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***** THINGS ARE A CHANGIN’ *****

Posted on December 12th, 2012 · American Delicatessen Music/Events/Other

***** THINGS ARE A CHANGIN’ *****

Just in case you didn’t “hear” the news…the Stage Deli is no more–
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A Closing Ends an Era, and a Deli War

By GLENN COLLINS and FLORENCE FABRICANT

Published: December 1, 2012

A perpetual pastrami war has, at last, ended

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The Stage Deli on Seventh Avenue, known for its overstuffed sandwiches, closed after 75 years.

For generations, two venerable Seventh Avenue establishments, the Stage Deli and the Carnegie Deli, battled implacably for customers, newspaper ink, news crews, show-business notables, dignitaries and celebrity-sandwich names.

But with the news on Friday that the Stage Deli — known for its overstuffed sandwiches garnished with the names of show-business boldfacers — had closed its doors at midnight on Thursday after 75 years, the interminable hostilities ceased.

“I am in total shock,” said Marian Levine, the Carnegie’s owner. She pointed out that both rivals opened in 1937. Each was a half-block from West 54th Street, in what used to be the heart of what one might call Manhattan’s deli district.

Paul Zolenge, who owned the Stage Deli with Steve Auerbach, said the closing was “devastating, the end of an era, something I never thought would happen.”

Mr. Zolenge, who became a co-owner in 1986, blamed the sagging economy, a spiraling rent and a forthcoming rent increase expected when his lease at 834 Seventh Avenue ends in a few months. “It’s not a great season for Broadway, either,” he said.

“After the shows would break, we would see a lot of Playbills walking in,” he said of his post-theater customers. “And that, well — it had declined.”

In the full-fat firmament of Midtown, revered old-timers have been keeling over one by one. Two blocks to the south on 52nd Street, Gallagher’s, the 85-year-old steakhouse, a Runyonesque shrine to show business pillars and prizefighters, filed a closing notice in October pending purchase by the restaurateur Dean Poll. In June, the 30-year-old steakhouse Ben Benson’s, also on 52nd Street, shuttered when its landlord would not renew the lease. And in November, Sarge’s Delicatessen on Third Avenue near East 37th Street was ravaged by a blaze battled by 150 firefighters.

The news about the Stage Deli brought agita to its peers. “We’re sorry to hear they closed — all of us are definitely becoming dinosaurs,” said Conrad Strohl, owner of the Edison Cafe, in the Edison Hotel on West 47th Street — nicknamed the “Polish Tearoom” by its habitués. “Theater prices are getting higher, and for many, eating out is a luxury, even though we’re reasonably priced,” Mr. Strohl said. “We’re getting nervous.”

Mrs. Levine of the Carnegie said retail rents in the neighborhood “have been going up; they are tripling them, and that’s been putting people out of business. But we’re O.K. We own our building. We hope to be in business another 75 years.”

She declined to say that her delicatessen had won the primordial deli battle, “because we have no idea what the circumstances are,” she said. “There was enough business to go around, for both of us.”

And Mr. Zolenge made nice by saying that the Stage and the Carnegie “always had a friendly competition.”

“When we had a line, they had a line,” he said.

Certainly the two restaurants vied constantly for public acclaim, even if it was to their mutual advantage. For many years, the Stage had the greater reputation. But in 1979 Mimi Sheraton, then The New York Times’s restaurant critic, deemed the Carnegie pastrami superior. Then came the deli’s image-burnishing turn in the 1984 Woody Allen movie “Broadway Danny Rose.”

“That’s now our most popular sandwich,” Mrs. Levine said of the menu item named after the film (corned beef and pastrami with Russian dressing on rye for $19.95).

The Stage was a setting for a lesser-known Woody Allen comedy, the 2003 “Anything Else,” starring Jason Biggs. And Sandra Bullock spent a day there shooting the 2002 film “Two Weeks Notice.”

“They did take after take, but it all wound up on the editing floor,” Mr. Zolenge said.

The Stage kept drawing its share of names: Geoffrey Rush, Liev Schreiber, Ray Liotta and Linda Lavin were regulars, Mr. Zolenge said. “And Donnie Wahlberg was a fan,” he added.

The tumult got nasty from time to time. During a publicity-stoked “pastrami war” in 1988, the Stage claimed it drew more comedians, including Jackie Mason, because the Carnegie had replaced its famous comics’ table with a cake stand. And the Stage belittled the curing of Carnegie pastrami in New Jersey with “Secaucus water, not New York water.”

Mrs. Levine’s father, Milton Parker, who then owned the Carnegie, replied that the Stage was “living off our overflow.” Mr. Zolenge said he had not had time to ponder whether the Stage Deli brand should be sold, or to whom. “I haven’t thought of anything except getting this day over with,” he said, adding that the restaurant employed a staff of 45. “I’m saying goodbye to people who have been with me for 30 years.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 1, 2012, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: A Closing Ends an Era, and a Deli War.
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24 Comments to “***** THINGS ARE A CHANGIN’ *****”

  1. Linda K says...

    Things are a changing, and I assure you not for the better!
    Linda K

  2. VVW11218 says...

    The Stage and for that matter The Carneige are overpriced TOURIST TRAPS. Just like Jerry’s in South Beach. Guess the tourists got tired of all of that fat deli meat that wasn’t the best going. Trust me Katz’s on Delancey Street won’t fold nor will the 2nd Avenue Deli. Good stuff always is recognized.

    • frank w says...

      Jerry’s is in a class of it’s own, a disgrace.

    • robertw says...

      I disagree about the Carnegie Deli (VVW11218) I challenge you to find me a better Roast Beef Sandwich than Carnegie. I can upload my pic of the last time I was there. Even from the picture you can see it is a high quality sandwich and rare. Unlike most of the crappy brown stuff you see around here. They get their share of tourists but what place in NY doesnt. Many locals still go to Carnegie. Its hard to survive 100% on tourists alone. I have not been to Katz’s, but that place has been featured on the food channel hundreds of times. I am sure that brings in boatloads of tourists as well.

  3. Donald T. says...

    Stage Deli, co-owned by Paul Zolenge, is hoping to nail down a lease to take 3,000 square feet at the center, located on Atlantic Avenue. The 70-year-old deli, on Seventh Avenue, is a fixture in New York and a popular destination for celebrities, politicians and, of course, locals and tourists.

    Zolenge, who has a home in Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton, said this would be the company’s first Florida store. (Stage Deli has locations in other parts of the country, such as Las Vegas.) “All of my friends have bothered me for years” to open in Palm Beach County, Zolenge joked.

    If Stage Deli opens, look for the restaurant’s signature items, such as corned beef and pastrami – made in New York and flown down to Delray Beach

    Jeff, the Stage couldnt find anyone to back this venture. In addition other locations are licensing deals. This Stage business has been hurting for years. This closing was just the final nail in the coffin. Amazing everyone thought that this NYc landmark was gold, how about fool’s gold? That’s why you cant believe everything that you read.
    The Stage has been hurting for a very long time.

    • robertw says...

      Stage Deli in Vegas is merely the name. Nothing more. Sort of ordinary small counter location at the MGM. Its not bad I have been there many times. Just nothing special. Carnegie Deli in Mirage Las Vegas is not as good as NY. The sanwiches are better than most on the strip though. And their Chicken in a pot was very good and HUGE!

  4. ZZTOPPER says...

    Jeff Eats: You should have called your article “What Comes Around Goes Around.” The Stage has been charging absurdly high prices for years. It’s only fitting that the landlord did the same to The Stage.

  5. Jim Randolph says...

    Sorry to hear this news. It was a true NYC landmark.

  6. NBC says...

    Overpriced crap.
    The Stage has been getting away with murder for years.

  7. james c says...

    When Paul couldnt get someone to back a Delray store, that should have been the tipoff that things were as people thought. Imagine a joint like the Stage needed backers and couldnt build a store on its own. Smart guys figured this out and stayed away from the Delray plan.
    The Stage has been smoke and mirrors for years.

  8. gettyman says...

    next thing you know a black guy will be elected president.

  9. sharon t says...

    sad very sad.

  10. deliguru says...

    the food was fair. others like carneige dio it better. throw in absurd prices and a landlord who probably is a greedy sob and the stage is no more.

  11. Bobby GG says...

    The Stage was strictly a tourist trap.
    Dumb tourists paying top dollar for mediocre food.
    Really New Yorkers wouldn’t set foot in this joint.
    So long Stage, you ripped people off for years.

  12. KNEY says...

    For crying out loud. The Stage was a TOURIST TRAP. Trust me, I know deli and the stuff it served wasn’t top stuff. The 2ns Avenue Deli has top stuff, not the Stage. It served a ton of food and charged its customers through the nose. The landlord wanted his cut and the Stage didn’t want to give the landlord his piece of the pie, so it closed.
    The only ones who are going to miss it are the gullible tourists who thought that high prices and stacks of meat was what good deli is all about.

    • frank w says...

      It was however a very good place for tourists to try to experience a slice of old New York. Location was the best. Sad to see it go.
      Publix now sells Carneige pastrami. It’s very lean but not bad. Made under license by Thuman.

  13. RRX says...

    Overpriced joint gets done in by landlord.
    Two devils doing each other in.
    Food was fair, prices absurd.

  14. Tom Terrific says...

    No big loss.
    Food was just ok and the prices off the wall.
    Strictly a big old tourist trap.
    Good for pictures for the folks back in OKAY DOKAY LAND.

  15. TH says...

    That’s what happens when the landlord gets you by the balls.

  16. Ronnie Gold says...

    Overpriced mediocre food, that’s why she’s no more. This one has been getting away with murder for years.

  17. Gregg L. Friedman MD says...

    I was very sorry to hear that the Stage Deli had closed after 75 years. It was one of my favorite Deli’s in New York. The food was great. I thought that they did a great job. Does anyone know why they closed? By Gregg L. Friedman MD, Psychiatrist, Hallandale Beach, FL

  18. robertw says...

    Many of the comments seem to be focused on 1 retuarant being the best in any category. That leaves nothing for 2nd place etc. Everyone has their own taste etc. I think Jerrys completely stinks but never had issue with Carnegie in NY. Havent been to Stage in a million yrs though. I hope nobody bashes Papaya King. Cheap hotdogs with the snap of the skin and a cheap super sweet drink.

  19. ggo says...

    I heard that the landlord wanted $60,000 a month in rent. Even this joint with its overpriced sandwiches can’t afford that kind of a number.
    I ate there twice and thought that the food was just okay. I like 2 Nd Ave. Deli better.

  20. Lenny G. says...

    Jeff, the food there has sucked for a very long time. add in overpriced and its no wonder its now history. people aren’t stupid in a recession.

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