When is a bakery not a bakery? When it’s a political statement, an architectural pioneer, and a bit of performance art, all wrapped in one—as is the case at a mysterious new East Village purveyor of cookies and croissants. What’s it called? That’s become an issue of heated debate and incipient conspiracy theories on food blogs around town. It, customers are told, has no name. When pressed, poker-faced counter people will reply in low voices, “It’s a secret.” When pressed a little more, they might reveal “the code name”: Birdbath. But by that time, certain discriminating customers will have noticed a suspicious resemblance between the oversize cookies, the distinctive raspberry muffins, and the toothsome chocolate croissants and their identical counterparts at City Bakery, although inquiries about any affiliation are immediately, if frustratingly, rebuffed. “City who?” says the counter guy in the manner of a mob capo testifying before a jury. “Never heard of it.”
What’s the deal? As it turns out, the bakery is not run by a team of squinty-eyed grifters, as some concerned citizens have postulated. The source of all this obfuscation (and all those cookies), we’ve learned, is Maury Rubin himself, owner of City Bakery and a bit of a prankster. His aim here is not to torment annoying, know-it-all chowhounds but to force them to focus on the space itself—what he believes is the first top-to-bottom green bakery. Rubin, it turns out, has always baked with organic ingredients and has now created a showcase for them from ecofriendly materials: The walls are made from wheat and sunflower seed; the floor from a cork by-product. The paint is milk-based, and its pigment derived from beets. Tufts of denim insulation make a base for the bamboo counter, and the staff is clad in racy hemp-and-linen jackets—if anything made from hemp and linen can be called racy. “I want to encourage people to make the link between organic ingredients in their food and organic, environmentally sound materials where they eat the food,” says Rubin, who plans to indulge his conceptual-artist tendencies by literally tearing down the walls every six months and creating a new identity, all the while chronicling its progress on his new Website, buildagreenbakery.com. Give a man a cookie, and he can eat dessert today; give him an environmentally sustainable bakery, and he can eat dessert forever.