I was struck, quite recently, by the outpouring of grief over the loss of the Raccoon Lodge bar on Warren Street, which was recently closed after over 30 years to make way for -- WAIT FOR IT -- yet another luxury condo. Along with the Raccoon Lodge on that block along West Broadway, the neighborhood also loses a string of restaurants, a pizza parlor and, ... er ... New York Dolls, a strip club that has held court around the corner of Murray Street since 1987.
If I’m being honest, I can’t say I ever went to the Raccoon Lodge more than once or twice. I mean, it was a perfectly cool, inviting and thoroughly unstuffy atmosphere, but it was always a little too south for me when there were comparable drinking establishments closer to my own neighborhood. That certainly doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t empathize with its heartbroken former patrons. At this stage, I know all too well what it’s like to lose a favorite location. While the fanfare over the loss of New York Dolls (still in operation, as far as I know) will invariably be less pronounced, I’m sure there are several regulars who will mourn its departure. I must confess to going there once many years ago, but cannot say I remember much about the proceedings, other than my wallet being stealthily drained of its contents in exceptionally short order.
I think the bigger takeaway in these instances, however, is that whether you consider places like the Raccoon Lodge and New York Dolls legitimate neighborhood institutions or not, what replaces them is invariably something lesser. I cannot recall a recent example of when the unceremonious closing of an age-old favorite shop, restaurant, live music venue or bar was followed by the opening of a preferable (or even comparable) option.
Don’t believe me? Well, then…
We lost the Liberty-crowned El Teddy’s and got a condo and a hardware store. We lost storied jazz-bar Bradley’s and got the workaday sports bar Reservoir. We lost CBGB and got the revoltingly bespoke John Varvatos boutique. We lost Bleecker Bob’s and got a frankly middling sushi bar with an insect problem. We lost Rocks in Your Head and got a real estate agency. We lost the Cedar Tavern and got a European Waxing Center. We lost the Virgin Megastore and got a fucking bank. We lost the Gas Station and got a Duane Reade. We lost Mondo Kim’s and got a karaoke bar. We lost the Palladium and got a NYU dorm and a Trader Joe’s. We lost Tower Records and got the MLB Mancave. We lost Shakespeare & Co. and got a Foot Locker.
Seriously, need I continue?
Spying a photograph on Instagram recently drove this point home for me again. A photographer/video producer/musician named Jennifer Aborn posted a vintage pic of the old signage for Second Coming Records on Sullivan Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. I spoke at greater length about Second Coming here, but it really was one of my most cherished record shops dating as far back to my mid-teen years. I just loved everything about the place. There was always something new to hear, learn about or find therein, and my heart used to beat faster just at catching a glimpse of the sign.
Since it closed in the late 90’s, the spaces it once occupied (it expanded into two adjacent storefronts in the wake of the advent of compact discs) have been a cheap Mexican food joint (the type of place that puts up pictures of the fare in lieu of menus), a tattoo parlor, a salon, a sushi place and, more recently a Thai restaurant. All of the ventures have seemed somewhat transient and short-lived, while Second Coming had occupied that space for, at the very least, a decade and a half (I’m not sure when they first opened … Anyone?)
It’s now been gone for well over a decade, but I could still find my way around it with my eyes closed.