A young fogey named Jeremiah Moss writes an interesting blog that I’ve visited from time to time called Vanishing New York. Its subtitle–“A Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in the Process of Going Extinct”–gives you a good idea of its tenor. Moss is at once an eloquent appreciator of NYC’s vestigial middle- and working-class haunts and an authentically bitter crank. I bet he’s as upset as I am that Tony Scott is remaking The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a scuzz-perfect evocation of early-1970s New York that no one has any business remaking.
Anyway, I must have been behind in my blog-reading, for it’s taken me until now to discover Moss’s March post on a word I coined in 2005 and promptly forgot about, “Vongerichtified.” I used the word to describe what was happening to the West Village in a New York Times piece about the closing of my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, the Beatrice Inn: “In a neighborhood that grows ever more fabulous, expensive and Vongerichtified,” I wrote, “the Beatrice is one of the last vestiges of the nudgy, agitational, oppositional Village of yore.”
Moss, unfamiliar with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the chef whose design-forward restaurants often represent the tipping point in a neighborhood’s stampede towards hypergentrification (e.g. Spice Market in the Meatpacking District, 66 in Tribeca [now shuttered], and Perry St in the Far West Village), consulted with a Hunter College professor of philosophy (!) named Frank Kirkland on what my word meant. Kirkland, after consulting with his colleagues, came up with this marvelous mini-treatise:
“A neighborhood that is ‘Vongerichtified’ would be one whose restaurants have shifted their cuisine, their ambience, and their prices in [a] high-end direction. Sociologically this is quite interesting, characterizing a neighborhood in terms of its restaurants. Usually, a neighborhood restaurant carries a kind of ‘gemeinschaftlich’ (communal) sense. A restaurant in a ‘Vongerichtified’ neighborhood does not appear to carry such a sense.”
Amen to that, professor! With the exception of his very first New York restaurant, JoJo, none of Vongerichten’s restaurants have successfully integrated themselves into the fabric of a neighborhood. A Vongerichten restaurant is like a plasma TV that’s been wired into the wall of a Victorian townhouse: a flashy add-on that’s cool in its way but messes with the overall vibe. And is obsolete within five years.
Still, I’m more accepting than Moss of the city’s perpetual state of upheaval–yesterday’s workingman’s club is today’s baby-tee boutique is tomorrow’s haute fro-yo outlet. So it goes. Losing the old Beatrice Inn, though: That, I admit, was a body blow. I continue to feel a visceral yearning for the subterranean red-sauce joint on a weekly basis, nearly three years after the fact–a circumstance not abetted by the fact that the space, its name and facade unchanged, now houses a club where Lindsay Lohan, assorted Ronsons, and both Olsens congregate, and where bouncers enforce a door policy. Truth be told, there was no villainy in the switchover from the old Beatrice Inn to the new: the old place’s owner-proprietors, siblings Vivian Cardia and Aldo Cardia Jr., simply wanted to sell out and relax after their mother died. (I’ve since come across Aldo bicycling in the neighborhood, his waiter’s starched whites and bowtie replaced by a polo shirt; he looks ten years younger than he used to, with probably the first tan of his life.)
But my wife and I had planned on growing old at the Beatrice Inn. In the Times article on the old place, I wrote that it attracted “an older crowd, a lot of gray heads, uncertain gaits and the occasional customer who comes in accessorized with an oxygen tank.” (Actually, I wrote “...with an oxygen tank and a nasal cannula,” but the Times editors deemed the mention of the breathing tube too grisly.)
Uncertain of gait Lindsay Lohan may very well be, but does she have any sense of the gemeinschaftlich?