Attitude and New York go together like bagels and cream cheese.
Brooklyn native Larry David, the king of New York churlishness, returns to HBO on Sunday with the Season 9 premiere of his cringe comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Although David now lives in LA, New York has held on to plenty of crabby characters who are keeping his flame alive. The Post spoke with four of the Big Grapple’s brassiest — a finicky food mogul, a piano teacher who can’t stand today’s students, and a bartender and hostess who’ve been arguing for nearly 40 years — and discovered that, like David, deep down they’re actually sorta sweet.
Laurie Bricker and Judith Klamar
At Mimi’s Italian Restaurant and Piano Bar, at Second Avenue and East 52nd Street, a feud has been raging for nearly four decades between bartender Laurie Bricker and hostess/server Judith Klamar.
The regulars eat it up like Mimi’s marinara sauce.
“Early on, you pick Team Judy or Team Laurie,” a customer tells The Post. “Once I sat on Laurie’s side, and Judy didn’t talk to me for days.”
On a recent Friday night, a longtime patron of the restaurant, at its current location since 1973, left his bag unattended on Bricker’s pristine bar and made the mistake of drifting onto Klamar’s turf.
“You’re sitting with Judy. You’ve got a check with Judy,” Bricker told the customer. “You’re a pain in the neck!”
Bricker is a talented cabaret singer who has poured drinks at Mimi’s for 39 years; Klamar is the sister of the establishment’s founder, Marian, and has waited tables at the joint for 38 years.
“We love each other, but sometimes we don’t like each other,” says Klamar, who is originally from Hungary. “It’s like a bad marriage.”
Of her customers’ divided loyalties, she adds, “Everybody has a favorite, and everybody has a nonfavorite.”
Of course, Bricker views the dynamic differently.
“Usually Team Judy really likes me, too,” she says. “But they don’t necessarily tell her that.”
Mimi’s was among Bricker’s first jobs when she moved to the city from Long Island at age 20. Most nights she sings with the bar’s pianist, Chicken Delicious, and shows little patience for rowdy audiences.
“I start by politely asking them to quiet down. Eventually, I say, ‘Get the hell out!’”
‘We love each other, but sometimes we don’t like each other. It’s like a bad marriage.’
Audience participation is rare, she says. “Generally, people don’t have the nerve to sing with me.”
Klamar started working at her sister’s place in 1979, after a divorce.
“I was in diapers,” she says of that era. “Now I’m in diapers again!”
Just don’t ask the hostess why she’s still waiting tables in her golden years.
“I love when the people says to me, ‘Oh, God! How come you’re still working?’” Klamar says. “I say, ‘Idiot! The bills are still coming!’”
Not quitting may be the one issue the two women agree on.
“My brother actually said, ‘Nobody leaves Mimi’s — they die,’ ” Bricker says. “Horrible thing to say!”
You can’t miss Mark Birnbaum.
Shirtless and sporting a denim vest, rock-star shades, leopard-print pants, a top hat and enormous platform shoes, the unofficial mayor of Midtown East strolls through his neighborhood daily, greeting friends and neighbors — and making strangers do triple takes.
At 65, Birnbaum insists on living boldly. After all, he’s been doing it for decades. As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn in the mid-1960s, the now-retired musician became entranced by London’s swinging style.
“This was the new world of London — polka dots, stripes,” he says. “I went, ‘Oh my God. I’ve been waiting for this.’”
The freewheeling attitudes of the era imbued Birnbaum with a fierce individuality that he’s maintained even as his Manhattan surroundings have grown less gritty.
“I never left the counterculture,” he says. “And I never will.”
What he did do was ditch his gig as a private piano teacher in 2012, after 35 years of giving lessons. Modern music students were too flaky.
“I stopped. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t take it,” he says. “I can’t do the unreliablity and all that — the not showing up, the canceling, and whatever Mickey Mouse stuff. I can’t do that.”
Unlike those wishy-washy dilettantes, Birnbaum was completely dedicated to his craft at an early age.
With his family, he moved to New York from Switzerland at age 2 and, for 18 years, lived in Brooklyn, where he discovered his musical spark around age 10, when his parents gave him his first instrument.
“They bought a piano for $35,” he says. “An old, ugly, upright, appalling-looking piano. I was happy as a pig in s–t.”
After relocating to Manhattan at 20, he enjoyed a long career in the music industry — and friendships with the likes of Frank Zappa. Today, he longs for the comeback of rock ’n’ roll authenticity.
“I’m used to people rehearsing in the damn room,” he says. “I was in many bands. I was a pianist. I was a drummer. We rehearsed! We recorded! That was the deal. Not an MP3 from four parts of the world.”
He says his vision is now impaired, and he has some trouble getting around. His sky-high platform boots are his secret to staying active.
“They’re 9 pounds together. They keep me walking. I built them; they save my legs,” he says. “I can’t walk without platform shoes.”
Eli Zabar’s four-decade gourmet-food legacy started with a fight.
“I had been doing business with a small Italian bakery up here, and the owner was drunk all the time,” says Zabar, the youngest son of Louis and Lillian Zabar of Upper West Side Jewish supermarket fame. “The son took over and didn’t give a s–t. The bread was getting worse and worse.
“I came in one day, and it was really horrible, so I threw it back at them and said, ‘Take your goddamn bread and get out of here.’”
It was 1973, and Eli had just branched out from the family supermarket biz, migrating east across town to open E.A.T. cafe and market.
Left with no other option, Eli started making artisan bread the way he likes: heavy on the crust, light and fluffy inside, and served up with his ornery wit.
His parents’ market, now run by his brothers Stanley and Saul, was a champion of tradition at the time. Eli wanted something more gourmet.
Since then, he’s opened more than a dozen restaurants and markets, from a gluten-free bakery to a restaurant called Eli’s Night Shift, operated by one of his two twin sons, Oliver, 26. The various ventures are located within a 15-block radius on the Upper East Side, where Zabar lives with his wife and two dogs.
‘My job is to tell people what they should like.’
He makes daily rounds at the businesses, fueled by small doses of lukewarm coffee made from beans roasted just so — not like that garbage they sell at certain coffee chains, he says.
On all matters of taste, Zabar says no competitor or customer can match his expertise. “My job is to tell people what they should like,” he says, peering over dark-rimmed glasses. “How could anyone know as much as I do about something like smoked salmon? I’ve sliced tens of thousands of pounds of smoked salmon in my life! I’m not saying this arrogantly. I’m saying: If you’re not a doctor, how could you know anything about heart surgery?”
The success of Eli’s food empire hinges on his knowledge and attention to detail. Food deliveries must pass muster, or a verbal lashing ensues.
“Food will come in that is just unacceptable,” he says. “I get so outraged, I feel violated. I tell my managers to call up the vendors and tell them, ‘Get this piece of s–t out of here!’”