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An Homage to New York City’s Lost Coffee Shops

The Empire State Building in New York City, seen at dusk looking south from the top of the Rockefeller Center As I was wandering around New York City on my most recent trip, I strolled along W 20th Street in Chelsea, one time home to an old favourite, Café Grumpy, which I’d been particularly looking forward to re-visiting. On seeing the gutted interior of the now closed shop, I got to thinking about some of my other favourite NYC coffee shops which had closed over the years.

To my surprise, this turned out to be a rather long list, which led me to make this post, an homage to New York City’s lost coffee shops. Some of these were victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, while others fell foul of landlords who didn’t want to renew the lease. One is even a success story, with Café Integral closing its original location inside a clothing store to open its own coffee shop a couple of blocks away.

Whatever the reason for their closures, you can find the full list below, each with a link to my original post, which go all the way back to my first Coffee Spot visit to New York City in 2013.

Bluebird Coffee Shop

The Bluebird Coffee Shop logo as written in the window of the shop, bluebird in lower case blue, COFFEE SHOP in upper case white.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.

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Box Kite

An espresso in a white cup from Box Kite CoffeeBox Kite is a relatively new player on the New York coffee scene, occupying a small, cosy spot on St Marks Place in the East Village, two blocks east from old favourite I Am Coffee and just across Tompkins Square from Ninth Street Espresso. Opening on January 1st this year, Box Kite is, dare I say it, more European-style coffee shop than American, offering coffee and wine in the day, with food in the evening. This is all served with a touch of elegance that reminded me of the likes of London’s Notes and Fernandez & Wells.

Seating is very limited, both in the number of seats and in what’s available. While you can come to Box Kite for a romantic, candle-lit dinner, don’t expect to find yourself sitting at a table, gazing across at your loved one. Seating at Box Kite is strictly at the counter or on stools at one of two very small bars. That said, it’s the ideal place to sit and drink coffee!

I’m indebted to Lee Gaze for recommending Box Kite, which he said was so good he walked two miles in a blizzard to get to it. You can’t get better than that!

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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 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.

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Café Grumpy, Nolita

The Cafe Grumpy logo from the bottom of the menu on the wall of the Nolita branch.Café Grumpy has become my favourite New York City coffee shop/roastery chain, particularly since I discovered the Lower East Side location a few minutes’ walk from my usual hotel. So I was delighted when I met up with Simon and Gemma, fellow coffee aficionados who I know from Instagram, and they told me about a new branch of Café Grumpy, conveniently located just around the corner from their hotel in Little Italy.

Located on Mott Street, Café Grumpy opened in the early summer, 2016, several months after my last visit to New York, so I didn’t feel too bad about not having known about it. It’s in an area already rich with coffee, just a couple of blocks down from another favourite, Gimme! Coffee, around the corner from old friends, Caffé Roma, and one street from the lovely Café Integral.

In keeping with the Café Grumpy philosophy, all the branches, no matter how large or small, carry the same full coffee offering, with the house-blend, Heartbreaker, joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso, while on pour-over, there are multiple single-origins, plus decaf, supplemented by bulk-brew for those in a hurry. There’s also a range of tea, plus a selection of cakes and pastries if you’re hungry.

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Café Integral, American Two Shot

A single-serve Kalita Wave filter at Cafe Integral, New York City, seen from above.Café Integral is not somewhere that you easily stumble upon. I found it thanks to several recommendations, not least from my friends Heather & Tim, who I stay with in New Jersey (the recommendation was specifically from Tim, who is a semi-regular there). It’s actually across the street from one of my New York favourites, Gasoline Alley, so I must have walked past it many times before my visit. In defence of my usually infallible coffee radar, it’s tucked away inside a clothing store, American Two Shot, with only an A-board outside to let you know it’s there.

Other than its location, Café Integral’s main claim to fame is that it only serves Nicaraguan coffee, its owners, the Vega family, having close ties with several farms in the country. There are now two coffee shops in New York, and another in Chicago, which makes it a national chain. Sort of. All the coffee is sourced in Nicaragua and roasted in a facility over on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. There’s a blend on espresso plus two single-origins, a pour-over using the Kalita Wave, with the other available on bulk-brew. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a selection of cakes and cookies.

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Everyman Espresso, Soho

A gorgeous cortado in a glass, made with the Rustico blend from Counter Culture at Everyman Coffee in New York CityEveryman Espresso is a chain of precisely two (now three) coffee shops in New York City, the original in the East Village, this one on West Broadway in Soho and a third in Brooklyn. I visited the Soho branch largely because it was more convenient, given where I was staying, plus it was the one that several baristas in other coffee shops had recommended.

There’s no obvious menu in Everyman, something I first came across in La Colombe, a neat tactic which means you have to engage with the baristas. Unlike La Colombe, however, there is a printed menu; it’s just kept under the counter so you have to ask for it if you need it.

Everyman Espresso’s tag line is “damn fine coffee”, but it could, in the words of Amanda, my barista, be “damn fine everything”. Not only does Everyman have damn fine espresso, as one would expect, which comes from a very sexy La Marzocco La Strada, but there’s damn fine hand-poured and batch brew filter as well. According to Amanda, there’s damn fine tea (which I didn’t try), to go with damn fine staff and damn fine surroundings. And damn fine Wifi too…

It certainly lived up to its billing…

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Gasoline Alley, Grand Street

A shot of Intelligentsia's Black Cat seasonal espresso blend served by Gasoline Alley in a white cup with oversized handle, the beautifully-mottled crema clearly visible.I first discovered New York City's Gasoline Alley in 2013, when I visited the original branch on Lafayette Street. This, the second branch, which opened in 2014, is just around the corner from one of my regular breakfast spots, the Landmark Coffee Shop (a very typical American diner). The original Gasoline Alley could actually be an alley and, while the same is true of this one with doors at either end, it’s more corridor than alley. Considerably smaller than the original, there’s space for two bar chairs at its solitary window-bar, with a pair of benches outside, one for each window.

I much prefer the atmosphere in this Gasoline Alley. However, where it wins hands down, just like the original, is that it serves Intelligentsia coffee and serves it extremely well. In fact, it might have served me the best shot of Intelligentsia’s seasonal Black Cat espresso blend that I’ve ever had!

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Gimme! Coffee, Mott Street

An espresso in a proper gimme! coffee cup, on the bench outside the Mott Street branch.Gimme! Coffee is both a roaster and a regional coffee shop chain with four branches in upstate New York, two in Brooklyn and the solitary branch in Manhattan on Mott Street. It’s been around since 2000, while the Manhattan outlet opened in 2008, making Gimme! Coffee a comparatively long-established player in the New York coffee scene (unless you compare it to somewhere like Caffé Roma!).

The Manhattan branch is essentially a takeaway place, although I got lucky with the weather and had a chance to sit outside while savouring my espresso. At a pinch, you could stand inside and drink your coffee, but when I tried that (while chatting to the staff) I found that I was constantly getting in the way of other customers.

For somewhere so small, Gimme! Coffee packs a lot in though, including bags of charm and character. As a result, instead of just being somewhere to grab a coffee to go, it’s established itself as a real asset to the neighbourhood. It’s the sort of place I’d make a point of going to if I lived in the area, even if it was only for a couple of minutes a day.

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Gimme! Coffee, Roebling Street

The Gimme! Coffee logo, taken from the awning above the shop on Roebling Street in Brooklyn.I discovered Gimme! Coffee on my first Coffee Spot visit to New York in 2013, when I visited the Mott Street branch in Manhattan. However, it took me another three years before I explored Gimme! Coffee’s Brooklyn heritage, when I visited Roebling Street in Williamsburg. Ironically, this is the newest of three New York City branches, having only opened in 2011, while the first (and other) Brooklyn branch has been around since 2003, the company itself starting in upstate New York in 2000.

Roebling Street has a simple, rectangular layout, with the door at the right, the counter at the back and a smattering of tables in the space between the two. Resisting the urge to cram too much in, it’s a quiet, friendly spot with a sense of space. There’s also some outdoor seating on the (relatively) quiet street.

Gimme! Coffee roasts all its own beans with a house-blend (Leftist), single-origin guest (Colombian) and decaf (another single-origin Colombian) on espresso. These are joined by two more single-origins on bulk-brew and third as a pour-over using the Kalita Wave. There’s also a range of teas from Metolius in Oregon and a selection of cakes and pastries if you are hungry.

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I Am Coffee

The I Am Coffee logo on St Mark's Place, New York CityNormally I do my research when trying a Coffee Spot for the first time, but every so often I walk past somewhere and that’s enough for me. So it was with I Am Coffee: I was actually en-route to another Coffee Spot when I saw it while walking down St Mark’s Place (in case you’re wondering, St Mark’s Place is what E 8thSt is called for the three blocks between 3rd Avenue and Tompkins Square; I thought only us Brits did that with our street names!).

The first thing to catch my eye was the sign: calling your coffee shop “I Am Coffee” is enough to get my attention any day. It’s a bit of a challenge, really. Choosing “I Am Coffee” means you either have a hell of a lot of front, or you really know about coffee. Fortunately, Giovanni, the man behind I Am Coffee, knows about coffee. I mean, he REALLY knows about coffee.

Standing in I Am Coffee and talking with Giovanni was the coffee highlight of my time in NYC on the recent trip and that’s not counting the coffee, or the place itself. It’s a must visit!

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L.A. Burdick, New York City

The store-front of L.A. Burdick on W20th Street, New York CityFor today’s Wednesday-Saturday Supplement, we’re staying in New York City with L.A. Burdick. Like Monday’s Coffee Spot, Stumptown on West 8th Street, L.A. Burdick is another out-of-town incomer, although this time it hasn’t had to come as far as the West Coast. Originally from Walpole, New Hampshire, I first came across L.A. Burdick in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when a friend tipped me off about it a couple of years ago.

For those not in the know, L.A. Burdick is a chocolate shop, but not any old chocolate shop. L.A. Burdick has made its name selling high quality chocolate and, through its four in-house cafes, equally high-quality drinking chocolate. Although it does fairly good coffee (and tea, which I’m not qualified to comment on), in my personal opinion, you’d be mad to come here and have anything other than the hot chocolate.

It also sells cakes and pastries, which, it seems to me, is complete overkill. As regular readers will know, I am rather partial to a slice of cake or three. However, having once described L.A. Burdick hot chocolate as a “heart attack in a cup”, the last thing I want to accompany one is more calories!

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Parlor Coffee

A simple blackboard with "Parlor Coffee | Serving Daily | Back of Barber-shop" written in white block capitals.Walking along Brooklyn’s Havemeyer Street, on my way from Northerly Coffee to Gimme! Coffee, something caught my eye at the street’s northern end. It looked like an old-fashioned barbershop, but a sign in the window, plus an A-board outside, proclaimed it to be the home of Parlor Coffee. A little bell rang in the back of my mind. Hadn’t my friend, Greg, of CoffeeGuru App fame, told me about somewhere in the back of a barbershop? Intrigued, I headed inside.

Persons of Interest is the name of the barbershop in question and Parlor Coffee is indeed a lovely little coffee shop, tucked away at the back in what may have been an old storeroom. There’s room enough for a one-group Kees van der Westen Speedster espresso machine (plus a single grinder), serving single-origin coffee roasted in-house by Parlor. An unexpected bonus is that your coffee comes in a proper cup!

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Pushcart Coffee, East Broadway

The eponymous pushcart outside Pushcart Coffee on East Broadway and ClintonStanding on the corner of Clinton Street and East Broadway, Pushcart Coffee is not, as the name might suggest, a coffee cart, but is, in fact, a lovely little coffee shop. Better still, it’s a couple of blocks from the Chinatown hotel I normally stay in when I’m in New York, which makes it a great first stop in the morning. In Pushcart’s defence, the three-wheeled cycle-powered cart which sits outside and gives the store its name, is in regular use, taking coffee to the people at events around New York.

Pushcart Coffee is rooted in its neighbourhood, using local produce where possible and baking much of it on the premises. It’s also in a lovely old building which used to be a butcher’s shop. It’s pretty small, but nonetheless manages a cosy, friendly atmosphere. However, the main focus is on the coffee and I have to say that I was impressed, particularly with Pushcart’s speciality, the cortado, which forms the perfect compliment for the Stumptown Coffee.

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Underline Coffee

The Underline Coffee sign hanging outside the front of the street under the High Line on W20th Street in New York.I recommend walking New York’s High Line to every visitor: that there’s so much excellent coffee along the way, starting with Blue Bottle Coffee at the southern end and continuing with the likes of Intelligentsia in the High Line Hotel, is an added bonus. Into that mix comes today’s Coffee Spot, Underline Coffee, which has been gracing its spot almost directly under the High Line on W20th Street (and across the road from the High Line Hotel) since 2014.

I first visited it in 2016, but failed to write it up for a variety of reasons, not least because shortly after my visit, Underline started roasting its own coffee under the Apes & Peacocks brand, thus rendering me out of date before I’d even put finger to keyboard. So when I finally got back to New York after a two-year absence, I made a return to Underline a top priority.

It’s an awesome spot, serving a house-blend on espresso and bulk-brew, with a range of single-origins available as either espresso or pour-over. This is backed up with tea, cakes and a small selection of things on toast, all served in a space that’s a cross between corridor and basement.

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Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to New York City for more great Coffee Spots, all of which are, to the best of my knowledge, actually still open!

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