By John Aurelio
Yorkville has been well known for its affordability and long walks to the subway, but when the city first broke ground on the subway in 2007, neighborhood restaurants and merchants suffered a decade of jackhammering and shuttered blocks.
Nearly half of the Second Avenue businesses between 68th and 95th Street at the beginning of construction moved or closed, according to the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. For those that stayed open, walk-ins dwindled and business plummeted because people simply avoided Second Avenue. It’s been two months since the new subway opened, and now business is back and booming.
“When we opened, the ground would shake because they were dynamiting the tunnel,” says Pete Vasconcellos, the longtime bar manager at the Penrose on Second Avenue. Vasconcellos has been there since it opened in 2012, and for a little over four years a construction fence blocked the bar’s facade. “You wouldn’t even know this place was here,” he says. And the Penrose wasn’t the only one.
Manolo Caisaguano owns Firenze, a popular long-standing Italian bistro on Second Avenue, and has seen the ups and downs of the neighborhood for decades. He remembers well the challenges of having the construction fence right along his restaurant’s front patio. One day, Vasconcellos looked down the street and saw Caisaguano draping AstroTurf over the chain-link fence. He finished the look with string lights and little flowerpots. Firenze’s front patio seating is its bread and butter, and for Caisaguano the makeover was business as usual on Second Avenue. “He couldn’t wait for the subway to open,” Vasconcellos says.
The Penrose first opened to eager foodies willing to trek boroughs. They still come from Chelsea and Tribeca, and even faraway Brooklyn, but the Penrose has since settled into its moniker, “The Upper East Side local”. All brick and reclaimed wood, the warm uptown bar bursts with the energy of its 20 and 30-something patrons. “When we first opened we weren’t dead, but we weren’t all that busy,” says Vasconcellos, remembering the early days when Second Avenue didn’t have much besides sports bars. But the place caught on. “People were just excited to see a bar like this here. They didn’t have to go downtown,” he says. With the subway open, the Penrose is now welcoming a new flow of business.
The subway has attracted a high of 155,000 new riders since January, and according to the MTA the numbers will keep rising. Commuters have been quick to explore the bars and restaurants along Second Avenue. At the Penrose, a stone’s throw from the 86th Street Q Station, Happy Hour got bumped a few hours earlier to accommodate weary 9 to 5’ers. “People can get off work and come straight to the bar,” Vasconcellos says.
Even longtime East Siders have found a home at the bar. “I used to never to go to Second Avenue,” says Gloria Cox, a regular at the Penrose. “No one got any business and no one wanted to go there because of the noise.” she says. Cox, 68, lives in the same building where she first got her start in New York nearly four decades ago, and where she raised her family. As more new businesses betting on the subway opened, Cox decided to walk east. “I thought we’d all be in the grave by the time it was done, but I’m glad the construction is over,” she says. “This neighborhood will do better.”
The new subway is expected to make staying in Yorkville, one of Manhattan’s last affordable neighborhoods, even harder. A recent study by StreetEasy showed that rents along Second Avenue have increased nearly 30% since 2011, and they have nowhere to go but up. But for now, the subway is bringing long-promised business to the East side.
January is usually a dead month in the restaurant business, but this year it was the busiest ever for the Penrose. “We just see opportunity with the subway stop right there,” says Vasconcellos. “The streets are beautiful and our neighborhood looks great.”
The Penrose is on Second Avenue, between 82nd and 83rd. Firenze is next door.
Headline in the New York Daily News:
It’s an ugly story, the New York Daily News account of a young mother hitting an older woman with her cane after the septuagenarian “suggested” she teach her child manners. The place was an elevator at the the subway station at 86th Street and Second Avenue. Apparently, the mother and her son were rushing into the elevator while others were trying to get out.
No excuses will be made here for the violent behavior. But in the interests of analysis, let us look at what the victim could have done differently.
Publicly berating a mother in front of a crowd of people, including her son, is itself not very good manners. After all, the boy was only 4 years old.
The subway is a crowded place where people rush around and some jostling is unavoidable. Sometimes the wiser move, as zen masters tell us, is to step aside and let bad behavior pass us by.
We are pleased to learn that the assaulted woman suffered no physical injuries.
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LaGuardia Airport has been called many not-nice things, among them “a Third World Country” (former VP Joe Biden). But East Siders know LaGuardia as a quick ride, especially at pre-dawn hours. And this time of year, flights to Florida leave with subway frequency.
We cannot ignore the shabbiness of the place, but out of the dingy gloom shine some of the most fabulous people on earth. My story:
I’m flying out early on a Tuesday and upon approaching the JetBlue gate, I note that my iPad is not with me. OMG!
I run back to the security area to see whether I had left my iPad in one of the plastic bins. Several TSA people immediately rummage through all the bins in search of the iPad. Not there. I’m ready to give up, but their supervisor won’t let me.
John Link spent a good 15 minutes going through the video at the station to see my actions. He eventually found me (good thing I was wearing pink that day). We could see me taking the iPad out of the bin and carrying it to the gates. It was clearly not lost at security. Link suggested I go back to every place I stopped on the way to the JetBlue gate. And he wanted me to come back and tell him if I found the iPad.
I went down the corridor to a grungy Southwest Airlines gate where I had temporarily taken a seat. The women behind the counter said no one had turned in an iPad but urged me to check the airline website’s lost-and-found section.
They also told me to check with Pedro, pointing to a distant figure in blue. On my way to Pedro, I stopped to ask a uniformed woman whether anyone had turned in an iPad. Her face sparked and she said, yes, talk to Pedro.
I talked to Pedro and he had the iPad. It was found at the Dunkin’ Donuts counter where I had stopped to pick up a coffee. The finder was a young boy (still in line with his family) who had turned the iPad over to the authorities.
I told the boy that he was my hero. I thanked Pedro. And I went back to security to tell Link that the iPad was found and also to get his name so that I could tell the folks at TSA what a superb help he was. He handed me a card with all the info I needed.
You know, we who beef and moan about the sad condition of LaGuardia should really think more of the good people who work there all day, every day. The masses rushing through barely notice these workers — people who do difficult jobs with little recognition and never enough gratitude.
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