Somehow I missed the news, so when I walked past East 33rd and Third Avenue — Toidy-Toid and Toid, to those from the old school — I was overcome with awe and delight. I had to go in for a closer look, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. But it was real: the Second Avenue Deli is back, with a line out the door.
I have always believed that living in New York City means accommodating yourself to change. I have heard mourned just about everything good or bad that has ever come to pass here, from Ebbets Field and the old Penn Station to porn theaters in Times Square and a lawless Alphabet City on fire, and I’ve thought, hey, that’s life in the Big City. I’ve been here long enough to see a few of my own beloved landmarks go, and to see neighborhoods change character completely.
But when the 2nd Avenue Deli closed, somehow that was different.
Growing up in California, I was taught by my transplanted New Yorker parents that there were no proper baked goods west of the Hudson and that there was a right way and a wrong way to prepare and eat a deli sandwich: mustard on rye, with none of that bullshit lettuce and tomato or (chas v’shalom!) sprouts.
My Great Aunt Sylvia had lived since the 1950s at Second Avenue and 10th Street, so my father’s family had been going there since he was a kid. On trips Back East, and even years later, stopping in at the Deli felt like visiting my parents’ childhoods. I remember Abe Lebewohl once greeting my Cousin Roberta, then in her fifties, as if she were still the little girl he had known decades earlier.
New York can be a hard town, and sometimes I wonder what I’m still doing here. Too many of the funky places I fell in love with are gone, and too much of the city is chain stores, tourist crap and stuff I can’t afford. The resurrection of the 2nd Avenue Deli reminds me of what I still love about Gotham.
Now to go and stand on that line.