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TOUCH: Feltz Bagels

Disclaimer: The items in the Feltz Bagel pop-up are works of art and not meant to be touched. This post is written in the spirit of their tactile and textural appeal; visitors should be mindful of not handling—and of nibbling on!—the objects, tempting as that may be.

Feltz Bagels is a pop-up bagel shop and New York Jewish deli in the East Village, where all the items—from rainbow bagels to cans of Dinty Moore beef stew—are crafted of felt by internationally acclaimed British artist Lucy Sparrow. This is Sparrow’s second foray into felting the New York City food experience; in 2017 she hosted a pop-up bodega in the Meatpacking District, stocked with nine thousand felt works of art. In addition to a gallery of her creations, Sparrow’s quirky shop is a commentary on “the demise of the traditional high street and the fragmentation of community.” On a bright, crisp fall Saturday, Feltz Bagels was certainly bringing together the local community, from art investors in flouncy overcoats to hipsters posting to Instagram to mothers with rowdy toddlers in tow.

Adding to the subversive nature of Feltz, outside and inside the bagel shop, workers and visitors alike were observed eating actual New York City bagels, sheathed in wax paper and bursting at the seams with cream cheese. As none of the items in Sparrow’s installation are edible, the bagels’ provenance was puzzling. Customers are, however, welcome to choose a felt bagel from the rack (poppy-seed, everything, onion, cinnamon-raisin, and more) and select up to eight toppings. Sparrow, who is often on site, will assemble the bagel before your eyes, and the cashier will ring you up at $250 for the work of art (a basic “bagel and schmear” will set you back only $100). The bagels are arrayed in wire racks much like at a traditional bagel store, with toppings in bowls.

There’s also a selection of pre-filled bagel combos. All the bagels—like most of the items in the store—have eyes, and distinct personalities, from winsome to bored, hesitant to ebullient.

The bowls of toppings are one place Sparrow’s textural art shines. There’s caviar made of strings of black beads, gobs of grape jelly made of shiny purple taffeta, lumpen mounds of fleecy cream cheese the size of your palm, sliced pickles rimmed in glitter paint with rows of infinitesimal seeds, slices of Brie with the distinct Brie-like contrast of hard rind/soft middle achieved through tiny edging stitches, rings of red onion with crisp edges done in purple paint pen, turkey bacon with striated fat details in different shades of pink felt, scrambled eggs complete with crispy bits rendered in brushed paint and felt, and slices of Swiss cheese with tempting holes.

I was fortunate enough to be in the store when an adventurous couple decided to spring for one of the $250 custom bagels. First they pulled an imaginary ticket from a red felt ticket machine, just like at a real deli.

Sparrow stood at the assembly table behind the counter, dimunitve in brown corduroy overalls, a turquoise work shirt, and matching turquoise boots. She spun their bagel on the table as she folded meat slices layered with smaller toppings, pinning them into place with a glue gun. The cuts of meat, in theory, come from a meat slicer atop the counter, constructed of metallic felt with meekly smiling slices of sausage. A small boy, grabbing a piece of sliced meat from a bowl, held it aloft and exclaimed, “Look! It is sparkling and gleaming!”

After the bagel sandwich was complete, she turned to the couple and asked, “Heavy or light on the capers?,” then reached into a bowl of green beads and plucked out a few, threaded a needle, and sewed them onto the periperhy of the bagel. Then she pressed down on the top to meld it all together. Bits of felt cream cheese squeezed out the sides.

Meanwhile, out in the deli, customers were browsing the shelves of iconic bodega and Jewish deli goods, from Nestlé Abuelita cocoa to Guerrero tortillas, matzos to Lorna Doones, Little Debbie cherry pies, Wrigley’s gum, and cans of Dr Pepper and Cel-Ray soda, a New York original.

The tactile detail—from Sparrow’s embroidery to painting to appliqué—tempted curious fingers: the Brooklyn Bridge detail on the Cel-Ray soda can, the “Fat Free” flag on the matzos, the “crack” through the middle of the Krackel candy wraper.

“How is all these things made of felt?” cried a little girl? Then I noticed a flickering neon sign in the corner.

This was the “back room,” like the curtained section of video-rental stores, where the X-rated VHS cassettes used to be kept—except in this case the back room held illicit felted substances. “Mom, come in the wine shop!” a little girl said, dropping a felted jar of gefilte fish as tall as she was and tugging on her mother’s arm. A beleaguered but gracious Feltz staffer plucked up the gefilte fish, replacing it in the seder section. Her mother had to explain that the felted baggies were “grown-up” candy. The girl lost interest and headed for the Jägermeister.

The liquor bottles invited more touching, and the kids happily fondled bottles of Grey Goose Vodka, Grand Marnier, and cigarette packets. The Cazadores tequila stags were particuarly appealing, with twining antlers, soulful eyes, and a moist nose.

It was time to check out.

Thankfully, there was a hot plate of coffee by the register, as well as a felt espresso machine, complete with the signature New York City Anothora felted paper cups. The price per cup: $50. And an appropriately puffy black-and-white cookie to go with it!

“You want some cawfee?” a New Yorker said as he headed out the door. “Those cawfee cups is dope.”



Feltz Bagels will be open through October 31 at TW Fine Art pop-up space, 209 East 3rd Street, New York. More information at and @sewyoursoul

Sense & the City is a monthly blog exploring the hidden corners of New York City. Each month’s post is devoted to one of the five senses. Receive daily sensory impressions via Instagram @senseandthecity.

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