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Food

Ess-A-Wrap for Beloved Bagel Shop

Photograph by Angela N./Flickr

For bagel lovers, there’s going to be a hole on Manhattan’s east side — but not for long. After nearly 40 years of bagel-baking and nosh-slinging, Ess-A-Bagel will close its Gramercy location, on 21st Street and 1st Avenue, at the end of January.

But — hold the schmear — another bagelry is moving in. Manhattan upstart Tal Bagels will share the newly divided space with a Bank of America branch.

Manhattan neighborhood blog Town and Village broke the news about the beloved Ess-A-Bagel, which has earned a fierce following for its boiled bagels since its 1976 debut.

As recently as last week, owner David Wilpon — whose aunt, Florence Wilpon, founded the business — was holding out hope that he might stay. “There’s a lot that’s up in the air,” he told Town and Village. But the landlord has confirmed the new tenants, according to the Daily News.

A true neighborhood spot as haimish as its name, Ess-A-Bagel routinely made “Best-Of” lists; CBS Local went as far as to anoint it New York City’s reigning bagel shop. “Ess-a-Bagel is hands-down considered to have the best bagel in NYC,” the site enthused. “They’re enormous, tough-skinned, dense almost to the point of breadiness and have a malty kick.” The site also praised Ess-A-Bagel’s much-loved smoked fish, rice pudding and other staples.

Even the sometimes-snarky Gothamist gave it up for Ess-A-Bagel in a ranking of New York’s ten best bagel shops. “Some claim Ess-A-Bagel’s offerings are too big,” the site wrote. “We beg to differ, and will continue to indulge in a crispy, colossal everything bagel loaded with scallion cream cheese, lox and tomato.”

Will Tal Bagels be able to live up to that kind of rep? Based on online reviews, it looks iffy. “The plain bagel was a true gutbomb. It had a toasty crunch without being warm. My first bite gave way to a slight sweetness and malty flavor that reminded me of a dense biscuit. This one veered on the edge of being too well done,” carped the EatThisNY blog, which rated Tal Bagels 7 out of 10.

Meanwhile, Ess-A-Bagel’s landlord is blaming their tenant for the lease snafu.

A statement from Wilpon’s landlord, an outfit called East 21 Retail LLC, claimed that “we’ve bent over backwards to come to a mutually fair agreement with Ess-A-Bagel’s owners. Our offer would have allowed Ess-A-Bagel to remain — and even gave them the option to expand — in the space they are in currently. Unfortunately, it takes two sides to make a deal, and Ess-A-Bagel’s owners repeatedly refused to meet us between their below-market rent and current market value.”

The closing leaves one Ess-A-Bagel location, in East Midtown.

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