Posts Tagged ‘Bodegas’

Wild, Wild West Broadway

August 13, 2011

I ran into Juan, the guy who used to work at the bodega on West Broadway at Prince, when I was getting pizza the other day at Ben’s.  He said he remembered me, remembered my face as a little girl.  He pretty much looks exactly the same as he did over thirty years ago.  I thought Juan owned the bodega, but he said he just worked there (for 17 years!).  He still lives on West Broadway (for 41 years!) and works as a super in a few buildings in the neighborhood.  And he still doesn’t speak English all too well.   I told him I missed his bodega.

The bodega didn’t have a name, and it really didn’t need one.  Although there were a few bodegas in the area, everyone knew that you meant THAT bodega if you said you were going to stop in to “the bodega” to buy a few things.

I really do miss that bodega.  It was pre M&O, pre-Korean deli on Thompson Street.  It was the only show in town.  I used to catch the P.S.3 school bus there every morning, and in the afternoons there were card games on milk crates on the sidewalk. I once bought a box of instant oatmeal there.  I brought it home, “cooked” it up, and noticed hundreds of little bugs crawling around my bowl.  I think I might have already taken a bite or two.  After that, I wrote my first and only ever consumer complaint letter to Quaker Oats.  I think I was about nine or ten years old.  A few weeks later, I received letter of apology and a coupon for a free box of oatmeal, which I promptly redeemed—guess where?

I recently asked around to see what other folks remembered about the bodega.  The sinful steak sandwiches, the weed they sold behind the counter, and the barbecues.  They used to roast a whole pig in the parking lot next door.  Juan said he quite enjoyed those barbecues and that he would still do them if he could find a good lot.  He also told me that once a woman called the cops to complain about the pig (how ironic).  An officer showed up and asked when the pig would be done.  He returned at the designated hour with a loaf of bread and Juan made him two sandwiches.

So if any of yous want to relive the old days and happen to have a whole pig handy, let me know, and I’ll get ol’Juan on the horn.  FYI, this BBQ will be strictly BYOB (bring your own bread)!

The Bowery Girls

April 23, 2011

From "On the Bowery" National Geographic, September 1981 (photo: flickr/nycdreamin)

Anna, my best friend growing up, lived on Bowery between Houston and Prince, in a former flophouse.  If you told us back then that that very block would be a hub of stylish restaurant and nightclub culture in New York one day, we would have said that you were smoking angel dust (we didn’t have crack yet).  The Bowery and the streets on either side of it were not the prettiest you’ve ever seen.  That didn’t stop me, however, from walking to Anna’s house on a daily basis, though I do not know what my mother was thinking letting me go.  After dark, I would take the longer but “nicer” way home, via Prince Street and the four bodegas between her house and mine.  Houston Street was lined with “Bowery bums,” mostly men but some women, lying around on the sidewalk, staring off into space.  I doubt they were a real threat to my safety, but still, I was only eight or nine years old.

Anna had an enormous loft with a vast roof (tar beach) where we would frolic and play.  When I slept over, if the weather was nice, we would breakfast on the “balcony” (a.k.a. fire escape) with her three cats.  A few times when it was just too hot to breathe indoors, we slept on the roof, only to be awoken at dawn by the rising sun and humidity.  Anna’s mother, Ingrid, was a clothing designer who had recently emigrated from (West) Germany.  Their house was my second home, as my parents were often working at all hours, leaving me to fend for myself.

Anna and me on her "balcony" ca. 1978

I remember one winter evening a truck was parked on the corner of Bowery and Houston distributing meals to the hungry (Meals on Wheels?).  Ingrid brought us down to have some food and mingle with the other children who were there, a know-your-neighbors kind of thing.  We ended up having a snowball fight, and a pretty good meal.

I also remember the stench as I passed the poultry slaughterhouse near the corner of Prince Street during the summer months.  Thanks to that place, I can hold my breath longer than your average bear.

And finally, I remember that if you bought cheese at one of the local bodegas, it would taste faintly of the ammonia and bleach fumes that lingered in the air after they mopped the floors.

To many, the name “Bowery” immediately conjures up images of drunkards, flophouses, and people down on their luck, or at least that was its connotation before the likes of Keith McNally, Daniel Boulud, and Whole Foods moved in and made it hip.  Though some may not consider it technically IN SoHo, the Bowery in the 1970’s was very much OF SoHo, a place where artists and families lived and worked, alongside the wholesale restaurant supply trade and the down-and-out on this diverse and culturally-rich mixed-use boulevard.

Trailer for the upcoming Lower East Side History Project (, The Bowery.

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