by Kevin Walsh

WHEN The Retrologist‘s Rolando Pujol posted this photo of a shop called “Hot Bagels” I recognized it immediately, as I had passed it for many years while slouching down 86th Street in Bay Ridge, my home town, where it could be seen in the 1970s and 1980s at #534 86th, between Gelston Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway. After being covered for several years it was briefly revealed in 2014. A number of businesses have been in the space since, including a game store, pizzeria and deli.

Oddly, I cannot remember eating a lot of bagels until I was well into adulthood. Resolutely Irish, I never put anything on them except butter; I would take plain, onion or sesame seed and less often, cinnamon raisin, though sweetness seems to violate what bagels are supposed to be about. In recent years, every Sunday morning I would trek down the street to Northern Boulevard for a Sunday morning bagel; but since May 2022, to lose weight and get my A1C down (successful on both counts) I have avoided swallowing a lot of carbohydrates. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss bagels, baked potatoes, French fries and Blimpie sandwiches.

A lot of bagel shops had these neon signs showing neon flames and the word “hot.” I don’t recall heat being a selling point with bagels as I always ate them at room temperature. I prized softness and chewiness, but not heat as I would, with, say, hot pizza. Do you like bagels super hot? Comments, as always, are open.

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Kaye January 16, 2023 - 12:17 am

In the mid-70s, I had an apartment on the corner of West 79th and Broadway, just a quick stroll away from H&H Bagels. On weekend mornings, I’d get two of whatever bagel was hot (i.e. freshest) and, like you, butter them liberally. I’ve eaten literally thousands of bagels since, but H&H still remain the gold standard for me.

Lon January 16, 2023 - 8:46 pm

H&H with the newstand on the corner of 79th & Bdway kept the neighborhood open all night and vibrant after all the
other stores closed.
Zabar’s (half block north) was it’s main competition but hot bagels fresh out of the oven is nirvana and H&H was open all night.
It’s gone now replaced with a Verizon store that has just
relocated and the newstand closes early. Signs of the time?

Andy January 16, 2023 - 12:21 am

I and my wife are both Jewish and NYC natives, which means we’ve been eating bagels our entire lives. There is no one correct way to prepare and eat a bagel. The great variety of bagel flavorings and toppings available today makes for a multitude of choices that are far too numerous to mention. The “hot” on the store sign means that the bagels are baked fresh multiple times daily, depending on the sales demand. When freshly baked right from the over they are indeed hot, like any other bread product. Of course, after an hour, the heat wears off but the bagel is certainly still fresh. Bagels don’t need to be super hot to be enjoyed. But after a day they become stale and need to be heated briefly in an oven or toasted.

I like a very traditional plain or pumpernickel bagel, lightly toasted, with plain cream cheese or with belly lox (brined salmon) and cream cheese. Other times I also like the same bagel with butter and sliced cheese (swiss or muenster). And, strong coffee, regardless of the bagel and toppings. My wife agrees with me, except that she likes sesame or everything bagels instead of plain ones. And she too insists on strong coffee as the beverage accompaniment.

You are probably aware that traditional New York bagels are shaped by hand and then boiled in water before baking. Outside of New York, the best bagels I’ve had were in Montreal, where bagels are baked in a similar fashion.

Matt January 16, 2023 - 2:06 pm

As a Brooklyn native, my preference back in the 60’s would have been a salted bagel with butter and smoked whitefish. Lox was fine, too, but I never could understand cream cheese and fish. Oh well.

Brian G January 16, 2023 - 6:14 pm

My family used to get bagels from this place in the 70s when the sign was still valid. Good memories!

chris January 17, 2023 - 8:51 pm

Lender’s Bagels are not bagels they’re Wonder Bread in the shape of a bagel

JJW January 18, 2023 - 8:34 am

Absolute Bagels on Broadway between 107 and 108 is the gold standard these days. Boiled and baked like they should be, and best right out of the oven, but they’re good for days after (with a little toasting).

Stu Detroit January 20, 2023 - 4:15 pm

I baked bagels at a place in Forest Hills during high school and college. I loved to eat a bagel shortly after it came out of the oven, when it was just cool enough to eat. It had a nutty, malty flavor that vanished when the bagel cooled. And the dough was so tender under the hot crust.

gbear January 21, 2023 - 5:23 am

lived at 8520 Ft. Hamilton Parkway in the early 70’s. I went to that shop almost every morning when it opened and waited for fresh bagels, they were the best! It is one of the few things I missed when I left Brooklyn.

Ed Greenberg January 21, 2023 - 9:11 am

“HOT” bagels: My take on this is twofold. First: In this case, “hot” seems to mean fresh. If the store advertises Hot Bagels, they are freshly made, right there. Secondly, there is nothing more satisfying that biting into that thhirteenth bagel in the dozen, while you are bringing the bag home. No butter, no cream cheese, etc., just pure doughy goodness. It’s an action that goes along with snarfing the end of the rye bread from the bakery while on the way home.

Bill Tweeddale January 23, 2023 - 11:08 am

I like bagels, but when I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 50’s-60’s, my favorite snack foods were knishes and soft, salted pretzels. There were street corner vendor carts all over Borough Park, and they were always hot!


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