I know I talk about bodegas a lot, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever defined the term for any of you who aren’t East Coast dwellers. Here ya go:
Yes, this does sound like a Middle American gas station, but I can assure you that a bodega is far more complex. The thing about suburban gas stations is that they’re either AMAZING (eg. QuikTrip, WaWa, god I miss them) or they are depressing pieces of shit that you’re forced to shop at because you’re in Kansas and that’s where the church camp bus stopped. Gas stations are black or white, while bodegas are all sorts of shades of grey. More than fifty, for sure.
Bodegas exist in a land of plenty. In New York we want for nothing; Ethiopian food, alcohol and juice cleanses are available almost 24-7 by delivery or just down the block. Discovery has lost its novelty and I’m pretty sure that’s why there are so many secret bars. Even those are still one Google search away. A good bodega creates within its visitor a sense of adventure. The bodega engages the inner hunter, reminds its patron that among its dusty, cluttered shelves hidden treasures abound.
I was thinking about this last night, when I went to my bodega for snacks. The management has changed, and what was once a top-notch establishment has become a sad shell of a sandwich shop. I wouldn’t call it the worst bodega ever yet, but I fear for its future. Once the previous manager’s Gouda and diet popsicles are gone, I’m not sure what to expect.
So what exactly makes the best bodegas? Here’s my criteria:
#1 – Massive amount of old, off-brand snacks. When hunting for treasure, one needs the unwanted items to search through. Without the lows that come with rifling through a pile of nacho cheese “onion ring” bags, how can one experience the highs of discovering that one bag of artisan popcorn?
#2 – Artisan shit. In small quantities, ordered infrequently so each discovery feels like A Win.
#3 – A top-notch frozen foods and beverage section. The best bodegas have Ben & Jerry’s flavors I’ve never seen before, the occasional vegan frozen dinner and Woodchuck Crisp Cider, which is inexplicably low calorie and delicious.
#4 – A cat. You’ve gotta have a bodega cat.
#5 – Funny stuff from other countries. My favorite bodegas in Boston sold hookas and tourist trinkets from all over the world. I’m pretty sure one of them had t-shirts from the Moscow Olympics. The one on my block now has an assortment of male enhancement supplements with names like “Extreme Dragon” and the rest of the text in Hindi or whatever.
#6 – Friendly staff who don’t care that you’re drunk. I have made so many bodega friends in my day. The ones on my block liked used to give me free candy because – according to them – my terrible photo on my ID reminded them of a Bollywood star whose husband was incredibly charitable.
#7 – Sandwiches. This is not a necessary requirement, as I find most bodegas with sandwiches don’t have as many wonderful other things. That being said, the Best Bodega Ever would have all of the above and the Spicy Special. I assume that’s the bodega in heaven.
Peace, love and Did I miss anything?