Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Junior's

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.



Landmark
noun
1. a prominent or conspicuous object on land that serves as a guide, especially to ships at sea or to travelers on a road.

13 comments:

Ivan said...

The food at Junior's is not that good. Even the cheesecake, which is definitely above average, is not worth making the trip for. What made Junior's special is the decor and clientele. Without that, why bother going? I always used the side entrance, never the main door.

Ultimately it doesn't matter. As long as guidebooks and rags like TimeOut continue to promote it, gullible tourists will still flock to it. Cupcake anyone?

marjorie said...

it's sad anytime something iconic goes away. but in all honesty, junior's cheesecakes have sucked for years. i was given one for my birthday last month and it was too sweet, gummy, fake-tasting, unpleasant texture. (veniero's cheesecake, both cream cheese and ricotta versions, has stood the test of time.) whatever soul junior's had vanished long ago.

Anonymous said...

I hate this city.

79rigid said...

That building is so great just to look at,let alone eat the great food available inside.It will be missed.

Anonymous said...

guess now we know how the Native Americans felt...

Anonymous said...

This makes me really sad. A huge piece of history gone. Junior's has the best atmosphere, the best waiters, and great food. It was like you stepped back in time walking in there.

laura r. said...

were there other "JR's" besides this one? we used to go there after the friday night dance in 1962. i cant imagine we drove all the way to dekalb avenue, as that wasnt a good area. i wonder, was there a "JR's" near kings highway? somehow in my memories i think we drove south rather than north. could that have been wolfies?

Anonymous said...

They own the building and they are selling it? This isn't the same as a long term business that gets kicked out due to a massive rent hike. This is the owners of Junior's being greedy SOBs. Screw Juniors, if they don't want to exist anymore, I don't want them either.

Instructor said...

The food at Junior's long ago stopped being interesting or delicious. In some regards this makes it OK to say goodbye. Otherwise, the gentrification, if one wants to call it that, of Brooklyn will continue as more and more formerly middleclass families realize they cannot afford to ever live in Manhattan, nor the surrounding suburbs do to the cost of doing so. Too bad that much of America is going through such transformation -- that of the super wealthy sanitizing the hubs while the rest of the population struggles to pay off exhorbitant student loans, medical costs, housing, etc.

Elwood D Pennypacker said...

I have to say this is one time that my outrage is mitigated. This is definitely a choice of the owners. it is, food-wise, not exactly a culinary loss. The thing we're lamenting is the aesthetic. The exterior marquee and the branding of the place inside - and it's connections to Brooklyn iconography - that's something to be missed. The fact that it will be replaced by a presumably ugly building is really the only true outrage.

The bigger story never really discussed anywhere is the bipolar nature of Downtown Brooklyn. But I think I know why:

It's not an example of gentrification, the wrong kind, pushing out working class Brooklyn. It's the unsexy story of replacing one kind of devil with another. Unlike establishments and architectures in other neighborhoods that we cherish that are being lost to the current trends of crap and soulless rich people, Downtown Brooklyn is a clash of Dickensian proportions -

Homeless and drug addicts and uneducated welfare populations smashed right up against the most expensive restaurant in Brooklyn and ridiculous condos and high rises. Fulton Street - gaudy, tacky, ugly pawn shops and sneaker stores and gamer stores where people who can't afford much and don't believe in savings, put all their worth and money into meaningless material possessions to show off to their equally underprivileged neighbors ans friends. And what is that culture and lifestyle and economic reality facing? Gaudy, corporate slicksterism that took the life out of Manhattan and other parts of Brooklyn.

That's the real story of what's going on behind the end of Junior's. Maybe the owners got tired of facing the Parole Office. Now some corporate power broker can face it. A place they should wind up at some day. Or worse - get inspiration to open a lounge named after being imprisoned - just like the one in the boutique hotel that faces the Correctional Facility on Atlantic Ave and Smith St. THAT's today's Downtown Brooklyn in a nutshell.

Anonymous said...

...stuff like this happens all the time, like when Gage and Tollner disappeared ten years ago...

Remember the remains of Luchow's on 14th Street?

laura r. said...

anon 9:37pm, the owners of JRs have right to sell. why are they greedy? they have a right to sell their property. the world is not about you. its called america, they made their $ honestly & want to cash in. stalin would be proud, why dont you give him a call?

Anonymous said...

I have stuffed myself at Junior's many times since the 1980's and particularly in more recent years when I worked nearby. The brisket sandwich , my favorite...great NYC cheesecake and my other favorite the yellow cake with chocolate icing. Put on many unwanted pounds. This is criminal.