The new coffeehouses: Not just for breakfast anymore


By Ronda Kaysen

At 9 o’clock on a Monday night at a Middle Eastern style den in the East Village, New Yorkers were dipping speared carrots in pots of fondue and washing it down with…coffee.

Yes, coffee. That black, bitter beverage associated with the morning rush hour has taken on a new role at Mug, a cafe on E. 13th St. and Avenue A. And it’s not alone. Coffee shops are selling beer, wine and delectables, drawing visitors into their cafes well into the night.

“People are always on the go. Now they prefer the finer coffeehouse,” said Michael White, owner of Mug. “People are looking for places to lounge. Now people are trying to get it with a cup of coffee.”

In the past year, a spate of new cafes geared toward the evening crowd have opened in Union Square, the East Village and Soho. New Yorkers are finding themselves taking to coffee in the way one would take to a fine wine, by sitting down and enjoying it. Unlike Starbucks, the behemoth that first introduced Americans to luxury espresso, these new cafes have forgone the caramel-macchiato-in-a-paper-cup model for a more European tradition of coffee drinking.

“Having a perfect cup of coffee is part of an enjoyable ritual. It’s something that can be savored,” said Gregory Fea, president and C.E.O. of Illy Caffé of North America, an Italian coffee company that launched a temporary Soho cafe and “exhibition” in September. “I would love for the consumer to demand a good cup of coffee. Too often, the product that’s offered is not perfected. I think that it’s a shame because coffee is the last thing you have after a great meal.”

Galleria Illy on W. Broadway is a lofty space with white walls, oversized photographs lining the walls and a chandelier made of painted espresso cups. Baristas serve cups of espresso and cappuccino to guests lounging on contemporary Italian furniture. The back is lined with brightly colored espresso makers and the rear corner of the space houses a library with more than 500 coffee-table books and large Moroso chairs for lounging.

The Galleria is a three-month-long endeavor that will close on Dec. 15. In the meantime, it will sell coffee, advertise its Julian Schnabel- and David Byrne-designed espresso cups and host coffee-making instructional courses and a slew of evening events, including a private reading in late November of the “Kitchen Sisters,” a National Public Radio show, produced by the Coen brothers and featuring Sofia Coppola and Francis McDormand.

The Galleria is “a place that you can go and you can immerse yourself in culture,” said Fea. “We’re trying to help people to understand that having a perfect cup of coffee is part of an enjoyable ritual. It’s something that can be savored. The idea is to really allow them to immerse them in coffee.”

Tarallucci e Vino, an Italian cafe in the East Village, was such a success that the owners decided to open a second one in Union Square.

Last Friday, Tarallucci opened its doors on 18th St. and Broadway, offering in addition to its signature coffee, 16 varieties of wine. It also sells an assortment of exquisite pastries and assaggi — Italian appetizers — and assorted cheeses and meats. “We wanted to function as an Italian bar,” said co-owner Luca Di Pietro. “It’s a more fun way of eating.”

But Tarallucci is still known for its Italian espresso — which is ranked among the best in the city — and on the opening weekend guests trickling in were still eager to sip espresso well into the evening. “We’re very well known for our coffee and cappuccino and that has followed us here,” said Di Pietro.

Downtown on Maiden Lane a small neighborhood coffee house has blossomed in the heart of the Financial District. Open on Saturdays and late on Thursdays, Klatch is something of an anomaly in a neighborhood that shuts down at nightfall and stays closed all weekend long. “When you live down here, you’re so used to nothing’s open and there’s not a lot to do down here, so I think people get up and leave,” said owner Pam Chmiel. In an effort to create a destination atmosphere, Klatch sells wine and beer and started hosting a knitting class on Thursday nights.

“It’s been a steady, slow growth. We haven’t leveled out, we’re still growing,” said Chmiel. Eventually, Chmiel would like to take advantage of being the only game in town and open a sister location in the neighborhood.

Mug, in the East Village, added a new twist to its coffee last week, launching a new pomegranate-flavored brew. Made with a combination of Chinese ginseng and pomegranate extract imported from Russia, the new flavor is no sweeter than regular coffee — the extract is actually bitter — but White, who created the flavor, swears it adds a healthy kick to the black, steaming java.

“This one gets people’s attention. They’re like wow! This is a great idea,” he said.