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A Greasy Spoon Gets Licked

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"It's like some strange seventies fast-food restaurant that exists on the edge of the universe," says one office worker about the Starrett-Lehigh Building's coffee shop. Now it may be falling over the edge: Since the building was sold in 1998, its new owners seem to have been doing whatever they can to keep their fancy new tenants (Hugo Boss, Martha Stewart, Inside.com) from finding the shop's fish fillets and Western omelettes. Earlier this year, diner employees came to work to find their glass doors to the lobby walled up with cinder blocks. They sued and got those taken down -- only to see them replaced by a steel door and meat-locker-style plastic strips. "It's harassment, that's what it is," says the luncheonette's manager, who won't give his name. Then the landlords put a coffee cart in the lobby. (Starrett leasing agent Rob Kurtz says the new tenants asked for it: "We literally had the presidents of companies in the building saying, Isn't there any alternative?") Now a plywood shed has entombed the diner's windows. "When I think of an old-time coffee shop, I think of something cozier," says Kurtz. "The new tenants no longer want a cheeseburger and bacon. They want coffee that won't burn out your guts." The scaffolding is simply for cleaning the façade, he adds. "This looks like what you put up if you want to demolish something," counters the diner manager. "These are gutsy, mean bastards. We gotta go back to court again."


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