“I’m embarrassed to be on this line,” says a woman in exercise clothes, bending forward to undo her ponytail and swirling it back into a limp bun. It is 6:15 A.M.. Given our errand, I am struck by the number of people in workout gear.
We are on the fabled cronut line. For those who have been spared the media blitz: every morning, hundreds of people queue up under the gingko trees near Dominique Ansel’s Soho bakery for the instantly iconic donut-croissant hybrid. Ansel patented the name after other bakers—from Fort Greene to Jakarta—began frying ring-shaped croissants, forcing them to fumble for alternative nomenclature: zonuts, frizzants, cronies, doissants. The cronut has, famously, paved its own black market; those who want to avoid the line can by them on Craigslist for an 800 percent markup. Want twenty delivered to you by professional line waiters? That’ll be $5,000.
The idea of braving the line arose during a conversation in the hologram-like stage of a new friendship. It would be cool to get to know each other while we wait on line, right? Right? Initially, I naively envisioned something akin to the line outside Magnolia Bakery in 2009; curling just around the block, the commitment of a few minutes. A brief Internet search quickly informed me otherwise. Still, without too much reluctance, we decided to go anyway; partly for the story, partly for the taste, largely just because we could.
“We’re only here because we were jet-lagged,” says the Canadian tourist in front of me, adjusting her Lululemon groove pants.
“Oh, me too,” the bespectacled older woman in front of her chimes in, clutching a newspaper to her chest. “I woke up in the middle of the night to get water, but tripped on my husband’s suitcase.” She points to her apartment’s window, above a bistro with a French name, where men in baseball caps are unloading boxes from a Naked Cowboy Oysters truck. “I couldn’t go back to sleep so I came here.”
I wonder if the delivery men resent the cronut line for populating what used to a be the quasi-pastoral moments of their busy shifts. The noises they make—cardboard hitting the ground, engines revving—contrast sharply with the chatter of the cronut line, as though there is a chasm separating us. On my walk to the bakery, Soho smells like residual taxi exhaust. Streaks of whitish cleaning fluid lie in the streets, gathering in puddles near the drains. Coffee carts with picture menus begin to open for business, the cream cheese inside their premade bagels still in rectangular cubes. The morning coolness does an admirable job of masking the fact we are at the apex of a heat wave.
The first person on line, he tells us, arrived at 5 A.M. via CitiBike. “I usually wake up around four anyway,” he shrugged. But then the mask slips. “This month’s flavor is blackberry lime, but next month will be coconut.”
As the minutes drag, most people sit on the ground. A lanky NYU student and self-proclaimed cronut black marketeer lays down a plastic CVS bag and takes a seat before resuming his knitting. A different college student rolls a discarded, ratty office chair from a nearby corner to his spot on line; he sits on an AM New York and reads the New York Times. A couple joins their friends on line, carrying collapsible beach chairs under their arms. Mexican falsas, cotton bedsheets, and fleecy blankets embroidered with corporate logos quilt the sidewalk. A young woman in a skirt suit does a head count of the people ahead of her and assures her colleagues that they will definitely get one of the 200 available cronuts, provided, that is, other people don’t “fatten” the line.
Unlike other food fads, the cronut cannot attribute its popularity to, say, antioxidants or Sex and the City. True, the component parts are predictably delicious, and the mix of high and low, labor-intensive and democratic, is as appealing as it audaciously unhealthy. It is an emblem of our times. Really, the pulsing question behind Dominique Ansel’s invention is not How did he think of that? It’s Why didn’t anybody else?
A girl in front of us, in the Lauren Conrad mold, is wearing what appears to be last night’s one-shouldered turquoise dress. Her two male friends smoke cigarettes while she talks about sororities, Costa Rica, and her brother, Dalton.
Around 7 A.M., a bakery employee (“Phew!” says my friend. “I thought she was Jehovah’s witness.”) usher us to the edge of the sidewalk to make room for other pedestrians. There are no other pedestrians—just people on line Instagramming other people on line. The empty ad space on the side of the delivery truck parked across the street from the bakery says something along the lines of, “Give people something to stare at while they wait for cronuts.”
We all feel it. There’s a thrill to such a futile enterprise, especially something so famously futile and so crassly specific to this day, age, and city. Other food fads will emerge—as the summer wanes, the ramen burger and doughnut ice cream sandwiches already sport long queues. And then, the moment passes. Other food hybrids, like bagel bites and pigs in a blanket, were probably once wondrous, too. Cronuts may too find their place in the freezer aisle in a few years, but for now, those who wait for hours or pay a laughable amount of money to eat them do it in a state of utter giddiness.
Dominique Ansel, who can be seen in the kitchen trying to evenly space meringues on a cake, or telling customers to eat the frozen s’mores before they melt, once took the cronut to visit its spiritual twin, MoMA’s recently closed Rain Room. In the installation, a tempest falls inside a dark room, pausing when sensors detect a human body. People who got on the Rain Room line at 5 A.M. still waited for five hours; many waited until nightfall. Gothamist described it as the cronut line, times three. In the picture Dominique Ansel took of himself at MoMA, the cronut sits on his fingertips like a king on a throne, a cream-filled Lear surrounded by torrential downpour, still a victim of hubris, but a figure turned tragic, impotent.
Moments before an employee throws open the doors, Lauren Conrad and her friends suddenly break from the line and run down Spring Street, laughing maniacally. It is 8:30 A.M.; they have been here since 5 A.M.. Those left behind stare at one another, astonished and a little offended. Their laughter rings in my ears. As Lear said, “The art of our necessities is strange.”