Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Goodnight, Moondance

Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 13, 2007

Residential condominiums will be built at the site of the Moondance Diner on Sixth Avenue.
On the western frontier of SoHo, the Moondance Diner is dancing off into the sunset: Along with an adjacent two-story parking garage and a parking lot, it is going to be developed into luxury residential condominiums.

The Moondance Diner's incandescent, crescent-shaped sign is a beacon for hungry visitors roaming north of Canal Street amid a Hopper-esque landscape not far from the mouth of the Holland Tunnel. The late-night watering hole has appeared in episodes of "Friends" and "Sex and the City," and it was where Peter Parker's girlfriend, Mary Jane, played by Kirsten Dunst, waited tables in the 2002 film "Spider-Man." In real life, playwright Jonathan Larson ("Rent") worked at the diner.

The development is among several changes taking place in the neighborhood, which is characterized by low-slung buildings along Sixth Avenue that are attracting private investment. "SoHo'sdevelopment is moving westward," the director of the SoHo Alliance, a neighborhood organization, Sean Sweeney, said. The site of a former Mobil gas station farther north, at Spring Street, is also slated for development. About a block west, Donald Trump Jr. has plans for a 45-story condominium. An executive director of Eastern Consolidated, Eric Anton, who was a broker of the Moondance site, said the property was up for sale for about three months until the owners — a joint venture that includes developer Gary Barnett — decided to develop it themselves. Calls yesterday to Extell Development Corporation, which is headed by Mr. Barnett, were not returned. Mr. Barnett is also assembling a site three blocks north at 176 Avenue of the Americas, where a Sleepy's store is situated.

"There are not going to be any more diners," the owner of Moondance Diner, Sunil "Sunny" Sharma, said. Inside the narrow restaurant, black-and-white photos of Yankees stars greet customers who come to enjoy milkshakes, handcut fries, homemade buttermilk onion rings, and burgers. The food is priced a bit higher than one might expect at a diner: Cole slaw is $2.95. He plans to discuss the possibility of opening the Moondance Diner anew on the commercial first floor of the residential building. In the meantime, he plans to hold on to the Moondance sign.

A representative of Hudson Island LLC, the owner of the property, told The New York Sun ground will be broken this year and the current buildings razed. He said plans for the property, which is about 11,330 square feet and may be as tall as nine stories, were still being finalized, and that the Board of Standards and Appeals had approved the plans to build a 66,734-square-foot residential building there.

Dick Blodgett of the Charlton Street Block Association did not comment on this building, but said the community is concerned that large buildings such as the one Mr. Trump is constructing at Spring and Varick streets are "outside the scale of the neighborhood." A member of the Van Dam Street Block Association, Silvia Beame, said, "We don't want to see the area become overdeveloped."

Mr. Anton described the western part of SoHo as "in my mind, a more attractive place to live" than the center of SoHo, which can be crowded on the weekends. He said that being a little bit on the edge of SoHo is very attractive. Mr. Sweeney said he is concerned about a continuing trend of losing parking spaces and adding buildings with more residents.

The executive director of the BSA, Jeff Mulligan, said the owners of the Moondance site received a variance for residential use. The city planning department spokeswoman said the area is ordinarily zoned for light manufacturing.

For the near future, hungry tourists and residents will be able to continue enjoying the Moondance Diner, whose seats run along a corridor on which the words "Eat Here" are writ large. Mr. Sharma said he had his wedding celebration about five years ago at the diner. Come next year, instead of enjoying the food, new residents in the condominium may have to settle for kicking up their heels to Van Morrison's "Moondance":

"Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'neath the cover of October skies."

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Randy Credico

With song, talk, comedy, and plenty of drink, the wake for Rocky Sullivan’s laid rest to a New York City landmark July 28th, last Saturday night. The day’s festivities began with a Radio Free Eireann broadcast, celebrating the 11 year run of this unique haven for poets and politicians. Chris Byrne, co-owner of the bar, regaled with stories of the incredible musicians who called Rocky’s home - such as Joe Strummer, Shane McGowan, Damien Dempsey - who came in to enjoy a quiet pint, away from media scrutiny, and ended up singing in the bar, to the delight of the patrons. Rod Stewart, George Wendt (Norm - Cheers), Pete Hamil, Jimmy Breslin, Malachy and Frank McCourt all called Rocky’s home - as did the friends and fans of Radio Free Eireann, who had the opportunity to share their favorite Rocky’s stories on-air. My wife, Cait Mullen McDonagh, read an excerpt from the late Pete McCarthy’s book The Road to McCarthy, in which he described his experiences reading at Rocky Sullivan’s, during St. Patrick’s week, when the Celtic supporters where celebrating in full force.

At Rocky Sullivan’s, the party continued, as I acted as master of ceremonies for the wake. The song-stylings of Mike Skliar and Ken Ficara entertained the crowd with, among other great songs, a ballad to the demise of Rocky Sullivan’s. Sandy spoke about the many bartenders throughout the years, and Randy Credico gave his last gift to Rocky’s - an hour of great comedy and political insight that kept the audience (except for the drunk and intellectually limited people in the back) riveted to his tributes to the great Al Lewis and William Moses Kunstler. It was particularly poignant, as both Al Lewis’s and Bill Kunstler’s widows and children were in the audience. It only stands to reason that great men would be married to great women - Karen Lewis is a dedicated civil rights advocate, who works to help families from becoming homeless, and continues her and Al’s work with prisoners, through the Al Lewis Lives program on WBAI. Margie Ratner Kunstler is an attorney who has dedicated her life to helping those most vulnerable - now focusing on the fight to free people convicted under the draconian Rockefeller drug laws. Bill Kunstler’s daughter Emily is now working on a film of her father’s life. In my home, both Al and Bill are revered - Al, because my kids had the pleasure of knowing him, and considered their own “grandpa,” and for the lessons he taught us all on how to live a life of justice and political activism. Bill, because he was the consummate trial attorney, who I so respected, and who is a constant source of inspiration to my wife in her legal career.

It is with sadness that we say goodbye to the Manhattan Rocky Sullivan’s bar - home of many defense funds, political debates, poetry, literature, and good music. Chris Byrne is opening a Red Hook Rocky Sullivan’s at Van Dyke Street in Red Hook - He hope to see you there. If you want to listen to the Radio Wake go to http://archive.wbai.org/ and scroll down to Radio Free Eireann Sat July 25 at 1:30