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Oak Room at Algonquin joins other shuttered eateries

Elaine’s never recovered after owner Elaine Kaufman died

Elaine’s never recovered after owner Elaine Kaufman died in 2010. Elaine's closed last May. (GETTY) Credit: Elaine’s never recovered after owner Elaine Kaufman died in 2010. Elaine's closed last May. (GETTY)

The announcement of the closing of the Algonquin's famed Oak Room cabaret after 32 years in business last week is the latest addition to a growing list of NYC's vanishing icons of food and drink.

From restaurants and diners to lounges and bars, the places that make New York deliciously different are fading fast, some say.

"It's really a troubling loss. Every New Yorker is aware that these venerable institutions are disappearing - and disappearing at an accelerating rate. They're touchstones for our memories. When we lose these places, we lose our personal histories," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Other self-appointed neighborhood chroniclers are more light-hearted.

"It's relentless. I think there's a gallows humor in it: 'Who's going to close today?'" said EV Grieve, a longtime East Village resident, who's been writing the self-named neighborhood blog for the last five years.

Thirty-two establishments in business for more than 25 years closed their doors last year, according to Eater.com's "Shutter Report."

Grieve said places such as Polonia, a 28-year standby of the East Village that recently closed, nourished the soul as well as the body.

"I think people feel this loss of community more than anything. They are places to go where you'd know your neighbors and feel a part of something," he said.
The past year has seen notable demises such as Elaine's and La Petite Auberge, H&H Bagels and the original Ray's Pizza on Prince Street. Others, such as the Porto Rico Roasting Company - known as Auggie's during its 45 years of serving coffee on Thompson Street - or Rocco's, the 89-year-old red-sauce joint also on Thompson Street, enjoyed local renown.

Jeremiah Moss, who tracks such departures great and small on his blog Vanishing New York, said he's seen a spike in the numbers.

"I think it slowed down during the economic crisis but seems to be ramping up again in the past year," Moss said. "There does seem to be a run on moving into these classic places that were untouched for decades and have a cachet, and it feels like they're being snatched up by newcomers who want that cachet."

Despite what seems a downward trend, Andrew Rigie, executive vice president for the NYC chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, says the number of sitdown restaurants registered in the city has remained about the same in recent years - from 15,000 to 17,000.

What has changed, he said, are the owners: individual proprietors shut out by "exorbitant rents and the ever-increasing cost of doing business and increasing regulatory burdens," Rigie said.

"Very few restaurants are fortunate enough to own their own buildings. They operate on razor-thin profit margins - sometimes just four cents on the dollar," Rigie added. "If you see a restaurant with every seat full, it doesn't mean that it's profitable. Popularity does not ensure longevity."

(With Sheila Anne Feeney and Marc Beja)

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Endangered list

Bloggers have their eyes on a few classic restos struggling to stay afloat

Bill's Gay 90s
The 19th-century brownstone was once home to author Clement Clarke Moore before it transitioned into a speakeasy around 1924. But under the clubby new ownership, the place's natural cachet will be a thing of the past.

Ray's Candy Store
The tiny store serving huge helpings of Belgian fries and classic egg creams was threatened with eviction in 2010. Proprietor Ray Alavarez, 79, in ill health, had fallen behind on his $3,500 monthly rent and paid off the debt with the help of fund raisers. But, says Grieve, it's a "miracle" he's still hanging on.

Caffé Vivaldi
Woody Allen shot "Bullets Over Broadway" at this 1980s-era jazz club, which is seeking donations to help it meet its obligations to its landlord. To date, the cafe is $34,000 short of its goal - and sitting on a prime piece of real estate.

Manatus
The West Village's "luxury wave" has finally reached the block housing this mainstay diner. Though not in imminent danger, Moss fears it's only a matter of time before the appetite for designer duds wins out over the signature omelets here.

Closed bars

P&G cafe
At 73rd and Amsterdam for 66 years, the bar failed in its new location - and without its iconic neon sign.

Holiday cocktail lounge
A Prohibition-era speakeasy where W.H. Auden and Allen Ginsberg drank.

JOE's BAR
Beers and a killer jukebox weren't enough to save this classic dive, opened in the early '70s and closed at the end of last year.

(Lana Bortolot)

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