For the Foodies and the History Buffs: Katz’ Deli
by Anna Shneyderman, Museum at Eldridge Street Intern
Katz’s Delicatessen: The one place in New York City that I willingly spend $20 on a pastrami sandwich. All deliciousness, zero regrets. (And the pickles that come with the sandwich aren’t half-bad either!)
This famous deli has a history going way back to when the Eldridge Street Synagogue was built and the Lower East Side was brimming with Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Originally opened in 1888 (only one year after the Eldridge Street Synagogue was established) it operated under the name Iceland Brothers. Willy Katz partnered with Iceland Brothers in 1903, and then officially bought out the business in 1910, changing its name to Katz’s Delicatessen, what we know it as today.
While the Orthodox congregants of the Eldridge Street Synagogue would not have eaten at Katz’s Deli because it was not kosher, many Jews opted for a more secular life once they came to the States. Children of observant Lower East Siders sometimes chose to no longer follow strict religious order but still wanted to retain Jewish community, which is what they found at Katz’s.
Today the deli is still a hub of excitement. While Katz’s may not have the same Jewish community it did back in the day, people from all walks of life come for the deli experience which is still run like it was back in the day. Katz’s is all about maintaining tradition. To this day, the meat undergoes a month-long curing process and customers pay by the ticket system.
There are numerous pop culture references to Katz’s deli, the most famous being a scene in When Harry Met Sally. The booth where the famous scene was shot is marked in the actual restaurant.
On your visit to the Lower East Side and Eldridge Street, make sure to stop by Katz’s. The food will surely not disappoint, and when you bring your pastrami on rye and egg cream to the booth and look up at the hundreds of pictures on the walls, you will realize you are surrounded by a history that is still in the works.