New York's Lower East Side Today:
Notes and Impressions
THE Garden Cafeteria, across from Seward Park on the Lower East Side of New York, is a crowded, noisy, American-style beanery where customers shove their trays down a chromium counter and are hurriedly dipped out the specials of the day. The Garden is hardly different in outward appearance from a thousand cafeterias from Maine to California, and it is certainly not what Michael Gold had in mind when he closed his classic Jews without Money in 1930 by declaring: “O Workers’ Revolution. . . . You are the true Messiah. You will destroy the East Side when you come, and build there a garden for the human spirit.”
Much of the old East Side Gold wrote about is indeed destroyed, though not by the revolution he had in mind, and the “Garden” across from Seward Park is a refuge not for the human spirit, but rather for much of what remains of the spirit of the old East Side. By default and the chance of location-it is on the same block with the two surviving Jewish daily newspapers, the Day-Journal and the Forward-the Garden Cafeteria is where the remaining writers, actors, and intelligentsia of the Yiddish cultural world come to talk through the long afternoons and early evenings. The fabled Cafe Royal, at 12th Street and Second Avenue, has gone for six years now, and gone are the old Russian-Jewish cafes of East Canal Street, described by Hutchins Hapgood in The Spirit of the Ghetto as places “where excellent tea and coffee are sold, where everything is clean and good, and where the conversation is often the best.” All these amenities have shrunk to several tables at the front of the Garden Cafeteria, and the coffee and tea can claim no distinction from the brews of the Automat.
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