Some time ago, I was meeting up with some friends to eat in Times Square, and they suggested we go to a diner called Cafe Edison, part of the Hotel Edison on 47th.
My culinary expectations were pretty low (as you may have heard, Times Square has a couple of “tourist traps”), but my friends assured me that Cafe Edison was for locals. And as we walked in, it very much seemed that way: an unassuming lunch counter with stools, some booths along the wall, some tables in the back.
But as we sat down, I quickly noticed something: the decor of the diner seemed surprisingly…opulent.
For example, the column beside our table was covered in extravagant decoration:
I turned back…
…and saw that the motif continued around the walls…
Then I looked up. I have to say, that is quite a ceiling for a hole-in-the-wall diner:
Obviously, Cafe Edison used to be something else – but what was it? According to my friends, this used to be the Hotel Edison’s ballroom.
I was pretty floored – it’s not every day you get to eat in a diner built into the ballroom of a hotel founded in 1931. Searching online for more info, it appears that this story is widely held to be true, though no one seems to know any specifics.
There’s only one problem. The Hotel Edison’s ballroom still exists. Converted into a Broadway theater from 1950 – 1991, it was later restored, and actually looks quite similar to the photograph above taken in the 1940s:
However, also pictured on the postcard is the hotel’s grand dining room…
…and I believe we have a match. For comparison, the existing columns are those pictured on the right side above – the room has been cut in half just past the lunch counter:
Cafe Edison was started by one Harry Edelstein in 1980. It quickly became a beloved hangout for Broadway producers, actors, and playwrights, who jokingly referred to it as the Polish Tea Room, in part due to its opulence (ala the Russian Tea Room), and in part due to its cuisine, a mix of Eastern European Jewish dishes and diner staples.
I love how much of the original decor has survived, especially the wall molding. Look carefully, and you’ll find all sorts of neat details hidden in odd places:
The center of the former dining room is now positioned over the lunch counter…
…which still features the same chandeliers pictured in the old photograph:
Another neat detail…
A balcony in one corner:
The second row of columns are still visible behind the lunch counter, where the dividing wall was installed:
One of several heavily detailed columns…
…spiraling down to its base:
As you enter the Cafe Edison, you first come to an outer room with arched ceilings, which shows the true width of the former dining room.
If you look closely in the corners…
…you’ll find some neat murals from the original days of the hotel, now darkened with time (picture below heavily altered!):
Among the Edison’s many fans is playwright Neil Simon, who set his 2001 play “45 Seconds From Broadway” in a fictional version of Cafe Edison.
I’m thrilled to discover Cafe Edison, as I finally have a new entry on the short list of go-to Times Square restaurants. I definitely recommend a trip – the matzoh ball soup is said to be one of the best in New York.
Finally, after you finish eating, continue your time traveling back to old Times Square by swinging into the Hotel Edison next door.
A recent renovation has given it a slightly more modern look…
But just squint your eyes a bit, and it won’t take long for you to feel like you’re back in the 1930s:
Be sure and head out via the hotel’s rear hallway:
This was where Luca Brasi took his last walk in The Godfather:
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