Third Rail Coffee, Greenwich Village

The front of Third Rail Coffee on Sullivan Street, New York City.Third Rail Coffee has been part of the New York speciality coffee scene for some time now. A chain of precisely two, this branch, in Greenwich Village, is the original, having opened seven years ago. It’s a small spot, not much bigger than Café Grumpy’s Lower East Side branch where I had started the day, with space inside for maybe 12.

The coffee’s from North Carolina’s Counter Culture, the Los Rosales single-origin Colombian on espresso, joined by a guest roaster. This guest spot focuses on East Coast roasters, exemplified by the choice during my visit, Boston’s George Howell. There’s a single-origin (sometimes blend) on bulk-brew, with a choice of four single-origins through the Chemex. These change every couple of months and are chalked up on boards next to the menu. As is often the case in the US, the focus is firmly on the coffee, with cookies if you’re hungry.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • New York City's original branch of Third Rail Coffee on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village.
  • There's really not a lot to Third Rail. This is the view from the corner opposite the door...
  • ... while this is the view looking from the door towards the counter at the back.
  • There's a bench running along an exposed brick wall to the left of the door...
  • ... which runs the length of the wall. What look like they might be stools are in fact tables.
  • There are three of them in all.
  • There's another bench along the window to the right of the door...
  • ... which continues along the right-hand wall
  • There are a total of three tables on this side too.
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot.
  • There is always an art display on the walls which changes on a regular basis.
  • This time last year (when I was there) the exhibtion was 'The New Europeans'.
  • The flowers are a nice touch.
  • The rope on the pipes isn't decoration, by the way. It's to stop you burning yourself!
  • There's a set of retail shelves at the back on the left .
  • Counter Culture, the house roaster, is prominantly displayed...
  • ... while there are also bags of coffee from the guest roaster, in this case, George Howell.
  • There are more bags of coffee for sale on the counter...
  • ... while these are stocks for the coffee shop itself.
  • The counter at the back: a busy, but well-laid out spot.
  • A rather poor shot of the menu, with the four filter choices chalked on boards to the right.
  • There are also a couple of options on espresso.
  • My coffee, a Tairora from Papua New Guinea, through the Chemex and served in a tall mug.
  • I leave you with this view of my coffee.
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Third Rail Coffee’s been on my radar for some time, but in a city as big as New York, it often comes down to opportunity. One block from Caffe Reggio, I’d hoped to visit two years ago, but that was the trip of “spend-two-days-feeling-like-you-are-going-to-die”, so it was always going to be a coffee shop too far that time around. However, on my most recent trip, Third Rail was definitely a possiblity. When Adam, the barista from Café Integral, recommended it, that made up my mind.

Third Rail has a compact, square layout, the entire storefront occupied by windows stretching from the ceiling almost to the floor, a recessed glass door offset to the left. This creates a slight asymmetry, with a short (one-person) window-bench to the left and a longer (two-person) window-bench to the right, both of which continue along their respective walls.

The seating is arrayed around theses broad, wooden benches. To the left of the door, there are three small, round tables lining the exposed brick wall, along with a couple of bar stools. On the right, the bench occupies the window and maybe half the right-hand wall, a whitewashed, plastered affair, before stopping at the takeaway station. Here there are two of the round tables in the window and one against the right-hand wall, this time with no stools. In all, if everyone squeezed up, you might be able to get 12 people in, with maybe two more on a small bench outside on the pavement in front of the right-hand window.

Just be aware that twin hot water pipes run up by the walls, one at either end of the window. These have rope wound around the lower part which makes them a good option to warm your hands on, but don’t touch the bare metal above since it’s very, very hot (I found out the hard way).

The counter occupies the back of the store, with the till on the left, two-group La Marzocco on the right, while a hatch in the middle allows the baristas to escape. In this respect, the door is well-placed since it leads you in a straight line to the till.

Third Rail had a cosy, subdued atmosphere, perhaps my favourite of the day, with a quiet background soundtrack. The exposed-brick walls, wooden floorboards, dark wooden counter and whitewashed ceiling all added to a feeling of snugness.

During my visit, Third Rail had a single-origin Colombian from Kuichi on bulk-brew, while the Chemex options were a Nicaraguan (Los Colinas), an old favourite, the Burundi Buziraguhindwa, a Rwandan Jarama and a Tairora from Papua New Guinea, which I selected since you still don’t see that much coffee from there. As is the fashion in the US, it was served in a tall, cylindrical mug. Well-balanced, I found that it came into its own a little as it cooled, with the flavours evolving nicely. As an aside, I was pleased to see the espresso drinks being served with a glass of water.

Monday 07:00 – 20:00 Roaster Counter Culture (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 20:00 Seating Benches, Bench (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 20:00 Food Cookies
Thursday 07:00 – 20:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 20:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 08:00 – 20:00 Wifi No
Sunday 08:00 – 20:00 Power No
Chain Local Visits 17th February 2016

Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to New York City for more great Coffee Spots.

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2 thoughts on “Third Rail Coffee, Greenwich Village

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