Thursday, April 4, 2019


For Immediate Release
Contact: Chairman Michael Perlman
Rego-Forest Preservation Council

MUST BE MOVED ASAP in Effort to Spare “Endangered Species” from Oblivion!      

   NEW YORK, NY (April 4, 2019) – Citywide patrons, preservationists, & community groups are disheartened that the classic Shalimar Diner at 63-68 Austin Street in Rego Park, NY has officially closed its doors in November 2018 after 45 years. Demolition plans have been announced, but Michael Perlman, Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council has launched a movement to grant the Shalimar Diner a new lease on life. 

The asking price for the classic structure is ZERO DOLLARS, although a buyer must come forward within 30 days to transport the diner either within NY or out of state, and is responsible for rigging and lot acquisition costs.

Diners were manufactured to move, and the Shalimar was prefabricated by the popular Kullman Dining Car Company. It features stonework, arched windows, & stainless steel. The Shalimar was one of numerous freestanding Greek family diners dotting the tri-state area. In 1974, it was delivered on a flatbed truck, and a diverse menu has been delighting palates ever since for family occasions, friend gatherings, first dates, and community meetings. It was an “ultimate public institution” where patrons at nearly any hour would sit elbow to elbow at the counter or comfortably at a booth or table. The diner has even been in the spotlight for a number of productions including the CBS drama “Blue Bloods” and the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill.

Preservationist Michael Perlman achieved success in sparing other classic diners such as NYC’s Moondance Diner and Cheyenne Diner by brokering deals to have it transported on a flatbed, earning him the nickname “Diner Man” by the NY Observer.   

 A party who is interested in receiving the Shalimar Diner for free & transporting it with the help of a highly successful diner rigger, must contact Michael Perlman ASAP at 

Shalimar Diner photos copyright Michael Perlman:   


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Behind The Lens with Photographer Joe Raskin

By Michael Perlman

Joe Raskin & his father Jack in Rochdale Village, 1980s
One of the most active urban explorers and gifted citywide photographers of our generation is Joe Raskin, a native of Queens. When asked to estimate how many street scenes he has captured citywide over the years, he said, “I've posted over 48,000 photographs on Wandering New York (his photoblog) over the last seven years, but that's just a drop in the bucket, considering how long I've been taking pictures. It’s easily well over triple that number.” The city becomes his canvas, as he largely documents buildings of varying architectural styles that are most classical, followed by subways and commuter rail lines. Every so often, his eye will turn to nature. 

Joe Raskin & Creative Musings on Mass Transit at the NY Transit Museum, 2016 photo by Marc A Herman
“Ideally, I am out every day of the week in one part of the city or another, and I spend two to three hours each day, not including travel time,” said Raskin. Even in the rain and snow he can be found with a camera in hand. He said, “Creative expression is a wonderful thing, and it always feels great to be out and about taking photographs.” His achievements continue with his subway history book, “The Routes Not Taken, A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System.” 

A charming Forest Hills Gardens home

Brownstones in Park Slope
Raskin uploads photos in at least 10 Facebook groups, where some are posted nightly, drawing quite a fan base. Besides Wandering New York, his work can be viewed on Instagram under @rochdalian and on It can also be spotted on NY1 and channels 2, 7, and 11. Raskin made appearances on In Transit on NY1, BronxTalk on the Bronxnet network, and on the Single Shot show on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

One may speculate how his passion originated. First off, he looks up to his father Jack, who passed away six years ago. He recalled, “My dad was always taking a lot of family pictures, so he's the one to credit. I began using his 35mm cameras in the late 1970s.” Secondly, Raskin embodies the spirit of some of the past generation’s most highly regarded photographers. He said, “Berenice Abbott, Arnold Eagle and Todd Webb's work has an immense effect on me, with Abbott's in particular. They made it easier to focus on subjects and appreciate the everyday scenes of life in the city.” 

Ridgewood Rooftops,  Mathews Model Flats
For 33 years, Raskin resided in Rochdale Village, Sunnyside, and Astoria, and now calls Chelsea home. Prior to retirement, he served as Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations at the MTA. Now he considers his hobby as his “current job.” Raskin is a graduate of York College, where he majored in Political Science, and achieved a Masters in Urban Studies from Queens College. “I took a photography class at York, which certainly enriched my interest, but I would describe myself as being self-taught,” he said.

Some of Raskin’s most memorable experiences transpire when he encounters people in a diverse range of neighborhoods. He said, “I get into conversations about their communities, and for the most part, they are curious about my work and enjoy that I'm taking pictures there. I'll point out that it is what people usually do in the touristy areas of town, and explain that I’m not a real estate agent or working for one. Generally, they appreciate that, and even suggest other places for me to look at.” He continued, “I also value it most when someone sees a photo that triggers a pleasant memory.” 

Fall foliage along the Franklin Shuttle
A No 7 train approaches the 52nd Street, Lincoln Avenue station in Woodside
“My original camera was a Kodak Brownie, followed by a Kodak Instamatic,” said Raskin. Today his cameras of choice are a Panasonic Lumix and Casio Exilim, and even his Samsung Galaxy phone. Then the question becomes safeguarding a massive photo inventory. He said, “I store them on a lot of flash drives. It's much better to be redundant when it comes to storage. I don't trust the Cloud as the only place.”

Raskin’s explorations take him through the Rego Park Crescents, a most enjoyable enclave. “It’s hard not to get a little bit lost there,” he chuckled. He can also be found wandering through the Forest Hills Gardens, as well as photographing houses north and south of Metropolitan Avenue. Raskin said, “Both communities are consistently beautiful. Although there are some new buildings, much hasn't changed in decades, and hopefully it remains that way.” 

Rego Park rowhouses
Rego Park houses
Among his favorite photos are ones captured along and from elevated subway lines. “It's a great way to get a real slice of life look at the city,” he said. Also in high ranks are houses in Glendale, Ridgewood, Astoria, and Woodside.

Being a history buff, he explained, “What's most meaningful is knowing how these buildings and streets tell the story of how the city grew and expanded from just the downtown areas in each borough. That's also what is most meaningful about the subway photos.” The architectural styles that he finds most intriguing relate to photographing classic city housing, such as Art Deco Bronx apartment houses, row houses such as Mathews Model Flats, brownstones, and townhouses. “All of them definitely add to the spirit of city life, especially when they are well maintained,” he said. 

Townhouses on the Upper West Side
One must wonder if there are there any neighborhoods that Raskin has not documented. He explained, “There has to be some that I've missed. I'd like to think that at some point I've walked on every city block. If there's a to-do list, I'd like to go inside buildings such as the Flatiron Building and take pictures from them.” 

Alleyway from Pelham Parkway

Grand Concourse Historic District
Over the years, Raskin has learned how each community varies and how each section of a neighborhood can offer a spirit of its own. He said, “For the most part, the stereotype images of each community are wrong. I've learned not to take any neighborhood for granted. If it wasn't for my photographic trips, I may never know much about areas like Stuyvesant Heights and Longwood.”

In the long-term, Raskin would like to publish his photos in several books. Sharing his wisdom with younger generations, he says, “Be curious and follow your vision of what you want to do.” 

A similar version of this feature appears in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:  

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Coming Attractions: Helen Keller Mural in Forest Hills

By Michael Perlman

Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan Macy in 1913
One of the most courageous 20th century notables was author, lecturer, and advocate Helen Keller (1880 – 1968), but few people may realize that she once called Forest Hills home and was quite active locally. From 1917 to 1938, she resided in a charming brick-gabled and limestone house at 93 Seminole Avenue, later renumbered 71-11 112th Street.

Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan Macy, & Polly Thomson's Forest Hills house
In May, a mural that will commemorate Helen Keller and her achievements from a local to international perspective will rise on the west wall of the Ascan Avenue underpass of the Long Island Railroad, and will be painted on heavy duty primed panels. It will transform a banal wall into an educational and motivational beacon for community residents and visitors, and especially children. The project is being coordinated by this columnist and will be painted by international muralists Crisp and Praxis, natives of Australia and Columbia, respectively. It is in partnership with the Queens Economic Development Corporation, the Long Island Railroad, and Council Member Karen Koslowitz who secured $6,500 in public funding. Additional contributors included local residents and Portofino Ristorante.

Helen Keller inside her home, Courtesy of Susanna & Robert Hof
“When I was in first grade, I read ‘The Story of My Life’ by Helen Keller, and was fascinated by her spirit,” said contributor Gloria Piraino. “The following year, I saw the excellent film, ‘The Miracle Worker’ in the movies, and I was hooked. The very idea that a dedicated teacher could reach a young student with such difficulties was an inspiration. I became a teacher because of this, and taught for over 25 years. When I found out that Helen Keller lived in Forest Hills, I was so proud to have moved here. A mural commemorating her life will bring her inspirational story to future generations.”

Another contributor, Steve Schott, said “For our Forest Hills history, it’s important to recognize great people in our community, and it’s an honor to recognize Helen Keller.” He continued, “I want to thank the project’s coordinator and the artists for their desire to improve our community, making it better place to live.”

The mural is anticipated to feature Helen Keller's face and her Forest Hills house, a hand feeling Braille, as well as depict voting rights and her passion for animals. Another focal point will be her well-known quote, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” An additional component will be a plaque, which will summarize her accomplishments and feature her photo and signature, as well as the project’s responsible parties. Collaboratively, the mural and plaque will offer an outdoor museum feel.

The artists presently have two Forest Hills murals; the Ramones/Forest Hills Stadium/Station Square mural at the Continental Avenue LIRR underpass, completed in June 2016, and “A Tribute To Ascan Avenue & The Forest Hills Gardens” featuring Civil War farmer Ascan Backus and Forest Hills Gardens founders, completed in April 2017 on the east wall, under the direction of this columnist. 

Helen Keller, Courtesy of Queens Community Board 6
Keller lived a storied life. After she contracted Scarlet Fever, she became blind and deaf at 19 months. She was examined by Alexander Graham Bell, telephone inventor and pioneer speech teacher for the deaf, who referred her to the Perkins School for the Blind. At 7, she met Anne Sullivan Macy (1866 – 1936), who was partially blind. “Miracle Worker” Macy moved in with Keller in Forest Hills, and became her teacher and closest companion. She also lived with secretary Polly Thomson and 8 dogs, mostly Great Danes.

Keller mastered the manual alphabet and learned to read Braille and print block letters. At age 9, she began to read lips and communicate. As a graduate of Radcliffe College in 1904 at age 24, Keller became the first deaf and blind individual to earn a Bachelor of Arts.

In 1913, she began lecturing on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind, and her objective of removing stigmas associated with sight and hearing disorders took her worldwide. Traditionally, such conditions resulted in placing the blind and deaf in asylums. She also advocated for labor rights and women’s suffrage. From 1920 to 1924, Keller and Macy partnered for an educational vaudeville act. Keller’s published works include “The Story of My Life” (1902), “The World I Live In” (1908), “Out of the Dark” (1913), and “Helen Keller’s Journal” (1938). 

Helen Keller at her desk
On her home’s lawn, she celebrated birthdays by coordinating large-scale parties for the blind, and held fundraising tours to benefit the American Foundation for the Blind. She welcomed members of the Rainbow Division of the U.S. Army (42nd Infantry) in 1917, and then on the steps in Station Square, she greeted 1,200 soldiers. She stated, “The Star-Spangled Banner was more than 100 years ago dedicated as a symbol of freedom. We have since that time lived for that flag and for freedom, and I am proud to meet you, who are now ready to die, if need be for it, that there might be equal rights for all men and women alike.”

At the 1925 Lions Club International Convention, Keller stated, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much” and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

In March 1926, Keller and Macy visited the Forest Hills Theatre, and lectured to further the mission of the American Foundation for the Blind, as part of a countrywide campaign. The blind organist, violinist, and composer Edwin Grasse accompanied Keller who sang, as organist Samuel Pearce of the Church-in-the-Gardens accompanied him. In October 1931, with one of her Great Danes at her side, she conducted a presentation titled “How Parents Can Help Their Children” at a Mother’s Club meeting at Public School 3.

Keller and Macy attended Sunday services at the First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills, and also visited The Church-in-the-Gardens, where Keller lectured to the youth. Keller wrote a well-received column, "Into The Light" for the Queens newspaper, The Daily Star.

Keller spoke at The Community House, after being encouraged by her friend Homer Croy, a notable author, screenwriter, and humorist of Forest Hills. Her home was frequented by guests ranging from journalists to scientists to social workers. In 1936, after the Continental Avenue subway opened, her excitement led her to taking the train into Manhattan with secretary Polly Thomson. 

Helen Keller & dog Sieglinde in bottom row, Anne Sullivan Macy & Polly Thomson in top row, Courtesy of the Hof family
Keller has been called by Mark Twain “one of the two most interesting characters of the 19th century” alongside Napoleon. Between 1946 and 1957, she went on tour 7 times and visited 5 continents, totaling over 30 countries. She encountered world figures including John F. Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin, and Grover Cleveland. She worked with seven American presidents and was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. She was also the recipient of the Lions Humanitarian Award for her lifetime service in 1961, and in 1965, was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame at the 1964 - 1965 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Keller once said, “The millions of blind eyes must be opened. Society is always creating too much trouble for philanthropy to patch. One must attack social problems at their roots.” Other inspirational words are “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

A similar version of this feature was published in the Forest Hills Times: 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A Tribute To Forest Hills’ Own Carol Channing

By Michael Perlman

Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly!" Courtesy of Carol Channing Productions
America is bearing homage to Carol Elaine Channing, a definitive singer, dancer, and actress on Broadway and internationally, the big screen, and television, who is indeed “Larger Than Life” after her passing on January 15 in Rancho Mirage, California at age 97. She was born on January 31, 1921 in Seattle, Washington, and as of 1955, she was one of numerous diverse artists to call Forest Hills home. This columnist featured her in the book, “Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park,” as one of 200 notables. 

Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly!" Courtesy of Carol Channing Productions
Among her numerous accomplishments, Channing starred in the Broadway show “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” as Lorelei Lee, and most notably as Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” (also a famed song) which debuted in 1964 and consisted of over 5,000 consecutive runs. The Broadway musical earned ten Tonys, including Channing’s for “Best Actress in a Comedy.” She also played Muzzy in the 1967 film “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” resulting in a Golden Globe Award. She entertained on television variety shows including “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Hollywood Squares.” In 1995, she was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2009, she was a Smithsonian Institution inductee. Another milestone was the 2012 documentary “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life.”

Carol Channing & her husband Harry Kullijian, junior high sweethearts, Courtesy of Chip Deffaa
 What better way to pay tribute than through the memories of entertainment industry experts who were fortunate to work with Channing! Television host Bill Boggs, who can be viewed on BillBoggsTV on YouTube, has interviewed everyone from Carol Channing to Frank Sinatra to Burt Bacharach. “The word icon is overused, but it is accurately applied to Carol Channing,” said Boggs, who is proud to see that she is being remembered by a celebration of happiness that reflects how her performances affected people. “You could not watch her on stage or meet her and not smile, and people are smiling as they speak of her,” he continued. 

Boggs called her a 20th century defining Broadway star, and questions the future. He explained, “Due to cultural shifts, it’s unlikely that we will see another star who will dominate Broadway by selling tickets for years and years without having a major career in film or TV.” Although it can pose a challenge to define what makes an individual truly unique, he said, “Whatever ‘it’ is, she had it.” “She possessed the ability to get a laugh and hold your attention just by her presence on stage. In a way, she created a caricature of herself that became her on-stage persona no matter what she was doing, and technically, she really knew how to use her voice.”

Boggs will always be grateful for interviewing Channing on television on a few occasions, such as for the Jerry Herman compilation show. Relating to her originality and sense of humor, he reminisced, “She would show up on the set with a round light gray circle of makeup, smudged on the end of her nose. When I mentioned to her that she had something on her nose, before we started taping, she told me she did that to make her nose look longer.” 

Chip Deffaa with Carol Channing, Courtesy of Chip Deffaa
“To the world at large, she was a Broadway legend since the 1940s, and to me she was an extraordinary friend, as in a fairy godmother who I was so grateful to have in my life,” said Chip Deffaa, a playwright, author, critic, writer, and director. He will always recall her generosity, such as in the case of creating recordings, which appeared on Deffaa’s album productions and in “Theater Boys,” his musical comedy. “She did that as a gift and would not take a dime,” he recalled.

Deffaa draws a blank to think of anyone more dedicated to work than Channing. “Whenever I direct a show, run a recording session, write a script, or hold an audition, I do so with her guidance,” he said. He looks up to her for achieving a record. He explained, “No other actress in America has played any role as many times as she played Dolly Gallagher Levi in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ on Broadway and national tours.” She fought a brave battle against cancer during her first national tour, which she kept confidential at that time, and would fly to and from Sloan-Kettering weekly to undergo treatment. Deffaa said, “I’ve seen her go out on stage on sheer nerves, putting mind over matter, despite fierce health challenges, and she would play her role over 4,500 times before ever letting an understudy go on.”

Channing was the foremost in musical comedy, according to Deffaa. “She would tell me ‘Any actor is lucky if he gets to originate one great role. I got to originate two,’ he reminisced, in reference to Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” and Lorelei Lee in “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” 

Art Nouveau poster by master illustrator John Alvin for Carol Channing's show "Lorelei"
“She always felt larger-than-life, even simply sitting quietly backstage, applying or removing her makeup,” said Deffaa, who loved observing how she drew eyelashes on herself with mascara, which read well on stage.

Deffaa still hears in her “inimitable deep voice,” “We do our best work when challenged.” “She was like an oracle, and I took her words very seriously,” he reminisced. He strongly embraces his work ethic and never missed a deadline, owing that discipline to her. “I certainly wasn’t disciplined by nature in my youth, but if she could do eight shows a week while fighting cancer, I could damn well write copy for the New York Post or another chapter of a book with the Flu.”

When Deffaa booked singers for a recording session, he would invite extras. “She taught me that some singers would inevitably bail out at the last minute, sabotaging themselves by giving in to subconscious fears, and she was right.” He also learned to be tougher while producing recordings and directing shows. He can still hear, “Chip, you have to be a benevolent dictator.” He said, “She had little tolerance for mediocrity. If she was not happy with, say, the conductor on a tour she was starring in, she’d see to it he was replaced.”

“She encouraged me to dream big, grab opportunities when they came, and work full steam and not to wait, because none of us know how much time we have,” said Deffaa. A case in point was when she planned to write memoirs and requested to meet with him. He reminisced, “She said she couldn’t possibly write a book by herself, and asked if we could do an ‘as told to’ book, with her telling me stories which I could put into book form. She shared stories for hours that night, saying she hoped I could start writing the book at once.” However, Deffaa just moved at the time, and mentioned that he would need six weeks before beginning. “Carol said she’d begin jotting down recollections until I was ready, but by that time, she actually finished writing the entire book in longhand, and it was terrific,” he continued.

Deffaa remembers her as a “consummate trouper.” He explained, “When she recorded the audio book of her autobiography, she spent hour after hour in front of the mic. She knew that time is money in a recording studio, and did not want to take any breaks. Her producer, Steve Garrin, had to call breaks. She recorded the entire book and not an abbreviated version as many might do, spending 40 hours to record the complete book, plus some extras.”

Deffaa can still hear her motivational words, “Create something every day. When we create, we’re closer to being whole and well.”

Carol Channing, first performer invited to entertain at the Superbowl, Courtesy of Chip Deffaa
A similar version of this story is featured in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Energy at Red Pipe Cafe - The Modern Mom & Pop Shop

By Michael Perlman

Cozy dining area of Red Pipe Cafe, Photo by Michael Perlman
Artist Akio Matsuyoshi catches up with owner Ofer Kertes, Photo by Michael Perlman
Enter Red Pipe Cafe, a charming, earthy, and unique Forest Hills destination at 71-60 Austin Street, and one is bound to make a friend, exercise their creativity, and socialize and relax while enticing their palates with kosher, organic, and vegan dishes and drinks. Dr. Rene Alkalay, now age 77, co-founded the business in 2014, and 3 months ago, co-owner Ofer Kertes, age 45, came on board, building upon the tradition with new foods and ingredients, an expanded kitchen, improved aesthetics, and an increase in events. Diverse plans will continue for a community that has become the Forest Hills-based owners’ extended family. 

Red Pipe Cafe facade, Photo by Michael Perlman
Owners Dr Rene Alkalay & Ofer Kertes, Photo by Michael Perlman
After a short-term hiatus, the popular live music while you dine concept featuring will make a comeback in January. Past favorite acts included husband-wife musical duo Lou & Marie Michaels’ Bach/Beatles/Bacharach. On 3-month rotations, 3 to 4 local artists display their paintings and photos on a rediscovered brick wall or a neutral painted backdrop, and gallery shows enable patrons to mingle with artists including Robin Amy Bass, a friend to many. Other attractions are Poetry Night on Tuesdays and Open Mic on Thursday evenings. A stand-up comedy feature is also being considered. 

Artist Robin Amy Bass alongside her paintings, Photo by Michael Perlman
“Our renovation has made a huge difference,” said Dr. Alkalay. He eyes necessities such as a delivery service, distributing take-out menus, as well as offering vegan catered parties, as long as the community comes forward. “We basically put in every nail with our own hands,” said Ofer, who was permitted by Dr. Alkalay to renovate it largely as he pleased.

Dr. Alkalay explained his commitment to a vegan lifestyle. “It is a fastest growing movement, and we are contributing to a better world by not destroying the environment or hurting people’s health. I think of us as the New York home of the organic vegan sandwich.” Furthermore, Red Pipe is one of a few cafes where patrons can find organic, vegan, gluten-free pastries.

His early adulthood influenced his artistic vision. “When I was younger, I would go to coffee houses in the Village and in Europe, which were really meeting places for the arts. You could hear at any given table a heated discussion on contemporary or classic art, music, and literature, so I wanted to create a place where community and the arts can come together. I love the idea that we are providing culture in our community, instead of just food. The arts and culture keep society sane, and if people don’t speak the same language, they find ways to communicate through the arts.” The combination has proven to be a novelty to for Queens. “People come in and just love the ambiance, and even if there is no event, the place develops an energy,” he continued.

Dr. Alkalay, who describes himself as not a highly competitive individual, said, “A few years ago, when we introduced live music, other places nearby began having it. There’s a whole difference between live musicians and piped-in music. I would hope that we are considered a pioneer, and more businesses will open and use our model.”

With much gratitude, he said, “Every day that I wake up, I am grateful to G-D for giving me this day. We are here to make the world a better place by giving a little more health, beauty, and compassion.” Dr. Alkalay’s talents include published books on meditation, Kabbalah, poetry, as well as playing guitar and singing, a sight locals are familiar with. 

Owner Ofer Kertes
Ofer draws upon culinary experiences since age 15. He perfected his skills in a culinary institute in Israel, was previously a coffee shop owner, and was an executive chef in high-end hotels. Just a short time ago, Red Pipe was his go-to spot, but he was destined to partner with Dr. Alkalay, who he has achieved much chemistry with. “My recipe for success is to be passionate and consistent by serving delicious, healthy food. It has become a joyful experience, where work became a pleasure and a hobby to serve the community, and it’s really nice working with musicians and artists. I was drawn to the vibe.” 

One of many new coffee mug designs, Photo by Michael Perlman
Ofer explained various new concepts. “People really like being served our coffee in a variety of colorful mugs, and we are also selling them. For every three bags of coffee purchased, you will get a free mug.” One of many slogans is “A happy home is made with love… Home is where the coffee,” which can be found on a sunshine and floral themed mug. 

Tabbouleh Bowl featuring hummus, chopped greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, walnuts & lemon olive oil vinaigrette
Coconut Yogurt Parfait, chocolate cranberry or mixed nuts
Ofer takes pride in a new line of soups. “Everyone is asking for our red bean soup, as well as our lentil and split pea soups and vegetable stew.” The bowls selection is another new feature, and includes a tabbouleh bowl, quinoa bowl, and oatmeal. Beverages are unique and diverse for Forest Hills. “Our turmeric latte is a huge success, the hot apple cider is really nice, and our coconut milk hot chocolate is a real treat. We will add a cold brew rack and the Siphon Brewing Method. It will be very interesting to look at, and we are working with Counter Culture Coffee, which is considered a very good brand.” 

Oatmeal bowl with apple, banana, peanut butter, cinnamon, agave
At least 4 varieties of Craft wines and beers have proven to be an attraction. “We decided to go out of the ordinary selection and promote more of the New York-based brewers, and we have received a good community response,” said Ofer.

The sandwich menu has also been revitalized. “Our grilled cheese sandwich, which uses cashew-based cheese, has become very popular. We are also serving vegan bacon and vegan pastrami, which is opening a variety of options.” The Metropolitan sandwich is another attraction, where hummus is served with Chipotle mayo, house slaw, olives, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. 

The inviting counter, Photo by Michael Perlman
Small details that offer a personalized experience include a retractable storefront that encompasses a welcoming spirit and brings the outside in, the jovial staff, subdued lighting, and the new Red Pipe bulletin board with the popular “Word of The Day,” “Thought For The Day,” and “On This Day” features. It read, “Dec. 17, 1962: Beatles’ first British TV appearance.” “It becomes an art exhibit and we have people from the neighborhood who are maintaining it,” said Ofer. 

Red Pipe Cafe Community Bulletin Board, Photo by Michael Perlman
Many patrons have been “giving back.” He explained, “Every new customer is assigned with a certain position to create a sense of responsibility and community, and I am grateful for lots of help from community members in operating Red Pipe on a daily basis. Marina tests our brownies, Gary is the bulletin board manager, Scott is our coffee shop chauffeur, Charlie is the door bouncer, Lou is the shop consultant, and Marty is our cleaning inspector.” He then chuckled, “They become employees, and we end up having more employees than customers.” He continued, “I am grateful for the Forest Hills community and visitors who have been loyal and bring a sense of togetherness into our lives, and whether it’s the ambiance, the vibe, or the splendid staff, this is a key ingredient for success.”

Ofer shared simple pleasures amid high expectations. “Some people come in here, since they find it therapeutic and relaxing to have a conversation with me over a cup of coffee. In ten years, Red Pipe will hopefully have more branches in Queens, as long as we keep the same concept and not feel like a big corporation.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Patrons Mourn The Loss of Shalimar Diner - Now Available For Rent

By Michael Perlman

Full house at Shalimar Diner, Photo by longtime patron Ivy Hammer
For nearly 45 years, the Shalimar Diner has been an unofficial Rego Park landmark at 63-68 Austin Street. It was manufactured by the popular Kullman Dining Car Company, and was one of numerous freestanding Greek family diners dotting the tri-state area. In 1974, it was delivered on a flatbed truck, and a diverse menu has been delighting palates ever since for family occasions, friend gatherings, first dates, and community meetings. It was a destination where patrons at nearly any hour would sit elbow to elbow at the counter or comfortably at a booth or table. The diner has even been in the spotlight for a number of productions including the CBS drama “Blue Bloods” and the 2016 film “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. 

Behind its stone and streamlined fa├žade, patrons attest that owner Chris Karayiannis and his staff have become an extended family, but on November 25, tears were exchanged. The Shalimar was forced to shutter after the owners unsuccessfully negotiated a new lease offered at reportedly more than double the rent for a 20-year period. It has now met the fate of the Flagship Diner among others, unless it can be acquired by a party who is willing to meet the asking price or will present an offer for the property. 

Dr. Arthur Gudeon with some of his favorite servers, Dennis & Dell
For over 70 years, Dr. Arthur Gudeon, a well-respected podiatrist resides in Rego Park, and was a Shalimar regular. He reminisced, “My office was across the street when the Shalimar was built, and I was one of the first customers of the four brothers who owned it. It’s been our go-to place for my family, office staff, friends and neighbors. I’ve also treated my many podiatry students, and we have enjoyed the food, camaraderie, and the consistently friendly staff. I recall the years that they had jukeboxes at the booths which also made it a fun experience. Although my office moved to Fleet Street, I still brought Shalimar breakfasts to my staff regularly.” On the farewell evening, he spent three hours over dinner. “The diner was loaded with regulars, and we went to our table reminiscing and often tearing up, and of course I took lots of selfies with friends, patients, and staff.” 

“This is a story of the ‘Real’ Rego Park with a teary-eyed ending,” said Margot Zimmerman, another Rego Park native. The Zimmerman Josephson, and Morgan families (her relatives) spent decades at the Shalimar. She reminisced, “After the horrid gas explosion on that block, it was exciting to have a new family diner. Back in 1975 to 1978, there was no place for the teens in the neighborhood to go, so the owners would let us stay in that little lobby to hang out until the wee hours, but with no partying. As I got older, this was the place to be after a night of clubbing. I remember many late night meals at 5 AM, and it was a home away from home for Passover and Thanksgiving for a larger extended family.” She continued, “As the area changes, the first generation of new cultures stick to what they know, but it won't be until their children’s children become Americanized, that they may want to experience the real Americana.”

Bonnie Sholl relocated to Rego Park in 1984. She said, “This was where I have memories of my married life, friends visiting, my son’s first restaurant experience at one-week old, and quick and delicious ‘Dinners for Lunch’ before I taught clarinet lessons.” The Shalimar serves more than food, according to Sholl. “It serves friendships, community, reasons not to stay at home, and gives a pleasant diversion to our lives.” 

Shalimar Diner main dining room, Photo by Frank Carroll
For 20 years, Forest Hills patrons Frank Carroll and his wife Gina have shared many laughs and good times with the staff, and especially their waitress and good friend Judy. He and his wife, along with staff members became emotional on the final night. He explained, “The Shalimar offered that true New York diner experience that our out-of-town family and friends craved for. It added a charm to the neighborhood, where people would always socialize in an informal atmosphere and leave feeling better. Losing the Shalimar, as well as other small shops and smaller theaters nearby is diminishing our New York culture. Now there are too many vacancies and too many towers going up. What a shame that the landlord and the current owner are unable to negotiate an acceptable lease!” 

Ivy Hammer & her husband Steve pose with owner Chris Karayiannis, center
Rego Park residents Ivy Hammer and her husband Steve were also sure to say their last goodbyes. “We used to bring our son Michael in his car seat into the diner, and even though he is now 25, the owner Chris still asks about him.” Hammer called the Shalimar a great place to bring grandma on a Sunday afternoon. “You don't have to worry about what type of food she will like because you have your choice of everything in a diner. Many elderly people and singles in our neighborhood count on eating there daily or weekly, so it is sad that they will have to find another place to easily get to. It was close by, affordable, and there was parking.” Her tears continued upon learning that one of her favorite waitresses, Dottie, recently passed away.

The Hakim family has lived in the nearby Walden Terrace for generations, and it has been a staple for Lisa Hakim and her family. “On weekends and after every softball game we would go to the Shalimar. I always enjoyed their breakfast, but I could never stay away from the pickles.” Hakim is hoping that it can still be preserved. “Most local businesses that are family-owned are closing due to the high rents. I wish there was a way we could save this one, as it's one of the last from my childhood.”

Mira Pinkhasova descended from Russia and lived in Rego Park for 21 years before relocating to Long Island. She feels that diners are part of the American Dream, and said, “Diners brought all types of cultures together, and everyone eats eggs afterall.” She called Sunday breakfasts a tradition. “My husband loved his eggs sunny-side-up. My daughter, who is now 12, has great memories too. We loved their pancakes and cheese fries. Now I work nearby, and on Fridays, my colleagues and I would go for lunch.”

“It feels like the death of a good friend,” mourned Rego Park resident David Schantz. “This is an old-school railroad style diner, but will now be a lost architectural design.” For him, among many others, a visit turned into a “family gathering.” “Patrons developed longtime relations with usually one waiter or waitress, but most eateries nowadays do not have that due to the high turnover in the food industry. I would chat with owner Chris, who was always willing to engage.” His favorite foods were the turkey meals and a periodic buffalo burger with sweet potato fries, but it is also the small details that count. “I will miss my weekly after breakfast prune Danish.”

On its final day, patrons were hard-pressed to find a seat. Among the expressions of gratitude by patrons were a display of letters and poetry in front of the cash register. Forest Hills resident Carol Lustgarten, who often dined with her close friend Amy, designed a colorful collage featuring the retro Shalimar sign along with a detailed handwritten poem that began “Shalimar, oh Shalimar; You’ve been part of my life for so long; Where did we ever go wrong?; Now you are singing your goodbye song.” It concluded with “We will always keep fond memories in the light and in the dark; Every season; You are a true landmark!” 

Shalimar Diner menu, Courtesy of Dr. Arthur Gudeon
A similar version of this feature has been published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

Long-Awaited Station Square Restoration Progresses

By Michael Perlman

Station Square is continuing to undergo restoration, brick by brick, after construction began in April and sections were fenced off to vehicular traffic. Last week, local residents and LIRR commuters observed workers reinstalling the historic brick surface along Continental Avenue, which many considered a breath of fresh air. In a time when many buildings citywide that merit preservation fall victim to the wrecking ball, Station Square’s restoration is a rare sight, and marks one of the largest restoration projects in Forest Hills history.

Station Square is the gateway to Forest Hills Gardens, America’s earliest planned garden community, founded in 1909. Inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, the model residential development was designed by principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Station Square accommodated a classy social life, particularly at the Forest Hills Inn, which opened in 1912 and offered 150 rooms, adjoining the Raleigh apartments on the east and the Marlboro apartments on the west. The LIRR Station, once accessible from the Inn through arcades and bridges sheltering residents and visitors from the weather, enabled a 13-minute commute to Manhattan. The Tudor village ambiance gave birth to historic events including annual 4th of July celebrations, Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s “100 Percent American” speech on July 4, 1917, and Helen Keller’s address to over 1,200 soldiers of the Rainbow Division that same year. 

Tony Barsamian, a member of the Board of Directors of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation provided an in-depth view of the restoration. In order to upgrade utilities to meet 21st century standards, the overwhelming majority of original bricks were carefully salvaged and stored in Station Square and FHGC facilities. “We have cleaned and replaced every brick with either the original brick or custom-tailored bricks 100 percent to match the originals. We’ve padded them with the same sand in terms of how we lay them down. We don’t use mortar, since it cracks when it is icy or snowy, or water gets into it and then it freezes. We have gone out of our way to maintain it to hopefully last another hundred years.” 

In addition to addressing the roadway’s sinking elevation, Barsamian said, “We made improvements in the center island in terms of bringing it back to its original form.” He continued, “When you dug underneath Station Square, you saw that some of the lines and infrastructure elements were dated. Between National Grid and Con Edison and some other service providers, they came in and upgraded their connections to the homes and our community at large.” Water lines were also repaired. The plans will reportedly include the illumination of Station Square’s arcades.

Routine maintenance has been conducted annually, but not a restoration to this level, according to Barsamian. “This is a unique project that should garner great support from historians, since it will bring to life something that could have disappeared. We will probably be finished in February, but a ribbon-cutting ceremony or party may take place in March to welcome everyone to the beautifully restored Station Square.”

“When I watch bricks being put down in 2018, I imagine what it must have been like in the early 1900s,” said Barsamian. “I ask myself, ‘What were the original construction workers and masons thinking? Did it occur to them that they were involved in something so monumental that it has become a model throughout the country and the world, and when someone wants to create a planned historic village? Did the workers have any concept that the brick that they put down would still be walked and driven on?’ This is a throwback to an earlier time, and yet it was futuristic while designing from the past.” 

Barsamian owes much of the success to restrictive covenants. He explained, “A major reason that the community has been maintained for 100+ years is that homes are required by a covenant in their deed that they keep the integrity and structural soundness of the founding fathers’ established code. You cannot walk in and say I’m going to put in a checkerboard look or paint my bricks green and orange. People buy into the neighborhood knowing that there are restrictions on what can be done, and they need to seek our approval based on the community’s original design. That is why it is a timepiece, where you might as well be in an 1800s European Tudor village.”

Station Square’s restoration is not only marked by the most recent roadway project, but is witnessed along its Tudor facades. George Hoban, president of Station Square Inn Apartments Corporation, explained, “Over the past 10 years, our corporation has spent over 7 million dollars restoring our three buildings, and I don’t think people realize that it was funded entirely by less than 100 owners through assessments. People may also not realize that out of the hundreds of brick patterns throughout the buildings, each and every brick pattern is unique.”

Hoban also extended compliments to the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation and Friends of Station Square for their commitment to restoring and beautifying Station Square over the years, and said “The planning and logistics behind this project were obviously challenging, but they have come through flawlessly.” As a 21-year resident, he added, “I still feel a sense of joy each and every time I come home and see the beauty of the Square. I would see the surprised faces of New Yorkers coming off the LIRR into the Square for Forest Hills Stadium concerts and sensed that many were unaware such a beautiful and unique place existed in NYC.”

For another resident Dan Ziegler, who is the owner of Station Square Fight Fit at the Forest Hills Inn, he is also very pleased with the restoration of a town center with many paths. “When I come home, I almost feel like I'm in Europe. Famous people used to stay in my building, and I love how we can go for a stroll in the Gardens and look at mansions, or walk to Queens Boulevard for more of a city vibe. It's almost like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ where you go through a door, and each door has something special.”

“Visitors may not realize that when you get an aerial view of Station Square with its bricks, it looks like a map of England,” said Gigmy Bista, manager of Jade Eatery & Lounge. “I cannot wait for the restoration to be complete. We would always have locals, commuters, and tourists taking pictures and hanging out, and it was really good for businesses.” Station Square is symbolic of his first time settling in America. “When I attended Queens College, I started working at Jade as a server and remember admiring the Square so much, having my meals on the Square’s bench, and feeling special. I always think of Jade and the Square as my second hometown.” 

A similar version of this feature has been published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: