Café Grumpy, Chelsea

The somewhat unwelcoming Cafe Grumpy sign: an elongated oval, stylised as a face, with frowning eyebrows and a downturned mouth.I was introduced to Café Grumpy by Bluestone Lane, who told me about their fellow Aussies when I visited the Bluestone’s Broad Street branch. Two days later I was looking for somewhere for lunch, so I sought out Café Grumpy’s Chelsea branch on New York’s W 20th Street.

The first Café Grumpy opened in Brooklyn in 2005, while this is the second (of eight) branches of the bizarrely-named chain (I say this because, generally speaking, I find Aussies to be one of the most consistently upbeat of peoples, so to call your coffee shop chain “Café Grumpy” takes a certain sense of irony). Café Grumpy roasts all its own coffee in a dedicated roastery and has made its name with its pour-over coffee, which, in the land of the obligatory flask of bulk-brew, is still something of a novelty.

If you like your espresso-based drinks, you’re also well-catered for, with the Heartbreaker blend being joined on the Synesso espresso machine by a single-origin (a Kenya Peaberry during my visit) and decaf (from Costa Rica). There are also four single-origins on the pour-over menu (a Guatemalan, a Mexican and two Kenyans), one of which is also available through the aforementioned bulk-brewer.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Cafe Grumpy on New York's tree-lined W 20th St, in a lovely, four-storey brick building.
  • Check out the benches and potted shrubs either side of the recessed door.
  • It looks just as lovely coming from the other direction.
  • Grumpy by name, grumpy by nature.
  • Interesting chalk-board on the window to the left of the door.
  • The view from just inside the door: Cafe Grumpy is long and surprisingly thin.
  • The view from just in front of the right-hand window.
  • There is a neat little bench seat here, and one on the other side.
  • Most of the seating, like these high tables, is along the wall opposite the counter.
  • There are also some low tables right at the front and here at the back...
  • The last of the seating is another pair of high tables right at the back.
  • A typical example of one of the low tables at the front...
  • ... while this one is towards the back...
  • ... and this high table is right at the back.
  • However, just as you think that you've run out of seating, there's a long corridor...
  • ... and a whole extra room, drenched with sunlight, right at the back.
  • There are two rows of tables back here, one on each side.
  • It really is bright back here with windows facing south-east and south-west.
  • Right at the back, there's a pair of French windows...
  • ... which lead into this delightful courtyard. Perhaps not at its best on a snowy, March day...
  • ... but come the warmer weather, I can imagine it's a great spot.
  • Less so on the day I was there though.
  • Mind you, maybe if you wrapped up warm...
  • An alternative view of the courtyard, with the door to Cafe Grumpy off to the left.
  • Back inside and it's time to head back down the long corridor to the front...
  • ... and here we are again.
  • The walls are liberally decorated with various pictures, such as these in the back...
  • ... and this one in the front.
  • There's also quite a bit of greenery.
  • The massive mirror on the wall opposite the counter gives Cafe Grumpy a sense of space.
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot.
  • Naturally there's a shelf of coffee-kit for sale. Plus coffee, of course, all roasted in-house.
  • To business. The hot drinks menu.
  • And, in case you missed it: no laptops. Perhaps that's why they're grumpy...
  • The counter is a three-part affair...
  • ... with the cakes, unusually, right at the back, the bulk-brewers on the wall behind.
  • Next comes the pour-over coffee station, which also doubles for tea...
  • ... which is tucked away behind the counter.
  • The coffee (and tea) choices of the day are tapped up on the cake cabinet.
  • House-blend, single-origin & decaf on espresso, 4 single-origins on pour-over (+ bulk-brew)
  • The coffee beans are also on the counter if you want to have a look at them.
  • Finally, the espresso machine's right at the front, making things easy for takeaway customers.
  • There are three grinders (house-blend, rotating single-origin & decaf).
  • A behind-the-scenes view of the Synesso espresso machine in action.
  • Multi-taking barista.
  • Nice latte art.
  • However, since Cafe Grumpy does pour-over, that's what I had: a mug of the Los Santos.
  • My lunch: a feta & spinach turnover and a slice of Aussie banana bread.
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Café Grumpy occupies a four-storey brick building on New York’s W 20th Street, a few blocks from the Highline and Intelligentsia at the High Line Hotel. In many ways a typical New York street, it’s a million miles away in look and feel from the stereotypical high-rise canyons of Midtown and the tip of Manhattan.

From the street, Café Grumpy looks to be fairly sizeable, a pair of generous windows flanking an inset door. However, appearances can be deceptive. Although Café Grumpy is quite big, it achieves this by being long and thin, one of the longest I’ve seen (compared to its width). This isn’t helped by having a large chunk taken up (unavoidably) by the counter on one side and by an unexplained loss of a similar amount of space opposite it.

Initially, all looks good, bench-seats occupying the windows either side of the door. There’s space for three small, round, low tables on the left before Café Grumpy inexplicably narrows, just where the counter starts on the opposite side. This leaves a narrow, central corridor, Café Grumpy just managing to slip in a row of high, round tables with bar stools. The wall here also sports a large mirror, which at least gives the illusion of space, although that’s partly offset by the low ceiling.

Things get a little better towards the back where a space opens up on the left, Café Grumpy quickly filling it with three more low tables before it inexplicably disappears again. Until a few years ago, that was that, but then the café was extended by a (very) long corridor which leads to a more generously-proportioned, sun-drenched back room with a beautifully-tiled floor and enough space for a short row of round, four-person tables on either side. Finally, a pair of French doors at the back leads to a beautiful, sheltered courtyard with a handful of tables and garden furniture that was, sadly, off-limits due to snow.

I feel I’m doing Café Grumpy a disservice with my description because, despite the name, it’s actually a really relaxed, friendly spot. The front’s fairly bustling, but cosy enough, while the back is quieter and, I suspect, come the warmer months, the courtyard’s a gem.

The real draw, however, is the coffee. Having had my flat white fix at Bluestone Lane, I was keen to sample the pour-over, going for the Los Santos, which is drawn from multiple small producers in Guatemala. As is often the case in America, this arrived in a mug rather than a carafe, although it had the novelty of being a glass one.

Since I was also eating, I wanted something fairly robust with a bit of body that would stand up to the flavours of the food and my Los Santos did not disappoint. However, it lacked complexity and I was left wondering if I shouldn’t have tried one the two Kenyans on offer.

Café Grumpy only offers cold food, a mixture of cakes and savouries. I had a feta and spinach turnover for lunch, supplemented by a slice of (non-toasted) banana bread. Together they made an interesting contrast, the light puff-pastry of the turnover offset by the dense wholemeal banana bread. I enjoyed them both though, particularly the banana bread, which was moist and had an excellent consistency.

December 2016: Café Grumpy Chelsea was a runner-up for the 2016 Best Overseas Coffee Spot Award.

224 W 20TH STREET • NEW YORK CITY • NY 10011 • USA
www.cafegrumpy.com +1 212-255-5511
Monday 07:00 – 20:00 Roaster Cafe Grumpy (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 20:00 Seating Tables, Benches (front), Tables (courtyard)
Wednesday 07:00 – 20:00 Food Cakes, Savouries
Thursday 07:00 – 20:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 20:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 07:30 – 20:00 Wifi No
Sunday 07:30 – 19:30 Power No
Chain Local Visits 9th March 2015

You can also see what I made of Café Grumpy’s Lower East Side and Fashion District branches.

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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