On this last day of February, I figured I would explore one more new neighborhood: The Flatiron District.
Apparently this small neighborhood has had an identity crisis over the past century or so. Former names include Toy District and Photo District because of the popularity of toy stores and photography studios at certain times in the 20th century. And yes, I know what’s going through your mind. And to answer your question: no, this neighborhood is not currently known for its sale and distribution of Flatirons. It is actually named after the Flatiron Building pictured above. The name was apparently a marketing ploy by real estate agents in the 80s to attract new residents to the area.
Too bad this Starbucks is not as attractive as the name of the neighborhood in which it resides. Although the service was good and the restroom clean, this was probably one of the most uninviting Starbucks I’ve been to in NYC. I think the drastically dim lighting is what turned me off initially. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate a romantic candle lit dinner as much as the next person — but when it comes to my cafes: “Let there be light!”
Also, the seating was inadequate for filling the demand. I was lucky enough to grab a seat after receiving my drink, but there was a consistent crowd of people hovering around. One patron actually perched herself on the tiny windowsill and uncomfortably read from her giant textbook while waiting for a seat to open up. Also worth mentioning is that they have covered the available power outlets with metal plates. I’ve only ever seen this at one other location in the city, and its definitely a big turn off to any cafe goer.
I’m starting to differentiate the Starbucks of New York into two distinct categories: those worth lingering and those you grab on the go. This one belongs to the latter.
Today I sit in the neighborhood of Kips Bay. Just east of the mob scene known as Herald Square, Kips Bay could not differ more. Honestly, when I think of Kips Bay a yawn usually escapes my mouth.
This is a residential neighborhood with few transportation options. The easiest way in and out of Kips Bay is the bus system, and if you’ve ever attempted to take an MTA bus in NYC you know that “easy” isn’t the best word to describe the experience. Personally I prefer walking — which is usually what happens anyway after waiting 10-15 minutes for a bus that never shows up.
The neighborhood’s lack of train transportation may be what allows it to be a relatively peaceful and easygoing part of New York. Of course if the 2nd Avenue subway ever arrives — a work in progress since 1929 that has earned the nickname “The Line That Time Forgot” — then maybe Kips Bay will begin to resemble its neighbors to the west.
The Kips Bay Starbucks on 32nd and 2nd resembles its surroundings in the fact that it has a light crowd. A decent amount of seating lines the long windowed wall, and there is at least one or two free seats at any given moment. The crowd is subdued. Everyone has a book, laptop, or smart phone in front of them. And neither the coffee line or restroom line draws attention.
Unfortunately there is no comfy seating. In fact, it’s wood all around. Whether you’re seating on one of the wooden chairs or the wooden bench that lines the wall. Or you can lean against the wooden barista bar while you admire the large wooden plaque on the wall that speaks to Starbucks’s environmental good doings.
All in all, this Starbucks provides a great environment — it’s just transportation that it’s lacking.
The Starbucks on the north-west corner of Union Square Park further exemplifies my theory that not all Starbucks are created equal. This location is first-rate. Rivaling the SoHo location on Spring and Crosby and far outweighing its sister store just on Union Square East.
What places this Starbucks a notch above the rest?
Location is definitely a bragging right. It’s not too far from anything. Just steps from Union Square and transportation goodness, this Starbucks is also right off of 5th Avenue and a fresh patch of retail stores. Shopping doesn’t interest you? Keep walking past 5th, and before you know it you’re in Chelsea — and why wouldn’t you want to be in Chelsea? Or you can travel south and take your pick between Greenwich Village or East Village.
Other then it’s prime real-estate, this Starbucks flaunts many noteworthy characteristics. It has a front and back entrance, keeping the line from flooding into the two — yes two — seating areas. It has copious amounts of chairs and tables that don’t really seem to fill despite the ever-flowing crowd. The bathroom is far removed from view by a tiny hall in the back. The neoclassical decor — with chain dangling lights and short leather chairs — is a design to admire. And it’s open til midnight daily.
Great for a quick cup on-the-go, but you may find yourself tempted to sit and stay awhile.
Starbucks Is a Work of Art.
This weekend I set out to to explore a piece of New York City apart from Starbucks: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, while I was at the museum I just happened to stumble upon a little piece of Starbucks:
What’s a Siren, and Why Is It on my Coffee Cup?
This particular statue, titled “Siren”, was made in the 16th century in Rome. While there a many statues depicting these creatures, this one appears to be the most similar to the original Starbucks Coffee logo, with twin tails and a hand holding each. Of course the logo has gone through several changes since its inception, but if you look up the original — or you’ve been drinking coffee long enough to remember — you’ll find the resemblance to be uncanny.
Now why would Starbucks choose this hideously beautiful creature to be their mascot to the world? Well let’s think about this. A siren is a mythological creature that was said to entice sailors with a melodic song only to leave them ship wrecked on jagged rocks and thrust into the sea. How many of us hear the call of coffee in the morning? Despite the consequences of caffeine or the health risks of added sugars and the pastries that so often accompany it, we cannot seem to turn ourselves away.
So here I am in New York City, walking to work — or wherever — when I happen to spot that oh’so familiar logo on the side of a building. Just like hearing the siren’s call, I cannot help but head that direction. And clearly, I’m seeing Starbucks wherever I go in this city.
If you’d like more information on the relationship between Starbucks and the siren, you can check out this detailed video I found. It discusses the history of the logo and the mythology behind the siren.
How do you know you’re in the Garment District? Just look for the array of textiles and beading in the shop windows. You’ll know.
New York City is the fashion epicenter of the United States. Young fashion-forward minds flock to New York for many reasons. NYC Fashion Week and the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology are just a few of the siren-like calls that attract those seeking a life in fashion. And at the heart of it all is the small neighborhood known as the Garment District.
I must admit that I don’t have the strongest inclination toward the fashion industry. While I don’t dress haphazardly — at least I hope not — I lack the visionary eye for fashion as an art form. And if you put me in-front of a sewing machine you’ll end up with the fashion equivalent of a finger painting. But still, I have an appreciation for those who can list off designers like family members and take a simple sketch of a design and turn it into reality.
This Starbucks on 39th and 8th isn’t adorned with fabrics nor do I see particularly fashionable people here, but it is certainly surrounded by enough wholesale fabric shops. When I first walked in I was initially disappointed by the lack of space and seating. Then I spotted a small stairwell behind the barista bar. Up the staircase exists a split-level seating area equipped with dozens of tables and chairs for all to enjoy. Yes, there’s a crowd up here, but it’s certainly not overcrowded, and there’s enough space between each table to spare you from claustrophobia that’s so common with NYC dining.
But every Starbucks has its flaw. And this one’s is its lack of power outlets. There are literally none on the second floor. In fact, what were once outlet plugs are now simply metal slabs. It’s such a tease — you know there’s power beyond it, but you have no way of attaining it. I have two theories for this unusual find. Theory #1 is that people were attempting to make this Starbucks their home, and cutting off the outlets was the only way to keep the crowds down. Theory #2 is that this particular location is a part of grass roots anti-technology movement, and cutting off the outlets is an attempt to get people to bring a book in place of a laptop.
Despite the lack of outlets, this location still has an excellent environment. I would even recommend it as a great place to hold a study group (or any kind of informal meeting), and that’s not something I can say about most Starbucks in the city.
Today I thought I would have a pleasant visit to the Starbucks in Chinatown — I was only half right. I made it there fine, but found the Starbucks to be anything but pleasant. But before I get into the gory details, let us first examine this unique neighborhood.
Chinatown contains the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia. Walking through this neighborhood, one can easily imagine they are walking through a busy street in China. The billboards and storefronts are written in Mandarin, and odd looking meats and fishes hang in store front windows. This particular location is on the corner of Canal and Centre — and if you’re thinking Canal Street sounds familiar, just think counterfeit Rolex and fake Gucci. That’s right! Canal Street –once an actual canal — is now infamous for its backroom shops brimming with knockoffs of electronics and handbags. So needless to say, this neighborhood attracts a crowd that rivals Times Square.
Speaking of crowds…
This Starbucks is like a mosh pit in purgatory. I walked in and all I could see was a mass of standing people with no discernible lines – just random shuffling. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of mosh pits in my younger days but I’d prefer them a part from my Starbucks visits. By examining who already had drinks in their hands, I was able to find the beginning of the line and there I stood — swaying lightly with the crowd.
While I stood waiting in the line I was able to take in a few key facts. There are so few chairs that people are literally huddled together in groups — either waiting for a seat to open up or having given up completely and resigned to standing. There was no restroom available — I don’t think the small space could have held the extra bodies that a public restroom would have brought anyway. And the two entrances on opposing walls kept the temperature nice and chilly — so chilly that I’m actually regretting ordering my iced beverage.
After 10 minutes of standing in place — adamant about writing this blog entry on site — I was able to score a seat lining the window. And unfortunately this tight environment isn’t conducive to any kind of reading, writing, or thinking. My only recommendation for this location is to go very early in the morning or late-late night. Perhaps the crowd will be less intense.
One thing I’m learning about New Yorkers is that they absolutely love abbreviations. Which — after all — makes sense, since every second and syllable is of value here. Why waste your time saying South of Houston Street when you can slam it all together into SoHo. And then of course if you have a SoHo you need a NoHo. And joining these two sister neighborhoods are other riddles of abbreviation such as FiDi, TriBeCa, NoLIta, and SpaHa – which we’ll visit at a later time.
Until then, I sit in NoHo. And — Yes, you guessed it! — NoHo is simply North of Houston Street. Although NoHo is a much smaller neighborhood than its southern sister, it has very similar characteristics: expensive lofts and pricey shops — and a Starbucks!
This Starbucks separates itself from the others I’ve visited in one very cool way — the paintings on the walls are both real and for sale. This reminds me of a cafe my friends and I used to frequent throughout high school — believe it or not I once refused the idea of monopolizing chain coffee. The Sun Shoppe was our cafe of choice. The drinks tasted different each visit, and they were always closed on Sundays, but somehow that place holds a special place in my heart. Before new management took over, they used to sell the decor right off their walls.
Another factor working in favor of this location is the larger than normal seating area near the entrance. People are chatting, studying, texting, or gazing into computer screens. It’s an eclectic group, and this Starbucks can hold plenty of them. Also, this Starbucks seems to be on top of it with their choice in music. So far, I’ve heard Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Ellie Goulding. Keep it up!
I have seen this particular Starbucks at glance every now and then since it is on the same cross-street as my gym, so today I figured I’d enter for the first time before going to a spinning class (yes, I spin — don’t judge).
One of my reasons for avoiding this location for so long is that fact that it has a sarcophagus of construction poles surrounding it — an unfortunate aspect of New York City that every business or apartment seems to be burdened with from time to time. But today I decided to submerge myself in the jungle-gym like construction of nuts and bolts to see the Starbucks that lie beyond — anticipating a buried treasure of some sort.
And unfortunately I was disappointed to find no treasure. As well as no bathroom. No room to move. And no seating. Well, I take that back, there was seating, it was just very limited. After waiting in line I snagged a bar seat just as its former occupant vacated. One thing I found interesting is that there were two mini-square tables in the middle of the floor with no chairs attached to them at all — which begs the question: what’s a table without a chair?
My overall assessment is that this is a Starbucks of necessity only. Come to get your coffee then get on your way. I’m noticing this to be a trend with some of the Midtown locations.
This weekend I received a birthday present from New York City in the form of a blizzard.
The word blizzard may not be a friendly term to most, but as a recovering-Floridian, this weekend was a unique and enjoyable experience. The city slowed, and the people took a moment to chill — literally. Central Park is currently a winter wonderland of snow covered trees, sledding children, and lovers walking hands entwined.
My explorations in Central Park led me to the Upper West Side and the Starbucks on the corner of 81st & Columbus. One of Manhattan’s most affluent neighborhoods, the UWS is juxtaposed by its equivalent across the park — the Upper East Side. Both residential neighborhoods — the UWS is considered to house the artistic and cultural, while the UES is home to the commercial and business crowd. One of the most notable features that I’ve seen in this neighborhood is the contrasting colors of the residential facades. They go from white, to red, to green, and back again in a close proximity that really highlights the gorgeous architecture of each.
This particular Starbucks reflects the Upper West Side affluence quite well. Filled with comfy chairs and evenly spaced seating, this location attempts to defy the cramped NYC culture, and spaced evenly between the 1-Train and Central Park its in a prime location. The maple wood decor is also a pleasant contrast from most dark-espresso locations in the city. But don’t just take my word for it, come see it yourself.
Believe it or not — personal space is actually possible here!
Today happens to be my birthday. So naturally, I went to Starbucks to cash in on my Free Birthday Drink.
The free drink I receive each February 7th is one of my favorite perks of being such a Starbucks enthusiast, and since my birthday, I figured why not treat myself and go to one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city: Greenwich Village.
The Village is an area I can retreat to whenever bustling life in Hell’s Kitchen is wearing me out. The low buildings can create a calming — almost suburban — effect, and there are dozens of cafes, restaurants, and outdoor parks to wander through. From the entrance of this Starbucks, I can stare right into the famous Stonewall Inn, where the Stonewall Riots of ’69 sparked the gay rights movement and gay pride into history. Or I can take a short stroll west and find myself at the Christopher Street piers — but I’ll probably wait for the temperature to pick up again before I venture that way.
Right off the 1-Train, this Starbucks was always a dependable stop-and-go location when I lived in the area for a short 2-month spell. However, I never really found myself coming here for work or pleasure reading because of the simple fact that it was always crowded. I’d meet a friend here, we’d grab a coffee, then go to Washington Square Park or any of the other scenic areas that the Village has to offer. So you may not be afforded a seat at this location, but Greenwich Village is hospitable enough to house you anywhere.
As a gay man, Starbucks enthusiast, and aspiring New Yorker, I’m telling you that this is a must see Starbucks.