This place has everything. A send-a-sausage wall. An ever-present perfume of corning beef and pickles the size of gerbils. Sticky plastic trays if you need a secure place to park your Gucci handbag. And models sporting blue-painted skin and ’70s club outfits?
New York’s fashion elite have fallen hard for the iconic Jewish deli. Its status as the new It Spot was sealed this month, when vampy prairie clothing designer Batsheva Hay architected one of the most talked-about moments of New York Fashion Week by debuting her Spring 2023 collection at 50-year-old Ben’s Kosher Deli. (Among the ’Gram highlights: Coco Rocha in a tangerine puffed-sleeve dress and cobalt-blue sock booties sipping diluted coffee from a green-banded mug and dunking a latke.)
And in August, a horde of downtown cool kids descended upon the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen for “Katz’s After Dark,” a not-so-secret rave headlined by superstar DJ Diplo that featured free-flowing Vodka Red Bulls, late-night pickle and latke snacks, and red- and blue-hued TikTok videos by party goers full of When Harry Met Sally references. (“I’ll have what they’re having!”)
This pastrami-heaped love affair shouldn’t surprise those who’ve watched the so-called delicore style trend unfold these past couple years with queasy fascination like I have, awaiting the inevitable, pricey derivatives for cool kids. You might’ve seen the candid snaps of celebrities like Pete Davidson, Travis Scott, and Jake Gyllenhaal donning Los Angeles’ Uncle Paulie’s Deli and New York’s Russ & Daughters hats and hoodies—which, taken altogether, now proclaim the choice to wear your favorite restaurant’s merchandise A Thing.
Restaurant merch is nothing new, but it took on special significance when the pandemic shuttered dining rooms nationwide and restaurants desperate for new revenue streams turned to retail. Diners showed up in force (celebs, like us, enjoy bagels and lox). And we’ve stuck around; online food marketplace Goldbelly reported a 30 percent increase in year-over-year restaurant merch sales this spring, per the Post article.
Why delicore? It’s like wearing an indie band t-shirt (if you know, you know) or a badge of pride for your neighborhood or favorite spot. It’s also a trend risen out of a desire to help a struggling industry. And for some celebrities, it’s a way to tell people (and themselves, perhaps) that they’re down to earth. “It’s not, like, Balenciaga. It’s blue-collar,” Davidson said.
But it was only a matter of time before big fashion capitalized. This spring, Coach and food emporium Zabars collaborated on a capsule clothing collection featuring $450 sweaters and $150 t-shirts—that’s 25 dozen and eight dozen Zabars bagels, respectively. It promptly sold out, though not without a little online schmearing. “Obsessed!” wrote one commenter on Instagram. “But why does it cost more than cross country shipping of lox to LA!?” Meanwhile, Russ & Daughters released a $150 LOX hoodie collab with Gyllenhaal, which, at least, benefited the Actors Fund for out-of-work theater actors.
Whether earnestly or ironically, conceptual art and fashion have always loved what they see as a lowbrow crossover (think artists showing at Kmart in the ’90s). Hay, a secular Jew, is often inspired by her Orthodox Jewish husband in her designs—so her choice to host a fashion show at Ben’s wasn’t much of a stretch. On the brand’s Instagram a few days later, Hay also qualified it among “places that matter.”
But must we commodify our most democratic third spaces, too?
And what remains after all the models, photographers, and influencers vacate, besides a party’s worth of cleanup before another day of slinging sandwiches to keep the lights on and staff employed—and besides, hopefully, a boost in traffic?
Batsheva, for one, squeezed in one more merch drop: a line of Delicatessen baseball caps— resembling the sweat-stained one I had to wear every day to my first college job—for $45.