This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.
The neon signage outside Hinsch's in Bay Ridge is a bit on the grandiose side, given what lies inside. This is, after all, a simple luncheonette, with a side line in homemade candy and ice cream. But 62 years in business ought to buy you something in terms of respect. So the frontage is arguably warranted.
Hinsch's retains many of the earmarks of the soda fountain era. The old glasses cut that familiar, wide-mouthed Coca-Cola silhouette. There's a "Cherry Smash" on the menu—basically cherry syrup and seltzer. They also serve egg creams, and waffles are a house specialty. Ice cream is scooped out of metal canisters set into the counter, and served in silver bowls.
That ice cream, by the way, is house made. "French Ice Cream," reads a sign; "hand packed." So, too, are the chocolate treats that are displayed on a curious hodge-podge of shelving alongside the southern wall.
The clientele are Bay Ridge citizens, mostly, and have been eating here for decades, by the color of their hair and the slowness of their step. They may like the food, but it's probably the attention the keeps them coming back. "You need anything, Russell?" a waitress asks an elderly man emptying an ice cream dish at the counter. It's a rare customer the staff doesn't know by name. Another man misidentifies the day at Thursday, and is gently, and simultaneously corrected by three people, "It's Wednesday!"
It's unlikely anyone goes out with a frown after dealing with the cashier, a primly dressed English woman who addresses everyone as "dear" or "luv" and regularly checks the untouched candy displays to make sure they're just so. She worked for many years at a bank. When she retired, Hinsch's proprietor (it's still family owned) noticed how bored she seemed, and hired her. "Hello, dear, did you enjoy it?" she'll say, in an typical stream of friendly, pandering patter. "Glad to hear it. Now you give me two dollars and we can still be friends. Lovely. Don't worry, I finished high school so I can count. Be sure to enjoy the sunshine. Lovely to see you. Goodbye, dear."
—Brooks of Sheffield