In search of Joe Gould – part 111 May 2015
Blackwell fans probably remember the characters of Joe Gould (the West Village bohemian who wandered around gin mills in the 50s and was trying to write the Oral History of Our Time) and Joseph Mitchell (the New Yorker reporter who wrote a piece about Gould, then mysteriously stopped writing but continued to work at the paper for 30 years). In Blackwell Convergence, you could go to a tavern named the Minetta and look at Joe Gould’s portrait hanging on the wall.
What you might not know is that Gould, Mitchell, the Minetta, and the portrait actually existed.
The real life Mitchell and Gould.
I won’t go into detail about their lives here (that’s what Wikipedia is for), but something about their stories absolutely fascinated me. I can’t explain it. I was absolutely inspired. In my early days as a developer I would spend long afternoons in the Minetta, sitting under the Joe Gould portrait, hashing out the plot details for the whole Blackwell series. It’s no wonder that the two men ended up being featured so heavily in the story.
In 2008, the Minetta underwent massive changes. It was bought out, gutted, and completely renovated. It’s fancier and much more expensive now. You need to reserve your table several weeks in advance if you want to walk through the door. Suffice to say, I don’t do my design work there anymore.
Flash forward a few years later. My wife and I decide to go there on our anniversary. We make the reservations well in advance, we dress nice, we enter the place… and the Joe Gould portrait is gone. Not just moved to another spot, but gone.
I asked the hostess where it went. She didn’t know what I was talking about. I asked the waiter. He knew nothing either. I asked to speak to the manager. He dutifully came to my table and told me that there was no such thing. Nobody at the restaurant ever heard of the name “Joe Gould”, let alone know where his portrait might be.
This was a mystery. One that has bugged me for several years. I let it go as just one of those things, but then last week I had enough. My epiphany (ahem) was triggered by reading a wonderful biography of Joseph Mitchell (called “Man in Profile.” Read it. It’s excellent) and it got me wondering again. Where did this portrait end up? I simply HAD to know.
So today, I decided to try and search for it. And since this is the age of sharing, I will be keeping a record of my search on this website:
THE SEARCH FOR JOE GOULD – Day 1
I only knew one thing – the Minetta was bought and renovated by the Keith Mcnally Restaurant Group. The first step seemed obvious – call the Keith Mcnally Restaurant Group and ask them. So like the dogged investigator that I am, I typed “Keith Mcnally Restaurant Group” into Google. This resulted in a bunch of restaurants that belonged to the group, but no results for the group itself. Trying various permutations of the search string did not help. All I could find was the wikipedia entry for Keith Mcnally himself (he was born in London and moved to New York City in 1975, by the way) but nothing about how to contact him or anyone from his company.
So, it’s back to the source. Even though nobody working at the Minetta could remember that the Joe Gould portrait even existed, somebody there OUGHT to know who the restaurant’s current owners are and how to contact them. So I called up the restaurant and navigated their phone menu. I eventually found my way to the General Manager’s voice mail and left a message explaining what I was trying to do. Since the manager’s voicemail message was “Greeting 3 not recorded. BEEP!” I’m not hopeful that this call will be returned.
I try calling again and get the same result. On a whim, I call back, but instead of choosing the “General Manager” option, I choose “Reservations.” This, I figure, will at least get me through to a human being. Success! I explain my situation to the reservations guy (who, naturally, had never heard of the Joe Gould portrait). He told me that the reason why I haven’t been able to reach anybody was because the restaurant was closed for lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays. “Call back at 4:30,” he told me. “Someone should be able to help you.” Righto. I hang up. Guess I should do some work on Technobabylon or something.
I call the Minetta and try the General Manager again. “Greeting 3 not recorded. BEEP.” That’s a big nope. I call back and try reservations. I got a different person this time, and so I begin my spiel. Here’s a rough version of my conversation:
Me: Hi. I’m hoping you can help me out with a bit of a mystery. I’m looking for a painting that used to hang in the Minetta, before the big rennovation. The painting of Joe Gould? Have you ever heard of it?
Guy: I’m afraid not. I only just started working here.
Me: That’s okay. I tried calling the Keith Mcnally Restaurant group, but I can’t seem to find a number for them. I was hoping someone at the Minetta could help me.
Guy: Well you’re in luck. This number handles calls for Keith Mcnally, but we can’t give out their phone number.
Guy: BUT – this does sound fascinating. You’ve got me curious as well. Give me your name and number and I’ll ask around the office.
Me: Oh. That’s great! Thank you very much.
Guy: I’ll give you a call back in a few days.
So… that’s where things stand now. Will update again once I know more.
When “Guy” turns up dead in a ditch somewhere, you will know what the plot for your next game will be.
Words cannot describe how happy I am to see you do this. I recall reading something – an interview, somewhere? I don’t remember – wherein you mentioned the portrait’s disappearance, and it shattered me.
I hadn’t know a thing about Gould until Blackwell, but since playing them I decided if I ever visited NYC I’d be sure to pay the Minetta a visit, but after hearing about that… not so keen.
I wish you best of luck in finding it.
(nabs idea. makes millions)
I had no idea any of the Joe Gould stuff was real, that just made Blackwell even cooler 🙂
Every few months someone discovers that Gould/Mitchell were real people and it blows their mind. This never stops making me smile.
It’s awesome. Really hope you find out what happened to the painting!
Me too! No results thus far yet. The Minetta is probably due for another phone call!
Have you tried Oogling the problem? It always worked for me haha 🙂
This is great. So is it your natural detective instincts that led to Blackwell, or has she rubbed off on you?
Locked doors might be more of a problem for you… you could still try blowing on things though
You probably know about this, but in case you missed it there was a Stanley Tucci directed movie about Gould: http://www.videodetective.com/movies/joe-goulds-secret/465459
I doubt the staff at the Minetta would appreciate me going in there and blowing on things, but it’s worth a try!
Love love LOVE that movie. Perfectly cast. Look at older pictures of Mitchell and he’s a dead ringer for Tucci.
Any more news on this, Dave? Still think about it every few days.
Not yet. I did call back but there were no updates. It’s like it vanished from memory!
How odd! And a potential plot for your next game perhaps?
It’s definitely got me thinking. 🙂
A Minetta series for sure!
Well, the Minetta is so high end these days you need a month long reservation to even walk through the door. It’s no surprise that Joe Gould doesn’t fit there anymore.
Maybe the new owners sold the picture off somewhere? If I got a phone call like that at my work I’d be doing everything I could to try track it down. The mysterious caller would be too intriguing not to!
What makes me really mad here is that the new Minetta even mentions Joe Gould on the website. But obviously this is not enough to have the portrait anywhere. I doubt that the crew would know the pic when they saw it. So chances are good that the painting simply ended up somewhere in a back office room and no one recognizes it. And that the guy only did some customer service-thingy. ‘Your matter is important to us and we will look into it, promise.’ And do nothing about it.
Good luck, though. 🙁
Yeah that’s my take on it, as well! I’m tempted to ask if I can go into their basement with a flashlight to see if it’s there. 😀
I, too, remember the painting. I would be interested in knowing if you locate its whereabouts. Do you know the name of the artist? I know that Alice Neel’s striking portrait of Gould is now in the Tate Modern, London.
Came across this today: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/27/joe-goulds-teeth
which made me wonder how your quest was going
I managed to google this up from 2009:
Folks on this thread may know about Jill Lepore’s extraordinary piece on Joe Gould in the latest New Yorker (July 27, 2015). I mention it here, just in case.
Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York published a story of the lost painting on Tuesday, October 20, 2009.
Yeah, I was the one quoted in that article. I was told that it “might be in the owner’s private collection” but it was never confirmed. My goal here was to confirm it. Still haven’t been able to do that. 🙁
I guess there’s no news about this…
Sadly, no. Everyone I talk to has no knowledge of the Joe Gould portrait even existing. I had envisioned this being a long series where I track down clues, but I was stymied from the get-go. My best guess it’s in a basement somewhere or was thrown away. 🙁
Hi Dave, just googling this led to a blog entry:
which wonders the same thing, and predates yours by years. Interestingly, the writer seems to have gotten a reply, which is much as you suspected:
Maybe I’m mistaken. Maybe it was moved to another spot and I missed it. But a commenter on Greenwich Village Daily Photo noticed the erasure, too, and stated that he asked the restaurant’s host about the missing painting, saying, “it’s now collecting dust in the owner’s ‘private collection.'”
The blog entry has photos of the painting and interior.
That commenter was ME. 😀 The comment was taken a bit out of context. I was told that it “PROBABLY was collecting dust in the owner’s private collection.” Not that it specifically was. Nobody actually knows.
[…] have been something of an obsession and muse for Mitchell, and for Gilbert as can be seen in this non-fictional investigative story. Gilbert himself has something of the gumshoe about […]
I went to the Minetta myself during my NYC tour, I was tempted to re-ask them myself since I needed to find a good restaurant anyway, however the place was closed on a monday anyway. Oh well managed to get a sick pic of the exterior, check it out:
Don’t leave me in suspense- did you ever find the lost portrait of Joe?
Sadly we never did!
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