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water race game

Water race game on Coney Island’s Bowery is one of the tenants in the buildings recently sold by Jeff Persily. Photo © Tricia Vita

What does it feel like to leave Coney Island after more than 60 years? ATZ asked Jeff Persily, who grew up working his family’s games on the Bowery and recently closed the sale of three lots–1105, 1205 and 1207 Bowery– to Thor Equities.

ATZ broke the news of the real estate deal in November, amid speculation that the Bowery buildings are destined for a date with the wrecking ball, as one of Thor’s long vacant lots on West 12th Street was rezoned by the Bloomberg administration for a 30-story hotel. Long owned by the Persily family, the properties stretch from West 12th Street to Jones Walk and are home to a dozen game, novelty and food concessionaires.

With the acquisition of 1105 Bowery, Sitt now owns the entire block bounded by Surf Avenue and the Bowery with the exception of one privately held lot on Jones Walk.

1205 Bowery Coney Island

Water Race Game and Gyro Corner are among the tenants at 1205-1207 Bowery, which Persily sold to Thor Equities along with the lot on the east side of West 12th Street. November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Back in 2007, when Jeff Persily was asked by the NY Times if he would sell to Sitt, he said, “At the end of the day, combining all the properties and building amusements, hotels and residential would be a wonderful thing for New York. We’re talking about creating not hundreds of jobs but many thousands of jobs. I love Coney Island. I’d love to see it become what it once was when I was a kid.”

Persily’s late father Sid was the oldest of five children and supported his whole family through working at Coney, he says. “He was able to put himself through college and was a teacher (summers off), but still worked the games.” Sid’s siblings included Phil aka “Fishie,” a Coney concessionaire since 1929. The Persilys introduced the first water race game to Coney Island in 1960 and once owned the bumper cars where Woody Allen would film the famous scene in Annie Hall (1977), says his son. The Persilys are among the very last families owning property in Coney Island to sell to Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities.

Annie Hall Bumper Car Scene

The Bumper Car Scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Photo via ScoutingNY.com

“I started working in my father’s concessions before I was ten,” Persily said in an exclusive interview with ATZ. “In 1960 the first Water Race game was brought to Coney Island and was off the corner of Surf and West 15th st. I was 10 then and liked the idea that there was an actual winner every game, as opposed to the regular games at the time – Bushel Basket, Balloon, Cat Rack, etc.- which was always prone to people losing more money than they wanted.”

“We brought in the same Water Game, manufactured by Quinn who was the original and exclusive manufacturer at the time, and brought it to the Bowery between West 12th and Stillwell where it stayed until the late ’60s when a newer Balloon game was able to get around Quinn’s patent, and we had to update to it because everyone else in Coney was getting water games that were nicer than ours, and we had to compete.”

water race patent

Harold E. Quinn’s 1954 Patent for Water Gun Game which Phil Persily debuted to Coney Island

“I will never forget the great times I had there. Competing with our neighbors for customers on the Bowery till 5:00 A.M. and then reopening at noon the next day. We owned the Cavalcade Bumping Cars on Surf Ave. till we sold it to the Handwerker family in the early seventies. I hated working that ride, the dust from the metal floor used to get into our lungs and we always sneezed black. On my wife’s 18th Birthday at 12:01 a.m. we were working the bumper cars, and one of our fondest memories is of us giving everyone a free ride in her honor.”

Asked the location of the bumper cars, Persily says: “In the 60’s there were two Bumping Car rides on Surf Avenue. One was next to Nathan’s that Nathan’s youngest brother Harry Handwerker ran, and the other was between West 12th St and Jones Walk, which was the Cavalcade. There is a famous Woody Allen movie that was filmed on our ride.”

The film is of course Annie Hall, in which Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) famously says “You know, I have a hyperactive imagination. My mind tends to jump around a little, and have some trouble between fantasy and reality,” just before a shot of people in bumper cars happily bumping into each other. Alvy’s father, who ran the bumper car concession, stands in the center of the track directing traffic as Alvy’s voice says “There-there he is and there I am. But I-I-I used to get my aggression out through those cars all the time.”

Says Persily: “Coney Island will always be a part of me. I think I missed a lot, having to spend my youth there every day from April through September, but I also think I learned a lot. My years spent there were happy ones with no regrets. I wish all of the remaining, and all of the New families that are working there, Health, Happiness, and 100 days of sunshine!”

Related posts on ATZ…

November 9, 2015: Thor Equities Buying 3 Lots on Coney Island’s Bowery, Mom & Pops Await Rent Increase Amid Rumors of Hotel

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

August 27, 2012: Video of the Day: Raw Footage of 1960s Coney Island

March 26, 2012: 60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado

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Coney Island Bowery

On Coney Island’s Bowery, indie amusement operators put up pennants for Memorial Day 2015. Will they be back in 2016? May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Thor Equities’ CEO Joe Sitt is expanding his Coney Island empire by buying up three Bowery lots on both sides of West 12th Street. ATZ has learned that longtime property owner Jeff Persily and partner Matthew Weinberg are in contract with Thor to sell their property at 1105 Bowery (309 W 12th St), 1205 Bowery and 1207 Bowery. According to the agreement, the scheduled closing date is December 18, 2015.

The acquisition has set off speculation that the Bowery buildings are destined for a date with the wrecking ball, as one of Thor’s long vacant lots on West 12th Street is zoned for a 30-story hotel. With the purchase of 1105 Bowery, which stretches from West 12th Street to Jones Walk, Thor will own the entire block bounded by Surf Avenue and the Bowery with the exception of one privately owned lot on Jones Walk. Apart from the current tenants of 1105 Bowery, the rest of the Thor-owned lots and buildings on the block are vacant due to rent increases, evictions and demolitions that began in 2007 and culminated in 2010.

1205 Bowery Coney Island

Water Race Game and Gyro Corner are among the tenants at 1205-1207 Bowery, which is being bought by Thor Equities. November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

A few days before Halloween, Weinberg met with some of their Bowery tenants, which include a bar and grill, food stands, games and photo and souvenir booths. He informed them the property was sold and that a Thor rep would contact them, setting off rumblings in the Coney Island Rumor Mill. Who will get to stay, for how long, and at what price? Some tenants were told to expect “a moderate rent increase,” sources tell ATZ.

The block where 1105 Bowery is located includes the vacant lot on West 12th across from Coney Island USA where the demolished Bank of Coney Island stood from 1923 until 2010, and the lot where the boarded up Grashorn Building, Coney Island’s oldest building, remains. The bank lot was rezoned for a hotel up to 30 stories, effectively dooming the historic building. Despite public outcry and a NY Times editorial against a wall of hotels on the south side of Surf, which will cast long shadows on the amusement zone, the Bloomberg administration pushed it through. The big beneficiary was Thor Equities’ Joe Sitt, who owns two of the Surf Avenue lots zoned for hotels.

A Winner Every Game

A Winner Every Game. This Water Race on Jones Walk is one of the tenants at 1105 Bowery, Coney Island. June 21, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Tenants at 1205-1207 Bowery include Gyro Corner and neighboring games and souvenir stands on West 12th Street. At 1105 Bowery, tenants are Margarita Island Bar & Grill, the 5D cinema, frozen yogurt, a basketball and dart games, water races, a food stand on the corner of Jones Walk and a photo booth and tattoo shop. Gyro Corner was on the Boardwalk, where Nathan’s is now, until Thor sold the property to the City’s Economic Development Corporation, which turned it over to Zamperla. Gyro was among five Boardwalk businesses that got the boot. So did Beer Island, which was reborn last year as Margarita Island on the Bowery.

Margarita Island

On Coney Island’s Bowery, Margarita Island and neighboring games getting ready for Memorial Day Weekend 2015. May 13, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Margarita Island owner Carl Muraca is optimistic about being back in 2016. He said Thor’s rep told him that “Joe Sitt knows you love Coney Island as much he loves Coney Island and he’s glad to have you there. We had a very positive conversation,” Muraca told ATZ. He is also a former Thor tenant, having owned Faber’s Fascination in the Henderson Building, a year-round arcade which lost its lease when the building was demolished. Muraca later moved his arcade to another Thor building, now vacant, on Surf.

Thor Equities also owns the lots on the south side of the Bowery, from West 12th Street to West 15th Street. On the north side, Thor properties include the building housing the Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade and Thor’s new “Retail Ride of A Lifetime” building where the Brooklyn Nets Shop and Wahlburger’s represent the new Coney Island’s displacement of amusements for shiny new retail and franchises.

Jones Walk Coney Island

Still open for business: Airbrush Tattoo stand on Jones Walk is a tenant at 1105 Bowery. November 1, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

We are keeping our fingers crossed that the Bowery’s Mom & Pops will be able to afford to stay in their spots next season and get more than a one-year reprieve. All are survivors who’ve had to move multiple times due to changes in property ownership leading up to and since the City’s Coney Island Rezoning of 2009. With redevelopment on the horizon for these blocks, the Bowery could be the last stand for some of these small businesses. As we reported in “The New Coney Island: A Tale of Two Jones Walks” (ATZ, November 2, 2013), an amusement business owner who had leased a small stand on the Walk from Thor in 2008 told us in 2009 that the rent had tripled from $8,000 to $24,000. He declined the space and left Coney Island, never to return.

Jones Walk, Off season

Jones Walk, off season. The long vacant Thor-owned Grashorn building, Coney Island’s oldest on the right. November 4, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

October 29, 2015: Environmental Assessment Underway at Coney Island’s Shore Theater

October 20, 2015: Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land

September 2, 2013: The New Coney Island: A Tale of Two Jones Walks

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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Arancini Bros

Arancini Bros. Rice Balls now available during Brooklyn Cyclones games at MCU Park. Photo via Arancini Bros.

Italian street food is popping up this summer in Coney Island’s amusement area. Bushwick’s Arancini Bros– whose motto is “We’ve got balls!”– is serving their Sicilian rice balls during Brooklyn Cyclones’ games at MCU Park. On the Bowery at Stillwell, Luzzo’s, which has an old-school pizzeria with a coal-burning oven in the East Village, is making wood-fired pizza from a mobile cart with a tiny oven.

We first tried Arancini Bros basil pesto ball at San Gennaro and went back for seconds, thinking all the while: this would be perfect for Coney Island. The business is owned by David Campaniello and his cousin Giulia Della Gatta, who says of the new Coney Island venture, “Arancini Bros. is honored to bring the best of Brooklyn, for the best of Brooklyn!”

Six varieties are offered at MCU Park, priced at three for $6 or six for $10. There’s Classic Ragu (saffron risotto with tomato meat sauce peace and mozzarella); Bianco Verde (Basil Pesto w Mozzarella); Buffalo Ball (Spicy Chicken with Gorgonzola Cheese); Philly Cheese-Steak (grilled rib-eye, caramelized onions, provolone cheese); Bucatini Fritti (Italian-style mac & cheese) and Nutella (Cinnamon risotto with chocolate hazelnut, rolled in cinnamon sugar).

We only wish they sold the rice balls outside the ball park too!

Luzzo's Pizza

Luzzo’s Pizza Cart on the Bowery at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island. July 4, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The Luzzo Group headed by Neapolitan pizzaiolo Michele Iuliano operate a quintet of restaurants as well as pizza carts in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Their cart in Coney Island debuted over the July 4th weekend and is set to stay the summer, according to its manager Anisa. Luzzo’s is located on Thor Equities property on the Bowery, across from the Brooklyn Nets Shop and the yet-to-open Wahlburgers, and has a roped-off seating area. The personal-size pizza comes in two varieties: the Margherita, with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella ($6.00), and the Diavola with spicy salami ($8.00). Also on the menu for $2 each are Rice Balls (rice, meat, fresh Mozzarella) and Potato Croquettes.

While new is news and street food is convenient, if you’re looking for an Italian sit-down restaurant in Coney Island, you should keep in mind two of the City’s and the neighborhood’s oldest and most revered: Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana on Neptune Avenue since 1924 and Gargiulo’s on West 15th Street since 1907. As ATZ previously reported, the Russo Brothers, owners of Gargiulo’s, which is Coney Island’s bastion of fine dining, are planning to open a fast food Italian restaurant on the north side of Surf.

Luzzo's Pizza

Seating area at Luzzo’s Pizza Cart on the Bowery at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island. July 4, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

May 19, 2015: Gargiulo’s Russo Brothers to Open Italian Fast Food on Surf Avenue

May 14, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Red Doors Bar & Grill Opens on North Side of Surf Ave

January 29, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Subway Cafe, Sushi Lounge, IHOP, Checkers, Johnny Rockets

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

Read Full Post »

Photo © Tricia Vita

Stillwell Avenue and Bowery, Coney Island. April 16, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita

It turns out that Dan Biederman’s consulting firm Biederman Redevelopment Ventures was hired by Thor Equities to manage and create programming for two lots in Coney Island. So what’s planned for Thor’s second long-vacant lot, on the Bowery across the street from where Coney Art Walls and Smorgasburg are set to debut? “Our programming is still in flux, though we hope to announce some exciting things next week,” Ben Donsky, BRV’s senior project manager, told ATZ. “There will probably be performances on both lots.”

Since Thor bought the property in 2006 and emptied out the bumper boats, go karts and batting cages, the lot has seen sporadic use, most infamously in 2009 as the failed Flea by the Sea. Its tattered tents can be seen in the photo above.

As for game trailers coming to the lot and kiosks being offered for rent this season, as the Coney Island Rumor Mill has been saying for months: “There are no actual ‘kiosks’ in our plans on the east side of Stillwell, at least right now,” Donsky says. “But Gordon Lee of the Eldorado is going to be putting up midway games along the Bowery.”

Balloon Dart on the Bowery, Coney Island

Balloon Dart, on the Bowery in Coney Island, May 26, 2008. This game did not reopen in 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

Can the Bowery get its groove back? Or will it get a complete redo? Coney’s Bowery from West 12th Street to Stillwell is a ghost town compared to the crowds it used to attract, particularly since McCullough’s Kiddie Park got pushed out in 2012. As a measure of how much has changed, the spot where the old-school Balloon Dart was located in the demolished Henderson Building is now occupied by the Brooklyn Nets Shop in Thor’s retail building, where Wahlburger’s is opening a rooftop dining area that will overlook the festivities unfolding on the lots this summer.

Wahlburgers

Slated to open this summer, Wahlburgers will have a rooftop overlooking Thor’s Stillwell lots. April 18, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

May 6, 2015: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh to Draw Portraits of Coney Island Residents for Coney Art Walls

April 30, 2015: Thor Equities Recruits Jeffrey Deitch, Dan Biederman & Smorgasburg to Dress Up Vacant Coney Lot

April 27, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Update on Wahlburgers, Temporary Fair at Thor’s Vacant Lots

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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Pretty the Coney Island Cat

Pretty the Coney Island Cat © Stanley Fox. December 3, 2014

Pretty the Cat is frequently mistaken for a stray by tourists but this Coney Island cat has long made her home on the Bowery where she is fed year-round by concessionaires. This morning, Coney raconteur and retired arcade owner Stanley Fox photographed Pretty when she jumped on the hood of his car, which he’d parked on the Bowery. Just after he snapped this photo, Pretty ran off to eat breakfast. Ray, who runs the basketball game on the Bowery, had come to feed her, as he does every day. “He stands guard while she eats,” Stan told ATZ, as Ray chased away a big seagull trying to snatch the can of food.

The feline queen of the Bowery is at least 10 or 11 years old by our estimation and is spayed. As we reported last year, after Manny of Coney Island Arcade and Target the Cat left the Bowery for Las Vegas, Pretty came into her own. This feral cat whom only a handful of people could pet in the past became the mascot of the independent game operators. In the summer, you’ll find her grooming herself in the middle of the Bowery unperturbed by passersby and taking a nap in Jimmy Balloons game under the Wonder Wheel sign.

Related Posts on ATZ…

February 12, 2013: Coney Island Cat & Arcade Business Moving to Las Vegas

January 14, 2013: Landlord Evicting Famous Coney Island Cat and His Humans

February 21, 2011: Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat & His Friend Pretty

January 26, 2011: Photo of the Day: Henderson Music Hall Cats Now Homeless

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Margarita Island

Site of Margarita Island, set to open on Coney Island’s Bowery at West 12th Street, on Memorial Day Weekend. May 10, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Remember Coney Island’s Beer Island, the popular outdoor bar where you could get sand in your shoes? The bar was one of the Boardwalk businesses evicted from City-owned property and closed down in 2011. On Memorial Day weekend, co-owner Carl Muraco is getting set to open its successor, Margarita Island, on the Bowery at West 12th Street. (Update: The ‘soft opening’ will be on Saturday, May 17th.)

The outdoor bar’s liquor license was issued a few days ago and a food truck specializing in Japanese teriyaki is already parked on site. New picnic tables are set up on the corner lot, which had been vacant since Coney Island Arcade burned down four years ago. The property is owned by Jeff Persily, who is also leasing the space next-door to Muraco for an arcade, formerly located in one of Thor’s buildings, and a bar.

The food truck Yume Teriyaki Grill offers a reasonably priced menu of teriyaki chicken, steak or fish served over white or brown rice, salads, and appetizers like gyoza and edamame. It’s one of the few food trucks in Coney Island since mobile food vending is restricted on the streets in and around the amusement area.

Yume Teriyaki Grill

Yume Teriyaki Grill Food Truck at site of Margarita Island Outdoor Bar, Coney Island. May 10, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

The key to Beer Island’s success was serving a wide variety of beer in bottles and on tap–all for $5—on a sandy beach just a few steps from Coney’s shore. Blaring music, bikini-clad waitresses, and the fact that you could bring in food from any of the Boardwalk restaurants added to the party ambiance. Plus as one Yelper wrote: “I have seen some strange shit at Beer Island. One time some guy rolled up with a bunch of exotic animals: iguanas, parrots, pythons–all at the same time. He sat down at a table, scattered his animal kingdom cohorts about, ordered a beer and proceeded to let old ladies feed his massive iguana (what looked like) strawberries.”

This corner is already pretty strange. The freak show is across the street and so is the Saturn 6 ride. And the mysterious, homegrown 5D Cinema, which opened last summer, is back.

5D Cinema

5D Cinema, Coney Island. May 10, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Related posts on ATZ…

April 25, 2014: Under Construction: New Mom & Pops Coming to Coney Island’s Surf Ave

January 3, 2014: New Year, New Franchise: Rita’s Italian Ice Coming to Coney Island

December 31, 2013: Amusing the Zillion’s Coney Island 2013 Year in Review

September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

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Pretty the Coney Island Cat

Pretty the Coney Island Cat on the Bowery. May 15, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We’re happy to report that Pretty the Cat is doing fine since Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat moved to Las Vegas. Manny left plenty of food and she is being fed by Jimmy Balloons and his friends. This feral cat whom only a handful of people could pet over the past three years is coming into her own and warming up to her humans. She’s more approachable, too. The other day, we were astonished to see her grooming herself in the middle of the Bowery unperturbed by passersby and rubbing against one of her caretaker’s legs. “She’s a little lonely,” he said. “Target was very territorial and used to beat her up.” Now Pretty is the feline queen of that part of the Bowery though we don’t expect to see her calling people in to play the Balloon Dart like Target did anytime soon.

Pretty the Coney Island Cat

Pretty the Coney Island Cat on the Bowery. May 15, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related Posts on ATZ…

February 12, 2013: Coney Island Cat & Arcade Business Moving to Las Vegas

January 14, 2013: Landlord Evicting Famous Coney Island Cat and His Humans

February 21, 2011: Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat & His Friend Pretty

January 26, 2011: Photo of the Day: Henderson Music Hall Cats Now Homeless

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