Cafe Edison, the beloved New York City Jewish restaurant known for cheap, comforting Eastern European food, will officially close its doors December 21, Vanishing New York reports. Known as the Polish Tea Room, the long-time theater district staple will end its 34-year run at the Edison Hotel Sunday night, staying open “until the last person leaves.”
News of the Polish Tea Room’s impending closure first broke in November, when it was announced that the Edison Hotel, which houses the cafè, was planning a multi-million dollar renovation, including the installation of an upscale restaurant. Customers old and new crowded the restaurant in ‘lunch mobs’ and ‘dinner mobs’ organized by activists and supporters eager to see the Manhattan institution remain.
But it looks like the push wasn’t enough to sway the hotel’s owners, and the Polish Tea Room will be closing its doors after all.
Cafe Edison was opened in 1980 by Harry Edelstein, who had met the Edison Hotel’s then-owner, Ulo Barad, in Warsaw after both men survived the Holocaust. Edelstein passed away in 2009 and Barad in 2009, and the friendship between the two (the rental agreement since 1984 consisted of a handshake) was evidently not passed down to their sons, who now operate the establishments.
Shortly after the announcement of Cafe Edison’s closure, Samuel Freedman wrote about his experience interviewing Tony Award-winning producer Emanuel Azenberg there in 1984.
Over the next hour, waiters brought Manny and me cabbage soup in bowls the size of tureens, containing what seemed like an entire brisket in each. That course was followed by turkey sandwiches four inches thick and platters of latkes. Periodically, the woman with the curly black hair, or a ruddy, balding man with a similar accent, evidently her husband, would stop by the table to check on Manny’s well-being and exchange some words in Yiddish. The bill came to some absurdly low figure like $12, which Manny paid by leaving $50.
There is still hope for a future home for the iconic restaurant. Jordan Strohl, the owner’s son, assured devoted patrons that the family is looking for a new space. “This is not goodbye,” he told Vanishing New York. “It’s see you later.”
Zack Schrieber is an intern at Tablet Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @zschrieber.