Monday, November 27, 2017

Friedman's at the Edison

The fifth location of Friedman's has now opened in the space that long held the beloved Cafe Edison, which was forced to close in 2014 after decades in business.

The new restaurant announced its opening on Facebook a couple of weeks ago: "FRIEDMAN'S @ Edison has officially opened and we are super excited !!😊" Plus the hashtags: #eatgoodfood #mindfuleating #farmtotable #friedmansnyc #glutenfreee #celiacsafe #fall #edisonhotel #nowopen #2017 #goodvibesonly #dinner #breakfast #lunch #brunchnyc

Reluctantly, I went to see what had become of the wonderful Cafe Edison, the place we fought so hard to save -- and lost.

A sign at the door of Friedman's read: "A little taste of the farm for the big city." (See: The Wisconsinization of New York.) Already, everything was off.

Through the entrance, no more Betty at her cluttered cash register surrounded by signs that read, "No Large Luggage" and "Cash Only" and "If you are grouchy or just plain mean, there will be a $10 charge for putting up with you."

At Friedman's, all the character has been stripped away.

The dusty old chandeliers have been ripped out. The counter is gone. The giddy pink and powder-blue walls and columns have been painted beige. And beige. Two shades of beige.

As Rem Koolhaas wrote of The Generic City, "Close your eyes and imagine an explosion of beige."

At Friedman's, you don't have to close your eyes to imagine. The place has a beige personality--nice and neutral, completely inoffensive.

The water comes in a glass bottle that says, "Inspired Living." The music is as innocuous as muzak, but up to date, all soft jazzy hip-hoppy sounds, including a re-mix of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," that iconic rock poem of transsexuality and prostitution, the stuff of old Times Square, now stripped of its language.

I forced myself to try the matzo ball soup, a staple of the old Cafe Edison. It tasted good, but so what? I missed the way the bowls of soup used to come crashing from the noisy kitchen behind the counter. I missed the counter and its swivel stools, its trays of glazed doughnuts under cloudy plastic domes.

I missed the people who used to sit on those stools and lean in over those bowls of soup, tossing their neckties over their shoulders, getting their eyeglasses steamed.

And I missed the brusque waitresses with their accents and post-middle age exhaustion. The ones at Friedman's are deferential, soft-spoken, and youthful. All perfectly nice.

Everything at Friedman's is nice.


Once again, New York has sold its soul for nice. In its restaurants, it has traded character and history for food that tastes clean and new. For a frictionless experience that neither agitates nor inspires.

In the 2000s, New York was remade into a city that caters to consumers. The Bloomberg Way, as urbanist Julian Brash has written, was "a notion of governance in which the city is run like a corporation. The mayor is the CEO, the businesses are clients, citizens are consumers, and the city itself is a product that’s branded and marketed." That product must be inoffensive, made beige and nice, so as not to disrupt or displease the average consumer.

This approach to city life comes from the radical free-market capitalist ethos of neoliberalism. Milton Friedman, the economist who helped popularize neoliberalism, once said, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." In other words, you can't tax businesses to pay for public services. Which brings us to the current federal tax plan of today.

It also brings us back to Friedman's restaurant, which was named after Milton Friedman and not after a Jewish family and their matzo ball soup. There was a Jewish family running the Cafe Edison for decades. They made good soup. They didn't worry about creating a beige experience. They were loved by many and they are missed.


Read all about the closure of Cafe Edison and the fight to save it.


Scout said...

Ate there the other day; the food tasted much better than the Edison's, was much lighter on the salt and oil, and the floors and tables were clean. As a 40+-year New Yorker, I liked it.

James said...

As we feared, though pathetically without the actual passionate act of throwing out the diner for a "table cloth" restaurant with a "name" chef (understanding, of course, that chefs generally have names). There might have been a point to that progression. I would suggest that management, in a classic tale of power and control, needed to throw out the imperfect sui generis diner for a fictitious one of its own, with prices belonging, instead, to this century. The idea of throwing out the counter is the most telling sign that management doesn't want anything communal, as if the old restaurant had been Blacklisted and now needed to show its fealty to unremarkable business practices. Now there will be tables where everyone can see one another but no one can either hide or mingle. This is death by committee, death by vanity, death by greed. Amen.

Unknown said...

I will never set foot in this restaurant. It is a "Disney" version of New York ethic food. Go to Katz's or Eisenberg's return for a New York experience. But I will never forgive this hotel and owner for its treatment of the family business that was the Edison Cafe. I am the host of the Magic Table that met in the Edison Cafe for over 25 years. We are at the Times Square Diner and very happy there.

samadamsthedog said...

I frequented (or should I say occasioned) the Edison for breakfast or lunch, since I worked a block or so away. Just for nostalgia's sake. The food was god-awful. I probably came back for the same reasons (into which we need not go) that you miss it.

On a good day you might spot an unemployed actor sitting in the corner of the deserted dining room, and on an exceptional day two of them sharing a table; their misery complemented by their reflection in the watery soup.

I'm rather fond of beige, though Friedman's doesn't appeal, and I'm not a fan of Milton, except in his early, New-Deal days. But please get him right. He was the archetype of a neoconservative. Which demonstrates that "neoliberalism" isn't really a thing; but you knew that, right?

And "There's no such thing as a free lunch" does not, and never has, meant that "you can't tax businesses to pay for public services". It means that if you're eating lunch, someone is paying for it. It's still a vacuous assertion, because (1) it's obvious; and (2) it is indeed "free" to those who don't have to pay. But please get it right. Even Friedman's voucher plan uses government funds (i.e., taxation, including tax on business) to fund education. He was for "free education", whatever else you may think about vouchers.

Unknown said...

The last time I went to Edison, I sat at the counter and ordered a cup of matzo ball soup and a liverwurst on rye, mustard and onion. The soup arrived and was fine. The sandwich arrived and was clearly all wrong. I said to the counterman: 'Are you sure this is my sandwich?' Without looking, he snapped 'Of course it is'. I said 'this looks like ham and cheese'. He said, again without looking, 'It's the same price....

Marcia Bricker Halperin said...

Well written lament!

What a shame I never photographed at the Cafe Edison. If your readers want a moment to get away from the new and unimproved beige city please refer them to my photographs of cafeterias most recently seen on Mashable's Retronaut at

John K said...

@samadamsthedog, Jeremiah is correct about Milton Friedman and neoliberalism. In fact, Friedman famously wrote a paper on this very topic all the way back in 1951. In fact, he named "neoliberalism" and refined it as a mode of economics and politics after its principles had originated with Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek in Austria. He also advocated the imposition of neoliberal principles in Chile after General Pinochet had overthrown Salvador Allende. Another refugee, German Leo Strauss, who taught for years at the University of Chicago, is the founder of neoconservatism.

To Jeremiah's original post, I imagine the chain's food is better than the old Café Edison, but it has completely lost its soul. That's an incalculable loss.

samadamsthedog said...

@John K, Not. The following consists of quotes from the Wikipedia article, with my comments in [brackets].

English-speakers have used the term "neoliberalism" since the start of the 20th century with different meanings. [So it's not a thing.]

In the decades that followed [the 1930's], the use of the term "neoliberal" tended to refer to theories which diverged from the more laissez-faire doctrine of classical liberalism, and which promoted instead a market economy under the guidance and rules of a strong state, [So it was used as to describe the basis of today's European economy, often termed "socialist." That economy is not really socialist, but at least socialism is a thing, because there are real socialists who call themselves socialists and tell you what they believe. This is actually the sense in which Friedman used the term in his 1951 essay, before he went off the deep end. By the time of Pinochet, its meaning had changed.]

When the term re-appeared in the 1930s in connection with Augusto Pinochet's economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted. It had not only become a term with negative connotations employed principally by critics of market reform, but it also had shifted in meaning from a moderate form of liberalism to a more radical and laissez-faire capitalist set of ideas. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economists Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan, along with politicians and policy-makers such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan. [Exactly the opposite meaning of the previous usage, so again, it's not a thing. The purely economic view that is used in this paragraph is the economic policy of neoconservatism, but neoconservatism adds a "liberal" social policy (anti-racism, and tolerance of homosexuality, for example) and a conservative foreign policy (more statist than internationalist, for example).]

[But the part of the previous paragraph most relevant to current usage is "It had not only become a term with negative connotations employed principally by critics of market reform, but it also had shifted in meaning from a moderate form of liberalism to a more radical and laissez-faire capitalist set of ideas." In fact, it is now just a dirty word that those on the left use to describe those liberals who are not radical enough for their taste. You know, like Hillary Clinton. There is no neoliberal movement populated by people who use the term. It's just a a word you throw at the people you don't like. Which makes sense, because it's meant so many things, why not use it in a way that means nothing? So again, it's not a thing. Contrast with neoconservatism, which is a thing, because there are people who call themselves neoconservatives and they are quite happy to tell you what they believe.]

John K said...

Dear @samadamsthebear, thanks for the Wikipedia quotations and your emendations. But I sent you the link directly to Milton Friedman's famous 1951 paper--the real thing, not meta-commentary--titled “Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects," in which he outlines what neoliberalism is. You really should read the primary source rather than relying on crowdsourced commentary. Friedman's paper, and the other reliable journalistic sources I linked to all underline that Jeremiah was and is correct. Again, Milton Friedman has no directs links to neoconservatism; Leo Strauss, however, does.

I did not disparage you personally nor did I impugn your motives. You however toss a firebomb at "those on the left" who criticized Hillary Clinton as a "neoliberal," claiming that they had no basis for such an attribution. The reality is that both the mainstream Democratic (under Bill Clinton and Obama, and Hillary Clinton had she won) and Republican (under Reagan, George HW Bush, George W Bush, and Trump) Parties have introduced and advanced "neoliberal" policies to varying degrees, and all have followed Friedman's suggested approach to monetary policy, at times with great success (Clinton and Obama).

The Affordable Care Act, for all its benefits, is a neoliberal policy that centers a market-based approach, with government regulations to set certain baseline conditions, instead of European-style single payer health care. Basic neoliberalism in 2017 means positing the market as the arbiter of virtually everything, an extreme form of what Friedman advocated in his 1951 paper; this extends from personal branding and commodification of human relationships through privatization of government resources and the financialization of international/global interactions. Mike Bloomberg was a strong adherent. Another way to understand it is the re-imposition, with refinements (cf. Friedman, Buchanan, etc.), of classical liberalism and laissez-faire approaches to market interactions. This is a "thing," unfortunately, and it's not so hard to grasp.

Also, just so you know, when you write "When the term re-appeared in the 1930s in connection with Augusto Pinochet's economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted," this makes no sense. Salvador Allende (1908-1973) was president of Chile until 1973, when he was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006), who was a teenager in the 1930s. I'll leave things at that.

Scout said...

samadamsthedog, thank you for the deeper-than-usual analysis. You are exactly right about the buzzword "neoliberalism" when you say "In fact, it is now just a dirty word that those on the left use to describe those liberals who are not radical enough for their taste."

In casual company, lazy thought/expression is acceptable (if not desirable); in a public forum, I find that I'm always wishing for fewer enraged dilettantes and more calm experts to weigh in. But there will always be a far greater number of enraged dilettantes because - well, it's so much easier, isn't it? We are a society that loves to embrace violent and self-righteous opinions based on one head line, one sentence, or a single image, not from learning.

Anonymous said...

Nice trolling Scout, but don't let the troll distract you from the fact that in 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune.