, her mother is sitting in a chair watching over her daughter, so she is not sleeping outside alone.

I feel that I must not leave out This is New York, Miroslav Sasek’s classic 1960 book from his series of children’s travel guides to large metropolises around the world.  My daughter claims that she finds the book “boring,” as it does not have a story but is a catalog of facts about places in the city, but I have caught her poring over its pages and see her face light up whenever she comes across an illustration of a site she recognizes.  Narrative or no narrative, she is drawn to its visual cues—water towers, subway stations, hotdog vendors, and, of course, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

These are four out of oodles of great picture books about or set in New York.  Everyone who grew up in New York has his or her favorites.  These are my daughters, at least for now.  I cannot wait until she is older, when I can introduce her to more complex New York stories such as Stuart Little and The Cricket in Times Square.  One of my personal favorites is E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler about a sister and brother team who hide out in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and get caught up in a mystery involving a statue.

New York is a fascinating topic for readers, no matter what age.  Children who grow up in New York City have a very singular perspective.  For a short while, before they realize that the world is wide, they do not know anything else.  They think the entire world is like New York until they slowly come to realize that New York is like no other place in the world.  Oh, to be in that place again, when the world was my oyster, and that oyster was New York!

Reading list:

Bean, Jonathan. At Night. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.

Konigsburg, E L, and E L. Konigsburg. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum, 1967.

Sasek, M. This Is New York. New York: Macmillan Co, 1960.

Selden, George. The Cricket in Times Square. New York: Ariel Books, 1960.

Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970

Thompson, Kay, Hilary Knight, and Marie Brenner. Kay Thompson’s Eloise: The Absolutely Essential Edition. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1999.

White, E B, and Garth Williams. Stuart Little. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

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Here’s a roundup of NEW(ish) New York books:


whitmanilluminated_crawfordWhitman Illuminated: Song of Myself
By Walt Whitman, Illustrated by Allen Crawford
Tin House Books
256 pages


From Tin House:

Walt Whitman’s iconic collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, has earned a reputation as a sacred American text. Whitman himself made such comparisons, going so far as to use biblical verse as a model for his own. So it’s only appropriate that artist and illustrator Allen Crawford has chosen to illuminate—like medieval monks with their own holy scriptures—Whitman’s masterpiece and the core of his poetic vision, “Song of Myself.” Crawford has turned the original sixty-page poem from Whitman’s 1855 edition into a sprawling 234-page work of art. The handwritten text and illustrations intermingle in a way that’s both surprising and wholly in tune with the spirit of the poem—they’re exuberant, rough, and wild. Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself is a sensational reading experience, an artifact in its own right, and a masterful tribute to the Good Gray Poet.


illustration from WHITMAN ILLUMINATED


j10060The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City
by William B. Helmreich
Princeton University Press
480 pages

From the publisher:

As a kid growing up in Manhattan, William Helmreich played a game with his father they called “Last Stop.” They would pick a subway line and ride it to its final destination, and explore the neighborhood there. Decades later, Helmreich teaches university courses about New York, and his love for exploring the city is as strong as ever.

Putting his feet to the test, he decided that the only way to truly understand New York was to walk virtually every block of all five boroughs–an astonishing 6,000 miles. His epic journey lasted four years and took him to every corner of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Helmreich spoke with hundreds of New Yorkers from every part of the globe and from every walk of life, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former mayors Rudolph Giuliani, David Dinkins, and Edward Koch. Their stories and his are the subject of this captivating and highly original book.

We meet the Guyanese immigrant who grows beautiful flowers outside his modest Queens residence in order to always remember the homeland he left behind, the Brooklyn-raised grandchild of Italian immigrants who illuminates a window of his brownstone with the family’s old neon grocery-store sign, and many, many others. Helmreich draws on firsthand insights to examine essential aspects of urban social life such as ethnicity, gentrification, and the use of space. He finds that to be a New Yorker is to struggle to understand the place and to make a life that is as highly local as it is dynamically cosmopolitan.  Truly unforgettable, The New York Nobody Knows will forever change how you view the world’s greatest city.


9781580054942Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York
Edited by Sari Botton
Seal Press
288 pages
$16.00 (paper)

From Powell’s:

Goodbye to All That is a collection of essays about loving and leaving the magical city of New York. Inspired by Joan Didions well-loved essay by the same name, this anthology features the experiences of 28 women for whom the magic of the city has worn off—whether because of loneliness after many friends marry, have kids, and head to the suburbs; jadedness about their careers; or difficulty finding true love in a place where everyone is always looking to trade up to a better mate, a better job, a better apartment.

With contributions from authors such as Cheryl Strayed, Ann Hood, Dani Shapiro, and Emma Straub, this collection is relatable to anyone who arrived with stars in their eyes, hoping to make it. Each essay reveals the authors own unique relationship with New York City, and together they encompass the complicated emotions all New Yorkers have about leaving.


9781623650209Unhooking the Moon
By Gregory Hughes
335 pages


From Kirkus Reviews:

Astonished to hear that their father had a drug-dealing brother in New York, newly orphaned Bob and his live-wire little sister, Marie Claire (aka Rat), hitchhike to the city from Winnipeg. For lack of a better plan, they wander Manhattan and the Bronx asking passersby if they know him. This strategy leads to encounters with a host of colorful city types, notably a pair of softhearted con men and a lonely rising rap star, plus plenty of terrific street theater and nights spent sleeping in, alternately, Central Park and a hyperluxurious apartment. And ultimately the children’s search is successful! Their information about Uncle Jerome is even (more or less) accurate, as he turns out to be the CEO of a huge pharmaceutical company. Though many of Hughes’ characters will sink emotional hooks into readers, Rat takes and earns center stage by glibly charming the pants off every adult, showing a winning mix of quick wits and vulnerability, and taking wild flights of imagination—her explanation of the (subtle) differences between a Windigo and a pedophile being a particular highlight. So appealing are they that when one of them suffers a tremendous blow, readers will feel it as intensely as the other characters. The dizzying highs intensify but also ameliorate that devastating low. Middle grade; ages 9 to 12.


9780763656966Tap Tap Boom Boom
by Elizabeth Bluemle, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Candlewick Press
32 pages

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In toe-tapping, jazz-chant verse, author, bookseller, and PW blogger Bluemle (How Do You Wokka-Wokka?) writes about the way a sudden thunderstorm “makes friends/ of strangers.” At the story’s start, two boys in a playground gaze through iron railings at a girl in a yellow dress hurrying to keep up with her father. On an ordinary day she’d disappear into the crowd, but when the rain starts pelting down, the boys, the girl and her father, and half a dozen others dash for the subway station: “Feet wetter?/ You’d better/ go down/ underground,/ where the water/can’t getcha./ You betcha.” Over photographic images of subway fixtures, Karas (The Apple Orchard Riddle) draws people chatting, sharing pizza, and shrinking away as their dogs shake themselves off, balancing the force of the storm with the warmth of city-dwellers sharing an unexpected break in their day. Bluemle’s story unfolds on a scale just right for preschoolers, with plenty of hullaballoo, subtle attention to the senses, and an affirmation of the way misfortune can lead to small miracles. Ages 3–7.

Illustration from TAP TAP BOOM BOOM

Illustration from TAP TAP BOOM BOOM





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