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.
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant.” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back.” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will,” Manuel declared.Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe,” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine.Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.
In an area that is surrounded by a multitude of places to grab a bite, I found Cipriani Le Specialita to be one of the most desirable. Across from Grand Central Station, the space is tiny, but the menu vast and the food superb. We were lucky enough to be able to grab a small table after lining up and ordering our salad and sandwich. When I stopped by on a different day to grab a quick snack, the person behind the counter reminded me that at 4:00 each afternoon, whatever is remaining in their cases is offered at half price.