Much of Pennylane's personality is evident in its chic - yet stark - decor. The walls are painted black and grey and the people who queue up around the wooden countertop are clad in colors from the same palette: office grays, blacks, and blues. Founded by a former member of the fashion industry, Sung Kang, Pennylane encapsulates the trendy New York vibe. Just off Second Avenue, it is a haven for aficionados who crave a serious cup of coffee from producers like Parlor Coffee or Heart Roasters. It is also a great place to unwind with a stronger beverage, as Pennylane serves wine and beer later in the day.
For most of his life Sung had been complacent about his coffee choices. He would stop by a familiar Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for a cup of joe and would go about his business, like many other New Yorkers. One day, a few years back, he came across a cafe in TriBeCa that changed the way he saw coffee. Sung was so impressed by the flavor, its richness and texture, that he started doing some research.
Sung read every book on which he could get his hands and spent some time on the web reading NY Times writer Oliver Strand's famous coffee-related column, "Ristratto." Eventually, Sung realized that he wanted to start his own cafe and began to ask his friends what they thought was the best coffee shop in the city. A couple of friends pointed him to Sweetleaf, a cafe in Brooklyn. Sung offered to work as an unpaid intern there so that he could learn about the business and, after chatting with the manager, got the job. He stayed there for six months before he got up the courage to begin his own business – Pennylane Coffee.
In the early summer of 2014, while we were walking 45th street, Sung was coming up on his first anniversary and reflected on what he had learned in the past year. The thing that was most different from his previous job, he thought, was facing the consumer. As a merchandiser, he never had to interact with the people who bought the final product. Instead, he would work with store representatives and stay behind the scenes. As a barista and business owner, Sung has had to learn to interact with customers and try to gauge whether they like the coffee or not. Sung prioritizes customer service and tries to talk to people about the coffee they are drinking when patrons are not swamping the counter.
The Pickler sells coffee on one side and a wide range of sandwiches on the other. David Lowenstein, who opened the Pickler in 2015, decided to give the store a light and funny name when he took over the space from his boss. He decided on the Pickler after considering the names of several of the Batman villains. As a fun touch, he adds a pickle to every sandwich served.David first started working in restaurants when he was in college. He originally wanted to be a teacher, but quickly decided that the restaurant business was better suited to him. After working as the operations manager for three different restaurants, the space on 46th Street became available, and he decided it was time to set off on his own. He renovated the entire restaurant, knocking down walls and redesigning it to be more open. He kept the order windows in the back, which connect to LIM College, so students are able to stop by in between classes. David said that their food comes from "clean sources," including their meat and dairy, and the coffee comes from organic fair trade farmers.
Paul Stuart's flagship location commands the southwest corner of Madison Avenue, a 60,000 square foot retail space dedicated to fine menswear. Established in 1938 by haberdasher Ralph Ostrove - and named after his son - Paul Stuart is committed to revitalizing and updating the classic American style. Continuing on with the family tradition, CEO, Michael Ostrove, explains that Paul Stuart is "an American interpretation of its Anglo roots," those that stretch to London's famous Savile Row.
Beer Culture opened in the summer of 2013, offering beer, cider, whiskey, and bottled sodas. Customers can come in to pick up a bottle – or growler - of beer to take home, or grab a seat at the bar to chat with the friendly staff while noshing on some charcuterie. The record player behind the bar is usually going and if the owner, Matt Gebhard, and bar manager, Peter Malfatti, are around, they are bound to strike up a conversation and offer to guide patrons through their extensive beer selection.The beers are organized by region. The first door of their huge, glass-front fridge is full of beers from New York State, while the second is full of east coast beers, and the third and fourth is full of central and west coast beers. A bit further back into the room is their international fridge, proudly boasting selections from the UK, France, and three shelves worth of Belgian beers.For patrons who just want a nice, cold, familiar beer, grandpa's fridge is the place to go. Customers often mistake the old Kelvinator across from the bar as a prop and are always surprised when they open it up and realize that it works and that they recognize all of the brands inside of it. Matt included grandpa's fridge because he thinks that there is a place for all beers (except lite ones, which are not sold on the Beer Culture premises) and that some brands hold emotional value for customers. True to its name, the beers in the old Kelvinator are those that Matt had seen in his own grandfather's fridge growing up.Matt's first true exposure to beer and its culture was during a year he spent studying abroad in Belgium. When he came back home to upstate NY, Matt was nineteen and decided to pursue his newfound passion by working in a local Belgian brewery. He remained here for a few years until he met Peter, his future bar manager, who was living in Rochester, NY.Before opening their own place, Matt came to Manhattan and worked in a Belgian bar in Midtown. Although he enjoyed it, Matt told us that he wanted to do things his own way and fulfill his vision of what a bar should be. The bar that these two terrific guys opened is one that is dedicated to the simple, comfortable and unpretentious beverage that they adore.Nestled between Eighth and Ninth Avenue in a residential part of 45th Street, Beer Culture, is a hybrid bar and bottle shop offering its customers over 500 different types of beer. Although at the time of this write-up, Beer Culture had been around for less than a year, both Matt and Peter already feel like part of the block. As Matt stated, "We pride ourselves in being an establishment of beer nerds, not beer snobs."
After eleven years in her Noho location, Executive Chef and Food Network star Alex Guarnaschelli opened Butter in the Cassa Hotel, a Midtown twin to her well-known restaurant. Shaped by Guarnaschelli's own travels and time spent working abroad, the attractive dark wood restaurant with comfortable booth seating, is American but with the requisite global touches and ingredients expected of fine dining. When Chef Guarnaschelli isn't filming, she is in the kitchen, on the line, adding her fine touch into every aspect of the cooking. As members of her staff shared with us, Alex is dedicated to bringing fresh and simple ingredients together in beautifully crafted dishes.On a rare and special night out with just my husband and daughter, I could not pass up the opportunity to bring my butter-loving girl to this dining experience. Since she has always considered the dairy treat to be its own food group, I had the highest hopes for the meal - particularly the bread basket - which did not disappoint. The warm Pullman-style rolls with the house-made butters (a plain with a hint of sour cream for richness, and an herb that was light and lovely) were out of this world. All three of us agreed we could leave satisfied just from that - and a spicy cocktail, of course (the Ghost Margarita) But we powered ahead sharing the burrata salad. The creamy burrata with garden-fresh tomatoes was divine and the ribeye steaks that my husband and daughter ordered were cooked perfectly and sat atop smashed purple potatoes. And, as a vegetarian, I always keep an eye out for restaurants working to develop unique, hearty main courses. The charred coconut milk-soaked cauliflower was much appreciated. We finished things off, in case one thought we had already indulged ourselves sufficiently, with the raspberry beignets accompanied by a vanilla dipping sauce. If the name of this restaurant alone does not have one's mouth watering, I am sure that it is now!