The best seat at the Downtown Flying Star has always been the table at the extreme east of the second-story balcony. You may know the one, the two-top that takes up a peculiar space somehow separate from the rest of the upper dining room (a section of wall blocks it from the rest of the area), pushed against the edge of the railing and perched directly over the kitchen and cashiers. It’s a perfect spot for people watching, while still oddly private in a way that few other seats in any restaurant anywhere approach.
It is a seat that I have sought out and taken for my own almost every time I’ve been to this Flying Star. In 2007, I was there several days a week, working on my book of local history, Forgotten Albuquerque, and then again updating a blog about my cancer treatments. I came back in 2008 when I began freelancing for the Alibi, and it was there that I composed my letter of intent for the UNM MFA program. From 2009 to 2013, I often spread my books out on that table as I wrote essays for class or pored over stories from fellow students. Starting in August of 2012, I composed more than a few restaurant reviews in that space.
I grew to think of it as my own and would silently seethe whenever anyone else dared to sit there. It was mine, dammit, and coffee with raspberry blackout cake just didn’t taste as good anywhere else in the café.
But now, it seems I must relinquish it for good. Because the Downtown Flying Star is closing on Oct. 23.
Restaurants come and go and it is always sad to see another one close its doors and know that its employees will soon be looking for other jobs. But reading the news about this particular closure last week made me think about the way these quasi-public spaces grow to hold a part of our own stories in their walls, even as we sometimes take them for granted.
Flying Star has been such a titan of the Albuquerque food scene for so long that it often seems invincible. When its first restaurant opened in 1987, Albuquerque residents boasted about their town having a world-class coffee shop, but time, familiarity and multiple locations have made it so that Burqueños are more likely to complain about the prices these days. Even last year, when the Star closed its Santa Fe and Bernalillo locations, it seemed a minor event to many, a stumble that happened outside of the Star’s home turf, but nothing that really affected our town. What was it doing expanding out there anyway?
But now, with this impending closing, a new era has dawned. Whatever financial troubles are affecting Flying Star have hit home. For me, it’s personal: My very favorite table in town will soon be closed off and it’s a bit like losing an old friend. My memories of working there will become just that —memories, never to be relived.
Tonight, as a way of saying goodbye, I intend to stop by the restaurant, take up my old perch with a slice of raspberry blackout cake, focus on my memories and hope that this company, which has done so much good for our city over the years, can edge its way back toward invincibility.