Thursday, July 15, 2010


By now, you may have heard that the Fedora restaurant will be closing on July 25 and that it will be renovated and turned into a "casual elegant supper club” by successful restaurateur Gabe Stulman, who spoke of his intentions to "keep most of the cherished design details, along with the name, of the restaurant intact."

Grub Street reports that Stulman said he will "restore Fedora to what it looked like in the thirties and forties." But Fedora didn't open until 1952.

Still, as Grub Street said, "fauxstalgia joints are tres chic these days," referring to a recent New York Times piece about how "a pride of reincarnated restaurants," including the Minetta Tavern and Waverly Inn, have helped turn the Village into "a theme park of the past" complete with "a vision of a lost bohemian New York--albeit with a well-heeled clientele and prices to match."

Will this be another example of theme-parking the past? We've seen it happen not only to restaurants but to Vesuvio Bakery and CBGB. More and more, beloved icons of the city are getting their guts ripped out for revamping, given over to the wealthy, made exclusive, though the husks are kept intact for the cultural cachet they bring to the new owners, who pride themselves on their dedication to preservation, and receive praise for saving the old holes in the wall from turning into banks.

The history at Fedora is significant. On the walls are photos of the men, mostly gay men of the Stonewall era, who made Fedora their home away from home.

It's the "closest thing I know to going home to Mom, especially if Mom had a sense of camp," said one regular to the Times in 1992.

In 1999, the Times described it perfectly: "Walk into Fedora Restaurant on any given night, for example, and you enter another era. Faded pictures recall bygone days when gay men packed the place on West Fourth Street with laughter, song and the camaraderie that comes from being in a refuge from a hostile world. Today, fewer of the regulars from those days stop in. But there are those who still do, gentlemen of a certain age, some with ascots and walking sticks. Others pop in only occasionally, for nostalgia's sake."

Those of us who are homesick for the old city do need refuge from what has become a hostile world. Fedora is such a refuge--from the cell-phone sleepwalkers, the frat-boy tag teams, the screaming sororities.

What will it be when it becomes the New Faux-dora?
Whose home will it be then?

all photos, my flickr

Read my past Fedora coverage:
Fedora Returns
Fedora's Last Days


Caleo said...

Jeremiah, normally I always agree with your assessment of the situation.
But in this case Fedora herself apparently picked Stulman to continue the space. She asked family members and no one was interested. She feels Stulman will remain true to the original.
Of course it won't be the exact space, and we can only hope he keeps his word,but Fedora hand picked this guy, and you can't ask for more than that.

Jeremiah Moss said...

it's a tough question, for sure. Eater, in their link to this post, asked:

"If someone new is going to take a dead restaurant over regardless, isn't it better that it's someone who wants to keep the bones? Or do the neighborhood nostalgists simply see this just as pillaging and profiteering, something operators are doing because the old fashioned look is trendy right now?"

Before you answer, take a walk into the Minetta Tavern. Or recall the Beatrice Inn. This stuff is happening in a larger context--it's not just isolated Fedora. That's the issue, for me.

Mark said...

Thank you for the pic of the Oscar's sugar bowl, one of the many items of pleasure I've enjoyed at Fedora's.

The bowls are seconds from Oscar's Salt of the Sea, a wonderful restaurant on Third Avenue and 63rd Street, long gone. Barbra Streisand lived in the tenement above the restaurant before she made it on Broadway.
It was a great place, with Irish waitresses in uniform and Oscar himself, dressed all in black, greeting his customers and sharing a drink with them.

My Mom dated Oscar, way back in the the 60's. We were regulars well before that.

Years ago, I spied the sugar bowls at Fedora and marvelled at what a small, small world it is.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Mark, i love you. i wondered what the Oscar's label was all about, and then there you are with an amazing, multi-branching story about them. thank you.

Anonymous said...

I have to correct some errors in the posts. The sugar bowls are from Delmonico's as are the plates on the wall. Fedora was Mary Tucci's closest friend since birth..they are both from Montecatini... and both Henry and Fedora worked at Delmonico's. Oscar Tucci owned Delmonico's and the Oscar referred to is him. Mary used to give Fedora the china when Delmonico's changed theirs. You could eat off of Delmonico's plates at Fedora but, alas, most are broken

The restaurant was originally opened as Charlie's Garden when it ceased to be an unnamed speakeasy. It remains virtually intact from 1919 and that's what Gabe is referring to. Among its patrons in that incarnation were Mayor Jimmy Walker, Gloria Swanson, Stan Laurel, George and Ira Gershwin and heavy weight champion Gene Tunney who was a neighborhood boy and a close friend of the original Charles Dorato. The bar was put in in 1919 by Charles Dorato. Gabe's correct, you're wrong. Most of the features predate the present Fedora and he will be referring to its entire history as his guide.

People are often telling me that I need to write a book about the place and I guess that I do since so many people get the facts wrong.

Jeremiah Moss said...

well, whoever you are, Anon, i hope you do write a book, as you seem to know quite a bit. thanks for sharing it here.

Caleo said...

Jeremiah, I understand where you're coming from, and under most circumstances would never trust a new tenant to keep any promises, as has happened with other famed establishments.
But I repeat, Fedora hand picked this guy. That's about the best you can hope for in a situation like this.
Of course, only time will tell what will become of the place.
But the fact that Gabe has her blessing, as well as the fact her son works above the space itself thus lending some continued authenticity, bodes well for the continuation of the bar.
I wish some of the old regulars from it's days as a speakeasy were still around.
They probably bitched about how it would never be the same again.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Caleo, i hope you're right. i hope that everyone who loves this place today can go in to the new place, enjoy it, and feel right at home.

maybe i am not an optimist, but i do have hope.

EV Grieve said...

Interesting... often I struggle with...Would you rather the new owners give the joint a 180-degree gut job so that it was unrecognizable? Would that be less painful? Rather than little hints of the old place? Do I really want to, say, remember Gino by seeing a swatch of zebras imprisoned in a chain froyo shop?

Anonymous said...

Gabe will be referencing its entire history, not the brief speakeasy days.

The bar and some of the old iron table bases go back to the speakeasy days and they will remain. Much of the memorabilia will also stay. He plans to retain the tin ceiling and walls, I believe.

I don't know what you mean by faux...what is practical to keep will remain and that does not include the outdated kitchen, the air conditioner etc. Things do evolve... Fedora could not run it as she used to. Frankly, if Henry had not died, he would have persuaded her to sell long ago.

She is 89 and has two great-granddaughters that she would like to spend some time with. She's entitled to do that. Gabe took the spot because he loves the place and its history. So let's see how it all works out.

Anonymous said...

By the way, it's not the same situation as either Minetta or Beatrice. 239 West 4th Street has been owned by the same family for all these years and will continue to be so. The Cardias sold the Beatrice building to Bob Rinaolo of Senor Swanky and Garage fame.

Sneakeater said...

This is why I lose sympathy with you nostaligists, even though I share your impulses.

To hear you all talk, you'd think Fedora is being forced out of business. She's voluntarily closing. Because she's NINTEY YEARS OLD.

You guys make like you oppose these rapacious unnecessary changes motivated solely by greed. But this case shows what you're REALLY against: the passage of time.

Will it be harder for her regular clientele to get into Gabe's new place? Almost certainly. Will they feel less comfortable when they're there? For sure. But there's nothing to be done about it. Fedora can't keep working forever, and the place HAS to change under a new owner -- just like it changed under Fedora.

You can moan all you want. But you can't fight that.

Caleo said...

I don't necessarily believe it will be harder for current patrons' to get in.
Remember, Fedora was impressed by Gabe's sincerity. I'm sure part of it was keeping the place affordable and accessible.
If this was a situation in which Fedora was being forced out I'd be upset. But that's hardly the case here.
She has done more for the soul of the village than any of us ever will, and deserves to retire in peace.

Anonymous said...

The best "makeover" has to be Buffa's little "renovation" that resulted in Delicatessen. All that stuff about John Buffa being involved and the renovation being "just an upgrade" and so on was crap to avoid, say, getting turned down for a liquor license or a sidewalk cafe. Hey, the new owners said, come on, Johnnie's involved, it's gonna be just like Buffa's but classier. Yeah. Right. Unless the whole place is a laundry--a real possibility, of course, given the number of those nearby--the ploy to "involve" John Buffa and be cool to the neighborhood, etc. looks mostly like a scam to avoid scrutiny and pay John and his family with "shared ownership" instead of, oh, cash. Yeah, John was getting old and, yeah, Buffa's wasn't going to last too long but the new owners shouldn't have gotten away with swindling the neighborhood by using Buffa's good name.

Mark said...

In reference to Sneakeater's comment:

"Will it be harder for her regular clientele to get into Gabe's new place? Almost certainly. Will they feel less comfortable when they're there? For sure. But there's nothing to be done about it".

Exactly! Thank you for making your point so succinctly:

Here's your hat! What's your hurry?

Don't let the door hit you on the way out!

Ah well, I'm sorry we were in your way. Hope you have as nice a time as we did!

Sneakeater said...

Mark, I in no way intended to be mean.

Plenty of places where I've been a regular have closed and been replaced by places I didn't find as welcoming. It just happens. I regretfully move on.

You don't have a lifetime right to your hangouts.

Anonymous said...

i try to stop by fedora every so often. the last time i was there, a few weeks ago, i spoke to her about it. she had just decided that she 'wasn't comfortable' with the waverly inn crowd taking over, even though she had considered it. I think that's a very good thing. the lesser of two evils, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

One week left. Just go and have dinner there. I did. Salad with Russian dressing. Chicken Parm. Chianti. Banana cream pie. Espresso. Banana Cream Pie was the first dessert she made in 1952. Enjoy it while you can. Fedora is there. Say hi.

Anonymous said...

Awhile ago when I came across a story about Fedora being ill, I was surprised that she and the place were both even still going. Whenever I dropped in on your blog I checked to see if anything was happening with Fedora's. It was one of the "in" places I was taken to when I came to NYC in 1959, and for that reason - and the gracious lady - it held a special place in my heart during the forty years I lived in Manhattan. Sorry to hear the news. A lot of memories in that place for many, many people

Chester the Dog said...

Her family still owns the building, and her son is one floor above. There will still be a watchful eye over the place

Charlie said...

I hope they continue Fedora's pies. The whole menu should stay the same actually.

And the specials should be hand printed on sheets of paper taped to the walls.

Gloria Swanson ate there! I never realized I was in the presence of royalty.