Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cafe Edison

VANISHING

Drop a bomb on Times Square. It's over. The Cafe Edison is being evicted -- denied a lease renewal and thus forced out by the Edison Hotel after 34 years.



The last real coffee shop left in the neighborhood, it's an absolute oasis in an otherwise miserable part of town. Located in the Edison Hotel since 1980, it's also known as the Polish Tea Room, a place to get an affordable meal of matzoh ball soup, brisket, a bagel. It's long been a favorite hangout for the theater crowd, cops, blue-collar workers, even magicians.

I talked this morning to Conrad Strohl, the cafe's manager, who was in the middle of a bustling breakfast rush. The Edison does good business. Conrad told me the closing is for sure, the Hotel Edison is not renewing the cafe's lease.

"They don't want us here," he told me. 

He expects the cafe will be there for at least another month. They're looking to relocate. But how can you relocate perfection? The place looks like no other, with walls painted pink and baby blue over frothy plaster angels and scrollwork--it's like dining inside a big wedding cake. I love this place. Many, many New Yorkers love this place.



When longtime owner Harry Edelstein died in 2009, Broadway dimmed the lights of its marquees in tribute.

The Times wrote of Cafe Edison: "The playwright August Wilson wrote notes for three of his scripts on Cafe Edison napkins. [Neil] Simon’s 2001 comedy, '45 Seconds From Broadway,' was a sentimental display of his affection for the restaurant. 'There is something magical about this place,' he said, sitting there in 2001."

New York magazine called it "a New York institution."



So how can it be evicted?

It seems like the Edison Hotel is cleaning house. In 2010, they got rid of the original Rum House bar, after 37 years in business. Last year, they evicted Sofia's Italian restaurant after 35 years.

At the time, I wrote, "If they take away Cafe Edison, I may have no choice but to turn to homicide." So who do we have to kill to keep the Cafe Edison right where it is?

51 comments:

Joe said...

This is a disaster for those of us who work in the Times Square area. One of the truly affordable places for theatre folk and tourists alike, its demise is unfathomably awful. Just like the rest of the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

We have been planning a move back to NY after 5 + years away. The more I read and hear makes me think we should reconsider.

Anonymous said...

THIS IS THE WORST NEWS EVER! Why would someone do this to us? What's next, the starlite deli? BRING BACK THE REAL NY.

Anonymous said...

I open your blog every morning with cringing trepidation as to which cherished part of my life has come to expire today! Yet, I always peek. I must know. And sometimes it really hurts. But I will continue to look. I can't look away, as if NY is becoming that proverbial train wreck - each car gone off the track leaves skid marks on my heart. Good by Café Edison. :(

Anonymous said...

This is not OK. Oh please make this not happen. I was a regular when working in theater and went back recently and was still like home.

Anonymous said...

The service in that hotel is so bad that the hotel should be evicted and leave the cafe alone! Bastards!

Anonymous said...

I worked the front desk of the Edison in the 90s. Harry used to feed me omlettes and, at Passover, matzah brei. I think of him often. As I do with anybody who feeds me.

Jeremiah Moss said...

You're right, Anon, it is one big train wreck that never ends. This one is killing me.

Anonymous said...

Another example of the Disneyfying of New York City. Breaks my heart. All the character is going out the window. :(

Anonymous said...

This one is particularly hard to take. It's such a gathering place for the theatre community. I always see people I know there. I have stopped off there for a bowl of their amazing matzoh ball soup on literally hundreds of occasions over the past 25 yrs. Clearly, the Edison isn't really interested in being a part of the theatre community.

Anonymous said...

ah-men!

Stephen Rourke said...

It's been going on for decades. It started with the loss of the Morosco and Helen Hayes Theaters, and now it's latest victim is the Edison Cafe. This is worse than a disgrace. If it weren't for the theaters Equity thought to save, Times Square would look like anywhere, and I wouldn't give a damn about ever seeing it. Our society's talent for cutting its own throat never ceases to amaze me ... or repulse me.

Anonymous said...

New York City does NOT care about things like this anymore. This is just a continuation of the slow death of a really amazing city.

T.E. Rinaldi said...

Another especially sucky awful one. There is, at least, one other good coffee shop off Times Square - the Evergreen, on 47th. But the Edison is a really special place...

Doug Lucas said...

I can't believe this!
#KeepCafeEdison

Gil Roth said...

If you want an idea of the audio-ambience, I recorded a podcast with Josh Alan Friedman in the Cafe Edison earlier this year: http://chimeraobscura.com/vm/podcast-crackers-and-bagels

rernyc@gmail.com said...

I've been away for a couple years...in LA (I know, I know) planning my return...somehow...amid all the bad news and fear of costs. Lamenting why I gave up my apartment. I've taken the news of each horrific loss with a grain of salt...saying it will take a lot more to get me to turn my back on my beloved city. Those who really know NYC will always have the NYC that will always remain the reality based circus we adore. This, however...THIS...is a shot across the bows, IMO. I just don't understand...but I guess that's why I'm broke. I anthropomorphize buildings and attach to its inhabitants. The brusque but sweet waitresses...the times I took my leftovers to a show, stinking up the joint with wafts of Edison potato pancakes. Yes "gentrification" is happening everywhere...but if NYC loses its unique grit to plasticine politeness...I'm at a loss for words. Should I bother to come home and enjoy the last vestiges of the NYC I adore so much? Or stay in LA where some of this nonsense is actually working for a city that ignored and torn down its history...as well as a great many New Yorkers in my hood. Tons, and more New York plates arrive everyday. Things were changing before I left, but this last year alone...FFS. Tragic.

Kayla Cagan said...

Total freaking bummer. I loved that place. I hate reading this, but thank you for sharing the news.

Harvey Sabinson said...

First the Republican landslide and now this?
I ate lunch there almost every day and the Edelsteins felt like family to me. Now it's all gone and New York is becoming Cleveland.

Anonymous said...

Another aspect of the elimination of NYC bookstores, neighborhood shops or iconic restaurants, etc is the “political” aspect – the destruction of spaces, accessible to all, where people could interact (and theoretically could share ideas.) These spaces are now converted for use only for specific demographics – suburban-reared frat folks or hipsters , the very wealthy and tourists – and anyone else is unwelcome.

One can almost imagine former Bloomberg aide Dan Doctoroff scheming to destroy a certain political ethos by eliminating the ability to congregate, isolating people in a space-starved city.

Anonymous said...

One more Ghost in the Theatre District. Breaking my heart!!!

Anonymous said...

One of the chief delights of my yearly trips to New York is the
Polish Tea Room at the Edison.
To call it an Institution doesn't
begin to express the affection and history this place has. It
was bad enough when we lost the
Algonquin's Oak Room and those
theaters in the 80s. Do the
clueless idiots who make these
decision realize THEY ARE KILLING THE NEW YORK EXPERIENCE>

Anonymous said...

Let's see: the Algonquin gutted, Lincoln Center's Beaumont stays empty six months of the year, and now the loss of the Polish Tea
Room.

Jackie Gleason used to say, "Take It Away!" I NOW believe he was talking about what NY is doing to itself.

Bill Walters said...

http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=12916

Todd Sokolove said...

This really is sad. Truly the end of Times Square, as it was the final nail for me.

Anonymous said...

I really hope they turn it into a bank. Or a drug store. Because there needs to be at least three banks and three drug stores on every street in order for me to function properly. Otherwise how will I survive life??!

Anonymous said...

I'm a theatre professional who has been going to The Polish Tea Room since the late 80's, and this depresses me to no end. Such a shame. They had the best matzo ball soup in town. Yes, old NYC is vanishing. I was also taken aback when I realized that the bike shop in Hell's Kitchen had become a Keihl's…as if we need another one of those! The yuppies in that area can't walk across town like we used to? Thanks, Bloomberg, you elitist, 1% A-hole; you did this to our city.

Anonymous said...

I can't say I'm entirely bummed about this one. The last time I ate there, there was a massive roach in my tuna sandwich. The staff was completely unperturbed and they charged me for the pleasure. Never went back and I've been working in Times Square for 20 years.

Tamsen Ellen said...

there's a Change.org petition. Only 400 signers right now!! https://www.change.org/p/richard-hotter-save-the-cafe-edison

Natalie Guevara said...

Hi readers of this fantastic site,

I'm trying to find a talented graphic designer who would be willing to design graphics for a limited-run of pins and tees to support the Edison. If anyone knows someone, please get in touch!

natalie [dot] guevara [at] gmail [dot] com

THANKS!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, we all ate there all the time, but come on! The place was an unacceptable filthy mess with that nasty lady seating people and a staff that had pretty much thrown in the towel ages ago. Life goes on, The Polish Tea room doesn't.

colter rule said...

The EDISON ? Sure. Bye. It was THE Actor Hangout over the last 84 years. Brando and Dean when young actors needed a place to land. The Edison Coffee Shop was their legendary haunt. Showgirls, bit players, wanna be's, lowlifes, gansters. This place was total lo rent. For a nickel you could get a cup of bad coffee and hang out on a cold winter starving actor day back in the 50's waiting for your agent to call. Careers were launched here. Nobody seems to know this. I DO ! American Ignoramoes. You don't know NUTHIN' ! Sad.

James said...

I kind of saw this coming - as long as fifteen years ago. I'm amazed the Edison held out against the plastic, any-homogeneous-thing-for-top-tourist-dollar trends rolling through the district. All that is very hard to stop, even for a colorful, characterful anomaly in the form of a cafe with high molded ceilings and what we used to call atmosphere. Must pay one last visit. Angry, but what can I do?

Sybil Bruncheon said...

After the disastrous election this past week, how can any of us be surprised by the 1%/landlord/trust fund/derivatives dealing class being remotely interested in an eccentric, creative, or entrepreneurial NYC? They come to the city for it's "charm" and obliterate it within a minutes.... like a giant baby in a soiled diaper screaming, drooling, and trampling a garden of wildflowers while its parents (Bloomberg and Giuliani, or the Koch Brothers!) smile approvingly! Look what the rich did to Greenwich Village...and Bleecker Street! This city is finished...unless of course you like living in a suburban mall....

Anonymous said...

I still am awaiting my first trip to NYC, but get more depressed each time I read your blog about the continued loss of 'character'. It makes me so mad to see all the unique restaurants, bars, shops, and sights being turned into landfill as fast as corporate greed can get their hands on the property.

Welcome to GENERICA.

I hope to get there before everything I have ever seen about NYC is gone.

Jackie said...

I was just there last night for dinner, and there was no indication they were about to close. I'm really devastated. I'm living in NYC my whole life, and I know things have to change now and then, but I don't like how they are changing. For the first time ever, I think about leaving NY.

10e said...

Harvey - so that's where you went to lunch every day while we watched soaps upstairs! Tenney

Jason said...

We're up to 1,751 signatures on the petition. We're going to need a lot more than that to get the hotel management's attention.

I realize this is an uphill (and most likely futile) battle, but we can't let this one go without a fight. If nothing else, at least the staff will know what the they and the Cafe Edison has meant to so many of us.

Thanks for all your signatures!!

https://www.change.org/p/richard-hotter-save-the-cafe-edison#

Richard Federico said...

As I keep trying to explain to people, its not that NYC is changing as it has always been a changing city, it's how NYC is changing this time. This time it is not a natural progression as I feel everything needs to be. Why do I feel this way? because natural progression ensures the business model is built on solid trending behaviors and habits. This business model is more home spun and more likely to be owned by local interests who were part of the changing trend. When this happens the city continues to feel colloquial, like your unique home with all the quirks and culture still flowing through. natural evolution is not happening anymore, it is now by corporate design and is a tail waging the dog scenario. The Corporations force out honest mom and pops who were doing just fine serving the communities needs and then force the community to buy into their version of utopia. Again, this is not normal and is why the city feels so foreign and generic at the same time. This is just another example of corporate privilege and greed running a muck and unchecked. When it fails, and it will, NYC will see the worst days it has ever seen as the corporations will bail leaving the city blighted and citizens to foot the bill once again. New York, the greatest city in the world is now New York, the greatest Mall in America!!! Hurray!!!!

marilyn stasio said...

Harvey Sabinson? A fixture at the Edison and, indeed, in the theater district.

marilyn stasio

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I do not see what all of the fuss is about. I went to a Five Napkin Burger for dinner last night, and it was perfectly fine. I bet you could barely distinguish it from these so-called beloved institutions. Restaurants go in and out of business all of the time. You've failed to make the case that what is happening now is any different or "sinister" compared to the change that has always happened in the city.

Barry said...

What timing!!! I play Mickey Fox in Neil Simon's "45 Seconds From Broadway" that takes place in The Polish Tea Room! Now playing at the Little Firehouse Theater in Oradell, NJ. What a coincidence that the real Polish Tea Room is closing at this time. We've been playing for 2 weeks to sold out audiences and have 2 more weekends to go and those shows are also (just about) sold out. Our set designer was faithful to the look of the original restaurant, and our entire cast is incredible!
Here's a link to a review of our show.
http://www.midbergen.com/index.php?module=News&func=display&sid=191

Jeremiah Moss said...

If you can't tell the difference between Cafe Edison and a fucking 5 Napkin Burger, there's no hope.

2:32 p.m. said...

Since 11-7/12:21 p.m. did not get a chance to read the links that JM provided, here are a couple of quotes:
"...the burgers were dry; and the pancakes were pathetic. ... None of this matters, though. Café Edison was not about its food. The place was all about the place. Because Café Edison was for people, not tourists. Actors, writers, critics, reporters, stagehands, theater nerds, Viacom employees, and just good, old-fashioned, cheap New Yorkers all ate here. We hung out in the only unpretentious, inexpensive, non-chain restaurant in Times Square "
-- Julie Klausner

"The Polish Tea Room, as it came to be called, was one of the last refuges, a real place for actual New Yorkers to escape the tourists and ugliness of the area."
and -- Martha Plimpton

Cafe Edison isn't been waiting for those that Taylor Swift welcomes.

John K said...

It's about GREED GREED GREED. Arcadia Realty and its ilk don't care about the "real New York" or authenticity or small businesses or the unique social ecology that has existed and developed here.

ALL THEY CARE ABOUT IS MONEY.

That's what's leading to this ongoing nightmarish transformation of Manhattan and increasingly Brooklyn and Jersey City into a giant, urban suburban-lite mall.

MONEY. GREED. MORE MORE. MORE GREED. MORE MONEY. And on and on, like a monstrous ourobouros of hypergentrification.

People have urged Mayor DeBlasio to step in, the City Council to act. They should. But they are all beholden to these wealthy forces who control everything. Nevertheless, we have to speak out, to protest, to not give up. Because it won't just get worse, but it'll accelerate even more.

And to think, only a few years ago, had only 40,000 more people voted against Bloomberg, we might have been able to arrest this process or at least slow it down, and the same is true with the most recent election, in which a corporate champion returned to Albany, and the best friends the gentrifiers could ask for are filling the State House. Voting matters. It really does.

Richard Federico said...

To Anonymous who claims 5 Napkin Burger is perfectly fine, I say you are perfectly right and at the same time missing the point. Nobody says these corporate chains aren't perfectly fine as that's what they are designed to be. From the reviews I read of the 5 napkin Burger the company seems to be doing a good job. But I can get a 5 Napkin Burger experience in suburbia! Why on earth would I come to the great city of New York to get a perfectly fine and predictable experience? Why spend so much for this unique-less privilege when I can get it someplace else and without the crowds of anonymous tourists who just want to throw money at a brand they recognize. Let me go out on a limb here and say that Applebees is just fine and the Lion King is awesome! OK, what did that say about NYC and particularly the closing of the Edison cafe?... Nothing other than I like my experiences predictable, pre-packaged and globally ubiquitous. Sorry, but the New York City I grew up in was never a "just fine" city, and that was just fine with me!

Anonymous said...

My first time at the Edison was in college. My girlfriend and I wanted a break from school so we went home to NYC, but stayed at the Edison. Loved the sex, hated the hotel. The next morning, we stumbled into the Edison Cafe. That was almost 25 years ago and its been my lunch temple ever since. I've never had a bad meal there and anyone who I've brought as a guest instantly became a devotee. It's just not right. F the Edison Hotel.

Anonymous said...

There was a poster who wrote earlier that he had left NYC for LA and was thinking of coming back and wondering if he should... I keep thinking about his post. Sad to say, my gut reaction is no, he shouldn't come back. Not if he is expecting to see the city he loved because a lot of it is gone. The character of the city has changed so much in just the last decade. What do other people think? Should he try to get back in or will he be disappointed?

Anonymous said...

I'm originally from NYC and lived in LA for several years before I moved back. I wonder if this person is serious? Go spend some time in LA. A city full of strip malls and cars and parking lots and jammed freeways. LA is incredibly park poor and overrun with homeless- there are roughly 65,000 street people (no city shelters there) and the city allows them to sleep every night on the cracked filthy sidewalks which are impassable for the wheelchair bound. Of course LA is too broke to fix anything. Should I mention the epic drought and that LA/Phoenix/Vegas and the surrounding areas are in serious trouble? As in running out of water trouble? Its the slow motion apocalypse. Do you love chains? That's pretty much what LA has. There are 7-11s EVERYWHERE. And few pedestrians.
I moved back because I missed walking around and going to bodegas and nice parks and having subways and museums and pizza spots and bars that stay open until 4am. Good luck eating late in LA. Its an early to bed kinda town. Oh and do you speak Spanish? You might want to learn it if you plan to live there. Go look and see how many jobs in LA "prefer" bilingual candidates. And buy a car you like as you will be in it a lot. And you wont meet people after work for a bite because you all live and work in different areas and the traffic is so bad you just drive home at night. in NYC my friends and I all work in Manhattan so we can meet up and take the subways home. Cant do that in LA because you gotta drive EVERYWHERE.I could go on and on. I moved home and am happier for it. I missed rain and winter and Coney Island and the macys thanksgiving parade and the xmas displays and central park and the mermaid parade and Washington square. Ill stop now.

laura r. said...

now since you voted in your leftwing communist liar mayor, i see nothing has changed. they are all the same, servers to corporate interests. when a lease is up what happends?? a chain moves in, & pays 300% the same rent. what if the business is slow they dont make a profit? its just a write off. between the investors skyscapers (the huge buildings usually empty), & corp stores....where's the love? as horrible as bloomburg was @least he had some safety laws. in general mostly all these politicians serve the same master. NY is sounding so americana these days.......whats next for edsion, a yogart place?

Melinda Barker said...

You must visit cafe Edison if you have money and time to spend in NYC. It is an amazing place. Me and my husband we were staying at Edison. We booked with this site and grabbed a really nice deal for the room and we spend a lot of time there. They have lovely breakfast and they make the perfect cup of coffee.