Last week, New York magazine published a neighborhood guide to Yorkville, and once that happens you know the area will soon be vanished. The guide, with map, does provide a handy tour of Yorkville's oldest survivors. It's not a neighborhood I spend much time in, so I went up there to pay a visit before it's too late. I'll be posting more soon, but I thought I'd start off with the Heidelberg restaurant.
the Georgica condo rises next to and above Heidelberg
Dating back to 1936, it's the last of Yorkville's once-plentiful German restaurants. The Times aptly described it as "swathed in history, presenting its worn and faded face without touch-ups or apologies." Heidelberg is a comfortable place to be--and the place to be is most definitely the bar.
Presided over by a smiling, bespectacled, and gray-haired barmaid named Hilde, the bar is where red-faced men drink their beer from boots made of glass. The 2-liter boots require a credit card deposit and, while a sign states they are meant to be shared, not consumed by individuals, I saw at least three people huddling around their own, personal bootfuls of beer.
Enjoying my bratwurst and beer, I sat next to a friendly guy who grew up in Yorkville. He told stories about playing stickball in the streets, collecting lost Spaldeens from rooftops, working at Ruppert's Knickerbocker brewery, and playing pinochle with old men who only spoke German. I wondered if his family were descendants of those lost on the steamboat General Slocum.
Historically, Yorkville became a German neighborhood after New York's worst human disaster prior to 9/11, the burning of the General Slocum in 1904. At that time, today's East Village was known as Kleindeutschland, and most of the close to 1,300 who perished on the Slocum were Germans. The tragedy was so great, many residents of Kleindeutschland could no longer bear to live in a neighborhood that reminded them of their loss. So, perhaps ironically, they moved to Yorkville--whose shores had been washed in the bodies of their loved ones.
But for years now, the Germans have been leaving Yorkville. At uppereast.com, they cite rising rents as the primary cause. Luckily, the owners of Heidelberg own the building, which right now is practically shaking with the racket of their new neighbor's rising: Georgica, a family-friendly, 20-story, cantilevered condo tower is having its concrete poured, a noisy, noxious business that is killing Heidelberg's outdoor dining.
"I drink your milkshake!"
A century ago, it took a major disaster to drain an entire community from its neighborhood. Now all it takes is uber-gentrification.