New York bars are loud. Really super-effing-hard-to-have-a-conversation loud. Coffee shops, on the other hand, can feel as silent as the morgue. With their ever-increasing packs of freelancers and remote workers hunched over shiny laptops (guilty), the very sort of establishment that once hatched revolutions and artistic movements from Cairo to Paris and beyond now sometimes seem more like trendy office floors. Plus, they often close too early to get much work, socializing or revolutionary activity done if you’re a night owl. This is not exactly a new observation. Social gathering spaces have been trending towards aggressive loudness and stony silence, respectively, for some time.
I believe there’s a happy medium, though, and it comes in the form of my favorite type of food and beverage establishment: the bar/coffee shop, the font of all altering liquids. Boffee shop? Café saloon? Barfé? Cafloon? Whatever you call it, I like a place that blends a casual coffee house environment with the social aspects of a neighborhood bar. You can work on your great American novel/screenplay/food listicle. You can chat. You can eat a tasty sandwich and stay out moderately late. Here are some of my favorite hybrids around the city, in no particular order.
1014 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, 11238
Outpost is the first bar/coffee shop I ever visited in New York, and so by default has become the standard against which I judge all other such spots. It sets a high bar. With velvet couches and potted plants, the front area looks a bit like your eccentric Victorian aunt’s living room. There’s also a back area with plenty of seating and small tables good for solo writing and studying. During the temperate parts of the year, the backyard garden is open. In addition to coffee drinks, craft beers on tap and wines by the glass, Outpost’s menu features sandwiches, salads, cakes, and a tasty vegetarian chili mac. Or you can get the chili or the mac and cheese separately, if you’re some kind of godless barbarian.
Upper East Side
1744 2nd Ave, New York 10128
With a full bar, ample seating, and board games, DTUT is a master of the bar/coffee shop form. The decor is reminiscent of a high school chemistry classroom if your classroom was an incredibly cool, high-ceilinged industrial space. Think metal stools with particle board seats, and a front window bar area with cubbyholes for stashing your stuff. In the back, there are couches and a projector screen setup. DTUT’s menu is all about fun, flame-intensive food like s’more platters and cheese fondue. Like many establishments of the genre, DTUT has a laptop policy. Or rather, a wifi policy, meaning that they shut it off after 5 PM on weekdays. On the weekends, there’s no wifi at all. This gives DTUT a coffee-shop-by-day, bar-by-night vibe. In the early evening, laptop workers give way to small groups of people meeting up for drinks. I had the awkward pleasure of overhearing a first date in progress — quieter and more chill than most bars, bar/coffee shops tend to be the perfect venue for telling a new Tinder match how many siblings you have and whether you’re thinking of going back to school for an MFA.
1114 DeKalb Ave, Brooklyn 11221
A new project by the owners of the popular nearby queer bar Happyfun Hideaway, Flowers For All Occasions is like a little chill sister. But with rotating art installations, indie arcade games and raucous RuPaul’s Drag Race screening nights, she definitely has her own unique personality. Flowers’ interior is a riot of potted plants, reclaimed wood and old-fashioned Christmas lights. Alongside the standard coffee, tea, beer and wine offerings, the menu features soju cocktails and vegetarian snacks, including a soft pretzel plate and grilled cheese sandwiches. I especially appreciate that one can buy Franzia by the glass. Respect.
40-17 Broadway, Astoria 11103
With full brunch and dinner menus, The Queens Kickshaw is a barfé (sorry) of all trades. The setup is intelligent, with a counter and large table in the front perfect for solo customers, and small tables better suited to dining couples and small groups in the back. Classy and candle-lit with exposed brick and a muted color scheme, The Queens Kickshaw manages to do many things well at once. The desserts and beer selection are especially noteworthy.
3260 Johnson Ave, Bronx 10463
Moss Café’ is clean and bright, an ideal spot for both casual meals and solo work time. Moss’s coffee drinks are made with Stumptown beans, and the café also has three beers on tap, plus wine by the glass and by the bottle. The menu is certified kosher under the Riverdale Vaad, and dishes are built around a rotating array of local, seasonal produce. The rice bowls and house-made pickles in particular are worth a try.
770 Hart St, Brooklyn 11237
As its name suggests, Molasses is not only a bar/coffee shop, but also a used bookstore. A three-fer! The shop is small in size, but boasts an impressive collection of contemporary poetry and literary fiction. The vibe is a bit like your cool professor uncle’s minimalist pad. There’s a record player behind the bar, and the baristas have good taste in vinyl. Molasses doesn’t allow laptops after 8 p.m. and holds readings and even comedy shows some evenings.
Multiple Manhattan Locations
Irving Farm sources and roasts their own seriously delicious coffee beans and offers a deadly variety of local pastries to boot. Additionally, their menus include sandwiches, salads, scrambled egg plates, beers on tap and wines by the glass. On the bar/coffee spectrum, Irving Farm is more aligned with the coffee shop end of things, but with an added beer/wine/fresh food oomph.
600 W 218th St #3, New York 10034
Another hybrid hero, Indian Road Café has a full brunch and dinner scene with table service, as well as a front area with a coffee counter. Situated in the wilds of far northern Manhattan, the café’s bright paintings by local artists and live music during brunch give it a lively neighborhood feel. On weekdays, laptop users can spill into the dining room. Indian Road Café also hosts weekly and monthly evening events including a knitting circle, trivia night and drag bingo. As I always say, come for the tasty local food, stay for the drag bingo.
Molly Jean Bennett’s poems, short stories, strongly worded letters, and fashion articles have appeared or are forthcoming in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Sou’wester, Word Riot, Bustle, Dilettante Army, The Masters Review and elsewhere. Her chapbook Paper Apartment is forthcoming from Essay Press. She lives on the northern edge of Bed-Stuy.