NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — After nearly 80 years of serving up heaps of cured meat to tourists, theater patrons and New Yorkers, the Carnegie Delicatessen will serve its last ridiculously oversized sandwich on Friday.
Marian Harper-Levine, President of the Carnegie Deli and a second-generation owner, called the decision to close its Seventh Avenue location “incredibly difficult.”
“Along with my daughter Sarri and in honor of my late father Milton, I would like to sincerely thank all of our loyal patrons – tourists, dignitaries, and New Yorkers alike- who have visited Carnegie Deli over the past 80 years,” she said in a statement. “Since my father took over the Deli in 1976, this has been a second home to me and it has been a true privilege and an honor to serve you.”
The restaurant is scheduled to close at midnight after a last full day of business Friday.
“The final moments, I’m going to open up a bottle of champagne,” Harper-Levine told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
Fans lined up all week for a last bite at the restaurant, which got a star turn in Woody Allen’s 1984 film “Broadway Danny Rose” and remained a stop until the end for out-of-towners looking for the classic New York deli experience.
The lines in the cold Friday started at 4:45 a.m. Nick from the Bronx said he waited in line for two hours.
“I came yesterday, the line was around the corner and I left very sad,” he said. “But I said, you know I’ll give it another shot and I came at 7. Everybody was reminiscent. It was wonderful.”
The line was composed of people from all over.
“I’m way down in the swamps of South Florida, heard of it, but didn’t know what it was, now I do, so I’m ready to go in,” Steve Osceola told CBS2’s Raegan Medgie.
Craig DeGregorio, 38, of Long Island, said he waited for nearly 90 minutes to chow down on its signature dish, a mountainous, $20 pastrami sandwich.
“I figured this was the last chance I was going to get to come here,” he said, adding that the visit was also his first. “I really didn’t mind waiting at all. The sandwich was huge. It took two bites to even make a dent.”
“It is delicious. We will miss it so much,” one woman said.
“The best in Manhattan,” a man agreed. When asked whether it’s worth the wait, he responded, “totally, I’d do it again, and again and again.”
“It’s worth the wait. My feet are still cold, but this is hot, this is hot,” another woman said.
Many patrons said they will miss not only the pastrami, but the personalities who’ve made the place a signature New York City spot for eight decades.
“We’ve come as a family, we both came as kids, we came here when we were first dating, and you know we’re native New Yorkers and we’ve always eaten here,” said Jennifer Belle. “We’re really sorry to see it go.”
“It’s very sad. It’s a part of our family — my father and mother used to come here for years,” said Marc Schwartz. “Cheesecake, pastrami, corned beef, hot… there’s nothing like the Carnegie Deli, nor will there ever be anything like the Carnegie Deli.”
The Carnegie, its walls lined with photos of celebrities who have eaten there, opened in 1937, drawing its name from Carnegie Hall just a block up Seventh Avenue.
Aside from the long lines out on the sidewalk (and unusually high prices), the place screams old New York, from its vintage neon sign, to the items on the menu: slices of cheesecake, knishes, tongue and chopped liver, and a $30 reuben.
Another patron dining in the final days, Donna Nevens, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, said she wanted to be able to tell her friends she ate at the “world famous Carnegie deli” at least once.
“It’s a New York institution,” she said, anticipating she’d order a “Woody Allen,” an overstuffed sandwich of half pastrami and half corned beef.
The deli later named the sandwich after the director after he filmed key scenes for “Broadway Danny Rose” there. The deli has also been featured on several television shows, including “Law & Order” and “Dr. Phil.”
Although the Carnegie has remained popular with tourists, New Yorkers these days are more likely to go looking for authenticity elsewhere at lower prices. And it’s been a rough few years for the Carnegie.
The restaurant reopened last February after being closed for nearly a year amid an investigation into a possible illegal natural gas hookup, discovered after a utility crew found a diverted line while they were investigating a leak.
The personal lives of Harper-Levine and her husband Sandy were thrust into the public spotlight with a messy divorce after she accused him of having an affair with a hostess and slipping her cash and pastrami recipes. The deli was also ordered to pay $2.6 million in back wages to its employees after a labor dispute.
Harper-Levine has insisted the closure has nothing to do with any of those issues. She’s said her long hours at the deli have taken a toll and she wants to take time to enjoy her life.
“I’m still going to keep the Carnegie going, licensing, distribution, supermarkets and other locations,” she told Medgie. “I just want to take a step back now and enjoy my life.”
The restaurant will still have outposts in Las Vegas, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Madison Square Garden and at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens. Its meats, cheesecake and merchandise will also be available online.
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