I thought long and hard on which New York City Starbucks I would visit on Christmas Day. In the end, I decided no Starbucks is more fitting than the one in Harlem on the corner of 125th & Lenox Ave — aka Malcolm X Blvd.
This Starbucks is unlike any others in Manhattan. This is one of the five Starbucks Community Stores that exist worldwide. This means a portion of this store’s profits gets sent directly to a non-profit organization within the community that focuses on improving it. This particular Starbucks partners with an organization called the Abyssinian Development Corporation. A plaque inside the Starbucks explains the relationship:
“Welcome to Your Starbucks
We can only succeed as a store when we succeed as a community. We are together in this — and so we are proud to share the profits of this Starbucks store directly with Abyssinian Development Corporation to support its work with the children and families of Harlem. To achieve its mission, Abyssinian Development Corporation provides economic revitalization, housing, social services, eduction and civic engagement in Harlem and beyond.
A new store model and a new way to support our community.”
Now, I’m not a corporate social responsibility expert, but I think that’s pretty darn amazing. Not only is it doing good, but it’s doing good at a local level. The more the neighborhood drinks Starbucks, the more it benefits. It’s kind of genius. And very much a representation of what the holiday season and Christmas is supposed to be all about.
The Starbucks on the corner of 100th and Columbus belongs to the small NYC neighborhood of Manhattan Valley. Essentially, this is where the Upper West Side meets West Harlem. Broadway is to the west, a small shopping district is to the south, Central Park is one block east, and Harlem is just north. The neighborhood — which was once called the Bloomingdale District — got its name because this area is a geographical depression. From Columbus Ave, I can literally see the street slope down to the south and rise back up to the north.
The Starbucks is at the northern edge of a small shopping area that contrasts greatly with the towering apartment buildings just north of 100th street. But then again, that’s gentrification for you. This location is not too big and not too small. It’s just the right size Starbucks with an adequate amount of seating on one side of the L-shaped interior. You can choose to sit at a low bar and gaze out the window and watch the southbound traffic. Or if you’re lucky enough, you can grab a seat at the long sofa with attached tables and power outlets. Most likely though, the fluctuating crowd will determine your seat, and you’ll take whatever is open.
Today ends my exploration of the neighborhoods known as the Heights, and apparently I inadvertently saved the best for last. I’ve been to Morningside Heights, Washington Heights and Hudson Heights, and today I’m up on 145th street near the neighborhood of Hamilton Heights.
I’m currently sitting at the Starbucks on the corner of 145th and Bradhurst. Directly across the street to the west is the small — currently snow-covered — park known as Jackie Robinson Park, where apparently residents like to build snowmen (see above). And it is that park that separates this Starbucks from the large neighborhood of Hamilton Heights and its sub-neighborhood of Sugar Hill. But since Starbucks up here in the Heights are so scattered, this is the closest location to serve the residents of these two neighborhoods.
In case you were wondering, yes, the Hamilton Heights neighborhood was named after Founder Father Alexander Hamilton — way back when there was still farmland here in Manhattan. But the story I find more interesting is that of the smaller neighborhood of Sugar Hill. The neighborhood got its name because it became the home to wealthy African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. Both it’s geographical height — yes, it is a hill — and the contrasting wealth of its residents made life in this neighborhood look sweet as sugar, and it has since become a municipal historic district of Manhattan.
One thing I find interesting about this Starbucks on 145th Street is that it is not directly atop a subway station. All the other Starbucks in the Heights of Manhattan have (for obvious reasons) quite literally followed the major subway lines. But this Starbucks is a few blocks between the A/C, B/D and the 3 stations. Perhaps that’s why it’s also larger and more accommodating then the other Upper Manhattan Starbucks. This one was designed for more than just a spot to grab your commuter coffee; here you can sit and stay a while. And judging by the sizable crowd and consistent lack of open seats, I would say I’m not the only one who feels this way.
In fact, today there is a sign on the door stating that their espresso machine is broken and they can only serve coffees and teas — but the crowd is still coming on strong.
Today my Starbucks journey took me on a stroll through Columbia University and to the Starbucks on 114th and Broadway that serves its student population.
After I decided to move to New York, there were three universities that I considered applying to for grad school: Pace, NYU, and Columbia. Although NYU won out, I was highly intrigued by Columbia. After all, it is an Ivy League and one of the oldest universities in the country.
Columbia is located in the small Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Morningside Heights — which is characteristically an Upper West Side/Harlem hybrid. Although I’ve been to Morningside Heights before, today was the first day I stepped foot on Columbia’s campus. Whereas Washington Square Park functions as the commons area for NYU, Columbia has its very own partially secluded common area between Broadway and Amsterdam. It’s well maintained, beautifully decorated and grand as I would expect an Ivy League’s campus to be. Pictured above is the main library and a statue that sits on the staircase leading up to it.
After taking in the campus environment, I exited on Broadway and crossed the street to the Starbucks on the north side of 114th. Once inside, two things were very obvious: Columbia students thrive on Starbucks, and there’s simply not enough space to contain them all. When I was a student at Florida State University, I used to wait in a line 20-30 students long at the Starbucks in the center of campus. The only difference between that Starbucks and this one is that this Starbucks does not have the space to hold all the students/residents that want their coffee fix. Not everyone is looking to stay and have a seat — in fact, most do get their coffee to leave — but the seats this Starbucks does offer are mostly full.
Luckily, I came at the right moment and was able to get my own table on the cushioned sofa in the back. Once I sat down I could feel the impression of all those Columbia students that have sat here for countless hours before me. And it was this thought that inspired me to knock out a term paper that I’ve been putting off for half a semester. What better Starbucks to write it in?
So, even though the seated crowd is pretty fluid and the restroom line is not too bad, that barista bar line has not let up since I arrived 3 hours ago. Maybe Columbia should look into putting another Starbucks somewhere on campus? It certainly worked well for FSU.
I’m on fire.
No not literally. I’ve just been on a roll with this blog lately. Not only have I visited at least 1 Starbucks every day in October, but this will be my second for the day. Half of the reason for this increase in blogging is due to my awareness of the year’s impending demise. The other half is simply an increase in dedication to the cause. As the year slips away and the amount of undiscovered Starbucks grows smaller and smaller, I’m feeling this heightened curiosity toward each untouched Starbucks. After visiting over 150 locations in New York, have I still not discovered the very best one? Or the very worst one? And maybe there’s a small neighborhood I’ve yet to traipse through that will draw me in the way so many of the others have. And it’s this curiosity that’s making it easier and easier to convince myself to make time to blog each day.
Specifically, this Starbucks on 96th & Lexington intrigued me because of its close proximity with the Starbucks I wrote about earlier today. Both are on the border of Harlem and the Upper East Side. However, the Starbucks on 96th & Madison is on the south side (Upper East Side), while this one is on the north side (Harlem). Specifically this one belongs to the neighborhood known as Spanish Harlem — or SpaHa. So I wanted to know if there was a detectible distinction between these two close Starbucks in two very different neighborhoods.
The short answer: a little.
The Madison Starbucks was small, crowded, and filled with a crowd of tourists and keep-to-yourself patrons. This Starbucks is large, still crowded, and filled with a much more social crowd. A father sits talking with his son. Three teenagers sit at the communal table and angst all over each other. And a couple just walked out after sharing what I’m assuming was a latte — I’m guessing Pumpkin Spice.
Other features of this Starbucks include plenty of seating, jazz music and an authentic exposed-brick wall. It’s crowded even late at night, and the crowd doesn’t seem to be waning at all. Also, the locals have clearly pegged this Starbucks as a convenient bathroom stop to and from the 6-train.
So in conclusion, although this Starbucks is just on the other side of 96th street, it does indeed have more Harlem characteristics than the Madison location of the Upper East Side.
The lines between most Manhattan neighborhoods often blur and lack a clear distinction. You can walk from Kips Bay to Murray Hill to the Upper East Side and not really tell when one neighborhood ends and another begins. Even the Internet has mixed views on the borders of some neighborhoods. Some argue Midtown stops at 34th street; others say it extends down to 14th. And some claim that Alphabet City no longer exists and refer to it as strictly the Lower East Side.
However, there is one neighborhood distinction that is almost night and day; below 96th street is the Upper East Side and above is Harlem. And the Starbucks on the corner of 96th and Madison is right on the border of these two very different neighborhoods.
As I walked north across 96th street, I was not expecting the neighborhood shift to be so perceptible. But literally, I knew I was in Harlem without needing to look it up on a map. And no, I’m not talking about differences in race, class, or any of that stereotypical bull. I knew because of the gentrification. Below 96th on Madison Avenue were nothing but independently owned specialty shops, spas, and convenient stores. Once north of 96th, the first three stores I saw were Dunkin Donuts, Subway and Verizon. Case closed.
The Starbucks is on the south corner, so it technically belongs to the Upper East Side. But it lacks the size and space of most UES locations, and brings in a more touristy crowd since it is so close to Central Park. The tourists come and go; however, it appears this is also a favored spot for locals to come and hang out for awhile. There’s lots of headsets and laptops taking up the limited seating this Starbucks has to offer… but who am I to judge?
Today is my first day exploring the neighborhood — and Starbucks — of Morningside Heights, Manhattan.
Apparently there is debate as to which larger neighborhood Morningside Heights belongs to — either the Upper West Side or Harlem. Characteristically, I see more UWS here than Harlem — lots of strollers and dogs on lead. This neighborhood is also nicknamed Academic Acropolis, due to the fact that several university campuses call it home, including Columbia of the Ivy League.
Before examining the Starbucks on 111th and Broadway, I even took some time to walk the long and narrow Riverside Park, which is perfect for joggers and families alike. There’s also tons and tons of benches in case you want to take a book and a sandwich and have one of those typical park bench moments.
The Starbucks itself is large and in charge. Sure, it’s crowded and filled with studying students, but there’s plenty of seats to go ’round. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the WiFi bandwidth. Certainly no video streaming here. There’s also no oven (random?). So, no breakfast sandwiches or toasted bagels. Sorry guys!
As the month wraps up, I’m continuing my trend of Starbucks stuffed into place, and everyone’s who’s ever visited a Target store knows how convenient it is to see smell their favorite coffee brand the moment they walk in.
There is actually only one Target on the island of Manhattan, and although this retail superstore is not nearly as popular in the city, it still has a special place in my heart. Without Target, I would never have had the courage to move to NYC. I actually worked for the company as a manager (or Team Leader, in Target-speak) for five years, and they were willing to transfer me up to one of their Brooklyn locations when I got accepted to New York University. Throughout my undergrad, I built my leadership skills within the red wall of Target; I’ve made several great friends; I learned work-ethic and life lessons; and I would never have met my current boyfriend if I had never adorned the red & khaki.
Another thing I got from working at Target — obviously — was an addiction to Starbucks coffee. Although I never worked at this Target, located on 117th and Pleasant Avenue in East Harlem, just walking in here brings back so many memories of my days with the company. I never did work in any of the licensed Starbucks that are within Target stores, but I would frequent them enough to get to know all the barista team members.
The Starbucks inside this Target actually has a great deal of space to itself. There are plenty of small and large tables to sit at, and not surprisingly, at least half of them are occupied by guests with loaded shopping carts. Of course it’s brighter than most Starbucks (fluorescent lights and all), and due to frequent guest traffic, tends to get dirtier a little more quickly.
All in all, it’s not the Starbucks you want to meet a friend for coffee at or hold a study group, but it sure is convenient if you need to get some shopping done.
Fresh back from a weekend visit to Florida, I was wanting to visit a less frequented NYC neighborhood. Ironically, on the 4am (an ungodly hour!) shuttle to the airport, I found an iPhone that had been left by a previous passenger. Anyone who has lost a smartphone (iPhone or otherwise) knows the helpless feeling it can bring. Low and behold, the owner of the cell happened to be taking an earlier flight to NYC and staying in Harlem. Why not — I figured — kill two birds with one stone and return this girl’s phone while knocking out another Harlem Starbucks. The girl was so relieved that a fellow New Yorker happened to stumble across her phone, and we arranged to meet at the Starbucks on 118th and 8th Ave — or Frederick Douglass Blvd, as it is known up here.
So here I sit. The iPhone is safely back in its owner’s possession, and I’m enjoying my iced latte.
This Starbucks is close to both the B and C trains and is also just a few blocks from the northwest corner of Central Park. It’s average in size but accommodating in seating. There is a large padded bench (equipped with power outlets) with four tables lining one wall. Its most distinctive trait is the artwork hanging on the wall that are excellent depictions of the great sounds to come out of Harlem. I love a Starbucks that really makes an effort to be a representation of its neighborhood. Even the music playing in the background was mainly jazz, blues, and soul.
The Starbucks on 92nd street and 3rd avenue is only the third Starbucks I’ve visited on the Upper East Side, but I am already seeing a pattern. If the Starbucks of NYC were a clothing line, the Upper East Side locations would be the formal wear. These Starbucks dress to impress.
Being up in the 90s, this location actually boarders on East Harlem, which may also explain the communal atmosphere I picked up on while sitting here. Several older patrons seem to frequent the location. They don’t bring laptops or iPads. They come with newspapers and paperback novels. They chat with each other and are on a first name basis with the baristas. Simply adorable — to say the least.
But all Starbucks come with their flaws. Yes this Starbucks may be beautifully decorated and clean — almost sterile, in-fact — it falls short in the practicality department. The small seating lounge is just a bit too snug. Causing people to shift around to let others pass in and out of seats or to the creamer station.
Also, this Starbucks doesn’t appear to have any public power outlets. Unfortunately this too is becoming a pattern I’m noticing. In-fact, I did a bit of research on the matter. Check out this article I discovered from 2011 that talks about the need for Starbucks to eliminate squatters in”extreme cases.” Now I’ve often been quoted saying that Starbucks is my “office” but apparently there are some that have taken that statement to the next level, turning Starbucks into their 9 to 5 workroom.
This begs the question: Is Starbucks cutting off New York’s power supply?