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Garden Cafeteria (former, now Wing Shoon Restaurant)

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A storied Lower East Side gathering place

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Lower East Side
Commercial, Gathering Place

Place Matters Profile

By Emma Jacobs

Partly by accident, and partly on the strength of an excellent Jewish menu, the Garden Dairy Cafeteria found itself at the center of Jewish intellectual life on the Lower East Side.

The corner of Rutgers and Broadway was once at the heart of a thriving community of Jewish immigrants on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Back when the Yiddish papers still printed daily, and their Yiddish-speaking audience still filled the Lower East Side, the Garden Cafeteria served as a meeting-place for a crowd of Jewish intellectuals, along with the lively neighborhood crowd.

According to a biographical sketch of Charles Metzger published in 1967, Metzger opened the Garden Cafeteria in June of 1941. Originally from Austria, Metzger was born in 1897, and immigrated to the United States in 1911. Initially, he served up meals to customers in Harlem before he moved his operations south to the Lower East Side....

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On The Web

The Jewish Museum exhibit


Anonymous Nominator

A legendary gathering place for socialists and communists beginning in 1911. Leon Trotsky and Fidel Castro came here, the Workmen's Circle held meetings here, and "Jewish Daily Forward" reporters came here to discuss local news and politics.

Carol Foresta

I grew up on the lower east side. The Garden Cafeteria served as a meeting place both inside and out. My father used to wait outside of it for me each evening, when I was a student returning from college. He'd smoke his pipe and stand in front of one of its doors. There he would meet all of his friends and people from the neighborhood. They would be engrossed in conversation. Because my mother was an excellent cook, my father did not dare to eat at the Garden.

The Garden always attracted a colorful assembly of people so very long ago. I believe the people who go there today are probably equally interesting. (Sept., 2007)

Betsy Wade

What an overwhelming wave of the past comes even with the name Garden Cafeteria!

I had a long career as an editor and writer at the New York Times, but summers when I was in college, I worked at 197 East Broadway, the Educational Alliance, or "the Edgies." I took the Third Avenue El south to work each morning, timing myself to ride the old trains with the open-air platforms between the cars because I loved feeling the air rush past as we went south to Canal Street. Then I walked east and north, past the cafeteria with "S. Jarmlovsky's Bank" cut into the curved stone over the door and on toward Seward Park.

The Garden Cafeteria was right there on the corner of East Broadway and when I was early for work, I would go in, pull a number out of the machine at the doorway and get myself a cup of coffee to take with me to work.

The serious social workers who worked with me of course believed that this was the place where Trotsky et al argued and discussed, but whether or no, the lobby of the Edgies was hung with photographs of the famous graduates of this oldest Jewish settlement house in the US: Robert Sarnoff, Jules Garfinkel [John Garfield] and a batch more. Some lot they were, to be sure. Artists, actors, producers, inventors: the bunch that made America a world leader.

The Educational Alliance is still there, across the street from the Seward Park Library, and around the bend from the place that used to be a kosher wine vinter, where the aroma told you what was going on.

My career was profoundly affected by my two summers there, passing the Garden Cafeteria five days a week. (Sept., 2007)

Jeff Freeman

Simeon J. Tropp, who was born in Grodno, educated at NYU and later at U. of Vienna (MD 1934), once told me that his mom had kept a restaurant on the lower east side that was frequented by Jewish emigre intellectuals. Could this have been one of the precursors of the Garden Cafeteria?

I occasionally ate there in the 60's & 70's when I lived on the lower east side. While I was never part of the 'scene', the rich history of the place intrigues me. Also it is very hard to find a place like that- informal, no meat, and a vast array of fish, veggie, & dairy dishes- we need more like it. (May 2009)

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