...Based on my experience there today and on my last 2 visits.
I grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island, and moved away from the NY metro area some 30 odd years ago. Growing up, we went to Katz's often. It was always a treat, and I used to dream about the Pastrami. I worshipped Katz's.
I have continued to visit over the years, and whenever I have gone, I have always made the pilgrimage to Katz's. Still loved the whole experience as well as that crave-worthy Pastrami. It still was good for me, and exactly as I remembered from my long-gone youth...up until last September. On that visit, I remember my Pastrami sandwich seeming a bit smaller than normal, and something seemed "off" to me. Didn't think much about it, and returned on my next visit. That was in December.
I was in NY doing a site selection for an International conference I was to hold here in March. Had two folks from the UK with me, and the whole trip, I kept talking to them about Katz's Pastrami. We finally got to go there the day before we were to leave town. Got there around 2:30 in the afternoon, and holy cow...the place was completed swamped. Many tourists with cameras, no room to even walk down the front to get to the slicers, people lined up out the door, not realizing there were multiple lines, In a word, it was bedlam. (Having gone there for many years, I was used to crowds, but this was at a whole different level.) Nonetheless, we waited and eventually got our sandwiches. Went and sat down, and the first thing I noticed, was that the sandwiches somehow seemed smaller than usual. (I had 50 some odd years of experience walking out of there pretty stuffed after a Pastrami, fries and a soda. This time, I easily finished my sandwich, and did not feel anywhere as stuffed as usual. My guests felt the same....both in terms of the size and quality of the sandwich) Again, the sandwich seemd to be somewhat "off" not just in size, but also in texture and flavor. It did not seem to have the intense flavor I had come to know so well, and the meat seemed somewhat tough...a shocker in that I recall the Pastrami typically melting in my mouth.
Which brings us to today. Walked in, and was again met with a completely chaotic scene (Perhaps they could have someone up front doing some "line management?) Finally got to the counter, got my Pastrami sandwich, and had to struggle mightily to even get away from the counter and walk to a table. Was going to get a Dr. Brown's, but it was so insane, I just went and got a glass of water instead. It was annoyingly crowded. Then, I probably walked around for a good 10 minutes before I was able to find an open seat (I was alone). Had to clear my own space, and do my own wiping down. Seems like at some point, Katz's became a tourist destination, rather than a place to go get a sandwich. Maybe this has been going on for a while, but honestly, I never really much noticed it up until this year!
So after all that, I proceeded to bite into my sandwich, and for the first time ever in my life I thought " 'ya know, this really isn't very good." It made me very sad. The meat was incredibly tough and most annoyingly, filled with gristle. Not the lovely soft fatty parts that are normally there, but hard, tough, gristle. Throughout the sandwich. In virtually every slice of meat (I know, 'cause I opened it up to and started tasting slices of Pastrami using my fork.) It was the first time in my 54 yers that I actually pushed the sandwich aside, and thought "I really don't want to finish that." And I didn't.
So when I think about my last three visits, I feel as if there has been a gradual, yet noticeable decline in this once iconic and venerable institution from my youth. As I said, it made me sad. I've been following the Katz's debates on CH for yers, and honestly, up until this past year, have always been in the "it's as good as ever camp." I can no longer make that claim.
Now, I know, it's all subjective. I am certainly not saying I am right here, or that others who see it differently are wrong. No, rather I am saying that as a life-long staunch admirer and defender of Katz's, it is no longer currently working for me. If it still works for you, that's terrific (and again, it's entirely possible that I just happened to hit 3 bad random days in a row...3 data points certainly do not constitute an iron-clad case.) All I'm saying is, I think it's time for a break for me. Perhaps I'll try again in a couple of years.