A Few of My Favorite Things: The Coffee Edition

This is a painfully late, backlogged entry that I began writing back in September (better late than never!). I thought of it again today when I went to one of my favorite local coffee spots to sit down and write. I associate coffee shops with productivity, and as I was sitting and writing over my breakfast, I remembered the Thrillist article naming ‘The Best Coffee Shops in 30 NYC Neighborhoods.’ I thought, “Someone must’ve paid them to put their business on that list; how else did this place not make it?” Then I remembered that I had already drafted a list of my favorite NYC places for coffee; I just never published it. Something from the vault:

I went to the Brooklyn Book Festival today (September 21, 2014)—an event for which I’d been patiently waiting to arrive for what feels like a lifetime—and was heartbroken to discover Interlink Publishing’s Café Series, a collection of city (travel) guides that “take you where the spiriting of a great city resides: its cafes and bars.” I’m disappointed I didn’t think of it first!

I’m fast approaching a year in The Big Apple, and it’s been the most successful long-term relationship I’ve ever had (yes, I realize how sad that is). I tell people that my experience in London was so heartbreaking because I developed a deep, emotional relationship with the landscape itself—the city’s streets, sights, cafes—that appeared to be one-sided and inevitably failed. But in New York, my existence here has found stability (without sacrificing any richness) and has become an intense relationship—perhaps dangerously—with indulgence. Maybe that’s misleading. This city has just been so responsive to my every curiosity: if I want to study Catalan, join a book club, take up ballet, try Georgian wines, listen to flamenco guitar, or learn about civil wars through art, I can do all those things. New York is a place for the greedy, lavish, and brave. You’re only ever limited by your own imagination.

I spoke to a friend from home over the phone the other night, for the first time in a long time, and she said, “It sounds like New York suits you. I can hear it in your voice.” What a beautiful compliment. I certainly feel like it does! I know it to be true because I feel at home in so many eclectic variants, like conflict reporting, sports governance, media, art, history, storytelling, urbania… All in which I’ve been able to indulge with liberal accessibility. And that diversity of interest is just what I’ve been exposed to thus far! Who knows what the future will bring?

The one elemental ingredient to such exquisite indulgence is the centerpiece of this blog, and, lamentably, of the aforementioned Interlink Series as well: the café experience. It’s the universal social epicenter, the modern-day agora. It’s where I get my best ideas, where I meet the most fascinating people who often invoke them, and where I feel most connected to my universe. It’s also where I write.

So, without further ado, here are my favorite haunts in the city so far:

Lunitas – 1039 A Fulton St, Clinton Hill/BedStuy

lunitasbk

  • This place is my favorite gem: a cozy, Argentinean café that is just as unassuming in its quaint splendor as the neighborhoods it straddles. What I love most, aside from the convenience of distance from my apartment, is that there are no airs of pretense here. Just come in, have a coffee and a homemade empanada, and sit and read for 2 hours; or, in my case, sit and write. It’s my go-to haven for journaling. For the most part, it’s quiet in there, I love the soft Latin music they play, there’s free WiFi, they accept credit cards, and their delicious food and coffee are affordable! In one of the better establishments of a gentrifying neighborhood, they have their prices right. Again, no pretense. I love the Argentinean flags that hang over the glass panes at the entrance, the ombré Caribbean-green paint finish on the wall opposite the little tables, and the fact that I can get a decent cortado in the neighborhood! If you haven’t noticed, escapism is a central theme in my life, and I love places that make me feel like I’m somewhere else. New York is a wonderful place, and part of the reason for its wonder is that it makes you feel like you’re in so many places at once. The world comes to you. And I love this place for the reason that I’ve impressed upon it the idea of a safe haven to write and dream.

Pilar’s Cuban Eatery – 393 Classon Ave, Clinton Hill/BedStuy

pilar

  • Okay, not exactly a café, but when I want a good Cuban café con leche for $2.50, I know where I’m going. Cuban coffee is a relatively new addiction since I went to Miami in spring 2013. And again, here is a place that takes me somewhere else; back there. Miami suited me far too well in warmth and indulgence, and it’/s almost alarming how the same cuisine can connect me to that time, place, and sensation again. This past summer, my roommate and I just sat on their little table out front and watched the world go by, with maduros, Cuban sandwiches and our coffees. It was one of the highlights of my summer, and when they eventually finish building their new location on Bedford and Greene (with the addition of a bar), then you’ll know where to find me.

The Hungry Ghost – 781 Fulton Ave, Fort Greene

hungryghost

  • I started coming here because my good friend Ivy, a Fort Greene local, always gushed over their brownies and coffee. It reminds “our” place; since she’s neck-deep in law books for winter finals these days, it’s the only place she has time to come up for air. It’s a fine place, a good neighborhood spot with well-made espresso drinks, lovely cider, and damn good pastries, if I do say so myself! I’ll always stop in whenever I’m in the neighborhood. Plus, they’re one of the few places that open early on a weekend morning – sometimes, you just need some R&R, and this is where I go to get it.

Corner Grind – 1183 Bedford Ave, BedStuy

  • The one thing I don’t like about this place is that it’s cash-only. Otherwise, I have no grievances against it. It’s still very much a neighborhood joint, sans extortionate prices. Their breakfast cup is to die for; if I’m having a delicate morning after a night out (when I wasn’t supposed to), I’ll stop into Corner Grind in the morning for this cup with grits, eggs, sausage and cheese. Perfection. Their granola is fantastic, too! They have WiFi and a nice long table to park at for a few hours, which makes it ideal for a lazy morning pre-work.

Bluestone Lane Collective Cafe – 55 Greenwich Ave, West Village

bluestonelane

  • I’m actually very proud of myself for this little find. One day in the summer, after shopping in SoHo (always a nightmare on a Saturday; I don’t know why I even bothered), I was pining for a place to sit down and write in my journal. I Yelp’d this place, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a Melbourne-concept café. I watch enough of the Travel Channel (loser!) to know that Melbourne does coffee well, so I tried it. To my surprise, again, everyone who works there is Australian… and they all happen to be very attractive. I sat down on a stool at the bar by the window, and within minutes I befriended the person next to me who’d just come back stateside after living in Melbourne for 6 months; he came in for the nostalgia. Later, two friends came to join me, and we relocated to a table on the other side of the room. We sat next to one of the owners and his fiancé, and not only did we entertain a long, friendly conversation about the space and the ideas that went into it, but he also let me try—from his own bottle—the rosé wine that they sell there (Juliette), which is now my favorite rosé, hands down. It’s just a friendly place to be; I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve since taken three other friends there, on three separate occasions, and I’ll always offer it up as a meeting place. The coffee lives up to its promise, and the food is clean, light, and delicious. I’ve never had a complaint against it.

Stumptown Coffee – 30 W 8th St, Greenwich Village

stumptown

  • My original default coffee spot in Manhattan. I discovered this Stumptown during my first winter storm in New York, so I’ll always associate it with this time of year. I love, beyond all else, the building itself. It’s gorgeous and so quintessentially ‘New York café life’. Their coffee is their mad science, so it goes without saying and with silent acknowledgement that their coffee is exquisite; I needn’t say more. This is actually my first New York locale whenever I wanted to blog, rather than write in my journal or work on an article, so I’m sure that I’ve written some things at this very place. Beyond their coffee, sometimes you just need a safe, beautiful haven to be inspired.

Ground Central – 155 E 52nd St, Midtown East

groundcentral

  • I’d been a regular at this place since three months after it first opened. I worked around the corner, and on the mornings when I had to come in two hours before everyone else, much to my chagrin, I would stop in there first for a cappuccino and a croissant. I’ve finished so many books there, a carryover from my favorite commuter pastttime. I’ve also written many a woeful page from my journal there, detailing the despair of my (then) employment. Some of my best ideas, therefore, were written there. In the evenings, they turn it into a tapas and wine place, and I used to take conference calls there (with a glass of French white in one hand). I got to know the baristas quite well, and though I don’t work in Midtown anymore, they remain some of my favorite people in New York. I used to cry to them about work, and some of the ‘quotes of they day’ they’d write on the sandwich board outside were written, I’d like to think, for me, as a pick-me-up. Etienne, the owner, was always so chivalrous and friendly, and he made a point to spoil me at every opportunity. When I brought some work colleagues there for a quick happy hour, he sent over complimentary hors d’oeurvres. They make all their pastries in-house. You’re made very acutely aware of the passion that goes into the performance there. I miss it, but at least I know where to default whenever I’m in the neighborhood.

FIKA – 600 Lexington Ave, Midtown East

fika

  • Two words: cardamom buns. I used to go to a Swedish coffee place in Edinburgh religiously when I was at school there, and my favorite thing was those damn cardamom buns. So, whenever I wanted to switch things up in the morning, or rather, when I wanted to satisfy a nostalgic craving, I’d go there. From my first visit, I became a ‘Friend of FIKA’ and was given a discount. I think they wanted you to be a believer; and that worked out just fine for me! Every time I’d come in thereafter, the manager would tell whoever was ringing me up, “Remember she’s a Friend of FIKA.” And, once, I was given a free cardamom bun fresh out of the oven because the barista knew how much I loved them. Sure, this place did nothing for my waistline, but again, that worked for me just fine. They also have an exquisite, lethal collection of chocolate truffles, which roughly translates to diet suicide.

Konditori – 114 Smith St, Cobble Hill

  • I was in here, finishing up a research project, the night of the Super Bowl last February. Konditori has been my “workplace” away from work since I first moved to New York. I used to sublet a room in Carroll Gardens, and when I was still in the finance world, I needed a place that opened at 6:30am (as much as it saddens me to admit). Clearly, I love Swedish coffee. It’s the closest thing I can find in coffee-form to crack cocaine. When I was in the throes of my final exams at uni, I was on Swedish coffee in the mornings, and Red Bull throughout the day. This place has a wonderful—and cheap!—filter coffee that does the job. Curling up with a cup of Johann! I also love their bagels. Ardently.

Prodigy Coffee – 33 Carmine St, West Village

prodigy

  • The only place I can find near work with a damn-good cappuccino for under $4. I don’t personally think that the staff in the mornings are the most friendly, but if I want good coffee and a place to sit by the window to reflect on my morning before work, this is where I go. It’s a great place to people watch. It’s a small little café off Carmine, where models, ad execs, and film producers traverse the sidewalks, and, in Prodigy, you get to sit inside on their French café-style chairs and wonder about the people passing by the window, with a nice hot coffee cupped inside your hands on a chilly New York winter morning. And you wonder why I go back every time?

Ground Support – 399 W Broadway, SoHo

groundsupport

  • If I want a place near work with a damn-good cappuccino for exactly $4, this is where I go. And it’s never just a flat $4, either; it’s the only place nearby that also sells the New York Times, so I’ll grab a coffee and the paper and sit on one of their long tables, half-reading about the world I belong to while half-listening to the conversations of the world around me. I’ve been going to this café since before I moved to New York; the first time was summer 2013, when I was only here visiting and exploring, laying down the dreams that would later be the foundation of my current reality. This place, therefore, has a special place in my heart. They also happen to be the only place in New York that has ever spelt my name correctly on my coffee cup!

The Frog’s Crown – 204 Spring St, South Village

  • This place is advertised online as Latin American/Greek fusion cuisine; so, naturally, I had to try it. By that promise, they mean that they sell empanadas of every variety alongside moussaka and baklava. I’m in heaven. It’s a very small place, but, again, if I’m looking for somewhere to read or write before work, I have options a-plenty, and this happens to be the one I’m most endeared to, for both its humility and its service. They’re the same people behind the register every day, and they’re always warm and friendly. Their empanadas also happen to be my go-to cure when my coworker comes into the office hungover and is in desperate need of remedy!
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