People say that places like New York City lack the personal touch that smaller cities afford. You walk by on the street without a familiar face to encounter. You enter a store time and time again, and no one notices to care that you come in week after week, ordering the same thing, and that they’re in fact one of your favorite places. I think I’ve said it before but lies. All lies. Can it be that way? Sure. If you are the customer who shuffles in and out, too busy to be bothered to stop and differentiate yourself from random patron X, you will likely just be another face. However it’s surprising how much a smile, looking up from the table to look a server in the eye, or a simple “thank you” to the bus driver can take you in a city of so many.
The workers at my favorite coffee shop where I write are slowly starting to know me. One worker was asking me how my “maths” were going the other day as I was studying. Love it. My new cleaners? Well, I’ve now been in my new apartment all of a little more than four months, and he no longer even asks my name. The ladies at the coffee stand downstairs know I want a small cappuccino – and that you’d better believe I want my smattering of cinnamon on top. Delish.
So I guess that’s why it’s sad when people who contribute to making the places that feel more “homey” around the city disappear. When it’s their time to go. Because just like residents of NYC can elect to be nameless faces, businesses can do the same. There are so many generic, vanilla restaurants, bars, service providers, you name it. But the ones that take that extra effort? They make this city great. Make it why I think the rent is justified (even though sometimes I will admit I have to remind myself of this).
One character is Joe Ades, a vibrant vendor I always noticed as I would walk through the Union Square Greenmarket. His table in front of him was always full of vibrant orange shards, as he demonstrated the peeler which he was selling. I was always intrigued but as you know, I do not cook so frequently, so I had not yet stopped to see what he had to offer, but had hoped to do so come nicer weather. He’d been there for decades and everyone I know who has bought one of his peelers said they were just the best. I read online that they are actually available elsewhere, but that it was due to Joe’s demonstration that people chose to buy them and that caused them to sell so well.
Sadly, he passed away on Sunday. I will miss the guarantee of that bright orange hue as I walk by the market, and the kind-eyed gentleman sitting behind that counter. There’s a memorial planned for tomorrow in Union Square park on the south side at 1PM. Gothamist notes they’re encouraging people to bring their peeler with them and carrots or potatoes in honor of such a staple of the park.
Another is Stefan Lutak, the unique cranky and crotchety owner of the Holiday Cocktail Lounge. This place has so much personality. It had been open since 1965. 65! The hours were erratic. Some nights he’d keep the place open really late, just because he wanted to. And if for some reason you threw him attitude and he felt like it, he’d ask you to leave. Perhaps he was tired or just wanted to go home and then magically, it was closing time. If the bar was open, it was because he was there. They just coincided. It was how it work. He’d shuffle his way past your table and I didn’t realize he was the owner until my friend brought it to my attention. The chairs in the place? The leather had long since been cracked, repaired visibly throughout the establishment by duct tape. But it didn’t matter somehow – it just added to its character.
I’d read of the erratic spotty hours the place had as of late, but didn’t put two and two together to think that Stefan might not be doing so well, although it should have naturally been obvious. I was sad to read today over on Grub Street that he passed away. Vanishing New York noted there will be a viewing for him on Sunday at Peter Jarema from 2-5PM and 7-9PM for anyone wanting to pay their respects to such a neighborhood staple.
It’s people like this that stop to talk to you and I that make this city possible to be a home – and they will definitely be missed.