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28 April 2008

Five Golden Cremas

Five days to go until NYC, so here are five of my favourite cafés and coffee shops (NYC edition, of course):

5. Au Bon Pain - Exclusive to everywhere. The first time I went to California, I went off in search of Au Bon Pain but to my horror, found none. It is, sadly, mainly an East Coast chain and I had to make do with the Coffee Bean and the Tea Leaf for my "convenient, reasonable and ubiquitous" caffeine needs. ABP does just that. The coffee is fine, the bagels, breads, salads and soups are good and not too expensive, and the stores are all over the place, and so a caffeine crisis need never take too long or involve a trip to Starbucks.

4. Mud Coffee - Various locations in the Village, the East Village and SoHo. Downtown? Need coffee? Want a pretty good cappuccino you can drink while watching the world go by in Washington Square Park? You could do worse than Mud, which has a perma-café (Mud Spot) in the East Village and a Mud Trucks, which stop in various downtown locations, distributing coffee to needy Manhattanites, like aid packages to refugees. The bright orange label of the cup makes it clear to the world that you have rejected Starbucks and all it stands for. Viv la torrefacción!

3. Dean & Deluca - Rockefeller Plaza. I'll be honest: Dean & Deluca's coffee isn't fantastic. The Rockefeller Center isn't even the best branch (the grocery in SoHo is amazing with its gorgeous array of cakes and pastries, sushi, fruit, juices - everything you could want from a gourmet deli and more). However, there is something quintessentially New Yorky to sit in the window at D&D with a cappuccino and a bagel, watching NBC's Today Show being filmed. If you're lucky, you might spot a celebrity; if you're unlucky, you might spot Mariah Carey. Watching New York wake up is a pretty fun experience and if the coffee is at least drinkable, then that's a good start.

2. Jack's Stir Brew - 138 W. 10th Street, in The Village. Jack's was probably the first good indie coffee shop I discovered in NYC - one exceptionally snowy (12 inches) December day when Monsieur Exquisite, The Ex and I were exhausted from trekking around the city in the cold and then happened upon this tiny coffee house. Tiny it is - there are about six seats inside - but it feels more cosy than cramped, especially on a winter's afternoon, although it's quite fun people watching on W. 10th Street in the summer. Jack is famous for his stir-brew filter coffee but I don't think I've ever tried it, being more of a cap-a-holic myself but now that I drink filter more often, perhaps I'll try Jack's stir brew this weekend. Jack himself is an actor/coffee shop owner and we got chatting to him the first time we went. He was a really cool guy and had plenty of anecdotes. In fact, every time I've been to Jack's, I've met some really interesting people with good chat. Definitely a place to pick up friends if you're travelling alone. The caps aren't bad either and Jack organises live music nights, which are always fun.

1. Joe, the Art of Coffee - 141 Waverly Place, in the West Village is my favourite location but they also have new locations opening in Grand Central (perfect for midtown caffeination) and in Chelsea, as well as their stores in the East Village and the Alessi store in SoHo. Not only does Joe actually make a fantastic cappuccino (and this isn't even relative to American cappuccinos generally; an absolute great coffee) and great cakes but the Waverly Place café is an awesome place to hang out - full of artsy, creative, actor-writer-director-waiter types manically typing their latest screenplay into their MacBook Air. The Waverly branch is light and airy and has a few seats outside on the front porch for when the weather's nice. The East Village branch is a bit bigger and generally has easier access to tables but isn't quite so atmospheric. Oh, and did I mention the coffee-themed events they run (what food goes best with coffee? How to brew the perfect cup? How to artistically pour the foam on your cappuccino into a heart, flower or leaf shape?) and the running club organised by the employees? Joe really does have all you could want from a coffee shop: (great) coffee, community and coolness.

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