A Reflection on a Local Landmark That’s Closing

When The Curmudgeon was growing up, the section of Philadelphia in which he lived was dotted with Jewish-style deli-restaurants.  He says “Jewish-style” because while they were the place to go for corned beef and matzoh ball soup and a chub and other such things they’d also happily serve you bacon and eggs.  As the Jewish population of the area dwindled the Jewish-style deli-restaurants fell by the wayside, one by one, and a year ago at this time only two remained.  One of the two closed a few months ago and the last, Jack’s Delicatessen, closed its doors at the end of business yesterday.

Jack’s was long a place where Jewish teenagers would go for a late-night bite on a Friday or Saturday night, maybe after seeing a movie, and The Curmudgeon knows a lot of people who spent a lot of time there.  For the most part, he wasn’t one of them:  he didn’t belong to one of the Jewish fraternities that were the social hub for many of his friends – The Curmudgeon’s not much of a joiner, who would have thought? – mostly because he didn’t like a lot of those people and wasn’t comfortable with the concept of a Jews-only organization.  Even so, he probably visited Jack’s a half-dozen times during that period of his life, and in his family, it was known informally as “the place with the sticky tables.”

Which tells you that even at its best, Jack’s was not exactly the Four Seasons.

It’s been clear for a while that Jack’s had fallen on hard times.  The décor is strictly 1970s, the ragged menus look like they haven’t been replaced since the 1990s, and the tables are still sticky.  A few years back it stopped serving dinner because it had lost its dinner trade – its customers were now mostly seniors who didn’t drive after dark – and last fall The Curmudgeon and his mother decided to have lunch there and then purchase the smoked fish delicacies that are part of the tradition of breaking the fast at sundown after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.  Mother and son chose Jack’s because they knew the other place in the area for buying such food would be mobbed, but after an adequate but less-than-inspiring meal and the observation that the deli counter was practically deserted despite the upcoming holiday, they decided that the lack of customers at a time when the store should be crowded was a clear warning not to take their chances and instead drove to the place that was indeed mobbed.

While The Curmudgeon doesn’t have much of a personal history with Jack’s and sees it mostly as a bit of a local landmark – although certainly not iconic – he does have one very fond recollection.  He was a senior in high school and at Jack’s probably after ten o’clock on a Saturday night and noticed that the menu boasted of “homade potato salad.”  That’s just chum for a smart-ass seventeen-year old – who’s he kidding?  That kind of thing still sets off alarms around him today – and The Curmudgeon called the obvious typo to the waitress’s attention.

“That’s not a typo,” she said in a world-weary manner.  “The brand is Homade, the potato salad comes in five gallon tubs with that name on it, but it’s not home-made, it’s Homade.”

Touché:  she put the smart-ass in his place.

The bigger-picture issue with Jack’s, at least for The Curmudgeon, is that he remembers when the strip shopping center in which the store was to be located was under construction and he was aware of Jack’s opening, within walking distance of his cousins, when he was just nine years old.  And now, like so many of the markers of his youth – his high school, the synagogue where he had his bar mitzvah, the neighborhood restaurant where he did hang out late on a Friday or Saturday night, the ice cream parlor at which he worked during his last year of high school and first year of college, the stores where he bought records and then tapes and then CDs, the bowling alley, all of the department stores, the place with the absolutely best bagels, and so many more – it, too, is now gone.

When The Curmudgeon read of Jack’s impending demise he tried to interest his mother, a corned beef, chopped liver, and kosher pickles-loving woman, to accompany him there for one last meal.  Mom declined; mother and son had been there about six weeks earlier and had another meal that The Curmudgeon found adequate but mom…didn’t.

So mother and son went to IHOP instead.

Good-bye, Jack’s.  The Curmudgeon won’t really miss you but he’s sorry you’re gone.


Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: