New York City currently harbors a profusion of chocolate shops, places where you can snag super-high-end chocolates made on the premises, middlin’ national franchise chocolates, cheap supermarket chocolates at a discount, and imported French, Belgian, Swiss, Italian, and even Japanese chocolates. But an endangered species among chocolatiers are the ancient independent shops that once abounded in many neighborhoods. In the 1940s for example, along Avenue R in Brooklyn, seven shops produced hand-dipped chocolates; now only one remains.
Wall Street, too, swarmed with old-fashioned chocolate shops in the days when executives had secretaries and bought them ribbon-wrapped boxes for every holiday. (We don’t miss the old social pecking order, but we do miss the profusion of chocolates.) Loft’s, founded in 1860 in the Financial District, was a prominent local chain with several stores in the vicinity. All that persists is a forlorn shop sign on Nassau Street. Enjoying a busy location on John Street, Evelyn Chocolates was a small shop specializing in handmade confections that are mainly unknown today, such as hash bars, coconut haystacks, and chocolate-covered honeycombs, also known as seafoam. It closed just last year.
Here are a few nostalgia-inducing shops making their own prelapsarian chocolates that have managed to stay in business against terrific odds.
Mondel Chocolates — Located across the street from Columbia University in Morningside Heights since 1942, Mondel has long been a favorite of students and faculty, and parents looking for a last minute dorm-room gift. It was also reportedly a favorite of Katharine Hepburn, and a stack of handbills testifying to her fandom rests on the glass counter. The range of chocolate truffles is unparalleled, including espresso, raspberry, caramel dome, dark chocolate, and, our fave, the Figaro, featuring layers of chocolate and hazelnut in a cube. The outsize and misshapen caramel-and-nut turtles are also worth savoring. 2913 Broadway, (212) 864-2111
Li-Lac Chocolates — Even the antique orthography testifies to the venerable age of this chocolatier, founded in 1923 on Christopher Street, and moved to its current main location in the West Village a few years ago. Walk in the door and be almost knocked over by the smell of chocolate, and be amazed at the multiple configurations in which it’s available. While the nut-studded, open-top caramel bars and chocolate-covered pretzels are old favorites, why not splurge on a handful of orange glace slices or a boxful of fudge, creamy as all get-out and available in assorted flavors? (Maple walnut is our favorite.) 40 8th Ave, (212) 924-2280
JoMart — Since 1946 JoMart has been the candy anchor of the Brooklyn neighborhood known as Madison. Despite its age and relatively remote locale, the shop has remained determinedly fashionable, exploring newfangled chocolate forms and flavors. The bite-size caramels are a delight, available in two dozen flavors that run to lavender, ginger, raspberry, and ghost chile — which produces a delayed and lingering burn. Similar innovations are visited upon marshmallows, marzipan, and nut clusters, though the best oddity we tried was a halvah-stuffed, chocolate-covered, nut-topped fig. The shop’s slogan: "The key to world peace is chocolate." 2917 Avenue R, Brooklyn, (718) 375-1277
Myzel’s Chocolate — The persistence of this cramped Midtown chocolate shop — which dates to 1990, though it looks much older — is something of an urban miracle, or a maybe a tribute to its many sweet-toothed fans. Myzel’s specializes in licorice, of which 100 varieties from the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and Scandinavia are available, but it also concentrates on chocolate truffles, with almost as many choices. Examples include: mint, maple, amaretto, crumble, Bavarian, caramel, banana, coffee, and tiramisu. The chocolate-covered graham crackers are also highly recommended, adding crunch to creamy chocolate. 140 W 55th St, (212) 245-4233