Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ratner's of 2nd Ave

I briefly reported recently that NYU may push the Met Foods grocery store out of its spot on 2nd Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets. A CB3 meeting will be held on April 15 to give the community a chance to speak out against this act of aggression. (Read The Villager for the full scoop and sign the petition here.)

In my post, I mentioned that Ratner's used to occupy the spot. A commenter wondered if there was, indeed, a Ratner's at 111 2nd Ave and if it was connected to the 97-year-old restaurant on Delancey. I began wondering about it myself and decided to do a little research--discovering a New York family mystery in the process.



Ratner's 2nd Ave was next to the Fillmore East (now a bank) and as such became a nighttime hangout for rock-n-roll legends like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and The Grateful Dead. The "R" is still embedded in Met Foods' floor.

It's hard to find images of this long-lost Ratner's, but if you search for the better-memorialized "Fillmore East" you will see its neon sign shining next door. In this photo, you can see Ratner's awning--and that's Block Drugs on the far left.


photo link

My search led me to street photographer Tony Marciante's amazing flickr page featuring many photos of New York in the 1960s and 70s, including a set from 1969 of a fire across the street from Ratner's. The fire is in a place called Hoagie's and So Forth, which is now the defunct Bamboo House (also check out the pet shop, Fish and Cheep's!).


photo link

The Met Foods/Ratner's site is located in the Saul Birns Building, seen in the photo below as the big, white building with many windows, bookended by Fillmore East and little Moishe's Bakery. Saul Birns, also known as Saul Birnzweig, ran the Atlantic Talking Machine Company where he sold record players, many in the shape of baby grand pianos.

He was indicted in 1915 as a "phonograph swindler" for running a fraudulent mail order scheme that, according to the Times, "promised foreigners an opportunity of hearing their native songs produced on a talking machine, which would be sent them on free trial." But after Mr. Birns got his deposit money, he would pull a switcheroo, sending a cheap phonograph to the foreigners instead of the quality machine he'd promised. The Saul Birns Building is now part of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.


photo link and click for close up

But back to Ratner's of 2nd Ave and the question of why it's been mostly forgotten and was it connected to the Delancey place.

It was owned by Abraham Harmatz, who died on May 29, 1974, the very day after his landmark dairy restaurant closed. In the Times article it says that "Ratner's had been a Second Avenue fixture for more than 50 years, a gastronomic diadem in the crown of what years ago was called the Jewish Rialto." It also states that "it is not connected" with the one on Delancey, "although they share common ancestors and have been run by different branches of the same family."

The first Ratner's opened on Pitt Street in 1908 under brothers Jacob and Harry Harmatz and brother-in-law Alex Ratner. Ratner left the shop and "The brothers went their separate ways as the business expanded" -- Jacob opened the Delancey Ratner's in 1918 (yes, this year would have been its 100th birthday, had it survived hipsterification) and Harry went to 2nd Ave around the same time. Harry begat Abraham, cousin to Jacob's son Harold who continued to run the Delancey location and who considered reopening the 2nd Ave site after Abraham's death, but this did not come to fruition.


Ratner's Delancey, similar neon typeface

In the extensive 2004 obit for Harold Harmatz, there is no mention of uncle Harry, after whom Harold was clearly named. It says only that father Jacob opened the Delancey place with brother-in-law Alex Ratner. Even in a correction at the end, the Times says they omitted other co-owners, some Zankel brothers, but again where's uncle Harry? This Wikipedia article also omits him.

So there is a mystery within this mystery. What does it mean that Jacob and Harry went their separate ways? Why has Harry and Abraham's 2nd Ave Ratner's been, in some weird way, stricken from history? I have to wonder, did they have a rift much like the Manganaros? If it was a family feud, the Delancey branch definitely won the claim to Ratner's fame.

Other than photographs, the only concrete evidence we have of Harry and Abraham's 2nd Ave restaurant is that R embedded in the floor of Met Foods.

57 comments:

ShatteredMonocle said...

Excellent job here. I love the Tony Marciante photos. Especially the last one in the fire series with the woman comforting a distraught parrot.

ev grieve said...

Bravo, Jeremiah. Excellent stuff.
I'm curious about the brothers now too.

Karate Boogaloo said...

Fantastic post Jeremiah. I sent it to a friend whose father worked at Ratners although I'm not sure which location.

- Tim (Stupefaction)

Anonymous said...

On the next block was Rappoports, also dairy and my grandfather's favorite. A victim of the 60's...sigh.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks everybody--i am rather in love with this story, too--if you do know anyone who can shed light on the Harmatz brothers and their story, please do let me know.

Anonymous said...

This was fascinating! But do you think that in the future, people will write and readers will be fascinated by the stories of Trump et al who managed to destroy NYC? Will the short fingered vulgarians and their starchitectural combovers leave histories to merit any interest by the golden children of the future?

Joshua said...

I myself have always thought that the period we're living in now (roughly 1999-to ?) will be of great histoical and sociological interest to future generations. Whether this interest will take the form of fawning admiration (as I'm sure the yunnie and his parents imagine it will) is somewhat more up in the air. ;)

In regards to the photos of Ratner's, isn't it a shame that locating photos of a decades-old neighborhood fixture is so difficult? To me, this really says a lot about the importance of photographic documentation. I'd recommend that everyone who can ought to take photos of the ordinary things they like in this city, especially now that personal cameras are so widespread, as the yunnie's flip-flopped footprint can come down hard on a neighborhood without very much advanced notice.

kingofnycabbies said...

I wonder if this 1969 fire was the same one which saw a plainsclothes cop take the stage at the Fillmore to clear the place out while the Who were premiering "Tommy" to American audiences. Seeing an interloper onstage, Pete Townshend reacted with his usual sang froid by kicking him in the balls (this was the same year he pounded Abbie Hoffman into the crowd at Woodstock with his guitar), and was arrested. He later pleaded to a lesser charge.

Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that the 2nd Ave Ratner's was not a step child of the "survivor" on Delancey Street. When my father was night manager from the late
50's until closing, the 2nd Avenue Ratner's did much better business than Delancey Street! And my father stocked the Fillmore's mezzanine food concession with Ratner's baked delicacies. (Ratner's free standing bakery was located a few doors north on 2nd Avenue). I became a "gansa macher" in the music industry and Bill Graham always referred to me as "Sam Jaffe's son," as if I never had a first name, no matter how many times we came in contact.

Jeremiah Moss said...

hey "sam jaffe's son," thanks for the insider info! feel free to share more. and what do you think, why the weird omission of harry and abraham in ratner's history?

BaHa said...

I'm glad, Jeremiah, that we were both right!

Jeremiah Moss said...

thank you baha--i wouldn't have done that research without your query!

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah-
I don't know anything about the Harmatz family history other than the two branches of the family which separately owned both Ratner's did not speak to each other- right up to the very end.
Let me refer you to the photo book "Live at The Fillmore East" by Amalie R. Rothschild (c) 1999)Page 133 for a picture of the Fillmore Crew having breakfast at Ratner's 2nd Avenue at 5AM (Date unknown). My father is standing in the center nearest the bus boy. Page 125 also features a great elongated photo of 2nd avenue between 6th & 7th Streets showing The Fillmore, Ratner's, and The Dry Dock Savings Bank.
-Sam Jaffe's Son

BaHa said...

I wonder if the 2nd Avenue Ratner's was a deli, as opposed to the dairy restaurant on Delancey. Any idea?

Anonymous said...

Wow this is one of the best posts so far! I love the depth of the research and the conjectures - it's great to follow your mind down this path. And it seems like others are digging it too:

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2008/04/state_senators_theyre_just_lik.html

Thanks also to the more eloquent "Anonymous" for the first person insights and clarifications.

Anonymous said...

My father proposed to my mother in the Ratner's on Delancey--back in 1952.
So without Ratner's...where would I be? Thank you for writing this!

BaHa said...

I could've saved everyone a lot of trouble if I had knocked off John Sexton when he was the debate coach at my high school...

Anonymous said...

Moishes bakery next door

Anonymous said...

Moshies bakery used to be called Ratners bakery when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely phenomenal research. You should write a book. (But don't sell it at Barnes & Noble...gotta keep them in the suburbs!)

Anonymous said...

I used to live in the EV in the late 60s and to us hippies, who, in those days, never went as far as Delancey, and hardly south of Houston, Ratners on 2nd was THE Ratners.

I never even knew there was a Delancey Ratner's until I passed it in the 70s.

Ratner's on Second was, I believe, a dairy restaurant, as was Rappaport's, and, indeed, there as a Ratner's bakery next door.

Ratners on Second used to stay open quite late, say, midnight, maybe even beyond on weekends.

Anonymous said...

What is now Moishe's Bakery next door to the 2nd Ave Ratner's was indeed still Ratner's Bakery when I moved to the area in 77. It was Ratner's for 10-15 more years, I think. As Moishe's it has changed little from its Ratners days.

Jeff said...

Hi..nice post.

Abraham Harmatz, owner of the 2nd Avenue Ratner's (yes it did exist! heheh) was my grandfather. I was about 3 yrs old when he died, but I do have vague memories of him and the restaurant and have some pictures of he and I together. His wife Mildred (my grandmother) was a very good artist. Many of her paintings adorn my home.

Anyway, I'm not sure of the story regarding Ratner's and the two branches of the family...I always had the inclination to visit the Delancey street location to meet my cousins, but never did.

I will ask my mother about this...maybe she or my aunt can shed some light on things. I'll try to post here soon when I find out.

Jeremiah Moss said...

jeff, wow--thanks for writing in. the internet is both good and bad, but this is its major good point, connecting strangers in surprising ways. we'd love to hear from you about this "story of two ratners."

maybe best to email me offline at jeremoss(at)yahoo(dot)(com) so we can put together a follow up story.

marylea said...

Your blog is full of interesting stuff. I'm late commenting on this but wanted to tell you I made a link to this entry on my flickr pic of the Saul Birns Building. Yours was the best and easiest info I could find about it.

Julie said...

Hi Jerimiah,
I am looking for a Carol Ratner. Anyone know if there was any connection? Born in early 1940's. Alex Ratner could have been her brother maybe?
Julie

Tom Panelas said...

Wonderful post, great research, great storytelling.

I wonder the same thing as kingofnycabbies. I was there at the Fillmore the night of that fire that cut short the Who concert and caused Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend to get arrested. It was in May 1969, that much I remember. I can't imagine there were two fires that same year around the Fillmore.

The scene on the stage that night was chaotic to those of us in the audience. Only when I read the paper the next day did I learn that the suit that the Who frontmen had unceremoniously yanked from the stage was a plainclothes NYC cop who had not IDed himself and was barking orders into the mike for people to leave. Fearing a panic, the guys pulled him out of there. Bill Graham then came onstage and calmly announced the evacuation. It was orderly, and I credit him for keeping things under control.

I didn't realize that the two Ratner's were separate -- or maybe I did and just forgot. I do remember the one on Delancey closing about 1974. The one on 2nd Ave. was still open, I think, when I left New York in 1976.

That's everything I know.

Lynn said...

Wow, what nostalgia. Ratners, both the dairy restaurant and bakery (both on Second Ave.) were part of my childhood. Just thinking about the luscious onion rolls makes my mouth water. And the dairy restaurant was Yiddish creative gourmet.Lynn

Anonymous said...

I am very pleased by this rare Second Avenue Ratner's citing. I'm a nephew of Irving Harmatz, Abe Harmatz's brother.

First of all there were three Second Avenue Ratner's properties. The Dairy Restaurant at 111 Second Avenue, a Cafeteria down the block and a Bakery were my aunt Eva Harmatz (who was married to Irving Harmatz) slaved for the tyrannical Abe Harmatz. Abe was a lawyer and not the sole owner of Ratner's Second Avenue. Ownership was equally shared by his brother, my uncle Irving Harmatz, and their four sisters, Ceil, Sadie, Esther and Rose. After the death of my Uncle Irving in 1965, Abe slowly took control of the business. When Abe passed away in '74 he made certain that not one of his sister's would be able to carry on the family's Second Avenue venues.

Ironically, '74 was the exact time that the much smaller Delancey Street Ratner's started to toot it's horn. First with a Ratner's cook book, which was published only a view months after Abe's death. In the preface of this book there is no mentioned of the Second Avenue Ratner's. Surprise of all surprises! The Delancey Street also licensed the Ratner's name to several frozen foods items, including the Blintzes and Mushroom Barley Soup which I believe are still available in most supermarkets.

Seeing the "R" in the floor of the Met's Supermarket has brought back so many fond memories of years past. Thank's to the author of this Blog for correcting a bit of NYC's lost history.

And Jeff, if you're reading this I would love to have a discussion with you about our mutual family history.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Ratners, for writing in. it's great to hear about the history of this classic spot. i hope you guys can re-connect.

Jeff said...

Julie, my mother (2nd Ave. Ratner's - Abe's daughter) is named Carol, she was born in 1943. But her last name was Harmatz, not Ratner...not sure if this is who you mean? If so I can help you get in touch if you want.

Nephew of Irving: If you are reading this, one thing I am curious about, is you described my grandfather Abe as "tryannical"...I'm surprised by that as I only heard how kind and generous a man he was (to a fault some might say). Regardless, I'd be happy to hear from you to further explore our family history!

Jeremiah, I know we emailed back and forth before...I apologize for not following up...but I now have posession of some related pictures/articles and other stuff that might be of interest to you and others. Contact me and I'll see what we migth be able to do for a new story or update etc.

FYI - I created a new email under my grandfather's name so anyone who wishes to do so can email me here: abeharmatz@yahoo.com

-Jeff

Patricia Kennealy Morrison said...

That Who concert at the Fillmore East was not the premiere of "Tommy", but juat a Who concert. And the fire was next door in the Lion supermarket, which was the corner storefront on 6th and 2nd, subsequently infested a series of unsuccessful restaurants.

Ah, Ratner's...my husband and I were particularly partial to the strawberry shortcake and mile-high chocolate cream pie. We'd go there for dessert after dinner at the Second Avenue Deli. Though he only played the Fillmore East one weekend...he had this band called the Doors.

Jeremiah Moss said...

patricia, thanks for writing. i'd love to talk with you about your memories of Ratner's. can't find your email--would you write me at jeremoss (at) yahoo (dot com)?

caryn said...

...and this is why you win awards. This is simply outstanding work.

Jack Womack said...

I can vouch that Ratner's on 2nd was a dairy restaurant, as I have a 1970 menu (dated; a new one was run off every morning, looks like) -- all the expected delights listed, cold schav, "bowl of [sour]cream, protose steak [which was a mixture made of nuts etc.],nesselrode pie...and prices are considerably less than today, needless to say.

Jeremiah Moss said...

jack, any chance you can scan that classic menu and send it my way?

BabyDave said...

Jeremiah, this truly is a fine post, still drawing comments nearly a year and a half later! Bravo, indeed.

Theodore said...

Any ideas where the original Ratner's was on Pitt Street?

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I am relative of Louis Zankel and I must say there is much to be said about the Zankel involvement and maybe a little bit more research needs to be done! I also must say that almost all articles have omitted their involvement and it is very sad.

Laurie K. said...

Hi there,
I am trying to find a Yemeni (Yemenite?) jeweler who used to have a small shop on 2nd avenue during the 1980's. He was known as Ruzi. My brother and his then fiance had matching rings made by Ruzi. He was really special to them both. Now 30 years later her ring was stolen from their Seattle home during a robbery. Wondering if anyone knows about Ruzi's whereabouts or what happened to his shop.

Laurie K.

Richard said...

Wow, What a great series of posts. I just moved back to New York after being gone for 38 years. I googled Ratners to see if it still existed and this blog is what I found. As sad as I am to find out that Ratners is long gone I smiled as I read these posts. So much familiarity in the scenes, the memories, and the people.

My father had a fruit and vegetable store on the lower east side. Smilin' Jacks on Ave. C and 10th Street. Anyone remember it? What a crazy neighborhood. Alan Ginsburg lived around the corner and I have a newspaper picture of him and my grandfather outside the store. The Fugs all lived on that same block and Tuli used to give me signed copies of their albums.

I too was at that Who concert shortened by the fire. Now I hate to cause some disagreement but it was in fact the Tommy premier. It was the day the album was released. And what a concert it was.

The neighborhood, the Fillmore and Ratners included, was such a part of my growing up. Coming back here feels a little lonely. Not only because I know so few people but because so much of what I remember is gone. Reading these memories sure helped brighten my Sunday. Thank you all who contributed. And I hope the families got back into communication.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Richard, and welcome back. it must be a total shock to see it after 38 years.

Anonymous said...

I'm the great granddaughter of the owner of the 2nd Avenue Ratner's.

cbr1047 said...

So I'm posting a comment to a three year old post about RATNER's Restaurant....if I write this will it be read? Who knows. I'm betting that some day someone will. I'm actually searching for the last remaining Harmatz family members - Fred and Robert - to determine whether they have a photograph that was in the upstairs office of the Delancey Street restaurant. It was taken early in the 20th century, maybe 1920 or thereabouts, and includes my grandfather, who worked for many years as the Head Counterman, developing recipes and preparing the food. Sometime in the late 1990s, my mother & I ate at the restaurant and the then owner - perhaps Harry Harmatz (?) acknowledged the photo was upstairs but the place was too packed for him to check. I know it's now 2011 - time flies - but you never know!

lauren said...

i lived across the street from "ratners". great food. but i preferred "B&H dairy". its ironic but i lived there from august 1968 to july 1970, during art school. i never went to into the "filmore east'. except once, when someone gave me free tickets to see the "kinks". and thats the "filmore" photo you featured!

Joe Duquette said...

Due to TV having taken over every playhouse, hotel, warehouse and loft anywhere around the theatre district, on October 9th, 1957, rehearsals began for the original Broadway production of The Music Man with Robert Preston in the third floor studio of 111 2nd Avenue and the whole family of cast and crew members ate daily in Ratner’s downstairs whose unique waiters were comforting – understanding of what actors went through in the formative phase of a Broadway show. (from the book “But He Doesn’t Know The Territory” by Meredith Willson, writer and composer of “The Music Man”) With all the rich multi-genred theatrical history of this building, if only these walls could speak…

Michael Grenadier said...

What a great story. I used to work at the St Marks Cinema in the early 70's while an NYU film student and would often land up at the Second Avenue Ratners after closing the theater at 1 in the morning or so. Loved the bananas and sour cream and the onion rolls with sweet butter. Not to mention the scene.

rsnk said...

Hi,

My grandmother worked at one of the Ratner's delis as a cashier in the 1930's. I found a picture of her with other restaurant employees from that time, so I suspect it could have been taken in Ratner's. I would like to share the picture with anyone interested especially if they can identify whether it is Ratner's or not. Please email me at rsnkrupp (at) gmail dot com, and I will send you the picture. Thanks.
Rebecca

jm said...

In the early 70s used to take regular 2 AM walks with my friends from Avenue B to 2nd Avenue Ratners (or Gem's Spa; if we were out we might end up in Chinatown at Lin's Garden or Wo Hop) in the early 1970s. Especially remember the sang froid of what I recall as long time Jewish waiters in the face of a clientele of drag queens and others who I suspect must have seemed to be quite different from that of the older days. Strikes me that in a nightlife oriented city like NY these days I've at times had to struggle to find someplace to get a bite at mid-night (though there are late night halal trucks in my neighborhood).

John DeAngelis said...

You can briefly see the exterior of the 2nd Ave. Ratners in an episode of the "Naked City" television series called "The Face Of The Enemy" at the 19 min, 53 sec. mark. At the time (the early 1960s), the theatre that became the Fillmore was called the Central Plaza. The episode is available on DVD as part of a "Best of Naked City" set. Every episode in the series has some great exterior shots of New York City.

Anonymous said...

FROM cbr1047:
I see mostly older postings related to RATNER's, but want to update my previous post. I'd be very interested in communicating with any relatives of the original owners - Harmatz or Ratner - and especially seeing any old (old) photos of employees. As I noted earlier, my maternal grandfather was a Head Counterman at Ratner's Restaurant early in the 21st century, developing recipes and cooking. Ironically, his daughter (my mother) eventually met and married a Ratner (my father) who I believe is unrelated to the original owners. My dad would occasionally work at the restaurant as a 2nd job. (cbr1047)

Polecat41 said...

I was happy to find this blog on Ratner's Bakery. I grew up on St. Marks Place as a youngster in the early 1950s (I'm now living in the Chicago area). I have very fond memories of Ratners. I used to be an altar boy at St. Stanilaus Church on 7th St. when I was about 9 years old. I had to stop at Ratner's after 7AM mass & buy Kaiser rolls for the nuns & jelly rolls for me & my parents. I also remember the delicious crusty rye & Italian bread at Ratners. Over the years, I've never found anything that compared with the tasty baked goods at Ratners & I've lived in 6 states since leaving NYC - nothing comes close!

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, I am the great, great granddaughter of the mysterious Harry Harmatz you write about in this post - quite an interesting article!

Anonymous said...

Laurie K,

The jewelry shop you speak of was owned by my cousin -- Joe Ruzi. Unfortunately he has been gone for quite awhile and I never had the chance to meet him but his wife still lives above the former shop location.

Nice to hear he made such an impression on you and the family.

Bill Reed said...

Before the Fillmore was there, the Central Plaza was NOT. Instead, it was the Loew's East. I seem to recall that there was SOME business immediately to the north of the Fillmore and then there was Ratner's. Since both the address of Ratner's and Central Plaza are listed as being at 111 2nd Avenue, my guess is that Central Plaza was upstairs from Ratner's. Address of Fillmore was 105 2nd Ave, so it makes some numerical sense that there was a building twixt Ratner's and the Fillmore. One thing is for certain. If you went for a job interview as a waiter at Ratner's and if you could smile, you weren't hired. The wait crew seemed to be in a competition to see who could the grouchiest (what is the Yiddish word for cranky?). It was actually worth the price of admission is was soooo hilarious. A running gag. And the food was out of this world. Then north of Ratner's was Gems Spa (mags, egg creams). Might still be there. Then at 2nd and 12th (?) there was a neighborhood mov
ie theater that we used to go to so often that we called it "the projection room." And then. . ..

Anonymous said...

I wound up on this site by
accident and was fascinated by it!I was born and grew up across the street from Ratner's Second Avenue. Firstly, until the mid 50's, Ratner's was located in the (smaller) corner peoperty at E. 6th and 2nd, next to the Loew's Commodore movie theater (which became the Fillmore East). At that time they relocated to 111 which, along with the store next door (1 door north)-- the Dry Dock Savings Bank-- had been the old Saul Birns appliance store. Central Plaza was upstairs-- it was an old catering venue and later became used for rehearsals for Broadway and TV shows. We ate in Ratner's a lot and often took out food to eat in our kitchen. I remember that the restaurant used to get their fish fresh from Fanny Miller's fish market on First Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets. Ratner's Bake Shop, a few doors up the block-- next to Auster's candy store/luncheonette (the inventors of the egg cream)-- was the best. Their cakes, pastries and rolls were baked there; but their breads were brought in from Pechter's ( a fact not everyone knew). My father had business dealings with both Ratner restaurants/ both branches of the Harmatz family. He knew them all very well. The fare in both the Second Avenue and Delancey St. restaurants was virtually identical-- though most people had their personal favorite. Since they closed-- Second Avenue first and Delancey St. years later-- there has been a void which can never be filled. East Side Len

Ted Ostrow said...

My wedding cake, a Ratner's strawberry short cake, came from 2nd Ave. in 1963. I also miss Star Butter & Eggs on 2nd.