Archive for February, 2012


February 4, 2012

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Photo by Genghis

GEM SPA: Setting up shop at 7:25 AM.


“I heard the erroneous report of the demise of Gem Spa on 1010 WINS, YOU GIVE US 22 MINUTES, WE GIVE YOU THE WORLD. Yeah, more like, ‘We give you 22 minutes of B.S.’ Once again Genghis and the Seedy X-Bar give us the real story. “


Hey man, I’m no journalist. However, I have good reason to believe that I was the first source, either in the old media or the new media, to break the story about Gem Spa still being in business. This story about Gem Spa’s status quo, contradicted the news that was blared around the world, about Gem Spa’s untimely demise. In fact, I broke the story with my article “Gem Spa Lives!” on the same morning that the false rumor about Gem Spa hit the airwaves. How’s that for efficiency, huh? Not bad for biker trash. My timely report was enabled by my visit that very morning, to Gem Spa, which was open for business as usual.

That’s my friend in that picture yer lookin’ at, who’s usually behind the counter at Gem Spa, the very morning that the aforesaid rumor spread like wildfire through dry tinder. Yup, there he is, settin’ up shop that morning, living proof that Gem Spa Lives. And continues to live. Gem Spa will go the distance, just like it always has, since the days when Gem Spa hosted the Tattooed Menaces on Harleys in the ’60s. Gem Spa means a lot to many people, yers truly included. Check this out, man:

My kids owe their very existence to Gem Spa.

Photo by Genghis

SALLY THE BITCH: My Sportster in the ’60s.

Ya see, the mother of my children and I met in front of Gem Spa, as a direct result of Gem Spa’s being a biker hangout. One sunny day in the summer of ’69, I was parked in front of Gem Spa along with my buddy Mitch “Hippie” Diamond, him with his gold panhead rigid, and me with my Sportster, “Sally The Bitch.” Mitch and my ex-old lady Nancie knew each other through the biker circles of the Lower East Side. Nancie came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Nancie. Nice bike.” I said, thanks, wanna go for a ride? She said, “Sure, and I have my own helmet. I’ll go get it.” Mitch winked an eye at me.

She did, and it was a yellow half-helmet with a dragon hand-painted on it. It turns out that it was painted by a mutual one percenter friend of ours, Arthur “Steppenwolf” Sellers, who belonged to the Rat Pack M.C. After we took that first ride together, Nancie and I became a couple.

Of course, our children came from the union, which is how I attribute my kids’ existence to Gem Spa, which was a biker magnet. Gem Spa was a magnet for bikers and biker folk like my ex. Gem Spa in that era, was every bit as significant for the biker subculture of America, as the Ace Cafe was for the British biker culture. Both acted as sociological anchors, for bikers that needed bases to which, we could report. Ours was a congregation of the Harley Faithful.

Photo by Genghis

MITCH “HIPPIE” DIAMOND: “Let’s show the squares some class!”

As a base for bikers to meet, Gem Spa also acted as an starting point for impromptu rides. When the movie “Easy Rider” came out, Mitch and I decided to ride to “Easy Rider’s” premiere on Broadway. This was a heavily promoted movie premiere, which received almost daily PR in the media, leading up to the event. Mitch and I knew that there would be a throng of moviegoers waiting on line for the first, early show. Mitch said, “Hey Genghis. Let’s show the squares some class!” Mitch and I hopped on our bikes and kicked ’em over. Broadway, here we come.

Mitch was quite a character, with a flair for the dramatic. His plan was for us to blast down Broadway until we reached the mouth of the theater that “Easy Riders” was debuting in, stop in front of the crowd, and shock the citizens with a loud dose of good ‘ole Harley thunder from four straight pipes. Then we’d peel off in the best tire-burning fashion, and with a little luck, at least a wheelie from one of us.

We rode up Sixth Avenue until we got a few blocks north of the theater, and turned left toward Broadway (Broadway is really seventh Avenue, which is one block west of, and parallel to Sixth Avenue), then hung another left on Broadway toward the theater. We had a few blocks to build up a head of steam before we got to the theater.

This allowed the sound from my Sportster’s drag pipes and from Mitch’s panhead’s fishtails, to reverberate off of the buildings on either side of Broadway as we approached the theater. The entrance of the theater looked like a hungry maw, preparing to devour the hordes of suicidal moviegoers. Peter Fonda’s Harley was the appetizer.

The line in front of the theater was impressive. The line snaked down Broadway from the ticket window, and around the corner at the end of the block. Of course, this crowd heard us before they saw us. Our Harleys sounded like an angry marching band on steroids, like Armageddon Coming. The day of the Harley locusts had arrived.

Mitch and I braked to a stop in front of the crowd, blipped our throttles, and then blasted down Broadway like avenging interlopers. There were many moviegoers’ mouths left hangin’ wide open in that crowd, accompanied by wide eyes with pupils maximally dilated to 7 millimeters, not to mention bilaterally perforated eardums from the ear-splitting exhaust. Shock the squares, baby!

Photo by Genghis

ANGELS ON BROADWAY: An NYC Hells Angel patrolling Broadway.

Occasionally, Gem Spa became the center of Bad Blood. One day in 1969, a Pagan I knew as “Patch” came racing around Gem Spa, which is situated at the corner of St. Marks Place and Second Avenue. Patch and I worked together at the Quick Trip Messenger Service as motorcycle messengers. Patch rode a panhead rigid. Patch was a lookalike for the actor Dirk Benedict, except that he wore a black patch over his left eye, presumably because he lost an eye due to trauma. This is why he was known as Patch.

He ran into me as I was walking on St Marks Place, his hair and face flying sweat as he ran. I said to him, what’s goin’ on? He said, “They’re after me.” I said, who? Patch said, “The Angels.” Unfortunately for Patch, he descended into Hells Angel territory, and the Pagans M.C. were not on good terms with the HAMC.

That day, three Hells Angels parked their Harleys in front of Gem Spa and were just hangin’, and they spotted Patch and took after him. After my brief exchange with Patch, he ran down the street and up the stairs of a brownstone, and into the foyer of the building. I don’t know if the Angels found him there. I only know that I never saw Patch, ever again.

Photo by Genghis


Gem Spa means many things to many people. Consider it a Rorschach test for Gem Spa’s loyal customers, whose test answers depend entirely on how each customer perceived the role of the store, in ther lives. For me of course, Gem Spa is part and parcel of the fabric of the biker subculture of New York City. It is more than that to me, though.

It also represents the prime source of all the magazines I wrote for, and eagerly looked forward to acquiring every month, those magazines hit the stands. This includes David Snow’s iconic Iron Horse magazine. Gem Spa is also where I buy my car and bike magazines.

I just bought Road & Track and Car & Driver. Perusing the magazine racks at Gem Spa is not merely an exercise in biker nostalgia. These magazine racks are a constant source for feeding my head, and my head sorely needs to be fed on a consistent basis. The mind is a voracious animal, and it demands its nutritional due. I’m glad that I was the first to report, that Gem Spa is alive and thriving. I’ll report, you decide. Later.



February 1, 2012

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Photo by Genghis

GEM SPA: Legendary store defies internet rumor.


JANUARY 31, 2012

“The archetypal corner store closed its doors. Claiming the best egg creams around and the home of the birth of the New York Dolls, Gem Spa is a model to be emulated into the future. The old world will continue to die and we will take the best parts and make them live.”


FEBRUARY 1, 2012

7:25 A.M.

So wrong, on so many levels.

As is my daily weekday routine, I went to Gem Spa on the way to work this morning, to pick up a New York Post, and to scope out the motorcycle and car magazines. The voluminous magazine racks take up much of this legendary candy store, and give this candy store its well-earned reputation as the premier magazine store in Manhattan, that boasts the quickest acquisition of magazine titles in NYC. Consider this the Stroker Harley of magazine stores.

Gem Spa seemingly gets issues of magazines, days ahead of other venues. Yet, this store retains its seedy-in-a-good-way, Everyman’s Store Flavor. Gem Spa is as Old School NYC as it gets, man. There isn’t a glut of chrome and plastic festooning the store. There is no gimmicky doodadery to boost customer sales. People who return to this Little Store That Could for their reading material, come back again and again through the months, years and decades out of a sense of loyalty. This consists of not only a loyalty to Gem Spa as an entity, but also a loyalty to an ethereal idea: The idea of the Traditional Store that survives the Technological Age, to represent a bygone era. Characater lives in New York.

I’ve been coming here ever since it was a Biker Haven in the late 1960s. My Harley used to be part of the line-up of Harleys that parked in front of Gem Spa, starting at the corner of St. Marks Place and Second Avenue, a line that often extended halfway down the block toward 7th Street, like a thriving conga line of mechanical dancers. These were mechanical dancers with voices of gold. These Harley voices would reverberate off the buildings on Second Avenue so loud, that they could be heard from above 14th Street. The Sound of Harley Thunder used to fill the air, as dozens of bikes belonging to one percenters and independents alike, lined up in formation as Milwaukee Sisters, who shone their lovelight on passerbys.

Photo by Genghis

BEYOND HATS AND SCARVES: The view from inside Gem Spa

This morning, one of the Gem Spa guys was setting up the circular racks holding scores of winter hats on the sidewalk, ajacent to the store. Part of Gem Spa’s business is the sale of apparel including hats, scarves, sandals, gloves and sunglasses on the sidewalk on the St. Marks Place side of Gem Spa. These hats include animal hats that transform Gem Spa into a zoological wonder, replete with lions, tigers, and bears (oh my), with leopards, wolves, monkies and Siberian Huskies thrown in for good measure. Gem Spa is a regular Noah’s ark for adventurous citizens. You can even buy hats with built-in Mohawks on ’em here.

I said to my friend behind the counter (the counter has always been on the front-left of Gem Spa, for all of the 43 years I’ve been a customer), “Hey. Guess what I read on the internet this morning. I read that Gem Spa closed its doors last week.” My friend laughed and said, “Yeah crazy, huh? I don’t know where that came from. My boss said he heard the same thing on some news somewhere.” We both had a good chuckle about how quickly rumors of this type can get around with the burgeoning internet.

Photo by Genghis

RIDING MABEL TO GEM SPA: One of few Harleys who still visit Gem Spa.

Gem Spa is a New York City institution. You read in “Hippie Hangout” about how Gem Spa was a nexus of New York’s biker subculture of the ’60s and ’70s. It truly was America’s Ace Cafe. These days, the straight pipes of panheads, Sportsters and shovelheads rattling Gem Spa’s windows, are but a distant memory. Except for when I ride Mabel, my Harley 74 to Gem Spa to have a vanilla egg cream, that is. That’s when two great institutions in my life, my Harley and Gem Spa, cross paths once again, spanning the wispy decades between eras, to bring back biker memories and to create new ones. Gem Spa lives! My Harley Dream lives. Later.