13 October 2006

Gertel's Still There—For Now

In New York, there are two kinds of storied establishments. There are the ones that know full well that they are cherished mainstays and revel in it, boasting to anyone who will listen and hanging up framed articles that agree with the assessment. And then there are the shops and restaurants who may know that they are bastions of history and mercantile greatness, but would never say so, and seem to hate it or become embarrassed when you bring the subject up.

Gertel's bakery on Hester Street is one of the latter. If the staff has an inkling that people would actually care that they are closing up shop soon, they don't let on. "Last great Kosher bakery in the Lower East Side? Home of superlative challah and tuna-and-egg sandwiches? Sure. What of it? And why are you carrying on so?"

I swung by the bakery ("Bakers of Reputation" the faded sign says outside) in a panic the other day, afraid that they had already closed. No, they're still open, but the staff doesn't seem to know or care when their last day of business is. "They haven't told us," one shrugged.

I found an old interview with Gertel's chief baker Israel Moskowits on the internet. Here are a few bits:

Q: Do you have any favorite dishes?
A: I don’t care, whatever you have to make, I make. My hobby’s baking.

Q: So you love your job?
A: Yes. [pause] As long as they pay me, I love it.

Q: So what do you like eating the most?
A: Oh, I don’t like cake.

Classic. There's no seating anymore. The area once filled with tables and chair is now crowded with metal baking racks stuffed with fresh challah and greasy wax paper. But the tuna-and-egg is still great. And I bought a challah for old times sake.

So Gertel's is still there for now, if you want to take one more look. The staff won't care if you do, but do it anyone. You'll thank yourself.

1 comment:

The Sound Blue Flames Make said...

The hour of doom for Gertel's Bakery of Distinction has been marked for Passover of 2007 -- or so alerts long time Gertel's customer Lou S. who was holding court there last week. The building has been sold, he said, and the place would close even sooner but for its pre-Passover contractual baking obligations.

The day I was there, there were three very young girls in blue school uniforms helping out ("they're teaching them the traditional breadmaking," explained Lou). The place has a neglected look with things piled up in the corners, but behind the bakery counter the shelves were still full of babka and black&white cookies and on top two of the largest challah breads I've ever seen. There is still one simple table available for customers, and Lou was effective at luring people to sit at it. At one point the subject of Ron Perelman's previous wives came up (one of whom used to live in the neighborhood) and Lou invited a contributor to the conversation to sit.

"We're having a party," he said, and we were, although the feeling was closer to a Shiva, with the Bakery providing its own sweets.