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Strolling Back in Time on Carmine Street

08/03/2012, By Richard Morgan


Strolling Back in Time on Carmine Street

[image]Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

Trattoria Spaghetto at the corner of Carmine and Bleecker streets.

Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

Bookstore Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Bargain Books

Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

Our Lady of Pompeii Church

It was 1960-something and Bob Dylan was strolling down Carmine Street in the Village, past barbershops, dry cleaners and hardware stores. "Radio sounds came out of cafes," he wrote in his autobiography. "The coffeehouses and folk music joints were only a few blocks away, but it seemed like miles would go by."

Half a century later, much is unchanged along the 2½ blocks that make up Carmine Street, seemingly paying homage to the namesake of Our Lady of Pompeii Church, which anchors the street. Jim Drougas and his wife run Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Bargain Books. Lou DiTomasso and a cousin run Lock-It Hardware. Bob Abramson runs his House of Oldies vinyl record store. Trattoria Spaghetto, a postcard-perfect Italian spot on the corner of Bleecker Street, has been there since 1965, predated only by the church itself, which opened in 1927.

But now comes a surprising capstone to the street's recent flurry of celebrated new restaurants: in November, an IHOP franchisee plans to begin a 49-year lease, renting out a long-deserted grocery-store space at Carmine and Varick streets that only had seen a flicker of business over recent years as a pop-up Halloween store.

Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

Bob Abramson, owner of House of Oldies, working in the vinyl-records store.

Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

the vinyl-records store is located at 35 Carmine

The IHOP will pay $300,000 a year for the spot for its first two years, then $360,000 with an annual 3% increase, said Kevin Salmon of Salmon & Marshall Real Estate Investments, who negotiated the deal. International House of Pancakes LLC spokeswoman Becky Madeira said the new franchise will fit 350 seats in 10,000 square feet and will bring 235 jobs.

The IHOP lease was taken by Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., whose chairman and chief executive, Ben Ashkenazy, is also part-owner and managing member of the tri-state IHOP franchisee, Trihop. Mr. Ashkenazy's takeover of the Limelight in Chelsea, a nightclub in a derelict church that he transformed into a mall, was widely seen as the final defanging of a once-edgy neighborhood. An Ashkenazy spokesman couldn't be reached for comment.

Since a renovation of Carmine Street's Father Demo Square was completed in June 2007, the sleepy, tree-lined street has seen an influx of newcomers. Of the 40 businesses on the block, 17 have opened after the square's renewal. Today, In just 1,000 feet of sidewalk, restaurants offer American, Brazilian, British, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Thai dishes and more. The newest eatery, Café Blossom's organic vegan fare, opened in March. Meals can be polished off with celebrated desserts from Ayza, Grom, Popbar, Sweet Revenge and Victory Garden.

That a guitar shop still frequented by Mr. Dylan and a bookstore still frequented by Yoko Ono could coexist beside an artisanal ice-pop shop and the Market Table restaurant renders the street a weird marriage of Jack Kerouac's Village with that of Sarah Jessica Parker.

It is the kind of place where CitiHabitats can list an 800-square-foot fifth-floor walk-up with a second-story loft bedroom and a fireplace for $1.395 million because it was built by Thomas Jefferson's vice president, Aaron Burr, in 1827 and was home to the artist Jackson Pollock. But also the kind of place where a landlord has kept a four-bedroom full-floor flat locked at $3,500 a month since 2003, even after a new dishwasher and bathroom renovation this year.

Tyler Matlock, a 30-year-old who works at a private-equity firm, moved to the street in June 2008 and is a regular at local spots such as Bagel on the Square, which opened in the 1970s, and Prodigy Coffee, which opened in January. "I like the neighborhood feel and I like the changes; it's always evolving," he said. "But I don't like brands, because then it's just Times Square. A Pinkberry, that's my worst nightmare."

Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

Father Demo Square

If shops do shutter, it's often just because they're moving to another location on the street.

Justin Boyer, a 28-year-old architect, lived on the street but then moved to the East Village; he moved back 14 months later.

"The East Village was too much of a scene," he said. "Carmine Street is almost that romantic European idea of the Old World without being too precious or fancy. I don't want to live on Froufrou Alley, and so I really appreciate the characters on this block."

Mr. Drougas, who opened his bookstore in 1991, agreed, contrasting Carmine against the marquee stretch of Bleecker Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, which is dominated by Marc Jacobs stores and the like. "The attraction of Carmine is that it's less frantic, less pushy, less needy," he said.

Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

View of the future home of an International House of Pancakes restaurant.

Already Carmine stood out, sandwiched as it is between the sex shops and tattoo parlors of Sixth Avenue and the check-cashing shops and fast food of Varick Street.

"It's an oasis," said Oliver Kremer, who runs the Dos Toros restaurants with his brother, Leo. They opened their Carmine Street taqueria in May 2011 and quickly made it the flagship for their three eateries.

Mr. Salmon had the opposite view of the locals' criticism of Bleecker Street. "That was a dumpy street," he said. "Now it's top-notch. I see the same effect happening" on Carmine Street, he said.

He added that IHOP is "a big brand, and it'll help me convince other big brands to follow. People don't even know where Carmine Street is—yet. We'll fix that."

If You're Browsing for a Home...
[image]Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

46 Carmine St.

$1.395 million
46 Carmine St., No. 3

This condo is in a building once owned by Aaron Burr and lived in by Jackson Pollock.

Property Plus: The price includes a one-third share of the ground-floor commercial space.

Property Minus: Garden is shared with other owners.

Listing Agent: Udi Eliasi of CitiHabitats, 646-382-7378

[image]Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

22 Leroy St.

22 Leroy St.

This co-op apartment, which just went into contract, has two bedrooms, one bathroom and an open kitchen.

Property Plus: The apartment has eight windows, with at least one in every room.

Property Minus: No pets.

Listing Agent: Nellie Downes of Weichert Realtors, 917-715-3236

[image]Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

24 Cornelia St., No. 1

24 Cornelia St., No. 1

This renovated studio apartment, which just went into contract, has one bathroom and hardwood floors.

Property Plus: The apartment includes an exposed brick wall and two large closets.

Property Minus: Cats only.

Listing Agent: Stephen Dore of Bond New York, 914-563-9616

A version of this article appeared August 3, 2012, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Strolling Back in Time on Carmine Street.

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