The Garden Cafeteria

June 30, 2007

The Garden Dairy Cafeteria was located on the corner of Rutgers and East Broadway from at least 1943, possibly 1941, and there just might have been something on the spot since 1911. The Cafeteria was at the heart of the old Jewish Lower East Side, between the Jewish Daily Forward and the Educational Alliance. The Forward writers would drop by on their way to drop off their stories for the Forward.

Isaac Bashevis Singer certainly spent considerable time there. Leon Trotsky might have stopped by too, and Emma Goldman, while you’re at it, why not Fidel Castro.

The cafeteria lasted right through the neighborhood’s changes, through when Jackson Pollack and Morly were living there and would come by the cafeteria because they didn’t have any money and right through to when it became the Wing Shoon restaurant in the early 80s.

I wish I’d started this earlier, but better late than never. Some of the best parts of this have been the things I fell across by accident in files at the library or books or prowling around downtown. (This all has taken me from the 1890 testimony of a street cleaner to the state senate on why the street are so dirty in which he outlines the exact boundaries of the Hester Street Market to my talk with Bert Feinberg, who ran the cafeteria for 25 years, and would give Morley soup when he came in hungry). So there’ll be some of that to add to the mix here, and a little bit of the progress of the hunt. So now this thing can actually have a purpose, as opposed to just being a random repository of things.

(This big Bashevis Singer collection used to be on the shelves in my living room and was one of those books I used to read over and over again years ago for whatever reason I can’t really fathom at this point. There’s an extent to which I have to admit that most of my image of new york city before I moved here was this odd mashup of Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Bashevis Singer.)

I’m doing this research for a the Place Matters project of an organization on the LES called City Lore.  It’s historical puzzle work, and I love it.

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