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History in the Baking

In an unexpected act of landmark preservation, a sainted storefront lives on.


When the City Bakery’s Maury Rubin launched his first Birdbath, he coined a catchphrase for the ecofriendly enterprise: Build a Green Bakery. In the case of his third branch, though, slated to open in October in Soho, there was no building involved. He only had to lease it. The bakery in question was already one of New York’s most famous—the 89-year-old Vesuvio, a cherished remnant of a pre-Soho Soho. Even though in recent times it was known more for its iconic façade than for its coal-oven-baked loaves, Vesuvio’s passing struck a chord with urban nostalgists, guidebook-toting tourists, and especially, it seems, with Rubin, who immediately engaged in “very intense, very personal jockeying for it.” Rubin ultimately triumphed, in large part thanks to his commitment to leave the shell virtually untouched. “It’s an heirloom, it’s a treasure, it means the world,” he says. “That I have a chance to have my bakery be in it is a gift.” Ironically, Rubin’s retiring the ancient ovens for now, mostly because of the owners’ fire-hazard fears. Even so, the deal makes sense: Birdbath was originally conceived as the next-generation iteration of the neighborhood bakeries that were disappearing from New York. And by keeping the structure intact (save a new reclaimed-wood banquette and LED lights), Rubin is perpetrating what he calls “the ultimate bakery recycling.” To suit the sixteen-seat setting, there will be a made-to-order menu, a first for Birdbath, with cinnamon toast, microwaved eggs (“Low energy!” says Rubin), and “neighborhood mozzarella” pressed with tomato and basil, plus new pastries like rice-milk-raisin scones. Also, for the first time in Birdbath history, espresso. This is one place, says Rubin, preservationist pâtissier, that “really requires espresso.”

Our Fall Preview coverage continues throughout the Grub Street Network. Look for openings and trends in Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

160 Prince St., nr. Thompson St.


Fall Preview 2009



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