The recently announced closing of the Upper West Side institution, H&H Bagels, has unleashed the kind of baleful conniptions not seen in summertime since the death of Michael Jackson. In addition to several blogs about the closing–mind you, just of the Upper West Side storefront, not the main hub in Hell’s Kitchen–The New York Times ran a wan eulogy for the closing this weekend under the headline, "There Goes the Neighborhood, Again." The Observer headline was more succinct, if no less misty-eyed: "Farewell, H&H." And even the venerable Jewish heretics at Heeb Magazine let out a sturm and drang wail of grief: "APOCALYPSE!!: Upper West Side H&H Bagels Closing Today."
I apologize, by I share no such grief. I’m a bagel lover, and while I’m not from around here–I’m from Florida–I fancy myself something of a bagel guru. Since my childhood, my family had bagels and lox every Sunday, and it is still a tradition we keep up when me and my siblings, long since having fled the coop, demand from our our parents every time we’re home. Of course, my parents keep it up anyway with out us. Naturally, this colors my bagel experience, but not in ways you might think. Every since moving to New York five years ago, I’ve learned that, in fact, the bagels my parents brought home every week weren’t anything special. New York has tons of better kinds, no matter what kind you fancy–small little dense ones, or fatter, doughy holes with a glistening crusty shell.
H&H in fact does have excellent bagels, I’ve learned. But what made my turn against them was what they didn’t have: which was everthing else–the lox, the cream cheese, the whole no-toasting mishegas. And hell, not even a place to sit! Make no mistake, this is the real story of H&H’s Upper West Side branch downside. That storefront lived on not because people actually liked to go their anymore, but because of nostalgia, dated word-of-mouth, and plain old momentum. In the days when the Upper West Side was filled with middle-class Jews, it made perfect sense: my guess is that many families had no problem buying a dozen bagels from the shop, then going across the street to Zabar’s to pick up the necessary fixings for an elaborate Sunday bagel and lox brunch. But the Upper West Side is increasingly filled with younger, often single or childless types like me. We love our bagels, no question. But we love them on the go–for a quick lunch on a Tuesday, eaten in the store, and critically made into a sandwich.
H&H did none of this, arrogantly thumbing its nose at the changing realities of how we eat our bagels these days.