|Image copyright Eater NY|
Our Sunday mornings in Brooklyn started with a ritual. First, wander up and down Smith Street trying to find a copy of the New York Times (convenience stores and bodegas mostly don't sell newspapers, and the ones that do invariably sell out).
Second, repair to The New St. Clair for breakfast, doing a few bicep curls with the notoriously heavy Times on the way. We'd settle into one of the plush booths, and order the same thing every time - eggs over easy with home fries and a side of toast for J, and an egg-white omelette with tomatoes, peppers and onions with home fries for me. No sooner had our bums touched the seats then the waitress would be by our side with the coffee pot, pouring it into those classic white diner mugs - thick porcelain with a pleasing convex curve in the middle. Finding The New St. Clair made our new neighbourhood feel instantly like home. It made us feel like real New Yorkers.
The St.Clair opened in 1920 and was refurbished in the noughties. It called itself a restaurant, but was most definitely a diner. Comfy booths, endless refills, a leather-bound menu the size of a dictionary - definitely a diner. If Seinfeld was set today, Jerry, Elaine and George would live in brownstone Brooklyn and talk about nothing at New St Clair.
Along with the golden, crispy home fries and huge portions, my favourite thing about New St. Clair was the decor - maroon booths, Formica tables with A1 Steak Sauce and ketchup in plastic holders, and 60-style chairs in the windows. 100% pure Americana.
But sadly, classic New York diners and delis are a dying breed. The famous Stage Deli shuttered in November. And in January 2013, so did The St. Clair. It was open almost every day for 92 years and then...wasn't. By this point we were back in Britain, and news of the New St. Clair's passing came in buried near the bottom of an email newsletter. Just another horse on New York's ever-spinning roundabout of openings and closures.
The frustrating thing was...the New St Clair was popular. Maybe not 24-7, but on weekends its two rooms were filled with local families wolfing down pancakes and eggs. On a gentrified street of admittedly wonderful but oh-so-cool restaurants and bars, and an increasing number of chains, the diner stood out as a slice of pre-gentrified Brooklyn. The food wasn't exactly Michelin-star, but that wasn't the point.
But restaurants don't always close because they're unpopular. For the St. Clair's owners, as for so many others, a developer made them an offer they couldn't refuse. What was once a classic slice of Americana, is now a "world class retail opportunity" according to the hoardings. It breaks my heart a little that when we next go back to visit our old stomping ground, the New St. Clair will most likely be yet another new branch of American Apparel. Such is life, especially in ever-evolving New York.