El Rey on the Lower East Side


I’ve fallen for Scandinavia.  What was once a dull trip to IKEA has turned into ample opportunity to point out Swedish words, minimal design and what I incorrectly perceive as cultural nordic quirks.  Of course, you have the time to assemble a flat packed desk in Lapland, it’s so cold you’re not going outside!  Despite receiving a Stockholm tour guide and Swedish phrasebook for my fourteenth Christmas, my interest in Scandinavia piqued along with the rest of the world’s.  The name might not suggest it, but I believe the owners of El Rey on the Lower East Side are similarly obsessed intrigued.

“Doesn’t this look like Solde?” I said to my mother as we sipped our coffee, perched on white metal stools.  “Or a cross between Solde and Speakeasy?”

El Rey is located at the epicenter of cool Lower East Side, but feels more polished and more accessible than nearby cafes and restaurants.  This isn’t Lost Weekend and their carefully curated store.  This isn’t the artfully undone Saturdays Surf.  El Rey is at once bright and polished while still feeling realistically unkempt.  The bariste were hip, nice.

I dragged my mother along to enjoy a final coffee of the 2013 with me (yes, it was a while ago).  The space was full when we arrived.  We grabbed the first seats we saw, right by the door and ordered our coffees.  People didn’t limit themselves to sitting at the tables.  A group stood by the front door chatting and some people stood near the window, gazing out onto the winter streets.  The atmosphere was convivial and preparatory, both for the celebrations to come later that night and the year ahead.

My mother’s cappuccino was made first.  My cortado came immediately after.  The drink looked pretty and tasted similarly.  It managed to taste both rich and light, making me think of milk chocolate or a dark, smooth berry.  My mother’s cappuccino was fine and she enjoyed it, saying that it wasn’t too milky for her taste, though what she thought it tasted like, I couldn’t get out of her.

While there was nothing about the experience that knocked my socks off, it’s shocking how much time I’ve spent thinking about El Rey in the weeks since.  Maybe it was the Scandinavia-esque wood that so captivated me.  Maybe it was the people, the atmosphere or the special day.  I can’t wait to head back to El Rey, enjoy the space, my cortado and perhaps even get one of their special pastries I’ve heard so much about.

When are you going to go?

What makes you return to a cafe?

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