Last week we learned that the original Junior's in Brooklyn is selling its iconic and beloved two-story building to the developers of a high-rise luxury tower.
The Junior's building, with all of its flashy and fantastic classic details, will be demolished. During construction, the 64-year-old restaurant will relocate, and then they hope to move back in to the new tower's first floor--though there's no guarantee.
“The only thing for certain in life is death and taxes, right?” the broker told the Daily News. “It’s our objective to move back in.”
As the news spread, people across the city panicked, causing a run on Junior's cheesecake. “We literally had to cut cheesecakes quicker because people were buying them with a fervor...,” third-generation owner Alan Rosen told the Times. “People were under the impression we were closing, that we’re closing imminently. It was like a cheesecake panic.”
1958, photo via Brooklyn Historical Society
Junior's has been partially destroyed before. A fire swept through the building in 1981 (onlookers watching the firefighters shouted "Save the cheesecake!"). After the blaze, parts of the exterior were "modernized" and an enclosed sidewalk cafe was added, but much of the place remained the same. (Minus the second-floor Albee Square bowling alley, lost somewhere along the line.)
The restaurant stands on the corner of DeKalb and Flatbush like a proud ship, an analog clock mounted at its prow, flanked by the outlines of martini glasses. Golden lightbulbs flash the word COCKTAILS like champagne fizz. A scrim of steam fogs the bakery windows, providing a peek-a-boo curtain through which voyeurs gaze upon cheesecakes and impossibly oversized lemon meringue pies.
Inside it's all orange and gold, with curved banquettes and a U-shaped counter with swivel stools. Couples, families, friends, whole basketball teams crowd the tables, which are further crowded with piles of pickles, cole slaw, and beets, plus a platter of sweet, pliant cornbread--all before your order actually arrives. The waiters are experts at the art of packing an overloaded tabletop.
The sandwiches come stabbed with plastic cocktail swords (remember those?).
Framed on the walls it's the Dodgers, Barbra Streisand, Tony Danza, Eddie Murphy. Throughout the meal, ceiling speakers play Ella and Billie, Sinatra and Darin, the sort of music that doesn't force you out, but makes you stay, wanting only to linger over lunch, and then another cup of coffee, and then a slice of pie.
It's hard to imagine Junior's staying at all the same once it's swallowed up in a dead glass box. It's hard to imagine this warm, gentle feeling can be replicated inside a sterile luxury tower.
During a recent lunch, a woman sat at the table next to mine. On the other side of 50, with a Caribbean island accent, she was dining alone, unaccompanied by any electronic devices. We talked a bit about the coming demolition.
She said, "This city is changing too much. It's always changing, here and there, but now it's too much, too fast. I come back to Brooklyn--I used to live here, but I moved to Queens--and I get off the train, and everything is different. Everything! Usually, one thing or another is different, but now? My eyes, my brain..." She wiggled her fingers over her eyes, signifying confusion, disorientation. "It's Brooklyn, but I don't know where I am!"
When Junior's is gone, even if it "returns," it won't be the same. And Brooklyn will have lost another important landmark.
1. a prominent or conspicuous object on land that serves as a guide, especially to ships at sea or to travelers on a road.