As easy as it is to cross from Manhattan to Brooklyn, New York City's coffee merchants haven't always been interborough players. Most East River crossings have been westward, in fact, with roasters like Brooklyn-founded Cafe Grumpy, and national and international companies like Blue Bottle, and Toby’s Estate, who both roast in Brooklyn, gradually adding notable cafes in Manhattan. But few specialty coffee houses have made the reverse commute. Now, staunchly Manhattanist Ninth Street Espresso has opened up within Threes Brewing, a new multi-use brew pub in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The new space is the latest instance of Ninth Street’s recent expansion, and new chapter—in both cafes and roasting.
Having run through a healthy variety of roasters at their shops since opening in 2001 (Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Dallis Bros., Counter Culture Coffee), the Ninth Street team had been toying with the idea of roasting its own as early as 2012. But the perfect opportunity to follow through didn’t present itself until Steve Mierisch opened Pulley Collective, a shared roasting space, in Red Hook in 2013. Ninth Street—which had never made a foray into roasting before—began with small runs to get the process down and the roast profiles where they wanted them, and then rolled out the beans to their shops. Pulley helped break down some of the barriers that make roasting seem almost “mystical,” according to Trey Wrage, Ninth Street’s General Manager, and for now, the company roasts beans at Pulley exclusively for their own five cafes and a few friends.
Having crossed the bridge—literally and figuratively—into roasting in Brooklyn, expanding into an actual coffee bar there seemed suddenly less foreign. Expanding into a mixed-use facility showcasing craft beers? For founder Ken Nye, who began on the bar side of the beverage business, the combination was persuasive enough to make it happen.
The owners of Threes Brewing, a brewery, rotating kitchen and tap room just off of the highway-like Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, wanted to build “a space that was as much a community center as it was a bar,” according to Joshua Stylman, one of Threes’ founding partners. Threes intended to include a cafe space from inception. It couldn’t just be any coffee program, though. The decision was easy for Stylman and his partners: “We knew there was no way we'd deliver a coffee program anywhere near the caliber of an industry leader, so the partnership path was an obvious one.” The Threes team were already familiar with Ninth Street as patrons of their cafes, and were already fans of the quality of the Ninth Street experience, making the invitation to collaborate a natural choice.
The Threes Brewing space is sprawling by New York City standards. Rather than turn it into a beer hall, though, the Threes team divided the 8,200 square-feet footprint into distinct sections. As such, the Ninth Street space retains some of the intimacy patrons have come to expect in the majority of NYC specialty cafes, which are, in the main, rather small. (This definitely isn’t Southern California—airy spaces like Toby’s Estate or La Colombe Lafayette are the exception and not the rule). The handsome interior—a cohesive mélange of concrete, natural wood, steel, and marble—was designed by Threes with Ole Sondressen and the Hasselgrave brothers at hOmE Design, in collaboration with Precision Innovations fabricators. Ninth Street had some stipulations for barista needs, but the semi-separate cafe space worked for them almost out of the box.
Though Ninth Street's simple aesthetic is tuned to each unique location (their Chelsea Market coffeebar is bright and open around the bar, while their midtown shop sports classic Manhattan black-and-white subway tiling), there's one design element that Ninth Street brings with them everywhere: old school sign painter Jerry Pagane is always responsible for the shop’s window lettering. In the relatively palatial Threes location, an open service window to the kitchen and a row of booths greet you as you walk into the foyer (yes—there’s enough space that there’s a foyer). Up a half flight of stairs to the left, past a board with announcements for upcoming events, is the Ninth Street space where a small bar area opens up to a slightly larger section for seating.
The Ninth Street standard matte black La Marzocco GB/5 sits atop a concrete counter, next to a fancy new Mazzer Kold. Coffee service is rounded out with a Grindmaster-Cecilware and Mahlkonig EK43 for batch brew. Wrage says it's key that customer experience isn't “burdened by poor design.”
“It’s rewarding,” says Wrage, “to be in a beautiful, functional space.”
Beyond Ninth Street’s lofted corner, seating opens up expansively to a room with two communal tables. This functions as an event space called Tiny Montgomery for performances most nights of the week. As in any good community cafe, show flyers can be found hanging next to the sugar, milk, and lids. A little further into the building, customers can find the stronger drinks. About a fifth of the footprint is dedicated to actual brewing; the 15-barrel system is displayed behind glass walls. Adjacent to the formal brewery is the main bar room.
Another poured concrete bar extends nearly the length of the room, where you can try one of the six Threes brews currently on tap, or one of the other beers from local and national craft breweries. The tap room's kitchen is a celebration of collaboration as well: rotating pop-up residencies from Brooklyn stars like Roberta's, Mile End, and Delaney Barbecue will populate the food menu with their strongest ammunition. And once the weather is more amiable they’ll open the back yard to patrons, and making for one of the largest open-air spaces to sip coffee in the city.
Locals outside of the specialty coffee and craft beer circles are quickly discovering this off-the-beaten-path space. Freelancers and commuters stop in during the week, and families arrive to socialize on the weekends. The partnership between the brewer and roaster reflects the natural rhyme of craft beer and specialty coffee—natural analogs, from both places baristas and brewers would want to hang out, to the nuances and pleasures of the drinks themselves.
Now we’re just anxiously awaiting the collaboration on a coffee beer.