Nolita's Best New Caffeine-Free Hangout

By Salma Abdelnour Posted May 31, 2007

One of the many mystifying things about Manhattan real estate is that occasionally, even in the most heavily trafficked and gentrified neighborhoods, a dusty old alley turns up that no one had noticed before. The last time this happened was when Freemans opened—suddenly Freeman Alley materialized out of nowhere, crammed between blocks of bars and shops but hitherto invisible. This just happened again last week, in Nolita of all places, where every inch is seemingly spoken for by a shoe store or a Eurofab cafe or a socialite who's dating Lance Armstrong. But not every inch, apparently. The magic alley this time is Jersey Street, which cuts east-west between Mulberry and Crosby Streets just north of Prince.

Suddenly, the dark little lane no longer looks vaguely menacing and rat-infested. Peek down Jersey and you'll spot the shiny front door to the newest branch of the New York Public Library, in an 1886 building that once housed Hawley & Hoops candy factory, a supplier of chocolate cigars and something called A No. 1 Chocolate Cremes to 19th-century New York. Who knew.

Let's leave aside the question of why the NYPL is opening its first new branch in 18 years in Nolita, of all places (also: the question of whether anyone checks books out of a library anymore). Whatever the rationale, this might be just what the neighborhood needed to bridge the gap between bohemianism and bohemian-poseurism. The three-level subterranean space was designed as a place where people would want to hang out for hours with a book, or more likely a laptop. That's not easy to do at the ever-jammed Cafe Gitane or at the too-spotless McNally Robinson bookstore cafe around the corner, when you're under pressure to keep ordering. Another brilliant touch: Since the new library opens at 10am (the crack of dawn in Nolita), it's bound to be the Zen-est morning hangout around.

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