Throwback Thursday: An Author Remembers the Roaches, the Muggers and the Milk Machine

“Dishy with a side of wry” is how Oprah.com described “Another Side of Paradise,” local author Sally Koslow’s new historical novel about the love affair between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, the gossip columnist with secrets of her own. The book will be launched on Wednesday, June 6th, at 7 p.m., at Book Culture on Columbus Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets.

“I’m thrilled that Book Culture will be hosting me,” Koslow wrote to WSR, “not just because it’s a terrific indie bookstore, but also because for most of my adult life, I’ve lived nearby.” She went on to describe the evolution of the neighborhood, and her own life, over the past nearly half a century.


Sally Koslow.

By Sally Koslow

At risk of sounding like the Ancient Mariner, I remember how Book Culture’s block looked when I moved to New York City in 1970 to take a job at Mademoiselle Magazine. (How did a girl from Fargo, North Dakota, land a job at such a fancy place, some people ask? I was naïve enough to simply apply. Had I grown up in or near NYC, I’d have been far too intimidated.) Book Culture’s space was once part of the notorious Endicott Hotel, home to junkies, exactly the sort of degenerate who mugged my boyfriend and me as we entered my first apartment at 3 West 83rd St. It was payday and I earned so little at Conde Nast that I peeled off just a few bucks for the mugger. “Give him your wallet, dammit,” my boyfriend yelled. “The guy has a knife in my back!”

My college friends shared apartments mostly on the Upper East Side in doorman buildings on which their parents insisted. A few Mademoiselle colleagues lived at the Barbizon. Some people I knew were afraid to visit my boyfriend and me—we started to live together—on West 83rd, but in moving here from Fargo, I was clueless, as were my parents, and we didn’t realize that I’d rented in a dangerous neighborhood. I took the apartment because it was cheap. No doorman and spooky dark streets. Plenty of cockroaches. The Alden Hotel around the corner on Central Park West was a hangout for pimps, and their cars parked along the street added a festive touch.

Back then, it was no big deal to find rentals, because most buildings hadn’t converted to co-ops. You bought the New York Times Real Estate section on Friday night at the Times’ offices, and visited potential rentals over the weekend. Within days, you signed a lease.


Sally Koslow in the 70’s.

About a year after I settled in on the Upper West Side, I married my boyfriend, and we moved to a spacious one-bedroom in The Normandy at 86th and Riverside Drive. Our rent was $300. The building had a milk machine and doormen who never bothered to buzz up and announce our guests. Five years later, when we learned we were having a baby, we moved to a bigger place on Central Park West and 83rd, and stayed for 17 years. My sons’ bedroom looked into the park at a giant granite outcropping we referred to as Snuffleupagus Mountain. We became members of a local babysitting co-op—I’m still friendly with some of those people–and the kids learned to climb stairs at the Natural History Museum. We sent our boys to the nursery school at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, which we joined. Both children loved the youth group at the synagogue, spent a lot of time there, and have maintained friendships with those kids.

Starting in the mid-70s, a gradual gentrification of the neighborhood started. The beginning might have been the opening of The Museum Café, where Shake Shack is now, though our favorite restaurant was a hole-in-the-wall on Columbus called Russgay’s, that served only one entrée each evening. The tables had mirrored tops, a look I copied at home on our Parson’s table. There were many Irish bars, Spanish-Chinese restaurants, and loads of coffee shops like Trio’s, on 83rd and Columbus, which served outstanding milkshakes. The Endicott Hotel was renovated and brighter streetlights were installed on side streets. They made a big difference.

My favorite shop at the “new” Endicott was a vast food store owned by Dino Di Laurentis. Shoppers gawked at breads shaped like teddy bears and fancy pates and cheese, and then actually bought food at Zabar’s or Fairway, so the shop didn’t survive. I loved the Charavari boutiques, cinnamon-raisin babka from Lichtmann’s Bakery on 86th and Amsterdam and, for birthdays, ordering praline ice cream cakes from Grossinger’s Bakery—there were two. We liked a restaurant called Oenophilia’s on Columbus and Marvin’s, on Broadway. Some establishments have survived—Zingone’s grocery store on Columbus near 83rd is now run by a succeeding generation, and of course, Barney Greengrass and Murray’s, the Sturgeon King, where my husband’s grandmother used to shop. Did I mention that both of my husband’s parents were raised on the Upper West Side? His mom grew up at 110 Riverside along with Babe Ruth and his dad at 825 West End.

Overall, the Upper West Side is prettier now—though still as littered–with about 500 more places to buy a cup of coffee or a cell phone, get a manicure, bank, eat, or buy roses that will die tomorrow. The playgrounds are more numerous and appealing. Every Wednesday I care for my 2-year-old granddaughter from Brooklyn, so it’s the nannies and me hanging out here and there. I still live on the West Side, though higher up, in a neighborhood I wouldn’t have considered 25 years ago.

Go to www.sallykoslow.com to learn more about “Another Side of Paradise” and Koslow’s other novels, two of which are set on the Upper West Side.

HISTORY | 31 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      “Book Culture’s space was once part of the notorious Endicott Hotel, home to junkies, exactly the sort of degenerate who mugged my boyfriend and me”

      The attitude broadcasts: Still an Out-of-Towner.

      • Independent says:

        The attitude broadcasts: Still an Out-of-Towner.

        No need to articulate the attitude that this gratuitous and hostile comment of yours broadcasts. It speaks for itself.

        • dannyboy says:

          Independent, apparently you agree to refer to all of the Endicott Hotel drug users as “degenerate”.

          At least you remain consistent in the extreme right wing that you have identified yourself with.

          • WricaC says:

            I don’t think I’m an extreme right winger, but I did find your comment over the top. It took me a moment to figure out where your outrage came from; I take it that it comes from referring to drug addicts as degenerates.

            That is a cruel word for a troubled person, and a rebuke may have been in order. I will say that living in a neighborhood heavily populated by people under the thrall of addiction, out on the streets behaving in the ways that intoxicated and mentally ill people often behave, was frightening. It made it hard sometimes to maintain the detachment and sympathy that is appropriate. A reminder of the shared humanity of all of us, even those who may be frightening, is appropriate, but I find your response a bit too much – and not particularly sympathetic to the impact that living in the chaos and perceived (sometimes actual) danger of the behavior of people under the yoke of drug addiction can have.

            • dannyboy says:

              I measured my standard by my own reaction and my neighbors’ reactions over the last 45 years on the UWS. No one I know refers to drug users as degenerates.

              Plus, this is a writer you are defending; Who should choose words more carefully before publishing.

              You can continue to defend calling drug users degenerates, but it says more about you.

    2. Harriet F. says:

      Thanks for this trip down memory lane. I moved to the UWS in 1983, to a sublet at 5 West 86th St. My first date with my husband was at Teacher’s and my second date was at the Copper Lantern/Hatch(?) He had a rent-stabilized apartment on 75th St, half a block from Fairway. People teased me that I married him for his $560 month apartment. In 1983, it was still a pretty dangerous place.

      • Cato says:

        — ” People teased me that I married him for his $560 month apartment. In 1983, it was still a pretty dangerous place.”

        Well, I hope that you, and perhaps your husband (if things worked out), found a less-dangerous apartment since then.

      • KittyH says:

        We moved to the upper 80s on RSD at that time, as well, but were clueless enough to not realize the neighborhood was dangerous, or, we never encountered anything to demonstrate this fact. Watching an old episode of “Law & Order” a few days ago I was surprised to hear Riverside Park still being denigrated as a reliable source of dead bodies in 1998. You could have fooled me.

    3. Sally Koslow says:

      Yeah, I do sound like the Ancient Mariner. Thanks West Side Rag.I hope some of your readers will come to my reading at Book Culture on June 6, 7 pm. Much gratitude.

    4. Lois says:

      Nice piece. But I think it was called Ruskay’s, on Columbus between 75th and 76th.

    5. Christina says:

      No! The first sign of building gentrification was the construction of the building “The Bromley” Btwn 83rd & 84th Street On Bway in 1986. That was the beginning of the end! Lol! Not the Museum Cafe.

      • Cato says:

        — “The first sign of building gentrification was the construction of the building “The Bromley” Btwn 83rd & 84th Street On Bway in 1986.”

        The Bromley would never have been built if the neighborhood had not already started gentrifying. The opening of Museum Cafe on Columbus, which was a dangerous wasteland, was part of the process, long before builders built the Bromley.

      • dannyboy says:

        The Columbia, 1983

      • Independent says:

        Like dannyboy, I recall the Columbia (96th/B’way) going-up earlier. (I don’t recall the actual year but ’83 sounds about right.)

        I’m trying to recall what the first stores in the Columbia were and whether any of them are still there.

    6. Karen says:

      My kids were brought up at William’s Chicken – 30 years later they still talk about how the guys used to hand them a chicken leg, despite that fact that they couldn’t see over the counter. We still rue the day they moved.

    7. Amy says:

      Love hearing these memories of the Upoer West Side! Can someone please elaborate on the milk machine?

      • geoff says:

        milk machines were common, and the building i lived in at 1005 Jerome in the Bronx had one in 1973. ours was in the lobby. they were like soda machines except for milk. mine issued one quart for 25¢.

        boy those were the days, especially in the Bronx where i lived until 1976. i moved from there to the UWS, still living in the same apartment.

    8. Aren says:

      Lovely piece rich with UWS memories. Thank you Sally.

      One little fact check: the restaurant on Broadway was called “Marvin’s Gardens” like the Monopoly property. It had a yellow awning and excellent fettuccini alfredo.

    9. Ken Marion says:

      Ms. Koslow writes about West 83rd Street from a bit later than I do in http://WWW.LeavingWest83rdStreet.Com a blog about growing up in the 50s and 60s. I did however spend many hours on the block between Columbus and Central Park from the mid-sixties until my wedding at Rodeph Sholom in late 1978. Her words ring true.

    10. Nelson says:

      As a young man, I thought the Museum Cafe was so fancy ha ha! And I loved their Chicken Tandoori Sandwich.

    11. Paul in Florida says:

      Wonderful piece…thank you! My first place was a furnished room at 839 WEA at 101st. Remember those? My room was a former servant’s room and my rent was $45/month. In 1969 me and a fellow room-renter took over the lease. I believe the rent for that six room apartment was $119/month. Mugged twice, once in our broken elevator. Still thought it was the greatest city in the world. (Still do.)

      • Steven says:

        A 6 room apartment for $119 a month, sounds amazing. Now you can’t a studio up here for less the $2,200. The UWS is still (to me) the best place to live in all of NYC. Just wish the rents were cheaper.

        • Sherman says:

          “A 6 room apartment for $119 a month”

          Funny, there are still folks who have deals like this who obsessively post on WSR how everyone else but them is “greedy”.

    12. Marcia Epstein says:

      It was Marvin Gardens, not Marvins. Also Teachers and Teachers 11 (two). Viennese coffee shops on West 72nd Street, and endless Cantonese restaurants all along the UWS. The Library (restaurant) on Broadway and 92nd Street and many bakeries, including Babka’s.

    13. richard roth says:

      Wonderful memories.I lived on the UWS from 1936 (210 w 101 st) until 1994 (27 w 86 st) and remember what a wonderful place to be raised and raise our children.
      Must read her books.

    14. Ellen Count says:

      Hey, Sally!
      CONGRATULATIONS and many happy sales!
      I moved to 353 Riverside – 108th St. in 1977. Everyone was incredulous because the ‘hood was iffy, to say the least. With/for the late Bonnie August (of Mlle fame and 888 West End), I wrote her “Dress Thin System,” pub. 1980/’81. After a brush with crime in front of my building in 1979, I became curious about the 24th Precinct detective squad, and only 11 years later, “The Hundred Percent Squad” was in bookstores. Of course, the novel was set on the Upper West Side…. Can’t do without the Rag even though currently living in Paris.
      Cheers!
      Ellen
      Your Mlle sister

    15. KittyH says:

      We have wonderful memories of Popover Cafe, on Amsterdam & 87th for more than 25 years. The Sunshine Cab Company sandwich was our favorite, as well as their house-made popovers.