The Manhattan Sideways team was pleasantly surprised to find such a cozy coffee shop in the middle of a hectic block in midtown. While there, we spoke with Angie, the manager of the shop, who said to us “you don’t feel like you’re in midtown. People come here for an escape from this crazy area of town. We have a chill café, and people come here to relax.”
Culture Espresso is injecting a little bit of funk, flavor and fine coffee into the midtown scene. The atmosphere is full of warmth, a touch of glamour - a chandelier - and offers a wall of windows that look across to one of the city's finest facades, the Colony Arcade Building, now the Refinery Hotel. Indeed, this coffee shop will satisfy anyone's need for an afternoon pick-me-up with some of the best baked goods we have tasted. Their colossal, homemade cookies that were hot out of the oven, oozing with dark chocolate and about one-inch thick were game-changers for each of us. In addition to the cookies, we were tempted by the collection of brightly frosted pop tarts. Unlike the typical childhood treat out of a box, these are designed for grown-ups with a flakey pastry crust and sophisticated combinations inside. We tried the pear, the cinnamon and the mixed berry. All three were simply splendid. As for the coffee, the folks at Culture Espresso see themselves as more than vendors and baristas. According to John, the owner, he is always searching for the perfect roast with "blind cuppings" (coffee tastings) each week. However, he finds himself continually coming back to Heart Roasters as the absolute best. As their website claims, the folks at Culture are clearly "curators, " and work hard to deliver a high-quality coffee experience each and every day. Their philosophy and genuine desire to please customers seem to be working well. On each occasion that we stopped by, the place was bustling with patrons lingering at their upholstered benches and high-top tables, while others departed with treats and caffeinated beverages in tow.
Stepping into Ramini, we were immediately drawn in by the quirky decor with partially exposed brick, a wooden bench, vintage spoons hanging in a display and cleverly painted walls. The Cafe offers teas, coffee concoctions, and hot chocolate, as well as a colorful assortment of macarons, which were the perfect decadent treats to nibble on with a hot mocha. Also in Ramini's homemade collection of pastries were cheese and olive bourekas, brownies, cookies and mini croissants. For those keeping to a healthier diet, there is a juice bar with fresh cleansing juices constantly being made to order. We chose to linger at one of the two tables as it enabled us to appreciate the constant flow of dedicated customers as the late morning became early afternoon; always a sign of good service, good coffee and good food.
Sporting a logo now made instantly recognizable by the HBO hit show "Girls, " Cafe Grumpy turned out to be quite the chipper coffee shop. I walked in and was blasted with the rich, earthy aroma of grounds, and was soon chatting with a group of charming baristas while yuppiedom buzzed animatedly around us. This particular location of the cafe opened in August of 2013, bringing the total number of Grumpies to five, with two in Manhattan. Manager Kat described how when she heard of the move to Midtown she was hesitant, but she has found everyone to be "really nice. " And it is easy to see why customers would be, with the servers exuding cheer, the coffee so full of flavor, and the pastries fresh-baked in the Lower East Side by "an adorable group of girls who keep weird hours. " At least they get to drink Grumpy's coffee while they're at it.
After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Neon lights, on the back wall, greeted us as we entered Trademark Grind, the “boutique coffee bar” serving Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn. In this quaint space, we were treated to excellent cups of hot chocolate, perfect on this winter day. A few minutes later, the PR manager, Matt, greeted us and invited the Manhattan Sideways team to follow him through a small entryway where we discovered Trademark Taste, a cozy, dimly lit restaurant... a safe little hideaway in the middle of bustling Midtown Manhattan. Opened in the spring of 2016, by In Good Company Hospitality, Trademark Taste & Grind serves a mixed clientele, from guests at the attached hotel and the pre-show crowd from Madison Square Garden to those looking for a unique weekend bar scene. The menu is impeccably curated by culinary director, Jeff Haskell, to featured favorites like Burrata and Knots and Tuna Poke. However, with its dark, mellow colors, graffiti motifs and hints of industrial flair, Trademark is all about the space. The walls are white and black with accents of red. Intimate hidden booths circle a large center bar, the anchor of the room. As soon as I took a look around, I wanted to settle into one of these booths for the evening. When I repeated this to Matt, he replied, “People tend to not want to leave. ”
Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.