Mondragon: it’s not your typical crusty punk scene

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A FOLKSINGER STOPS In for a coffee while a radical filmmaker makes a pit-stop on his Vespa; a local bike cooperative founder emerges from her subterranean workshop for lunch; and a member of Copwatch walks over from her office across the street–this is a familiar scene on the front steps of a local leftist hangout on Winnipeg’s Albert St.

Located in a three-storey Edwardian building and swathed in a graffiti-style mural, Mondragon Bookstore and Coffeehouse rises like a beacon among the buildings of Winnipeg’s historic warehouse district.

Indoors, graffiti gives way to vaulted tin ceilings, neutral colors, and a homespun collection of wooden tables and chairs and frayed couches, often occupied by sprawled readers or crawling babies. On the far wall a banner declaring “Labour Is Entitled to All It Creates” watches over the former warehouse space from a height of twelve feet.

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Founded as an anarchist collective in 1996, Mondragon welcomes radicals of various backgrounds, while providing vegan food, progressive books, and local organic groceries to the broader community.

“Our clientele has become so varied over the years, with students, suits, artists living in the area, radicals, environmentalists, punks, and couriers,” said Eton Harris, a member of the collective since 1998. “It’s not your typical crusty punk scene.”

But while catering to radicals and local residents, Mondragon still displays some of the punk edge that defined it in its infancy. David Camfield, a labour studies professor admits that some leftists feel mildly alienated by the anarchist style and subculture. Nonetheless, Mondragon’s value as an informal gathering space and political venue for the Left is undeniable because “in so many cities there is such a premium on space.”

Since its founding, the space has evolved from a large, fully-stocked bookstore and vegetarian cafe, to a full restaurant and info shop carrying a select number of titles. This spring the collective converted a portion of the space to an organic grocery store stocking produce, fair trade goods, and a variety of vegan staples. They call it Sacco and Vanzetti.

With the advent of the grocery store, and as the restaurant has increasingly become the focus of the business, food politics is now more central to its mission.

“Basically we provide food that’s grown as locally as possible with producers we’re dealing with face to face. If it’s not local then it’s definitely organic. If it’s from far away we’re going for fair trade,” says Harris.

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“A lot of businesses may do that, but we’re trying to back it up with a nonhierarchical structure.” That structure has forgone not only bosses, but also managers. Members learn and perform all jobs in a rotated schedule. From one month to the next they prepare meals, balance the books, and serve customers. And this commitment to workplace democracy has paid off, as radicals and other locals alike continue to support the space.

“I do think of it in terms of being a worker cooperative and evidence that worker co-ops, anarchist co-ops, are not a Utopian concept, but a real place where people from various class backgrounds can choose to participate,” said Kendra Ballingall, a Cop-watch member who works in the neighborhood at an artist-run centre. “That’s really important to me.”

ABOUT WESTCHESTER; CLOSING TIME

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LEAD: THIS is not the saga of a longtime neighborhood pub forced out of business. Four generations of a family had not worked at the bar and there was no problem meeting the rent. Chase Landing had recessed lighting and terra cotta floors, pate and steak au poivre. The restaurant was open for only five years, and its recent sale to a real estate company netted the owners more $1.5 million in profit, one of the owners said.

THIS is not the saga of a longtime neighborhood pub forced out of business. Four generations of a family had not worked at the bar and there was no problem meeting the rent. Chase Landing had recessed lighting and terra cotta floors, pate and steak au poivre. The restaurant was open for only five years, and its recent sale to a real estate company netted the owners more $1.5 million in profit, one of the owners said.

Yet in many ways, Chase Landing on Chase Road here was as intimate as home to its clientele; the place may have been sophisticated but its patrons loved it with a familial sort of loyalty.

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Last weekend, on Saturday night, 130 of them came to dine one more time and to bid the place adieu. They scrutinized the familiar menu – at least one diner tucked it into a purse as a souvenir – and worked their way through the final appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts. They lingered over extra cups of coffee (the kitchen ran out of cream around 10:30 P.M. and a waitress was dispatched to the local 7-Eleven for a short-term, emergency supply). Just about everyone said they were taking the closing hard.

”It’s like a death,” said Ruth Elliott, who lives in the Edgemont section of Scarsdale and teaches at the William E. Cottle Elementary School in Tuckahoe.

”We were joking that we should wear black arm bands and hang a black wreath on the restaurant door,” added her husband, the Rev. Dr. John E. Elliott, pastor at the Greenville Community Reformed Church in Scarsdale.

”Seriously, I think this restaurant has been very important,” said John Adams of Scarsdale, who is vice president of a paper-manufacturing company and a friend of Mr. Elliott. ”It was the only one of its kind in the village. It’s brought a lot of different types of people together, people who previously went to their clubs to eat out. It alleviated a lot of anonymity, and it will be interesting to see what will happen to the community when it is gone.”

Chase Landing was opened by Nick D’Agostino, who previously owned Dag’s, a quiche and hamburger eatery in White Plains, and Max Boser, a former partner in Brasserie Suisse in Ossining and former captain at Hunter’s Lodge, a White Plains institution no longer in existence. When the two took over this site, it was a nouvelle cuisine establishment named Frog Prince Proper.

Before Frog Prince Proper’s 11-month run, the Tudor-style building had been the Kesbec Exxon filling station. Walter Rooney, the architect who oversaw the transformation, was among those having one last dinner at Chase Landing. He gazed nostalgically at the walls covered in beige linen, the bent-wood chairs and the pastel prints as he recalled the difficulty of getting rid of the stench of motor oil.

”My wife was the test,” he said, gesturing to Patricia Rooney. ”We steam-cleaned the place over and over and I’d bring her in to sniff. The mechanic’s pit became the wine cellar.”

Initially, Mr. D’Agostino and Mr. Buser leased the building with an option to buy. The cash outlay, Mr. D’Agostino recalled, was $7,000 rent and security. Business was booming from the first lunch and dinner, and later the partners bought the property for $400,000. Mr. D’Agostino’s affable personality and sharp memory for patrons’ preferences was joined with Mr. Buser’s graciousness; the innovative menu offered American dishes with Swiss accents.

There were those who grumbled when Mr. D’Agostino sold to Julia B. Fee Realtors, a well-established Scarsdale concern that is expanding its offices in the village. During the restaurant’s final hours, there were mixed notes of hope, concern and annoyance – hope because, although Mr. Buser is retiring, Mr. D’Agostino plans to open another restaurant soon with his Chase Landing chef, Jose Rodriguez; concern because, as one customer put it, ”who knows when those plans will actually materialize and where does one eat in Scarsdale in the meantime?” and annoyance at the general turn of events: ”Exactly what we need in Scarsdale,” Joe Riemer, a lawyer and loyal patron, said sarcastically. ”Another real estate office.”

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The Elliotts’s 23-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, now the manager of a lingerie shop, worked at Chase Landing as a hostess for two years while attending Pace University. In addition to the young professionals the restaurant might be expected to draw, she said, a lot of older people came in regularly.

”There was this French lady and we had to call her Madame,” Ms. Elliott recalled. ”We had to give her a kiss hello or she’d yell. One day, we heard she’d had a stroke. I went to visit her in the hospital.

”A lot of the older people could walk from the nearby apartments,” she continued. ”Even during a snowstorm we were full. Sunday nights were family nights. Saturdays, you got a lot of different people. But the regular customers – they were always interested in what was going on in your life.”

Her father surely got to know someone well at Chase Landing: this fall, the minister will officiate at the wedding of Bill Petersen, bartender since the place opened. ”I used to pick up Elizabeth from work,” Dr. Elliott said, a twinkle in the eye. ”While I was waiting for her I’d go to the bar – for warm milk and cookies, of course.”

Kathryn Johnson called the closing a ”tragedy.” ”I don’t think Julia would have done this,” she said, referring to the late Julia B. Fee herself, and the sales transaction. Mrs. Johnson is 91, and has lived in Scarsdale since 1937. She was at the restaurant with her daughter and son-in-law, Jane and Warner Kent, who live in Pleasantville, and friends, Wallace and Marie McLean.

Mr. McLean, a retired electrical engineer, and Mr. Kent, a retired builder, spent their childhood in Scarsdale and now they reminisced about when the village was ”a rural little hamlet” and the Bronx River Parkway was intended for leisurely Sunday motoring. They recalled the time when the Scarsdale Inn still existed, offering rooms as well as food.

As the dinner crowd was peaking, Elizabeth Arey, photography editor for The Scarsdale Inquirer, and Linda Leavitt, the newspaper’s associate editor, showed up to document the goings on. ”Our office used to be across the street, in the Harwood Building,” Ms. Leavitt said. ”But they were renovating the top floor and we assumed the rents would be raised. Now we’re on Central Avenue, in Edgemont, with a Scarsdale address.”

The 60-seat restaurant stayed packed until midnight. People clogged the vestibule, saying goodbye to Mr. D’Agostino and Mr. Buser: ”Thank you for everything.” ”Please open another place soon.” ”We’ll see you at your new restaurant, right?”

At the tiny bar, patrons raised glasses in farewell toasts. Dr. George Ginsberg, a psychiatrist who lives in Scarsdale and practices in Manhattan, asked Mr. Petersen what he would do next. The bartender gave a half-smile and replied, ”I have to find another job next week.”

By 1 A.M., the only people left were the staff and Mr. D’Agostino’s wife, Pat, who sat with friends from Scarsdale, William J. Foster 4th and his wife, Diane. There was also one party of nine, singing sentimental old tunes. Over their voices, Mr. Buser explained that he and Mr. D’Agostino would do the final cleanup the next day, dividing between them what liquor was left and distributing the food to the staff and to a church program for the needy.

A quick tour of the kitchen showed its contents reduced to what one might find in any home: a few pieces of chicken, one uncooked lamb brochette, two cans of tuna fish, a hunk of cheddar cheese, a half-empty carton of orange sherbet. The restaurant’s equipment and furniture, Mr. Buser said, were to be donated by Julia B. Fee to Children’s Village, the youth rehabilitation institution in Dobbs Ferry.

At 2 A.M. Mr. D’Agostino flicked the lights on and off and the party of nine rose reluctantly. But before they left, they glanced one last time at the tablecloth: On it, Rita Sadowski, who lives in Scarsdale and owns a travel agency, had scribbled the real words to an old favorite, ”Auf Wiedersehen.” Near the other end of the table, her husband, Joe, who is in the housewares business, had scrawled the words to a new version, which the gang now sang in rousing unison: Auf wiedersehen, auf wiedersehen, dear Nick and Max, so long. You added cheer and wine and beer, we’ll miss you when you’re gone. Auf wiedersehen, auf wiedersehen, we’ll follow you along And stay true blue, and think of you. Auf wiedersehen, you two.

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Photo of Nick D’Agostino, one of the owners of Chase Landing; Chase Landing; original gas station converted to restaurant (NYT/Alan Zale)

Neue Galerie brings bourgeois central Europe to Museum Mile: New York’s latest museum evokes the raw passion of German and Austrian art from the early 20th century

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NEW YORK — Life in Berlin in the early 20th century was a step beyond hedonism, a place where bohemians gathered for a wild ride on the cutting edge of music, art and morality. Black American enchantress Josephine Baker was seducing crowds with her “banana dance,” composer Kurt Weill and playwright Bertolt Brecht were mesmerizing theatre-goers with their innovative motifs, and Christopher Isherwood’s vivid account of the demimonde life inspired the dark musical Cabaret.

“Sex,” observed the world-weary American ingenue Louise Brooks, “was the business of the town.”

There was raw passion in the air and expressionism, dadaism, surrealism and the revolutionary architectural ideas of the Bauhaus were flourishing. The art was especially thrilling to a 13-year-old boy, Ronald Lauder, who used gift money from his bar mitzvah to buy a drawing by Egon Schiele in 1957. That sketch, Lauder’s enduring friendship with Viennese-American art dealer Serge Sabarsky, and his considerable resources as chairman of Estee Lauder International were the genesis for the most recent addition to New York’s Museum Mile, the Neue Galerie — a museum devoted to German and Austrian Art of the early 20th century.

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The collection, which includes Schiele’s expressionist paintings, Gustav Klimt’s canvasses and Joseph Hoffmann’s jewellery (whose colours are brilliant enough to prompt comparisons to Ravenna’s ancient mosaics), is only part of the Neue Galerie’s appeal. The lavishly restored mansion, once occupied by society doyenne Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, embodies the heady atmosphere of those times. The opulent first and second floors — with their rich gilding, Italian marble floors and deeply carved wooden panels — feel like the home of a wealthy and broad-minded patron of the arts in the old Weimar Republic.

The museum’s mix of decorative and fine art not only demonstrates their influence on one another; it also paints a vivid portrait of early 20th century bourgeois life in Central Europe.

Perhaps not every burgher had a mantelpiece clock shot through with onyx marble, mother-of-pearl and brass, and not all parlours could boast a statuesque ebony drawing cabinet, but even a modest merchant must have at least once raised a cup as boldly designed as the black-and-gold painted Hoffmann tea service, or reclined on a beech-wood armchair as inventive as Hoffmann’s 1908 “sitzmaschine.”

But it’s at Cafe Sabarsky, which is inspired by the Vienna coffeehouses at the centre of that period’s intellectual and artistic ferment, where this exhilarating era comes to life.

Run by Kurt Gutenbrunner, chef at New York’s sophisticated Austrian restaurant Wallse, the cafe is rife with sumptuous details such as marble tables and reproductions of Adolph Loos’s 1899 black-bent-wood chairs — on sale in the design shop for $900 each (all amounts in U.S. dollars).

The menu reinvents such Viennese classics as open-face Trzesniewski-style sandwiches — matjes herring with egg and apple, chestnut soup and cod strudel with riesling sauerkraut. It’s a bit more ambitious than the coffee and a muffin offered at the Met, and far more expensive.

fIndeed, everything associated with the Neue Galerie is atmospheric but pricey, from the cafe’s Viennese Melange, a rich, $5 cappuccino, to the 1917 Joseph Hoffmann Patrician Service glassware in the design shop — $480 for six of any one piece, such as the brilliant, fragile “muslin glass.”

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The $10 admission price is top-tier as well, equal to the “suggested price” at the immense Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But the elegant manner in which the museum reawakens the art and culture of this epoch has undeniable charm. It’s also something akin to time travel. Slide across a banquette covered in extravagant 1912 floral textile overlooking the most fashionable part of Fifth Avenue, place a voluptuous $6 Sacher torte to your lips, and for an hour you can be the vamp Sally Bowles or an enigmatic expressionist painter in libertine Berlin of the Golden Twenties.

Neue Galerie: Museum for German and Austrian Art. 1048 Fifth Ave., (212) 628-6200, http://www.neuegalerie.org. Children under 12 are not admitted and children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. The show, Oskar Kokoschka, Early Portraits from Vienna and Berlin, 1909-1914, runs from March 15 to June 10. Hours: Friday, Saturday, Monday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday 1-6 p.m.

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