Photo by Steven Katz // Instagram: @_katztagram | Click to enlarge

Photo by Steven Katz // Instagram: @_katztagram |Click to enlarge

Photo by Steven Katz // Instagram: @_katztagram

Morning Mug is our daily showcase of photographs from our readers. If you have a photograph that you’d like to see featured, send it to photos@sheepsheadbites.com.

Photo by Robert Fernandez

The former ball pit at Nostrand Avenue’s McDonald’s (Photo by Robert Fernandez)

Breaking news! The McDonald’s at 3540 Nostrand Avenue no longer has balls.

The fast food restaurant cleared out the ball pit recently, according to super-tipster Robert Fernandez, who sent in the photo above.

It should come as no real surprise. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants across the nation have been getting rid of ball pits for years, largely for sanitary reasons. A former McDonald’s employee responded to a Yahoo Answers request, explaining:

The ball pits in many fast food restaurants have been removed mainly because they are extremely unsanitary … things such as food, band aids and even soiled diapers to be disposed within the ball pit. It isn’t practical for the cleaning staff at fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s to clean the ball pit various times throughout the day so those items sit in the ball pit causing bacteria to spread throughout all of the balls.

The ball pit castrations came around the same time as a headline-grabbing study in 2011 that looked at just how filthy America’s 15,000 playroom facilities were.

Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan’s analysis revealed:

Not only did we find pathogens that could make children ill, we found bacteria that were potentially deadly.

… Among my bacterial findings: Staph aureus, Pseudomonas, E. coli, Bacillus cereus and Coliforms. These can cause everything from nausea and vomiting, to skin infections, meningitis and death.

There was also quite a bit of poop on those balls.

Sure makes you look differently at that floor in the photo above, doesn’t it?

Photo by Mary Bakija

Photo by Mary Bakija

Below you’ll find weekend subway service changes for the B, Q, and F lines in Brooklyn. Check back Monday to see what’s happening next week. Changes via MTA.info.

Through Friday:

Brighton Beach-bound B trains run local from Prospect Park to Kings Hwy
Days, 9:45am-3pm, Wednesday and Thursday, December 17-18; 9:45am-2pm on Friday, December 19

Please allow additional travel time.

Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Hwy to Prospect Park
Days, 9:45am-3pm, Wednesday and Thursday, December 17-18; 9:45am-2pm on Friday, December 19

Trains stop at Newkirk Plaza and Church Av.

For service to Avenue M, Avenue J, Avenue H, Cortelyou, Beverley Rds and Parkside Av, take the Q to Newkirk Plaza, Church Av or Prospect Park and transfer to a Brighton Beach-bound B or Coney Island-bound Q.

For service from these stations, take the B or Q to Church Av, Newkirk Plaza or Kings Hwy and transfer to a Manhattan-bound Q.

F trains run every 20 minutes between Avenue X and Stillwell Av; trains from Manhattan skip Avenue U
Days, 11am-3pm, Wednesday, December 17 to Friday, December 19

Service operates in two sections:
1. Between 179 St and Avenue X
2. Between Avenue X and Stillwell Av

Transfer at Avenue X to continue your trip.

For service to Avenue U, take the F to Avenue X where it will become a Jamaica-bound F. For service from this station, take the F to Kings Hwy and transfer to an Avenue X-bound F. More info here.

Through the weekend:

Coney Island-bound Q trains run express from Prospect Park to Sheepshead Bay
Weekends, 5:45am-6pm, Saturdays and Sundays through December 28

Trains stop at Church Av, Newkirk Plaza and Kings Hwy.

For service to Parkside Av, Beverley, Cortelyou Rds, Avenue H, Avenue J, Avenue M, Avenue U and Neck Rd, take the Q to Church Av, Newkirk Plaza, Kings Hwy or Sheepshead Bay and transfer to a 57 St/7 Av-bound Q.

For service from these stations, take the Q to Kings Hwy, Newkirk Plaza, Church Av or
Prospect Park and transfer to a Coney Island-bound Q.

Also, keep an eye out for changes in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. Schedules occasionally change, so check MTA.info for the latest updates.

The Vitagraph smokestack (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

The Vitagraph smokestack (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Preservationists have been bracing themselves for news of the Vitagraph smokestack’s fate ever since scaffolding was placed around it in October. Now the developer who owns the 1263 East 14th Street property has filed plans to construct a new eight-story residential building with 302-units.

Sheepshead Bites was the first to report that Hampshire Properties purchased the 107-year-old smokestack and adjoining lot, currently occupied by the Shulamith School for Girls, for $20 million. No plans for construction were immediately filed.

That paperwork went in on Friday, as YIMBY reports:

Woods Bagot is listed as the architect…  Renderings for 1263 East 14th Street have not yet been released, but at first glance, its prospects would appear promising.

Hampshire Properties is listed as the developer, and the residential zoning area will measure 277,406 square feet. The property has an alternate address of 1277 Locust Avenue, and is currently occupied by an 85,000 square foot school that must first be demolished.

The building will be 80 feet fall, covering 64 percent of the lot, according to DOB filings. There will be enclosed attendant parking for 152 cars, the minimum required by zoning. There will also be parking for 153 bicycles.

Documents show that there will be a fitness room, meeting room, lounge with reading and children’s spaces, an outdoor recreation area, a tenant business center and a multi-purpose room.

There will be no commercial space in the new development. It’s not clear if the units will be condos, rentals or a mix of the two.

The plans are still pending review by the Department of Buildings, and no permits for demolition have been filed.

Hampshire Properties, is a Midwood-based manager and developer of residential and commercial properties, including several in Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach.

When scaffolding was erected around the smokestack earlier this year, preservationists were concerned it would be demolished. A petition started by neighbors currently has 534 signatures.

More than a century old, it’s one of the last symbols of Midwood’s film production history. Vitagraph was a leading silent film company based out of the building now set to be demolished. It was purchased by Warner Brothers in 1925, and later NBC, which also used the more modern facility across East 14th Street until the early years of the 21st Century.

The former Vitagraph facility was repurposed by Yeshiva University in 1967.

Attempts to landmark the smokestack, which sits at the northeast corner of the former studio and on which the Vitagraph emblem is still visible to subway straphangers, have previously failed to win approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Golden Hour at El Greco

As we mournfully bid “αντίο” — that’s Greek for “Auf Wiedersehen” — to our friends at El Greco Diner, and further lament the long bygone days of other legendary neighborhood dinerial establishments such as Ray & Shy’s Flame Restaurant (aka “The Flame,” where my parents went on their first date back in 1970), the Foursome, which made the finest U-bet’s egg creams on God’s green earth, and my personal favorite, New Clements, of blessed memory… let us remember the good times and turn toward the future.

With tomorrow’s pending closure of El Greco, our little corner of the world grows ever more bereft of places to get disco fries at 2 in the morning.

However, once the mourning period for El Greco concludes (and really, does it ever?), there is no reason, after a night out of marathon bar-crawling celebrating that much-deserved promotion, why you should deny your hypothalamus and grumbling belly the greasy, dopamine-skritching, artery-gorging deliciousness that is two eggs sunny side up, crispy home fries, sizzling bacon, and a piping hot black cuppa joe.

Well, I have great news for all you intrepid foodies: You can still have those things… just, after Friday, not at El Greco. If you’re a local diner fiend looking to get your greasy spoon on, do like Elizabeth Taylor once said and “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together… and check out Sheepshead Bites’ roundup of some neighborhood diners to help fill the gaping void that El Greco will leave in our broken hearts forever.”

Okay, she didn’t really say that last part, but still… check out our roundup of local diners and diner-style eateries below. I checked out the user comments for all these places on Yelp, some of which were profoundly bizarre. In lieu of my own opinions (because I haven’t actually been to a couple of these places), I chose the more illustrious comments on Yelp. They speak for themselves.

Read our full roundup of eight Sheepshead Bay-area diners to get your fill.

ssn_f-g-train_subway_platform_4thAve-702x526.jpg

In news that will surprise no one, a lot of the city’s subways aren’t showing up on time — and it’s only gotten worse.

The MTA recently released some statistics that show you’re not going crazy when you think you’re waiting far too long for the next train. According to NBC New York, the report says that 25 percent of trains arrived at the end of the line five or more minutes behind schedule during the year covering October 2013 through October 2014 — which is a six percent increase from the year before.

There were 41,500 delays per month — which is, depending on the month, about 56 delays per hour. Yikes.

“The trains smell and they’re overcrowded,” straphanger John DiVito, telling it like it is to the Daily News. “They shouldn’t be slow. too.”

The MTA says all those delays are due in part to more people riding the subway, increased construction and maintenance projects (like the R train tunnel), and that they’re now doing more accurate reporting of arrivals and departures at the end of train lines.

Photo by Elise Laura Feinstein

Photo by Elise Laura Feinstein

I received this wonderful photo yesterday, after the Morning Mug had already been posted, but this was the sweet message we received from today’s featured photographer:

I would like to dedicate this photo of mine to my grandpa Abe Feinstein because I got the passion of photography from him. We still take photos together. Happy birthday to him he is 87 today.

A birthday wish for you, Grandpa Abe: A gezunteh leben ahf dein pupik (a healthy life on your belly button). And many, many more happy birthdays to you!

Photo by Elise Laura Feinstein

Morning Mug is our daily showcase of photographs from our readers. If you have a photograph that you’d like to see featured, send it to photos@sheepsheadbites.com.

bay-toy-drive

Bay Improvement Group did it again!

The group had its 24th annual holiday bash this past Sunday, bringing together more than 150 people to rock out to tunes and collect toys for some of the area’s neediest kids.

The do-gooders, with help from sponsors including Councilman Chaim Deutsch and Assemblywoman Helen Weinstein, as well as businesses like Jimmy’s Famous Heroes and the Baron DeKalb Knights of Columbus, raked it more than 850 brand new toys.

After the party, the toys were distributed to the group’s longtime partner, a local shelter for battered women, as well a new recipient, Coney Island Hospital’s pediatric unit, where they’ll be given out to terminally ill kids.

“The people and toys kept coming, we didn’t have time to open the many bags [at the event],” BIG President Steve Barrison wrote to Sheepshead Bites. “It was a success and all the toys were delivered to the shelters and Coney Island Hospital pediatrics!”

toys-14

As of last year, the local Toys for Tots drive has collected 55,430 toys for needy children.

The 41st Assembly District Democratic Club has organized the largest Toys for Tots drive in New York City for eight years straight, and they’re aiming to make it nine this year.

Help keep the title in Southern Brooklyn by bringing new, unwrapped toys to the club tomorrow night, from 7:30pm to 9pm at 2952 Avenue R.

Sandy the Seagull will be in attendance, and there will be food, music and lots and lots of happy kids. Also, plenty of elected officials, if that’s what does it for you.

If you can’t make it but want to make a donation to purchase toys for needy children, send a check to the address listed in the flier above.

ToysForTotsInvite

A waiter takes an order at El Greco. Photo by Ned Berke.

A waiter takes an order at El Greco. Photo by Ned Berke.

by Sam Shokin

In this Age of The Foodie, where words like “microbrewery” and “cronut” are colloquial terms, and “gentrification” has been buzzwordified to the point of mass semantic satiation, the people of Southern Brooklyn have but a few classic eateries left standing in their midst. And by the end of this week, they will be down another: El Greco Diner.

My friends, this place isn’t just a diner. El Greco is an institution. It is one of the last bastions of unironic, untrendy diners in this town; a place for locals to congregate over mediocre food, to rejoice in the spirit of community, and to cope with life’s trials and tribulations by inhaling fistfuls of cheesecake. It is one of those special places that get bestowed the title “greasy spoon” as a term of endearment. With its two-and-a-half star Yelp rating, its urban legends of rat infestations and brash mockery of portion control, El Greco has managed all these years to shrug off foodie culture while consistently drawing in people in droves — until now.

I can’t say that I blame you, Mr. Venetoklis. Thirteen million dollars is no paltry sum. I come from a family of small business owners myself. I get it. But when I read last week’s headline, I was shocked. All of us were shocked. It’s like reading about the death of a celebrity you haven’t thought about in a while, but who’s been a household name since before you were born. El Greco was the place we local kids would stumble into after-hours before we were old enough for bars or cool enough for fake IDs. It’s where I drank bottomless two-dollar coffee with my parents while people-watching outdoors or in. It’s not a local haunt; it’s not just a mainstay — El Greco is Sheepshead Bay.

El Greco, the fact that you’re on Facebook makes me cringe the way I do when anyone over 60 speaks of “the Twitter.” You’re not about that. You were never about that. You were open, 24 hours a day, to harbor poor souls braving the Bay’s frigid winds in mid-January. Your landmark location, the corner of Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road, will forever be emblazoned in my memory as as a community cornerstone; the place where so many of us came of age. Hell, even my parents ate here when they first came to this country over 30 years ago. The diner is practically family.

El Greco, with your complimentary heaps of slaw and canned bean salad (the poor man’s antipasti); your oversized plastic menus and your (mostly) darling wait staff  – you are the greasy connecting thread between the many cultures, religions, and age groups of this diverse community. Everyone in this town has a “3am at El Greco” story. Some people visit you religiously; others, ironically. There are people who swear by your gyro platter. For me, growing up in Southern Brooklyn, ridiculing this place was basically a right of passage. But I’ll still be sad when you’re gone – razed to the ground to make way for more condos.

But such is life, and such is gentrification (there’s that word again). So, El Greco, I guess this is goodbye. Thank you for all the good times.

Samantha Shokin, is an essayist, singer, and former resident of Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach (the latter of which she wrote about here.) Her writing has appeared in Vice, the Village Voice and Thought Catalog, among others. Read more of her work at www.samshokin.com