NEW YORK: IS THERE LIFE AFTER NOLITA?

 

266 Mott Street Circa 1988

 

Cafe Gitane


Back in the early 90s Sarah used to have a bookstore selling used books. Her sister had a small photo gallery and Larry Grasso was the man to see if you wanted an apartment on Mott Street. Larry's realtor office was in the middle of the block between Houston and Prince. Back then, Mott Street looked nothing like it does today. It was a neighborhood of working class people and wise guys. After work we would all meet at the Prince (now a Thai restaurant on Prince Street) or at Milano's, the last remaining Bowery bar on Houston and Mott. Larry knew all the wise guys. He was the front man for all their real estate holdings in the neighborhood. Although Larry, who grew up on Mott and Prince, has never admitted he was a “made guy,” it was just something assumed. But then again, what do I know?


Back then Larry, Sarah, and I were close friends. Sarah, an already published writer, tried to induce Larry to write a book about the neighborhood. But Larry preferred to tell us the stories, stories about colorful immigrants who carved out power and wealth through violence and intimidation.


“Hey, it's the American way. My mother was Irish. I'm not considered a full Italian, that's why I just handle the real estate. I don't know nothin' about nothin'.”


“Let me tell you somethin', when my old man was a kid, the Italians used to have to go through the basement door to go to mass in St. Patrick's church. The Irish wouldn't let them go through the front door.”


“You know, I was having dinner the other night and what's his name, James Gandolfini was there. You know, this guy is acting like a real mobster; he thinks he is a real mobster. So after a few drinks I went over to him and I told him. I said, 'You ain't no mobster, you're an actor. You just play a mobster on TV.' Larry flicked his right hand from underneath his chin in a downward slapping motion, his trademark “fuck you” gesture.


When I moved back to Cali in the mid 90s, I tried to get Sarah and Larry to come, but they would not hear of it.
“Naaa, the only exercise I get is walking up to my fifth floor walk up,” Sarah said between coughing fits. “I can't compete with the women out there. They spend all day in the gym. Hey, the guy I'm seeing here just told me he was a predicate felon. What chance would I have out there?”


By then Mott Street had already started changing. The Bodega had become a trendy café called Café Gitane and the cars on the block were getting more expensive.


This summer I found Sarah and Larry in Milano's. Beer and whisky in hand, they looked incredibly good considering. Larry had already cashed in and moved to Queens. He now spends his days lying on the beach, either in Queens or Thailand. His tan and hair were perfect. We were all meeting for a last farewell. Sarah, the last holdout, was finally leaving the neighborhood.
“I want to write something,” Sarah said before turning in.


“You do that. We're going to walk down Soho and do some more drinking,” Larry said as he finished his whiskey.


by Donald Fergusson