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End of an era: Hinsch’s is closed

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Hinsch’s, the legendary luncheonette and institution, whose neon sign, “Happy Days” decor, and greasy-spoon menu have changed little since 1948, has served its last egg cream.

“Basically my lease is up and that’s all,” said John Logue, who owned the old-school Fifth Avenue soda fountain between 86th and 85th streets.

Logue posted a sign announcing the closure on the store’s window on Sept. 29.

“Our lease is expiring and we decided not to renew it,” the note, signed “The Logue Family,” read. “Current economic conditions, customers changing eating patterns, and our desire to retire early have led us to this decision. We thank all of our customers for your business and appreciate your support and loyalty. We will miss serving you.”

But according to the city, that’s not the whole story.

The Health Department 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 (eek!).

The shop was one of the borough’s last-remaining authentic soda fountains — back when soda jerks were the baristas of their day and the Hula Hoop was the toy of choice.

Landlord Anna Tesoriero said that she was seeking rent of more than $10,000 a month from Logue or a deep-pocketed corporate client to take over the space —up from the $7,500 a month Hinsch’s was paying.

But Tesoriero said the sudden closure of the store surprised her.

“He didn’t tell me anything until he put the sign up,” she said. “He’s been in there so long and he wants to retire and his children are not interested in taking it over.”

Longtime Ridgites said the closure was the end of an era for the last original ice cream shop in the neighborhood.

“I am connected to Hinsch’s in the history of my life — like everyone in Bay Ridge,” said Larry Morrish, who added that the shop donated ice cream and coffee to countless Little League games and neighborhood events over the years.

Morrish said the original owner — Herman Hinsch, who handed over the reigns to Logue’s father in 1961 — was beloved by the neighborhood kids, including a young Larry Morrish.

“I would do errands for him and get free ice cream — all the kids in the neighborhood did,” said Morrish. “Everybody liked Mr. Hinsch.”

Business leaders used the occasion of Hinsch’s closing to again flog street vendors who don’t pay rent.

“The established guys can’t compete with vendors on the corner,” said Patrick Condren, executive director of the 86th Street Business Improvement District. “It’s like a cancer that grows very slowly.”

Shifting dining habits also played a role in the decline of the luncheonette — the Hinch’s customers were mostly older Ridgites who had been eating there for years, or else they were younger people stopping by to experience the shop’s kitschy appeal.

And Peter Freeman, owner of the retro-chic Farmacy soda fountain in Carroll Gardens said that it’s hard to keep a business alive based on nostalgia alone.

“These are the places that keep the fabric of the community together — mothers and daughters sharing a uniquely American experience,” he said. “Maybe that’s not relevant anymore; maybe times have changed and your either adapt or you close.”

Updated 11:45 am, October 5, 2011: Includes new information that came to light after Dan MacLeod's initial reporting.
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Reader Feedback

Gina Catone from Weston says:
I have so many wonderful memories at Hinsch's. I am so sorry to hear that it is closing. Barbara was our favorite waitress.
Oct. 1, 2011, 7:42 am
Kathy from Bay Ridge. says:
We have so many terrific memories of Hinsch's, eating with family and friends over the years. Emily Linah, was a family friend and staple for many years and it was always a joy seeing her there. We planned shopping trips and get together's around meeting here. Going to miss it! We hope that the Logue family has a healthy and happy retirement.
As Bob Hope used to sing "Thanks for the Memories!"
The O'Neill Family
Oct. 1, 2011, 11:18 am
barb0@optonline.net from Originally from Bay Ridge says:
Oh my gosh, I can remember as a teenager only girls who went to Font Bonne Hall or kids who lived around the Shore Road area went there. It was considered "upper class" compared to the other luncheonettes in the Bay Ridge area where kids hung out after school. They even had their own version of the Lindy. So sorry to hear of it's closing after ALL these years.
Oct. 1, 2011, 9:51 pm
Maria from Sunset Park says:
I will miss Hinsch's a lot! Happy retirement to the folks that gave me/us many great sodas and happy times!
Oct. 3, 2011, 2:50 am
Jeanette Grayeb-Mihal from Bay Ridge says:
Happy retirement to the family. Lots of happy memories, and sad for the kids who liked to go there for their egg creams. Hopefully, someone will take the space and turn it into a Johnny Rockets. What fun that would be.
Oct. 3, 2011, 11:05 am
Barbara from Park Slope says:
What a shame. They will be missed. The landlord raises the rent $2,500.00 and is surprised when they don't tell her they are closing. Guess she was expecting them to sign a new lease. Don't feel sorry for her. She will get what she is asking for.
Oct. 4, 2011, 8:29 am
kf from bay ridge says:
Hinsch's had 45 health code violations in September when they were last inspected by the Board of Health. They also seem to have a long standing problem with roaches. Perhaps they just stopped caring.
Oct. 4, 2011, 8:04 pm
John Anderson from Ft. Hamilton says:
So sad. I and so many of my friends hung out there as youths. Thank you John and good luck in the future. Our neighborhood won't be the same.
Oct. 5, 2011, 2:08 pm
Bayridgite from Bay Ridge says:
This is depressing. A loss like this hurts the whole neighborhood. Nothing that goes into that space will be as good.
Oct. 5, 2011, 4:57 pm
jerry from bay ridge says:
kf -- I also checked ... and that was Hinsch's final "we're closing now" inspection.
They got just 17 violation points during regular inspection less than two weeks before ... a "B " (an A is 0-13 pts).
The city doesn't sic inspectors on a place that easily passed inspection 2 weeks before, and an eatery can't go from 17 to 45 viol. points in 2 weeks ... unless the eatery is closing up shop.
Oct. 6, 2011, 12:02 am
BayRidgegone from Bay Ridge says:
Heartbroken. Again, the neighborhood has changed so much, it kills me to see this. My fav. memories were going shopping to the old D&D with my grandmother then going to hinsch's for lunch. Very sad!!!!!
Oct. 10, 2011, 3:08 pm
Vicki from Seattle says:
I have new and wonderful memories of Hinsch's since our daughter moved to Bay Ridge a few years ago. LOVED going there and am so happy for the 7-8 times I got to enjoy the neighborhood spirit. What a treat and what a shame. Adieu!
Oct. 12, 2011, 12:10 pm
Aloysha from Albany NY says:
We lived in Bay Ridge from 1988 to 2005 and always went to Hinsches for ice cream Sundaes. I liked the Norman Rockwells on the 1970's wood panelled walls. Sometimes they played the radio above the coat rack, sometimes not.

Loved the white chocolate Easter bunnies they sold. So sorry to hear about the unsanitary conditions towards the end.

That place was a one of a kind--great neon sign, too
Jan. 16, 2013, 6:51 pm

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