The Death Of The Carnegie Deli And The Tremendous Value Of Food Memories

Features Editor
09.30.16 9 Comments

Carnegie Deli

New York’s vaunted Carnegie Deli is closing at the end of the year. Though you’ll find no shortage of places to find piled meat between two pieces of rye bread after the 79-year-old pastrami peddling establishment clogs its last artery, it won’t be the same. It never is.

We weren’t particularly religious when I was a kid. A handful of synagogue appearances throughout the year before it, we finally stopped going once and for all. Hanukkah instead of Christmas, until the year my Irish-Catholic mother got to finally have her tree. Eventually, the Festival of Lights would come to feel like an appetizer before Santa came to town. I’ve been to exactly one bar-mitzvah and it was not my own. We did a conga line and drank virgin strawberry daiquiris. I went to Jewish day school and remember stapling my hand while hanging construction paper art, nothing else. My Judaism was and is, cultural and food based. And because of that, the Carnegie Deli is my synagogue, though it’s been a while since I last attended a service.

It’s not entirely my fault. The last time I tried to go to the Carnegie Deli, I had a Ron Swanson moment when, after practically skipping down 7th Avenue electrified by the prospect of a potato knish the size of a softball, I discovered that they were closed. It turns out, my house of salty worship was right in the middle of a 10-month shutdown after they were caught diverting gas (this after a court ordered the owners to pay $2.65 million in back wages in 2014). Repairs were required and fines were paid — it was a dent, but nothing fatal for the reputation of New York City’s most famous deli. No, what killed the Carnegie Deli, according to the New York Post, is exhaustion — 65-year-old owner Marianne Harper Levine doesn’t want to deal with the strain of running the place anymore.

Despite this, the Carnegie Deli name isn’t dying, it’s ascending to the in-between space that does not need a physical location to be a financially beneficial thing. Levine is going to continue licensing the name and, one assumes, the sacred pastrami and cheesecake recipes. You’ll probably still be able to buy a box of Carnegie Deli brand pastrami at your local grocery store. And, I guess that’s something… but going to CBGB in the Newark airport and buying a branded shirt at Hot Topic sure as hell ain’t the same as seeing Patti Smith playing in the ’70s (in what’s now a shoe store).


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