30 September 2008

Red Apple Rest Rests

On a recent trip upstate, while cruising up old Hwy. 17, I passed by the haunted, silent hull of the Red Apple Rest.

A icon of long past era of vacationing, the Red Apple was a fabled stopover for New Yorkers on their way to resorts, summer homes and families in the Catskills. In the 1950's, it boasted a million customers a year and served 350,000 hot dogs. The enormous asphalt field of the parking lot would be filled with cars and buses. Traffic along 17 (this was before the New York State Thruway was built) would often be so slow that family members could get out of their moving cars, use the bathroom, make a phone call and order some food before their ride has passed the Red Apple. Every one stopped there. The Borscht Belt comedians knew it well. It was the Stuckey's of the New York set, with a legendary vegetable soup, not a pecan log, as its iconic menu item.

The Red Apple was started by Reuben Freed, a refugee from Russia. He bought a combination gas station-refreshment stand in 1931 on Hwy. 17 and called it the Red Apple, after his chef, a red-haired man named Red Appel. The restaurant hit its stride after WWII. It stayed open 24 hours a day. Freed almost never went home. The Thruway dealt it a slow death, as did the lessening popularity of the Catskill resorts, which eventually closed one by one. Freed died in 1980. In 1985, Freed's son Herbert sold the place to Peter Kourakos.

The Red Apple mysteriously closed in September 2006. Signs in the window and a telephone answering machine message, said "We went away for a graduation and vacation." The restaurant never reopened. It was condemned on Jan. 23, 2007, due to roof damage. It has sat there ever since.

Inside, not much has been touched. Tables and chairs still sit, waiting for customers that will never come. A menu board still hangs above the counter listed very reasonable prices. It even trumpets specials, mostly like posted back in 2006. ("Egg Salad Platter.") A cruel sign on the side mocks "Bus Parking Only!" An old phone booth is neither taking or receiving calls. In the window is a sampler reading "No matter where I serve my guests, they seem to like my kitchen best." My mother had one just like that.


Anonymous said...

Red Apple also features in Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry,"

Hanya said...

My family used to drive up to the Ukrainian resort in the Catskills, Soyuzivka, when I was a kid and we would beg to go 'the Red Apple way', so we could stop at the restaurant.

I remember the old cafeteria ledges to run your tray on, there were some arcade machines and my favourite, the vegetable soup. When I saw it was available I would rejoice! To this day I can't find a better vegetable soup.

I wish we had pictures of the place, I have never found any in my parent's things. After my dad died when I was twelve, we seldom went out of New Jersey and I regret that when I visited back east and went up as an adult with my (now) husband, we didn't make enough time to stop by the Red Apple. A huge regret!

Thanks for posting these pics; they are so bittersweet to see. I always hope these old and loved things can find a new life somehow, and bring joy to others the same joy it brought to me.