Shopsin’s is a genuine New York City institution. It’s been around since 1971, though it has had to move twice due to criminal rent increases. The owner, Kenny Shopsin, is famous (or is that infamous?) for being unconventional. It used to be that if you asked too many questions or otherwise got on his last nerve he would throw you out of his restaurant. But he may have mellowed. To get a flavor of his character and approach to food, you could pick up a copy of his cookbook: Eat Me.
The original Shopsin’s space was on Bedford Street in the West Village. It kept “interesting” hours, as in no one really knew what the hours were. There were lots of unhappy neighbors when Shopsin’s lost their lease and had to move to Carmine Street. And then they had to leave Carmine Street. Fortunately, Shopsin’s found space in the Essex Street Market and it feels like a good fit. Yes, the space is much smaller than either of the earliest spaces, but there are about six small tables and some stools by the counter. Maybe you’ll have to wait.
Once seated you will be given an odd, rambling menu that reads like a Dr. Bronner’s label–voluminous doesn’t come close. Seriously, there are 100s of items to choose from, and it’s hard to know where to start. Order something savory, and a tray with seven hot sauces will be placed on your table. Because you should have choices. Prices are interesting, with some items costing more than you would think, others less. Nothing really makes sense at Shopsin’s, and that’s the point. It exists to give voice to Kenny Shopsin’s take on life. In fact, he was chatting with a regular when we were there, talking about running a business and how difficult it had become, the decline of work, automation, etc. It was fascinating and we didn’t feel guilty listening in. (not that we could avoid listening in).
We tried one of Shopsin’s signature sandwiches called the Jewboy (and yes, there’s a Jewgirl). It was tasty but had hot sauce which wasn’t included in the short description on the menu. It wasn’t head exploding hot, but tongue tingling at the least. So if you can’t handle hot sauce, just ask if it’s included in whatever you are ordering.
So what is the sound level like? The soundscape of the place is perfectly fine. The only real sound came from Kenny Shopsin holding court, Shopsin’s staff making and serving the food, and people entering the market (Shopsin’s is by one of the entrances). We thought it was comfortable. During our visit about half the tables were taken at one point, but even if full we think the sound level should be fine.
Shopsin’s is not a typical restaurant. It’s a one-of-a-kind place worth experiencing if you want to have a taste of what New York City was like and still can be.
Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Wednesday through Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
120 Essex Street (in the Essex Street Market), New York, NY 10002