Bluebird Coffee Shop is a tiny spot on East 1st Street, just by the junction of 1st Avenue and East Houston. Even though I was looking for it, I walked straight past it the first time, that’s how small it is. And, if I’m honest, I wasn’t paying attention. However, it is a lovely little place, well worth hunting down, in an area which already has several great choices.
Serving Counter Culture coffee either through the espresso machine or via the obligatory bulk-brew drip filter, Bluebird also manages to pack cake and a fairly decent breakfast/lunch menu (which it stops serving at three o’clock) into its small space. What’s even more impressive is that it’s all baked on the premises in the kitchen downstairs (with the exception of the croissants)!
The other outstanding thing about Bluebird was its friendliness. Other than I Am Coffee, which is so small you have to talk to everyone, Bluebird might be the friendliest coffee shop I’ve been to on my US travels. Starting with the Barista, Ben, and running through the customers, everyone seemed happy to chat, but not in a pushy way. It is pretty much the perfect coffee shop atmosphere.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Coffee shops in central New York City tend to the small side, probably a result of high rents. Examples from my previous trip include Gimme! Coffee, Gasoline Alley and the sublime I Am Coffee (winner of the 2013 Smallest Coffee Spot Award). Often this lack of space corresponds to a lack of seating, but not so for Bluebird, which, for me, strikes the perfect balance: small enough to be cosy, but with just enough space for a few tables without being cramped.
However, the joy starts outside, with a lovely brick exterior on the quiet 1st Street, just far enough back from busy Houston Street to make sitting on one of two stools at the outside bar feasible. The bar is mirrored by another inside the window with a nice view of First Park. This is to your left as you come in, with the counter occupying the back right-hand corner, cake on the right, La Marzocco on the left. The only other seating is a bench along the left-hand wall with four small, round tables, each with an additional stool. If you really pushed it, you could seat 10!
Generous windows and a glass door flood Bluebird with light, generating a great sense of space in somewhere so small. This is helped by a high ceiling and relatively uncluttered interior. It was looking particularly lovely during the early spring afternoon I was there, the sunshine rendering the two bare light bulbs and one light-fitting rather superfluous.
The interior is laid out in dark wood tones: the counter, bench and floorboards are all wood, while the walls are whitewashed, with a bare brick wall to the left and (in a nice touch) a strip of bluebird wallpaper behind the counter. The bright-red, two-group La Marzocco therefore cuts a striking figure on the counter. With its rows of blue cups, it adds just the right amount of colour without being discordant. The atmosphere is completed by a quiet sound track playing in the background.
So, to the coffee. Having never knowingly come across Counter Culture before this trip, I now can’t seem to move without falling over it. Boston, Philadelphia and now New York, the first new coffee shop I’ve visited in each city served Counter Culture!
Bluebird has a stripped-back coffee menu with commendably short drinks: espresso (2oz), macchiato (3oz), cortado (4oz), flat white/cappuccino (6 oz) and small latte (7 oz). The largest espresso drink is a large latte (12 oz), while the filter coffee comes in three sizes (8, 12 & 16oz). The drinks are rounded off by hot chocolate and tea.
I had a very fine cortado, with good milk structure. Neither milk nor coffee dominated, but instead formed a very coherent whole: smooth, neither too bitter nor too exciting, it was pretty much the perfect cortado. The coffee, Pedro Quispe, is a single-origin Bolivian unique to Bluebird, with the single-origin Nueva Llusta going through the drip-filter, a bulk-brew machine in the far corner. I didn’t get to try it, but the barista, Ben, reckons it’s as good a hand-pour (and in fairness, Bluebird doesn’t really have the space for hand-pour).
I finished things off with a cake (canelé) which was Ben’s parting gift. It was lovely, a rich, full body, but not too sweet, just what I needed.
|72 EAST 1st STREET • NEW YORK • NY 10003 • USA|
|www.bluebirdcoffeeshop.com||+1 212 260 1879|
|Monday||08:00 – 19:00||Seating||Benches, stools, small tables, bar|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 19:00||Food||Breakfast, Cake|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 19:00||Service||Counter|
|Thursday||08:00 – 19:00||Cards||Mastercard, Visa ($10 minimum)|
|Friday||08:00 – 19:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Saturday||09:00 – 19:00||Power||No|
|Sunday||09:00 – 19:00||Mobile||N/A|
|Chain||No||Visits||12th March 2014|
If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, check out the rest of New York City’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to New York City.
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