TheWild,Wild South…(Of Houston) Part 2

No one will ever question our loyalty and our life long love with SoHo, not only as a neighborhood but as a frame of mind as well. We long for the days when it was the wild, wild south and artists roamed the cobble stone streets and lived and worked in huge open spaces left for dead by defunct factories. Slowly the galleries followed the artists and then restaurants followed the galleries and the folks with money followed the restaurants and the stores followed the folks with money and soon the artists were gone and all that remains are our warm memories of a time gone by. The days when bohemians sat in Fanelli’s sipping whisky and discussing art and politics, (still our main theme here at SoHo Journal Magazine) may be gone but our Woody Allen like fascination hasn’t ended and at times the streets feel the same as they did; very early on a Saturday morning or very late on a Thursday night the ghosts of modern thinkers and revolutionaries still haunt the ragged cobblestones. 

If you really need an old time SoHo fix then rent Allen’s Hannah And Her Sisters, filmed all over SoHo, Allen captures the magic of the mostly deserted streets way back when, and even details the life of an artist as one of the films main characters. Another great look at the neighborhood is Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman with Jill Clayburgh and Alan Bates, filmed in 1977 and released in 1978 this movie perfectly captures the whole artists scene, from living conditions, gallery openings to single life and the allure of the artist as society outlaw! 
Fortunately for us a handful of the original renegades still remain and we were lucky enough to pin them down for a chat about how things used to be! As part of an ongoing series we chatted with old-timers Jim Stratton, Penelope Smith about the glory days.
Co-owner of The Cigar Store
383 West Broadway
New York, NY 10012-4398
(212) 965-9065
With Ivan Harris, of Ok-Harris Gallery, Len opened the now renownd cigar shop that has become a staple in SoHo. He has an easygoing nature and charming warmth.
SJ: When did you open the store?
LB: We opened the store 13 years ago. Ivan had an empty spot here. It was basically a storage closet for the gallery— a totally underutilized space on W. Broadway. He either wanted to do like a donut store, a headshop, or a cigar store. And long story short I met him, I had the expertise of cigars, and he had the spot. So we became business partners.
SJ: And it has been successful over the years?
LB: Yes, I mean certainly there have been some ups and downs because of taxes being raised and smoking bans and things of that nature, but overall it’s been pretty darn good.
SJ: Describe your shop?
LB: We tried to make it sort of an old looking place. Actually the building’s from 1868 and it used to house the Lorillard Tobacco Company. It was built for them which was kind of strange since we’re here and tobacco as well. But we wanted to go with sort of an antique aesthetic. I mean we pride ourselves in having a really good selection of cigars. You know stuff you can’t find everywhere. Stuff you can’t get on the internet… that kind of thing. And we also have the modern accoutrements, you know. But we love the old stuff that really has character…. You know the stuff that goes back to mid 19th century all the way to the present.
SJ: Any crazy stories over the last 13 years?
LB: Oh come on…
SJ: I know. I know. It’s a loaded question.
LB: Well there are some crazy stories but it becomes quite complicated when you are dealing with confidentiality… And to be honest they’re amusing to us but I’m not sure how they’d translate to the pen and page…. Believe me it’s been crazy. We have a lot of regulars… We get celebrities…
SJ: Which ones??
LB: Oh shoot… (he pauses)… Robin Williams, Tim Robbins… there are a ton of them. Robin Williams bought a few antique lighters from me. William Hurt always buys cigars.
Queen Latifah. Oh that poor girl who died recently…
SJ: Britney Murphy?
LB: Yes, well, and her husband used to shop here all the time. He introduced her to us. He died shortly after she did, it’s a very sad story. Hmmm… there are so many others… oh Roberto Banin, Sean Penn, Robert Wright Penn, Leonardo Dicaprio. Britney Spears came in and asked if we had bottled water.
SJ: Did she really? What was she expecting?
LB: She’s from the [Louisiana] provinces…
Co-owner of the Broome St. Bar
363 W Broadway
New York, NY 10013
Tel: (212) 925-2086
Established in 1972 the Broome St. Bar is a good old-fashioned watering hole and a SoHo staple. It has history and “wears it proudly.” Berry came to help her husband Kenn Reisdorf in 1994 run the bar. She is tiny elderly lady with beautiful features and classic grace.
SJ: When did you come to SoHo?
BR: I’ve been involved with this restaurant and Berry’s restaurant, which is a different restaurant now on the corner of Spring and Thompson St. So I had Berry’s restaurant there for 22 years then I came down to help my husband here at Broome St. Bar in 1994.
SJ: What was it like in the early days?
BR: First off everyone said to us ‘what are you going down there for? You’re crazy.’ Now they say, ‘oh you’re so lucky.’ Lucky? Well everything that is appealing is appealing to everybody and vice versa. So they wonder, ‘how did they know about it before us?’ You know that type of thing. It’s very fascinating. Very fascinating. And it was a whole different kind of feeling then exists today. It wasn’t this whole business of chic, chic, chic. Then it was very relaxed, you know, artists primarily. That’s why this place was started because people mainly lived and worked in their artists’ lofts. And my husband Kenny was like ‘people need a place to get together and talk to one another.’ That’s why we have Broome St. Bar so people can come down here and communicate with one another. And it has become an institution.
SJ: Do you miss the old clientele?
BR: One always misses that which was good. But you know there is always something good in what comes after. You know there are a lot of things that are coming back that used to be here before where people are much more relaxed. I mean people get a little too tired of being just a little too chic. Too overdressed, you know? That’s why we try to keep this place looking as relaxed as possible.
SJ: Do you have a favorite anecdote that come to mind from the last 30 years?
BR: It’s basically people themselves who are the anecdote. People are fascinating. To sit and talk with them, it’s great. Just great. I’ve seen thousands of thousands. Artists, well known, those that are struggling. I mean Marco who does all these drawings on the walls— he came in here and worked as a dishwasher first. Cause he was low in funds but then he said, ‘well basically I’m an artist.’ And they’ve put a book out on all the work that he’s done and it’s fabulous stuff. Fantastic really…. You know you couldn’t find a more friendly spot then Broome St. Bar


From Issue:

Filed under: