Mario's says good night to textiles industry

Don Hogsett, February 4, 2002

There was more than a millennium's worth of textile industry history and expertise packed into the long, narrow dining room of Mario's Seafood Restaurant, a splendidly comfy and defiantly unhip Murray Hill bistro that had functioned for almost 40 years as an industry clubhouse, playpen, incubator of countless deals, job mart and launching pad for a long string of companies and careers.

By the scores they had come by late last week for a last lunch at Mario's, a chance to say goodbye not just to a hangout, but to an entire industry that no longer exists in quite the same way, and to reassert to a small part of themselves that time is slowly passing by.

Over here the Lichtenberg table, and over there the crowd from Croscill. In his familiar corner table sat Claude Litton, the man who runs 295, and by extension much of the industry.

Mario's and its customers, like couples who have spent most of their lives together, had almost come to look alike — comfy, lived-in and just a little rumpled. It was often joked that the owner was able to keep his prices low by never changing the decor. And there was, in truth, something comfortingly retro about the not-quite kitschy nautical decor.

But real estate and rents being the implacable force they are in Manhattan, Mario Lubicich decided it was time to hang up his apron after almost 40 years in his railroad-flat of a restaurant tucked just around the corner from 30th Street and Fifth Avenue, a short stroll from 295, the nexus and the still beating heart of a New York textiles industry that can still celebrate its origins on the city's Lower East Side.

Back in August 1962, when the restaurant was born, it was known as McCrann and Mario's. "But 13 years later McCrann retired, and I bought him out," said Lubicich. "And some time ago he died."

Now, Lubicich said, it was finally time to enjoy life, at least a calmer life, away from the familiar routine of coleslaw, swordfish and scallops — and maybe a little linguini on the side. "I'm going to do something for myself and my family. It's a lot of hours, a lot of hard work, and now I have some time for myself and something for my family."

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