Photo: Jeremy Rellosa

Mekelburg’s is a business that does not fit neatly into a single category: It’s known for its babkas, on display at the front of its gourmet food shop. It’s also a sandwich spot (the porchetta, fried chicken, and Whiz-laden cheesesteaks are standouts) and a place to grab a beer on the way home from the G train. It’s a bakery, a grocery, and a pub. Situated in the basement of an apartment building on Grand Avenue, its red storefront lanterns match the Scalamandre zebra-print wallpaper inside. Beyond the back bar area is a courtyard with picnic tables, which feels like the secret backyard at a friend’s apartment building. Mekelburg’s is, in other words, a catch-all stop for the kinds of things everyone wants on their block, and this weekend, the original location in Clinton Hill is closing its doors for good after a decade of serving as a refuge on Grand Street.

It was hard to find a seat on Tuesday night — the last-ever trivia night. Chairs spilled out of the bar and into the grocery area, where I talked with Alicia Guevara, who founded Mekelburg‘s with her partner, Daniel Mekelburg, in 2014. She says the decision to close the Clinton Hill location is a response to a changing neighborhood. “The landlord here is lovely, but the Mekelburg’s brand doesn’t work here,” says Guevara, who’s lived in Clinton Hill since 2007.

The area’s demographic, Guevara says, isn’t filling up Mekelburg’s the way it did back in 2014. “All these brownstones used to have 25 industry workers who responded to a business model like this. Now, it’s two adults, a kid, and half a parakeet.” The traffic doesn’t match up with the expenses. “Labor costs money … No one here makes minimum wage,” she says of her employees. “I offer health insurance. I refuse to compromise what I think employees are owed living in the city because the neighborhood has changed.”

Guevara — she lives across the street — says she’s feeling both sad and relieved about the closing. She says she gets a letter once a week from the Department of Health informing her that a neighbor reported Mekelburg‘s for a rat infestation — which she says simply isn’t true. “Rats don’t live here,” she says. “I’m excited to start to like my neighbors again because I don’t have to know them in this capacity anymore.”

The first meal I had when I moved to New York was the porchetta sandwich, which I wolfed down, ravenous from a day of driving and unboxing. It’s where I met friends, who, despite our best efforts, could never win first place at trivia. Celebrating with buddies at the bar could feel like either a night in or a night out, depending on what you wanted. It’s where I watched LeBron break the scoring title, and it’s the shop where my roommate and I bought some last-minute babkas in an attempt to woo someone on StreetEasy for their sweet apartment. (We didn’t get it.)

Tuesday’s packed house was just one example of the support Mekelburg’s has seen since the announcement on Instagram. “The best compliment I’ve gotten has been from a couple regulars that have come in here, almost in tears, saying that we saved them during COVID,” Guevara says. “We were their one outing that they allowed themselves during the pandemic.”

As the lease at 293 Grand Avenue comes to an end, customers can still find many of the same menu items at the Williamsburg location on South 3rd Street near Domino Park. It’ll still have the babkas and the beer, but for those of us who loved the original spot, it will be missing the most important attribute: It will no longer be our neighborhood local.

Photo: Jeremy Rellosa