The Mysterious Closure of the West Nassau Meat Market?
I suppose there are some Polish vegetarians, but not many. The Poles are largely a nation of carnivores and great butcher shops have defined Greenpoint for generations. No Polish butcher shop has been more popular than the West Nassau Meat Market located at 915 Manhattan Avenue, much more popularly known as Kiszka, but about three months ago it shut down without any explanation and no one seems to know much about its closure. The closure of the butcher has been a topic of intense speculation amongst the local Polish community.I do not know exactly when Kiszka, which means intestines in Polish, opened, but I have been in Greenpoint for twenty-five years and it has always been a fixture and an iconic part of Polish Greenpoint. Years ago David Hartman did a show called “A Walk Around Brooklyn” with New York historian Barry Lewis. They chose Kiszka to film their piece on our area because nothing was more authentically Polish than Kiszka. Hartman and Lewis were taken aback by how old world European the shop was and few people in the shop spoke much English.
At holiday time, the lines from Kiszka would extend well out the door. There were well over a dozen kinds of kielbasa and the language of the shop was Polish, not English. When you finally reached the butchers for service, the system came straight out of Communist Poland. Your butcher prepared your order and then it was sent to the cashier in a red basket. If you spoke in English the butcher would treat you to a piece of kielbasa or a slice of ham to die for. Then, you told the cashier your number, got your basket and paid.
According to my Polish wife, there was no place that had fresher cold cuts and other meats than Kiszka and their prices were hard to beat. The secret? Huge volume. The turnover was so rapid that the meat was always guaranteed to be fresh.
Sadly, Kiszka is not the only Polish delicatessen to close. Steve’s Meat Market, an institution on Nassau Avenue closed last year after thirty-five years of service to the community, however there was no mystery surrounding its closure like the one surrounding Kiszka. Steve thanked his loyal customers for years of patronage and announced that he was closing to retire.
A few things are certain in the cloud of mystery that surrounds Kiszka’s closing. Kiszka certainly did not close for lack of business and generations of Greenpointers wont forget this local icon. For those of us who love Polish Greenpoint it is another sad sign of its disappearance.