Our New York guides, Grade “A” Fancy’s Karen McBurnie and Jon Hammer, take a step in time.
Manhattan is too much, all the time. We have too many favourite restaurants to become regulars at any one. There is always so much to do that some nights we would like to send out our clone so we could laze at home with an old movie and a highball.
Take any familiar street and no matter how many hundred times you’ve walked in that direction there can be something you have missed. Perhaps because you are usually on the north rather than the south side, or some favourite detail demands your attention, or if you always look right instead of left, or up not down; there’s a good chance there will be some choice tidbit you will never see. We’re usually looking up at some architectural surprise or ghost sign, or avoiding traffic and pedestrians, but now and again one has to look down at the sidewalk, though it’s usually to avoid dog poo, scary fluids or other ickiness.
If you are standing on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane it’s a mistake to focus all your attention on the crowds trying to shove you off the sidewalk to your certain doom, because if you’ll just look down at your feet you will find a unique bit of street furniture. Here is a real working clock imbedded in the sidewalk. A sidewalk clock in a free-standing pedestal base (like a lamppost) was a fairly common advertising gimmick for jewellers and hoteliers beginning about the 1860s, but this is the only example in the city of a clock mounted in the pavement.
It is courtesy of William Barthman Jewelers, which opened in the 1880s on Maiden Lane, relocated around the corner to 174 Broadway in 1885 and in 2006 moved to larger quarters at number 176. According to the New York Times, this clock (another preceded this one) as it appears today may date from 1923, or 1951, or 1966 no one is quite sure anymore, written records are incomplete. Speaking of dazzling jewels, we’re used to thinking of the Diamond District as that busy stretch of West 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, but in the last half of the 19th century Maiden Lane, four blocks north of Wall Street, was where you went for precious baubles. At one point there were 308 jewellers in a two block section. By 1924 rising rents, driven by encroaching insurance and financial business in the neighbourhood, had forced the jewellers uptown.
Maiden Lane itself runs eastward from Broadway, the curve in the lane following the stream that long ago ran to the East River; to the west it is Cortlandt Street, known in the early half of the twentieth century as the city’s Radio Row back before construction of the World Trade Centre confiscated some blocks and displaced the businesses.
Pause for Refreshment: Near the curve in Maiden Lane, between William and Gold Streets at number 75, is Jim Brady’s, which at first glance seems to be yet another prefab Irish bar. Inside it is a spacious restaurant with appealing low lighting, surprisingly good food, and what is said to be the actual bar from the famous Stork Club. If your gaslight-era American history is fuzzy we’ll remind you that “Diamond” Jim Brady was a colourful figure from the Gilded Age, when too much, all the time, was barely sufficient. He was a man with a taste for opulent jewellery, and his appetite at the dinner table for consuming the very best quality in enormous quantity and then still greater quantity was legend.
Read more of Jon and Karen’s tales of New York at their Grade “A” Fancy site.