An image of a latte with a foam heart, sitting on top of a newspaper

Grandlife guide

New York Coffee Culture

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There are many reasons why New York has been dubbed the city that never sleeps. With an infinite sea of coffee shops around town, locals and tourists can easily find a quick caffeine fix. But, if you’re anything like us, you prefer the authentic, under-the-radar spots. We’re here to share some of our favorite coffee shops that serve delightfully straightforward and stellar coffee and have a mingling, locals-friendly feel—from a Greenwich Village hole-in-the-wall to a historic bookstore-slash-café situated in the heart of SoHo. 

Abraço 

Head to Abraço in the heart of the East Village to understand why locals have been frequenting this stylish espresso bar ever since it opened on East 7th Street in 2007. You really must order an espresso or an espresso-based drink from the speedy baristas, where the beans are roasted in-house and jazz booms from the turntable. You must also be ok to skip the oat milk or any plant-based milk, because Abraço keeps it classic with organic whole milk, half and half, and whipped cream. In refreshingly true-to-self form, this cash-only, laptop-free cavernous haunt has kept its menu (and community vibe) consistent since opening its doors. Also on the menu are juices, wines, and cocktails as well as organic house-made pastries that will hug your tastebuds. (Abraço means “hug” in Portuguese, by the way.) The selections behind the head-turning pastry case change daily, with the exception of cured olive cookies and Abraço’s signature olive oil cake. On a sunny summer day, take your sparkling espresso cream and flaky pastry of choice to the outdoor seating area and go on and pretend like you’re an espresso-loving local who loathes oat milk.

81 East 7th Street, New York; T. (212) 388-9731

Ninth Street Espresso 

If you’re looking for a laidback, neighborhoody spot where friendly baristas serve up killer coffee, make your way to Alphabet City landmark, Ninth Street Espresso, which opened its doors on 9th Street and Avenue C back in 2001. A few more locations have popped up over the years, but there’s something special about this bright and airy classically East Village locale, nestled on a quiet block across the street from a community garden. With its white walls, black tin ceiling, and a handful of café tables with silver metal chairs, the interior is simple and straightforward, akin to what’s offered on the menu—hot coffee, cold coffee, tea, and espresso drinks with water or milk. Feel free to pair your deeply flavorful espresso with a croissant provided by the neighborhood café, C&B, and grab a seat inside or in the tranquil outdoor area. Unlike many a swanky Manhattan coffee shop, you’ll rarely get irritating office vibes here—though there’s free WiFi, the lack of power outlets keeps the laptop appearances at a minimum. Do expect to find locals quietly sipping their coffees while combing the pages of The New York Times in the morning hours and groups catching up outside over iced coffees in the afternoon. (Also, expect coffee beans that really pack a punch.) In other words, to all the TikTok influencers whose hobbies include documenting exhaustingly vivid latte art, we kindly ask you to go elsewhere. 

700 East 9th Street, New York; T. (212) 358-9225

Housing Works Bookstore Café

For those seeking a not-so-typical coffee shop experience, hit up Housing Works Bookstore located within the perma-bustling SoHo neighborhood. With its towering ceilings, dramatic spiral staircases leading to a sweeping second-floor balcony, and mahogany-paneled bookcases stocked with donated books, Housing Works resembles a grand yet bohemian library. Here, that distinctive old book scent is pleasantly pierced by the aroma of Intelligentsia coffee brewed by baristas at the charming café in the back of the store. Visitors can also order beer, wine, sandwiches, and pastries. Though there’s free WiFi and ample seating found throughout this warm and roomy space, this literary palace isn’t only appealing to bookworms and tourists passing through SoHo. You’ll see just about everyone in this downtown institution, from artists sketching in notebooks to students furiously plucking away at laptop keyboards. Things tend to get especially lively in the evening when Housing Works Bookstore hosts an array of events, from film screenings to book readings, so make sure to check out their calendar. Housing Works relies on volunteers for its staff, and all proceeds benefit the mission of Housing Works: “To end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.” 

126 Crosby Street, New York; T. (212) 334-3324

Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee 

There are a handful of Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee locations scattered across the city, but nothing beats the feel-good vibe of the original joint, which opened on West 10th Street in 2003 by crop-to-cup pioneer Jack Mazzola. Situated a short stroll away from Washington Square Park, this no-frills, hole-in-the-wall has a warm n’ rustic pub-like aesthetic. In fact, it just might be the coziest coffee shop in Greenwich Village—and with some of the very best coffee in the city. Just ask the locals who keep coming back to this tiny nook, where the ethically-sourced beans burst with big, bold flavors. Fun fact: The Fair Trade beans are organic and shade-grown and, according to Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee’s official website, they’re “New York City’s first 100% organic coffee shop and vegan bakery.” Yep, the menu doesn’t stop at coffee, there’s a slew of delicious vegan baked goods to choose from/lose your mind over. Oh, and don’t sleep on the menu’s “Locals Favorites” section. We suggest ordering the “Happy Jack”—a honey cinnamon latte with your choice of milk—because you’ll definitely leave as a happy customer and a soon-to-be regular.

138 West 10th Street, New York; T. (212) 929-0821

McNally Jackson Books Seaport

For a peaceful retreat from the chaotic tourist trap that is the Seaport, bolt into McNally Jackson Books Seaport, the beloved New York indie bookstore’s newest outpost. Spanning two glorious floors and voluminously stocked with books, periodicals, and stationary, this artfully-designed booklovers paradise is housed within the historic Schermerhorn Row building, built in 1811. In other words, there are architectural moments at every turn in this 7,500-square-foot, sun-drenched space. There’s also a stellar ground-floor cafe (that, besides coffee and bites, also serves wine and beer), and its spacious lounge with armchairs and couches is a perfect spot for curling up with a book and beverage and getting your New York people-watching on. Come for the enchantingly whimsical atmosphere, and stay for the events—this downtown gem, which opened in 2019, regularly hosts readings, author talks, book clubs, and the magical etcetera. 

4 Fulton Street, New York; T. (646) 964-4232

WORDS: Alex Catarinella

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