‘Originals’: only-in-New York shops, cafes celebrated

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The beautiful Rizzoli book, “New York Originals” by Jamie McDonald works as a practical guidebook to places in the city you’ve always wanted to visit, and as a mini-coffee table book for those who aren’t lucky enough to live near New York City.

The stylishly designed volume — Willy Wong did the honors — covers all five boroughs and is packed with beautiful color pictures and the history of all the places McDonald celebrated in a public television series with the same title.

“New York Originals” shows you where to go when you are looking for a classic place to have a drink, like the Ear Inn in Soho (above) or a coffee shop with a long and storied history, such as the Caffe Reggio (below, as seen in the 1976 Paul Mazursky film “Next Stop, Greenwich Village”).

In the introduction, the author explains that the idea for the series and book came to him when he was visiting his hometown in Indiana and realized it had been taken over by chain stores and franchises that made it indistinguishable from any other small town in America.

McDonald said the visit made him appreciate the local businesses that still thrive in New York City — now his home — despite the inroads made by Olive Garden and Starbucks.

“New York City is ironically one of the last vestiges of small-town America. Small businesses like butcher shops, ethnic delis, and corner pubs have a better chance of surviving here than anywhere else,” he writes.

“Where else but the Big Apple can someone run into a luncheonette and order an egg cream to go? Or make their own paint from pigment? Or buy a baseball glove at the same small sports shop the Yankees use?,” McDonald asks rhetorically.

Although many of the businesses in the book are more than a hundred years old, “New York Originals” also cites recent additions to the cityscaper like The City Quilter in Chelsea (established in 1997) and the Let There Be Neon shop that opened in Tribeca in 1972.

The book is filled with great bits of commercial history, including an account of how the original P.J. Clarke’s on Third Ave. (est. 1884) was painstakingly preserved when the building housing it needed extensive structural repairs in 2000.

“The (new) owners hatched a plan to take out the building’s entire contents — including the floors and ceiling — pack them up, and put them in storage for months while reinforced steel, plumbing, and other structural elements were put in. The restoration was so unobtrusive that several longtime patrons actually complained — they could not see what the new owners had done to the place and wondered why it took so long to reopen,” McDonald notes.

“New York Originals” is a perfect gift for any New York lover you know, but you’ll want to a copy for for yourself too.

Joe Meyers

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