Mmm, a chocolate factory…

Our strongest sensory memories are attached not to vision but to smell. Yes really! Pass someone who looks like your significant other and you think, “they look like my gf/bf.” Pass someone who wears their cologne or perfume, and your nervous system has you feeling like you just bit into a popsicle on a hot day.

One of my favorite things about New York is how in the course of walking one block, aromas leaking out of stores and restaurants can elicit such distinctive and disparate experiences from my past. I can go from the fruit-shaped glycerin soap in my grandparents’ guest bathroom when I was 8 to the Beijing street food vendors I encountered two years ago. And on the same walk, I’m registering new scents that I’ll recall again much later in life–for better or worse!

Cold season be darned, these are a few of my picks for scents worth remembering.


Billy’s Bakery
9th Ave between 21st and 22nd in Chelsea, and a Tribeca location I haven’t yet visited
What you’ll see: The Chelsea location exudes so much charm–whites and pastels and rows of cupcakes and a smiling staff.
What you’ll smell: I’ve been to all the popular bakeries. Billy’s cupcakes are my favorite by a lot, and Billy’s bakery has the best aroma too. There is ALMOST –and I can’t believe I’m actually going to suggest this in writing for fear my olfactory “palate” will come under question– an essence of corn or cornmeal.
When to go: Check their hours here.

Koppers Chocolate Factory
Clarkson between Hudson and Greenwich, West Village
What you’ll see: A loading dock in a tall brick building with a teeny tiny “Koppers” placard, and through a singular window at the street level, a narrow room with a candy-striped wall, nothing in it. I’ve passed it at least once a day for about two months, and I’ve only once seen a person stand in the candy-striped room. Not an Oompa Loompa, but quite honestly, it would not have completely surprised me.
What you’ll smell: Mint chocolate, white chocolate, sugar and cream, aromas you might not even know. Their candies include dark chocolate covered pink peppercorns and chocolate covered goji berries.
When to go: When you’re feeling lucky–it’s unpredictable. Sometimes it just smells like New York.


Joe Doe
East 1st Street between 1st and 2nd Aves, NoHo technically
What you’ll see: A small restaurant with specials written on an oversize paper roll, jars of spices and unfamiliar liquor bottles behind the bar, family photos, seasonal kitsch, people who look very happy about what they’re eating.
What you’ll smell: The sweet, briny aroma of pork fat. Chef Joe Doe serves (bless his heart!) grass-fed beef, free range chicken, rabbit, fish, duck. And he makes use of the whole animal, which I have so much respect for. But the unctuous smell of pork lingers, maybe from the fried bologna I like to order from the bar snack menu…
When to go: I like the beginning of service so I can definitely get a seat, though any wait would be well worthwhile.
Bonus: Chef Joe Dobias just won Chopped on Food Network!

East side of Lexington, between 28th and 29th
What you’ll see: This area between Murray Hill and Gramercy is often affectionately referred to as “Curry Hill” for the many south and southeast Asian restaurants there. Curry in a Hurry and Curry Express bookend the strip, and between them are several sundries and dry goods stores that sell… spices. I like Kalustyan’s and Spice World.
What you’ll smell: Spices. Raw cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, dried mango, things I’ve never heard of. It’s kind of a bitter smell–these spices really open up when they’re cooked. I think there’s a somewhat rubbery smell to packaged foods that aren’t from here, too. Which I happen to like.
When to go: Sunday afternoons, so you can hear the old French accordion music spilling out of Chez Le Chef.

Brooklyn Brewery
North 11th and Wythe Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
What you’ll see: a seemingly empty street with seemingly empty brick warehouses.
What you’ll smell: Hops. Wet, fermenting hops. I’ve been to Guinness, Miller, Anheuser-Busch, and Shiner, and a slew of small brewery/restaurants with copper vats of home-brews proudly lined up behind glass separating the dining rooms and production areas, and this smell is so distinctive. Take a raw cereal and make it dirty, nutty, creamy, and mildewy, kind of like after a long rain.
When to go: On Friday evenings or Saturdays, so you can go in the tasting room and find out how the hops smell after their top-secret malts are added.