I was in Leicester Square a few nights ago on my way to watch ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ and walking past the Gaby’s Deli, I learnt to my horror that they had closed down just a few weeks prior.
When I first moved to London, knowing barely anyone and practically friendless, going to Gaby’s made me feel not so alone; even when I was eating by myself. I could look up at the photo of Matt Damon on the wall, the theatre posters and newspaper clippings and marvel at what the place had seen. How many weary travellers had darkened its doors for a bit of comfort and some chicken soup? People with aspirations for London; hopes and dreams, and those just passing through. Fifty-three years (The time Gaby’s was open) is a long time.
Visiting Gaby’s felt like more than just a place to eat. For me, in the middle of London, where you can be surrounded by humanity and completely alone, it felt like a place that I could belong, if only for the time it took to clear my plate. And then there was the salt beef. The window of salads soon to be joined together and dropped at the table on a big plate. The ochre, felafel and baba ganouch, hommous and bourekas and oh, so much more.
I don’t know why Gaby’s closed. A few years ago with the support of many, including a number of loyal thespians, they had fought off eviction from the landlord wanting to redevelop. Perhaps this came to bite them again, or maybe after more than fifty years in the business they simply (justifiably) got tired. Regardless, there is a hole in Leicester Square now, and even though it is bound to be filled; another Starbucks, a fast food joint, one of those disgusting double warmed pizza places, I will never be completely able to see what is there, it will always be tinted by what is missing.
I hope one day, in time, a place like this will come again. Not this one exactly, it’s gone now for good; but a place of solace and belonging, where you feel a sort of loyalty to the food, and to the people that create it. Somewhere you can get killer felafel and salt beef on rye with a pickle, and while you’re eating it, the world stops, just for a moment.
Goodbye Gaby’s Deli, thanks for everything.