New York has its own orbit. Traveling even a mile outside of the city means entering a different world; a world with its own restaurants, its own supermarkets and its own attitude toward ice cream. Yet, it would be foolish to say that New York fits in better with the big cultural centers of Europe. New York is fiercely American, constantly changing and moving forward, even if it’s sometimes to its detriment. We can talk about that later.
Leaving New York isn’t easy. I imagine that people who come to the city for the first time don’t realize that New York is in a constant state of flux. They don’t see that the store closed for renovation was a nail salon yesterday, will be a sushi place tomorrow and assume life as a real estate agent once the restaurant folds. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but not once have I returned home to find my neighborhood the same as when I left it. Each new conversation with my parents and city-based friends brings up some earth-shattering change. They added benches to the bus stops! There’s a new Starbucks! Celebrity xyz lives three blocks away now! It can be difficult to feel like a New Yorker, regardless of your permanent address, when you’re constantly missing out on major cultural milestones.
A few days after I left in April, word dropped that Intelligentsia coffee would, finally, be opening their first NYC location. This famous Chicago-based third-wave coffee chainlet may have their beans brewed around the city, but their presence has always felt slightly limited. Especially in relation to Stumptown and Blue Bottle Coffee. Let’s hope that will be changing soon.
Like quite a few New York cafes, Intelligentsia’s first location is in hotel lobby. It doesn’t buzz quite as much as Stumptown and it’s isn’t as detached from the guests as Birch. You can sit in the lobby with your single-origin cappuccino and pretend to take a mini-break. Upon entering, it’s quite obvious where the bar is as well, which always helps avoid the potential awkwardness of being mistaken for a guest.
The drinks on offer are roughly standard fare, but in addition to their black cat blend, they also offer espresso-based beverages made from a single-origin bean. When I went it was from Costa Rica, they mentioned — as every good third-wave cafe does — the specific farm. There was also a menu of different coffees available from the drip bar.
Having just arrived back from Italy the previous afternoon, I wasn’t quite feeling up to a large drink and chose a macchiato. It was the perfect marriage between milk and coffee. I always seem to find myself drinking a brilliant coffee that has been, unfortunately, drowned in milk. The coffee was bright, fruity with a lightly lemon acidity. Had I just had a straight espresso, I might have found it a bit difficult to take — it would have been too bright — but it was ideal as a macchiato.
A solid cappuccino was also ordered. The milk and espresso blended together for a rich, chocolatey experience. It wasn’t overpowering, but not underwhelming a cappuccino so often runs the risk of being. Had it been a cold day, the kind of day that makes you crave rich, comforting, stick-to-your-ribs foods, it would have been perfect. On a hot, sticky day, it was great. Let’s just say I was a fan.
New York may always be changing, leaving even us sometime-residents feeling like we don’t know our city, but when the change involves the introduction of gems such as Intelligentsia, I think we can put aside our disappointment in order to enjoy what the city does best: innovation, quality and change.
Do you like cities and neighborhoods that are constantly changing or do you prefer ones that have a consistent identity?