Katz’s, like all sacred spaces, is an affront to the forces of progress; and it seems that the 21st century is intent on battering all its most glorious traditions with the gale-force winds of the Zeitgeist. First came the real-estate boom and, with it, the threat that some developer will buy the place and build a giant condo there. Then, earlier this winter, the Health Department sent its spiteful functionaries in to condemn the mother of all delis for selling salami the way they have for 120 years. In a ritual of degradation, the Health Department poured bleach on the precious beef sausages, to ensure they would never be consumed. (A similar atrocity occurred last year at Il Buco and is remembered in food circles as the Great Soppressata Massacre.)
But it gets worse! On our most recent visit, we learned of a new, and more painful, indignity: a sign in front of the totemic meats, bearing the words “For Display Only.” These are the same salamis that fed immigrants on the Lower East Side when Grover Cleveland was president, that were sent overseas to “your boy in the Army” in every armed conflict since the Spanish-American War, and that were consolations in the seventies and celebrations in the boom years afterward. These salamis represent everything best and most wholesome about New York. Is a world where Katz’s can’t sell salami off the hook really worth living in?