The Best Bagels & Coffee | Garment District
It was drizzling the morning of my last day in the city. The 7:30 am sidewalks were mellow for New York. Most business-folks on the way to work were balancing umbrellas and coffee, walking the fast stride of the Metropolitan area, but not the normal afternoon pace that’s New York.
Most restaurants and cafes didn’t open until 9:00 am so I decided to use my morning hours to visit the Empire State Building. My accommodations were one block over, so it was a fast walk, through the golden spinning doors and into the giant foyer.
I left the apartment early because the Empire State building is known for having two-hour lines. Plus, their website said they didn’t allow cameras — and I was worried I would have to exit, drop my camera at home, and get back in line.
I climbed a stone staircase past an Empire State replica. At the top of the staircase we showed our tickets to one usher-security person who motioned us to continue around the corner.
I didn’t need the skip-the-line tickets I paid extra for because there was no one in the building. I walked through the maze of velvet ropes, through security (who let me keep my DSLR camera with me), over the decorative foyer, and up in two separate elevators.
The Empire State Experience
Overall, I was impressed with the Empire State Building staff. They were different ages, mostly between thirty and sixty. They were friendly, funny, and welcoming. The elevators were controlled using a remote, which meant you interacted with someone frequently as you waited to get to the top.
The Empire State Building was clever with using the moments of delay to provide historical information. For instance, the elevator ride to a mid-point of the building gave a narration of where we were going and a bit about the building’s background.
Stepping out onto that floor was a square room with tall panels of historical information. Scanned photographs of the architecture and journals of those in charge of the building were accompanied by written reports.
I could not believe that the workers built a story of the Empire State Building per year. Thousands of construction workers were employed in this project. There were even awards for plumbers, electricians, architects, etc., once the building was complete.
On the other side of the room were large glass windows with a ledge to lean and look out onto the rooftops. I knew this wasn’t the main view, but it was still beautiful.
Most people went directly to the windows to start taking photos. It was grey and drizzly, so the windows were speckled with raindrops.
I was busy reading the historical panels when the fire alarm went off.
The white light from the alarm in the ceiling flashed and beeping filled the space. We all looked at each other. I was alone but the rest of the tourists in the room were parents with kids and teens. The energy in the room tensed with the unspoken question: What do we do?
I was in the middle of the room, so I walked down and back to the hallway that we entered from. I looked down towards the elevators to where the ushers had been. No one was there.
Great, this is how I die. I thought. There was no overhead speaker telling us this was a test or to evacuate the building. I thought it was strange that there wasn’t security on the floor of the room to provide support either (like the way museums had).
Being the daughter of a retired fireman, I went to the other side of the room where I saw the red Exit sign. I looked down that hallway too and no one was there.
I turned back to the windows where a French family was. “I guess we can stay?” The mother asked. “They haven’t come to get us.”
“I guess so.” I said. Why were they asking me? You never prepare for fire alarms or emergencies in major tourist destinations. It’s easy to forget that evacuations even happen. I had no idea what to do...
I went to the windows and took a few photos before I stepped into the Exit hallway again. The older man who opened our elevator for us was standing there. A younger usher had joined him. I sighed in relief. If they weren’t directing us to leave, then everything is fine.
“Go ahead and continue on.” The woman said. She ignored the alarm entirely.
Okaaay… If that alarm was just a test, you’d think they’d make an announcement letting everyone know? I followed her direction to the right and got into another elevator which took me to the 86th floor.
Empire State Views
I stepped up onto a graded floor. Floor-to-ceiling windows provided indoor views of the city. I didn’t like that I could see the outside ledge and safety railing before the city, so I bundled my jacket and stepped down the stairs and out onto the exterior ledge.
The strong wind fluttered the bottom of my pea-coat and messed up my hair. I walked to the first concrete ledge, which was about chest high, and looked over. Wide metal railings stopped anyone from trying to climb or jump over. You could squeeze your hand through to take a good picture.
It was a gorgeous view. The city was both symmetric and chaotic. I could see apartment buildings advertising their availability, office buildings with their polished fronts, the Hudson River and buildings on in New Jersey.
I walked the entire ledge, looking out at the different views — including the Freedom Tower, half-hidden by the grey morning clouds.
Standing over-top the city, I was reminded of climbing the Duomo in Florence. I had the same introspective moment looking out on the architecture. Despite the chill from the wind, the giggling from the girls posing in front of the wall, I felt at peace.
What About the Real Views?
We were only on the 86th floor. What really makes for great views at the Empire State Building is the 102nd floor.
When I came back in from outside, I went to the elevator operator, “Are we allowed to go up higher?” Photographs of celebrities at the Empire State Building were taken at the 102nd floor. If the 86th floor was beautiful I couldn’t imagine being as high as the 102nd.
“No, just the 86th floor. They’re doing construction on the 102nd. You’ll head back downstairs from here.”
I was slightly annoyed, as my $60 ticket didn’t bring me all the way to the top. I followed the same pattern back downstairs, through the large gift shop, down the escalators and back onto the sidewalk.
Early Morning Breakfast Options
I stopped on my morning walk to read several sit-down breakfast menus. The prices were excessive — $15 for scrambled eggs? I continued past the morning crowds without a spot in mind. Some cafes were open, but their menus offered muffins and basic pastries.
I ended up back towards the apartment — when I Google-searched for a bagel shop to order a breakfast sandwich. I figured a bagel would be a filling start to my day and reasonably priced for New York.
Best Bagel & Coffee
I remember passing Best Bagels & Coffee when I first arrived in the city. They had a two-window storefront with a yellow and blue awning. A crew of constructions workers had stepped out in front of me with colossal bagels stuffed with Lox and cream cheese.
Best Bagels & Coffee was a straight walk from the apartment. When I arrived, I pulled open the door and stepped into a crowd of people.
Every seat was taken. Groups of friends stood at the occupied tables, eating as they stood. Travelers with suitcases shared the standing tables in the corner of the room. The bar-top to my left was cluttered with coffee cups and single customers as they tried to eat. The rest of the space was the line to order, and the line of people waiting to pick up their food.
My first reaction was: Hell no, I’m not standing here. But then I remembered that unless I wanted a microwaved egg sandwich from Starbucks, this was the place for breakfast.
Best Bagel & Coffee Interior
I was impressed with the size of the room, considering this was New York. The counter was a horseshoe shape. The bagels and spreads were on the far right-hand side of the room. The cash register where you ordered was in the center. Drinks and coffees were on the left-hand side of the room, and at the end of the drink counter is where your order was called. These areas were connected by one long counter and refrigerated cases to make the horseshoe shape.
This arrangement didn’t make for the best flow, as the line to order went down the center of the room, through the dining room, and clogged up the doorway. Plus, you had the people waiting to pick up hovering around the doorway too.
At the pick-up counter, one woman worked the register, one woman made coffee, one woman placed the sandwiches on the counter in a long row, and one woman called the order number. When I stepped into the shop, the woman was calling number 34. When I placed my order, I was number 74.
Homemade Bagels and Unique Spreads
On the plus side, an establishment this busy at 9:00 am meant that they were the best. I tried to read the chalkboard menus on the right-hand side of the room. The bagels were made in-house and offered unique spreads, such as:
Cinnamon, walnut, and raisin
Bacon and cheddar
I usually order a poppy seed, cinnamon raisin, or French toast bagel (if available), with butter. The cinnamon-walnut spread stood out to me the most and I thought about getting that on a cinnamon raisin bagel.
However, the longer I stood in line, the hungrier I became. I needed something with protein — which meant the classic: Taylor ham, egg, and cheese, on an everything bagel.
Where to Eat the Best Bagel and Coffee
When I finally reached the middle register and placed my order, I was number 74.
I followed the line around towards the drink cases. Unlike my usual tastes, I grabbed a container of orange juice. When I reached the second register, I ordered a small hazelnut coffee and paid for my sandwich. I believe my total came to $15.
The drink woman kept my orange juice and said she would group it with my sandwich. I shouldered my way through the lines and stood back by the doorway, where I originally started.
I waited another 20-minutes for them to call my sandwich. A short man from the back kitchen would come out with a lunch tray of foiled sandwiches. The caller woman would arrange the sandwiches in front of their matching receipts.
I watched my orange juice and coffee get shuffled down the length of the counter, then sit as others were called, then shuffle farther down towards the edge.
The woman called out numbers in the fifties, then the eighties. A guy to my left asked, “Uh…did we decide to skip over the 70s?”
“I’m 74.” I said.
“I’m 72.” I nodded. The line from the drink counter was backing up and causing confusion for the people who were waiting to place orders.
“67, 70, 71, 72 —” Finally, we were making some progress. The hold-up was order 67 who had two plastic bags full of sandwiches and Styrofoam containers.
The caller woman picked up my receipt.
Please call my number. I thought. I couldn’t stand this crowd anymore and I was getting hangry.
“Excuse me.” No one would move from their front-row counter spot, so I had to bump into them to collect my food. I grabbed my paper bag, coffee, and orange juice and headed for the door.
Best Bagel & Coffee was too loud and busy to eat in, even if I found a table for myself. It was starting to warm up outside as I stood on the sidewalk, wondering where I could sit down to eat. I knew there was Herald Square two blocks over, so I headed there to find a seat.
Herald Square sat at the intersection of W 35th Street and 6th Ave, in front of Macy’s and parallel to Broadway.
The Square was a small area of grey paver stones framed by bright tulips and daffodils. Neon metal tables for two filled the patio, looking up at the statue of the Bell Ringers.
One Spanish worker oversaw the Square — he took pride as he wiped the morning dew from the tables, arranged the flowers, and greeted people as they passed through.
I sat with my sandwich, listening to the morning rush awakening the city — car horns and cell phone conversations, the sound of shoes on damp pavement.
People passed through the Square on their way to the subway. They all stopped to look at the tulips and daffodils. They would call to their colleagues who continued ahead or pause with their suitcases, placing their coffee on the nearby tables: “They’re beautiful.”
Most people took selfies with the large clay flowerpots. Some people asked me to take group photos for them. Then they hurried, now a few minutes late, back to their routine.
I ate my bagel and observed them. My sandwich was still warm. I had long pulls of Swiss cheese, fluffy egg, griddled Taylor ham, a chewy everything bagel. My hazelnut coffee was perfect — steaming the chill from the air, making my nose run from the contrast in temperatures.
Now, if you’re not from New York or New Jersey, and have never had a true bagel, you’re missing out. No, Thomas’s bagels you get in a sleeve from the supermarket are not true bagels. The texture and flavor of Metropolitan bagels is unlike anything you will have anywhere else. The water used to make the bagels is a main factor in flavor. Whether the bagels are boiled or baked also changes the texture.
The Best Bagels & Coffee lived up to their name. My bagel was larger than I expected, with a generous layer of ham and egg.
I order an everything bagel for a breakfast sandwich because of the additional flavor. This bagel had a decent amount of salt and onion, which I enjoyed with the egg, Swiss, ketchup, and ham.
My orange juice helped cut the fat in the sandwich. I hardly drink juice because it is so sugary, but there’s nothing like a bagel and orange juice to make for a delicious breakfast.
I ordered the coffee because I need caffeine to start my day. Best Bagel & Coffee made a strong coffee. Even with some milk and the hazelnut flavoring, it wasn’t watered down (thank god).
I spent at least half-an-hour eating my breakfast and people-watching. It was refreshing to be outside. Fat sparrows sat on the concrete by my arm and looked at my bagel crumbs. The sun was trying to break through the grey morning clouds. I planned on spending the day in a museum, so I ordered an online ticket before packing up my bags and heading out.
I would give Best Bagels & Coffee a 10/10 on the bagel front, and a 4/10 on the service. It’s great to have a busy breakfast spot, but having some semblance of order and direction for your customers is important, especially for those dining in the shop.
If a weekday at Best Bagels & Coffee in the Garment District had that long of a wait, I couldn’t imagine what it was like on the weekend. If you want to try unique bagel spreads, in-house bagels, sandwiches, and bold coffee, plan to camp in line and pay New York prices, but it’ll be worth it.
A Day at the Museum
Click here to read my day at the museum and what restaurant I visited for lunch.