A little while back I scribbled a post here about how the Western end of 8th Street was undergoing a change. That change has only continued. More often than not, I'm diametrically opposed to the cultural and cosmetic changes that are currently plaguing our city and I rue gentrification in all its sickly incarnations, but in the instance of 8th street, the strip really had nowhere to go but up.
As I mentioned in that earlier post, W.8th street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue played host to a number of record stores and rock memorabilia emporiums which I frequented feverishly in the early-to-mid 80s. Most of those shops have either long-since closed or de-camped to other locations (only to close there too). In their wake, the street has only continued to spiral downward. Long-standing video store TLA closed needlessly (nothing has claimed its space as of yet). There are still a couple of shoe stores, low-rent curio stores, head shops and t-shirt vendors there, but the bloom is assuredly off the rose in those instances. Until fairly recently, 8th Street was in a trajectory of steady decline.
Again, in that post, I lamented the loss of heavy metal t-shirt emporium, Butterfly's. That space ended up being taken by an upscale wine boutique (while the bigger t-shirt shop just two doors to the East ended up appropriating Butterfly's name). The wine store in question, IS Wines, was the first sign of an 8th Street renaissance. A short while later, a gaudy boot outlet on the corner of 8th Street and Fifth Avenue was suddenly taken by Le Pain Quotidien. A basement-level "fashion" store suddenly opened as the 8th Street Wine Cellar. A sushi bar opened directly across the street from that, followed by Gizzi's, a warm and inviting coffee shop with free WiFi and live music in the evenings. A stylish Korean restaurant called Jodie's Friends suddenly appeared right in between Butterfly's and IS Wines. Just a couple of weeks ago, another new cafe, daBhang opened its doors. W.8th Street was slowly becoming hot property.
It still remains to be seen if the strip will morph into a new restaurant row. Jodie's Friends just closed suddenly under somewhat cloudy circumstances. Perhaps people are still slow to consider a street once renowned for tiger-striped footwear and Judas Priest t-shirts as a place to dine. But of all the streets in Manhattan to get this sort of facelift, I can't say I mind it happening to W.8th Street.
Just across Fifth Avenue, things are happening as well. Mario Batali, of course, ended up taking the spot which formerly housed One Fifth, an age-old restaurant just East of Fifth Avenue that was modeled after an upscale ocean liner's dining room. It had run through a series of different incarnations since the One Fifth days (notably as Clementine), but Batali re-opened its doors as Otto a couple of years ago, and it has been very successful. Across the road, the space which formerly housed a bank will now evidently be playing host to the uprooted BBQ, which ruled the roost at 8th and University Place for so long. As I've previously lamented, the former BBQ space is ironically becoming a bank.
To the East of University Place, 8th Street has seen a series of franchises open up, notably Rickshaw Dumplings, Crumbs, `Whichcraft, a Cosi and (yet another) Chipotle, all presumably tailored to NYU students who need to eat on the cheap. While I'm not strenuously fond of places like Chipotle and Cosi, the only stores that were put out of existence by their arrival were crap garment outlets like Bang Bang and the curiously named Wet Seal. No great loss there.
So yeah, the entire strip from Broadway through 6th Avenue is changing. Denizens of the storied old Eighth Street Bookshop (pictured above, sometime in the 1950s) would invariably not recognize it today. I walk down some part of the street at least three or four times a day, and recently I caught a glimpse of its distant past. The basement level at 10 East 8th Street formerly housed a shop owned by a celebrated stylist named Patricia Field. Opened in 1966, Patricia Field's became a crucial shopping stop for drag queens, club kids, fashionistas and folks who'd revere the fashion sensibility of ersatz celebs like RuPaul and Downtown Julie Brown. The place closed in 2002 when Field moved her operation to West Broadway (another strip which has undergone a lot of transformation). Since then, the storefront of 10 East 8th street has remained empty and rotting underneath some scaffolding.
At some point in the last few months, however, someone started chipping away at the plaster of the facade, revealing the wooden signage of whatever store occupied the space before Field assumed it in the mid-60s (and if anyone knows what that store was, please write in). Even in its state of crumbling erosion, it's a curious and captivating relic of a hidden, vanished age.