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Second Avenue Deli Closing?

New York City may be losing one of its most welcome restaurants.

The Second Avenue Deli has been in operation since 1954 at the corner of 10th Street and 2nd Avenue (where else?). When it was first opened by Abe Lebewohl, a Holocaust survivor, the Lower East Side was more of Jewish enclave than it is now. But despite the changes in he neighborhood, the Deli remained open, even when Abe was murdered during a robbery in 1996.

However, it now appears that the real estate market has become too expensive. The New York Times is reporting that last Sunday, Jack Lebewohl, the current owner, closed the restaurant and has not reopened it all week (Hold the Mustard, Maybe Forever). Apparently, he currently pays $24,000 per month in rent, and that rent is about to go up to $33,000, which he can't afford.

One of the things I always liked about the existence of the Second Avenue Deli was their nod to the history of the Yiddish theatre. Out front, on the sidewalk, they have a Yiddish theatre "Walk of Fame," stars with the names of actors from the Yiddish theatre's glory days.

Two of those names are Peisach Burstein and Lillian Lux, the parents of American-Israel actor and entertainer Mike Burstyn. Although we're not directly related, I've always been pleased that we share the same name. By an odd coincidence, last year Burstyn performed in a show called On Second Avenue, a tribute to the legacy of New York's Yiddish theatre. Sadly, Burstyn's mother passed away last year; I can only hope that his parents' stars don't vanish as well.


Oh no! I mean, I work right near there and never eat there because I don't love deli, but the fact that all these classic NYC institutions are disappearing and being replaced by either faceless chains or places so upscale that only Wall Streeters can afford them.

I've been despairing for the future of NYC several times a week for what seems like forever now. Sometimes I wonder how long it is before we're priced out and give up.
It's hardly criminal. They're charging that much, because that's what someone is prepared to pay. If one person is willing to pay $33K, and another is only willing to pay $30K, why would you not give it to the one who's offering more?

Elaine's great-grandfather, Henry A. Rusotto, wrote for the Yiddish theatre, including a Yiddish version of King Lear.

His half-uncle, if I recall correctly, was Ephraim Abileah, who wrote the oratorio "Chag Ha-Cherut," which from which the "traditional" tune for the "mah nishtanah" is taken.
So is that why his half-uncle is different from all other half-uncles? :-)
Gives us a great hook when we try to get the girls to sing the four questions each year.
Oh man! That's such a staple of the neighborhood! I can't imagine walking by there and not seeing it. It was one of the places Tateh would take us to eat meat after he made the family go vegetarian. So disappointing.
similar happenings here in Chicago...

the Berghoff german restaurant/brewpub/deli, open for almost 120 years and holder of Chicago liquor license #1 from the day after prohibition was repealed, is closing. the owner, the 70-year-old grandson of the founder, wants to retire and he'd rather close the place down than sell it. instead he's going to lease the space (they own the building) to his daughter's catering company.
Oh damn. Now I wish I'd had lunch there instead of Veselka.


Sad news, Michael. I hate it when local landmarks are driven away. The same thing's happening in San Antonio--the landmark Justin's Ice Cream on the Riverwalk (which introduced President Clinton to mango ice cream way back in the 70s) is being evicted because the building's owners can get more money by leasing the space to yet another Saltgrass Steakhouse. National chains are buying out and taking over all the smaller, local spots that made the Riverwalk unique. At this rate, what was once original and distinctive will be indistinguishable from any other airport access road in the country.

--Jayme Lynn Blaschke
I am sad to hear this.
This does seem rather a pity, but that's how things go, I suppose. If someone has a better use for the land, something that will produce more value than a deli, then they should be able to put it to that use.

I saw Sharon Liebwohl last Saturday night, at a mutual friend's Chanukah party - in fact, I generally see her once a year, at that party. If I'd known this was happening I'd have been able to ask her about it, and report the inside scoop...

When I saw this I emailed her, and suggested that she move the deli to Park Slope. Rents here are expensive for Brooklyn, but cheap compared to Manhattan, and a kosher deli could do really well here. There's nothing kosher here at all. And with the lower rents she could afford to close it on Shabbos, which I know she'd like to do if it were up to her.

Park Slope would be a good choice, but there's still something sad about the continual abandonment of the Lower East Side. On the other hand, this is historical. Immigrant groups flock to the Lower East Side, then eventually move out. As much as I bemoan the loss of a Jewish Lower East Side, I'm not about to move there myself...

And it would be really nice if the place reopened in a way that would allow them to close on shabbos, for obvious reasons.
Actually, in the last 15 years or so, Jews have begun to return to the LES. The shuls, which used to struggle for a minyan, are now full. And Noah's Ark deli, on Grand St, seems to be doing well. But 2nd Ave Deli isn't in the LES.

Historically, the LES, like London's East End, was the crummiest part of town, where indigent immigrants would settle for a decade or two, and get out as soon as they could afford to. In London's case, at least, it was because the prevailing wind blew all the smells of the city east. But in both cases, the latest trend has been in reverse.

December 2016

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