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Café Edison, cherished theater district coffee shop, to close Sunday, despite fans' efforts

Conrad Strohl inside the Edison Cafe in Manhattan's

Conrad Strohl inside the Edison Cafe in Manhattan's Theatre District on Wednesday, Dec.17, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

Ever since the eviction notice came to the Café Edison six weeks ago, a sign in the window has pleaded with the modern world to stop the "Blintzkrieg."

Despite efforts from the mayor's office, demonstrations and end-of-an-era stories in the press, the cherished old Jewish coffee shop and theater hangout on West 47th Street will serve its last matzo ball Sunday.

Jordan Strohl, whose grandparents, Holocaust survivors, started the place in what was once an old hotel ballroom, said the "overwhelming" support has made the family "very optimistic" about relocating in the Broadway area in the next few months. The owners of the Hotel Edison, he says, want an upscale "white-napkin" restaurant with a "name chef."

Richard Hotter, the hotel's general manager, responded only with a terse statement about upgrades and "plans for this iconic location." The family was not able to get an extension on its lease. Everything -- the old counter and the old counter staff -- must be cleared out by Dec. 27. The restaurant's seating capacity is 206.

For 34 years, the institution affectionately known as the Polish Tea Room has been a haven for producers, artists and theatergoers who appreciated its no-nonsense ambience and Eastern European comfort food.

Executives ate at the front table, laughingly called "Booth One," where August Wilson wrote plays. In 2001, Neil Simon created a play, "45 Seconds from Broadway," about the Old World characters and idealistic youngsters who embraced theater's vanishing pushcart sensibility.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning creator of "In the Heights," was first brought there as a struggling songwriter. Writing on a website urging that the cafe be saved, Miranda said everyone came there "for the camaraderie and a place to gather as they work to survive eight shows a week." Many casts have dinner there between shows on matinee days.

Dori Berinstein, who is making a documentary about the place, said: "When I heard about the closing, I felt I had to do something. We need to be helping raise awareness and help protect what's still authentic about New York."

A note on the door has been warning people who don't want to be filmed to tell the manager, Conrad Strohl, Jordan's father, who seats the growing number of customers savoring their last bowl of soup.

The outpourings of affection have been heartening to the family -- and good for business. "It feels surreal," said Jordan Strohl, who has helped out in the restaurant since he was a boy and is the administrator of the Actor's Fund, a nonprofit human services organization for professionals in the arts.

"We're not a fancy schmancy place," he said. "People come because our food is good and the price is good. . . . We had been depressed about what has been going on. But now we feel reinvigorated to carry on the legacy of the restaurant."

He vowed they would never relocate outside the Broadway area. They saw a space this week that seems right, he said, but he doesn't want to jinx the deal by talking about it.

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