1/9/13: ***HINSCH’s DOOMED AGAIN, as its new owners couldn’t make a profit.***
10/17/11: ***HINSCH’S SAVED, as the owners of Skinflint’s on 5th will operate it.****
I’ll admit it, I had been in Hinsch’s (pronounced HINSH’S, as if the C wasn’t there), the long-lived candy store and luncheonette, on 5th Avenue between 85th and 86th Streets in Bay Ridge, only once in about 40 years — I was in Bay Ridge to see to my ailing father in 2003, and Mary Beth and I had lunch there. Everyone called it Hinsch’s, not Hinsch. I had a turkey sandwich I was unimpressed with. All the same, I was glad Hinsch’s was still there. Like me, it was a stolid, unchanging presence in an ocean of change.
I lived in Bay Ridge from 1957-1993. Even as a kid, I did not go into Hinsch’s that often. It’s not that I had a dislike of the place. It’s just that there was an old fashioned candy shoppe named Pohl’s that was closer to where I lived, on 5th Avenue and 83rd. I’d go in with friends, or with my mother or grandmother, and eat ice cream and chat in the big leather booths. And, what I remember was the quiet of the place. From the movies, you think of ice cream shoppes as brightly lit places, jukeboxes roaring, dancing teenagers. Not Pohl’s. Anyhow, Pohl’s closed in the 1970s and is likely remembered only in my own brain lobes, as there’s nothing about it on the internet. (Another lunch spot for us was the Green Tea Room on 86th Street, and I never did figure out if it was named for green tea or the color of the room.)
Hinsch’s, however, was always bustling and brightly lit, as I recall. Over the years it didn’t so much as develop new clientele as retain the customers they had, as the kids moved on to Chuck E. Cheese and other franchises. Brooks of Sheffield illuminates this in his Lost City column:
Hinsch’s retains many of the earmarks of the soda fountain era. The old glasses cut that familiar, wide-mouthed Coca-Cola silhouette. There’s a “Cherry Smash” on the menu—basically cherry syrup and seltzer. They also serve egg creams, and waffles are a house specialty. Ice cream is scooped out of metal canisters set into the counter, and served in silver bowls.
That ice cream, by the way, is house made. “French Ice Cream,” reads a sign; “hand packed.” So, too, are the chocolate treats that are displayed on a curious hodge-podge of shelving alongside the southern wall.
The clientele are Bay Ridge citizens, mostly, and have been eating here for decades, by the color of their hair and the slowness of their step. They may like the food, but it’s probably the attention the keeps them coming back. “You need anything, Russell?” a waitress asks an elderly man emptying an ice cream dish at the counter. It’s a rare customer the staff doesn’t know by name. Another man misidentifies the day at Thursday, and is gently, and simultaneously corrected by three people, “It’s Wednesday!”
When word came that the Logues, who had owned the place for decades (it had first opened in 1948) had decided to close the place after their lease expired (word was that the landlady had asked for a substantial increase in rent) I felt a definite pang, though it wasn’t of surprise. Franchises are increasingly filling voids left by family-owned lunch counters and candy shoppes because only the franchises can afford the rents.
The loss of Hinsch’s definitely took Bay Ridge by surprise. The title card shows passersby pausing and reading the signs with confusion. I stopped a woman from going in, telling her it was closed, eliciting amazement. A local wrote this message of farewell on the door.
A big loss would be this classic neon billboard sign, though I’d have to say that the residents of the apartments on the 2nd and 3rd floors might not miss it. I have contacted the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati about their purchasing the sign.
Bay Ridge moves on. There’s plenty of opportunities for lunch. There’s Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway…
…Burger King, Popeye’s, Five Guys…
…but Hinsch’s will reside in the brain lobes.
I have a job interview on 20th Street today — maybe I will eat lunch at Eisenberg’s after it’s over.