As a few snowflakes swirled and melted on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights on a recent Saturday morning, 13 people had organized themselves into a queue. They wore puffer coats, knit hats and gloves. It was 7:54 a.m. and 34 degrees, and L’Appartement 4F, a bakery known for its flaky croissants, would open in six minutes.
Gianni D’Ovidio, 34, had set his alarm for 5:15 a.m. and arrived via subway from the Upper East Side at 7. He had seen a video about the bakery on social media, and he planned to purchase goodies to take to brunch at a friend’s apartment. He was first in line.
“I wanted to do something special,” he said, “and I was up for an adventure.”
That included waiting outside, in the cold, for an hour. By 8:05 two dozen people had joined him.
New York is a pedestrian-first metropolis, home to brisk walkers with deft sidewalk-slalom skills. In a city of clock-checking White Rabbits, where everyone is always late for a very important date, seeing a crowd of people simply standing still can be jarring.
New Yorkers even have our own way of speaking about queues; if we must wait, we wait on line, not in line, as though we’re boarding a ride we’d rather not take. The lines of winter convey a particular gravitas: Whatever it is, it must be important enough to risk the pain of numb toes.
And yet, the city often stops in its tracks.
In 2020, the pandemic forced New Yorkers to wait in lines for hours to be tested for Covid-19. In 2021, they waited in lines — gratefully, grouchily — for vaccines. But as the city slowly returns to normal, fun lines — if such things can exist — are back.
Some queues are familiar: the hungry crowd at Joe’s Pizza in Midtown; young men with skateboards outside the Supreme store in NoLIta; little girls in front of the American Girl doll store at Rockefeller Plaza.
These days, there are also new and unlikely lines in the mix, prompting various inquiries: Why are they waiting? How long have they been waiting? How long will they keep waiting? And most urgent: What do they know that I don’t?
Brooklyn Heights, 7 a.m.: Croissants
L’Appartement 4F opened last May and attracts a line because it often sells out of certain items and does not offer pickup, delivery or shipping. If you want to taste the croissants, you have to be there. And prepare to wait.
“I’m French,” said 27-year old Emma Mikhailoff, as she and her dog, Cleo, lined up for king cake and croissants on her birthday. She declared the treats “worth waiting for” and noted that the bakery had her family’s approval: “My dad has said this is the best croissant outside of France.”
And the L’Appartement 4F croissant queue is not the only croissant queue in town.
NoHo, 12 p.m.: The Suprême
Outside Lafayette Grand Café & Bakery in NoHo on a recent damp Friday just after noon, 38 people lined up on Lafayette Street, wrapping around the corner into Great Jones Street. Out-of-towners and locals with the day off were waiting for the Suprême, a custard-filled pastry with a unique spiral shape that makes it an eye-catcher on social media.
The Suprême costs $9.50 and is offered in pistachio, chocolate and a flavor of the month; January’s was yuzu-coconut mojito. When an employee emerged to inform those waiting that Lafayette would sell only one pastry per person — and that the Suprême’s filling is made with pork gelatin — at least five stylish young women left the line.
Others were undeterred.
“I always see it on Instagram,” said Mollie Garrell, a 22-year-old visiting from Philadelphia. “So I was like, why not try it out?”
An avid follower of food blogs and treat-oriented social media, Lula Desta, 21, in town from Oakland, Calif., was on a bakery crawl with her sister. She said she was “happily” waiting for a Suprême, as opposed to all the “stressful” waiting for Covid tests she had done in the recent past.
“Well, that was essential,” noted her sister, Mieraf Kahsai, 33.
“This is essential to me,” Ms. Desta replied.
East Village, 10 a.m.: Sondheim and Radcliffe
Just down the street at the New York Theater Workshop in the East Village, a line had formed before dawn on a recent Wednesday, as would-be patrons waited for possible cancellation tickets for the revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along,” starring Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff and Lindsay Mendez.
“This is why we live in New York, to get to see great performances,” said Tessa Deutch, 46, adding that she is actually “more of a Rodgers and Hammerstein girl.”
Sherry McCutcheon, from Athens, Ga., had arrived at 6 a.m. She had snacks, water and a folding stool. At 10, she was still in good spirits, thinking about seeing Daniel Radcliffe again.
“I come to see all of his plays,” she said. “I’m not really obsessive, but I usually see his plays probably 20 times.” In fact, she had already seen “Merrily” five times.
She was with her friend, Susanne Greuel, 39, who had traveled from Germany. The two met years ago on a Radcliffe fan Facebook page.
Ms. McCutcheon said she would see “Merrily” again when it goes to Broadway in the fall. “I spend all my money,” she said. “But it’s worth it. He’s so good onstage.”
Mimi Jefferson, a 65-year-old Hell’s Kitchen resident, had arrived at about 8:05 a.m. with her niece. She was not sure how long she would stay: “I’m dubious that we’re going to get the tickets.” Still, she said, “I enjoy a line. I almost always meet people.”
There were nearly 20 people waiting at 11 a.m. when the box office opened, and an employee came outside to announce that there was one single, solitary ticket available. It went to Derrick Siler, 35, who said he had arrived at 4:35 a.m. Some people drifted away; others lingered, as more cancellations were possible.
Ms. McCutcheon stayed put, and around 12:30 p.m., a six-and-a-half-hour wait paid off: She and Ms. Greuel both got tickets.
Upper West Side, 10 a.m.: Eggs
At 10 a.m. on a recent Sunday, 10 Upper West Siders were waiting outside the Knoll Krest Farm tent at the 79th Street Greenmarket on Columbus Avenue to buy eggs. Children and dogs accompanied adults with empty egg cartons and wheeled shopping carts.
Geoffrey Dunbar, 76, likes to get his eggs this way in part because “I can see who I’m supporting,” he said. The farmers’ market is the only thing he waits outside in the cold for. “There’s a fish guy,” he said. “That’s my second line.” He also planned to visit the apple pie stand.
But while eggs, theater tickets and croissants are tangible rewards, some lines have less coherent purposes.
SoHo, 1 p.m.: Sweatshirts?
In SoHo on a recent Friday afternoon, a short line had formed on Crosby Street in front of the clothing store Aimé Leon Dore, even though it was not crowded with shoppers inside. Employees were staffing the door, letting just a few people in at a time.
Joaquin Russell, a college student, was waiting with two friends, Nicolas Kasbo and Daniel Michel, though they were unclear why there was a wait. They had taken the train in from Summit, N.J., to spend the day in Manhattan.
Mr. Russell said that lines made him anxious, that he hates to wait and that he could not pronounce the name of the store — “I’m not even going to try,” he said. But his friends wanted to check it out.
None of them planned to make a purchase, but, Mr. Kasbo said, “You don’t necessarily have to be buying anything to, like, enjoy the shopping experience.”
After waiting about four minutes, the three 18-year-olds were permitted to enter. They were out again a short time later. “I hated being in there,” said Mr. Russell. “I don’t know. I saw a nice hoodie. Didn’t even have a price tag on it. I didn’t want to ask. I was just really upset that we waited all that time.”
Benton McClintock, a comedian with more than 100,000 followers on TikTok, has created videos in which he uses expletives and a snide tone to complain about people waiting on various lines — for bagels, say, or for the restaurant Jack’s Wife Freda on the corner of Lafayette Street and Spring Street on the edge of SoHo.
“Are you OK?” he asks rhetorically, with a pained expression, in a video that has over 90,000 likes. “You’re going to wait in line to go to Jack’s Wife Freda?!”
Reached by phone, Mr. McClintock acknowledged that he had never actually eaten at Jack’s Wife Freda, but insisted that waiting in line for such things just didn’t make sense.
In his opinion, TikTok bears responsibility for the proliferation of lines across the city and has contributed to the checklist-ification of New York: “The idea that these people need to do all of these very specific things that everyone else is doing so that they can say they did it — and whenever they leave, they can be like, ‘I did everything.’ ”
Mr. McClintock does not like waiting, or crowds, or people, but said he might wait be willing to wait outside in New York for an hour if he could get a V.I.P. meet and greet with Taylor Swift.
Downtown, 11 a.m.: Brunch
Meanwhile, on a Sunday around 11 a.m., as the 6 train rumbled beneath Lafayette Street, the host of Jack’s Wife Freda was briskly working to address a short line in front of the restaurant, securing tables inside for those waiting outside. The line was moving, but also growing, with 17 people waiting in 35-degree weather.
Nigisty Lulu, 29, was among those waiting. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she has lived in New York City for 10 years and said that she was looking forward to her meal.
She is “usually a homebody in the winter,” she said, smiling, but was happy to be out for brunch with a friend: “I don’t mind a wait for things I love.”