More Schlag, Please, Herr Doktor.

June 4th, 2011 § 23 comments

With the delicious irony that only Middle Europeans are capable of, waiters at the long departed Eclair Bakery/Restaurant on New York’s West 72nd Street, referred to each other as “Herr Doktor.” Eclair’s heyday was the late 30’s through to the 60s. Its customers were the Europeans, primarily Jewish, who had fled Hitler and wound up, for the most part, in the Washington Heights and Upper West Side neighborhoods of New York. Yes, many of the waiters had been Doctors in Europe, or lawyers, or architects, etc.. In New York they were waiters. They did not bewail their fate. They were alive.

Eclair catered to displaced novelists, musicians, singers, actors, artists and a host of intellectuals of every cerebral and artistic variety. And, the little, bald guy in the corner was Isaac Bashevis Singer (long before he became famous), eating his inevitable (he was a vegetarian) tuna fish sandwich. The women in the Eclair were bosomy, voluble, perfumed and flirtatious. It was a sexy place, echoing Viennese, Budapest and Bucharest coffee houses. The pastries were outstanding. Coffee came adorned with three inches of schlag (whipped cream). It was more than a bakery. Eclair was also a restaurant with outstanding wiener schnitzel, chicken paprikash and other artery clogging specialties of Mittel Europa. A multitude of languages was spoken at Eclair—German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Yiddish, Rumanian. To HG’s young ears it was all music. Eclair was owned by A.M. Selinger, Italian-born, Czech-reared. When he died in 1998 his New York Times obituary summed him up perfectly: “However long they lingered, the Eclair customers found a ready welcome from the proprietor, a small, natty man of legendary conviviality. a wide circle of friends and a vast array of pluperfect pastries.”

Whenever HG thinks of him, HG smiles

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§ 23 Responses to More Schlag, Please, Herr Doktor."

  • S. Zlatkovski says:

    This was my favorite place. I spent a lot of time trying to reconstruct from memory their superb Opera Torte. I recall that there were something like 35 kinds of torten in the case, but I can’t remember what they were. Besides the grand Opera, there were Dobosh, Sacher, Cassis, those I tried, but I never made it to the others. Do you remember them? They also had delicious bread. I dearly wish the Selinger family would publish a cookbook of their recipes.

    • Gerry says:

      Ah, those calorie-rich, delightful pastries of yesteryear. Glad that we experienced them.

    • Jill Grant says:

      The other cakes I remember were the Black Forest cherry cake, mocca loaf (my favorite), lemon cake with slices of crystallized lemon on top (a close second), Napoleons, and of course the eclairs. But I remember a lot more than that, as I grew up having dinner at Eclair many a Sunday evening. I particularly remember their sauerbraten, red cabbage, and potato pancakes. My father (a Czech Jewish refugee) stopped there every day after work for a cup of coffee and to schmooze with other Central European immigrants, and always brought a fresh rye loaf home with him for our dinner. When I went with him as a child to buy cakes for hostess gifts or various special occasions, the very nice woman behind the counter – who had a concentration camp number tattooed on her forearm – always let me choose a petit four for myself. Sometimes the owners were there and they gave me Pez dispensers – the original ones, not the cheap plastic ones available now! And I also remember the raspberry syrup they sold, which we ate on top of rice pudding as a compromise to my English mother.

    • Mickey Logan says:

      I loved their rum cake!

  • […] Encyclopedic array of fresh roasted nuts, dried fruits and candy treats from across the globe. Eclair Bakery and Restaurant (72nd Street): Vienna, Berlin, Budapest and Warsaw transplanted in New York. Senate Cafeteria (96th […]

  • john says:

    My wife and I gave a party on Jan. 2, 1971 to celebrate our marriage; it went on till morning (the party, I mean–the marriage is still going) and the stragglers, including us, went to the Eclair for breakfast. I’m sorry to learn that it’s gone. I. B. Singer lived nearby in the Ansonia, at 74th and Broadway, though I don’t know if I ever saw him there. And it’s now a Krispy Kreme? What an indignity.

    • Gerry says:

      Singer lived in the Belnord (86th and Broadway). However, many literary figures (maxim Gorky among them) lived at the Ansonia. Eclair to Krispy Kreme: The decline of western civiiization summed up by two sweets.

  • […] by European immigrants who brought their pastry skills to the New World. On the West Side was the Eclair Bakery and Cafe on W. 72nd Street and a great bakery (name forgotten) on the southeast corner of Broadway and 79th […]

    • Brooke Dramer says:

      BABKA was the name of the great bakery on the southeast corner of 79th and Broadway. Its name was proclaimed in neon lights on a shingle that hung way out over the sidewalk–a beacon welcoming you to the upper west side when you got to the top of the subway steps.

      Now, here’s my question: Was the neon Babka electric blue or shocking pink? I’m asking because I really need for someone to jog my memory in prep for a novel I am writing about the upper west side in the 1970s.

      BTW, I have wonderful memories of Eclair–eating pastry, drinking tea, listening to the wit and wisdom of Norman the Waiter, and having my palm read by a psychic named Min.

  • Victoria says:

    My grandfather worked there from 1941 till 1970.

  • Margo says:

    In the 40s and early 50s my bachelor uncle took me there when I visited from Philadelphia and it reflects all the smells of my German Jewish childhood. He also took me to a restaurant nearby which was located on the second floor of a building on Broadway. There he would order Herz, Leber, Lung which at the time I found hard to take but gradually began to enjoy. Wonder if anyone eats it today!

    • Gerry says:

      The dish you ate was called “lungen stew” and was served in Lower East Side Jewish soul food restaurants. Very chewy. Much garlic. Have not seen it for decades. It is a disregarded innards like hearts and gizzards. Gone. I liked it but I do not think it would attract much of a following in these effete days.

  • Gerd Heinz says:

    The Eclair was a favorite gathering spot of my parents and their crowd of self-named “Refu-Jews” as was of La Coupole, and the Viennese Lantern on the east side.
    BTW, about Isaac Bashevis Singer eating a tuna sandwich because he was a vegetarian, is tuna considered a vegetable?

    • Gerry says:

      You have a point. Should describe Singer as eliminating meat from his diet. When asked if this was for his health, he said, no, it was for the health of the animals.

  • Tpm Neuhaus says:

    Hi worked for Mr. Selinger in 1978. I was a chef de rang at Laurent Restaurant from 3-11 PM, then I took the subway to Bedford-Stuyvesant and filled eclairs and cream puffs from midnight to 6 AM. I wrote an article for the NYT about American bakeries that was not too complimentary about Eclair, but it never got published. That article got me a 7-year position as columnist for the Washington Post food section, however. I liked Mr Selinger and his restaurant-bakery on 72nd St. I believe the LungenSuppe is also called Beuschl.

  • Lydia Yoslow says:

    I loved reading the article about Eclair Bakery and restaurant I grew up eating? the famous Eclair pink rum cake. What even happened to the pastry recepies and especially the pink rum cake one

  • S. Davis says:

    Where, oh, where, are the baker’s recipes???
    The only tortes I can remember, besides the grand Opera Torte, were the Sacher Torte and Dobosh Torte, and a Crème-de-Cassis Torte, but there were many others in the case I never got ’round to trying. I cannot get another bakery to recreate the opera torte. I remember it as a seven-layer cake, with instead of one filling, praline cream, mocha cream, and chocolate cream followed by a layer of crispy brown dacquoise spread with apricot, followed by another sequence of layers, all covered with dark chocolate ganache, oh and I just remembered the triangles of chocolate angled on the top, just like a dobosh torte with its caramel triangles!
    As for other memorable bakeries, the cinnamon rolls from Grossingers, which had dough made of sweet bread dough layered with Pressburger pastry dough!

  • Jerry B says:

    the only way my mother could get my father to drive into the city from L.I. was a visit to the Eclair Bakery. Does anyone have a source for the rum cake recipe covered in pink fondant, his favorite, not mine but I’d like to make one for my sister who also loved it.

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