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 batch-brew, is still something of a novelty.
If you like your espresso-based drinks, you’re also well-catered for, with the Heartbreaker seasonal blend 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 batch-brewer.
September 2022: sadly Café Grumpy has had to close its Chelsea location after the building’s new landlord wouldn’t renew the lease. Café Grumpy itself is still going strong with 10 New York City locations, another in New Jersey and one more in Miami, but the absence of its Chelsea coffee shop will leave a large gap in the heart of W 20th Street.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
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|
|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||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||07:30 – 20:00||Wifi||No|
|Sunday||07:30 – 19:30||Power||No|
|Chain||Local||Visits||9th March 2015, 8th March 2020|
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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