Even before moving into an apartment just off the little avenue in question in 1996, I was well familiar with University Place. While I was born and raised on the Upper East Side, I'd fully ensconced myself in all things downtown by the early-to-mid 80's, drawn by the then-plentiful record stores, live music venues and storied urban bohemia of Greenwich Village, the East Village, the Lower East Side, SoHo and their surrounding environs. As such, University Place was one of the main arteries that fed into that wonderland, and it was a strip I'd grown to love. In much the same way I'd thrill to walking up the subway stairs and out into the air and (formerly) wide open space of Astor Place, when I used to cross East 14th street into the veritable mouth of University Place, I'd get a spring in my step just knowing I was heading into more interesting terrain.
When I moved into that first downtown apartment in `96, I already had a pretty good lay of the land. Back then, University Place wasn't quite as...well..bespoke as it currently is. I snapped the picture above in the summer of 1997. There were more endearingly crummy little delis than boutiquey bistros, and there were a couple more dusty antique shops than currently survive. My three favorite businesses that dotted the avenue were, of course, the Cedar Tavern (practically my living room during my years on 12th street), The University Diner (technically called "University Restaurant") and, if I was feeling momentarily financially flush, Japonica for sushi.
There were other decent spots. Down the road a piece there was El Cantinero, Lemon Grass, another Greek diner on the northwest corner of East 11th, BBQ on East 8th and Knickerbocker's on East 9th. In the late 90's, a great neo-Indian spot opened up called Cafe Spice that I grew to be quite fond of as well. There was also the jazz bar Bradley's on 11th. But my favorites remained the three I cited above.
Here in 2013, only Japonica remains of that early trio of favorites. I've penned many a bitter screed about the slow demise of the Cedar Tavern (click here to read the last one), and it was an equal blow to see University Diner shut its doors not too long back. Two fairly crucial locales of my early-midlife (for lack of a better term) have been wiped off the map.
After a long period of emptiness, the space formerly occupied by the Cedar Tavern has become a European waxing center. And, as reported just this morning by Jeremiah Moss, the space formerly held by the University Diner is on its way to becoming a dainty cookie emporium.
These days, despite the ever-shifting parade of eateries that open and close up and down my strip, my loyalties now lay with lovely Knickerbocker's (a great old NYC bar and t-bone steaks to die for) and, when I can afford it, Japonica. If these place go before I do, that'll invariably be my cue that it's my time to leave too.