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Nina In New York: Goodbye, H&H Bagels

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Street Lunch

A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak
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Oh, H&H. We hardly knew ye.

After watching locations and plants close over the last six months or so—most notably to many the large outpost on Broadway and 80th—the legendary bagel maker was evicted from its flagship spot on the West Side Highway last week. They owed $600,000 in rent. Yikes.

I remember being aware of the importance of H&H bagels from a young age. When our family would drive into Manhattan for whatever reason, on a weekend, we’d always try to stop at the 46th street store on our way home as a treat. Don’t get me wrong, we have phenomenal bagels in my hometown. Bagels that could rival any store in the five boroughs, sold out of an ancient, down and dirty shop which draws people from all over the area. So we weren’t hard up for bagels. No way. Oh my God you have no idea how badly I want a bagel right now.

Anyway, there was something particularly special about going to H&H. We’d pull off the West Side Highway and dash into the slightly run-down, large store. It smelled like heaven, even though it was aging and always looked sort of dusty to me – neurotic child that I was. I could tell my parents took some great appreciation in performing the ritual and providing their children with exposure to one of the Best Bagels in New York (and thus the world). And I knew, as all good Tri-State area children do, the meaning and value of an excellent bagel. It is a prize to be revered. It is not something to be taken for granted.

I learned that all too well during my years living in Boston, where mass market, commercially-produced bagels from places like Finagle-a-Bagel and Einsteins suddenly became, “not that bad!” I had to endure listening to people telling me that their favorite bagel flavor was blueberry and manage not to sneer every single time. One time, before Yom Kippur, a friend and I drove nearly forty minutes outside the city to chase down a lead on “real bagels, made from water imported from New York.” It was around that time that I realized I had to come home.

When I did, I didn’t go directly to H&H. Sure, I bought bagels from them when I could, but I discovered that there were so many more worthy bagelries. And to be honest, H&H fell out of my favor. I stopped patronizing them except for when it was simply the most convenient option. But I never thought they’d be gone. They were a part of this city, like Katz’s or the Carnegie Deli or Ray’s pizza (in all its permutations). Their Broadway store was conveniently located next to my gym for a time, and I had the pleasure of inhaling intoxicating bagel-making smells while trying to force my feet to continue on and not undo all my hard work in one doughy, chewy swoop.

Maybe there are better bagel places out there. Maybe they had bad business practices. Maybe they should have slackened on their “no sandwiches” policy or maybe there’s nothing anyone could have done. It’s just so sad to me to think that an historical bagel institution could go bankrupt in this city and disappear. Generations of children will grow up here having no idea that H&H ever even existed. This, to me, is strange and wrong.

But not as strange and wrong as jalepeno bagels. Pssht. Boston.

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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