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An Afternoon at Cafe Edison, the Beloved and Endangered Times Square Lunch Counter

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As Cafe Edison battles to stay open, Eater photographer Daniel Krieger stopped in to capture a busy afternoon at the Broadway favorite. Here are those photos, along with Robert Sietsema's brief history of the cafe.

Founded in 1980 in the ruins of an even older hotel dining room at the then-seedy Hotel Edison — a place favored by backpacking Europeans for its cheapness and central location — Café Edison immediately seemed like a much older establishment, a remaining vestige of Broadway in the 1930s, when figures like Walter Winchell, Joe E. Brown, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Damon Runyon held sway. Maybe it was the arched and chandeliered premises, always a bit dark and forbidding, the Formica lunch counter and backlit menu boards, or the antique chairs and tables, where every guest had a clear view of every other guest. Dining there was like being on the stage yourself.

The menu was a throwback, too, to a time when you could pre-visualize what every dish tasted like as you scanned the menu, and there would be no surprises — the hamburgers well done, the fries slightly mealy, the scrambled eggs fluffy but also a little sodden. But oh, those blintzes! Served with sour cream or apple sauce (or both), the well-browned beauties stuffed with sweetened pot cheese were the best in town, bar none. As a result of the proclivities of the place for Eastern European Jewish fare, actors long ago nicknamed it the Polish Tearoom, and it was your best location in Times Square to spot B-list actors and other unsung workhorses of the Great White Way.

Recently the news broke that Café Edison would be forced to close at the end of the year, to make way for a new white tablecloth restaurant from a "name chef." But a petition is now being circulated among actors and hangers-on to save the lunch counter. It's already been signed by over 7,000 people, and lots of stars, including Sean Connery, Martha Plimpton, Mary Testa, and Teal Wicks. On BroadwayWorld.com, Plimpton writes: "The Cafe Edison is one of the last true havens for theater artists and writers, journalists, stagehands, the people who make Broadway and Times Square the attraction that it truly is. The Edison does a brisk and healthy business, locals and tourists, pros and amateurs, old and young. There is no possible way that whatever replaces it will have the same character, or staying power."

What Times Square doesn't need is another mediocre and expensive modern dining establishment. (Café Edison was also cheap!) Here's hoping, one way or another, it can stay afloat.

Cafe Edison

228 W 47th St, New York, NY 10036 (212) 840-5000 Visit Website

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