Cafe owner and entrepreneur-about-town Alex Hall unveiled a new cafe Monday in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The cafe, called Brunswick, is the first in of a series of Brunswick shops throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, and is named as a nod to Hall's native Australia. Indeed, Hall, who is most famously the proprietor of Milk Bar on Vanderbilt Avenue and Bluebird Coffee Shop on the LES, along with the newly opened Rosella, is among the (rather large) diaspora of NYC Aussies who quench their longing for the motherland by opening delightful coffee shops.
This first of the Brunswicks is located in the retail level of an 1880's mixed-residential-and-commercial corner building in the Stuyvesant Heights part of Bed-Stuy (alongside a real estate agency and a bodega sadly no longer named Sammy's Delicious Breakfast). The cafe space, part of a greater renovation in recent months, was found in partnership with a hedge fund Hall has been working with in recent years: they buy the building, Hall opens a spiffy coffee shop below. “They see it as an amenity to their building,” said the proprietor.
In this part of Bed-Stuy, it's an amenity to the neighborhood, which while delicately referred to as “up and coming” and well-furnished with wine stores and trendy eateries has yet to launch more than a couple solid, successful coffee shop. Coffee bars at nearby Saraghina and Bread Love, along with Crocus, Reconnect, and Tiny Cup to the north and west, have made honest efforts while struggling with quality, customer base, or both. Daily Press on Franklin has done a great job, but is more than a mile away. And the Pantry, which began as a coffee shop and turned into a BBQ sandwich place with coffee and then shuttered, lingers as a question mark a mere block away from the shiny new Brunswick. But for now, we wait to see whether selling avocado toasties and single-origin espresso can be a watershed for Marcus Garvey Avenue.
The space–two storefronts worth–is among Brooklyn's more capacious coffee shops, with total seating of 44 across two-tops, a communal bar-height table, a bar-height window table, and four prime seats at the counter itself. Light streams in from both the front and back of the cafe, which is fitted-out in an airy, bright manner to begin with. The overall aesthetic is both warm–soft wood tones, exposed brick, natural light, succulents, and flowers–and geometrically nonsensical. Wall hangings made of triangle-cut pegboard painted in black, pink and brown. Hanging light fixtures (from Dixon Branded) are angular affairs–these are all part of Hall's goal to draw the eye from any vantage point. “The idea was that wherever you sit, wherever you look, there's something interesting to look at,” said Hall.
Now. You say this place has coffee?
Sidle up to the coffee bar–yes, it's made of reclaimed wood, but from flooring in this very building–and gaze upon the coffee gear. A shiny La Marzocco Linea PB (one of the city's first) tops the bar next to its Mazzer Robur E grinder friend. Behind them, a Mahlkönig EK43 and an undercounter Fetco batch brewer. There will be no manual pour-over here–the team has full confidence in their batch brewer to do a fantastic job on their rotating cast of single origin coffees from Counter Culture Coffee. A plank of Balthazar pastries awaits the grab-n-go bunch, but remember–this shop is Australian-run, so they'll feed you properly here if you'll let them. Their menu covers a wide range, from fennel radicchio salad to almondaise eggs benedict to a fontina and salumi panini.
A second Brunswick, in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn, is under construction at press time, and is expected to open in early June. Two more Brunswicks will follow in Harlem later in the year. Each will be have its own unique interior design, but will offer the same cafe selection and food menu–and, notably, the same prices, regardless of neighborhood.
As far as chain stores go, Brunswick looks like a promising endeavor for New York, particularly in areas currently underserved for great coffee and daytime gathering space. Might we propose a toast in congratulations towards this new era in neighborhood cafes? We think we will–of course, it's going to be covered in avocado.
It's open 7:30am-6pm Monday through Friday; 9am-6pm Sundays.
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.