Loyal customers bid adieu to beloved Jax Heights eatery

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Dozens of people packed the Cavalier Restaurant, an old-fashioned neighborhood eatery, Sunday evening to say goodbye to the Jackson Heights institution that was like a second home for many of its patrons.

The restaurant, which specialized in continental cuisine, hosted one final memory for the people who loved it as the regulars and old-timers got together one last time to eat a hearty dinner and watch the Super Bowl before the televisions and taps were turned off for good.

For 35 years, Elizabeth Burke celebrated nearly every birthday, graduation and holiday in the 37th Avenue restaurant’s ubiquitous private room. She and her husband’s first date was “at the corner stool by the bar” in 1976, she said, and the eatery recently played host to her grandson’s 4th birthday party.

“My grandson’s the fourth generation to come here. It’s heartbreaking, it’s like a wake,” she said. “It’s a community gathering place. If you haven’t seen someone in a while you come and ask here. If someone lost their job, they’d have a jar down here for them.”

The restaurant, which opened in 1950, had already been hurt by the faltering economy, but “due to the greed and insensitivity of developers, realtors and landlords,” was forced to close abruptly, according to an e-mail the restaurant sent out to regulars, employees and friends.

“We are obligated to close the doors. We are the victims of the economy and high rent,” said Alfonso Londoño, who bought the restaurant in the 1970s and has since run it with his family. “We are very sad to have to leave the community. The management and the staff want to say, ‘Thank you, Jackson Heights. P.S.: Thank you for the memories.’”

Bethany Wild, a singer who held a gig singing jazz standards and Fleetwood Mac at the Cavalier Friday nights, said several other businesses on the block, including a full-service butcher shop, had to close down when a new landlord raised rents along the avenue.

Catherine Mendez, a Jackson Heights resident who had been coming to the restaurant for 26 years, said her community had lost its anchor and that she was particularly concerned about the impact its closing would have on area seniors.

“This is a place where people, especially the older community who may have no families, would come every night and have dinner and drinks and meet their friends,” she said. “It was a gathering place for the community and it’s going to be missed dearly.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 6:01 pm, October 10, 2011
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