Leshko's is gone. The dingy Polish diner that long stood on the Northwest corner of Avenue A and 7th Street (once the epicenter of Ukrainian-American New York, now the epicenter of downtown cool), has been redesigned by the brains behind NYC celeb magnets Moomba and Veruka. Thank the economic boom and ten years of prosperity, I suppose, but the Lower East Side, now known as the "East Village" and probably soon to be renamed as "Village Estates East," has changed.
When I first saw the papered-over windows at Leshko's, I hoped for one of those Polish restaurant "renovations," the kind that change the decor a bit and raise the prices a lot.
I hoped that Leshko's would be spared the urban renewal that turned Avenue A from the crappy main drag of a junkie neighborhood to a golden mile of chic boutiques, cool bars and slack-jawed tourists. Not that I ate at Leshko's much. In fact, I ate there about once every two years. The thing is, I did that for DECADES. Leshko's greatest strength was its consistency. NOTHING ever changed, year after year. The same tacky vinyl decor. The same mid-70s hanging lights. The same pile of stale babka under the plastic cake-holder on the counter. Probably the same bacteria living on the grill for decades, one generation from the same germ family replacing the next.
I clung to the hope that Leshko's would re-open, more or less untouched. So imagine the betrayal and despair I felt a week or two ago when I walked by and saw the place filled with retro-chic furnishings, expensively-dressed women, and young well-off men mingling with drinks in one hand and cell phones in the other. There was no grill in sight, no counter, no babka. It had become my worst nightmare: The menu listed things like "NY Steak Frites" and "Crusted Salmon." No borscht, no stuffed cabbage.
I scowled every night the next week as I walked past. Then one night I found myself alone and tired of every other place I'd been eating. I thought "Fuck it" and headed to the new Leshko's. Keep an open mind, I told myself. I entered and a suspiciously friendly host seated me and took my order. I asked him about the old Leshko's. He had never been there, never even seen it. I went on about how horrible, yet well loved it was, mainly to be friendly, but also as a form of loss therapy for me. That turned out to be as wise as seeking lovesick solace from the same woman who dumped you. I told him I missed the babka. "What's babka?" he asked. I began to explain the lure of the dense coffee cake with a swirl of chocolate and cinnamon, but it made me even sadder. He tried his best to console me by pointing cheerily to the menu "Look," he said, "we still have pierogis." I glanced at the menu: "Mushroom leek pierogis" it read, or something silly like that--the kind of thing you would never see in any real Polish restaurant, where Nouveau California cuisine is as foreign as egg foo young.
I asked if the bathroom was still in the same place and when he said it was, I choked up as I told him how the grill man behind the counter at the old Leshko's had to buzz you into the bathroom. It was their "high-tech" way of keeping the bums and drug addicts from Tompkins Square Park out of the toilets.
I won't go into great detail on the food, except to say it was okay. The tiny five dollar salad was okay. The globby three dollar mashed potatoes were okay. The bar-sized coke was okay. I was not okay, though, as I found myself waiting for half an hour for the veggie burger I'd ordered until finally a waitress asked me if I needed anything else. When I told her I was still waiting for my veggie burger, she apologized profusely and promised it to me "in six minutes." An odd promise, I thought, but I was grateful for such precision. Alas, she lied. It took twenty minutes and it was not okay. Terrible.
I watched the beautiful bartender talking to beautiful friends about beautiful actors. Well-to-do young couples kept sliding in and out of the door. I blurted out to the waitress how much I missed the old Leshko's. "Yes, I heard it was a wonderful place." she said. "It was a TERRIBLE place," I said, "but it was always HERE." She cracked a polite smile and backed away. I was beginning to feel old. Maybe I needed a renovation, as well. Maybe that would bring beautiful well-dressed women into my life. Unfortunately I think I'm better in my dilapidated state, like the old Leshko's with the torn booth seats that you could sit in for hours nursing the same cup of coffee.
I know that change is New York's modus-operandi. Each generation buries the past and rebuilds it in its own image. I have been through one too many of these makeovers, though. I can't take it anymore. I think I need to move someplace where the diners grow old with me.
Appended by: Lorelei
Appended on: Wed Sep 25 23:57:10 EDT 2002
You're too fuckin' spoiled Paul. Some people would sell their first born to live in NYC. In the past, outside of New York, people have complained about NYC being a crime infested place. Now I rarely hear such talk. TRUST ME, you still live in the best place in the world; though these days that may sound like just a cliche, but it's VERY TRUE. Think about all the cool hipster intellectuals there, and THE ARTS! What about CENTRAL PARK!! Best park in the world! Believe me, any other place is SO LAME-ASS compared to NYC. If you move, YOU WILL REGRET IT! As long as you can afford to stay there, STAY!
Appended by: Laura
Appended on: Wed Jun 25 23:55:25 EDT 2003
I dont care, I want pierogies! I just moved here from Cleveland , and my polish ass needs a fix!! HELP! Where can I go???!!
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