My city is gone


A beloved restaurant, now closed. Photo: Jon Friedman
By Jon Friedman

Living in Stuyvesant Town just ain’t what it used to be. You can call this Manhattan 2.0 in 2018.

Life is just inconvenient enough for me to remember the glory days. The Pretenders’ elegy, “My City Was Gone” now applies to the corner of my little town.

The recent closing of Petite Abeille, a beloved Belgian-American restaurant on my block, is the latest example.

Yes, it was overpriced. And, yeah, it was sometimes maddening when no one deigned to answer the phone to record my takeout order, or let the phone ring a dozen times.

But it was worth the aggravation. “The Belgian place,” as my neighbors and I referred to it, served the best French fries around. And the French toast — do you see a theme here? — couldn’t be beat.

Now, that’s all gone.

This is truly a sign of the times. All over the city, bodegas, neighborhood favorites, service establishments such as dry cleaners and drug stores, not to mention those heartwarming, old-fashioned mom and pop places are all closing their doors for good. Their rents have increased to a point where they could no longer afford to stay in business.

For Stuyvesant Town residents alone, the past few years have seen a shocking litany of now-former favorites that were close enough to walk to.

Across the street from my apartment, Adriatic, my go-to takeout place for a slice of pizza or a platter of veal parmigiana, left the neighborhood about a year ago. The blessed Carvel on East Twenty-Fourth Street and Second Avenue was a summer staple — until it wasn’t. Di Roberti’s, down on 11th Street, hit the road without saying goodbye, taking the money and running, along with stacks and stacks of the best damn chocolate chip cookies in the city.

And, you bet, I still can’t walk past the corner on Second Avenue and 10th Street and scowl, remembering how I could practically fall out of bed and jump on a stool and gobble down the world’s greatest matzo ball soup. (Don’t tell my mother I said that!)

More disturbing than me having to schlep a few blocks out of my way to find new favorite places that serve my favorite grossly unhealthy foods is what this all means. My — our! — quality of life is declining, right before our eyes.

For the umpteenth time, Manhattan is changing. More than ever, this is becoming a town of haves and get outs. You get the feeling that Gordon “Greed Is Good!” Gekko could run for mayor and win in a landslide because he has eerily tapped into the code of the city in the twenty-first century.

Despite politicians’ pledges to build more “affordable” housing, this is still a (very) rich person’s city. Perhaps this is merely a continuation of a decades-long trend, which probably began when Ronald Reagan was the U.S. President. That’s when I first started noticing the homeless population. Maybe the most relevant equation is to conclude that the more homeless people you encounter on the street, the more this is a haven for the rich.

Not long after I moved into Stuy Town, I lugged a bag full of dirty pants and shirts to the local dry cleaner. When I came back to retrieve my stuff, I watched as the woman in line in front of me asked the owner, “Do you take a check?”

Of course, he said, nodding.

When my turn came, I said, “So, you take checks?”

“No” was all he said.

Years later, when I reminded him, he shrugged and explained, “I didn’t know you then.”

By the way, he’s out of business, too. Now, my dry cleaner, who couldn’t place me in a police lineup, gives me neat print-outs of my orders — and charges a lot more than I used to pay.

I guess I could sum up my disillusionment in one sentence.

Something is wrong when there are more bank branches within walking distance of my home than bagel places.