Today I decided to visit the Starbucks on 23rd and Park Avenue South, mostly because it’s directly opposite the Starbucks on 26th and Broadway that I visited last week. This Starbucks is on the southeast side of Madison Square Park; that Starbucks is on the northwest side.
I definitely, definitely prefer the northwest side. This Starbucks is small, narrow, cramped, cold and lacking a public restroom. Yet still plenty of people rush in and out of its doors. Perhaps the reason it maintains such a crowd is because this Starbucks is above a subway station. Or maybe the park crowd tends to move southeast instead of northwest. Whatever the reason — of the two Starbucks that overlook Madison Square Park, this one is trampled by the competition.
Now I’d like to think that I have a strong knowledge of the Starbucks menu and what they do and do not offer. So since I just spotted salads and pretzels at Starbucks last week, I’m going to assume that these are recent additions and not old offerings. Right?
Although I haven’t tried either, I’m more intrigued by the salad then the pretzel. Cafes offer baked goods; that’s a given. But Starbucks is slowly tip-toeing across the line to becoming a lunch destination as well as coffee house. Did you know that Starbucks got its start selling coffee beans, and not coffee itself? Expansion seems to be built into the fabric of the company, so it makes sense that the next evolution may be a fast-food hybrid. This is also ironic, because McDonald’s is clearly trying to be more like Starbucks with the McCafe. Personally, I don’t trust McDonald’s with espresso, and I wouldn’t trust Starbucks with a burger.
But that’s a discussion to be explored at another time… Now let’s focus on the Flatiron Starbucks on 24th and 6th.
This location has more seating per square foot than most I’ve been to. It’s simply crammed in everywhere. There’s tables for two filling one side of the room, a very long and slender community table that reminds me of those horrid cafeteria tables in high school, more long bar seating next to that, and then a little seating nook with a few comfy leather chairs. No this location is not abnormally large… it is just very accommodating. Unfortunately it’s also covered in construction awnings on both sides of the street.
I walked into the Starbucks on 21st and 5th today, and half expected a hostess to show me to my table. Then I had to remind myself that this is simply another Starbucks.
It was the decor that tricked me. A small area is set up in the front (almost resembling a waiting area), and beyond that a larger seating area is revealed under the light of a chandelier. This combined with the light music and framed photographer made me second-guess my place and time. If Starbucks were to open up an high end tea house, it would resemble this location.
Now there’s an idea. A sit down Starbucks. Imagine walking in — or even calling ahead! — to get a seat at the Starbucks Lounge. They’d serve coffee table-side and have made-to-order breakfast sandwiches, food platters, and pastries. It would definitely take Starbucks to the next level and separate them from the McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts of the world. Of course if they were to ever do anything like this, they’d need one in New York and one in Seattle as the flagship store.
Somewhere around 19th Street and Park Avenue South you have the collision of three distinct New York neighborhoods: The Flat Iron District, Union Square, and Gramercy. And I’m currently sitting at the Starbucks that sits there on the border. Since I’ve already visited the former two neighborhoods, let’s focus on the latter.
Gramercy is a neighborhood structured around Gramercy Park. This park is unique for NYC in the fact that it is a private park, and only residents with a key can obtain access. No worries though, the park is actually quite small, and all a member of the general public need do is walk a few blocks west or south to the nearest public park. Trust me, Manhattan is not having a park shortage. But this disposition toward solitude may reveal why Gramercy, the neighborhood, has gained the reputation of being very quiet and reserved.
One peculiar fact about the Starbucks on 19th and Park is that it has one entrance that leads into the street and another that leads into a Bank of America. In case you were wondering the natural progression of the average caffeine addict, it goes bank –> Starbucks. And this location just expedited the process. There’s also a Chase directly across the street in case you’re not down with BofA.
Although not the most impressive of Starbucks, this one is not without its charms. The two red armchairs and poster sized image of an Italian scooter are two notable characteristics.
This Starbucks is my go-to location for my morning coffee. Like so many of you, I can’t imagine coming into work without bearing a coffee in one hand. Luckily this location is directly on my path from the 1-Train in Chelsea to where I work in the Flat Iron.
Surrounded by businesses, this is the type of location where the baristas don’t even need to ask your drink order. They simply smile at you out of recognition and confirm your drink with you: “Venti Pike, right?” — “Yep, that’s me.” Getting to know your team of baristas — or “partners” — has value. Being on a first name basis with those who provide your daily fix is always a good thing. Starbucks clearly takes pride in hiring those with a warm and friendly disposition. Plus they can be an excellent source of information for coffee questions or suggestions. My baristas back home — Logan & Marla — introduced me to many different items — both on and off the menu.
One aspect I really appreciate about this location is that the early morning rush does not affect the welcoming environment. There is a seating area in the back and one on the front, and both are typically bare between the hours of 8am-10am. Which makes perfect sense. Who has time to sit and enjoy their coffee anymore? This guy! If I’m ever ahead of schedule, I can guarantee that I will be able to find a nice cozy spot here to sit and read the New York Times while I enjoy my coffee and a bagel.
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.