Lifestyle

The Last Real Coffee Shop in New York

Silver Spurs was part of a dying breed: an old-school Greek coffee shop where everyone was equal

A few months ago, a new Starbucks opened across the street from my apartment. I know, this is like reporting that the sun rose in the east this morning and the Mets choked in the post-season. But that new Starbucks—next to an artisanal beer-and-cheese bar staffed by men with carefully curated facial hair—happened to replace a Teavana. And that Teavana, which lasted less than a year, had replaced my beloved neighborhood diner, Silver Spurs.

I'm still not over it.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of Starbucks. I've spent the last year traveling across North America with my actress daughter, and I love the fact that no matter where I am—from Toronto to Pittsburgh to Salt Lake City—I can get a tall skim caramel latte and my lactose-intolerant kid can get her coconut-milk chai. In Silver Spurs, the only kind of coffee anyone ever ordered came out of a cracked Pyrex coffee pot, with those little plastic tubs of half-and-half on the side. It wasn't good coffee, but it was plentiful, constantly refilled as you sat at the counter reading the newspaper and eating your tuna on rye, or shared a heaping plate of blueberry pancakes on a Sunday morning.

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But it wasn't about the coffee. Or the food, really—though they were famous for serving hamburgers the size of a softball. Silver Spurs was one of the last of a dying breed: a real old-fashioned Greek coffee shop where everyone was welcome, everyone had their favorite booth and everyone was equal. At one table, a couple of bleary-eyed, hungover NYU students staring at their cell phones and picking at bacon, well-done; at the next, a group of anxious parents comparing notes on public-school admissions while their toddlers tossed scrambled eggs on the floor. I saw Matt Damon there with his wife, kids and nanny more than once—no one ever bothered them. And, always, the little old lady in the curly wig sitting by herself, drinking a glass of red wine fortified with two packs of Sweet 'n Low. A perfect microcosm of the old and new guard in my neighborhood.

I miss the fact that I could walk in to Silver Spurs at any time and run into three people I knew; I miss the fact that the waiter would bring over chocolate milk and coffee for my family before we even asked. But what I miss most of all was the sense of Silver Spurs as a living, breathing part of our block, the mother hen who took care of all her chicks at the very worst of times. The first time I felt even a tiny bit of hope after 9/11 was when I was in a booth at Silver Spurs. It was probably a week after the attacks. All we had heard for days was sirens, crying and respectful silence. Then, as I was sitting with my two-month-old baby, eating my much-needed comfort food, eggs and grits, I heard someone at another table let out a small, warm laugh. It was a revelation, the first time I felt that it might be possible, and permissible, to someday smile again.

After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when the southern half of New York City had no electricity or running water, and those who had a place to crash uptown fled the Village, Silver Spurs remained open. It was the lone holdout in the entire neighborhood—the Starbuckses, the supermarkets, the Duane Reades all boarded up and dark. But with the strategic use of flashlights and gas grills, Silver Spurs stayed open until it ran out of food, so the elderly people of the neighborhood would have a place to eat, huddle together and share news.

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Living in New York means constantly bemoaning beloved places that have closed—restaurants, independent bookstores, that quirky little record shop that's now another branch of Wells Fargo Bank. But when Silver Spurs shut its doors, it was more than just another diner done in by skyrocketing rents. It was the loss of the true social hive of my little section of New York, where everyone, from movie star to preschooler to accountant was equally at home. Yes, I am grateful I now have a dozen different places within three blocks where I can get my fancy lattes and organic scones, but tell me honestly, would the old lady drinking the chemically sweetened wine and an Oscar-winning actor ever be seen there at the same time? And even if they were, would they be treated just like two locals from the neighborhood coming in for a bite of food, a cup of coffee and some neighborhood communion?

   
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