Sometimes you learn that an old friend has passed away suddenly. In earlier days and nights, during a difficult time in your life, that friend had shared your time and space.
Last week, an Upper West Side landmark closed it doors forever. Big Nick's Burger Joint had opened in 1962, long before today's world had arrived. Nick Imirziades invested his money, health and heart into the eatery that would eventually become a legend on the Upper West Side.
Big Nick's thrived in a time on the Upper West Side when you couldn't give away a storefront, let alone gouge it for monthly rent. The neighborhood was the wild Wild West - gritty, dirty and dangerous. A time when Verdi Park was "Needle Park." And still, Big Nick fed the community and thrived doing so.
Big Nick's was a greasy spoon of sorts but it was so much more than that to starving actors, performers, ballet students, Julliard students and those 'others' that survived on fixed incomes. In the mid 70s when I arrived on the Upper West Side, I, like so many twenty-somethings, often found myself on a shoestring budget, especially after nightlong vampfests in the fast lane.
Ten dollars at Big Nick's was more than enough to get you home satisfied and full by 5 a.m.
And it wasn't unusual, at the time, to find yourself sitting next to a celeb, like Christopher Reeve...yes, Superman ate there, trying to focus on the 17-page menu! He was once in the table next to me. On my other side was probably an elderly man sipping coffee while reading the NY Post at 3 a.m. as though it was breakfast time and sunrise was behind him.
That was decades ago.
And now, Big Nick's Burger Joint, my old friend, has been shuttered. I didn't have to be there often anymore in recent years. But I knew that Big Nick would always be there for me.
The character and culture of the Upper West Side has been eroded once again, by the likes of a bottom feeding landlord. A landlord who was ready to increase Big Nick's rent by $20,000 a month! Criminal.
And, worse, politicians were useless in eliminating the inevitable. For years their mantra has been to somehow regulate commercial rents to affordable levels. Yeah, ok.
Thank you, Nick, for being so meaningful to, and in, our community. Thank you for helping those that needed it. And thank you for feeding those that were hungry, and poor. At all hours.
Your loss is our loss. Your pain is our pain. But your commitment to us and our community will forever be remembered.
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