Monday, June 4, 2012

Prime Burger


By now you all know that the great Prime Burger closed last week after 47 years in business (74 if you count its days as Hamburg Heaven). I went in on its final weekend for a last supper.

The place was bustling, with lots of people taking pictures and saying goodbye to the waiters and to the DiMiceli family, owners of the place. Many of the waiters have been there for decades. They expected to stay for decades longer. (Watch this lovely, heartbreaking film.)

I was lucky to get a booth with the signature swiveling, faux-bois table that always makes me feel like a kid in a high chair. Adding to that effect, the food comes on small, beige, unbreakable Melamine plates.

Admittedly, the burger and fries really aren't special--it's the place that's special. That was special.

It's the look of the place, unchanged since the early 1960s, the people, and the feeling you get from it all. The feeling you got--and won't get ever again. It was a feeling of permanence, of continuity through time, a sense of being part of the city's history, connected to the people of the past--and of the future. When a place has been around this long, it's natural to expect it will last forever.

I think of these lines from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry":

"It avails not, neither time or place—distance avails not;
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence;
I project myself--also I return--I am with you, and know how it is."

The wonderful clock, I was told by Mr. DiMiceli, is going with them when (if) they find a new spot, but the conical ceiling lamps have been sold, and the Times reported that those one-of-a-kind booths "may have been too well installed to allow removal. 'We’d like to take the seats,' Mr. DiMiceli said, 'but the guys I talked to said that taking them apart would probably destroy them.'"

It sounds like a metaphor for Prime Burger itself, and for so many places that have vanished from the city. Pushed out of their decades-long spots, they try to survive in a new location, only to falter. Too well installed to allow for removal, taking them apart simply destroys them.

Prime Burger 2008


JAZ said...

It truly is a beatiful metaphor for what is going on with these places. It kinda reminds me of the posters I'd stick on my wall as a kid; when the tape wore off, the tape would easily slide off the poster, but when I wanted that piece of wall for something else, and I'd pull the fresh tape off, it would resist, with fragments of wall paint in the tape, and when I'd take the tape off the poster, it would rip the paper, destroying the poster.

These hyper-escalations of rents that are intended to force out stable business tenants that have been a reliable source of monthly income for the landlord for years and years (and years), are now being prematurely ripped off the wall, replaced by either an empty storefront prepared for "development", or the hip flavor of the month which will not be there in 10 years, let alone 40 or 50.

Thank god this blog exists, for about a million reasons too numerous to list - Any thoughts about another interview with Neil Smith?

James C. Taylor said...

My last experience at Prime Burger sounds very similar. I arrived around six on its last Friday evening. The place was packed but I snook into a swivel-table seat. They always remind me of chairs with a mini flip-desk, the kind you find in mid-century college lecture theaters. Took some photos, ate my burger (medium-rare), washed it down with an egg cream and got out of there. Didn't want to stick around delaying the inevitable.

Dave - Everywhere said...

Although I generally agree with the sentiments expressed by Jeremiah and others on thie blog, I'd like to take a moment to play devil's advocate regarding changes in the local scenery.

We spend a lot of time lamenting the vanishing of old landmarks and favorite places but do we truly want this city (or any city for that matter) to never change? Many years ago when I used to travel extensively for business, my travels tooks me to northern Italy in the vicinity of Venice. I mentioned to my host that I was excited to have the opportunity to visit Venice and see all the sights I had read about and seen only in pictures.

His comment to me was "It's a dead city - nothing every changes. Nothing new is allowed so the feeling is that you're wandering around in a museum that happens to have residents on premises".

My question is this - do we run the risk of making NY a museum of the past if we can't accept change? For my part, I'm divided on this but I would be interested in the thoughts of others.

Marty Wombacher said...

"Too well installed to allow for removal, taking them apart simply destroys them."

Perfect last line for this post.

@Dave - Everywhere: I think part of the sadness of places like this closing is what goes up in its place. Things like 7-Elevens, Subways, T.G.I. Fridays and generic places that are turning this city into one big boring mall.

Anonymous said...

The Primeburger was special and cannot be replaced.

Goodbye, Artie. Many thanks.

What will replace it? Guess it will be something that meets with Nanny Bloomberg's approval.

Amy said...

that clock image is positively haunting...