New York’s famous Stage Deli closed at midnight on Thursday, November 29. Since its opening seventy-five years ago, Stage Deli was known for its overstuffed pastrami sandwiches and Jewish-American cuisine. But there was something more to it.
The New York Times reported that from way back in the establishments’ openings, Stage Deli and Carnegie Deli— another 54th Street and Seventh Avenue Jewish Deli— have waged silent war against each other. The two restaurants vied for popularity, taking on films and celebrities and spreading rumors about the quality of each other’s food. The Stage had Two Weeks Notice, the later Woody Allen comedy Anything Else, Geoffrey Rush, and Ray Liotta. The Carnegie Deli had the earlier and much better Woody Allen movie Broadway Danny Rose, and in 1979 the Times’s restaurant critic deemed Carnegie pastrami superior, instigating the term “pastrami war” which continued to rage up until last week.
This outcome has left both deli owners in shock. Co-Owner Paul Zolenge blamed the loss of Broadway theater-goers as well as the terrible economic standings for their closure. Mrs. Marian Levine, owner of Carnegie Deli, said that retail rents in the so-called “Deli District” have been tripling and it has been putting people out of business. Restaurant owners and employees are getting nervous. Mr. Zolenge stated, “I haven’t thought of anything except getting this day over with. . . I’m saying goodbye to people who have been with me for 30 years.”
While the argument can be made that all restaurants close eventually, and are thrown into a Lion King-esque circle of life reality, the closing of this one deli represents the erasure of old New York Jewish history. It’s a bittersweet ending. However, though we lose the old stuffed sandwich we once sat and ate in the same seat every Tuesday night, the opportunity created for new Modern American Jewish cuisine is exciting.
In The Huffington Post’s article about the closing of the Stage Deli, a video is included with a ten minute history of the Jewish deli featuring Jerry Stiller from Seinfeld. To help readers understand the significance of these Jewish delicatessens in New York history, watch this video or contact NYU Local’s Senior Jewish Correspondent, Eric Silver.