New York is never scared to bring us yet another coffee locus. Especially if the coffee is ace but the energy is even more top notch (not top bun). And sometimes the coffee comes as an absolutely excellent afterthought—as with Vacancy Project that recently opened in the East Village.
The sprightly Masami Hosono, a hair colorist and stylist from Tokyo, decided to play mother (and creative director, officially) to a creative endeavor called Vacancy Project in 2012. Having moved from Japan to New York she wanted to employ her creative notions and offer it all in one platform to exist in and flourish under the auspices of Vacancy. “My passion and natural instincts for creativity, fashion, and music led to extending my career to the city,” Hosono shares.
Before she opened the now-hair-salon-cum-coffee-shop on East 10th Street, Hosono published Vacancy Zine as a collaboration with a photographer friend. And, completely naturally, then followed with Vacancy Radio as she connected with clients who are musicians who just loved her corner of the world (and Internet) as a place to get heard. But the creative juices could just not be contained and it all started to swirl and spill over in all kinds of fantastical directions.
“The making of Vacancy Online Journal allowed me to interview artists, and even chat about other artists I love and respect, so I could give them a platform to show their work,” says Hosono with her toothy smile. “And finally this year, I opened the brick-and-mortar Vacancy with the purpose to be a haven for artists to come and connect in person,” she says. Her goals for her clientele are simple, she tells me, “Drink some coffee, chill out, have a laugh, and make art.”
So how did Hosono decide to get into some of the finest coffee in the land (she serves Heart Roasters from Portland, and rotates their beans for pour-overs seasonally) whilst ensuring hair is being cut, dyed, and blown meticulously? “I use to work Starbucks in Tokyo, which admittedly, is very different there than in the US,” she smiles extra broadly. “I learned two big things while working there,” she says. First, she learned the importance of coffee beans, for which she was even awarded a black apron. Secondly, she learned how important high-quality hospitality is. In truth, Hosono, who calls this project a “dream come true,” felt she was really missing superb coffee in the hair-cutting world.
Coming from Tokyo, Hosono noticed how different the coffee culture is in New York City. She was astonished to find that coffee here is “still developing in an exciting way and is not oversaturated.” Hosono says, “People are experimenting in ways that combine cultures and honor that all coffee can be good for different reasons. It is kind of amazing to get a bodega coffee at 5 a.m. and then a specialty espresso at 4 p.m.”
But for Vacancy, things are kept rather uncomplicated. “We do cold brew iced coffee and a range of single-origin pour-over coffees. We have a very simple set up and people respond with ease. It's nice in an era of choice to have just a few really amazing options,” says Hosono. For Vacancy, their philosophy is to collaborate on everything holistically, including the way that coffee is presented. “We are constantly training and learning from each other. In our cafe, we change our coffee beans seasonally, so our baristas constantly need re-tuning,” shares Hosono, adding. “We are all friends so we share our coffee knowledge collectively and casually.”
As the beans change, so does the creative means of expression. And so, with all that Vacancy is right now, the project itself is dynamically evolving with each cooperation with their set of believers. “We are currently hosting a pop-up for Dull Tool Records and their musicians, and our next pop-up will be with Mood New York, a Brooklyn-based skateboard brand,” Hosono tells me, which will be followed by a zine event.
Their location is a perfect commingling of interesting energy and even more interesting people. “Alphabet City still has some edge, even in [the Lower East Side] of Manhattan,” says Hosono. “I just have a feeling this air inspires the birth of some of the coolest ideas.”
The name, Vacancy, comes from “vacant” signs on restroom doors. “It’s open, and it’s empty and so that is our concept,” says Hosono. “Our space is open and empty for you to step in and build on ideas: together and free.”
Daniel Scheffler is a Sprudge staff writer at large. His work has appeared in T Magazine, Travel And Leisure, Monocle, Playboy, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Butt. Read more Daniel Scheffler on Sprudge.