31 January 2006

Prisoner of Second Avenue

No further word yet on the fate of the Second Avenue Deli, which owner Jack Lebewohl abruptly and unceremoniously shut down shortly after Christmas, after a dispute with his landlord, who wanted to hike his monthly rent $9000 a month. Any hope that this was a bit a hardball bargaining on the part of Lebowohl, a former real estate lawyer, was snuffed out on Jan. 10, when the eatery's sign and facade were dismantled.

The closure surprised me. I met and lunched with Lebewohl just a week before the shuttering, and nothing he said indicated the place was in trouble. And, don't get me wrong—I never side with New York landlords, who are like so many trolls dwelling under bridges, threatening to eat you alive if you don't pay their price—but there is something fishy about the whole affair. The New York Times reported that the rent hike was written into a lease signed years ago, so Lebewohl knew about it. So why the grandstanding? And the Second Avenue Deli always made money hand over fist, so if this new rent really wrankled him, why not suffer under it for a while until you find a place to relocate, which is what he has said he plans to do? Instead, the public and the Deli's employees will have to go months before a new joint opens. And everyone know the longer you stay away, the harder it is to hit the ground running when you do reopen. New Yorkers are forgetful of the past. It's in their wiring. You have to stay in their line of vision constantly.

One last thing about all those articles about the Second Avenue Deli's demise. Many called it the last Kosher Deli in Manhattan. This was shockingly sloppy reporting. If Gotham reporters can't get Jewish culture right, who can? The Second Avenue Deli may have sold Kosher meat, but the place was open on Friday night and Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, which basically negates any Kosher claims. True Kosher restaurants are closed on the Sabbath. No self-respecting Rabbi is going to sanctify a place that sells pastrami sandwiches when folks are supposed to be in shul.

The Deli's not being truly Kosher doesn't make its departure any less sad. Let's just be straight about what's been lost.

1 comment:

reginamia said...

Your blog appeared to me during one of my more circuitous ramblings through the Internet. My original search found a posting closer to the current date, 21 July, 2011, but I found the information so fascinating and soothing to my old NY culture-starved soul, that I went back to what I believe is your first post.

Great work, and please keep it up. It seems that now, after just five years, your blog itself may qualify for some position in the lost NY archives - not in and of itself, but some of its subjects have now retreated enough to render them vague memories.

For me, it is the living, breathing part of history that touches the heart and allows a culture, or an idea to continue with a vibrant resonance. Museums rarely have that quality; books and songs sometimes do.

Stephen Vincent Benet's 'John Brown's Body' brings the spirit of the Civil War more to life than any history book - for me, at least.

Your musings and memories similarly bring back to life part of the charm and magnetic attraction that New York City once had.

Very glad to make your acquaintance.