Pandemic Restaurant Review: Katz’s Delicatessen, New York City

Katz’s Survived the 1918 Pandemic, Now It’s Adapting to the Coronavirus

The author's server (left), and a colleague

By Jonathan Spira on 17 February 2021
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This isn’t Katz’s Delicatessen’s first pandemic. The New York landmark, which opened in 1888 across the street from present location, moved just in time for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which it managed to survive.

Despite the repeated openings and closings of indoor dining in New York City, Katz’s has remained open, sometimes just for take out and delivery, and now, once again, open for indoor dining, albeit with a 25% capacity limit.

The purveyor of the definitive pastrami sandwich in the city, perhaps the best in the land, isn’t fazed by the challenge.  Upon entering the restaurant, patrons have their temperature checked on their wrists (“People didn’t like me almost tapping their heads,” the maître d’ told a reporter who was coming in for takeout). Patrons are handed a ticket that is used to track what they order, and asked to wait in a very pandemic-safe waiting line. 

Having a moment to reflect before I was called to my meat-slicing station, I looked around the restaurant.  For any other establishment, it would have seemed normal, but the supersized dining room – it seats 270 comingled with old photographs of prominent customers and other memorabilia on the walls – lacked the chaos I was used to.  Indeed, in the pre-pandemic days, the dining room was so chaotic that one might feel it was charged with a special kind of electricity hard to find elsewhere.  The tumult is intoxicating.

Little, however, has changed in the décor.  Original neon signs are everywhere, including in the windows where they should be. Dangling signs encourage you to “send [sic] salami to your boy in the Army,” perhaps because you would eat the corned beef or brisket sandwich before you could mail it off.

Although the tables were spread out to ensure that aerosols and droplets would likely not flow from one table to another, I wasn’t staying: My maximum time in any establishment is 15 minutes and that is precisely what it took to order several pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, latkes, coleslaw, extra sour pickles, a few Dr. Browns sodas, and a Katz’s chocolate babka for good measure.

Click here to continue to Page 2An Amuse Bouche of Pastrami

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