Weekend Column: An Imperfect Bagel Leads to a Perfect UWS Apartment

By William Russell

“You’ve GOT to try this bagel place, it’s the best in the city!” said our real estate agent. Knowing about bagels is a cherished pastime for New Yorkers. We all have secret knowledge of the best bagel shop, and will deny up and down that there is any other that comes close to ours. Knowing this, but still willing to be surprised, I cautiously agreed to try out the new suggestion. We were six days into an apartment search, tired and hungry after what had so far been yet another unfruitful day.

My girlfriend Sarah and I were searching for a place together for the first time. We figured we could pool our resources and split the rent. If we were willing to sacrifice a few comforts we could get the location we really wanted – the Upper West Side. After four days of fruitless searching online and varied appointments with random building managers we decided to swallow our pride, consult an agency, and hope the fee wasn’t too outrageous.

The prospect of a proper bagel was too appealing to pass up. South of Columbia University, we found a dirty awning over a too-small doorway leading back into the shop, “The best bagels in the city?” I asked, although I knew the answer. “The best!” Our agent beamed.

At each apartment throughout our search, our agent had been overly excited. “You guys, the way the shadows will play against the wall in the evening is gonna be awesome” Downplaying the fact that the window had prison bars on them leading into the air shaft. “How about this kitchen?” he exclaimed while we quietly examined the bathroom in the middle of it. “Location, location, location!” he had commented, while showing us an apartment overlooking the 96th street 123 station; a tiny one bedroom, big enough to shove a mattress in. “It’s the city!” he commented idly, “You’ll be out there, not in here.” We decided he was correct about that – on to the next.

At the bagel shop, we waited in line for a good 10 minutes while hot fresh dough was spun and slung around in the back. There was a decent amount of theatrics – throwing the fresh ones onto a massive pile of others the moment they came out of the oven. I order an everything with cream cheese for Sarah and a nova lox (everything on everything) to sink my teeth into. Our agent orders a plain with veggie spread. Now, a proper bagel isn’t just a circle of bread. I should feel the heat from the oven. Taste the intricacies of the dough and get that nice resistant crust that gives way to soft, but firm, insides. I should get this even before I taste the toppings. It should be an experience.

Our agent voraciously consumed his lunch and stared at us with curious intent. “It’s pretty good!” I said. He knew my heart wasn’t in it. I’m not about to say it wasn’t a good bagel. Bagels are like pizza – even cold pizza is still pizza. However, it definitely wasn’t an experience, let alone the “best in the city”. I wrapped up half to take with me. I found myself losing faith in our agent, as I slowly translated his flavor profile into his ability to lead us to a great apartment.

We trudged on through a long afternoon of dud after dud, including a small but lofty 1 bed/bath at 97th and Riverside with a very intricate treehouse platform built out of wood, somehow installed in the bedroom. My girlfriend explained that it probably wasn’t up to code and anyway absolutely not. We compromised and kept looking.

The shadows lengthened on the sidewalk as we passed an entryway facing out on a major avenue. Our agent asked us if we’d like to see inside. It was on the list, but it wasn’t one he had prioritized. On the second floor of a walk-up was a charming 450 foot efficiency with high ceilings and a living room with east-facing windows. A kitchen with a spillover bar/prep area, a spacious bedroom, and crown molding. There, in the recesses of the kitchen was an actual dishwasher, the holy grail of all New York apartment shopping. It was perfect, and it was over our budget.

I pored over the existing setup of the rooms. A large couch and coffee table covered in boxes dominated the living space, but underneath I could feel the warmth of a home organized around hosting. The window boxes sat empty, but the water rings of potted plants stayed as a reminder of greenery soaking in excellent sunlight. The kitchen’s counters were covered in newspaper from the packing obviously underway, but the space they provided might be great for a breakfast nook. It would be hard on the wallet, but we could be happy here.

Our agent eyed the apartment with disinterest before he mentioned that there were two other buildings left on the list. “Yeah I think we want to move on this one.” I said emphatically. “Are you sure, because I think these other two are really great” came his reply. An entire day full of hype-reel comments about pretty mediocre places, and naturally when we find a gem he’s not convinced. We caught an express train back to the offices, submitted our paperwork and thanked our agent for his time.

That evening, waiting to hear back about whether we would snag the apartment, I remembered the half-eaten bagel in my bag. Our agent’s reaction to the perfect place had mirrored my distaste at the bagel shop that morning. It was no surprise our dream apartment wouldn’t be his; his ‘best bagel’ place wasn’t mine. Our agent was left doubtful that we’d made the right selection even though we knew that we had found a perfect match. My girlfriend and I have lived in this apartment for the last four years, and are now happily married! Every weekend we walk down, past the long lines from the “best” bagel shop to where we know the best bagels in the city are really made: Broadway Bagels at 101st. Whether it’s bagels or apartments, living in New York means you’ve gotta trust your gut.

Photos by William Russell.

COLUMNS, REAL ESTATE | 31 comments | permalink
    1. Bill Williams says:

      Broadway Bagels are the best bagels in NYC :EYE ROLL:

    2. dannyboy says:

      “After four days of fruitless searching online and varied appointments with random building managers we decided to swallow our pride, consult an agency, and hope the fee wasn’t too outrageous.”
      A short search, including random building managers? No wonder it was:
      “and it was over our budget.” and

      “It would be hard on the wallet”

    3. Van says:

      Was this sponsored by Broadway Bagels? (Which is perfectly okay, but Absolute, seemingly the one your agent liked wins my heart in a walk…)

    4. francesca says:

      broadway bagels on 101st IS the best bagel shop.

    5. Bill Reyer says:

      The bagels of a 1940s childhood are at 222 West 83 cirbertof Broadway and 83rd. That’s where I hand roll, boil and bake them myself because you cannot get a decent bagel anywhere on the UWS.

      • geoff says:

        that may be true, but have you tried Zucker’s, east side of columbus 72/73?

        not too bad (better than acceptable), they remind me a bit of the ORIGINAL H&H during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

        Zucker’s has a pretty good ‘everything’.

        i’d be interested in your opinon.

      • Joe Fensterblau says:

        I’ll be there tomorrow morning:

        and I want 6 sesame,
        6 poppy,
        6 onion,
        6 garlic.

        and 12 Byalies

        I’m prepared to pay 1940’s prices.

        • geoff says:

          hey joe, where ya’ going’ with that gun in your hand?

          don’t go in the morning, go after 3pm. bagels are a buck.

      • Beverly says:

        What’s the name of this place. Live in the neighborhood and have never deen this.

    6. Laura says:

      I can not believe the author prefers Broadway Bagels to Absolute Bagels. This makes me question all his life choices. 😉

    7. PaulCons says:

      Whew, keep going to B’way Bagels… one less to wait for at the real gem,, Absolute Bagels!

    8. Catherine says:

      The best bagels are gone from the UWS
      H&H used to be on Bway/80th. The smell of those bagels baking 24/7 and always hot is something I miss every day. The guy didn’t pay his taxes and the state closed him down. Foolish man – he had a goldmine.

      • Bill Reyer says:

        H&H were sweet rings of Wonder dough and a bagel for out of town folks. No one who grew up in the City before bagels resembled spare tires would rattan H&H. Maybe it’s demise could be looked at as an Act if God; a punishment for bagel blasphemy.

    9. Jane says:

      When I saw a studio apartment on W 90 Street, I just felt a “YES!” in my gut. It was a great building, great neighbors, huge windows overlooking the street, brick walls. I felt safe and happy. Lived there 10 years!

    10. Kayson212 says:

      I really enjoyed the main point of this story, which boils down (to stretch a bagel metaphor) to “Experts, shmexperts, trust what instinct and common sense tell you.” Nicely written.

    11. Deborah says:

      Beautifully written ~

    12. Sarah says:

      Broadway Bagels > Absolute??? You may literally be the only person in the city not getting paid by Broadway who believes that.

    13. dannyboy says:


      just a personal preference.

    14. Margaret says:

      Even though the best bagels are to be found at Bagel Talk, on Amsterdam at 77th, this was still a really charming tale. Thank you for writing this and sharing it.

    15. Bagelboi says:

      The author of this article has a natural wit and charm to his writing that I haven’t seen since the authors of our fathers. He has a future in this trade of literature for th masses. A true gentleman, a man who dawns a robe and pipe; who prefers the taste of an ageless joy of a healthy scotch to the quick and dull anguish of a stiff on the rocks. A real “scotchman”, if you will.

    16. Ethan says:

      Hey everybody, don’t you know? The plural of bagel is bagel.