Every day before I start a tour, I arrive early, sit in a café with a cup of coffee and collect myself. It gives me just a few minutes to think about how I want my day to unfold. There’s no lack of coffee shops in Manhattan, but I love some of the cafés on the Lower East Side in particular. Their diversity reflects the culture of the neighborhood itself, and they all seem to want to make the world a better place: they source their coffee thoughtfully, and they largely shun the coffee-to-go model and strive to create a community with their customers. Here are a few cafés to visit on the Lower East Side. They all serve amazing coffee, and they’ll all draw you in so you want to stay a while.
Stop in here to get your week going on a peaceful note, especially if you have a busy week ahead of you. Grab a seat in front of the window and watch the day begin to unfold before your own hectic schedule kicks off. Café Grumpy obtains their beans solely from “socially and environmentally responsible producers,” and they have their own roasting plant in Brooklyn. If you really love the coffee, you can buy some and take it home with you. They also have a fun selection of Café Grumpy merchandise like mugs, hats, and T-shirts if you’re shopping for unique souvenirs.
Ost Cafe got priced out of the East Village in early 2017. Grand Street is now their sole location, where their main goal is still to serve a quality cup of coffee. Their menu is rooted in the owner’s Central European heritage, but also strives to be appealing to the local clientele. Ost Café is perfect for a mid-week pick-me-up. There’s plenty of seating available, sun streams in through the windows, and there’s always a friendly buzz of conversation. Come with a friend or find some peace on your own as you take some time to head into the second half of the week.
Unlike the model which seems so prevalent in today’s coffee shops, everything about the Black Cat invites you grab a seat in one of their many comfortable chairs, order a cup of coffee, and hang out for a while. Their goal is to stay true to the old model coffee shop—a place where people linger for hours, discussing whatever current events are in the air. Owner Aaron Ho actually teaches at a local university, and encourages customers to come here for meetings or study groups; there’s Wi-Fi and even a printer for customer use. Oh, and the cat paintings that line the walls can’t help but make you smile. They also have weekend free entertainment, so step up to the open mic, see a movie, or come for an academic lecture.
They made the news recently for two unique coffee drinks—an egg cappuccino, which is a variation on a traditional Korean coffee drink, and a matte black latte, darkened by coconut ash and cacao powder. If you’re not feeling adventurous enough for an egg cappuccino or a black latte—complete with black whipped cream—try another fusion drink such as a Korean chai latte infused with ginseng, cinnamon, chili pepper, and black sugar, or if it’s alcohol you’re after, a Kimchi Bloody Mary. Obviously, owner Ockhyeon Byeon likes to keep things interesting; he also rotates the food menu to keep it fresh. Round K is definitely one of the most interesting cafés in the neighborhood.
Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Co.
One small café on the Lower East Side and another in Brooklyn are their only East Coast locations, as they are primarily a Pacific Northwest endeavor. They’ve been importing coffee directly from environmentally sustainable farms and roasting it themselves since 1995, so it seems they’ve earned the right to call themselves “pioneers of the Farm Direct movement.” The seating inside is limited so it’s not a place to linger for long, but it’s worth a stop for their delicious coffee.
Stop into one of these local cafés the next time you’re on the Lower East Side, and let me know what you think!