Gowanus bakery Four and Twenty Blackbirds opens up shop in the Central Library

Coming soon: The pie-brary

Baked: Emily and Melissa Elsen staff this temporary counter that is serving coffee and a few pastries at the Central Library before their official eatery opening on March 14.
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Book lovers flocking to the Central Library will soon be able to purchase some treats to keep their literary flights of fancy aloft when a Gowanus pie shop opens an outpost in the lobby.

The bakery and cafe Four and Twenty Blackbirds will start serving up pies and grub on March 14, which math nerds celebrate as Pi Day in honor of the endless number which begins “3.14.” A co-owner of the sweet shop said that, cheeky though the choice of deadline may be, it also adds much-needed urgency to getting the shop in order.

“That date was intentional, and it puts us under the gun to finish setting up,” said partial pro-pie-etor Emily Elsen.

Elsen and her sister Melissa opened the Gowanus location, on Third Avenue and Eighth Street, in 2010 and made a name for themselves with surprising creations such as salted caramel apple, chili chocolate, and grapefruit custard pies, all using ingredients from nearby locales.

The library followed their lead by selecting a vendor locally, a Brooklyn Public Library spokesman said.

“They’re homegrown and locally based,” David Woloch said. “It’s great to have them aboard.”

The new location will be in the main lobby of the prose palace on Grand Army Plaza between Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue, but bookworms will have to check out their titles before chowing down.

In addition to pies, the eatery will carry sandwiches, soups, salads, and coffee.

The Elsens inked a three-year lease with the Brooklyn Public Library, and will pay the library a percentage of what they make in lieu of rent. This is not the first time a Brooklyn cultural institution has opened its doors to restaurateurs. Next door to the library, the Brooklyn Museum welcomed top-rated chef Saul Bolton last summer. And Fort Greene’s Theatre for a New Audience opened in November with a Danny Meyers-run cafe we are calling “Shakespeare Shack.”

Nor is it the first move to open up public libraries to private use. An initiative is under way to rent out former office space in the Red Hook and Williamsburg branches to artists and musicians (see opposite page).

Once their doors open, the sisters hope to start educational programs, including pie-baking classes and reading rewards.

The library will also host Pi Day activities for kids on March 14.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Jack Horner from The corner says:
Give me some damn pie!
March 4, 2014, 7:27 am
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Books will be ruined, vermin encouraged, what could go wrong?
March 4, 2014, 8:33 am
Humpty Dumpty from Prospect Heights says:
@rufusleaking: this branch already has a cafe that sells food and drinks, so I doubt it will bring on an apocalypse of dirty books and rats.
March 4, 2014, 11:34 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
And the amount of garbage sprinkled around the library from the shelves to the stairwells makes that a poor choice of valuing the pittance over the collection.
March 5, 2014, 11:59 am
ty from pps says:
Rufus -- Good thing folks don't eat at home with their library books. I'm sure everyone has a designated library book-only area.
March 5, 2014, 7:06 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Ty, look up the reference, and circulating.
March 5, 2014, 10:07 pm
ty from pps says:
Yes, Rufus... What is your point? Will the reference materials be located in the lobby of the Library inside the cafe?
March 6, 2014, 3:20 pm
ty from pps says:
It's OK to be wrong, Rufus. It's the doubling down on your stupid comment that is the problem.
March 6, 2014, 3:21 pm
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
"Rufus -- Good thing folks don't eat at home with their library books."

John Wasserman will generally tend to use a fork, knife, or even a spoon. But this is just the eating habit of one man.
Pardon the interruption.
March 7, 2014, 6:07 pm
Jane from Prospect heights says:
I think this is a terrible development. The library is being gutted - there are actually fewer and fewer books on the shelves- and less space allocated to books. The library being converted into a gutted out, rentable party space. Is this what we really want for our public institutions? I wish they would put the efforts into promoting scholarship instead. Especially for middle and high school students. Really- pie baking classes in the library? How about writing classes? I mean regular ones, and not just some awful kind of journaling workshop for moms here and there.

And hello, There was already a cafe there, with a good variety of options and low prices. It's a public space that is being given away rent free. I certainly hope the percentage of sales given to the library is upwards if 50%. And I hope you will still be able to get a 10 oz cup of coffee for about a dollar. Does everything have to be gentrified and made 'precious'? It's not like there aren't other bakeries close by. They could have at least gone with Cheryl's, which is right there across Eastern pkwy on underhill. It's a travesty in so many ways and on so many levels.
March 17, 2014, 7:05 pm

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