Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Death of Chelsea's 8th Avenue Part II

Just over three years ago I first wrote about The Death of Chelsea's 8th Avenue, which was once the epicenter of gay life in New York City. It got me so wistful that I decided to celebrate The Heyday of Chelsea's 8th Avenue, which turned into my most-popular post to date. (Nothing makes me happier than hearing Chelsea memories from a reader -- on the street or by email -- who read the post.) After seeing some improvements in the area, I noticed the other day as I was walking to my pharmacy at 16th and 8th that things appeared to be moving in the wrong direction again. A quick stroll between 14th and 23rd, with cellphone camera at the ready, confirmed there are now 17 vacant stores along the stretch -- several of which had opened in the three short years since my original post. As we look at the latest victims of high rents and changing demographics, here's hoping Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed "vacancy fee" for greedy landlords of empty storefronts picks up some momentum. For a neighborhood that was once the queer heart of the city, it's looking pretty ratty out there.

104 8th Ave.

The former home of Rue des Crepes and Swich is now also the former home of Wrapido.

106 8th Ave.

The Japanese restaurant Blue Ginger had been on 8th between 15th and 16th as long as I can remember. 

116 8th Ave.

Mary Ann's Mexican -- which claimed to be relocating to 20th and 2nd but never did -- was supposedly becoming a WeWork location. But after the office-sharing company bought the iconic Lord & Taylor building in Midtown, the place was suddenly for-rent again.

300 W. 17th St.

The local favorite Camouflage clothing store gave way to a Caffe Bene franchise, which didn't last long.

166 8th Ave.

The former home of La Chinita Cuban-Chinese has since become TWO failed Thai restaurants: Room Service and Rhong Tiam: Express Your Inner Thai.

158 8th Ave.

The former home of legendary French bistro Gascogne gave way to Montmartre, a similar theme under new management. But when that didn't pan out, it became Vita, a "vegan paradise" lost . 

174 8th Ave.

The old home of Galaxy Cafe II eventually became the new home of El Cid. That flirted with closing over the years -- then eventually did only to reopen (and close again) as essentially the same thing but called Sugar & Spice Tapas Restaurant and Sangria Bar. 

176 8th Ave.

Perhaps the most high-profile flop was the quick demise of Haru Sushi, which has several successful locations around the city. The company spent years transforming the former home of Sam Chinita and Nisos into a whole new restaurant, only to close up shop in less than two years. 

181 8th Ave.

The rather large home of now-defunct American Apparel has been vacant for quite some time now. It's a deceptively large space -- it used to be Jennifer Convertibles showroom -- so its abandonment is especially noteworthy.

199 8th Ave.

Spice Grill was yet another "in and out in no time" business. The fast Indian joint took over Spice Thai, which still has its second location inexplicably across the street.

297 8th Ave.

Perhaps fearing cooties, no one has moved into the old home of Rainbow Station, which moved two doors down a few years ago.

218 8th Ave.

Eising Opticians had been there since at least the 1990s -- the company was founded in 1893 -- but closed quietly in the past year or so.

254 8th Ave.

The former home of S.G.S. Donuts became Breadstix Cafe and then Chelsea Deli & Bakery. Now it's just another empty storefront. (Where will I get my gourmate coffee and dessert?)

238 8th Ave.

Not sure if this Chase ATM location is gone for good or not. But it's been in bondage for years.

222 8th Ave.

Google says Spruce Flowers may have moved to 29th Street (aka Fake Chelsea), but it's a huge loss to the neighborhood. It had been Village Florist back in the 1990s, so longtime residents miss a floral presence on the block. The only good news is that a new place called Chelsea Exclusive just opened. The store is a cross between the now-defunct 8th Avenue clothing stores Starting Line, Universal Gear and Efor, with its handsome, pompadoured owner telling me: "We needed a fun store, not a sex store."

218 8th Ave.

The only thing sadder than Kitchen/Market becoming a Subway all those years ago is the space now being a boarded-up location of the sub-par sub maker. 

216 8th Ave.

The former home of the great Bright Food Shop was a Qdoba before becoming an Organic Avenue, which has opened and closed twice but seems to finally be down for the count.

192 8th Ave.

The building that housed gay greeting card, tchotchke and porn shop Rainbows and Triangles was fittingly blown to the ground. It's now slated to be yet another luxury condo building.

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236 8th Ave.

UPDATE: On Nov. 1, 2018, it was announced that Rocking Horse is closing after an incredible 30-year run. I've reached out to owner Roe DiBona for comment and will keep you posted if I hear back.

UPDATE (10/18/21): I haven't updated this post in a while because the heyday of 8th Avenue has long since passed. But I felt I would be remiss to not mention the closing of The Dish, once the heart of the gayborhood where throngs of hungover boys went for a cruisy breakfast the day after a night out at Splash, G and the Roxy. Truly the end of an era.


Don said...

Even now, some of my gay out-of-town visitors express an interest in strolling 8th Ave., and I have to bring them quickly up to speed.

Matthew said...

I was saddened, as you were, when I walked down that same street a few days ago. Nothing like it used to be. And certainly not the epicenter of anything at the moment...

ROBOCUB said...

Having actually grown up in Chelsea and I went to high school on 18th street it’s sad the current state on the [gay]borhood. Worst experience I just went to the new place Seamores on 18 & 8th on insistence from a friend. Tragic sad worst display of super-gentrification. The clientele and the atmosphere are devoid of anything Chelsea ever was.

Unknown said...

I lived in the top floor apartment of 192 8th Ave aka the Rainbows & Triangle building. Despite the slanting floor the building had character along with the rest of neighborhood. Sadly I’m not surprised this happened the real estate in that area for owners and renters is ridiculously high-priced! That 8th Avenue stroll and community is gone. Memories!

Chelsea Oy said...

With Google taking over the neighborhood the rents are rising to astronomical highs. The same thing is beginning to happen on 7th. It's all very sad.

Robert said...

It is high time to stand up to these greedy landlords and the gentrification forces and demand rent control and preserve these small businesses. Most of our older northern US cities are losing their uniqueness, flavor, and soul thanks to too much gentrification by wealthy yuppies and big corporations like Google and Amazon. They need to accept the true fact that there is more to life than making money. The same crap is occuring here in Buffalo where working class people are being priced out of the good stable neighborhoods in the city. Our downtown area and the neighboring Allentown historic district are all high end, high priced yuppie havens. Disgusting and unacceptable.

Chastened said...

I don't think the Chase ATM is coming back. I saw that door open one morning and they have gutted it down to the studs. Chelsea isn't hay anymore, it's all moved up to 9th Ave in Hell's Kitchen. That stretch between 42nd and 5th reminds me of 8th 10 or 15 years ago.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@Chastened: It's funny you should mention that. I got this email from a reader earlier in the week:

Just wanted to let you know that the space where the Chase ATMs are located are undergoing a renovation. There will be a Chase Express Branch at this location. The bank is looking to open in June.

Schwarming Up to It said...

Note 254 8th Ave on the corner of 23td now holds FleFle Cafe, a (yummy) schwarma and falafel bowl and pita shop.