A Weekend Without Barney Greengrass Leaves Owner and Customers Distraught; Closure Could Stretch A Few More Days

Barney Greengrass was closed by the Health Department last Thursday, the day after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, when inspectors found mouse droppings, roaches and other violations in the historic restaurant and appetizing store on Amsterdam between 86th and 87th Streets. After the West Side Rag wrote about the closure in openings and closings, it was covered by the Post, the Times, and several TV news stations.

One customer told the Times he was surprised that Barney Greengrass had been so sloppy, but others were more forgiving. “We had our break-fast from him this year as we have had for however many years, and we all survived,” customer Sandy Zenker said. “We’re all fine.”

Never before in the 111-year history of the store has it been shuttered by the Health Department. Owner Gary Greengrass called it being “scarlet lettered.” He declined to comment on Monday, but on Thursday he was distraught and frustrated. He kept starting to speak, then holding his tongue; in part, because he’s a nice guy, in part, because he was afraid to raise the ire of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Gary Greengrass.

He had an explanation for why Barney Greengrass failed the Health Department inspection. He likened the two days before Yom Kippur — when he is preparing and delivering hundreds and hundreds of break-fast meals across the neighborhood, city, and country — to a hurricane, and said you have to clean up after a hurricane. There was no time, he insisted. The inspectors showed up — two of them — at nine o’clock in the morning, the day after the place had been closed for the holiday.

Still, some of the violations the health department reported seem longer term, like evidence of mice and sightings of roaches. The restaurant had an A grade, but it had recorded similar violations back in June. Here is the full statement sent to WSR by the Health Department:

“The Health Department conducted a routine inspection of Barney Greengrass and observed food not held at the correct temperature; close to 300 mouse droppings, including droppings in the kitchen and food storage areas; live roaches in the kitchen; conditions conducive to pests and other food safety concerns. The Department closed the establishment as a temporary measure to protect public health and will authorize reopening once Barney Greengrass has corrected the issues and passed a reopening inspection.”

The restaurant is expected to stay closed through Wednesday, according to a message on the answering machine.

FOOD, NEWS | 25 comments | permalink
    1. estaban De jesus says:

      i feel bad for them, but,evidence of fresh rodent droppings and live roaches has nothing to do with their busy holiday.

    2. Sid says:

      I repeat, MURRAYS over Greengrass any day of the week. Murray’s doesn’t have a roach/mouse problem and are much nicer 🙂

      • Sue L says:

        Right—and they always were!
        And the whole brouhaha reminds me of my mom’s decades-ago answer to my question: “Why don’t we shop here—it’s closer?” Her pronouncement was the most damning possible: “I don’t buy where it’s dirty!”

    3. Ami Bovidd says:

      Are you kidding? You will find roach and mouse droppings in any food establishment you walk in to, particularly on the UWS.

      Think of it as a garnish.

    4. Mr. G says:

      GROSS!!!!!! No more smear for me

    5. Andrea says:

      I hope they work it out. It’s an UWS institution. I’ve found the service and attitude there to be so New York – a little gruff, but ultimately kind. When I ordered more than I had cash for, Gary Greengrass told me to just pay him next time – taking my word that I would come back. I did and I will.

    6. Ethan says:

      How kind of the DOH to wait until after the High Holidays to bust Barney Greengrass. A mitzvah!

    7. Susan Braiman says:

      Just go to Murray’s.
      It’s clean , delicious, nicer people in charge.
      No holiday is an excuse for neglecting a place where you feed people and charge them money to trust you .
      They don’t deserve patronage until they get their priorities in order and pay whatever it takes to clean up the filth. Whether other places are similarly unsanitary is irrelevant. One bad joke at a time.

    8. Stan says:

      Sometimes I don’t get New Yorkers. A restaurant closed for mouse droppings and roaches and they had these kind of violations before. Yet people can’t wait to go back. I, for one, would never go there. Maybe the owner needs to put some money into cleaning up and modernizing the place.

      • B.B. says:

        Only way to rid a building of vermin infestation is to thoroughly “rodent proof”, clean, and exterminate.

        Merely doing the latter (which is how most businesses and property owners tackle the things) doesn’t solve problem

        In a densely populated area like NYC rodents simply move from one building/floor to another, only to return at some point.

        Many building owners, tenants (commercial and residential) are loathe to do this because it often involves major upheaval.

        Everything must be pulled away/off walls including appliances, cabinets, etc…, area inspected, cleaned and any holes, cracks and other voids well sealed.

        Appliances with motors (from clothes dryers to refrigerators) must be inspected. Rodents like warmth motors give off, insulation provides nesting material, and there is usually food source nearby.

      • B.B. says:

        New Yorkers are pretty consistent in their inconsistency.

        People complain about crime, but aren’t adverse to buying something cheaply that may have “fallen off a truck”.

        As the old saying goes: what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you.

    9. Marsha says:

      Have you noticed that Murray’s doesn’t have a restaurant?

      • Ann says:

        Just reading all of this makes me miss NYC. Why do I have to live in Carmel where we don’t have a choice of great Jewish delis! We don’t have ANY to complain about. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

    10. Carol mills says:

      The place is so overpriced don’t know what everyone is raving about

    11. EllesseNYC says:

      It’s par for the course with restaurants. I used to work in the industry and have not eaten out ANYWHERE since. Fine dining or local take out. It’s all food subject to handling by multiple people, exposed to flies during processing, and possibly kept around too long. Not to mention the quality of the ingredients is what fits the budget and meets the bottom line. I’ll take buying my own fresh organic ingredients and serving in my own clean kitchen any day, thanks.

    12. scott schaffer says:

      Stan, I was thinking the same thing. There are so many restaurants in this city. Is the lox really that great that one is willing to put up with mouse droppings, etc? I don’t get it either.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        smoked fish tip: best prices (and best tasting/quality) for freshly sliced lox and sable in Manhattan is the Russ and Daughters cafe in the Jewish Museum on 5th Avenue. if you do a price and taste comparison with BG, Murray’s, etc., you’ll thank me.

        • NYYgirl says:

          Are they as truly artistic with the care and slicing as my man Oscar at Murray’s?

          • UWSHebrew says:

            Would match if not exceed. Don’t take my word for it.

          • Sid says:

            Oscar! The one and only! Plus, Russ & Daughter’s really isn’t wallet-friendly compared to Murray’s.

            • UWSHebrew says:

              Prices are substantially lower at the Russ and Daughters Cafe in the Jewish Museum. Call Murray’s and ask how much sable is a pound. Now call the cafe. Big $ difference.

    13. Liz says:

      I hope you nasty complainers stay away so the line is shorter when I go! Food delicious and the same quality in the 30+ years I’ve been dining there.

    14. B.B. says:

      It probably isn’t helping their rodent issues that BGG is right next door to that all but empty church with permanently installed (at this point) scaffolding.

      Know the space holds a theater/events, but likely much of the basements/below grade spaces are little used.