Wednesday, July 26, 2017

[Updated] After 34 years off the Bowery, the Great Jones Café closes tonight



Updated 8/2: Great Jones Cafe is reopening tonight.

The Great Jones Café, the low-key Cajun-Creole restaurant that opened in 1983, is shutting its doors tonight after service.

Multiple tipsters shared this news (H/T Spike). The initial word passed along from staff to patrons last night is that the lease is up at the restaurant on Great Jones Street just off the Bowery. However, that has not been confirmed and an official reason for a closure hasn't been offered.

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Updated: A longtime employee told the Daily News that the Café will close after tonight "for a week of clean-up, and during that break, the 34-year-old institution will decide whether or not they’ll ever open again."

And:

“It’s a possibility, but nothing has been decided yet,” according to one long time employee.

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Back in March, Bill Judkins, who had been GM for 26 years (and an employee for longer), was fired.

He told me this in an email in April:

My two partners and I have not seen eye to eye about the direction the restaurant needed move in for a few years now. I’ve been arguing that The Jones is unique and special, one of a vanishing breed (certainly in Manhattan) that is loved and needs to be preserved. They feel that the Jones needs to be changed into something more contemporary to appeal to the “new" neighborhood.

It came to a head this past March 10th, when they forced me out.

Since then, four employees have quit. The jukebox has gone dark. They took the Mardi Gras beads off the bar lamps that they’ve been on for years. They took down the Christmas lights that illuminated the room. I’m not sure what other changes are planned.

I think it has been a special little “joint” for many, many years. It seems a sad way for it to go down.

The jukebox, stocked with the likes of the Flying Burrito Brothers and Howlin’ Wolf that Judkins curated, was typically named on the city's best-of lists. (Judkins removed his records from the jukebox after being fired.)



On my last visit here in April, the jukebox sat unplugged in its usual spot. The bartender had the stereo on behind the bar. (I recall hearing Coldplay and Keane.)



In January 2015, Eater's Robert Sietsema wrote this appreciation of the Great Jones Café:

The website of Great Jones Café mentions that when the place first opened in June, 1983, Great Jones Street was so isolated and desolate that after eating, patrons would often rush outside and indulge in a game of Wiffle Ball uninterrupted by traffic. Nowadays in this bustling, now-upscale Bowery neighborhood, street sports — as well as rents — are impossible. Yet Great Jones Café remains, as much a clubhouse providing reasonably priced meals for the artists, writers, and rock musicians who have lived and labored in the vicinity as it is a place that employs them when the royalty checks dry up.

And...

I had two very enjoyable meals in an atmosphere blessedly quiet and relaxed, even with the jukebox. It made me nostalgic for an era in downtown New York when real estate pressures didn’t dominate everything, when food didn’t always have to be the best and most expensive it could be, when a meal was simply a meal, best consumed among friends.

As an EVG tipster noted, the newcomers in that area now want to go to places like Atla on Lafayette for plates of $12 Brussels Sprouts..



Updated 7/27

WPIX was at the restaurant and filed a report last evening.

86 comments:

  1. I recall eating here back in the 1980's when the whole Cajun thing hit the city. The sad truth of places like this is the clientele has aged and with some exceptions may not live nearby or look to other places to eat out. As mentioned the EV has had a restaurant and bar explosion in recent years and nearly all of those places are geared to a younger and richer resident or visitor (tourists). When a place like this one vanishes it make me realize my youth was a long time ago and will not return either.

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  2. Noooo!! Total bummer. I've been eating there since before I moved to East Village. Great loss.

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  3. aw, fuck. going there for catfish in the late 90s was my bag.

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  4. Alas. This was always first on my list of suggestions when someone came into town and wanted to go somewhere "the locals go". Great, honest food and up til the end my favorite brunch place as well. Will miss the annual December holiday party and their magnetic calendars too. RIP Great Jones!

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  5. I worked as a Bartender at the Jones from 1983 to 1987. I remember when Bill Judkins was hired as a busboy/dishwasher. He was such a smart, kind, funny man. Glad that he maintained his association as long as he did. The Jones was always as much a magnet for "yuppies' as it was for artists, musicians, and writers (oh my). And it was often too rowdy to cultivate the cultural cache of a Chumley's or White Horse or Algonuin, etc. But I hope it is fondly remembered as an epicenter of a tine and a place. I still cherish and in a few instances maintain the friendships made there. From what I understand of NYC EV now, it's a miracle it lasted as long as it did. Thanks to EVG for posting this sad news. Keith Dunlap

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    1. I remember you Keith, I worked as a dishwasher during my year off from Bard. You, Andy, Frank, Karen, Rich, Phil, Lisa...listening to early Howard Stern with Brendon while doing prep cook work in the basement...I turned 21 while working at the Jones and grew up so much during that year. What a fun place to work, what a great vibe, menu, scene, a creative atmosphere in a time when a girl could live in New York City on a dishwasher's salary. RIP Great Jones.

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    2. sorry to hear this news - I worked at the Jones as a porter/dishwasher circa '86 - gas flame heated sink/no soap method was novel me...was working my shift when the Challenger shuttle crashed - recall that Tobin (also from Bard or maybe Simon's Rock College?) was there too that day... once got a 'talking to' from Rich or Phil(?) cuz I added extra cukes/tomatoes to the side salads! Still have the scar from slicing my thumb on a broken bottle when I took the bar trash to the dumpster...great jukebox and great talks at the bar with Mike Chandler...

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    3. Indeed, Keith. I remember spending many a night there with you bartending; i clearly recall seeing Jean-Michel Basquiat there frequently, as his studio was directly across the street, and all too vividly being there the night his death was made public. While its easily been twenty years since I've visited, the delicious blackened catfish and mardi gras jukebox, featuring Dr. John's amazing tracks "mama roux" and "golden slippers" echoes in the recesses of the mind. --josh

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  6. This one hurts. For over 20 years, it's been the "go to" spot after Loser's Lounge shows. We'd hurry over there to get there before 1 AM when the kitchen closed. Played the Christmas party for meal vouchers.
    Well put, Keith. Any time I'd go there, I'd almost always run into someone I know. Still felt "local" even recently. Many great memories.

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    1. Joe McGinty! I loved those Loser Lounge shows

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    2. -- LOSERS LOUNGE AT FEZ!!!! Loved that!!! And Joe McGinty, no more Lucky Cat or Manhattan Inn... wahhh!!! That is so the story of New York City, I guess. If we stay, the institutions eventually have to go. We have our memories, though.

      Thank you Great Jones Cafe, always beloved to me and to many. And thank you Joe McGinty, ALSO beloved to me! I remember seeing an Elton John lounge show at Fez, and was totally high from it. Great great stuff!! One of many Losers Lounge shows I was blessed to see.

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    3. right there with you, Joe. In fact my first time there may have been with you after a LL show. This is a deep loss.

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    4. No Lucky Cat or Manhattan Inn, but come to my piano bar, Sid Gold's Request Room if you're missing piano karaoke!

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  7. I hate this news so much, especially since I'm out of town right now + can't swing by for one last margarita. One of my very favorite places in the neighborhood, and has been for decades. I'm genuinely sad about this. 💔

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  8. This is so sad. I worked there for a couple of years before it went Cajun. I would bartend, cook and serve. It seemed meant to be the 'joint' it became. So many memories!! The last time I was there with Syd Straw after she performed at Joe's..seems fitting.
    RIP Great Jones

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  9. The Great Jones Café, and all of the eponymous street(s) in the EV was a staple since my day 1 in 1993 till the end of 1999. I have been there every time I
    Hit the city ever since. More recently, its be the only place of the entire 'hood, I could really relate to. Back in the days the Great Jones Diner and the ACME BAR (and underground) were where I did a lot of growing up! GJC it's so sad to see you go! It was the best of times ...

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    1. Ah yes, those were my exact years, too. Loved the Jones...still have the shirt! Capslock FUN and great times!

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  10. I'm crushed. I could always rely on Great Jones Cafe for an easy and great meal. They will be deeply missed.

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  11. Cue wailing and gnashing of dentures in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

    "They feel that the Jones needs to be changed into something more contemporary to appeal to the “new" neighborhood."

    Biology 101 - adapt or die. Don't like it, tough. You can either be lead by progress or dragged behind it.

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    1. Please stay anonymous

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    2. $12 plates of Brussels sprouts are progress? What an asshole.

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    3. Oh Please. Classics become classics for a reason. If it opened a satellite somewhere else it could approach a new space in a new way with appropriate and authentic ways to honor the original, like the great way Russ and Daughters tried it. But not every place is "adapt or die" in exactly the same way, and The Great Jones Cafe got it right. They do what they do well, and it didn't fall behind, it became an beloved fixture. It was the first restaurant I ever went to in New York City when I visited from New Mexico for the first time at 10 years old, and It was the coolest. Twenty-four years later I still love it, still think its cool, and go there regularly and always bring people. Plus its one of the few places that I feel like a Margarita outside of New Mexico.

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  12. Why doesn't Bill Judkins rent it now and keep it going?

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  13. This one does hurt! Loyal Jones Fan. Beautiful souls as staff and delish food. Last few months have been brutal there. I'm open to change but the new approach sucked the joy out of the place. Old Jones, RIP, my dear friend. New Jones, F**k the Noise! Love, Anna B.

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  14. Nail in the coffin. Need that wing recipe ASAP.

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  15. What an incredible run you had, GJC. Hats off to the managers and staff that made it so special for so long - thank you!

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  16. businesses and residents that stuck it out and stayed put during the down days should not be rewarded with displacement by the so-called-progress of gentrification.
    the guts are being torn out of our city and replaced with robots and glass with mo soul.

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  17. Oh, man! I hung out there during the 80s -- as a "semi-regular" I did not get a Christmas stocking, but was invited to the annual regulars' party -- and played whiffle ball in the street a bunch of times. Moving back after many years away, I was happy to find that the Jones was still more or less the same--but when I saw that the jukebox was gone, I suspected the worst. This hurts! I'll miss the staff, the catfish, the, re, ambiance...but who gets custody of Elvis?

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  18. This sucks something fierce.

    Such a count-on-able place in that neighborhood; perfect for before shows at CBGB (gone) or Bouwerie Lane theater (gone) or after snagging tunes at Other Music (also gone) - that list goes on and on. I don't want to be an old grump about changes in NYC, but I'm losing my mind here a little bit at a time.

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    1. It would be easier if we had new, comparable places filling the void left by these closings (although Great Jones is pretty much irreplaceable as far as I'm concerned). There are a few: Jimmy's No. 43, Mighty Quinn's, Three of Cups, St. Dymphna's, and a handful of others in the EV where you can still get a decent meal and a drink without blowing the weekly budget. I understand that neighborhoods change, rents go up and up and up and up, and owners have to make a living: why should they sell $10 hamburgers when they could sell $30 "chopped steak sandwiches"? It may be inevitable but it's still a pisser....

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  19. That's basically the last bar in Manhattan that I enjoyed going to.

    Honestly if they were going to kill their vibe (and fire the amazing Bill), they're better off just closing anyway.

    My understanding is that the owner also owns the building, so I'm not sure how exactly a lease plays into it.

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  20. Their mushroom chili was amazing. Terrible news.

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  21. The city is becoming a giant shopping mall. Boo!
    This was my go to place when someone asked to go to a real NYC joint.
    Ambience, strong drinks and good food. Getting harder and harder to find a place in NYC where you dont feel ripped off. RIP GJC!

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    1. agreed. when bowery becomes an area of poshness, you know our goose is cooked

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    2. Same happening in London it's shit

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  22. Great Jones and Acme down the street used to be my favorite places in the area - great vibes, good food, I always left happy. This stretch (along with Bond Street) feels so unwelcoming now. What a loss.

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  23. Incredibly sad.

    That's basically the last bar in Manhattan that I enjoyed going to (I never got out much).

    Honestly if they were going to kill their vibe (and fire the amazing Bill), they're better off just closing anyway.

    I thought the owner also owned the building, so I'm not sure what the lease situation is.

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  24. Last time I was there (2 months ago) a girl in hot pants walked in with a can of La Croix and pulled up a chair at her friends table and proceeded to sit there though their entire meal. When they were done she left the can on the table to be bussed by the staff along with the plates and cutlery. So, if the neighborhood is now full of sh*tty millennial who think it’s okay to do stuff like that, f*ck ‘em – they don’t deserve cool places to eat and drink.

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    1. Seriously? Who cares? I'm a good tipper and always polite to waitstaff, but that just doesn't seem like a big deal to me.

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    2. We all pretend to be real cool and accepting in NYC, but really everyone's full of judgie - without knowing the real story behind the surface of what they're witnessing

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  25. Oh man, I've been eating and drinking Great Jones Cafe since (almost) day one, back when I was cashier/host around the corner at 103 Second Ave. A big blow to whatever vibrancy the neighborhood still has left - which ain't much.

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  26. This is so sad. It was such a great, low-key spot to grab wonderful food and booze with great atmosphere and....ugh. I'm just too sad to write about it. RIP, Jones. One of the best joints in town.

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  27. This is fucked. This is totally fucked. Another one bites the dust this week? French Roast gone and now this????

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    1. 2 blows in one day (French Roast & Jones). Sad. Jones was an institution. I loved being there on cold snowy winter nights....best local food, great (loving staff)...and the damn jukebox...all silent? :-(

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  28. This one hurts.. love this place. Really going to miss their food and atmosphere If the rent is the only issue, I wish they would just find a nearby place that can accommodate them

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  29. I'm so sorry to hear this. My daughter, Laine, worked there for 5 years leaving just last summer and thinks of the staff as family. In fact, they were celebrating at her wedding with us just this past weekend and we danced up a storm.
    Such a shame that a true and real place in NYC is shutting it's doors for just another restaurant that can never fill the shoes of the Great Jone's Cafe.
    Best of luck to all who worked there.

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  30. I remember when you could get brunch, including a pint-sized bloody mary, for $8.95! They also had some of the best cornbread I've ever had. And the folks who ate there were eclectic but the vibe was friendly. Not enough room for that in lower Manhattan now, I guess. Just like Chinatown subsumbed Little Italy, the Upper West Side has engulfed the East Village. Just a buncha consumers dulling the very edge they seek.

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    1. And before that the Upper West Side used to be pretty funky!
      From Howlin' Wolf to Coldplay says it all.

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  31. I started going there in '85. Was a real regular for the rest of that decade--so much so that friends used to call me there on the pay phone because they knew they'd reach me. Or they'd just stop in unannounced to find me there. Bonded with Phil over the song "Cowboys To Girls," which was in position A1 on the jukebox back then. Used to play Freddie's Dead and Sky Pilot over and over again on that jukebox, until closing time at 3am, when we'd hit the Kiev. Loved drinking those cajun martinis with Rolling Rock chasers. Seemed like Rolling Rock was the only beer anyone ever drank in the EV back in those days. Loved the honey glazed jalapeño cornbread, the catfish po'boys, the peanut butter pie and also the pecan pie. A flyer on the wall at the Jones introduced me to the Empire State Soul Club, a monthly dance that was frequented by many Jones regulars and which became an important part of those years for me. Most importantly, let's remember that Bill Judkins is THE MAN! I went back the Jones for dinner for the first time in many years last year with my wife and daughter and Bill and I reminisced--Bill told my daughter odd facts like which stool I always sat at. He has a great memory. And he gave us a free dessert, which was a very lovely gesture for old times' sake. To my mind, the Jones closed the day Bill left earlier this year. I hope the future brings him much happiness and success. Thanks for the memories. As my friends and I used to say after having a drink elsewhere and inevitably finding ourselves back on 3rd & Bowery, "There's no place like Jones!"

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  32. this one stings :(

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  33. I still haven't got over Food @ Prince & Wooster closing. Now this... What's sad about entrepreneurs today is that they follows what they think are trends. But every day trendy businesses are closing. A majority of people in the market don't care about trends. They don't even know about trends. They just want to feel comfortable most of the time anyway. And the people who made Great Jones Cafe successful for YEARSYEARS are unhappy.

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  34. I second Scannest!

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  35. At Scannest and Anon, I think you are misdirecting your rage if you are targeting a La Croix can and hot pants. People drop in on meals all the time, that type of atmosphere is what makes some restaurants good.

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  36. Oh my heart! I took my teenager there not long ago and was reminiscing about the old days....so glad we had been there one last time!

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  37. I knew this was coming. Absolutely knew it.
    I would think, 'Just no earthly way for a place like that, to still be existing in this city, let alone that neighborhood'.

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  38. Lived two blocks away for 40 years, started going before Phil and Doris (and others) came on, try to go every time I'm back in NYC. Earlier this month, knew something was up when the jukebox was gone and the music was not quite up to snuff. A tragic loss, but not the first -- why we moved to California. Where all we lack is a great local bar. One final observation -- the only great bars I know of left in NYC are the ones that stay open till 4. Right?

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    1. Milanos on Houston off Lafayette. Last of the last. And even IT becomes bro-trocious on weekends.

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  39. lol why drag Atla into this? it's a great restaurant getting great reviews, run by an amazing chef from mexico (check out Chef's Table season 2 on Netflix)

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  40. @cmarrtyy
    LOL Food @ Prince & Wooster. Man, you are going way way way back.
    I used to love Dean & Deluca Coffee couple doors away. (Before they moved to University Place)

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  41. Agree with Hey 19.
    Hot pants and a can of water?? That's the problem??

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  42. this is the worst news in the world ever. i am so sad and it's my birthday week. gutted. can we buy it? are we too late?

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  43. Damn. I eat there. (I did notice the last couple of times that it seemed different, but, I didn't think to ask why. I didn't think the reason would be something so dramatic!) I like it as a place I can have a conversation and the food is good. We've lost too many places like that...and so many of the New Trendy places just close up after a few months anyhow, even if they are potentially a good neighborhood place.

    As far as having an old crowd...my teen loves the place and if I go w/o him (due to his homework or his job) he asks for me to bring him a take-out meal of their gumbo or jambalaya. He's not going to be happy about this, either. [Tangentially, he's been complaining that NYC was getting boring and asked me if I'd move somewhere not-boring. We visited Cali last winter and he asked if I could find work there...yes, Cali, Colombia.]

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  44. My Favorite place in tge city and best salad ever. Very sad to see this closing

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  45. Many memorable nights at the Great Jones during the mid 80's - I was a struggling musician working horrible office temp jobs, but could afford chili and a Cajun martini at the Great Jones. One particularly memorable night, the bartender must have liked the combo of folks there at 4am closing, because he locked the doors and shuttered up, then said we could all stay, which we did, dancing to that great juke box until after the sun came up. I'm sorry to see GJC go. What a wonderful staff y'all had!

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  46. @ 3:04 Anon -
    I dont want to live in a world where hotpants are a problem, the late great James Brown would agree. As for La Croix, I am partial to the coconut flavor, and I pronounce it La Kwa.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFqHlliWmVY

    Anyway, Im sure its going to be a zoo there tonight, but I'm going to try to elbow in for one last shaggy, although I am torn on if its even worth it, I should have been mourning back in the spring it sounds.

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  47. 50+ commenters. I wonder how many comments "Golden Cadillac" and "Village Pourhouse" got when they closed. Hmm.

    Bill Judkins is right, the original stuff is best. It's what made New York, New York!.

    Hope he opens a new spot.

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  48. The problem isn't hot pants or La Croix, it's the self-entitlement. Embrace the change.

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  49. Looking forward for another brobar or gastropub, or a "restaurant" serving $25 La Croixtinis, or La Croixmosas, or unlimited La Croixllini or La Coix Mary served, for brunch, by bartenders and wait staff in hot pants to open up here.

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  50. I never went to Great Jones as often as I meant to, but speaking of southern (if not Cajun) food, gawd I still miss Old Devil Moon and its fierce yet friendly servers. They made the best mix tapes.

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  51. Aw, man this really stinks. I loved the Jones, Bill, all the amazing bartenders.....will miss you guys. Thanks for showing NYC a good time, it was damn fine while it lasted.

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  52. At 1:28 PM, cmarrtyy said...

    I still haven't got over Food @ Prince & Wooster closing.

    Heh! Me either…now I'm sad.

    At least I know how to cook.

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  53. This is tragic. One of my favorite places to eat and drink in the entire city, and one of the only places left that could honestly advertise cajun cooking and a vibe worthy of associating itself with New Orleans and Louisiana culture. The decline began when Bill Judkins was forced out, but the loss of it is still a deep one. One less reason to fight through the tragically hip to go out in the EV.

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  54. Their juke box was the best Always great food, always jam packed Last real place left in my hood actors, artists, locals all eat there - Jones diner and Acme gone -Dorian Gray Bar about to go - not everyone wants to go to over priced 'trendy' spots to eat

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  55. The La Croix wasn't the issue - it could have been a Coke (but it really was a La Croix). It's that someone thought it was okay to bring a drink INTO a restaurant, occupy space in a small, crowded room without purchasing anything, and then leave their trash behind for the staff to deal with.
    I will stand corrected on the hot pants. The hot pants weren't a problem per se.

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  56. This is so sad. It shouldn't have ended this way. If the owner was intent on change, they should've given the Jones a proper send-off with a raging party-- a soul band and cajun buffet like the old Christmas/New year's parties for all the loyal customers and staff who had spent decades there. Then close the doors, renovate, and open fresh. Forcing Bill out, who was the heart and soul of the Jones, and quietly changing the menu into something you can get anywhere seems a sorry way to go. The Jones was an istitution, and deserved better.

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  57. Agree with the previous poster. This was a sad and half-assed way to go out. And no one seems to know whats going on. A waitress said they were closing, and a bartender said they might reopen

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  58. I am devastated. I have been going to Great Jones for 25 years and it has now become a favorite haunt for my GenX children as well. You wonder how many institutions like this have to close before one feels like the heart and soul of the EV has been completely and forever gutted. Its hard to imagine a "more contemporary" concept doing the same amount of business or garnering the same type of community support and loyalty that Great Jones enjoyed. While Bill Judkins' partners have the absolute right to do what they want with the space, one wishes they had a fuller appreciation of what they have/had there and just how important one small burger and wing place was to the EV.

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  59. Most of the clientele of this place are the remaining misfits of the old East Village, and old and aging they are. But they were welcomed just luke any ithwre patrons. The new partners that want this "to be changed into something more contemporary to appeal to the “new" neighborhood", clearly do not want them. They want the new clientele where Serena and Blair will be spotted, along with the rest of the Gossip Girls and Carrie Bradshaws and Co., in hot pants or otherwise. Just a microcosm of what's going on in NYC and the rest of the world, esp, the EV. Push out the old and/or not moneyed citizens, stick or ship them to somewhere they are not seen so that the young and the restless, the bold and the beautiful, can pretend they do not exist and be reminded that they're youth and money won't last forever. It's very Logan's Run- , The Iron Heel-, and Margaret Atwood- esque. We're living in a dystopian world. Such is the nature of the days of our lives and as the world turns in the East Village. Now, I'm off to drink from the fountain of beauty and youth, aka La Croix.

    xoxo

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  60. I was introduced to the GJC back in the mid 90's when I lived around the corner on Elizabeth St. I've since moved away and live in Vt but work brings me back to NYC every 2 months or so. I always make an effort to stop in and bring new patrons with me. It's attraction and charm (to me at least) is that it hadn't changed and I'm still greeted by a snarky bartender. I hope they decide to stay open and keep it as-is. If it's an economic decision, why not consider an ownership program that includes patrons? As they say, if there is a will there is a way.

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  61. Spotted: typos. What could possibly make Queen Spelling Bee abandon such regard?

    *like
    *other
    *their

    Obviously, I need more La Croix.

    xoxo

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  62. I know I could google it, but I just like being a wiseass....What the hell is LaCroix?

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  63. La Croix, the sparkling water de jour https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/8x9qgp/florida-girls-are-pissed-that-hipsters-stole-lacroix-from-them.

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  64. LaCroix is a liquid nicotine patch for those trying to quit soda http://www.bkmag.com/2016/08/10/la-croix-bad/.

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  65. I grew up down the block (3rd street btwn 1st & 2nd ave) My dude Jean-Michel lived across the street. We def was diggin the chili and cornbread on the take-out for years

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