‘Little Hungary’ was once on East 79th Street

A few weeks ago, Ephemeral New York put together a post about the former Czech neighborhood once centered around 72nd Street between First and Second Avenues on the Upper East Side.

The post generated many comments, with readers either reminiscing about a vanished enclave they remember well or wishing Manhattan still had pockets of ethnic neighborhoods like that one.

This week while looking through some photo archives, I find these images of a Hungarian grocery store. It could have been taken in Budapest, perhaps, but it’s actually Second Avenue between 78th and 79th Streets—smack in the middle of an area that used to be New York’s Little Hungary.

Like the old Czech neighborhood, Little Hungary had its churches and schools, community centers, and shops selling groceries and delicacies, like this one above. It isn’t the city’s first Hungarian neighborhood; that was on Second Avenue in the East Village. But at the turn of the century, just like their German and Czech neighbors, Hungarian immigrants relocated and colonized Yorkville through much of the 20th century.

Use Google Translate to find out all the unique offerings one could pick up here, foods I doubt you’ll be able to find on East 79th Street today.

[Top photo: NYPL; second photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

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23 Responses to “‘Little Hungary’ was once on East 79th Street”

  1. Mark Says:

    Interesting that they also advertised in German.

  2. davidxsilverstone3522 Says:

    I know this shop, all too well.

    Sent from my iPad


  3. jtsteckle Says:

    My grandfather was a butcher in Chicago and when
    he came to visit us, he would inevitably drop his valise and head over to Second Avenue for a large
    Hungarian meal. He was born in Hungary.

  4. mitzanna Says:

    Yorkville, the German section, was just a few blocks north but had a larger area from about 1st to 3rd avenues, and from about 85th Street to 89-90th Street. Historically, parts of Hungary were German and Hungarian speaking.

    I truly miss Paprikás and Weiss. You can still buy their cookbook on eBay. There were many Hungarian restaurants, bakeries, nightclubs, cafes and cafeterias in the area too.

  5. velovixen Says:

    I think I caught the last gasps of those Czech, German and Hungarian neighborhoods. While I miss them–and Little Italy–I now enjoy meals, shopping and the atmosphere in other, thriving ethnic enclaves. The difference, of course, is that the ethnic groups are different and, save for Chinatown (which may fall victim to the pandemic) the Dominican community of Washington Heights, none are in Manhattan.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Agree, there are wonderful ethnic neighborhoods in the boroughs where you really feel the culture. But save for Chinatown, Washington Heights, the East Village’s Ukrainian area, and what’s left of Little Italy in Soho, none are in Manhattan.

  6. Lorinda Klein Says:

    My Grandparents and Mother lived and grew up in Little Bohemia as did I for a brief time. I have so many memories of us walking up and down the streets and avenues of the Czech, German and Hungarian Neighborhoods while my Grandmother would shop and stop for a bit of gossip. Alas, it is all gone. A distant memory. Too bad. Lekvar by the Barrel.

  7. Peter Weiss Says:

    This was my family’s business, the second location after my great grandfather started just east of 2nd Avenue on 77th Street. I remember this store when I was about 3 years old; we moved to Second between 80th and 81st in 1960. The Hungarian community centered on Second in the low 80s.

    I think about Paprikas Weiss every day and miss it enormously.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for your comment Peter; the store appears to have meant a lot to people in the neighborhood as well. When did it close down? I’m curious about when the Hungarian community dwindled to the point where a store like the one your family ran was no longer essential.

      • Peter Weiss Says:

        Moved to 1546 Second in 1960 and then to 1576 Second in the late 80s. We closed in 1995. When I was a kid if your only spoke one language it was easier speaking Hungarian than English. As the community became wealthier and their children grew up as assimilated Americans the immigrant families moved to the suburbs. Yuppies started moving in during the 70s and 80s and the area changed from Yorkville into the Upper East Side.

        Over the years our business evolved from a Hungarian neighborhood store to a central European food and housewares business with a national mail order and wholesale/restaurant trade and finally into a specialty gourmet supplier.

        I have a picture of the next store. Not sure how to post it – send me an email and I’ll send it to you.

      • mitzanna Says:

        Being born in Hungary, Paprikás Weiss was a home to me and my parents. I loved the the ground poppy seeds my mother used to buy to make cookies and “beigli” at Christmas time along with the imported “szalon cukór”, (fondant candy) individually wrapped in colorful foil meant to be hung as Christmas tree ornaments and later eaten. After shopping we had lunch at Mokka, a Hungarian restaurant. My family were refugees when we came to New York during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and It was our home away from home. I thank you and your family Peter for all the wonderful memories. The store I believe closed in the 1980’s. There was a NY Times article about it. The last Hungarian store in the neighborhood was the Hungarian Butcher (Magyar hentes) store on 2nd Avenue around 80th Street. I miss it all….

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        send it to ephemeralnewyork at gmail…and thank you so much for filling in the backstory of your family’s store.

  8. Kurt Says:

    Still existing is Holy Cross Hungarian Byzantine Catholic Church at 323 e. 82nd St.

  9. Peter Wood Says:

    When I was a kid, I went to PS 190 on East 82nd Street. After school, I would go to Paprika Weiss which was on the corner on 1st Avenue. The floors were made of wood and the smell of spices was in the air. In a large glass jar were the apricot rolls which I loved. The elderly couple that ran the store were very nice. Good old Yorkville.

  10. Peter Wood Says:

    I thought that I went to Paprika Weiss as a kid. It turns out that I went to H. Roth & Son (also called Lekvar-by-the-Barrel), 1577 First Avenue at 82d Street. When I was in the first grade (1971), I went to PS 190 which was down the block.

  11. Peter Wood Says:

    Sorry for another post. Here is H. Roth & Son: where I went when I was a kid in the 1970s. By that time, the canopies were gone: https://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/detail/NYCMA~5~5~166016~533384:1577-1-Avenue?sort=borough%2Cblock%2Clot%2Czip_code&qvq=q:1577%201%20Avenue;sort:borough%2Cblock%2Clot%2Czip_code;lc:NYCMA~5~5&mi=4&trs=29

  12. Lorinda Says:

    My Babi and I would go to H. Roth and Sons so that she could buy poppy seeds to garnish her plum dumplings. That would be around the end of August, early September when the blue plums were out.

    • mitzanna Says:

      There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like plum dumplings. I admit that I never heard of them garnished with poppy seeds.

      • Lorinda Says:

        Hers were the best. The garnish was melted butter with cinnamon, sugar, and poppy seeds. Sometimes a little bit of pot cheese. tried making then once and it was an utter disaster.

      • mitzanna Says:

        We used to put a little cinnamon and sugar inside the plum in the dumpling then outside a sprinkling of powdered sugar. The secret to the dough was potatoes or potato flour. I made it once with a relative and it took the whole day. But worth the effort!

  13. Charles A Says:

    Ah, such warm memories! When my brother and I were kids, growing up in the East 50s, our parents (refugees who’d fled Hungary in 1956) would take us to Second Avenue in the 80s pretty much every week. In the 1970s it felt like every business was Hungarian. Not just the butcher shops and restaurants — there was a Hungarian newsstand, a Hungarian travel agent, an import-export store that sold housewares and canned food. (I remember the canned beef stew, a little tough but very flavorful.) The Rigo bakery on a side street, which made a chocolate kuglof very different from my grandmother’s but irresistible. The kolbasz sausages hanging in the stores. My father buying head cheese and pogacsa. Prune butter in jars. (You can still find that at Zabar’s. And one bakery on Second Avenue still makes Rigo-style kuglof — but that’s all that’s left, and for how much longer…?) Mocca selling a three-course lunch for some ridiculously affordable price like $5.95, with palacsinta for dessert. It’s all gone and I miss it daily. Sometimes walk the streets there hoping to catch a whiff of the old smells in the air or a glimpse of some magyar memories out of the corner of my eye.

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