As we lose bits and pieces of the city, they sometimes resurrect unexpectedly in movies and books. It's always a thrill to be so taken by surprise. Enjoying Paul Auster's new novel, Sunset Park, I was happy to find Joe Jr.'s, the diner on the corner of 12th St and 6th Ave that closed in July 2009 after a passionate neighborhood battle to keep it alive.
As his character Morris Heller sits in the diner, Auster writes:
"Joe Junior's is a small place, a simple, down-at-the-heels neighborhood joint featuring a curved Formica counter with chrome trim, eight swivel stools, three tables by the window in front, and four booths along the northern wall. The food is ordinary at best, the standard greasy-spoon fare of two dozen breakfast combinations, grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches, tuna fish salads, hamburgers, hot open turkey sandwiches, and fried onion rings.
He has never sampled the onion rings, but legend has it that one of the old regulars, Carlton Rabb, now deceased, was so enamored of them that he added a clause to his will stipulating that an order of Joe Junior's fried onion rings be smuggled into his coffin before his body was laid to rest.
Morris is fully aware of Joe Junior's shortcomings as a dining establishment, but among its advantages are the total absence of music, the chance to eavesdrop on stimulating, often hilarious conversations, the broad spectrum of its clientele (from homeless beggars to wealthy home owners), and, most important, the role it plays in his memory."
Recent news tells us that South American "coffee connoisseur" Fernando Aciar is moving into the Joe Jr.'s space with something called O Café. Grub Street describes it as "more green than greasy spoon, incorporating reclaimed materials, recycled lamps, and LED lights."
The cafe is co-owned by real-estate developer Jeffrey Sitt. According to Sitt's site, the partners were "Determined to bring the authentic taste of South America to the states," so "they engendered an unprecedented line of branded coffee, organically grown and imported from Brazil. An expert in the field, Aciar hand selected the superior grade beans from each unique region of the country, while Jeffrey secured financing and space for the premier O Café shop."
Sitt is known for, in his bio's words, "gutting, renovating and ultimately condoing and renting residential spaces from Staten Island to Hoboken and various localities in between." Projects he's involved with include The Bridges and 99 Gold in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn, and some controversial, historically significant warehouses in Wallabout.
That "broad spectrum of clientele" that Auster writes about in his novel--it's vanishing. The spectrum is getting narrower and narrower, wherever you go. I often wonder: In my old age, will I even find a single place like Joe Jr's, where there is no throbbing music overhead, where I can eavesdrop on stimulating conversations while enjoying a plate of ordinary food? Or will it all be gone? And if so, what then?
Said John Waters of Joe Jr's to Gothamist, "It was my favorite neighborhood coffee shop and I'm mad that it's gone and I put a curse on the owner." In the future, such curses may be all we will have.
Read more on Joe Jr's:
Save Joe Jr's
Last Supper at Joe's
Join the Friends of Joe Jr's on Facebook