O n the southeast corner : Rivington and Norfolk streets, Monday, 10 p.m. “Schiller’s” glows in yellow neon script on the Rivington side, “LIQUOR BAR” in white neon on the Norfolk side of the prewar building. The white tile exterior, the sconces and the benches form a backdrop for the group bubbling over the corner. (In the Looney Tunes version of Schiller’s, the cigarette and cell-phone characters have tough voices and attitudes.) One guy in a dirty “Twister” T-shirt and dirty hair figure-eights through the crowd. A girl with a flared hot pink miniskirt, fishnets and a felt hat flirts with her man in a matching hat; she’s enjoying her reflection, he his. Geraldo Rivera breezes in, but Mr. “lower east side” T-shirt has to wait. When you tell the hostess that you’re going to the restroom, she tells you: go fast.
A woman in a fur coat pedals by on her bike.
In the last few months, thanks to Schiller’s,more taxis have stopped at the corner of Rivington and Norfolk than ever stopped there in the cumulative life of Rivington and Norfolk. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the hipsters sometimes give performance-art shows in the unisex hand-washing area. A regular in the area asserts that Keith McNally-the owner of Schiller’s-“is trying to embrace the weird, freakish element. They haven’t figured out that being nasty is not being fabulous.”
On the southwest corner: Café Luise draws the crowd that can’t take Schiller’s buzzing, smoke, wait. Once inside, the French film influence: The paint on the walls, in lime green and white, indicates the light from a film projector streaming across.Davidto Schiller’s Goliath, Café Luise doesn’t try to compete. This little BYOB restaurant understands its place. “Schiller’s is like big brother,” Ed Freiberg, one of the owners, says. “Any press we’ve had … has Schiller’s name in it.”
Through his floor-to-ceiling windows, Mr. Freiberg has an optimal view of the foot traffic on the street corner.
“And now you’ve got all these funky little hipster-type people-young people who haven’t really made it,” he says, “and then you’ll see these gorgeous six-foot women walking by all the time, which is not bad.”
Prior to its renovation, Café Luise sold antiques and flowers in addition to serving food. (Prior to that, it was an insurance company.) “Schiller’s is making such a big change in this neighborhood, whether you think it’s good or bad,” Mr. Freiberg says. “For us, businesswise, it’s good.”
Mr. Freiberg adds: “The only thing I think is going to be strange is when this hotel opens up.”
The Surface Hotel.
Mr. Freiberg looks toward the tall building under construction, one block west on Rivington.
“The building is 20 stories high or something,” he says-immense for the neighborhood-and will look like a Mondrianesque-style glass tower.
“The zoning here is, you can’t be over six stories,” he says. “But they got zoned after 9/11 …. Business was horrible back then.”
Several doors down from Café Luise: Welcome to the Johnsons , a frat-house-style dive bar. “It’s like a 1970’s ramblers basement,” says Allison Werthmann. “If ramblers had basements.” Gardiner Comfort, 23, agrees:
“Very few places in N.Y.C. have dirty old couches.”
On the northwest corner : The offices of New York Mortgage Bankers and New York Capital Realty Corp . have resided here for two years. A sign out front: “Lower East Side 2 bedroom $1,800; Studio $1,195; Convertible 2 bedroom $1,575.”
One door down, the Video Store has peeling linoleum, handwritten signs and Christmas lights in the window beneath a frayed aqua canopy. It’s owned by John Clavell and his wife Lore. John moved to the neighborhood as a kid and attended a Catholic school; domineering nuns forced him to learn English in one year. “I still know everyone in the neighborhood,” he says.
John and Lore say that landlords in the area have paid tenants up to $20,000 to vacate their apartments.Andthat commercialrents are doubling overnight. Lore says that her customers complain about having to call the cops every night becauseof”the noise and the rowdiness on the corner of Schiller’s.” (Recent reports of Schiller’s liquor license being in jeopardy might dampen the ruckus.) “You actually have to walk off the sidewalk in the street to get past that corner because the people are all standing there smoking,”she added.
John and Lore live in Yonkers now.
Next-door to the VideoStoreis Gallery Onetwentyeight . Kazuko got her lease from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development in 1986, when it was an abandoned building with leaks. Kazuko says she is not able to support herselfwithher gallery.”Ibuild sculptures,” she says, “for one famous artist, SolLeWitt-you know him?” Mr. LeWitt, she says, allows her to sell his drawings to promote the gallery andsponsorthe shows that she likes.
On the northeast corner : abland brickbuilding,aplaygroundsurroundedbyawirefence. Marta Valle ModelHigh School ‘s metamorphosis over the last three years has shifted the tectonic plates of this intersection. Rana and Mohammad, two seniors, light up when they speak of their principal, Matthew Angrisani: “This one cares. He visits all the students’ classes every day!” Rana and Mohammad plan to pursue careers in medicine and business, respectively. The school average on last year’s science test was so strangely high that the state suspected the students of cheating. Last year, according to the seniors, A.P. Environmental Science was added to the curriculum because of those test scores.
Next-door, the Lower East Side Preparatory School , a bilingual school, has mostly Chinese students. The two schools share a gym, a cafeteria, a playground. On the far wall of the playground is an enormous painted mural: “Life’s Journey …. Be not afraid of going slowly, be only afraid of standing still.” Above it, the Surface Hotel looms high in the sky.