Joe Jr. Restaurant

New York, New York, USA

Closed 2009

The Disappointed Tourist: Joe Jr., Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

A rent dispute ended this restaurant’s 45-year history of serving comfort food. I don’t know who took the photograph on which the painting is based.

The 2009 loss of Joe Jr restaurant in the Village still looms large for me. From 1997, I lived around the corner from the diner, which was located on Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, and the place was a true institution from long before my arrival. When they announced the closing, I remember walking by the restaurant, seeing the sign in the window, and I promptly burst into tears. People were in various states of distress both inside the restaurant and out on the street. There was a petition protesting the closing that garnered more than 1,000 signatures – including mine. Sadly, the community rallying around the restaurant didn’t save it from closure due to a greedy landlord. The thing about Joe Jr is that it was the type of place that has almost entirely vanished from the NYC landscape. It was an inexpensive, unpretentious diner that served good, solid food to New Yorkers of all stripes. I remember distinctly a woman who would come in and sit at the counter every day. She may or may not have been homeless and she was barely verbal, and the staff fed her a cup of split pea soup every day without her having to ask. She’d come in, sit down, and they’d just plop the soup down in front of her. They also never took payment. At the same time, I’d often see Sarah Jessica Parker in the restaurant. She’d walk in, the cooks would all shout “SARAH!!!” in unison, she’d give them a bright smile and then proceed to her favorite booth in the back to read Sex in the City scripts over a fried egg and wheat toast. See what I mean? All stripes, cohabitating happily over bacon and eggs and split pea soup. An increasingly rare occurrence here these days. I’m sad to say that the loss of Joe Jr’s affected many people, but perhaps that non-verbal woman most of all. I saw her walking up Sixth Avenue about a year after the restaurant closed. She had dropped at least 30 pounds, most probably because Joe Jr wasn’t there to feed her. Michele S.