Trendy Nightspot is the Clue to this Historic Image Mystery, Hiding in Plain Sight

Last week we solved one of our longstanding historic photo mysteries, when Eric Robinson, the cousin of the photographer, Carole Teller, was able to identify the location of this elevated train which had been demolished almost fifty years ago. Many of the images we receive as donations to our historic image archives are unidentified in terms of location or date. With some sleuthing and sometimes some outside help, we have solved many historic photo mysteries, including identifying the location of this image (15 Carmine Street), and this image  (St. Marks Place and 2nd Avenue), and these South Street Seaport images.  However, a few mysteries linger, and some may never be solved. Eric has already solved another one, the location of the almost completely nondescript photo below of a Chinatown Storefront.

Previously unknown Chinatown storefront

When we first started trying to determine the location of this storefront, Carole Teller, the photographer, was positive it was East Broadway. But this photo displays a unique building line that just didn’t match up anywhere along East Broadway or any of its side streets. After discussing this with Carole, she thought she took the photo right where she got off the M15 bus, which now travels up Madison Street on its way through Chinatown before turning north on Pike Street. But we just couldn’t find the buildings that matched those in the photo.

This turned out to be one of those cases where the answer was right there, hiding in plain sight. On the left side of the photo is an awning upon which you can read a part of a name, “rlini”. Eric immediately thought of Forlini’s, at 93 Baxter Street. Forlini’s is an Italian restaurant that opened in 1956. It has long been popular with the nearby court system employees including judges, lawyers, reporters, and court officers but it has recently attracted a new type of clientele. In May, 2017, Vogue magazine hosted its pre-Met Gala party there. Ever since, it has transformed at night into a hip instragrammable spot for chic millennials.

L: Forlinis sign from the original image. R: Forlini’s today, same sign. image Via Google Streetview.

How did this family-style Italian restaurant become so popular with the “skateboarding and model” crowd? The NY Times article quotes 32-year-old criminal defense lawyer Jonathan Rosenberg: “I think hipsters are desperate for places no one knows about but that everyone talks about. You’re not supposed to be at Forlini’s as a millennial, so I think that’s what makes it cool for them. It becomes counterculture.” The place was so uncool, it became cool.

But back to the photo, which was taken on April 26, 1991. We first thought the storefront was at the base of 96 Baxter Street, which is a thirteen-story, 88-unit rental tower for low-income seniors called Everlasting Pines, which was just to the north of Forlini’s at the corner of Baxter and Walker Streets. However, the timeline and buildings did not match up, and we identified the storefront as 224 Canal Street, at the corner of Baxter Street.

Same view today as the original photo. Image via Google Streetview.

Thank you again to Eric and all our other readers who help solve these historic photo mysteries!

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