I learned about Shopsin's last year when I visited Evergreen Video
to interview owner Steve Feltes for my book about Paul Nelson. Deciding we'd eat while we talked, we walked across the street to Shopsin's, at 54 Carmine Street in the West Village, where we were presented with menus the length of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novella (there are supposedly over 900 dishes listed).
On the way over, Steve told me that the restaurant's proprietor, Kenny Shopsin, was somewhat legendary for yelling at — and even tossing out — his customers. He also mentioned that someone had made a documentary about Shopsin.
Now that film from 2004, I Like Killing Flies
, is out on DVD (I watched it online yesterday via Netflix). Lo and behold, Kenny Shopsin is indeed a veritable Soup Nazi (his refusal to seat parties of five or more is only one of his endearing predilections), albeit one with a fouler mouth and a more philosophical bent. Imagine a cross between a kinder, gentler Charles Bukowski and perverse, dyspeptic Mortimer J. Adler — then stick a spatula in one hand and a flyswatter in the other, and voilà!
you have Kenny Shopsin.
Director Matt Mahurin's documentary is about as bare bones as you can get, and the pace is rambling and frenetic at the same time; all of which serves his subject well. And, indeed, Shopsin likes killing flies, which functions not only as a metaphor for how he treats his customers but also for the United States' terrorist problem and for the human condition as a whole.
The day I was there, Shopsin was on his best behavior, occasionally emerging from the kitchen to sit down and visit with a customer, and the food was great (reminding me of one of my favorite restaurants from Salt Lake City, Over the Counter). And, perhaps because it was late in the year, there were no flies.