Bacon, egg, and cheese on a toasted poppy seed bagel with salt and pepper — hold the ketchup, please! I might like to keep it simple, but the possibilities are endless at Feltz Bagels, an interactive pop-up bagel shop in Manhattan’s East Village. While Feltz doesn’t serve anything edible, the entire space is a feast for the eyes as English artist Lucy Sparrow and her team of three studio assistants have hand-stitched every item in the shop out of — you guessed it — felt!
From thousands of bagels of every variety and their accoutrements to just about any conceivable snack and drink one would find on the shelves of a deli, Sparrow’s attention to detail elevates her makeshift marketplace inventory and ambiance to whimsical heights.
From menu boards and the deli counter to shelves fully stocked with standard American and Eastern European groceries, tasty treats, and a somewhat nefarious liquor corner in the back of the shop (that also peddles some less kosher substances), nearly every inch of Feltz Bagels is covered in the crafty fabric sampling every color imaginable.
Customers are invited to put in their own to-go orders as the bagel counter is equipped with sweet and savory sandwich fillings from sliced vegetables, cream cheeses, and cured meats to jellies, marshmallows, and Nutella spread. Sparrow immortalizes each unique sandwich by hand-stitching the layers together before wrapping them up, permanently satiating the appetites of art lovers and foodies alike.
Anyone popping in for a bag of chips, a bottle of beer, or a pack of smokes should note that almost everything on the shelves is for sale, too.
With approximately 30,000 individual objects to account for as well as designing the space, Sparrow told Hyperallergic that endeavors like this all start with a spreadsheet.
“I’ll know exactly how many of each bagel or how many of each ingredient I’ll need to make, because without those numbers, I have no way of keeping track,” she explained. Sparrow also noted that production precedes location, as she had been working on the pop-up Jewish deli for almost a year prior to securing the location at 209 East 3rd Street only a month before Feltz opened its doors.
Sparrow and her team not only handle the craft, but also develop and construct the set from shop fittings to kitchen equipment.
“It took me years of buying secondhand shop fittings to realize that actually it was easier to make them myself and easier to cover, too,” she continued. “I’m not a natural builder of any kind. I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing and neither does my team, so every time we have to build something, we end up just Googling it and working it out.”
The artist leans into the aesthetics of New York’s Jewish staples, evoking Russ & Daughters with the silver shelving and Katz’s Deli from the ticketing system. But at the end of the day, Feltz Bagels is an arts experience and has to stand out aesthetically to hold its own.
This isn’t Sparrow’s first rodeo with makeshift marketplaces, and it’s certainly not her last. The artist jumped in headfirst with a fully functional felt Cornershop in London’s East End in 2014, and followed up in 2015 with a felted erotic shop with an automated peep show on the other side of the city in SoHo. Her first solo exhibition in New York was a 9,000-piece bodega pop-up called 8 Till Late in 2017. Feltz Bagels, however, is the most interactive installation she has done so far.
“I want people to curate their own piece of artwork without me dictating too much,” Sparrow elaborated. “I want them to choose exactly what their piece of work is going to look like. So everyone is getting a unique piece of art, no matter what. Even if they choose the same ingredients as someone else, it’s impossible for felt to be replicated because of its handmade nature.”
Visitors will notice that every bagel or unpackaged food item (aside from the sandwich fillings) has a benign smile and shiny black eyes, too. I was both surprised and enamored that even the discs of cured meat on sitting on the slicer looked up at me with kind expressions — it reminded me of when my mom would tell me to finish everything on my plate so that all the food gets to party together and no one is left out.
There is no shortage of art historical precedent for Sparrow’s project, such as Claes Oldenburg’s own The Store (1961), during which Oldenburg sold plaster and papier-mâché sculptures in his own “storefront” less than three blocks away from Feltz. But regarding her propensity for storefront-centered installations, Sparrow quotes Napoleon of all people, who is cited as saying that “England is a nation of shopkeepers.”
Though she added that she and her sales associates likely wouldn’t get away with a lot of the stuff they say to people if Feltz was a real shop. “It’s a bit of a piss-take, really,” she said with a laugh, specifying how she light-heartedly teases her customers and gets some good banter going.
Feltz Bagels is open from 11am to 8pm through Halloween with daily restocks.