Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based coffee roaster, with cafés in Chicago (5), Los Angeles (4), Boston (2), Austin (1) and New York (1), has a place close to my heart. I visited the downtown branch in the Monadnock building on my first trip to Chicago in 2003, long before the Coffee Spot came to be. I’ve been a regular visitor there ever since (if visiting each time I’ve been to Chicago counts as regular!) and I’ve enjoyed Intelligentsia’s coffee elsewhere (for example, Gasoline Alley). Naturally, I jumped at the chance to actual visit Intelligentsia proper in New York.
Located in the lobby of the High Line Hotel, just across 10th Avenue from the High Line itself (and across the road from Underline Coffee), it’s one of the most sumptuous coffee-shop locations I’ve seen, giving Stumptown on West 8th Street a run for its money. As well as the permanent zinc-topped coffee counter in the lobby, a refurbished 1963 Citroën coffee truck sits out front in the hotel grounds for those who don’t want to wander inside.
The Citroën serves a limited range of espresso and pour-over coffee. Inside, there’s a choice of the famous Black Cat seasonal espresso blend, plus a single-origin espresso, another single origin on pour-over (Chemex or V60) and decaf.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Intelligentsia has been sharing the lobby of the High Line Hotel since 2013, a sensible arrangement which is being adopted by various high-end hotels around the world. It provides the hotel’s guests with first class coffee, while the coffee shop has readymade seating and a discerning customer base.
As well as the lobby, when the weather’s good, you can take your coffee outside, where there are two rows of tables at the front of the High Line Hotel. Alternatively, you can buy your coffee from the Citroën van at the far left-hand end (when it’s open), rather than having to go inside. You can also go through the lobby to a delightful, secluded, shaded courtyard behind the hotel. This has plenty of seating and, when the both outside areas are fully open, they can accommodate 120 people!
The lobby itself is effectively a long, wide, high-ceilinged corridor with doors at either end. If you come in from 10th Avenue, you enter at the front, the doors at the far end giving access to the rear courtyard. Intelligentsia, with its zinc-topped, amazingly-tiled counter, occupies a large, low-ceilinged alcove off to the left, towards the back of the lobby. If you don’t want to (or, in my case, can’t) sit outside and there are no free seats in the lobby, then you can take your coffee at a little L-shaped bar opposite the counter.
However, the lobby has by far the best seating, with sofas to the left and right as you come in. There’s another L-shaped sofa opposite the counter at the back on the right, although it’s worth noting that only the sofas on the right have coffee tables (and typewriters). There’s an airlock system to keep the heat in during the winter, but when the weather’s warmer, there’s a table in the airlock itself which would make a nice option, along with another (octagonal) table immediately to your left as you exit the airlock, just before the first sofa.
I loved the lobby, with its bare brick walls, tiled floor, wooden panels and steel girders holding up the high ceiling. This décor went well with the gorgeous leather sofas, stools, marble-topped coffee tables and old rugs. It’s worth noting that the space still serves as a lobby for the hotel, although you would never know it at a casual glance. However, there are always a couple of hotel staff on duty, unobtrusively checking guests in on an iPad. To me, it feels much more like a coffee shop and I found it relaxed and friendly (although for different take, see what my friend Greg, of Coffee Guru App, made of it).
Turning to the coffee, I’ve long been a fan of the Black Cat seasonal espresso blend, but having just had a superb example of it at Gasoline Alley on Grand Street, I wanted to challenge myself, opting for the single-origin Colombian. Served with a glass of water, it was really fruity and zesty (not a word I often use with espresso). I definitely experienced a “boom” moment with the first sip, although it calmed down a bit after that as it cooled. It was very much a front-of-the-mouth taste: interesting, subtle and very different (in a good way) from what I’m used to. Highly recommended.
|HIGH LINE HOTEL • 180 10TH AVENUE • NEW YORK CITY • NY 10011 • USA|
|www.intelligentsiacoffee.com||+1 212 933 9736|
|Monday||07:00 – 18:00||Roaster||Intelligensia (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 18:00||Seating||Sofas, Bar|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 18:00||Food||Cake|
|Thursday||07:00 – 18:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 19:00||Payments||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||07:00 – 19:00||Wifi||Free|
|Sunday||07:00 – 18:00||Power||No|
|Chain||Yes||Visits||9th March 2015|
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.
You can also see what I made of the other Intelligentsia locations that I’ve visited.
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I remember visiting the intellentsia outlet around 5 years ago in New York and when one of our roasters visited the East Coast in September to train with the Boot Coffee Camp, he spent some time in LA and visited both outlets in Pasadena and Venice beach. Each one has that attention to detail that is so typical of the US coffee scene!
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