A dying breed -The last blintz

In ‘The Last Blintz,’ filmmaker Dori Berinstein laments the closing of yet another Jewish New York landmark.

November 12, 2016 22:07
4 minute read.
Cafe Edison.

Cafe Edison.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

At 3:15 p.m. on December 21, 2014, Frances Edelstein took a bite of the last blintz eaten at Cafe Edison, a Times Square landmark forced to close after 34 years in business.

The cafe, opened by Holocaust survivors Harry and Frances Edelstein, was a favorite among the Broadway crowd, and was renowned for being a hub for actors, directors and producers alike to gather and have a bowl of matzo ball soup, a plate of potato pancakes or a roast beef sandwich.

So when the landlord of the cafe – the son of the man who’d made the original rental agreement with the Edelsteins – told them they had to get out, the Broadway community, including theater producer and filmmaker Dori Berinstein, rallied in support.

Berinstein, moved and outraged by the story, began filming what would eventually become The Last Blintz, a short documentary which was featured at the American Film Institute’s AFIDOCS festival earlier this year.

The movie just premiered at the UK Jewish Film Festival and will also be featured at the upcoming Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival and Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival.

Cafe Edison “was the center of the Broadway community... it was a beloved diner with comfort food for Broadway producers and for actors and for everybody in the community,” Berinstein told The Jerusalem Post. “But it was also a place that was beloved by people around the world. It was a place you go to experience New York in New York, because it really had a tremendous amount of soul and cultural history... it was just part of my life in a very big way.”

And Berinstein’s film reflects that. She began shooting in the final few months Cafe Edison was open, after they’d been told of their impending eviction. The short documentary is studded with famous names and faces, all recounting the memories they have from their times eating soup, sandwiches and blintzes in the heart of the theater district.

Joy Behar to Bob Balaban, Georgia Engel and the entire cast of the Broadway hit You Can’t Take it With You – plus state senators and city councilmen – waxed poetic about their memories and experiences in the New York City landmark. Though diners came from far and near, it was clear that the Edison Cafe held a special place in the heart of the Broadway actors, producers, directors, choreographers and stagehands. Not just the convenient location in the heart of the theater district but the atmosphere and vibe of the local mom-and-pop diner in the heart of the big bustling city created a strong emotional pull.

“When suddenly the whole community heard that it was closing, I was certainly very upset about it and when I learned why it was closing it seemed very unjust,” she said. “I felt the Edison Cafe had to be celebrated.”

And Berinstein knew this was a story she needed to tell on the screen.

“My entry to the film really came from a place of love and from my work as a Broadway producer and my appreciation for the family that had dedicated themselves to taking care of the Broadway community and giving so much to – not just people in the Broadway community, but people who came in and didn’t have money to pay for soup, they took care of them.”

The film strikes a plaintive note, and anyone who follows New York’s culinary scene could predict the ending. Though the Edelstein family and the cafe’s loyal staff pulled out all the stops, rallying local politicians and garnering more than 10,000 signatures on a petition, they couldn’t keep Cafe Edison open.

And from that plaintive note, Bernstein shifts to a clarion call, a passionate plea to keep the businesses of New York City up and running.

“As I started to capture the closing months of Cafe Edison I began to understand and learn about the much more gigantic issue of hyper-gentrification,” she said.

Berinstein is passionate that everyone should be “trying to save these special destinations, because you’re going to get to the point where every big city looks exactly the same. And so why go to New York, if you’re not going to be able to find New York? When it looks like London or Paris or any big city?” The reactions she’s heard from audiences, she said, mirrors her indignation.

“People also feel like New York is slipping away and so many of these special destinations that really capture the history and the soul of New York are disappearing,” she said. “It’s important to raise awareness about the issue of hyper-gentrification and – not fight progress, but insist and demand progress with a conscience. I think it has awakened a lot of people to the issue and I think people are speaking out and trying to protect what remains.”

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