posted by danbean
As a Brooklynite, I’m likely biased, but it certainly appeared as though coffee culture – and I use that term to loosely refer to single origin, snob sippin’, monied grad student lingerin’, chatty chat cafe culture espresso art stuff – in New York started long after the west coast and started here.
I’m a musician, and poor musicians tend to frequent such places and sometimes there is crossover. One friend became a serious ‘espresso’ artist, mastering the art of the pour, the shot, the tingling shapes and rorschach test-evoking patterns adorning the perfectly-heated infusion of roasted bean and water.
It didn’t take long for me to be drawn in. After all, coffee is a snobby, irresponsible vice, but compared to drugs and alcohol its suspected maladies and behavior modifications are relatively minor. And it was something to do before yoga. After yoga. After rehearsal. Later on. All summer. All winter. Cups. Cups and Cups and Cups and mugs and shots and you know how it goes.
And so it was very fortunate that I lived in Williamsburg for a while, because there was the heart of the burgeoning culture itself; one avenue block away was Gimme! Coffee, lauded as one of the finest institutions of baristadom in the 5 boroughs. The one gentleman in particular whose name I can’t recall, who during that year succumbed to love and left Brooklyn, made incredible patterns in your latte. The taste was among the most balanced I’ve ever had, a deep, dark roast but not bitter. The staff got unfairly punched for being unfriendly. They were always nice to me – I think some food writers have a problem with fashionable kids and think that you can’t look stylish and be a nice person. I also enjoyed Oslo and Cafe Grumpy, but all were places where the drink itself was the destination. The rooms of Oslo and Gimme in particular for me border on the ascetic. Perhaps that starkness is intended to focus one on the taste of the coffee, taken so seriously.
Still I don’t think these rooms encourage as much of a friendly exchange between patrons. Like most places in New York you go to be alone or with people you come in with. Lost is the cafe culture of old where one debated politics and bullshitted with strangers. Or so I thought.
My favorite cup is easily Cafe Regular, a teeny tiny little storefront in Park Slope on 11th street near the corner of 5th avenue. Owner Martin O’Connell is who you’ll most often find behind the bar. In the room, which looks as though it couldn’t even be 200 square feet, one feels very distant from the distant contemporary world outside. The compactness of the place forces you to interact a little, and O’Connell, who eschews a room full of people working on laptops, has yet to install wireless internet (you can sometimes get a weak signal from across the street). O’Connell has a masterful, straightforward hand when it comes to making lattes. The temperature and taste are perfect for me, but you won’t find any precision artwork here. There is a more rustic, homely quality – think GbV’s Bee Thousand versus, I dunno, a Fiona Apple record. Sorry, I still like GbV better.
The quality of the drink itself is very important and what pleased me when I moved to the neighborhood a few years ago, thinking leaving the industrial landscape of Williamsburg would stick me with the revolting, unmentionable dreck on 7th Ave. But the quality of the hang is what keeps me. O’Connell’s sardonic wit spares no one, and customers are still not sure if the Irishman hails from Beacon Hill, Belfast, Belgrade or Burlington, New Jersey (I’m pretty sure it’s the last one). Friends that visit can’t believe how easy it is to chat with people, and the ‘Regulars’ span a wide range of ages and professions. I’m pleased to have a nice room close by in which to lose a few hours of my day…