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Magic Table at the Hotel Edison Cafe

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Gathering place for magicians for a half century

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Midtown
Theater, Gathering Place

Place Matters Profile

Adapted from David Hochman's article in Hidden New York (2006)

Every weekday around noon, for almost thirty years, Mike Bornstein's thoughts turned to scrambled eggs and magic. Fortunately, he could satisfy both cravings at the same time.

He strolled the two short blocks from his ancient apartment in the Broadway theater district to the Hotel Edison coffee shop, where he took his familiar corner seat at the head of the magic table. As waitresses glided past, juggling plates of knockwurst and pancakes, Bornstein and his venerable colleauges in the New York magic community turned nickles into dimes, plucked silk flowers from plastic tubes, and summoned the ghosts of long-gone friends like Cardini, Slydini, the Coney Island Fakir, and even Orson Welles and bandleader Richard Himber. Bornstein presided over the Magic Table four days each week until, tragically, he was killed by a truck on his way home from the cafe...

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Tom Klem

For more than 60 years, the Magic Table has been the "spiritual hub" of New York's magic world. Over the years it has moved around to various cafes and restaurants in the Theater District, and magicians from around the world have gathered at lunch to share their art and lively conversation. Since 1986 the Magic Table has been welcomed by Harry and Francis Edelstein at their Café Edison located in the Hotel Edison at 228 West 47th Street.

Since a member of the Society of American Magicians swears an oath to keep the secrets of their craft, magicians naturally seek out and enjoy those who share the same passion of a life in magic and its secrets. Over the years many places have become the focus of these activities and are cherished and loved by this magic community. One of these is the S.A.M. Magic Table that first met in 1942 in Times Square. They described it in this way: “S.A.M.’s Parent Assembly #1 reserves a regular table at lunchtime daily for its members and friends at the famous Terrace Dinning Room of the Dixie Hotel. Visiting magicians are always assured of a hearty welcome and fine food in friendly company at the Magic Table, 43rd Street west of Broadway. They will be very glad to see you and swap gags and magic news and views.”

The present host of the Magic Table, professional magician Mike Bornstein, tells us that in the 1940s Times Square was the hub of the magic world. Magicians shopped its many magic stores like Tannen’s and Holden’s. They performed in its nightclubs and theaters. Many top performers were stopping over in New York on their way to international tours. Almost all of them lunched at the Magic Table. From actor Orson Welles and bandleader Richard Himber to Cardini and Slydini they all were there. For 62 years through five locations this Magic Table, this place of camaraderie and joy has been hosted by the Society.

For over 15 years Bornstein, like his predecessor Joe Barnett, has held reign weekdays (except Wednesdays) from 12-2 at Café Edison. All with a genuine interest in magic are welcome. If you are nice you may see a trick or two. You may also hear about past “Table” days at Rosoff’s Restaurant or the Hotel Piccadilly on 45th St. You might kibitz with Jerry Oppenheimer. Mike Bornstein points out that Jerry as court reporter in the Bronx “Did more magic in one day than anyone in this room” during jury breaks.

The Cafe is also called “The Polish Tea Room” and has a section for the many Broadway theater folks who also gather there. Neil Simon wrote a play about the place called “Only 45 Seconds From Broadway.” I recommend the Matzo Ball Soup and the company.

Kathleen Vestuto

For the past 34 years, the Cafe Edison has been a beloved home to the New York theater community. Playwright August Wilson wrote three of his works here, on Cafe Edison napkins. Producer Emanuel Azenberg has been a customer since the cafe opened and states that he has closed "a ton of deals there." The cafe inspired Neil Simon's "45 Seconds from Broadway." Actors dine there regularly between shows, auditions and jobs. It is an irreplaceable combination of Old World grace, New York chutzpah, and Eastern European cuisine. It is one of the last, if not the last, vestiges of what made the theater district so unique, inclusive, colorful and welcoming.

Beautifully constructed as the original dining room of the Art Deco Edison Hotel, completed in 1931. Elegant columns, chandeliers, bas-relief cherubs on the ceiling overlook the immaculate Formica tables, lunch counter, and diner accoutrement, making the Edison an irresistible, unique and celebrated location. But it's not just about food and decor. It's about community.

The cafe was opened in 1980 by Harry and Frances Edelstein at the invitation of their friend and fellow Holocaust survivor Ulu Barad, then the owner of the Edison Hotel, where the cafe is located. Mr. Edelstein and Mr. Barad are now gone, and Mr. Barad's son, hotel magnate Gerard Barad, wants to close the cafe and replace it with yet another generic, high-end Times Square bistro. The Edison is irreplaceable, as over 5,000 signers of the Save the Cafe Edison petition on can attest. (November 2014)

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