As last week drew to a close and the holiest days of the year set in, we learned of the forthcoming demise of a quintessential Jewish icon — New York City’s famed Carnegie Deli. Nestled in the heart of Midtown, just blocks from Times Square, the restaurant has long served as a tourist mecca for oversized sandwiches and a caricature of Jewish culture and cuisine. The menu was peppered with Yiddish and plenty of schmaltz (of both the literal and figurative variety).
2017 would have marked 80 years in the corned beef and egg cream business, but sadly Carnegie won’t see that milestone — at least not in the Big Apple. For now, at least, the Las Vegas location inside the Mirage appears to be staying open. For those who hope to make a final pilgrimage, you’d better start shopping for flights; the deli plans to close before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.
For me, like Woody Allen’s hapless Broadway Danny Rose, the restaurant served as the memorable backdrop for romantic comedy. About this time two years ago, I was secretively planning the details of a trip to New York where I proposed to my then-girlfriend and now-wife Jordan.
I say secretive in the most bumbling of ways, as she’d cautioned me only a few days prior she didn’t want to get engaged in Manhattan and was sure I was up to something. So a ruse was planned — that I was a few paychecks short of the money I needed to pick up the ring she knew I was having made and it was just an innocent trip.
From there, I enlisted the help of some movie-worthy supporting characters from my college days in the Empire State: the college roommate from Miami; the CBS reporter who could pick us up from the airport in his company car; the television producer who helped stage and plan the caper; and, finally, the former White House intern who called a friend, Bill Clinton’s photographer, to await our arrival and surreptitiously capture the moment she said yes in Central Park.
We flew in early that Saturday morning and from LaGuardia headed to our hotel to drop off our bags and kill time before our room was ready. I’d planned a walk up and around the Park to Boulud Sud where we had lunch before we finally, and seemingly casually, wandered toward a planned destination where I would pop the big question.
What I didn’t plan for was that she’d be thirsty and want some water, available only in the form of a big, touristy water bottle that would ruin the photos she didn’t know were being taken. So I said no and forced her to soldier on. She got frustrated and angry, little did she know what was just moments away. Blocks later, it happened, and in an overjoyed daze we just kept walking. Walking miles, in fact, to the point that we both could barely take another step by the time we ultimately collapsed on the bed of our hotel room.
This, of course, was the moment when Carnegie Deli became a part of our story, albeit a footnote. We were staying some two doors over from the restaurant at the Park Central Hotel. We were both starving but barely had the strength to walk another step. So, filling the forthcoming role of dutiful husband, I hobbled my way into that infamous scene where they stuffed a box with rugalach and seven-layer cake, and then back to the hotel where we noshed on dessert fare and phoned family and friends to share the good news.
That was our New York Story, to borrow the title of another Allen film, and we’ll always have that weekend with the Carnegie Deli.
Mazel Tov …
Happy birthday to Alix Craig, Avi Davidoff and Alan Stalburg.
And, to our community, I wish an easy fast and a meaningful time to reflect on all of our joys and blessings.