End of an Era

The Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse of Alexandria: one by one, the wonders of the world have collapsed into dust.

Now, another casualty has been added to the list. New York’s iconic Carnegie Deli announced last week that it would be closing permanently on December 31.

The Carnegie Deli in Manhattan

The Carnegie Deli opened in 1937 at 854 7th Avenue, near Carnegie Hall. It became renowned for its portions, which were oversized to the point of gluttony. Sandwiches contain a minimum of one pound of meat (the motto is, “If you can finish your meal, we’ve done something wrong”). The most famous of those is probably the Woody Allen, a combination of corned beef and pastrami.

In 1976, Leo Steiner and Milton Parker purchased the deli from its original owners, and stewardship of the business eventually passed to Milton’s daughter, Marian Harper Levine. Levine opened numerous branches of the Carnegie Deli around the country; the ones that still exist are located in Las Vegas and other casino meccas. Last Friday, after a decade that included a difficult divorce, fights over city regulations and lawsuits from former employees, Levine called it quits.

This is a curious story on several levels. Levine doesn’t appear to be pursuing the sale of the restaurant, despite the fact that the business still has significant value. In fact, there is an effort underway to save the Carnegie Deli: Sammy Musovic, a former dishwasher turned entrepreneur, is spearheading a campaign to raise $5 million to buy the place. “It’s like taking the Statue of Liberty way from New York or the Empire State Building,” he declared. Strangely enough, even though he has attempted to contact the Levine family, they have not responded to him. “There is no interest in discussing the sale of the Carnegie Deli with Musovic at this time,” said a family representative.

The truth will come out eventually, but there are many other mysteries ahead of us. Thousands of years from now, when archaeologists sift through the rubble of our civilization, they will be puzzling over exactly why humans needed to consume massive amounts of pastrami, and wondering if that practice lead to our decline and extinction.

Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.

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