One afternoon on Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place, two guys from the Department of Sanitation take a break from hauling garbage to buy egg creams at Gem Spa, each complete with a pretzel rod for stirring.
Read the history of Gem Spa here
"I used to get these here all the time," one guy tells the cashier. "Me and my buddies from Sanitation love 'em. You gotta keep making 'em, they're so good."
Outside, the two stand on the sidewalk, talking about the egg creams as they drink. The first one tells me he's been getting Gem Spa egg creams since the 1990s and they've never changed. "It's all in the seltzer," he says, biting into the pretzel rod. "This guy gets his seltzer in canisters from the guys out in Canarsie. That's the real thing."
"I'm not a big egg cream guy," says the other, "but this is unbelievable. I'd never know they had 'em here. They need to put up some signs, all over, that say egg cream, egg cream, egg cream."
"I grew up around a lot of luncheonettes," says the first guy, "so I know my way around an egg cream or two. This one's the best."
They didn't like it when I told them that the new 7-Eleven is cutting into Gem Spa's profits. "That's no good," said the first guy. "They've been here forever. We need 'em to stick around for a long time more."