When vintage lighting store B4 It Was Cool stood cluttered and labyrinthine in this sneaky spot on Houston, it drew in passersby full of decoration fantasies. But those who wished to linger longer—those whose fantasies included a fantastic cup of coffee to in the antique glow—are now in luck, as owner Gadi Gilan's lamps have moved downstairs to make way for the beautiful cafe space that is Bowery Coffee.
A tour de force of salvage savvy and factory chic, Gelan and his cohorts have converted the antiquarian hole-in-the-wall (lamps and fixtures are now in the shop downstairs) into a cozy, old-timey place that reinspires the notion of having one's coffee "to stay".
The coffee, thank heavens, is as serious as the renovation: supple steamed Hudson Valley Fresh milk and conscientiously extracted shots of Counter Culture Coffee's seasonal Apollo espresso anchor the heavy-duty space.
Espresso is the main attraction here (beyond the government-issued institutional clock, the crazy railway station lights, the cast iron bolt-turned-lid-carousel, and the cream station salvaged from a Lehman Bros. jewelry studio, that is)—drip is on offer via urn brewer, with plans to introduce a pourover menu to the newborn cafe as soon as staff are ready. (Early visions of roasting their own are, too, on hold until taking on another giant project seems practical.)
The classic rock that streams from the speakers is incongruent for somewhere so stylish, but on the other hand, at least it's not the Shins again. There's room to sit, but no wifi, a welcome relief that brings the focus back to the coffee.
And backing up the coffee are simple things: an excellent selection of teas from Milwaukee's Rishi Tea, and a baker's dozen varieties of doughnuts from the neighboring Doughnut Plant. Though the shop is in coffee-spilling distance from outposts of the popular La Colombe and Gimme! Coffee, the owners are unconcerned about Soho saturation.
"In New York, one block, two blocks, can be a different world," says Gilan, who with his partners attempted to differentiate their cafe not just by quality but atmosphere, opting for an old-world, stay-awhile vibe versus their neighbors' more stark modernity. Besides, we're reminded, "people in this neighborhood don't even want to cross Houston Street."
Barista and trainer Prestin Yoder helped the cafe select Counter Culture Coffee as their roaster, in particular because of the Apollo Espresso blend.
"I thought Apollo made the most sense because it was really straightforward," said Yoder, differentiating the blend from other espressos whose components may be more...nebulous. "They told you what was in the coffee and they told you what they were doing, selecting from their finest single origins, and it was constantly changing as well. There isn't a set profile, it's more like letting good coffee speak for itself."
89 E Houston Street, New York NY 10012 (map)
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs, and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is bad at keeping up her coffee-world blog at twitchy.org