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On semi-conscious mornings over the past few weeks, as I've waited for the staff at my new-new favorite neighborhood coffee spot, Gimme! Coffee, to brew my Americanos and Red-Eyes, I've been browsing through a copy of a just-published book, Café Life New York, that's always sitting on the counter. Initially I was just killing time while waiting for my drink, but I've since gotten absorbed in the write-ups about the city's best coffee shops. I've complained for years that there aren't nearly enough slow-paced, coffee-centric hangouts in this city, especially after I moved here from Berkeley, where lazy cafés are as ubiquitous as storefront psychics in Manhattan. But this book compiles about 20 of them, including some of my favorites—71 Irving Place, Mudspot, Joe, and the Hungarian Pastry Shop—and others I haven't been to yet, like Society Coffee Lounge in Harlem and Communitea in Long Island City.
Twenty isn't nearly enough for a city of eight million, and the book inevitably leaves out some places worth visiting (like La Colombe Torrefaction in Tribeca and Café Café in Soho), but the book proves that something resembling a coffeehouse culture still exists in this city.
The book opens with a quote from Alfred Polgar, the sharply witty but now-obscure early 20th-century writer, Viennese coffeehouse habitué, and author of Theory of the Café Central: "The only person who partakes of the most essential charm of this splendid coffeehouse is he who wants nothing there but to be there. Purposelessness sanctifies the stay."
It's not hard-hitting reportage, this book; just a carefully researched, personal tribute to the kinds of places that all-too-purposeful New York City doesn't value as much as it should.