Positively 8th Street: Talkin’ New York Stumptown’s Brand New Cafe

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A lot has changed in the four years since Stumptown Coffee Roasters first landed in NYC. Since opening their espresso bar at the Ace Hotel specialty coffee in the United States has gained increasing respect as a serious culinary endeavor; Stumptown has taken on TSG Consumer Partners as investors; and the New York scene has exploded around them, with dozens of new cafes popping up, established home-town brands rapidly expanding, high-end restaurants starting to add quality coffee service, and fellow out-of-towners like Blue Bottle Coffee, Toby’s Estate and Intelligentsia turning to NYC as not just a far-flung outpost, but as a whole new province of their respective growth strategies.

Building on the success of Stumptown’s Ace Hotel espresso bar and their roasting operation in Red Hook, Stumptown has brought a full-scale cafe to Manhattan, in no less august a location than MacDougal and West 8th in Greenwich Village, the storied former home of 8th Street Books where Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg first met. This brand new cafe is arrestingly meticulous in its design, and combines a dedicated brewed-coffee showroom with a full cafe, creating a space that brings the Stumptown aesthetic and ethos firmly into the next stage of specialty coffee’s evolution in New York.

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Stumptown became synonymous with coffee in Portland, OR in part because of their engaging and comfortable cafe spaces, helping to foster a cafe culture that is now fully ingrained in the rhythms of that city. But in New York, while the Ace Hotel and its attached Stumptown espresso bar have certainly become a center for a hip clientele, the long lines and detached lobby seating space don’t quite fully capture the accessible, product-focused Stumptown vibe that many native Pacific Northwesterners – myself included – so closely associate with the brand.

At 30 West 8th, Stumptown has created a more intimate, engaging experience. The main cafe space is two to three times the size of the Ace, which allows for a larger more efficient bar, a row of seating, a communal table, and an expanded, more easily accessible retail selection. Attached to this space by a small hallway is a separate brew bar; modeled on the Stumptown Annex space in Portland, it’s a smaller space where you can go to learn more about the coffees Stumptown offers and try any of them on a variety of different brew methods.

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I used to live just 5 blocks from the old Annex space in Portland (which has since been moved to the new Stumptown HQ), and I first started to get into cupping going there all the time. So I’m excited to see Stumptown go with the split cafe / brew bar model; it is a smart choice for NYC that acknowledges some of the realities of coffee service in this city. The cafe portion of West 8th is certainly designed for comfortable hanging out, from the beautiful bench seating made from old church pews, to the free wifi and ample power-outlets, to the planned rack of magazines for reading. But make no mistake, this space is designed to handle massive volume. They’re expecting lines out the door, and the service flow is laid out like at the Ace Hotel—order at the centrally placed pastry-case and registers, and then receive your drink from one of two espresso machine stations—to rapidly supply a constant stream of people with their coffees and lattes. The front cafe space is going to be high-energy Manhattan, and I think the separate brew bar space will become a welcome respite for customers looking to really connect with their cup of coffee.

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The brew bar will offer every single coffee Stumptown is roasting at a given time (including more expensive Grand Cru lots) available on siphon, Aeropress, Chemex, Beehouse dripper, French press, and perhaps even more manual brewing methods down the line. Every brew device in use will also be available for sale. The gentleman running Stumptown’s new brew bar is named James Fairbrass, and he told me that the baristas there are being trained to give a “concierge” style of service, where the focus is not on dictating what coffee should be brewed how, but instead engaging the customer in conversation and helping them find the coffee experience they want.

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A lot of thought went into making the brew bar a flexible, attractive space suited to all sorts of coffee learning. There is a drink rail running along the wall that will also be used for public cuppings every day at 2pm, as well as special events like Stumptown’s Meet the Producers series. Single-origin espresso is offered on a La Marzocco GS3, which has been mounted on a lazy susan so that the barista can turn the machine to face the customer, allowing them to see what is going on and pull their own shots. For hot water delivery, they decided to go with instant hot InSinkErator taps, whose small form-factor allows them to be mounted along the brew bar rail so baristas never have to turn away from the customers to get water. To keep the brew water at the appropriate temperature they then use heavy-duty, attractively counter-mounted Cooktek induction burners. Two flush-mounted halogen siphon heaters, a Fetco HWB10 for cupping, a cold-brew tap, and, as in the cafe, a pair of Ditting grinders and a Mazzer Kony E Mod grinder complete the brew bar hardware selection.

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Though the two spaces are separated by a hallway, the stunning visual design by Portland-based Andee Hess of Osmose Design uses a tasteful progression of ceiling treatments to bridge the distance visually. Enter through the main doors at West 8th and you are greeted by a high, coffered, white painted wood ceiling. The ceiling drops down at the far end of the room, with a handmade plaster wallpaper pattern of raised chevrons flowing down the wall and covering the ceiling of the connecting space. This effectively pulls the customer in before giving way to a cozy beadboard ceiling in the brew bar.

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What Duane Sorenson and Andee Hess (who also designed Mr. Sorenson’s second Portland restaurant, Ava Gene’s) have done at West 8th feels like a culmination of the Stumptown aesthetic in many ways. The building itself was erected in 1838; all the windows have reproduction iron window screens in them, designed by Dan Funderburgh with Osmose, creating a true vintage shop look from the outside that carries on into the space. The inside is full of white oak millwork, from the bar to the pastry case to the card-catalog storage drawers that dot the walls. Shelves full of books are tucked into every corner. The millwork and construction was done by Radius Construction, neighbors of the Stumptown roastery in Redhook, who had to hoist the woodwork seven feet in the air to save it from the Hurricane Sandy flooding.

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White oak woodwork, tasteful patches of exposed brick on the walls, and the walnut herringbone floors do a great job of combining a sort of rustic Arts and Crafts warmth with the slick vintage feel of the Ace Hotel. This new space in Greenwich Village maintains some of the minimal modernist touches of Stumptown’s 12th Avenue cafe in Seattle or their Downtown Portland space, and Ms. Hess’s lighting choices play a big part in that. The main cafe space is filled with a series of huge white globes encased in netting for a vaguely nautical feel that echoes the Ace Hotel lighting, followed by more intimate brass lamps hanging in the intermediate space, with a large blond wood and brass lighting installation in the brew bar reflecting the heavy Danish Modern influence in many of Stumptown’s cafes.

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Behind the bar, the floor is raised 6.5 inches to allow for easier service over the large marble-topped bar, and dedicated stations have been made for Chemex to-order as well as Stumptown’s signature “French press airpot” service. Honestly my favorite detail in the whole cafe is the pastry-case, designed by Lizz Hudson. As a barista, I nearly teared up when I saw how easy it was to access and clean its different levels,  and how compartmentalized storage for service products and backup pastries is integrated into the design. The subtle brilliance of it all speaks to Ms. Hudson’s vast experience working in cafes. Guests can expect this case to be stocked with treats from Milk Bar, Ovenly, Ceci-Cela, and Donut Plant.

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Guests with dietary restrictions aren’t left out of the fun either: Gluten free brownies from choc., a bakery started by Monica Gray, a long-time Stumptown employee from Portland, are received pre-wrapped and are kept in the fridge, not the case, making them about as gluten-safe as any product can be in a shop that sells pastries. Much more than a diet trend, Stumptown wants to be a home for guests with even severe food allergies, and their commitment to carefully storing and serving treats from choc. is a testament to that.

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Stumptown’s cafe settings are synonymous with the La Marzocco line of espresso machines. To match the aesthetics of this new space, Mr. Sorenson wanted something that looked less “sporty” than the default La Marzocco Stradas or the Mistrals Stumptown uses in their other cafes. Alex Lambert, head Stumptown tech and the machines’ lead designer, collaborated with Jacob Ellul-Blake, a former engineer at La Marzocco, and a raft of different vendors to create two seriously tricked out Stradas. They came up with a gorgeous brass and oak look on the side, complemented by a matte black oxide conversion coating of the body (including the portafilters!), and a striking gold-leaf and mirrored glass Stumptown logo on the back. The glass work is hand-painted by Knuckles, something of a Stumptown design legend who has done all the sign work for Stumptown since they opened their very first Portland cafe in 1999. A set of LED lights illuminates this art when the machine is turned on.

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It’s hard not to be blown away by the polish of it all. Stumptown has clearly considered every little detail of this cafe, from the custom Tannoy speakers, to the intricately wallpapered bathroom, to the retro Marko Kwartet chairs. The cafe bar is designed for any crowd NYC can throw at it, and in the brew bar they’ve put a lot of thought into creating an engaging educational experience, made even more accessible by the small-town prices – $3 for an Aeropress! The shot of the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Chelbessa I had was sweet, crystal clear, and intensely aromatic.

It’s exciting to see what Stumptown can do when they have the time, space and money to create something exceptional. You know what’s even more exciting to me though? As stunning as West 8th may be, I wasn’t surprised by the level of its execution– New York City’s coffee scene has come so far, so fast, that this sort of daring and polish is only to be expected from one of the industry’s biggest and most important North American players. This is the Stumptown cafe that New York deserves.

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Original photography by Aaron Frey for Sprudge.com. More of Mr. Frey’s coffee photography and writing is available via FRSHGRND.

Alex Bernson is a staff writer for Sprudge.com.

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