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Iconic New York City Jewish Café Closing

Theater district staple Cafe Edison was a hangout for writers and performers

Stephanie Butnick
November 07, 2014
Cafe Edison in New York City's Theater District. (Flickr)
Cafe Edison in New York City's Theater District. (Flickr)

Another beloved New York City Jewish dining institution is closing its doors. Cafe Edison—known as the Polish Tea Room—a long-time staple of the theater district, serving Eastern European classics like borscht, kasha varnishkes, and blintzes to the best-known names on Broadway, will shutter next month after 34 years in business in the Edison Hotel, the New York Times reports.

The cafe – long a club for producers, stage managers, actors, ticket-takers, stagehands, musicians, journalists and more-or-less-working magicians – has its own velvet-roped V.I.P. section for bold-facers and powerful theater executives. The playwright August Wilson wrote three of his works on Cafe Edison napkins. Mr. Azenberg said he did “a ton of deals there,” and Jackie Mason crafted more than a few punch lines with his comedian cronies sitting at the cafe’s formica tables.

The story behind the restaurant’s closure has the kind of intrigue worthy of its legendary location. According to the Times, Cafe Edison was opened in 1980 by Harry Edelstein, who met the Edison Hotel’s then-owner, Ulo Barad, in Warsaw after both men survived the Holocaust. Cafe Edison hasn’t had a lease in three decades; the restaurant’s last rental agreement consisted of a handshake between the old friends in 1984. Both establishments are still run by relatives of Edelstein and Barad, but the relationship clearly soured: Cafe Edison was reportedly “asked to leave” by the hotel’s current owner, who plans to renovate the hotel and install an upscale restaurant in its place.

According to Gothamist, a 1996 New York article described Cafe Edison thusly: “If the Walt Disney World people ever want to re-create Old Jewish New York, they would do well to simply buy Cafe Edison and movie it down to Orlando.”

Unfortunately there’s no magical Disney ending in store for Cafe Edison, which will close at the end of December.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.