“It’s hard to be really happy about anything these days.” Only over pastrami does a remark like that come off with a smile.
There are many delicatessens in Los Angeles but there are only three Los Angeles delicatessens. There is Langer’s, at Seventh and Alvarado, the stoic deli. Langer’s will sell you a bill of goods, and if you are interested in that bill of goods you’ll be quite pleased. If you’re interested in something else, however, or if you’re interested in that bill of goods at, say, five in the afternoon, Langer’s will not be there for you, and it will not care. Your interests are out of its control. There is also Canter’s, on Fairfax, the gateway deli. Canter’s is a lesser establishment than Langer’s as far as the food goes — the pastrami is chewier, the coffee thinner, the fries often stale — but it is ultimately more important, less a restaurant than a cultural institution; the ceiling is the Sistine Chapel of Los Angeles. Every night another group of high schoolers drives into the city from Reseda, West Covina, Torrance, and Canter’s is there to welcome them, to show them there is in fact another way. Canter’s is always there, which is both its greatest virtue and its ultimate failing. It’s always there for everyone, never just for you. And then there is Greenblatt’s.
Greenblatt’s is located on Sunset Boulevard a block or two east of Laurel Canyon in an unassuming brick building adjacent to the Laugh Factory, a stand-up club that hopes to trick you into thinking it is the Comedy Store. It’s a humble little spot; you may drive past it a hundred times without registering its existence. A digital billboard on the facade announces facts to traffic — “Free Parking In Rear Lot,” “Homemade Matzo Ball Soup!” — but it tends to blend with all the other lighted signage along the Sunset Strip, another bit of bullshit to ignore. A small sign aside the front door proudly proclaims the restaurant is open until 2 AM, 365 days a year, but you aren’t likely to see it. Unless you take the bus, which you probably don’t, you enter Greenblatt’s from the back. You walk down a flights of stairs, beneath the framed oversize panel of Batman and Robin enjoying sandwiches and bagels, a gift from Bob Kane himself. The wine shop is to your left, the deli counter to your right. Straight ahead are four or five booths extending back from that front door, along with another set of stairs. Unless you’re in a hurry, you’ll want to climb those stairs.
The second story dining room at Greenblatt’s is something, one of the finest rooms in all Los Angeles. There is a magic to it; here is a place just for you. Tables and booths have aged like fine wine. The wood panel floor is black with pine tar save for the narrow path waitresses walk back and forth. Stained glass windows lend the whole place a holy vibe; potted tropicalia suspended from the ceiling keep it chill. You seat yourself wherever you please or wherever you fit, depending on the time of day.
Your waitress — you almost certainly do not have a waiter — gives you menus and brings you water. She takes your drink order quickly and asks if you need a few minutes with the menu, and she does not mind if you do. If it is your first time you will likely order the ‘Hot & Juicy” pastrami, but there are other avenues to explore. There is the “Famous Rare” roast beef, thin and pink and ever-so-slightly tart. There is the aforeadvertised matzo ball soup, densely packed with noodles and veggies. There is the knockwurst, served on a wide plate paved with baked beans, and the most perfect interpretation of the Cobb Salad you are likely to find in California. There are scalloped blue cheese potatoes and whipped yams and a cucumber dill salad. Most importantly there is a very fine duck liver pâté, served in a thick block with plenty of sourdough. Biting into the bread, pink-grey mousse smeared generously across the surface, one feels like royalty.
So you place your order and you begin. You are here for the conversation as much as the food. Perhaps you have met an old mentor of sorts, and you’re interested in debating the merits of The Matrix trilogy. Perhaps you are part of a book club, and you and a few others will take stabs at interpreting a work you liked a lot, or not so much. Or perhaps you’re just here with a friend, your truest friend, and it’s late but not too late, maybe 11 PM, and you find yourself saying, “It’s hard to be really happy about anything these days.” And your friend grins and you return it and you both crack up, and you spread a bit more spicy brown mustard on your sandwich, and it goes so well with the rye. The pastrami is classicist, less outrageous than Langer’s but equally delicious. You take your time naturally, sometimes talking, sometimes listening. The older man who’s here sometimes is here tonight, and he’s struck up conversation with a well-coiffed man about Germans in England studying Italian. He seems like a sad figure, this older man, and yet his spirits are high, always high. Who are you to judge?
Eventually you have finished your food, but that does not mean the meal is over. The waitress keeps pouring coffee, and you and your friend keep saying things because there is more to say. The Stranger reminded me how much I fear death. Meuersault’s apathy felt uncomfortably familiar. PT Anderson has a new movie coming out this year. I’d like to see Punch Drunk Love again. Having a child seems like the best way to strangle love between committed partners. The first solo Wolverine movie came out in 2009. Reading articles is the new channel surfing, and isn’t that sad. Maybe you should work at Buzzfeed. I could, I could work at Buzzfeed, but I couldn’t get hired at Buzzfeed, does that make sense? The second solo Wolverine movie came out in 2013. Let’s start our own Buzzfeed. I realized I just don’t like his partner — how am I supposed to broach that topic? The pilot of The OA was not very good. Sarah Knauer’s birthday. His yearbook theme was “Hollywood: Living The Dream.” It’s this company called SnackNation, they sell subscriptions to businesses for monthly healthy snack packs. That’s what I should do, I should rewatch Twin Peaks. I never made it through the second season. I’m still reading Brave New World, it’s scary how prescient is seems. Yeah, everyone just fucks each other and they have nothing to talk about. My office might strike on the seventeenth, if someone actually organizes a strike. I told Grace about that time at Silverlake Ramen, she thought about you the whole time she was eating. We’ve been looking at places in North Hollywood. Gooty’s coming back, he liked Chicago but he wants to be here for “the industry.” Our new neighbors seem pretty unchill. Met one last night, his name is like Mike or Chris or something. I think Chris. We’re at the end of history now, capitalism is the final stage in human evolution. It’s all Lego Batman from here on out.
And several hours have passed. You have long since stopped ordering, your bill is settled. At last you are quiet, and you can leave. For now, there is nothing more to say.