Passion for H&H Bagels — a venerable bakery on Manhattan’s Upper West that is suddenly closing down after selling the crusty treats for nearly 40 years — is measurable in miles.
Personally, I haven’t had to go too far for my fix: Back in the '90s I found a deli near my midtown workplace that smuggled their bagels in from H&H, and I would haul them home by the dozen, their bouquet wafting tantalizingly through my commuter train. Then my son took over: He moved near H&H’s flagship shop at 80th and Broadway, and every time he came home for a weekend visit he knew to bring an assortment along with his laundry.
Some H&H bagels have traveled a lot farther than that, though. My parents in Florida implore me to pack them along with my bathing suit whenever I come down. And a Manhattanite friend of mine who often visited family in England used to have her cab wait outside H&H while she bought hot bagels, then wrapped them individually in plastic and foil (this was in the pre-9/11 days before metal detectors). When she got across the pond, she would find friends and neighbors in a tiny English village eagerly awaiting a fresh, warm H&H bagel to go with their tea.
But a co-worker of mine takes the cake — er, bagel: She bought H&H bagels in Israel, from a shop that flew them in frozen. You’d think that sending bagels to Israel would be like carrying coals to Newcastle, but not so: A real bagel can come only from New York. That’s why H&H has been producing some 80,000 bagels a day and shipping them around the world.
Some say New York City tap water is H&H’s secret; one Florida bakery even claims that it replicates “Brooklyn water” to produce an authentic New York bagel. But it isn’t chemistry; it’s alchemy, something mystical that infuses wheat and yeast with the texture of a mighty city of dreamers and schemers, that packs the clamor of the subway, the roar of the crowd at Yankee Stadium and the bright lights of Broadway all into a hunk of dough with a hole in the middle.
And now a hole is opening in the Upper West Side with the closing of H&H’s original store there (though a second location in Hell’s Kitchen will remain open). But there were rumblings of a community effort to save the shop, so maybe we’ll see just how far people are willing to go for a good bagel.
Iconic eateries like H&H have been coming to the end of the road across the country, including Stanton’s in Eureka, Calif., Werner’s in Baltimore and Elaine’s in New York City. TODAY.com video producer Katie Quinn has been lamenting the loss of Perkins — a hangout spot that many of us remember from high school — which is closing 58 locations in Florida, California and Nevada.
What are some of your favorite restaurants or hangout spots that have shut down? Tell us about the good times you had there.