Thursday, March 11, 2010

Last Day at Desirs

Today's post was written by Stacy Torres, a Chelsea native and longtime customer of Les Desirs, who provides a report and photos of the beloved bakery's last day, February 25.

We sat huddled at a corner table on the final day at Les Desirs Patisserie, the last in a string of mom-and-pop bakeries that occupied the same Chelsea storefront since 1962. As snow curtained the windows, we watched the flakes fall and the place disappear before our eyes.

Under ordinary circumstances, most people probably would have stayed home that day. The heavy, wet snow coated the sidewalks with slick sludge, and many older customers can’t risk a fall. But neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night could keep us regulars away from the bakery on its last day of business. I found many of the familiar faces that had kept me company during the six years I went there.

Our resident nutritionist, Frank, sat in the corner. At eighty-five, he continues to work as a writer and always entertains our medical inquiries. We all know he’s a trooper, having made a striking recovery from major hip surgery last fall, but even still it was a nice surprise to see him. Another longtime customer turned up despite battling a bad cold. She had to come for the last day, she said as she brushed snow from her shoulders and shook off her black hat crusted over with ice.

The butter-colored walls were nearly bare with the exception of a leftover Valentine’s Day decoration, a wreath with two teddy bears underneath a banner that read “I Love You.” The owner said with a mischievous glint in his eyes that he would leave it for the landlord, showing he hadn’t lost his sense of humor about the bitter fight to keep his store open. We watched the kitchen being stripped of its last pieces of equipment.

More people crowded in and a few spontaneously erupted into song. The sweet strains of “Bye Bye Blackbird” filled the space: “Pack up all my care and woe/ Here I go, singing low/ Bye bye blackbird.” For that moment I think we all forgot about how the place vanished a little more with each passing minute.

Later that evening, when the store was nearly empty, another regular filed in. His son had urged him to show up for the last day. “I told him he’d better join the witness protection program if I bust my ass on the way over here,” he said as he walked in and parked his cane in the corner. At his request I snapped a picture of him sitting at his usual seat by the window. We were the last two to leave.

Looking back, we never called the bakery by its given name, Les Desirs, which means “the desires” in French. But I now realize how fitting a name it was. This place satisfied not only our craving for sweets but our desire for company, for community, and for connection. When the bakery hummed with chatter, the place felt more like a social club than a business, with the modest price of admission being a cup of coffee or tea. More than ever, New Yorkers need places like these.

See Also:
Singing at Les Desirs
Fighting for Les Desirs
Desirs' Demise


Melanie said...

Lovely yet sad piece. RIP Les Desirs. I hope the regulars find a new spot to rendez-vous.

Someone Said said...

Heartbreaking to read. It stinks seeing a business come to an end, not because of poor business, but because of a landlord's greed.

ronfrankl said...

I lived around the corner for years and loved this place, as much for the staff as their baked goods. They were an important part of the neighborhood.

Incidentally, I think the initial bakery in the space was part of a mini-chain called Cakemasters, and they were nothing special.

BrooksNYC said...

Please thank your guest blogger for this sweet and wonderful piece.