Posts Tagged ‘Reuben Freed’

The Wreck of the Red Apple

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Once, the Red Apple Rest, halfway between Manhattan and the Catskills, was the perfectly located lunch stop on Route 17. It was a bustling place, where the men behind the counter would slap a hot dog onto a bun and, before you could reach for the plate, they’d be barking “Next!”

Though the opening of the Thruway reduced the crowds at the Red Apple, the place carried on for several years and the parking lots always had a respectable presence of cars and buses. There was something about the place, maybe the whimsical huge red apple that sat on the roof, that made people feel a little younger. Or maybe it was moms and dads with children remembering when their own folks took them to the Red Apple when they were kids.

Once, my family and I stopped on our way home to Liberty and I spotted Harry Seletsky in the parking lot doing a kind of waltz in tribute to his chocolate ice cream cone while slowing down every few seconds to take another lick. At the time, Harry was a Sullivan County elections commissioner and the chairman of the Sullivan County Republican Committee. You would not pay public homage to an ice cream cone in Monticello or South Fallsburg. But at the Red Apple Rest, it was all right.

The bill of fare was unquestionably slightly Jewish. The Apple’s vegetable soup with barley was renowned. It was one of a few places where you could order tomato herring sandwiches on onion rolls, or skinless and boneless sardines on pumpernickel. In spring, around Passover, the Red Apple served gefilte fish and matzoh, as well as leavened bread. Knishes were a fzvorite.

And always there was ice cream and custard, and what seemed like dozens of varieties of Danishes and muffins.

Another attraction was the presence of Mr. Reuben Freed, who opened the place in 1931. He did not sit in an office. He did not glad hand everyone who entered. Instead, Freed would clear tables – this in a suit and tie; always the suit and tie – greet long-time patrons, find tables for people with young children, and make sure no one on staff was malingering. He was in his eighties when I first saw him at work.

The crowds diminished as the resorts of Sullivan and Ulster Counties diminished. In an often used line, Milt Kutsher of the third generation of owners of the hotel bearing his name, once asked me, “You want to know what killed the Mountains? Air conditioning and airplanes.” They helped kill the Red Apple Rest as well.

In 1985, the Freeds of Monroe sold the place, and the crowds shrank some more. It might have said “Red Apple” in big letters on the side of the building, but it just wasn’t the same place. You’d walk in for breakfast and see maybe one guy sitting alone at a table finishing his eggs and coffee. Or you’d notice the stack of unsold newspapers. Even on weekends you no longer had to wait for a table.

The buyer of the Red Apple was Peter Kourakos; he closed down in 2006. One year later, officials condemned the building and it’s been going to seed ever since.

I mention all this because I was heading north on Route 17 the other day when I got to Southfields and saw the ghost of the Red Apple Rest. Most of the paint is gone. The big red apple up on the roof is gone. The big red lettering of RED APPLE REST on the building is crumbling. So is the invitation WASH ROOMS – though the fact is that even in the Apple’s last days under Freed family rule, the men’s room was by no means appealing. 

The building is surrounded by fencing. The front door seems to be falling apart. A bit of unintended irony is a sign on the door warning customers that they must wear shirts and shoes if they expected to be served.

The roof, which used to be a bright crimson, now is gray with a million flecks of red paint peeling off. You get the sense that one stiff wind would knock the place over. The day that happens, nothing will be left but the memories.