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Archive for April, 2016

Rita's Coney Island

Rita’s Coney Island on Surf Avenue and West 15th Street. April 9, 2016.

Rita’s Italian Ice on Surf Avenue across from the Thunderbolt roller coaster has a new owner, Joseph DeAngelis, and a brand-new schedule. It is no longer closed for the Jewish Sabbath – from dusk on Friday until sundown on Saturday– and is now open 7 days a week. That means you can get a frozen custard for the first time on Fireworks Fridays and on Saturday afternoons. Hours are noon to 10:00pm, with later hours during the summer months.

Two years ago, this Rita’s franchise brought back frozen custard, one of Coney Island’s lost delights, to its place of origin. The dessert made its debut in 1919 when the Kohr brothers opened a stand on the Coney Island Boardwalk, selling 18,460 cones for a nickel apiece on the first weekend! Kohr’s Frozen Custard is still in business on the Boardwalks at Seaside Heights and Casino Pier on the Jersey Shore but Kohr’s has shown no interest in making a Coney Island comeback. Businesses in Coney which sell ice cream, gelato or soft serve hadn’t made any move to bring back frozen custard either, despite the recommendations of old-timers.

“Rita’s products are prepared under Star-K Kosher supervision and non-dairy is still pareve,” says DeAngelis, who is one of the franchise’s top operators, with five locations in New York’s Dutchess County. The Coney Island store has a clientele that reaches beyond seasonal visitors to the amusement area. It was a destination for Jewish residents of Brooklyn seeking kosher ices, nevertheless the business was struggling, according to DeAngelis. He was brought in by Rita’s to make a success of the location. Unlike the previous owners, who were observant Jews, DeAngelis is Catholic and does not have to close for Shabbat.

The storefront got a fresh coat of paint and has already opened for the season, but DeAngelis says he’s planning a grand-re-opening celebration. Rita’s offers Italian ice, frozen custard, layered gelati, sundaes with a choice of toppings, sugar-free treats, and trademark items that blend Italian ice with frozen custard. The business is among a growing number of national and international franchises and chains leasing space on high-priced Surf Avenue in the new Coney Island.

Frozen custard

Frozen custard from Rita’s Italian Ice. Photo via Facebook.com/RitasItalianIceCompany

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Coney Art Walls Marie Roberts

Coney Art Walls Mural painted by Marie Roberts in 2015 will be replaced by a new Roberts mural this season.

Coney Art Walls, an art project curated by Jeffrey Deitch that turned Thor Equities’ vacant lot behind Nathan’s into a pop culture destination last summer will be back in 2016. Seven murals painted on concrete, will stay for another season. Most of the other walls have been sandblasted and are blank canvases awaiting a new group of artists set to begin painting this spring.

“We are working on the artist line up for Coney Art Walls upcoming season,” Ethel Seno, who manages and coordinates the project for Jeffrey Deitch, told ATZ.

Jeffrey Deitch at Coney Art Walls

Curator Jeffrey Deitch at Coney Art Walls. May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The art walls are interspersed with colorful shipping containers that housed Red Hook Lobster Pound, Home Frites, Bon Chovie and several other Smorgasburg vendors last summer. The cafe tables and chairs amid the art walls were a welcome amenity in Coney Island where there is a dearth of public seating. Thor Equities is close to finalizing an agreement to bring a new food operator because Smorgasburg will not be sending its vendors to Coney Island in 2016. “Not this year for us,” Eric Demby, co-founder of Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg told ATZ.

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Smorgasburg vendors Blue Marble Ice Cream and New Yorkina in shipping container pop-ups at Coney Art Walls. May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Last year, Thor’s vacant lot across the street, bounded by Stillwell Avenue and West 12th Street, hosted a popular trapeze school, wrestling matches and other entertainments, and an outdoor cafe. A banner advertising the lot for lease went up in the middle of March. On Thursday, some heavy machinery was brought it to break up the asphalt, lending credence to the idea that we heard from the Coney Island Rumor Mill. A go kart track is said to be the next new thing there, and possibly a miniature golf course.

If it turns out to be true, it’s great news and proof that everything old is new again in Coney Island. Go karts and mini golf were among the amusements evicted by Thor CEO Joe Sitt when he first bought the property in 2007.

As for Thor Equities newly acquired properties on the Bowery, sources tell ATZ the mom and pop concessionaires and food operators got a new lease with only a slight rent increase – due in three payments– but the cost of their insurance policy has tripled. Please patronize Coney Island’s independent operators this summer!

Thor Equities lot

Thor Equities lot on West 12th Street may get a go kart track. March 10, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

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No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s

“No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s” — Nelson Rockefeller

The presidential candidates ate cheese curds in Wisconsin, now it’s time to chow down on hot dogs in Coney Island! As New York’s three-term Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller, famously said in 1966, “No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous.”

Last April, when Hillary Clinton announced her campaign headquarters would be in Brooklyn, we anticipated she’d soon show up at Nathan’s for her photo op. What is she waiting for?

Now that the New York Primary is competitive for the first time in decades and Nathan’s is celebrating its 100th anniversary, a trip to the People’s Playground is required to establish her Brooklyn bona fides.

For Bernie Sanders, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, and moved to Vermont in his 20’s, being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s and shaking hands with locals would be seen as a homecoming. UPDATE: April 8th… It looks like Bernie will be the first! We have confirmation that Bernie will be on the Coney Island Boardwalk for a 2pm rally on Sunday with security check-in beginning at 11am! 

Though Donald Trump is a native New Yorker, don’t expect to see him belly up to the counter at Nathan’s. There is absolutely such a thing as bad publicity. The Donald’s presence in Coney Island would occasion mention of the horrible damage his father Fred Trump wreaked here 50 years ago. See the exhibit at the Coney Island History Project this summer: “The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump’s Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion.”

Today, Ted Cruz went to a matzoh bakery in Brighton Beach and also to Coney Island, according to a tweet from the 60th Precinct. It’s sheer cluelessness of “New York Values” that he got this close and skipped Nathan’s. Meanwhile at Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, John Kasich showed an appetite worthy of a competitor in Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The tradition of New York politicians making a campaign stop at Nathan’s has encompassed governors, mayors, attorneys general, comptrollers and city council presidents. In an iconic photo taken at Nathan’s Famous, Nelson Rckefeller and the state’s attorney general, Lewis Lefkowitz, are seen enthusiastically eating the famous franks. “They campaigned aggressively in overwhelmingly Democratic Coney Island in 1966,” according to Gastropolis: Food and New York City. “They ate countless hot dogs and shook hands for hours in what was their most successful day on the campaign trail.”

In the previously unpublished photo below from the archive of Famous Nathan director Lloyd Handwerker, Nathan welcomes the Democratic candidates in the 1961 municipal election to his hot dog emporium. Robert F. Wagner for Mayor, Abe Beame for Comptroller, and Paul R. Screvane for President of the City Council went on to defeat the Republicans.

Campaigning at Nathan's

1961 Democratic candidates Robert F. Wagner for Mayor, Abe Beame for Comptroller, and Paul R. Screvane for President of the City Council campaigning at Nathan’s. Photo © Lloyd Handwerker Archive. FamousNathan.com

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Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy Balloons calling me in to his new balloon dart under construction on Jones Walk. March 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

We’re sad to report that James Carchiolo, affectionately known in Coney Island as Jimmy Balloons, has passed away. He had been at Coney Island Hospital for four weeks and was about to be moved to a hospice. Jimmy is among the few remaining old-timers operating games in Coney Island. He was 71 years old and was a game operator in Coney for over 50 years.

ATZ has taken many photos of Jimmy and his Balloon Dart over the years at various locations, including two spots on the Bowery and on Jones Walk under the Wonder Wheel “Thrills” sign. The spot long occupied by his Balloon Dart in the century-old Henderson Building, demolished by Thor Equities in 2010, is now the Brooklyn Nets Shop in Thor’s retail building. That fact pretty much sums up why indie game operators are disappearing from the new Coney Island.

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy’s Balloon Dart in the Henderson Building on the Bowery, May 26, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

Born and raised in Coney Island, Jimmy was a survivor who relocated from the Henderson to property leased by Manny Cohen’s Coney Island Arcade, where Target the Coney Island Cat helped him call people in to play. After Manny lost his lease, Jimmy moved in 2013 to a spot on Jones Walk owned by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Sadly, this year for the first time in his long career in Coney, Jimmy missed operating his Balloon Dart on Opening Day. Rest in peace, Jimmy Balloons. You will be missed.

Visitation will be Sunday, April 3rd, 2-5pm and 7-10pm at the Cusimano & Russo Funeral Home, 2005 West 6th Street, Brooklyn. The Funeral Mass will be on Monday, 10:00 am at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace, 2866 West 17th Street, Coney Island. Interment to follow in the Cemetery of the Resurrection, Staten Island.

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy Balloons with Target the Coney Island cat at his location on the Bowery. June 20, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

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