Wednesday, October 15, 2008


When Paul and I first met, he relished the chance to introduce me to places in the city that had a bit of history, a connection to the edgier New York of the 80s and 90s.  Although the two of us both moved here permanently at about the same time, he had been coming over for work for ten years prior, so actually knew New York when St. Mark's was still punk, the Lower East Side was still hip and when there was still raw meat in the meatpacking district.  His favorite spots were generally vastly cooler than whatever establishments I, as a 23 year-old, was frequenting at the time.

One of his earliest introductions between me and the world of cool occurred at a totally bizarre restaurant in the West Village called Shopsin's.  The place is the ultimate family run, neighborhood joint.  The menu is so packed with options it makes your head spin, and occasionally your stomach turn (mac and cheese pancakes anyone?), but the strange food is good.  And they serve orange julius, a fact that instantly won me over because it's a drink my mom always gets excited about--she has good memories of drinking it growing up.

Now when I say "family run", I probably should clarify that this is not some sweet old couple running the place.  The family dynamic between the Shopsins is really closer to that that exists between the Osbournes than anything else.  Two of the kids work at the restaurant, bickering and yelling at each other and their dad pretty constantly.  And the dad yells back, vociferously.  But it's out of love.

Kenny, the patriarch of the family, is probably the figure people associate most with Shopsin's.  He's big and loud, wears red suspenders and a 70s style tennis headband everyday, and is the man responsible for the crazy menu. 

On my first visit, at the end of our meal, Paul went back to the kitchen to say hi to the man.  He was greeted thusly:  "What the #@%&?  Where the *&#$% have you been you big @#$%&&?  How the @#$%% is the music business?  It's @#$%, right?"

Sadly, Shopsin's eventually, after existing for several decades in the west village, got priced out.  Luckily they didn't shutter the business, but instead moved downtown to the Essex Street Market. 

Paul and I went down for a quick visit while the space was still under construction.  Kenny, in all his red-suspendered glory, was sitting on a stool supervising.  "How the @#$% are you?  Can you @#$% believe this place?  What's happening with this (pointing to me)?  Why the @#$% aren't you married yet?  How@#$%%ing bad is the music business?"

So apparently not much but the space has changed.  The menu is still nuts, the family still yells, Kenny still throws out people he doesn't like, and he still hates publicity (he apparently tells reporters and guidebook writers who call that the place is closed and he's just part of the moving crew).  But I was in McNally-Robinson the other day and saw this:

A book?  Kenny has written a book?  Apparently one of his longtime regulars is in the book business and finally, after several decades, convinced him to do it.  So now we all can make ho-cakes (that would be pancakes to you and me) just like they do at Shopsin's.

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