By Terry Trucco
It’s a lot easier than it once was to get a good cup of coffee in New York. And that goes for coffee at hotels.
Flavorful house blends and premium brands like Illy are typical at large hotels (and former coffee wastelands) from the New York Hilton-Midtown to ONE UN New York. Newcomers are embracing intriguing local brews. Is it coincidence that the restaurants at the Viceroy and the Quin – two chic new hotels on West 57th Street – proudly serve Joe Coffee a succulent brew made from the direct source, sustainable beans found at Joe Coffee shops dotting Manhattan?
But three hotels go all out with free-standing coffee houses on the premises. I find it all but impossible to walk by these stores and not stop in.
Birch Coffee isn’t new. This company, started by two New Yorkers, sold its first cup of rainforest-friendly brew in 2009 in a rustic store built from recycled materials off the lobby of the Gershwin Hotel. But last year the Gershwin embarked on a major renovation that shuttered Birch. (The lobby is still a work in progress.)
No sweat. Plucky Birch reopened in smart new digs a mere 65 steps away. And as luck has it, Birch once again is connected to a hotel, the MAve.
The new digs, less earnest and more stylish, incorporate the best of the old, including the well-stocked library where guests can take home a book (and, fair is fair, leave one in return). The coffee is rich and complex, from standard brew to cold brew to the deliciously decorative cappuccino. And the take-away cups are biodegradable. Sweet.
Cool detail: a crystal chandelier illuminates the library.
Birch Coffee/Flatiron, 21 East 27th Street near Madison Avenue at the MAve Hotel; 212 686-1444.
Additional locations: Birch Coffee/UWS, 750 Columbus Avenue at 96th Street; 212 665-1444. Birch Coffee/7th Avenue, 56 7th Avenue between 13th and 14th streets; 212 929-1444.
A lot happened to the High Line Hotel in 2013. The building, formerly a dorm at the General Theological Seminary, morphed into a style-forward hotel (it still emits an air of serenity).
And Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, the Chicago coffee company with the pleasurable brew and pretentious name, opened its first New York outpost in the lobby. (Beans are direct trade from places like Guatemala, Rwanda and Peru.)
During winter you can sink into a leather sofa or club chair in the lobby to nurse a steaming espresso or soothing white tea and watch guests check in. (There’s no desk, so a staffer whips out a discreet iPad.) But when things warm up, the back yard beckons with chairs and tables and, in the distance, the seminary’s green lawns (they only sold off a portion of the property). Coffee and zen are not a contradiction.
Cool detail: A refurbished 1963 Citroen truck sits out front, serving up espressos and pourovers.
Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, High Line Hotel, 180 Tenth Avenue at 20th Street; 212 933-9736
Additional location opening in June 2014 in Herald Square.
Lines still spill out the store and into the hotel lobby. And baristas, interchangeable with those at the Portland mother ship, sport rolled shirtsleeves, fedoras and a way with La Marzocco espresso machines.
Locavores, take note: the direct trade beans are roasted in Red Hook, Brooklyn. And the coffee is worth waiting in line, even if there’s no place to sit once you’re rewarded with a heavy cup and saucer. A rail by the window suffices if you want to sip and watch the action on West 29th Street. You can also carry your cup into the lobby and take your chances finding a spare wing chair or a spot on the sofa. A nice thought, but don’t bank on it.
Cool detail: The cafe smells terrific (well, yeah).
Stumptown, Ace Hotel, 20 West 29th Street near Broadway; 347 414-7805.
Additional location: 30 West 8th Street near Fifth Avenue; 347 414-7802.