When I saw that this month’s Virtual Paintout was taking place in Manhattan, I wanted to paint the Lower East Side tenement where I lived when I made my big move to New York City from San Diego, California at the age of naive and tender age of 19, chasing my dreams.
I couldn’t find the building where I lived on East 13th Street between Avenue A and B (possibly torn down and replaced by a small community garden) using Google Street View but I could see that now it’s fluffy with foliage and yuppified with yoga studios. There were no gardens or trees on East 13th Street when I lived there, just trash cans, junked cars and the occasional group of men playing dominoes on card tables in front of their storefront church downstairs or throwing dice on the corner by the drug store.
Next I looked for my favorite Greenwich Village cafe back then: the historic Le Figaro Cafe (New York Times article) which survived 50 years before closing down in 2008. It had famously been the haunts of Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, Dave Van Ronk, and Jack Kerouac.
During that year in NYC, I visited Le Figaro weekly for a little taste of home: their California Burger contained actual lettuce and tomato, unlike all other NYC burgers that were just bun and meat. They also served great espresso that you could sip while playing chess or people watching. (Although to be honest, at 19 I was more interested in their ice cream floats than espresso.)
I couldn’t find Le Figaro so I painted the next corner, Bleecker and Sullivan, which interested me as a subject. It turns out I gave up looking too soon, because in writing this post I actually found the remains of Le Figaro on Google Street View: