From cafe to bar: NYC coffee shops get a new buzz with cocktail service

Kobrick Coffee Co. in Chelsea is a combination cafe and bar, with coffee served during the day and beer and wine available in the evenings. Photo Credit: Briana Balducci

Cafes are increasingly staying open later and adding beer, wine and liquor to the menu to maximize their investment in high-cost New York City.

Kobrick Coffee Co. in Chelsea is a combination cafe and bar, with coffee served during the day and beer and wine available in the evenings.
Kobrick Coffee Co. in Chelsea is a combination cafe and bar, with coffee served during the day and beer and wine available in the evenings. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

The menu at Kobrick Coffee Co. in Chelsea offers draft pours of smooth nitro cold brew — along with beer like Peroni and Catskills Black Lager. Of course, one of those isn’t usually served until the late afternoon.

Kobrick is like many other coffee roasters and cafes in the city that have recently been expanding to cater to the night crowd by adding wine, beer and cocktails, and staying open later.

These coffee shops that transition into “bars” at night seem to mimic European all-day cafes, a longtime cultural staple across the pond but a rather new concept in the States. Some have included alcohol and late closing times since their initial openings years ago, while others are just starting to extend their menus and hours.

Either way, next time you’re searching for a bar to relax in with an evening drink, you may want to check your local coffee shop.

Maximizing space and time

Although liquor licenses are costly (depending on the type of business and degree of license, they can be around $5,000 in New York and can take up to six months to process), business owners say the expense outweighs not using the space to its full potential, given the high rents in New York City.

Kobrick Coffee Co. has a different vibe in the evenings, when it offers draft pours of beers like Peroni and Catskills Black Lager.
Kobrick Coffee Co. has a different vibe in the evenings, when it offers draft pours of beers like Peroni and Catskills Black Lager. Photo Credit: Briana Balducci

Brooklyn-based East One Roasters opened its flagship roastery and eatery in Carroll Gardens in 2017, and just last month opened a new all-day cafe in Chelsea. The Carroll Gardens location recently extended its kitchen hours to “offer a more complete experience for the neighborhood,” and the company is preparing to expand hours and offer an evening menu, beer and wine at the Chelsea location.

“Extending hours and adding wine and beer is a fiscal necessity,” founder and owner Tom Cummings said. “Supporting the high level of coffee production we’re doing at a corner location in the heart of Chelsea in a 1,700-square-foot space requires more than simply the roasting and production of great coffee.”

Daily Press Coffee is another shop that has two locations in Brooklyn: one at 505 Franklin St., which opened in 2011, and one at 38 Somers St., which opened in 2017. While the Somers Street location was “opened with the intention of building into an evening spot,” according to general manager Emily Rose Alford, Daily Press is now in the process of extending weekend hours from 7 to 10 p.m. at Franklin Street to encourage more beer and wine purchases.

“The Somers Street location was a mixture of community demand as well as having a lot of space available to work in,” Alford said of the reason behind expanding hours and menus. “At the Franklin location, it was a matter of: If we have the space, then why not offer these products?”

“Acquiring the liquor license was a very costly and drawn out process,” she said. “[But] it will certainly pay for itself over time and has absolutely contributed to helping our business grow.”

Transitioning from barista to bartender

Kobrick had been selling wholesale to city restaurants before opening its shop in 2014. Chefs and workers often asked questions about the differences in roasts and beans, and for menu pairing and cocktail mixing suggestions. The team started experimenting on its own at the roasting facility, where it saw lots of “synergy” between the two processes.

East One Roasters' flagship shop in Carroll Gardens recently extended kitchen hours and offers wine and beer.
East One Roasters’ flagship shop in Carroll Gardens recently extended kitchen hours and offers wine and beer. Photo Credit: Morten Tjelum

“We started to see a lot of overlap between coffee, coffee craft and the craft of cocktails,” owner Scott Kobrick said. “Even the word ‘barista’ in Italian means ‘bartender’ … there’s no differentiation. In many European cafes, you sit down and they have both — you can order an Aperol spritz or you can order a coffee.”

And of course, cost also played a role.

“In our area of New York City, the rent is extremely, extremely high,” he continued. “So we might as well try to maximize every hour of the day as much as possible.” They do so by staying open from 7 a.m. until 4 a.m.

Since the concept was there right at the beginning, Kobrick was able to thoughtfully utilize the tiny 650-square-foot space as both cafe and bar. This includes draught lines that distribute cold brew as well as beer and wine, and sliding menu boards that cover the liquor choices until around 4:30 p.m.

“It was really fun, but a challenge to set up the place to accommodate the preparation of coffee and cocktails at the same time, and be truly functional for both,” Kobrick said. “A lot of thought went into that process.”

The business does have one rule for the mobile worker who is moving from work hour to happy hour: no laptops after 6 p.m.

The customer experience

Shakespeare & Co. is another business that just added wine and beer this spring. Though primarily a bookstore, its three current locations on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side and in Philadelphia all have cafes attached, as well. COO Robert Zaffiris calls it a “community-based destination,” with a premise that encourages people to stop in on a daily or weekly basis, rather than the typical monthly visit to a regular local bookstore.

Shakespeare & Co. is a bookstore/cafe with locations on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, which added beer and wine to its menus this spring.
Shakespeare & Co. is a bookstore/cafe with locations on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, which added beer and wine to its menus this spring. Photo Credit: Shakespeare & Co.

“We have a lot of tourists that come in, and locals who are just grabbing a cup of coffee in the morning and either heading to work or chilling out and reading,” he said. “We find they’re buying many more books than they would be otherwise.”

Though locations are typically open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, the Upper West Side spot is now open until 9 p.m., and is the first to add wine and beer. Zaffiris said the store wants to have “multiple entrance points during the day for the different constituents that we serve,” and adding wine and beer has helped encourage the after-dinner hangout crowd.

“Beer and wine are a natural complement to books and the cafe, they kind of go hand-in-hand,” he said. “They’ve been very well received so far.”

The team is planning on expanding and serving the drinks at its other locations, particularly the new store in Brookfield Place in early 2020.

East One also sees the addition of spirits as a complement to what it already is offering.

“When we sold our U.K. business in 2015 and moved to NYC, we knew we wanted to open a roastery and cafe that was representative of the city,” Cummings said. “And for us that meant not only amazing and thoughtfully roasted coffee and wholesale program, but also great food. We also prepared for beer, wine and in some cases a full liquor license, [in order] to sustain a business like that and create a more complete customer experience.”

Combo coffee shop/bars include:

Kobrick Coffee Co.: 24 Ninth Ave., Manhattan
East One Roasters: 384 Court St., Brooklyn / 170 W. 23rd St., Manhattan
Daily Press Coffee: 505 Franklin Ave., Brooklyn / 38 Somers St., Brooklyn
Shakespeare & Co. Upper West Side: 2020 Broadway, Manhattan
DTUT: 1744 Second Ave., Manhattan
Black Cat LES: 172 Rivington St., Manhattan
Feroce Caffè at Moxy Chelsea: 105 W. 28th St., Manhattan
Hi-Collar: 214 E. 10th St., Manhattan
Patisserie Chanson: 20 W. 23rd St., Manhattan
Bathtub Gin at Stone Street Coffee Company: 132 Ninth Ave., Manhattan

Claire Leaden