Like alligators in the subways, the Carnegie Deli is buried in the mythos of Manhattan, an idea of what New York City is. A dish of sour pickles. Brusque, harried servers ferrying plates of gargantuan corned beef sandwiches across linoleum floors. Autographed photos of out-of-time celebrities and the promise of Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.
On Friday, the Carnegie Deli announced that after nearly 80 years, the midtown institution will close its doors at the end of 2016. And though the looming death of Jewish delis everywhere has been the cause of some hand-wringing in recent years, the reasons this time at least were personal. “I’m very sad to close the Carnegie Deli but I’ve reached the time of my life when I need to take a step back,” Marian Harper told the New York Post. Harper, who owns both the restaurant and the building on 7th Avenue that houses it, cited “the sleepless nights and grueling hours that come with operating a restaurant business.”
That the deli isn’t being forced shut in the era of changing tastes and high rents in some ways only adds to the disappointment. “The closure of the Carnegie was not an inevitable thing,” said David Sax, author of Save the Deli. “There are too many delis that close because they have to.” Nodding to the historic debate about whether Katz’s, Carnegie, or the now-defunct Stage Deli reigned supreme in New York, Sax likened the cultural import of Friday’s announcement to the Mets or Yankees abruptly deciding to leave town.