This, however, was not always the case. Times Square was not always a tourist’s paradise. The founding of the Times Square Business Improvement District (BID), now called the Times Square Alliance, began the “Disneyfication” of the square in 1992, as the BID sought to make it a showcase for New York.
Amid the changes in the theatre district, few small businesses have persevered and succeeded in remaining open as rents rise higher and higher. Cafe Edison had done so since 1980, until early November. Cafe Edison, part of Hotel Edison on 47th Street, was told by its landlord that the hotel would not renew its lease for 2015. The cafe is to be replaced by a “white-tablecloth” restaurant as part of the hotel’s renovation project. This eviction is just another example of how Times Square and the Theatre District is slowly losing its characteristically “New York” atmosphere.
The cafe, which is famous for its Jewish-style diner food, is located in the former grand ballroom of Hotel Edison. The dining room itself is half elegant dining room, half old-time diner. The combination of these two seemingly separate worlds makes the restaurant even more uniquely “New York.” Broadway producers rub elbows with tourists amid vinyl booths and a long lunch counter.
Much of the surrounding community is up in arms over the an- nounced eviction, members of the Broadway theatre community in particular. The cafe has hosted playwrights, actors, ushers, designers and many other theatre people for years; it was even the inspiration for Neil Simon’s 45 Seconds from Broadway. Producers and playwrights have made landmark Broadway deals at the diner. August Wilson even wrote parts of three of his plays on napkins from Cafe Edison.
The theatre community has not taken the closing lightly. Actors and actresses, along with many members of the Broadway community, have scheduled protests to contest the closing of the restaurant.
“It’s one of the only places left with any ethnicity,” actress Jackie Hoffman, currently appearing in On the Town on Broadway, told Gothamist. “It’s not so much a part of New York history, it’s what New York is, it’s what New York represents.”
It is certainly a shame that such establishments are disappearing from the landscape of midtown Manhattan. At first, the chain restaurants and stores were limited to Times Square itself.
However, more and more are spreading into the heart of the Theatre District, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. For example, popular chain Buffalo Wild Wings just opened a restaurant down the street from Cafe Edison next to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Such institutions lack a “New York” identity and only detract from the kind of unique atmosphere created by the Broadway theatre itself.
Cafe Edison holds a place in the history of the city. By evicting it, the Hotel Edison has chosen to completely ignore the history and legacy of the people who have graced the stools of this cafe.
Richard Bordelon, FCRH ’15, is a history and political science double major from New Orleans.