Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Signing On: Is This Bakery Trying to Be Something It's Not?

By Mitch Broder

Some New Yorkers are still disturbed that Vesuvio still says “Vesuvio” when it’s been almost three years since it was Vesuvio.

I’m more disturbed that it sells chocolate-chip cookies for $2.50 and doesn’t fill them with enough chocolate chips.

Vesuvio was an Italian bread bakery that opened in 1920. It got famous for its Italian bread but more famous for its façade. It had the cute little storefront you imagine every little store in New York City once had. It still does. Except that the façade is now a façade.

In 2008 Vesuvio closed; in 2009 it reopened as a Birdbath Neighborhood Green Bakery. The people inside tell you it’s Birdbath. The window outside tells you it’s Vesuvio. Needless to say, this confuses tourists. Needful to say, it confuses New Yorkers.

Small clues to the new identity await the keen observer. For one thing, Birdbath doesn’t sell Italian bread. For another, what it does sell isn’t particularly Italian. But it doesn’t exactly go out of its way to set the customers straight. The confusion, as played out among patrons, is sometimes comical.

Yelp, for instance, lists Vesuvio as closed, but the “reviewers” are perplexed. One wrote: “I work right around the corner, and not only are they definitely NOT closed, but they still have the best cookies ever.” Another wrote: “Why does it say closed? I don’t understand. I had a cookie here on Friday.”

Some people commend the bakery owner for preserving the vintage storefront. Some people vilify him for exploiting the vintage storefront. Jeremiah Moss of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York distills the conflict: “… in the presence of these preservations and simulations,” he writes, “we’re not sure what to feel.”

He’s right. I like seeing the old store the way it was, but it mocks me because it doesn’t deliver what it seems to promise.

Just like the cookie. Sure, it’s crunchy outside and chewy inside. But without the imagined load of chips, it leaves you a little empty.

Evaluate the Birdbath Bakery at 160 Prince Street, between West Broadway and Thompson Street, in Manhattan.


  1. Well Mitch, let's be honest ~ these days its not so uncommon that something can have the outside packaging of say an excellent Italian bakery but the insides of let's say a Stop and Shop bakery. Don't most TV's do that? That being said the only thing lacking in this piece is that we don't get a take home sample of the cookies....although with a lack of chips perhaps that's OK....mmm...now I'm going to need to do some baking....

  2. I don't mind the sweet exterior now that I know what to expect...better than an exterior that looks like a bank (Sorry Red Flame!)

  3. I love the name and the look. NY needs to bring back the beauty of how it used to be. I love the charm and the color. I agree that you do need to know whats inside.