28 October 2008

Ratner's Sleeps

Ratner's had to go. I understand that. It was no longer a viable proposition. It served a public that no longer made the area its stomping ground. It was a relic.

But did it have to be replaced by a Sleepy's? I mean, the indignity. What was once arguably the Lower East Side's oldest and most famous kosher restaurant is now a mattress showroom, one link in a chain with a horribly garish red sign, an insipid mascot of a drowsy man in nightcap and nightgown, and the bizarre motto "The Mattress Professionals." (What does that mean exactly?)

I scanned the store to spy traces of the grand old dairy restaurant, but there's little left. The kitchen was gutted to make more room for Sealy and Simmons. The tiles outside the glass door are still obviously those of Ratner's, though heavily worn down. And there are decorative half-circle shapes were part of the Ratner's interior design. But that's it.

Ratner's opened in 1904 and had a run of 98 years, closing in 2002. The famous neon sign came down in 2004. (Anyone know where it is?) It was founded by Jacob Harmatz and his brother-in-law Alex Ratner on Pitt Street. To decide whose name would appear on the sign outside, they flipped a coin. Ratner won. It was a bad toss, because Ratner got out in 1918 and moved to California, and the Harmatz's ran it ever since. That same year, the eatery moved to Delancey. Harmatz's son, Harold took over the business in the mid-1950s; he worked there until it closed. His son Robert made a last-ditch effort to make the place hip by opening the hideaway bar Lansky's Lounge in the back. This irked many regulars, because the bar did not keep kosher hours.

Barley mushroom soup, perogies, blintzes, vegetarian chopped liver and the onion rolls were among the treasured specialties. Like Katz's still is, Ratner's was once a political whistle stop, a place for a photo op of a mayoral hopeful biting into a blintz. Every famous Jewish comedian there was ate there, from Groucho Marx to Fanny Brice. Certain waiters worked the floors for decades.

For one of the last cinematic glimpses of Ratner's, check out 2000's "The Boiler Room." Ron Rifkin and Giovanni Ribisi have brunch there. And there's a nice old picture of the interior here.


Anonymous said...

I had many great times dancing at Lansky's. But not only did it not keep "kosher hours", but the last incarnation (a steak house) served shrimp! (I am glad that I also got to see the last days of dairy brunch with the ancient waiters.)

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Carol: Right. Forgot about the shrimp. Many a rabbi rolled over in his grave over that addition.

Unknown said...

The bar Nurse Bettie on Norfolk St has an old door from Ratner's as their bathroom door. The majority is solid wood, but the top is a pebbled glass window, with "Ratner's- Private- No Admittance" painted on it.

I certainly appreciated the bar's attempt to keep a little bit of history alive!

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Oh my God! That is so interesting. I have to go see it.