Cora Lambert didn't earn her reputation in New York City by being…uncomplicated.
The cafe veteran, whose year-old East Village shop Box Kite has garnered acclaim from tastemakers for both its coffee and culinary achievements, has something new to reveal this month on the Upper West Side. Yes, it's a new cafe—Box Kite's second shop, poised and waiting on 72nd street all but for its official unveiling next week—but it's also a new mentality.
For the first time, maybe ever, Lambert is streamlining.
The small shop—which will be pretty much all takeaway, out of spatial necessity—is perhaps Lambert's most direct and simple approach to a cafe yet. After all, this is the woman who managed RBC NYC, a defunct Financial District cafe that once boasted the country's most complicated and esoteric array of multi-roaster bean options brewable on nearly every possible device. And at the original Box Kite, Lambert's carved out a similarly complex path, with a coffee shop that's also a fine dining restaurant and a bar, open nearly round the clock.
But, armed with hindsight—and constrained, not just a little, by the limits of uptown real estate—Lambert's newest endeavor sees her taking coffee service back (hopefully with improvements) to the simpler times of, she supposed to us on a recent visit, the mid-2000s. Box Kite Upper West Side has no syphon bar, no amuses-bouche, no spirits program, no closed-circuit dog hydrotherapy live TV feed. Instead, the tiny space will serve espresso and coffee drinks only. Well, okay—coffee drinks and a seasonal toast program.
The clean, narrow space—cleaner and narrower than even the first wee Box Kite—features a standing drink rail, cream station, and one tiny sneaky-storage-hiding bench seat—and that's all she wrote. There's a handsome mirror repurposed from a salvaged Flatiron Building door, and a few swaths of the selfie-backdrop-ready wallpaper from Montreal artist Jason Cantoro that also adorns the St. Marks Place Box Kite. Subway tile and clean lines harmonize with the, well, boxy feel in here.
“The space is obviously kind of narrow and long,” says Lambert, “so we didn't have the option of doing bar style seating without it feeling rally cramped. We designed a sort of C-shaped bar that allows one barista to do pretty much everything without having to take a step.”
Baristas will operate in this compact, economized space that Lambert's dubbed the “cockpit”, where it's one easy movement to the Synesso Hydra espresso machine, the Mahlkönig EK-43 and Robur grinders, a Fetco, and an Uber hot-water boiler. Kalita-prepared pour-over coffee will be available, but Lambert says she intends to downplay it as they steer customers either towards Fetco brew—”Our Fetco is really good,” she promises—or towards coffee shots.
Seasonal signature drinks, like the Unicorn—bourbon-barrel aged maple syrup with cream, smoked sea salt, and cold brew coffee—will rotate through the menu, and are joined by espresso tonics, and the 1+1 espresso/macchiato set we've seen at the original Box Kite, Cafe Myriade, and Handsome Coffee Roasters (RIP). Lambert says she'll employ beans from MadCap, a long favorite of the cafe operator, as well as rotations of her other favorites like Ritual, Parlor, and the occasional guest bean from Copenhagen, Oslo, and the like.
The toast program will be comprised of both sweet and savory options, with local providers like Diaspora Kitchen topping house-made brioches (baked in Box Kite's other location) and local sourdoughs. Avocado may or may not make an appearance on top of Box Kite's toasted bread.
Finally, Lambert's contributed one more thing to the growing Upper West Side independent coffee landscape (she joins Birch, Joe, and Irving Farm all within coffee-crawling distance), a novel twist to this writer's eye: a generous array of USB outlets that are installed above the standing rail—a concession to hospitality and New York reality, both.
“I wanted to give people a place to charge their phone,” says Lambert. “People need to charge their phones all the time and they will come in to buy a cup of coffee if you give them a place to do that. I've been there. We wanted to cater to the commuter traffic that might want to pop in for a cup of coffee and to charge their phone for 15 minutes.”
And how does she feel about taking a coffee shop back to basics?
“I just wanted something really simple,” says Lambert. “I'm growing up.”
Liz Clayton is the Associate Editor at Sprudge.com, and helms our NYC desk. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.