Green and yellow banners and balloons festooned the doorway of B&H Dairy on Wednesday night as it celebrated 80 years in the East Village. And the swarm of customers flooding the narrow hallway of the restaurant showed that the place had more than withstood the passage of time. While the Jewish patrons who frequented the diner in its early days may no longer be as strong of a presence in the East Village, this small diner with a medley of vegetarian/kosher/Eastern European fare and fewer than 30 seats (most of them classic lunch counter stools) has continued to soldier on throughout the decades, surviving economic downturns, a gas explosion and ongoing gentrification.
Fawzy Abdelwahed, who manages B&H with his wife Alexandra, who is also known as Ola (they met when she was working at the now-closed Stage Restaurant in the Village) started out as a customer at B&H when he was running another restaurant at the time. He later took over ownership of B&H in 2003. The couple have made a concerted effort not to change the menu, which they say has remained largely unchanged since its founding.
“Actually, we [didn’t] change anything. The restaurant is the same since 1938. Maybe that’s why everybody [is] crazy about the food,” said Alexandra Abdelwahed.
Florence Goldberg, daughter of Abie Bergson (one of the original owners of B&H along with Sol Hausman, whose last names constitute the “B” and “H”) echoed the sentiment. Although her father sold the restaurant in 1970 and she now lives in Florida, she has fond memories of the place. She said with an almost disbelieving laugh, “It has remained the same, as far as the people and as far as what they serve. You can’t do much to change it.” Goldberg continued, “It’s the East Village Cheers. That’s what it is. Without the liquor.”
It wasn’t just Goldberg, but the whole Bergson brood that had come out. Abie’s great-grandson Zach Bergson started frequenting B&H upon moving to the city after college. He said, “I hope it’s around for another 80 years.” Abie’s grandson, Jeff Goldberg, had fond childhood memories from B&H and his grandfather’s home just around the corner. Of Abie, Jeff recalled, “He was a very generous man. Almost the mayor of the entire town.” He continued, “His philosophy was he’d rather have people waiting for seats than seats waiting for people.”
It’s not just the extended family that maintains a strong connection to B&H, but the patrons too. Take born-and-raised New Yorker Bonita Rausch, who has been coming to B&H since 1957. Although she lived in Queens as a child, her father would bring her to dance class near B&H, and they would often stop in for a bite. She moved away afterwards, but since returning to the area, she dines at B&H four times a week. For her, B&H is a place to foster connections with your fellow human beings in a way that you can’t do in any ordinary diner. One time, she met a group of college students in Central Park that was visiting from Paris. She told them, “Meet me at B&H on Memorial Day.” And now? “They’re running around Paris looking for a B&H.” Although Rausch has worked her way through B&H’s menu—which includes staples like lox and eggs, borscht, blintzes, pierogi, split pea soup and potato pancakes—she loves the French toast and home fries, which she said “are to die for.”
For those of you inclined to believe that millennials killed the diner (like they supposedly killed cable, golf, and Hooters) you might want to hear what roommates Ava Taylor and Sydnee Greenberg had to say. Taylor and Greenberg had been eagerly looking for a new diner after moving to the city a year and half ago, and it was practically love at first bite when they stumbled upon B&H. “The food is amazing. The people behind the counter are incredible. They treat everyone like family here,” said Taylor. “And you really feel special when you walk in and sit down at the counter. They really remember your order. You just say, ‘Same, same.’ And they make exactly what you want.”
What’s Greenberg’s go-to dish? “Omelette with feta cheese, extra crispy potatoes. And their challah, of course. It’s amazing.”
B&H Dairy is located at 127 2nd Avenue.