Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bella's Luncheonette

I've written here before about the feelings I have (and had) for Elizabeth Street. In this post about the street's massive hyper-gentrification, I mentioned the closure of Bella's luncheonette and its 1998 transformation to Cafe Habana as a watershed moment.

From my stash of non-digital photos, these are the only shots I ever took of Bella's, both from the exterior.

The ghost of the HOME COOKING sign remains today, but the rest is gone. "Drink Coca-Cola" and "BELLAS COFFEE SHOP" have vanished.

I wish I had pictures of the interior. I remember a counter with swivel stools and a clock on the wall that advertised St. Joseph aspirin.

I remember sitting at the window eating a cheeseburger after walking back from the 1996 Yankees victory parade and seeing Jim Jarmusch walk by--an event which was, in some ways, more exciting than the Yankees parade.


Prince Language said...

You can see shots of the interior in Julian Schnabel's film "Basquiat", specifically in the scene where the painter tries to woo one of the waitresses (who eventually becomes his girlfriend).

The film is a little questionable in it's depiction of Basquiat as permanently-stoned, near-savant; he was the former, admittedly, but he was also a pretty brilliant and calculating artist who knew exactly what he was doing in relation to art history. Regardless, I think it's a pretty good documentation of early 80s downtown NY in both appearance and flavor.

Anonymous said...

This is a nice post. I give you a lot of crap, but this is nice.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Anon. i wish i knew which Anon you were--many Anons give me lots of crap.

and thanks J--i will check out the movie. never did get around the seeing it.

JaneDoe said...

If I am not mistaken, the signage on Bella's was a bit ersatz. I know the owner of Habana, Sean, and when he was opening it, he told me that the signage was painted in that old-fashioned style for one of Scorcese's Godfather movies a decade or two earlier.

I remember him also saying that the butcher shop across Elizabeth and one or two other stores on that corner were similarly painted to make them look old for the film. I believe that signage has also been removed.

Actually, the first nail on the coffin was hit about two years earlier when Sean and his then-partner Sammy opened Rialto further up at around 285 Elizabeth, the first 'trendy' hipster restaurant in Little Italy, (I refuse to call it NoLIta, then, and now).

Anyway, I organized a meeting of the locals to see if they objected to granting a liquor license to Rialto restaurant. Only 2 or 3 attended despite my postering dozens of buildings. So it opened. Rialto was a success. A couple restaurants more followed.

Sean and Sammy split and he opened Habana, a real shit show of posers currently, and the rest of the decay is apparent.

So, if the neighbors fought harder, things may have been different today.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks for the inside info, janedoe. the whole thing about ersatz "ghost signs" made for movies is fascinating. there are many instances of this, where we're left with this simulation of the old, forget it's a simulation, and have a real experience of it being truly old.

anyway, someone should collect those examples somewhere.

Robert said...

In the late 80's I'd go to Bella's for lunch quite often - because we had to eat good, cheap food, but equally to see Adele, the lovely little blonde lady who worked there. She was absolutely amazing in that she knew each person's name in the party (or quickly learned it) and 9 times out of 10 knew your regular order. She was a fantastic gem of a human being, and one of the main things that made Bella's so special.

Anonymous said...

There are several scenes featuring Bella's Luncheonette (inside and out) throughout the 1971 movie "Who Killed Mary Whats'ername?" (aka Death of a Hooker).

The movie's set in Mulberry St and a place called Larry's Bar also features prominently. Lots of great street scenes of that area.

I'm from the UK and I've only ever been to NYC 4 times (including just a couple of weeks ago), but I love how your city looks in the movies from the late 60s to the early 80s. I still get a huge kick simply walking around all parts of town even though I'm always hearing the glory days have gone...

Anyway, love the site and looking forward to my next visit...

Bob Bourne said...

It is the focal point of the great 1971 Ernie Pintoff film Who Killed Mary Whats 'rename.