By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
MURRAY HILL — In the amount of time it took Vik Kaushik to eat his sesame bagel with lox and cream cheese, Lila Freeman sketched a drawing of him to add to her "People Eating Bagels at a Bagel Store" series.
Freeman's first round of drawings of Vic's Bagel Bar customers went on display at the hip 10-month-old shop on Third Avenue and East 36th Street in December. The show was scheduled to come down by Jan. 9, but it has proven to be a crowd pleaser, with bagel lovers often asking owner Vic Glaser when they can get their portraits done.
So, Freeman, who works at a Brooklyn public library branch for her day job, has been returning on occasion, as she did this past Saturday, to create a new crop of portraits.
Willing participants get a voucher for a free bagel from Vic's Bagel Bar — where real fruit or other toppings are mixed into the cream cheese (or tofu spread) right in front of customers.
But the free bagel wasn't the draw for Vik Kaushik, an investment banker who frequents the eatery and was among those who posed for portraits.
"That fact you can be immortalized at Vic's Bagel Bar and I'm Vik and I live around the corner: It had to happen," said Kaushik, 24. "I'm going to come back and lean over every table until I find me on the wall."
Kaushik said he didn't mind a stranger staring at him while he wolfed down his brunch. But Freeman said there's an "unavoidable intimacy" created when she closely observes people while they're eating.
"There's definitely a lot of awkwardness to a lot of the encounters. That's part of it," Freeman, 31, said. "But it helps that I'm not asking them to sit still or look me in the eye."
Glazer said she was moved to bring in some art to help breathe more life into her sleek-looking shop.
"Everyone said the walls were too bare," said Glazer, 27, who asked her girlfriend, Freeman, to do the first of what Glazer hopes to be different installations by various artists.
"I didn't stipulate anything," Glazer said of the project — except one thing. "Lila has had shows of her drawings before, but they were usually of naked people. It wasn't a body of work that was suitable because lot of kids come in here."
Freeman, a Pratt Institute alumna who often sketches people wherever she goes — on the subway, in library staff meetings — thought doing the drawings in the space where the bagels were baked, sold and consumed would give the work a nice "meta quality."
Thirty-four of some 60 of Freeman's drawings from the growing series (ranging from $100 to $160) are currently on Vic's walls.
Of course, the bagel voucher can be a good carrot for some models, many of whom are recent college grads that now crowd the neighborhood's apartment buildings.
"I was waiting from my friends and was hungry," said Justin Coltun, 23, whose college chums from the University of Wisconsin often brunch at Vic's on the weekend, "so I thought I might as well get a free bagel."
Freeman said drawing the customers in some ways echoed her work as a public librarian at the reference desk: "uncomfortable, unpredictable encounters in which one stranger helps another achieve a goal."