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Tuesday
Feb052008

West Side Story: A Tale of Two Magnolias

Cupcakes, Magnolia Downtown
Magnolia Bakery, a landmark in NYC’s West Village, is the veritable shot that started the cupcake revolution. And now, they’ve opened a second location on NYC’s Upper West Side.Though in actuality these two locations are only about three miles away, in many ways they are worlds apart; the culture, clientele and location are distinctly different. But what does this all mean for those famous cupcakes? We did a side by side comparision to find out who really does take the cake. For ease of reading, we will refer to them as "Magnolia Downtown" for the original Bleecker Street location and "Magnolia Uptown" for the new Upper West Side location.

A little background...

Location: Both bakeries are in Manhattan; Magnolia Downtown is located at the corner of West 11th Street and Bleecker Street in the West Village; Magnolia Uptown is located on 69th Street at Columbus Avenue, on the Upper West Side.

Culture: While both are neighborhoods of privilege (in our humble eyes, neighborhoods where apartments regularly rent for upwards of $3,000 a month would classify as neighborhoods of privilege), they both have a distinctly different feel; whereas Greenwich Village has a more eclectic feel, with cozy brownstones, zigzagging streets and quaint boutiques and boasts celebrity residents like Julianne Moore and Sarah Jessica Parker, the Upper West Side boasts the grand old apartment buildings of yesteryear, and you just might find yourself brushing elbows with with residents like Bono and Mia Farrow.

Some details about our visits and impressions...

Crowd: We went to the locations one after the other to get the truest read. When we went to Magnolia downtown at 11.30 am, there were about 5 people in line; Uptown 30 minutes later, there were about 16 people in line. However, we feel it would be unfair to say this means that Uptown is more popular; it's newer, so part of this is probably novelty; also, we do understand that as lunchtime draws closer, sometimes you need a little sweetness, so perhaps that 30 minute window does make a difference.

Employees and Crowd, Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker
Service: (photo above: the crowd at Magnolia Downtown) To us, Magnolia Downtown has never been about the attentive service; the staff is largely made up of bored-looking hipsters (albeit, bored-looking hipsters who always give you great ideas for new haircuts). Nonetheless, there is sort of a charm to this type of service, and it seemed no different at the new location--same cool haircuts, same slightly-bored attitude. We'd call this one a draw.

Interior: They’ve done the new location with similarly checkered floors and retro décor; so although it is not a different look per se, we are going to give this point to Magnolia Uptown, which seems more spacious, airy and less cramped than its downtown cousin.

Maybe we're shallow but we think about these things...

Magic Cookie Bars at Magnolia DowntownMagic Cookie Bar, Magnolia Uptown
Presentation: (photos above, Magic Bars at the Downtown and Uptown locations, respectively) While both locations had similar elements of presentation: glass cases and cake plates, cupcakes on cute doilies, etc., Magnolia Uptown emerges slightly ahead in this category due to (in our opinion) their better choice of typestyle for the store signage; the simple typeface allows the baked goods themselves to shine, whereas Magnolia Downtown's more whimsical typestyle is ultimately distracting and hard to read.

Cupcakes, Magnolia DowntownCupcakes at the New Uptown Magnolia Bakery
Cuteness: (photos above, cupcakes at the Downtown and Uptown locations, respectively) While cuteness can be an open-ended category, it cannot be ignored. In evaluating the baked goods at both locations, the cuteness factor was high all around; however, if pressed we would have to say that the Downtown location's cupcakes seemed to have a jauntiness to their swirl that the Uptown location simply couldn't match.

Places to eat your cupcake: Magnolia Downtown has only one tiny table; however, there is a park directly across the street which, weather permitting, is a good place to eat your cupcake and full of great people-watching. While they are working on an added seating room Uptown, it was not yet ready at the time of our visit, leaving noplace to sit in the uptown location. Though Central Park is a short walk away, who’s going to make it that far with their cupcake? Ours was gone by the time we were halfway down the block. So while things may change when the seating area is available, in this case, Downtown wins.

But most importantly, the sweets themselves:

Cakes, Magnolia Uptown

Selection: The selection was nearly identical at both locations, with some variations in frosting choices and layer cakes available that day, but mostly the same; overall a tie.

Freshness / Quality: Everything we tasted at both locations tasted extremely fresh, which provides a happy tie (yay for fresh pastries!).

Banana PuddingBanana Pudding, Upper West Side Magnolia Bakery

The Baked Goods Themselves: (above: photos of banana pudding Downtown and Uptown, respectively) Each bakery has its own kitchen, so we wanted to see for ourselves how the tastes stacked up. In evaluating the cupcakes, we noticed that the frosting was a bit heavier-handed downtown (this is not necessarily a bad thing!); on the banana pudding, the Uptown version was a little more "whipped" than the slightly creamier version Downtown. The "Magic bars" (quite similar to the Bakedbar we featured a while back) looked slightly crisper on the bottom downtown. But really, all of this is subject to the day and baker who made them, and are natural variations; small differences aside, the taste was very similar between both locations. And yes, we liked what we tasted.

So, if you were halfway between locations and had to choose one or the other, which one would Cakespy suggest?

Well, certainly the new location has a few things going for it. For one, it's bigger; with more space, perhaps they won't even need a cupcake bouncer. But have they won us over with better typestyle choices and more seating? While on the one hand they seem to have answered a need, there was something that we realized while standing on the line Uptown to pay; we sort of...well, missed that Cupcake Bouncer and cramped space that we've cursed so many times Downtown. So while we're excited to see the Uptown addition and to monitor its growth, our hearts are still in that cramped, inefficient, sweet little spot on Bleecker Street.

Magnolia Bakery, two locations; Downtown, 401 Bleecker Street (at W. 11th St); Uptown, 200 Columbus Avenue (b/t W. 69th & W. 70th Sts); online at magnoliabakery.com.

 


Magnolia Bakery in New York

 

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Reader Comments (42)

Love your review - and the photos are gorgeous! I'm keen to get there someday when I vist NYC again, just to see what all the hype is about.

February 7 | Unregistered CommenterCakelaw

As a former New Yorker living in Seattle, Magnolia is one of the places I miss most. Your photos are a nice reminder.

i have to agree with you..cuteness is really the word!!! i love the first photo really gorgeously delicious!!

February 8 | Unregistered CommenterDhanggit

Yep, I'm really not into Magnolia. I even tried it AGAIN for the fifth or sixth time on Tuesday and it's lost on me. The cake was a little dry, the frosting is super too sweet. I prefer Amy's or Billy's Bakery in Chelsea.

February 8 | Unregistered CommenterGeggie

Wow such beautiful food!

I am totally amazed you can buy frosting like that in big bowls, wow, you don't get anything like that here in Belgium or in England! Very jeolous! ;o) x

February 8 | Unregistered Commenterbbaking

Cakelaw: You have to go! They might not be your favorite cupcakes ever, but it's always interesting to see the source of all this hype!

Southern Hostess: How funny, I am a former New Yorker living in Seattle too! What a coincidence!

Dhanggit: Thanks! Cuteness makes the world go round, and sugar doesn't hurt!

Geggie: What kind of cakes do you like at Billy's and Amy's? (nosey, nosey)

Bbaking: Isn't it beautiful food? Next time you visit, you must go!

February 8 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

I haven't seen the new one yet...but there is definitely something about the old cramped bakery that feels like a grandma's kitchen.

February 8 | Unregistered CommenterMallow

wow! had no idea Magnolia is now uptown--I will have to venture over there. Your blog posts give so much helpful info! Thanks =)

February 8 | Unregistered CommenterNubia

We bought our cupcakes downtown and then took them to Central Park where we sat on a bench along a bike-path and devoured them. (You should've seen all the looks from envious cyclists!)

February 9 | Unregistered CommenterSurcie

Oh my gosh! What amazing photos! *drool* Surfed in via Wisconsin Candy Blog! Great blog you've got here!

February 10 | Unregistered CommenterC

Mallow: You're so right!

Nubia: Yea, let us know what you think of the new one!

Surcie: I'll bet! ;-)

C: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed finding our sweet little spot in cyberspace!

February 10 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

This was a great post as I haven't had the chance to check out Magnolia Bakery firsthand, but do have one of the cookbooks!

February 12 | Unregistered Commentereatme_delicious

Eat Me, Delicious--Clearly you need to visit--they're very happy places to go. Just the smell when you walk in...

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Jessie,

The breadth and scope of your coverage from your New York trip is impressive. You managed to find a few of my secret gems - like Dishes - so random but so high quality with their baked goods! Also, your review of Magnolia was really great. Most bloggers just write them off as too basic and basically riding the coat tails of Sex in The City etc... but what did you think of the famous Levain Cookies?

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterNiko

Just visited the Greenwich shop for the first time over the weekend...swoon...it was all that I expected and more.

August 13 | Unregistered CommenterRapunzel

Um, give you a hint: New Yorkers say fcuk all to both of 'em and their ratty-ass dry cake. Go to Amy's and get proper cake.

September 7 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

just had the red velvet cupcake from the newly-opened grand central terminal outpost - ugh, what a disappointment! The icing tasted like Crisco, and the cake was overly red with a too-dense crumb and pretty much tasteless. What a waste of calories!

March 13 | Unregistered Commenterjude10536
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