West Side Story: New York Sees A Coffee Shop Epidemic West Of 9th Avenue

west-side

What is the far west side of Manhattan, truly? Is it where the richest live and die? Or where the gallery cruisers, the park-starved, the pre-theatre and post-foodies go to play? Until recently, it was not a place for lovers of coffee. But times, they have a-changed. We’ve chronicled some of our favorite and most noteworthy spots within hoofing distance of the comforting reach of the A/C/E trains—those special coffee shops lining up, faster and faster it seems, west of Ninth Avenue. And if this doesn’t seem significant to you, dear reader, remember: just as time contains multitudes in a New York minute, the difference of one avenue on the island Manhattan can hold lifetimes. Come, now, and share those lifetimes with me.

Rex

864 Tenth Avenue (b/w 56th and 57th Streets), New York, NY 10039
www.rexcoffeenyc.com

Rex-Cafe-New-York

Midtown needed Rex. Tenth Avenue in Midtown really, really needed Rex. It needed it like the desert missed the rain, only neither the desert nor the rain really knew quite how badly this part of the city could use a decent cup. Rex is a lovely combination of those many improbable things that when combined by a particularly skilled New York City coffee shop, can feel fresh and new and better than anywhere. A high-quality cafe in the middle of a place that for years had basically nowhere to drink great coffee? Check. A sunny space that feels good to be inside, with friendly staff? Check. Room enough to sit down? In the window even? Check. Moderate-portion-sized healthy and tasty food? In case you are hungry while stranded somewhere up and over there? Check. Bathroom? Check. YOU CAN EVEN USE THE INTERNET IN HERE? What is this place…heaven?

It may sound like a wild, crazy exaggeration to those who hail from, uh, livable cities, but finding these features all in combination in a place you’d actually enjoy being in, with great coffee, is a rarity in many parts of Manhattan—particularly this one. Sidle up to the brew-bar and order a featured pour-over of whatever Counter Culture Coffee is doing best these days, or order an espresso drink and an egg-salad sandwich, or even an in-house-baked cowboy cookie—we won’t judge. No matter how many new (or old-)comers begin to crowd the coffee landscape, remember one thing: on this part of Tenth Avenue, Rex is king.

Blue Bottle Gotham West Market, Blue Bottle Chelsea, Blue Bottle High Line

Gotham West: 600 11th Avenue, New York, NY 10036
Chelsea: 450 W. 15th Street, New York, NY 10014
High Line: 10th Ave and West 16th Street, New York, NY 10014
www.bluebottlecoffee.com

Blue Bottle Gotham West Market New York

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. is clearly crazy about the West Side, with not one but three cafes located along the Hudson banks. Their Chelsea cafe, a small coffee boîte with a notoriously fancy back-bar–personal service, syphons, single-origin espresso and exquisitely slaved-over toasts and waffles–anchors their downtown setup, with the requisite Blue Bottle slow-drip cold brew coffees and an assortment of Bee House brewers for filter alongside competently prepared espressos. It’s one of the least pretty of their cafes, actually, but it gets the job done. But if you’re feeling more outdoorsy (and the season’s right), head outside and up above to their kiosk on the High Line, a handsome, modular bar on the city’s disused-elevated-railway-tracks-cum-highly-landscaped-strangely-compelling-urban-park, where they share space with food-stall-versions of other locally loved businesses like Northern Spy and Terroir.

Jaunt uptown (perhaps you have non-urgent business near the Port Authority) for a trip to the adult food court playground that is the Gotham West Market. Already widely chronicled including by this very website, Manhattan’s latest Blue Bottle provides the caffeine anchor to a high-end, ground-level-of-condo paradise that includes Little Chef, the salad version of Williamsburg sandwich purveyor Saltie, and a Manhattan version of esteemed cooking store The Brooklyn Kitchen. As with the High Line kiosk, participating in multi-vendor food atmospheres is a longstanding tradition for Blue Bottle, all the way back to their farmers market roots, and it’s easy to understand why all of these locations were a draw for the Oakland-born roaster.

Intelligentsia at the High Line Hotel

180 10th Ave (at 20th St) New York, New York 10011
www.intelligentsiacoffee.com/location/high-line-hotel

Intelligentsia Truck Highline Hotel New York

Hey, they have a truck! It took years for Intelligentsia Coffee‘s New York dream to come to fruition, but we figure, if they can make it here—here being the lobby of a very old, freshly renovated hotel—they can make it anywhere! Visit the city’s only Intelligentsia coffeebar to find fancy-dressed baristas offering pour-overs on the Kalita Wave, espresso from a custom La Marzocco Strada EP, and various great looking local pastries.

The company recently introduced a tricked-out coffee truck to vend from the hotel’s ample outdoor space in the warmer months, and though we’ve yet to attend any of the late-night, indoor-outdoor, lobby-blends-into-garden and coffee-shifts-to-wine (this Intelligentsia serves alcohol) moments promised by the hotel’s unique west Chelsea landscaping, we’re sure we’ll end up there late one night after a rooftop costume pool party soon enough.

Joe

435 W 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011
www.joenewyork.com

Joe Coffee Chelsea New York

Photo by Ben Spell.

As with many Joe locations, this local mini-chain was among the first to colonize a neighborhood just as it discovered a refined taste for good coffee, having opened this 23rd Street and Ninth Avenue location in the behemoth London Terrace building in the summer of 2007. It’s another ingeniously small Joe space (though not the smallest), and, like Intelligentsia, makes a great waypoint for gallery-hopping. This was an adventurous cafe in an underserved neighborhood when it first opened, and like many Joes, paved the way for many other cafes to follow as neighbors. Today it remains a cozy place to settle down with a cup of delicious, locally roasted coffee prepared by a member of the always-friendly team at the always-lovable Joe.

Ninth Street Espresso

75 9th Avenue (between 9th and 10th Avenues in the Chelsea Market), New York, NY 10011
www.ninthstreetespresso.com

Ninth Street Chelsea Market New York

Also in the “Hey! We were here first!” club is Ninth Street Espresso in the Chelsea Market, one of the city’s busiest cafes, and most reliable. It’s no-frills, as is the Ninth Street way–a place to get good coffee and get going. Espresso is the focus, obviously, and the two machines handle the busy crowds of food tourists and building employees alike. (Don’t you just hate when Major League Baseball staff hog the cream station?) And after years of sampling every major roaster on the roster, Ninth Street is now roasting its own, so if you haven’t been by lately, you’re in store for something new.

It’s a walk-up only bar, but seating can be found strewn throughout the market—though why would you want to leave when you can linger and people-watch? Enjoy the endless views of strollers and distracted people crashing into the coffee line, all to the soothing sounds of the nearby water feature that resembles a fire hydrant expelling itself from the ceiling.

Kava

803 Washington Street, New York, NY 10014
470 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036
www.kavanyc.com

Kava New York

Kava’s always been a bit of an outlier—and not just because they were one of the first cafes to fling themselves to the West-West-West Village. It’s a high-style focused cafe: Deco-infused midcentury stylings, nary a smudge on the La Marzocco Strada MP, stunning terrazzo floors, a wine list, and a general feeling of haute cafe. Coffee’s purveyed by the acclaimed, but rarely-seen-in-NYC Ceremony Coffee Roasters from Annapolis, MD, served with appropriate flair.

And since they just couldn’t get enough of the west side, a new location opened recently in the MiMA luxury apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen, with an even greater focus on design (more terrazzo, but this time it’s covered in Danish modern furnishings) and food service. There’s another Strada, and—wait for it!—mixology! 42nd Street, here you come.

Pushcart

401 W 25th Street, New York, NY 10011
www.pushcartcoffee.com

Pushcart Coffee New York Back Bar

What started as a cart is now a petit empire, with Pushcart‘s third location open in Chelsea on sunny corner of 25th Street and Ninth Avenue. (We’ll also sadly note that Pushcart’s first bricks-and-mortar, in the quaint East Broadway spot originally opened as Dora, closed at the end of January.)

And while this Pushcart looks like a condo-dweller’s convenience from out front (it’s at the ground level of an otherwise totally generic apartment), inside it’s trying way hard to go beyond that, and succeeds. Imagine the cafe as two halves: on the west half, you’ve got the usual group of people lingering over the free Wifi while nursing a to-go cup of something they purchased out of guilt, all of them gathered together at a giant, handsome blond wood common table. Brought your kid, too? Great! Like Pushcart’s Stuyvesant Town shop, this location features a small play area with some kiddie stuffs for young Maillard or Peaberry to enjoy while you dunk your croissant (or beef jerky) in a cortado (or the beer, wine, or kombucha also on offer).

But wait! There’s a whole other nerd-half to this cafe, in which you will find the Slow Bar. Take the line to the right of the cash register and sit down for barside, one-on-one, Blue Bottle Chelsea Back Bar- or Intelligentsia Logan-style service. Got a brew method you like? Or one you’re curious about? Pushcart baristas will be happy to dust off a Chemex, Clever Dripper, French Press, V60, Kalita Wave, or Aeropress to suit your fancy. Staple coffees are Stumptown Coffee Roaster‘s, but guest roasters are featured as well (also on the counter when we visited: Lancaster, Penn.’s Square One Coffee.)

We love the lack of pretense at the simple, sun-bathed Chelsea Pushcart, and we love that this growing local chain continues to acknowledge what people really want to use coffee shops for—to sit and rest and be social as well as to work—as well as the potential for what great coffee education and understanding can be, by showcasing the serious alongside the practical.

P.S. there are growlers.

Liz Clayton is the author of “Nice Coffee Time“, a regular columnist for Serious Eats: Drinks, and New York City chief at Sprudge.com. She lives in Brooklyn. Read more Liz Clayton here.