Volume 16 • Issue 53 | May 28 - June 3, 2004

Steele blogging on the L.E.S.

By Alan Bastable

Yes, Lockhart Steele is his real name. He was named after his grandfather, if you must know. And, no, he is not an aspiring movie star.

Steele is a Weblogger — a blogger — and one of the Lower East Side’s most popular.

His eponymous Web log — a running, often witty commentary about a hodgepodge of Lower East Side happenings — has drawn a dedicated following since its debut three years ago, attracting about 2,000 hits per day, he said.

A sort of virtual-hangout-cum-rumor-mill for Lower East Side hipsters, trend watchers and curious citizens, www.Lockhartsteele.com is a compilation of snappy restaurant and bar reviews (“The food at No. 1 Chinese has a clean edge to it,” Steele writes. “General Tso was spared his usual drowning”); discussions about new real estate developments (“Proving once again that Midtown shouldn’t have all the fun — and by ‘fun,’ we mean ‘soul-ruining architecture’ — plans are afoot to build a towering 23-story dormitory on Avenue B …”); and ruminations about, well, whatever’s on Steele’s or his visitors’ minds (“Has there been a more surreal neighborhood event in recent memory,” he asked recently, “than Moby’s ‘Bakesale for Democracy’ this past weekend?”).

The blog’s most newsworthy moment came four months ago when Steele broke a story about Fresh Direct inexplicably refusing to deliver groceries to a small pocket of the Lower East Side. The New York Times picked up the story, and Fresh Direct has since extended its services to the entire neighborhood.

Steele, 30, doesn’t take blogging too seriously, he said, but he does feel an obligation to keep his content fresh, posting new entries, usually daily, from his Rivington St. walkup.

“There’s implicit pressure to update the site regularly because you know on any given day 2,000 people are going to drop by,” Steele said on a recent Wednesday, as he worked his way through the prix-fixe lunch at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in Midtown.

That commitment has earned him Web credibility not only from his devotees, but also from his fellow blogerrati.

“I think his blog is well regarded — or at least I regard it well,” said Ian Mount, a freelance writer and the co-creator of ebway.org, another blog that reports on the Lower East Side. “It goes into great depth, and a good number of people write in with tips, which is really essential if you are trying to cover a whole neighborhood from a micropublishing empire, that is to say with one unpaid person who also has a full-time job to handle.”

Indeed blogging — “an addictive hobby,” Steele calls it — is but a small part of Steele’s duties. By day, he is the managing editor of Hamptons Cottages and Gardens magazine, and he has co-authored three books, most recently “The Big 40!: Are You Ready to Face … The Best Age Ever?” while finding time for a lively social life (not only has Steele’s name found its way into The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” column, but the first page of a “Lockhart Steele” Google search returns pictures of his 30th birthday party, described by one fellow blogger as “a banging bluegrass hootenanny in the basement of a restaurant on Avenue B”).

Steele’s passion for writing has been at the core of his publishing pursuits. “I like cranking out words,” he said, a skill that he identified at an early age.

Steele scored his first writing clip at age 10, when he self-published a newsletter about baseball, in his hometown of Manchester, Mass., 25 miles north of Boston. He went on to write for his high school newspaper and then for his college paper at Brown University in Rhode Island.

His first taste of big-time publishing, however, came in his senior year at Brown, when he and a classmate wrote and self-published “The Pharmer’s Almanac: The Unofficial Guide to Phish.” It was a compilation of the band’s history, set lists and “funny stories” about the Phish culture, Steele said.

The authors peddled the book at the band’s shows and it quickly gained cult status among Phish fans. Soon after, a publishing house came knocking, offering $10,000 for rights to the book. “At that age,” Steele said, “it felt like a million dollars.” They accepted, and the book is now in its sixth edition.

After graduating from Brown in 1995, Steele made his way to New York City — “there was never a doubt I’d end up there,” he said — where he landed a job as an editor at Wide Band, a now-defunct trade publication that catered to consumer electronics.

When the magazine went under, Steele went the way of many ambitious, tech-minded 20-somethings in the late 1990s: he tried to launch a Web site. With some guidance (and capital) from his boss at Wide Band, he and a friend raised $700,000 and developed mouseion.com, what they envisioned as an online database of the world’s 5,000 most popular Web sites.

“Then the bottom fell out of the market,” he said. “We lasted about a year.” They designed and tested a prototype, he said, but the site never officially launched.

“I still lament its demise,” he said.

In the summer of 2001, Steele rejoined the publishing world when Richard Ekstract, the same Wide Band executive who helped him start mouseion.com, launched a new magazine, Hamptons Gardens and Cottages, and hired Steele as his first employee.

In the three years since, the company has expanded its editorial staff to seven, and added a second magazine: Palm Beach (Fla.) Gardens and Cottages. It is launching a Connecticut edition in September.

About the same time that Steele started at the Hamptons magazine, he began developing his blog. “I figured that my friends would think it was funny,” he said.

Steele’s modus operandi has wavered little since his blog’s infancy. In addition to the practical services his site provides, he still frequently uses his blog for personal pursuits, such as venting about his beloved Red Sox or light-heartedly cracking wise about other bloggers — a favor that is often returned.

“I suppose there might be a little friendly competition between us,” said Mount, the man behind ebway.org, “but it’s not like either of us is making money off this. … And when we hang out and have a beer, well, it’s all smiles. Really.”

While the Lower East Side has provided Steele with plenty of material, he is preparing to move on. “I’m kind of tapped out,” he said. “There’s only so many ways you can write about Schiller’s Liquor Bar.”

Steele is developing a bigger and better blog, he says, that is devoted to reviewing restaurants and bars citywide, as well as real estate and apartments. He recently launched his new site, curbed.com.

“The site takes as its premise the idea that all conversations in New York eventually lead back around to real estate, apartments and neighborhoods,” he explained.

While he has thought about selling advertising on his new site to cover the costs of maintenance, Steele has no intentions of blogging for a living. “I’m not going to make my fortune on this,” he said. “It’s just a fun little world.”

And as for his catchy name? If nothing else, he said, it makes him easy to find on the Internet. “My parents were geniuses to anticipate the era of Google,” he said.

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