Despite my frequent trips to New York over the years, I’ve never spent much time in Lower Manhattan — the Financial District, or FiDi, as it now seems to be known. I’ve taken a few trips on various ferries (to Staten, Liberty and Ellis Islands) and, of course, often arrive at the Manhattan end of Brooklyn Bridge, but otherwise, I’ve had little reason to visit. But my company’s New York office is now located in the neighbourhood, near the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and so I was staying there for the ‘work’ segment of my recent trip to the city. I hadn’t planned to stay there for the weekend too, but I got an excellent deal on my hotel, the Gild Hall (which I highly recommend), and so took the opportunity to explore the Financial District’s burgeoning — dare I say, booming — speciality coffee scene.
I visited six coffee shops this trip but had another five on my list — either because they are part of mini-chains I know and like, or because I walked past and thought they looked promising. Here’s what I found:
Occupying part of the ground floor of a grand residential building on Pine Street, Black Fox Coffee is another new Australian-influenced coffee bar to arrive in the Financial District. They serve coffees from a rotating variety of international roasters, offering both espresso-based drinks and pourovers. I went twice, sampling both a very good cortado brewed with a Candyman espresso blend from Melbourne-based roaster Small Batch, and an excellent Ethiopian pourover from one of my favourite roasters, Vancouver-based 49th Parallel. The baristas are friendly, knowledgeable and happy to guide you through the coffee menu.
The cafe is spacious and airy with high-ceilings, and has a sleek, industrial-chic décor: gold pendant lights, a large, wooden communal table next to the coffee bar and smaller marble tables near the front windows. There are various food options available, including doughnuts from Underwest, cakes and pastries (I tried the banana-walnut bread, which was great) and some bigger breakfast dishes. If you’re a speciality coffee lover, I definitely recommend adding Black Fox to your FiDi to-do list; NB: they are closed on Sundays.
Bluestone Lane is a small chain of Australian-influenced coffee bars and cafés notable in particular for their excellent piccolos, flat whites and avocado toast, and for their beautiful interiors. I’ve visited a couple of others in the chain, most recently the West Village café on Carmine Street, but stopped by their second FiDi branch, on Water Street, for breakfast one morning. With its turquoise-tiled coffee bar, sleek white La Marzocco and accents of greenery and gold, the Water Street coffee bar is rather gorgeous.
I ordered a piccolo — one of the few piccolos/cortados I had on this trip that was indeed appropriately sized — and took a seat at the raised seating counter that run’s along the slim cafe’s long brick wall. The coffee was very nicely prepared and it prepared nicely with a generous serving of avocado toast. The baristas were friendly and welcoming and the light, airy café was a lovely place to sit. Bluestone’s first FiDi location is inside a historic art deco building on Broad Street, but I’d read that it gets rather busy during ‘rush hour’ and so headed for the more relaxed Water Street location.
90 Water Street nr Gouveneur Ln. Website. Twitter. Instagram. The original FiDi location is at 30 Broad Street.
I have long been a fan of Brooklyn-based roaster Cafe Grumpy and have, over the past seven or eight years, visited most of their cafés, particularly the Chelsea and Lower East Side cafés. I was pleased to find out, then, that they had just opened up a new branch on Stone Street — right next to the Doubletree where I was staying for work — just a couple of weeks before my arrival. Thanks, Café Grumpy! I was able to visit a couple of times trying both a cortado and a El Salvador pourover, as well as a muffin and the banana bread. Both drinks were immaculately prepared, as you would expect from Grumpy. As usual, the baristas were anything but grumpy and I chatted merrily with one about our respective recent trips to Reykjavik.
The cafe isn’t huge but, like many of the speciality coffee shops in the Financial District, is beautifully designed. A vibrant orange Synesso espresso machine sits on the counter and there is both a large, communal table near the coffee bar and a small adjoining annexe with some cute geometric coffee tables and the standard Cafe Grumpy artwork.
I’ve written about Jack’s a few times before. I went to the original location, on West 10th Street in the West Village, back in 2003 when good coffee was very hard to come by in New York. The titular ‘stir-brewing’ process reduces the acidity of the filter coffee and although my coffee tastes have evolved a little over the years, I still enjoyed the stir-brewed filter I had during my first visit to the Front Street café. This location, next to South Street Seaport, was closed for some time following the ravages of Hurricane Irene in 2011, so it is good to see it up and running again. This branch of Jack’s is compact like the original but has plenty of seating. It was relatively quiet on a Sunday morning but I can imagine that it is a lot busier on summer Saturdays.
La Colombe is another roaster with several New York coffee bars that I have been visiting since the turn of the decade. I usually go to the SoHo and NoHo cafés, but was excited to try out the relatively new and new-to-me location on Wall Street. The narrow, minimalist coffee bar is located in the ground floor of a historic building that is exactly as you would imagine a Wall Street building to look. The marble counter runs for most of the length of the shop (apart from the fridge stocking cans of La Colombe’s famed Draft Latte at the front), and there is a long bench that runs along the wall opposite the counter. There are only a couple of small tables, but although even early on a sleety Sunday morning there was a constant stream of customers, most opted for take-out.
I sampled both a cortado, made with La Colombe’s Nizza espresso (a smooth, nutty espresso that worked well as a cortado), and a pourover made with a citrusy Kenyan Karogoto coffee. I enjoyed both drinks, particularly the pourover, and also had a delicious almond croissant, which, like the filter coffee, was served with La Colombe’s gorgeous signature crockery.
Voyager Espresso is a little tricky to find but is well worth seeking out. It is located inside the Fulton Street subway — no, you don't need to buy a subway ticket — and can be accessed through the subway entrance on John Street (between William and Gold). The small café has a minimalist, futuristic design with metallic walls and a super-cool circular coffee bar at its centre. The menu is also pared down to black, white and filter, although there are, of course, many options within these three categories. I had a ‘white’ coffee, more specifically a cortado brewed with a single-original Costa Rica variety (the two single origins on offer were both Costa Rican, one washed and one natural, although I forget which one I had). In any case, the cortado, with its faultless latte-art fern, was excellent and came beautifully presented on a black slate with a shot of sparkling water.
Voyager are also known for their ’68-hour fermented sourdough bread’ toasts. I had mine topped with smashed avocado, lemon and olive oil and it was marvellous; the perfect treat after a long, chilly run to Brooklyn and back. If you’re in or near Fulton Street subway station — or even if you aren’t, frankly — and looking for great coffee, look no further than Voyager Espresso (NB: it is closed at the weekend).
110 William Street (enter Fulton Street subway station through John Street). Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Cafés or branches I haven't been to recently (or at all) but are on my list:
This small, bustling café was just around the corner from my Gold Street hotel. It serves Intelligentsia coffee, looked good and had been recommended by a couple of people, but I didn’t have chance to stop by this trip.
Seven or eight years ago when finding great coffee in Midtown was almost impossible, I discovered the Swedish café Fika, which serves good coffee and particularly excellent pastries. I had a good experience at the Pearl Street café when I last visited a few years ago.
I sometimes describe Gregory’s as ‘the Starbucks of speciality coffee’: the mini-chain now has more than 20 branches across Manhattan, many of them located in speciality coffee deserts, like Times Square and Midtown. With their brew bars, cupping classes and single-origin coffees, Gregory’s take their coffee seriously, and they have served me some very fine Aeropress-brewed filter coffees over the years. They have three branches in the Financial District. Sprudge has an interesting interview with the titular Gregory, who does resemble the company’s logo very closely.
FiDi locations at: 100 Wall Street nr Front St; 80 Broad Street nr S. William St; and 42 Broadway bet. Beaver St. & Exchange Pl. Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Irving Farm is another of my favourite New York roasters and I’ve enjoyed visits to several of their other cafés including on the Lower East Side, in Gramercy and at Grand Central station. Their espresso-based drinks and pourovers are always very, very good.
R&R is another popular neighbourhood coffee shop near my Gold Street hotel. They serve coffee from various local roasters and if you want a change from the sleek, minimalism of many of the FiDi coffee bars, the cosy, casual décor of R&R may well appeal.