Thanks to New York's worst diner, I have just rediscovered the Big Apple's strangest fishing- tackle shop. It happened like this. I was sitting in Caf Metro (corner of 36th and Broadway; avoid its slow, surly service, dirty tables, cold eggs and lack of corned-beef hash) when I glanced over the road. And there it was: the shop I feared had closed forever.
For 44 years, Capitol Fishing Tackle lived next to the notorious Chelsea Hotel. Yes, that one: the bohemian celeb rendezvous where Sid topped Nancy was also neighbour to another New York institution.
'Field and Stream' called Capitol "the weirdest tackle shop in America", with some justification. Only some of its clients, you see, were fishers. So the staff might sell a length of rope to a 6ft leather-clad woman more interested in tying her customers than a half-blood knot, or a tattooed weirdo who thought barbed gold hooks would look really neat stuck through his nose. Thank goodness it never sold maggots.
And every so often, a fisher-man would wander around the jumble of rods and reels, lures and lines too. He might be a regular joe like me; he might be someone far more august. It's rumoured that presidents have shopped here, though the owners, Alan Gordon and Richard Collins, rightly keep mum about the Boss's purchases. (Could have been a length of rope. Who knows?) They don't mind talking about the Sultan of Brunei, though. A keen saltwater angler, he brought along hisUzi-toting bodyguards and closed the shop while he wandered its higgledy rows.
Capitol is New York's oldest tackle store. It opened uptown in 1897 and moved to Chelsea in 1962. More antique store than tackle shop, it even had a moose head on its panelled walls, alongside a glass-fibre shark and sailfish. (A regular donated the trophy when his wife refused to allow it wall space in their home.)
In the heart of New York, Capitol had little competition. Fly fishers use the oxymoronic Urban Angler or an Orvis store, both on Fifth Avenue. But Capitol looked after true urban anglers, the blue-collar guys who dangle a line in the Hudson or cast for bluegills and bass in the Central Park ponds.
I loved the disordered shop and enthusiastic staff. But when I went to Chelsea on Boxing Day, the shop was boarded up. Phone books and the internet still gave the old 23rd and 8th address. It looked as if my one respite from wall-to-wall family shopping had died. The only clue: sad signs hanging from nearby buildings: "We want our old shops back."
Turns out that the Chelsea Hotel's old owners had given the building and its nearby properties to their sons, who immediately doubled rents. Dan's Chelsea Guitars clings on but Capitol, the acupuncture salon and others were forced out, leaving boarded-up frontages with graffiti-covered shutters.
But Capitol, I'm delighted to report, has survived, even if being round the corner from Macy's department store isn't quite the location it would have wanted. Bit too posh. And the shop's a bit, dare I say, tidy at the moment. But I have full confidence that chaos will return.
Capitol Fishing Tackle, 132 West 36th Street, New York.