The oldest kosher restaurant in New York history will soon be history.
Ratner’s, a center of gastronomic Jewish life on the Lower East Side since 1905, which added a non-kosher, open-on-Shabbat nightclub to its Delancey Street site in 1997 and turned its Sunday-morning brunch from kosher to "kosher style" two years ago, will close the restaurant (still called Ratner’s) by the end of the year. The nightclub-lounge, named Lansky’s for Meyer Lansky, the late Jewish gangster and one-time Ratner’s customer, will likely remain open.
The decision is purely business, says Robert Harmatz, co-owner and grandson of the restaurant’s founder, Jacob Harmatz. (Ratner’s is named for Alex Ratner, Jacob Harmatz’s partner, who sold his share in the enterprise in 1918.)
In a changing neighborhood, one no longer heavily Jewish, Ratner’s traditional blintz-oriented cuisine could not attract the lounge’s younger, hipper clientele, even after surrendering its kosher supervision and adding some fleishig items to a dairy menu a half year ago, Harmatz said. "A new generation is coming down to the Lower East Side," he said.
At the same time, the popular Ratner’s soup carts, which attracted long lunchtime lines on the streets of Manhattan, also disappeared. "I know the neighbors are upset," Harmatz said. "We get customers calling all the time."
But not enough customers.
Coming a decade after Lou G. Siegel’s, a Midtown eatery that also boasted a long history and exclusive clientele, closed its doors, Ratner’s final days end another link with New York’s Jewish past. Harmatz says Ratner’s is the city’s oldest kosher restaurant, as well as its oldest family-owned restaurant of any type.
"We kept it going many years because of tradition," because of ethnic loyalty, he said.
"It’s a shame. You don’t have too many visible signs of the Jewish history in America," said Misha Avramoff, co-director of Project Ezra, a Lower East Side-based institution that serves the homebound elderly. He cited the former building of the Forward newspaper, which now houses luxury condominiums. "We never really learned how to preserve the physical aspects of our being someplace."
The Ratner’s name will not fade out when the restaurant closes: its line of kosher blintzes and pancakes, produced in another Lower East Side location, will keep supplying its products to supermarkets, Harmatz said.