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David Levine Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, Past and Present, 1993, watercolor on paper, 14 13/16 x 10 inches, Collection of The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA

For this long-time admirer, seeing one of David Levine’s sublime and instantly recognizable watercolors of Coney Island on the cover of Gallery Guide was a joyful moment, knowing it heralded more. From December 12 through January 17, Forum Gallery presents “David Levine: The World He Saw,” the first major exhibition of paintings and drawings by Levine since his passing in 2009. Fifty works are on view including more than 25 of his watercolors of Coney Island, many loaned by private collectors and museums.

Renowned as a caricaturist whose insightful drawings were on the cover of The New York Review of Books for more than 40 years, Brooklyn-born Levine spent his summers painting the bathers on Coney Island beach and the architecture on the boardwalk and adjacent streets. Many of the structures that he painted–pavilions, booths, bathhouses, and amusement rides, have since vanished or were demolished.

David Levine Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, Stauch’s Baths, 1981, watercolor on paper, 10 7/8 x 14 5/8 inches, Private collection, San Francisco, CA

While photographs of Coney’s past attractions tend to put a “then and now” distance between the viewer and the subject, the immediacy of watercolor and Levine’s mastery of the medium makes us see what he saw. Then is now. The ache in the heart upon viewing his watercolors of Stauch’s Baths, the Bank of Coney Island building and the original Thunderbolt roller coaster is akin to phantom pain for a limb that has been lost.

There are also paintings of rides that are thankfully still with us– the Polar Express, the B&B Carousell–and of elderly women whom Levine affectionately referred to as the “Shmata Queens of Coney.”

David Levine Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, Carousel, 1989, watercolor on paper, 11 3/8 x 14 1/4 inches

“Each year they would say: ‘Ya know, lest veek, dere vuss a men chust like you.’ I would patiently tell them that it was me,” Levine wrote. “The ‘shmata,’ or ‘rag,’ not only refers to the head cloth, but also to the bathing suits – faded and misshapen by molding to aged and deformed bodies that have been out under the sun. They are now comfortable with me sketching in their midst and only occasionally ask to see what I do.”

Walter Bernard, a fellow member of the Painting Group, which Levine co-founded with Aaron Shikler in 1958, wrote this remembrance in the New York Times in 2010: “Watching David work was a revelation. He handled watercolors unlike anybody else. He liked to experiment and, as he put it, ‘play.’ He would draw, redraw, ‘schmeer,’ sponge out and paint again. It was not uncommon to see him rub out a work we’d been marveling over, saying, simply, ‘I didn’t get what I was going after.'”

David Levine, Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, End of Youth, 1984 watercolor on paper 14 x 22 1/2 inches, Private collection, New York, NY

Levine often painted the 1925 Thunderbolt, which was SBNO (Standing But Not Operating, in roller coaster parlance) since the early 1980’s. The titles of the works are telling: End of Youth, End of Joy, Goya at Coney, and after it was demolished in 2000, The Past.

One of the stories Levine told about the people he met while painting in Coney is this poignant anecdote about End of Joy: “I was seated on a side street, painting the Tinturn Abbey of joy rides, the Thunderbolt. Black and looming, it stood abandoned. A group of children surrounded me. They had just left the beach. Their chattering stopped as they watched my performance. Then, silently, they moved off as a group. When they had walked a short distance, the smallest, a little girl, turned and ran back to me. Without a word, she placed a quarter on my watercolor, then returned to her friends.”

A 72-page, fully illustrated catalogue, with foreword by author and journalist Pete Hamill, accompanies the exhibition.

David Levine: The World He Saw. December 12, 2014 to January 17, 2015. Forum Gallery, 730 Fifth Avenue 2nd Fl. (between 56th & 57th Streets), New York, NY 10019. 212-355-4545. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5:30pm

David Levine Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, Untitled (Three Women, Two Umbrellas on beach), 1982, watercolor on paper, 4 1/4 x 13 3/4 inches

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In early December, ATZ posted Eric Kowalsky’s photos of country singer and songwriter Alan Jackson strumming his guitar on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The music video was released today on YouTube and it’s a beauty. We love it that Coney’s landmark Cyclone, Wonder Wheel and Parachute Jump, as well as the Astrotower and Paul’s Daughter’s Mama and Papa Burger make an appearance along with the Beach and the Boardwalk.

In the new single about the end of a love affair, Jackson sings that he’ll be the SOB, “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore.” The shuttered stores and lonely beauty of Coney Island on a December day suit the lyrics, which are sorrowful yet defiant, in the way that the best country songs often are.

I will keep all those memories of the good times
Yeah there were some good times
So when you think of you and me
They won’t even cross your mind

“I didn’t write this one. It was written by Jay Knowles and my nephew, Adam Wright,” Jackson told Country Weekly in December. “This one just hit me. I can say this because I didn’t write it, people are comparing it to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’ I would never put one of my songs up against that one, but since I didn’t write it, it’s OK.”

Thanks to Alan Jackson for making Coney Island the setting for your next no. 1 hit!

Alan Jackson Coney Island

Alan Jackson in front of Paul's Daughter, Coney Island. December 2, 2011. Photo © Eric Kowalsky. All Rights Reserved


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December 3, 2011: Alan Jackson Video Shoot on Coney Island Boardwalk!

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November 30, 2010: Video: The Wanted’s Lose My Mind at Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel Park

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In July, ATZ posted Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs. Circus Vidbel was in Coney Island for an abbreviated run, but Kevin Downs photographs of the performers have a timeless quality that evokes the classic portraiture of the Golden Age of the Circus. You can view the complete set, including a few candids, on the photographer’s website.

Ambra Zerbini, Zamperla-Zoppe Riders, Coney Island July 12, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

The 1927 film “IT” made Brooklyn-born Clara Bow a sex symbol. In August, Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island featured anecdotes about Bow and this scene from the film. She plays a shop girl who goes on a first date with her boss to Coney’s Steeplechase Park, where the Human Roulette Wheel and the Barrel of Love help them get acquainted.

Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys’ album “The King of In Between” has been called “as uncannily fresh and forceful as the songs on his debut record, from 1973″ by the New Yorker and it’s on plenty of year-end Top 10 lists. You’ll see why in this live performance of Coney Island Winter: Garland Jeffreys Live on Letterman

New York City hasn’t had any snow since the freaky October snowstorm dubbed Snowtober on the web. In addition to a snow-covered Coney Island Boardwalk, photographer Bruce Handy’s flickr slide show offers snow-dusted Halloween characters and the rare sight of the Wonder Wheel’s cars, which ordinarily have been taken down for the winter before the first snowfall.

As ATZ reported exclusively early this month, Miss Coney Island and Coney Island Always, along with Skin the Wire and two or three other games, are moving from Jones Walk to booths on West 12th Street. Their location is next to the Coney Island History Project. Bring a roll of quarters because it will still be “25¢ to Laugh,” “25¢ to Smile,” and “25¢ to Fall in Love” with the famed mannequin, who is expected to debut a new outfit and new music this season.


Related posts on ATZ…

December 30, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Fave 11 Posts of 2011 – Part 1

December 27, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2011

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January 1, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2010

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ATZ’s “Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2011” was based on page views, but our fave posts didn’t make the cut. “Sometimes really great posts fall through the cracks, are too esoteric to be popular, or at least deserve another visit,” writes blogger Visualingual, whose exquisite “Looking Back: Best VL Posts of 2010,” (and 2011) inspired us to put together this round-up of ATZ faves. In Part 1 and 2 (tomorrow), you’ll find videos, photos, and an antique image or two to while away the last hours of 2011…


Target the Cat, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In February we dropped by the Bowery to visit Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat & His Friend Pretty. When the games are open for business, the gregarious Target is likely to be found sitting on the counter of the Balloon Dart. Even in the winter, he can be seen making his rounds.

Also in February, ATZ paid tribute to a legendary Coney Island ride inventor in “Bring Back the Whip! A Birthday Gift for William F Mangels.” But if you want to ride the Whip, you’ll have to take a trip to Rye Playland, Knoebels, Kennywood, Trimper’s or any one of the other parks or carnivals listed on ATZ’s Whip Census in the post. Coney Island, where this classic was invented in 1914, doesn’t have an operating Whip! In this video by sodadaze, you can see the ride in action at Knoebels set to the tune of Devo’s “Whip It.”

In March, ATZ posted historian and Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson’s latest video “Cyclone Roller Coaster: Four Seasons.” This behind-the-scenes look at Coney Island’s landmark roller coaster lets you walk the tracks – summer and winter – and get up close to the machinery in the motor room.

In March, ATZ learned via twitter that Coney Island’s Inexhaustible Cow, a 19th century attraction which dispensed milk for 5 cents a cup, had apparently survived. A Pennsylvania dealer of Americana was selling the wooden cow (milk not included) for $78,000. In Inexhaustible Cows & Bottomless Cups of Chocolate Milk, we looked into the history of the Coney Island cows –there was more than one–and reminisced about bottomless cups of chocolate milk for a quarter at the Michigan State Fair.

Cow, Coney Island from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. New York Public Library, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs

If you’re adept at reading letters backwards you’ll like this Flickr Slide Show: DNALSI YENOC –> CONEY ISLAND. The letters frame the view from Stillwell Terminal as visitors exit onto Surf Avenue. DNALSI YENOC is also the name of a flickr group started by Coney Island photographer Barry Yanowitz. The collection of photos document the view, which changed irrevocably in 2010 when the Henderson Building and Shore Hotel across the avenue were demolished by Thor Equities. A new building –touted as “The Retail Ride of a Lifetime” by Thor– is now rising on the empty lot.

One of our favorite photos of the summer of 2011 is this Photo of the Day: Umbrellas on Coney Island Beach. On the Fourth of July, photographer Jim McDonnell took this amazing shot of Coney Island’s beach brimming with colorful umbrellas. “The 4th itself started out hazy but turned hot, humid and incredibly crowded!” he said.

Beach Umbrellas in Coney Island

Beach Umbrellas in Coney Island. July 4, 2011. Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug


Related posts on ATZ…

December 31, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Fave 11 Posts of 2011 – Part 2

December 27, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2011

November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk

January 1, 2011: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island News Stories of 2010

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Ruby's Bar & Grill, Coney Island. May 28, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Ruby's Bar & Grill, Coney Island. May 28, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

According to our copy of The Old Carny Almanac, the first day of fall arrives on Wednesday, September 22, at precisely 11:09 pm Eastern Time. Our days of standing behind a counter and calling people in are over until the whole crazy business starts up again next spring. Meanwhile, on the Coney Island Boardwalk, the legendary dive bars Ruby’s and Cha Cha’s rock on.

Anthony Latorre of Neptune Jam at Cha Cha's. August 1, 2010.  Photo © Coney Gal/Mindy via flickr

Anthony Latorre of Neptune Jam at Cha Cha's. August 1, 2010. Photo © Coney Gal/Mindy via flickr

Cha Cha’s, “Home of Wild Women and Wise Guys,” stays open through Halloween, but they keep their decorations up year round. Ruby’s last day of the season is November 21, says Rubyshost, who is tending bar on weekdays from around 10:30 in the morn. “We are now getting into our favorite time at the beach,” she says. “Hot sunny days and cool nights with friends on the boardwalk. On Wednesdays till Oct 27th, Ruby’s will have live music from 5 to 8:30 pm. The beer will be ice cold and the sausages will be hot. Come on out relax with friends at Sundown on the Boardwalk.”

Last night the place was packed. “Had a great fun crowd– a few regulars but a lot of European tourists,” says Rubyshost. “I could have gone till 11 but we were all tired so we closed at 9:30. Paul Sanchez of Neptune Jam will be back every Wednesday evening at Ruby’s with acoustic music. He does a l’il jazz – reggae – country – blues – a bit of everything,”

Robert “Bluesman” Ross and friends have upcoming gigs at both Ruby’s (October date TBA) and Cha Cha’s (October 15th)

Hank 'Coyote' Wagner on harmonica & Robert 'Bluesman' Ross on Guitar. Photo © 2010 Norman Blake. All Rights Reserved

Hank 'Coyote' Wagner on harmonica & Robert 'Bluesman' Ross on Guitar. Photo © 2010 Norman Blake. All Rights Reserved

Here’s Ruby’s schedule. We recommend confirming time and date with Ruby’s Facebook page or the Coney Island Fun Guide event calendar.

Sept 12 – Every Sunday after about 4 pm – Coney Island band Neptune Jam will be playing at Rubys through Nov 21st,Oct 31st, the last day Ruby’s is open this season. The Polar Bear Club begins their winter swims on Sundays in November, too. As daylight changes the time for band will move up slightly. There may be some Sundays they are at Grill House instead.

Sept 22 Wed, 5 – 8:30 pm – The House Band featuring: Mermaid Hawley, Lady Minerva, Lina Moon, & Finkadelic on vocals & glitter; Alan “Fuego” Nunez on percussion & squeezebox; G Laundry on vocals & baritone guitar; Hank “Coyote” Wagner on harmonica & vocals, & Robert “Bluesman” Ross on guitar, & vocals. UPDATE: Will be rescheduled due to JT’s wake and funeral being week of Sept 20. October date TBA.
October 23, Saturday, Grill Out Party, 2:30 PM
October 31, Halloween, End of Season Closing Party

Cha Cha's

Cha Cha's Bar & Cafe on the Boardwalk in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Here’s Cha Cha’s schedule. There is no cover but that may change for certain bands

Sept 16, Thurs – Karaoke with Amethyst
Sept 18, Sat- Mel “Guitar” Williams
Sept 19, Sun – Richie Lupo & Changes
Sept 23, Thurs – Karaoke with Amethyst
Sept 24, Sat – James Brown Jr “Saxman”
Sept 25, Sat – Rick & Nassau Chainsaw Benefit
Oct 2, Sat – Rock Against Dystrophy Concert
Oct 15, Fri – Robert “Bluesman” Ross & Blues Manian (rescheduled from Sept 12)
Oct 16, Sat – The Rockinghams
Oct 17,Sun – Tribute to JT – All Day Jam Session from 3pm
Oct 31, Sun, Haloween Party with Killer Joe & the Warriors, from 2pm

The sad news of the passing of JT-John Thomas– longtime manager of Cha Cha’s and its predecessor Club Atlantis– was first reported on Cha Cha’s blog and sent out via email…

JT on Easter Sunday 2009 in Coney Island: Boardwalk Closed for Reconstruction, "Cha Cha's Bar is open!"  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

JT on Easter Sunday 2009 in Coney Island: Boardwalk Closed for Reconstruction, "Cha Cha's Bar is open!" Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Recently we learned of JT’s passing on Sept 10, 2010 mid afternoon. JT was the GM/ Club Promoter for Cha Cha’s in Coney Island the past several years but was also the Manager of Club Atlantis back in the day. He would welcome all strangers to Coney with stories of the past and show you where Danny Dreher got his start singing DooWop on the boardwalk. His stories of the Ghost that live in the basement of Club Atlantis that came alive every Halloween will continue to be told to new visitors.

We will update with Funeral arrangements once they have been finalized. Possibly the week of Sept 20th – in Coney Island, NY. For more info call Cha Chas Club – 718-946-1305 or check on Facebook Fan Page.

After Ruby’s closes on November 21 with a post-Polar Bear swim birthday bash for Rubyshost, the next time you can belly up to the bar will be New Year’s Day 2011. Owner Michael Sarrel is confident the bar will be open as usual during the January 1, 2011 Polar Bear Swim, Rubyshost told ATZ. That’s good to hear because Ruby’s and Cha Cha’s are among the 11 Boardwalk businesses required to submit business plans to qualify for a lease with new landlord Luna Park/CAI. The Coney Island Rumor Mill is all over the place on this one: some folks say the majority of the businesses will be back, others claim that only a couple of them will return. Who knows? Personally we can’t imagine anybody not renewing the lease of a bar that was voted the 14th sexiest beach bar in the world by the Travel Channel.

Outside Ruby's Bar on New Year's Day, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Outside Ruby's Bar on New Year's Day, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Coney Island Rumor Mill has been sayin’ since last spring that some or all of the Boardwalk buildings will be torn down to make way for the new Scream Zone. According to the rumor, the buildings would be replaced by new ones. The only reason we even mention it is this could be the last season for Ruby’s and Cha Cha’s as we know them. The vintage photos and kitschy memorabilia could be in completely new digs by spring 2011! Go while you can and savor the last days of the 2010 season, which seems destined to go down in history as the first year of Coney’s re-birth.

Sundown on the Boardwalk. Photo ©  Rubys_host via flickr

Sundown on the Boardwalk. Photo © Rubys_host via flickr

Ruby’s Bar and Grill, 1213 Riegelmann Boardwalk, Coney Island, 718-372-9079

Cha Cha’s Club, 1229 Riegelmann Boardwalk, Coney Island, 718-946-1305

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How did we miss this delightful little music video tribute to Coney Island made in June 2007 until today? We’ve fallen under the spell of the quirky arrangement and whimsical lyrics of “Million Dollar Mermaid.”

Make yourself green and wear something scanty
And we’ll make out to the sounds of sea shanties
Screams of the Cyclone, the sweet symphony
Photobooths, bumper cars, sideshows
And you’re here with me….

“Million Dollar Mermaid” is the work of genius keyboardist, composer and arranger Joe McGinty. He wrote the song as an homage to Coney in what was expected to be the last summer of Astroland. “Big changes are in store for Coney Island, and I wanted to capture my favorite memories in song,” McGinty wrote at the time. His cousin Edward McGinty made the beguiling video in which a boy and a girl enjoy a ride spree in Wonder Wheel Park, their grown-up counterparts waltz on the Boardwalk, and McGinty and his band Circuit Parade play “Million Dollar Mermaid.”

The former member of the Psychedelic Furs operates a vintage keyboard studio in Brooklyn and has released original music as part of McGinty and White, Circuit Parade, Baby Steps and Space Nutz. Visit Joe McGinty’s website for more marvelous music.


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March 30, 2010: Super 8 Movie: I Had A Dream I Went To Coney Island

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December 15, 2009: Victrola Vault: Mills Brothers “Coney Island Washboard Roundelay”

November 26, 2009: Coney Island Boardwalk Music Video: The Supertones “I Surf in Black”

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As we say in the amusement biz, it’s the front of the show that gets the dough! The front of Coney Island’s Eldorado, the popular disco palace of bumper cars, is famed for its lights and signage. On flickr you’ll find dozens of pix of the dazzling theater-style “Eldorado Auto Skooter” marquee and the sassy “BUMP YOUR ASS OFF!” signs by Dreamland Artist Club founder Steve Powers.

When you visit Coney Island, you can’t miss the Eldorado. It’s on Surf Avenue right across from Stillwell Terminal. On the inside you’ll find Scott Fitlin, who grew up working in his family’s business and is the Eldorado’s DJ extraordinaire. The Fitlin family also owns and operates the Eldorado Arcade on Coney Island’s Bowery.

The Eldorado was the first of Coney Island’s rides to open for business during last weekend’s balmy weather. Let’s just get it out of the way and say these bumper cars are our fave ride! We love to drive but seldom have the chance since we live in New York City and no longer own a car. It’s seriously fun not having to worry about getting a ticket for bumping into another car because that’s the whole idea!

Coney Islands Eldorado Bumper Cars. Photo © Barry Yanowitz via flickr

Coney Island's Eldorado Bumper Cars. Photo © Barry Yanowitz via flickr

We asked our friend Scott to tell us about the history of the Eldorado…

Eldorado was hand built by my grandfather Joseph Buxbaum, my Dad Sandy Fitlin, and my Uncle Peter Buxbaum, and a carpenter named Rafael. Opening date was March 21st 1973, admission was 50 cents and 25 cent re-rides.

Today it is $6.00 admission, $2.00 re-rides, and $3.00 re-rides on weekends.

The lighting is disco style from the Studio 54 era, and we are upgrading this year to newer LED technology effects.

Our sound is custom built, by us, and we have had professionals in from time to time, back in the old days it was Richard Long, famous for the sound at Studio 54 and The Paradise Garage. Our sound is extremely powerful yet very easy to listen to, it doesn’t hurt the ear. CRYSTAL CLEAR, lightning fast, and stunning transient response, the crack of the snare drum is scary. Our bass is tremendous, and I play dance music, the sound that has energy and life, and POSITIVITY!

Our Bumper cars are Italian made Soli cars. They look good, run fast, and bump good.

WE built the ELDORADO starting in 1971 when my family purchased the building and moved from next door. My grandfather originally had The Shamrock Irish House on Henderson Walk and Bowery, and they went out front with games in the late 50s early 60s.

The Eldorado Arcade opened for the spring of `71, the bumper cars were constructed during the winter of `72, and grand opened March 21, 1973. The FIRST record played was Cisco Kid-War!

Eldorado Bumper Cars & Arcade, 1216 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11224

Eldorado Bumper Car Crew. Photo © Tricia Vita/me/myself/i via flickr

Eldorado Bumper Car Crew. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


Related posts on ATZ…

March 30, 2012: 60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado

October 17, 2010: Photo Album: Oct 15 Tribute in Sound & Light to Scott Fitlin

October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man

February 25, 2010: Happy Belated Birthday to Coney Island’s William F Mangels

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