There are few things more exciting in Midtown Manhattan than a promising new cafe, and this week, Sprudge got an exclusive sneak-preview of the soon-to-be-unveiled Intelligentsia project opening this June in bustling Herald Square. The project is a progressive mixed-retail collaboration from the minds of Urban Outfitters, whose new space at 35th and Broadway will furnish New Yorkers not only with a generous selection of bathroom-reader-style literature and batik prints, but with an integrated group of retail and service offerings as well. The former Conway department store will host an East Coast outpost of Amoeba Records, LA hair salon “Hairroin“, optical fashionistas Tortoise & Blonde, and yes…dreams do come true…an Intelligentsia, within an Urban Outfitters.
The Chicago and Los Angeles based roaster, a proud friend and partner of this very coffee web log, occupies a relatively large footprint within the fashion outlet and features a fully separate street-facing entrance on Broadway. When coffee-shop hours give way to retail hours, a garage door along the south wall of the space rolls up to allow customers to flow in and out of the Urban Outfitters. Cafe traffic, likely to be busy in this incredibly dense, foot-trafficked, and coffee-deprived part of town, will be routed around a marble standing bar. A small number of brass and leather bar-stool seats trace the inside perimeter of the cafe, lined up against a vintage-style wall of windows evoking a sort of '40s railway station vibe.
Along with the deco-esque touches (the company's familiar wooden menu-stands are replaced, here, with brass-dipped versions), the marble-filled space maintains a feeling of understatement and chic, preferring instead to let the coffee do most of the talking. A large wall behind the bar is painted entirely black–“intentionally left blank”, according to Intelligentsia co-founder Emily Mange, who added, “Our branding…we like it to be a little more of a wink than a hit over the head.”
Intelligentsia's other Manhattan cafe, a lobby space in the High Line Hotel which opened just over a year ago, was a first step into experimenting with shared spaces–something New Yorkers who've ever tried to eat out alone at a busy restaurant are already long used to. Besides the communicating doorway with the clothing store, the coffee company is integrating with Urban Outfitters' food program as well.
Urban Outfitters has a food program? You heard me. David Bowen, Urban Outfitters' director of food service, has conceived a broad, largely takeaway food menu of cold and hot sandwiches and portable salads to accompany and harmonize with the overall lifestyle and coffee experience of the combined space. Look for a fresh-foods case near the entrance proffering braised short-rib sandwiches, kale with melon and marcona almonds, and soba noodles, among a score of other offerings. While Intelligentsia baristas won't be heating the food for you personally, they'll be taking payment for it at the cafe's two stylish points of sale.
“We are thrilled to be working with Dave Bowen and his team to deliver food that is every bit as fresh, delicious and season as the coffees we offer,” said Intelligentsia CEO Doug Zell. “It is marvelous to have such a like-minded collaboration.”
And what's happening on the cafe side? A mix of old and new. Espresso beverages will be served from a La Marzocco Linea PB, which is flanked by an additional Modbar steam module for added milk-steaming capacity in busy times. A La Marzocco Volcano Swift auto-dosing and tamping grinder is dedicated to Black Cat espresso, while two Roburs await the single-origin coffee of the moment and a decaf.
An elephantine, PID-controlled three-chamber Grindmaster coffee urn sits behind the bar in tacit–and reputedly tasty–acknowledgement of the high volumes expected at this location, while a four-spigot Modbar pour-over station awaits the slow-brew crowd. (Look for single origin coffees to be offered here via Eva Solo, Chemex, Kalita Wave and Hario V60.) A tea station is situated adjacent to the slow bar, and at the register you'll spend a hot New York summer thirstily ogling three inline cold-drink taps: two chilled teas and one cold coffee, none of them carbonated. Pastries are, as in the High Line, provided by Mah-Ze-Dar bakery and include fluffy cream scones and circular banana bread discs.
Perhaps most challenging of all for Intelligentsia has been staffing such a going-to-be-suddenly-very-busy location in short order. Store manager Jonathan Withers, formerly of Verve, brought in 18 baristas and two bar-backs for the cafe's launch, which has been precipitated by a “boot camp” of training. Service remains at the forefront even in what will likely be a challenging space for barista-customer interaction, and though there's a giant, large-print, old-school menu posted on the wall, Mange advises that it's there primarily to assist those standing in the back of the line: more granular detail on the daily offerings will be provided by well-informed baristas, who have been told to pretend the large wall menu isn't even there.
What next? Well, the entire retail-experiential-food-drink-and-hairstyle concept has to open, of course. A handful of special events are planned for the cafe space leading up to the grand opening, including an exclusive demo of the BKON brewer in conjunction with Intelligentsia's tea brand, Kilogram, as well as a Food52 event and, this coming Sunday, a launch party for their apron collaboration with Hedley & Bennett. In the meantime, the baristas will be busy readying themselves for the onslaught of thirsty, grateful customers–and trying not to crash into too many people taking iPad pictures of the Empire State Building.
Intelligentsia Herald Square will open in June, 2014.
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 writes about music for the New York Observer, and lives in Brooklyn. Read more Liz Clayton here.