Illustration by Lauren Kolm

Think beyond the coffee shop

Hugh Merwin
Updated: February 07, 2018

New York’s ridiculously astronomical rents tend to exert something of a stranglehold on dining culture. Even coffee shops, which don’t typically require a full kitchen or dining room, can’t escape the market, which is maybe part of the reason why so many unlikely destinations for great coffee have sprouted up in the last few years. There are now solid macchiatos to be found in car washes, and excellent shakeratos in the midst of $3,000 bicycle frames. Until recently, some of the best espresso in the city was even served, one varietal or blend at a time, out of the back of a Williamsburg barbershop. Here are some of the most unusual spots to find those cups, hot or cold, prepared either with obsessive finesse or just a welcoming touch of milk foam. 

Black Gold,Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

The same Brooklyn block that’s homebase to beloved restaurant Frankies 457 and a tincture-slinging herbalist also boasts (of course) a hybrid vinyl store and vintage taxidermy emporium. Black Gold sells its private label house blend whole bean, and while in-store drink options are generally limited to pour over and cold brew, it’s probably the only place in the universe to sip a precision-made coffee in the shadow of a well-preserved giant beaver, which likely weighed more than 100 pounds during its (hopefully wonderful) life.  

Underwest Donuts, West Side, Manhattan

Yes, the multicolored cake doughnuts, including one designed to evoke the foamy industrial suds that are pressure-sprayed at the midtown Manhattan car wash that’s housed under the same roof, are the star attraction at Underwest. But the carefully prepared cortados and americanos are as unexpectedly good as this West Side Highway business is remote and delightfully offbeat.   

Red Lantern Bicycles, Fort Greene, Brooklyn

The longstanding affinity between cycling and coffee makes sense: High-octane espresso is fast fuel, after all, and the schematics of good extraction take into account time, temperature, and grind; generally as many variables that might go into customizing the ideal ride. Red Lantern serves Gilles Coffee, which recently marked 175 years of roasting in New York City.. Cyclists who happen to be vegan tend to be all the more excited to find a full line-up of dairy-free milks on hand to smooth out their lattes. 

Kings Coffee, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

As its name suggests, Kings is a simple but regal operation that percolates weekends inside an otherwise ordinary-looking garage. It’s actually rooted in its namesake borough, and was specifically inspired by a Bensonhurst coffee seller who did everything himself, from lot selection to blending by hand. The upstart is one part old-school Italian and one part modern: Shots are pulled manually in minutes with a double-armed press that produces fantastic crema, and a high-tech Korean dripper takes the better part of a day to produce ultrasmooth cold brew. The apparatus looks like a cross between an hourglass from a Dalí painting and some Pyrex pilfered from a mad scientist’s tag sale.

Postmark Cafe, Park Slope, Brooklyn

The folksy, long-running nonprofit coffee shop Postmark Cafe shares space with a real-life church, which lands its maple lattes in the company of the flat whites at Bluestone Lane’s set up at the Church of Heavenly Rest, or the Nordic pastries and strong black cups found at the Swedish Seaman’s Church. The coffee is from Brooklyn Roasting Company, and the venue doubles as a family-friendly, artsy community space. All barista tips are donated to charity. 

Hole in the Wall, Midtown West, Manhattan

This diminutive Midtown cafe may not be quite as scrappy as its name suggests, but it is hidden in plain sight down the corridor of an office building lobby, and it occupies the same cramped footprint you’d maybe find in a minor millionaire’s glorified walk-in closet. Thing is, the coffee comes from Denver roaster NOVO, the milk is organic, and lattes follow a distinctly pleasing new wave Australian format, so beet and turmeric flavors may figure into the standard offering of flat whites. There are plenty of good coffee options in the immediate neighborhood near Bryant Park, but Hole in the Wall still feels like a guarded secret, three years after opening, which is nice. 

Cadillac House, Soho, Manhattan

The luxury car maker’s sunny showroom and event space—called an “experiential brand center” in corporate speak—also happens to be home to a handsome, tidy white marble bar run by Joe Coffee, the great New York-based mini-chain. This meeting of the brands results in a strangely relaxed space, where no one cares if you choose to plant yourself in one of its comfortable sofas with a double cappuccino and a book instead of pacing around the floor models, kicking tires. It’s also prone to transform, as it recently did, into a gonzo art exhibit featuring a jumbo crocodile, space popcorn, with floor-to-ceiling spaghetti wallpaper

Maglia Rosa, Carroll Gardens and Industry City, Brooklyn

Unlike Red Lantern, listed above, the high-end bike shop with two Brooklyn locations skews Italian, including most everything from its sleek Faema E61 to La Colombe dark roasts to the inevitable tricolore racing stripes whizzing by on whatever competition is being beamed in on the TV set. Espressos are properly strong, and drinks like the marocchino, which layers pulled shots with frothy milk and a hint of cocoa, are invigorating enough for whatever long haul lies ahead. 

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