Last week, Hinsch’s, the beloved Bay Ridge diner whose continued existence has been uncertain for years, finally ended its 67-year reign when the current owners turned it into a Stewart’s franchise—the first proper storefront sitdown Stewart’s in New York City. A lot of the admiration for Hinsch’s was rooted in nostalgia—it was the last of its kind, the luncheonette/soda fountain/chocolatier/ice cream parlor that persevered while literally hundreds of others closed or changed.
Before it was called Hinsch (which was the name on the sign, not Hinsch’s), 8518 Fifth Avenue was home to Reichert’s Tea Room, the earliest reference to which I can find are several ads in the Brooklyn Eagle during October 1931 (leading me to believe this is around the time it opened); the earliest reads, “‘Meet Me at Reichert’s’ has become such a familiar phrase among young people in Bay Ridge it is hardly worth mentioning here. The point we like to make is this: If Reichert’s didn’t make the best ice cream sodas in town would they meet at Reichert’s?” Such ads continued running through at least January, boasting of the wholesome food, a chef who knows his pantry, appeals to kids and housewives, and the candies for sale at Christmas, as low as 69¢/lb. for assorted milk chocolate [or $10.76, adjusted for inflation—?!].
A Certificate of Occupancy, issued by the Brooklyn Bureau of Buildings, is dated December 4, 1931, after alterations to the building. (The leasee was Reichert and Schaefer Inc.; the architect’s name is illegible. The landlord was A. Gentile, and the building is still in the Gentile family, passing in 1983 from Josephine Gentile to Lillian Gentile and Anna Tesoriero, and in 2004 from those two women to A & J Gentile LLC. These are not relatives of local Councilmember Vincent Gentile, his spokesperson confirmed.) The building was built in 1921, according to city data, part of the decade-long building boom that followed the arrival of the subway, meaning the address has likely always (at least almost always) been home to a Hinsch’s-style hangout. An electric sign was installed in September 1929; an old tax photo from the 40s shows Reichert’s decorated with neon signs similar to the ones Hinsch would put up ca. 1948.
“Originally, the place didn’t serve food, just ice cream and chocolates,” Time Out New York reported in 2004. “‘They added some light food during the Depression,’ says [John] Logue [Jr., the owner at the time], ‘but even up to 30 years ago there was no heavy cooking.’” Help-wanted classified ads appear in the Eagle as late as 1947: “GIRL FOR SODA FOUNTAIN AND SANDWICHES; EXPERIENCED.” Around the same time (January 1946) a second certificate of occupancy was issued after more alterations to the building, which now officially had an “ice cream parlor” on the first floor (as opposed to the generic “store” on the earlier CofO), with one-family apartments on the second and third.
Two years later, in 1948, Herman Hinsch, who lived at 69 79th Street, bought the business, and named it after himself. (The last Hinsch to own the house on 79th Street was Mathilde Hinsch, who sold it in 1988.) The only mention of the confectionery I could find in the Eagle archives was from May 1954—an ad for ice cream cakes, starting at $2 (or $17.62, adjusted for inflation).
I also found a photo of the Hinsches’ daughter, Dorothy, from the Society page, when her announcement to Robert Carlen of 547 68th Street was announced.
An interview with Logue Jr., on a website about neon signs in New York, claims that Hinsch already had a shop on 18th Avenue when he decided to move and take over the Reichert space. (Back then, the Hinsch family lived at 4716 18th Avenue, according to the 1940 census.) John Logue, Sr., worked at the 18th Avenue shop.
The Hinschs owned the restaurant until 1961, when Herman sold it to Logue, Sr., who put his 12-year-old son behind the counter to serve milk shakes and egg creams. “Logue [Jr.] says that wherever there was a movie theater, you could bet there’d be an ice cream parlor within spitting distance,” Edible Brooklyn reported in 2008. “Bay Ridge’s 86th Street was once home to not one but two movie theaters…and boasted two local ice creameries to boot.”
Logue turned the business into a neighborhood empire which would eventually include Once Upon a Sundae (formerly 7702 Third Avenue) and Logue’s (formerly 6920 Third Avenue). The latter is now Anopoli, and is still known for its homemade ice cream and old-fashioned treats like root beer floats and Lime Rickeys. It was a candy shop as far back as 1931, when the address appears attached to “Hormann & Meyer” in an Eagle ad for local such candy shops (of which there were at least a dozen within today’s Bay Ridge boundaries, plus many more as far as 42nd Street). The present owners claim its history goes back to 1897, according to a 2012 article in the Daily News claiming the space was celebrating its 115th birthday.
While Anopoli Ice Cream Parlor & Family Restaurant is the latest name on the front sign, at least three other clans have managed the 65-seat eatery – all snubbing modernity. “We didn’t want to change old things,” said Manny Saviolakis, 34, who took over the place with his father Steve, 62, in 1995, who had downed desserts there since childhood. “It’s old Brooklyn. It doesn’t feel like old Brooklyn: This is old Brooklyn,” said Manny…“It’s always been like this,” said Harold Boye, 88, who has been eating breakfast [there] for 53 years.
For Once Upon a Sundae, Logue had “transplanted the turn-of-the twentieth century furnishings of Brooklyn’s oldest ice-cream parlor from Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant to these lodgings in Bay Ridge,” according to the second edition (from 1999) of Ellen Freudenheim’s tourist guide Brooklyn!. And it’s referenced as late as 2002 in a Brooklyn Paper column, but an Internet forum says it was already closed by 2000, which gibes better with my memory. The deli that had been long been next door expanded, taking over the corner spot.
Hinsch’s continued on through the 90s, when Logue Jr. took over from his dad, and 00s, retaining its time-capsule appeal, refusing to change at all with the times; by the time Logue gave it up, it was for better and worse probably the last diner in Brooklyn where you couldn’t get a veggie burger. “The service could be brusque, or sometimes worse: I once took a friend there, who was mortified when our waitress [coughed into her hand] and immediately used that hand to handle our silverware,” I once wrote. “I mostly went to Hinsch’s to indulge my own nostalgia for places like it, and because I knew a day would come when I couldn’t go to Hinsch’s.”
And then that day came. Abruptly, in September 2011, the Logue family closed the shop and hung a sign in the window citing “current economic conditions, customers changing eating patterns, and our desire to retire early.” The landlord also wanted to raise the rent to $10,000, from $7,500, and Logue had problems with the health department, which “shut down the eatery earlier that day after inspectors said it was a magnet for rats with improperly refrigerated food and roaches in the kitchen and common areas. Prior inspections also revealed the presence of mice,” the Brooklyn Paper reported.
Within two months, the shop was bought by Gerard Bell, who co-owns Skinflint’s, as well as Bill Gardell and Roger Desmond. But they were looking to get out by February, putting the business up for sale, according to EaterNY. Then Desmond said the place would close, again; then he said it wouldn’t, but it would become BYOB, and serve fancier food; then he said he had sold it, to Mike Moudatsos. The old sign was disassembled, and the space renamed Mike’s Hinsch. (A sign not unlike the old one went up on the storefront, facing Fifth Avenue, but a sign very different from the one it replaced went above it, facing 86th Street.)
Then, two weeks ago, Meaghan McGoldrick broke the story in the Home Reporter that Moudatsos and his son Lee would turn Mike’s Hinsch’s into a Stewart’s franchise. “Stewart’s is an old brand—even older than Hinsch’s—with the same basic concept of an old soda shop, so we thought it was a great idea to bring it here and kind of merge it with Hinsch’s,” Lee Moudatsos told the paper. “That way, we keep it the same while expanding a little.”
But many people see it as just another example of the sanitization of culture in New York City. “David Ogilvie, 70…said, ‘it’s sadly only a matter of time before a Starbuck’s-type’ takes over the site,” the Post reported in 2011, “adding that Hinsch’s is already surrounded on the same block by fast food joints like Burger King, Popeye’s and Five Guys Burgers.” You don’t have to be that old to remember when this neighborhood didn’t have a McDonald’s; now it doesn’t have a Hinsch’s.