Survivor Needs To Eat: Harry Edelstein of the Polish Tea Room
07/17/09
Special to the Jewish Week
Photo Galleria: 

Harry Edelstein and Broadway publicist Max Eisen at the Polish Tea Room in 1999. Photo by Tim BoxerAll kinds of showbiz deals were pieced together in the Café Edison, a Broadway hangout in the Edison Hotel on W.47th St. popularly known as the Polish Tea Room

Until he died on July 13 at age 91, Harry Edelstein presided over such customers as Jackie Mason, Fyvush Finkel, producers Barry and Fran Weissler and, of course, Neil Simon, whose play, “45 Seconds From Broadway,” was based on characters at the restaurant.
 
I had tea with 10 years ago when he talked about his love of food. He and his wife, Frances (Frima), were Holocaust survivors from Komorow, near Lublin in Poland. After the war they operated a chicken farm outside Atlantic City.
 “The chickens didn’t talk to me and I didn’t talk to the chickens,” he said. “When the egg market collapsed I gave it up.”
 
He bought a grocery store near Coney Island where his wife started to cook in the back. Suddenly he had a restaurant, a place where he talked to the customers and they talked to him.
 
In 1980 he bought the restaurant at the Edison “so I’ll always have what to eat.”
 
He made a Passover seder for Jason Alexander and the cast of “Jerome Robbins on Broadway.” When Linda Lavin got a Tony Award, Edelstein hosted her party for 40 friends.
 
If an actor was between shows, Edelstein made sure he had what to eat and never mind the bill.
 
Lawrence Toppal, who joined our table, said when he came from Florida, he met more people at the Polish Tea Room than if he’d only use the telephone. “All the theatrical people come here,” he said.
 
He met Richard Frankel and together they produced “Bubbbe Meises” in Florida. He met Michael Davis, producer of “Mamaloshen” starring Mandy Patinkin, and Toppal secured the rights to bring it to Florida. The Polish Tea Room, and Harry Edelstein, had been very good to producers and actors.
 
After Edelstein retired three years ago, his son-in-law, Conrad Strohl, kept the Broadway tradition so show people will have what to eat.

 

 

 

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