Step inside Essex World Café and you’ll feel the history.
The walls are lined with pictures from September 11, 2001 and the following weeks—a time that will forever be intertwined with the soul of the café, which has seen more than its share of tragedy. But it has also seen dramatic change and rebirth.
There was the old Lower Manhattan: sparsely populated, home to aging office towers, empty after work hours. And of course the glistening twin towers. It was in the long shadow of those eight-year-old towers that brothers Jim, John and Pete Costalas opened Essex World Café in 1972 at 112 Liberty Street, directly across the street from the office complex.
Then there was the terrible late summer day in 2001. Owner Vivia Amalfitano, daughter of Jim Costalas, remembers it well: the staff crawling out the back entrance, the thick, debris-strewn air. In the coming weeks, the restaurant served as a triage site for the injured. Luckily, the place was saved from severe damage, but it remained closed for two more years.
Now, with the area experiencing a renaissance, the café feeds hundreds of construction workers every day as the new site rises. The menu, which includes all the New York deli classics, has been expanded. Vivia and her brother, Steve, feel more committed to the area than ever,
“My kids grew up working here and they’re still here,” Amalfitano said. “After 9/11 we said we’d always hang in there. We’ve come so far. We’re not packing it in now, that’s for sure. It’s our blood in this place.”
Essex World Café
112 Liberty Street