By now you all know that the great Prime Burger closed last week after 47 years in business (74 if you count its days as Hamburg Heaven). I went in on its final weekend for a last supper.
The place was bustling, with lots of people taking pictures and saying goodbye to the waiters and to the DiMiceli family, owners of the place. Many of the waiters have been there for decades. They expected to stay for decades longer. (Watch this lovely, heartbreaking film.)
I was lucky to get a booth with the signature swiveling, faux-bois table that always makes me feel like a kid in a high chair. Adding to that effect, the food comes on small, beige, unbreakable Melamine plates.
Admittedly, the burger and fries really aren't special--it's the place that's special. That was special.
It's the look of the place, unchanged since the early 1960s, the people, and the feeling you get from it all. The feeling you got--and won't get ever again. It was a feeling of permanence, of continuity through time, a sense of being part of the city's history, connected to the people of the past--and of the future. When a place has been around this long, it's natural to expect it will last forever.
I think of these lines from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry":
"It avails not, neither time or place—distance avails not;
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence;
I project myself--also I return--I am with you, and know how it is."
The wonderful clock, I was told by Mr. DiMiceli, is going with them when (if) they find a new spot, but the conical ceiling lamps have been sold, and the Times reported that those one-of-a-kind booths "may have been too well installed to allow removal. 'We’d like to take the seats,' Mr. DiMiceli said, 'but the guys I talked to said that taking them apart would probably destroy them.'"
It sounds like a metaphor for Prime Burger itself, and for so many places that have vanished from the city. Pushed out of their decades-long spots, they try to survive in a new location, only to falter. Too well installed to allow for removal, taking them apart simply destroys them.
Prime Burger 2008