While Carmichael's brother, Benjamin, said Monday he was not yet aware of the entrepreneur's final plan for the establishment, community members have already begun sounding the death knell for a neighborhood institution that since 1971 has offered fine Southern cuisine, top-notch jazz and a place for power brokers to sit down and strike a deal."It's a tragedy, it's a major loss to the community," said former St. Albans City Councilman Archie Spigner, whose Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club once sat next to the diner on the corner of Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and 117th Avenue. "It's almost irreplaceable."Carmichael was taken to Jamaica Hospital two months ago after suffering a flare-up of injuries sustained during a 1994 robbery attempt at the diner as he was leaving for the night. During the holdup, he was shot five times and spent a year in rehab before being permanently confined to a wheelchair. Carmichael decided to temporarily close his restaurant, his brother said, because "he likes to have someone there."Benjamin Carmichael had hoped King Carmichael, who is in his 70s, would quickly return to the diner, but when his brother was transferred to the St. Alban's Veteran's Hospital, it appeared the property would be put up for sale."He was the glue that held it all together," Spigner said. The former southeast Queens political leader, who hails from South Carolina as do the Carmichaels, said the diner was one of the only sit-down restaurants in the area to serve true Southern fare."It was a place to get together," Spigner said.More than 15 years ago, King Carmichael also began a tradition by allowing the members of the Community Jazz Organization, now the Creative Jazz Organization, to hold its jam sessions in the diner's basement every Wednesday night. Musical legends from both southeast Queens and beyond stopped by, often without notice, to create their magic in the cozy confines of the room, which regulars said had the feel of an old speakeasy. With the closing, the jazz organization lost its longtime home."We're kind of devastated, but we're trying to keep the music alive," said Reuben Bankhead, the group's president. "They had quite a following," he said of the musicians.For now, the Wednesday night sessions have been moved to the Proper restaurant, formerly Manhattan Proper, at 217th Street and Linden Boulevard. The setting is less intimate, but at least they have a place to play, Bankhead said."Thus far it's working out," he said.It is less clear where the community's power brokers will now gather since for years Carmichael's was the place to meet. When asked what deals had been made at the diner, Spigner said, "I think it would be easier to say which did not happen there." One-on-one meetings were held in booths upstairs, while the basement hosted political and social events, Spigner said. Candidates for office also made Sunday stops during campaign season."That's gone now," Spigner said. Yet he remained hopeful that a new owner would revive the diner, which he described as a "great location," rather than subject it to the wrecking ball.There have been signs that could be the case. Tony Small, a Jamaica businessman who owns several diners, stopped by Benjamin Carmichael's service station, which sits across from his brother's establishment, and passed along his business card Friday. Although he said he would renovate the interior, that would be all. "The best thing would be to leave it as is," Small said. "It's a landmark."Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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