I've lived in Brooklyn Heights off and on since the early '90s (and even when I lived in other cities and on other coasts, I'd always make regular visits). One of the first things I noticed upon moving here was Old Mexico -- a dark, dingy basement restaurant (in the building behind mine) that never seemed to have any customers. Old Mexico would remain open for several years following. I never ate there; it didn't look like the kind of place that actively sought customers, if you know what I mean. Walked past it all the time on my way to the supermarket, or the used bookstore.
Given that Old Mexico was already so low-traffic, I hadn't noticed that it had gone out of business around August. But earlier this week, I heard an ungodly racket coming from outside -- sounded like the clang of a sanitation truck manned by Thor himself. I never checked to see what the noise was. Last night, though, I was walking along Montague Street and I peered into Old Mexico's window -- the lights were off, the walls were bare, and the restaurant was completely gutted of furnishings and fixtures. The menu was still taped to the window; so was a plaque I hadn't noticed before.
As the story goes (if you choose to believe it), Old Mexico opened in 1957, and not only did it provide food for the restaurant at the 1964-5 World's Fair's Mexican Pavilion, it got special recognition from the Smithsonian for being one of New York City's first Mexican restaurants.
Obsessed as I am with both restaurants and World's Fair history, I googled "1964 world's fair mexican pavilion" as soon as I got home. The two Mexican Pavilion restaurants were the Focolare and the more modest Cafe Alameda. No mention of Old Mexico, but I'll keep digging. Something else did turn up in the search, though.
This past week, Van Dyke Parks' acid-trip-Americana masterpiece Song Cycle has been on my mind and on my stereo. In the late '60s, he was a hot property as a producer-arranger-composer-lyricist (he wrote lyrics for the Beach Boys' Smile as well as being an obvious stylistic influence on the record), but he's not someone who gets namechecked a lot anymore except in obscuro circles. So I was pretty knocked out that my World's Fair search led to this odd bit of trivia: "1962 found Parks and his older brother, Carson, playing guitar, raquinto and Indian harp in various California coffee houses. (He became proficient enough on raquinto to subsequently perform with Los Tres Ases at the Mexican Pavilion at the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York.) ... 'I was playing boleros--Mexican love songs from the '30s and '40s. All the girls looked like Rickie Lee Jones. They wore fishnet stockings. We were discussing Marx and the Industrial Revolution.' (VDP, e-mail to the author, 3.27.97)" Who knew?