Video from a recent visit to Russ & Daughters.
Jennifer and Ben came to Russ & Daughters the other day for the first time, with tired feet, empty stomachs and a special book in tow. Originally published in 1959, the book was New York Places and Pleasures by Kate Simon. The 4th edition, which had come into Jennifer and Ben’s possession, was from 1971. This guide book, with its lyrical prose and definitive exhortations, reads more like a leather bound tome from Le Grand Voyage than an excursion downtown. And its very politically incorrect language also would not make it into print these days– typical chapter title: “Italian, Markets, Barefoot Young and Stubborn Slavs.”
Jennifer and Ben decided to spend their Saturday visiting the places and neighborhoods described so “colorfully” by Ms. Simon, in order to see what might still be the same. They started their tour in Chinatown, with no success. “Chinatown apparently had a lot of Jewish stores back then,” remarked Ben. But nothing was left. They were delighted when they arrived at 179 East Houston to discover that the neon sign glowed the same name they saw in their guide book: “Russ & Daughters.” It was the first place on their tour that was still around forty years after the book’s publication.
After sharing a bagel topped with cream cheese and Gaspe Nova, here they are reading the Russ & Daughters passage from their guide book:
And here’s a transcription if you don’t have time for the clip:
“The Olympus of sturgeon, Nova Scotia salmon and dried fruits for many New Yorkers and for former New Yorkers who travel considerable distances to refresh themselves with the local nectar is Russ & Daughters (179 E. Houston St; closed Tuesday). The late Mr. Russ had attractive, lively daughters who married attractive, lively men. They work in the store at various times and together on busy Sundays, friendly, bright people whose voices bubble up a foam of warm greetings, paens to sturgeon, sonnets to lox, and kind thanks. The friendliness and enthusiasm take some of the sting out of the prices, although theirs are comparatively low in a generally fantastic scale, and as for quality– the experts grow soft-eyed and moist-mouthed when they describe the incomparable charms, first of the Russ fish, and then, of the Russ women.”
-New York Places and Pleasures by Kate Simon. Harper & Row, 1971
I think I got as much a kick out of meeting Jennifer and Ben as they got out of discovering the store and meeting an actual Russ. Though we’re no longer closed on Tuesdays, and the Russ daughters and their lively husbands have been followed by great-granddaughters and great-grandsons, it’s nice to think that the same passage could have been written today.
- Niki Russ Federman