Best Tortured Artist Cafes In New York City
You know what we're talking about here. That person in the corner of your favorite cafe, laptop open, a couple of books scattered on the table and an intense look on their face with eyes that glance up from time to time to make sure you are noticing them and thus witnessing their plight as a struggling artist, tortured screenwriter, or Slam Poet.
If its a guy, he hasn't shaven in days/weeks. He most likely has an old blazer with patches on the elbows, unbuttoned so you can see his "Andy Warhol" t-shirt, knee torn jeans that crumble onto purposefully scuffed, untied, white tennis shoes and a scarf wrapped loosely around his neck no matter the time of year. They always wear a scarf. His coffee cup has been empty for hours and sits between an unread copy of the Communist Manifesto, an NYFA binder, and a graphic novel.
If it's a woman, you'll find her rolled yoga mat leaning off to the side somewhere near her table. She's not dressed for Yoga class necessarily, but she's prepared in case the inspiration strikes for a One-Legged King Pigeon at any moments notice. Seemingly without make-up, she's naturally beautiful but resents anyone for noticing or assuming anything about her because of that fact. Her earth toned clothes say "f*ck fashion" but her sleek touch screen laptop, not-yet-released in the U.S. mobile phone, and immaculate manicure gripping an americano tell you her bank account far exceeds the image she's going for. She wears a scarf wrapped loosely around her neck no matter the time of year. They always wear a scarf. She sits alone but has 4 empty espresso cups decorating the table along with an un-opened leather journal, some travel book about Europe and a crumpled envelope addressed from Juilliard.
These cafes below are where to go in New York City if you fit this description or if you get a kick out of that whole "vibe". So bring your unfinished screenplays, haikus, sketchpads, or lines to memorize and take a tour of these local watering (caffeinating) holes.
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby Street, SoHo, New York (between Prince and Jersey St.)
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe; the name doesn't exactly roll of the tongue does it? You won't hear a lot of "Meet me at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe after work!" calls along the streets of SoHo as you would with the more pleasing to the ear Italian named coffee shops in the area. But what HWBC (better?) lacks in appellation it makes up for in appeal, especially to the arts and culture community of New York City.
This cafe is about as comfortable as can be, almost dangerously so if you intend on completing a reading, journal entry or online project. You will be lulled into a sleepy submission, requiring continuous caffeine injections throughout your "stay". Great marketing ploy perhaps? Dark wood accents the decor from head to toe and the combined scent of well traveled books and coffee creates an atmosphere unlike any other in the city.
Housing Works Cafe beckons creative souls to venture in and unleash whatever masterpiece is hiding within. You will find book clubs, poets, artists, students, musicians and authors populating either the dark timbered or plush leather seating of the large, two floored, wireless (free!) enabled establishment rooted in good will and activism. Housing Works Bookstore Cafe takes the profits from the sale of its used (donated) books and music selection and puts it directly into Housing Works Inc, a twin crisis relief fund for combating AIDS and homelessness. It's easy to see why the NYC community and visiting public has backed this place over the years. HWBC is not only a great place to grab a fair trade coffee and toil away at your life's work, or to sit in on a live band or poetry reading, it is a cause hidden within SoHo's most unassuming cafe.
119 MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village, New York
Caffe Reggio is a work of art in itself. The excerpt "transports you to a different time and place" may be an overused one in the world of travel writing, but Caffe Reggio rationalizes the existence of that combination of words. Italian Renaissance is the period so many artisans would find themselves should time travel ever find its way out of our imaginations and into reality. Until that time, this particular group of Greenwich Villagers huddles into the quiet and dark corners of this cafe with arguably the city's best cappuccinos in cupped hands. Anne Rice Vampires probably hang out here too.
The green exterior with gold leaf trim lures you in from your walk by the culturally significant Washington Square Park and the blackened reddish brown wood decor keeps you cozy inside as long as your schedule allows. 3AM is the earliest Caffe Reggio closes so if you are seeking seclusion from the day and evening crowd then do not hesitate to venture in long after the nine to fivers have slipped into post 11pm comas.
You can do no wrong with any of the coffee based beverages here, especially those of the specialty (liqueur based) variety but for those averse to caffeine and/or spirits we recommend trying the cherry or mint flavored steamed milk, especially as a nightcap before turning in. Your succeeding dreams will "transport you" to the late 16th century somewhere in Venice.
New York Film Acedemy (NYFA) Cafe
51 Astor Place, East Village, New York
With its proximity to the campus and the fact that NYFA students get up to 50% off at this establishment, you don't have to have a PHD to figure out who frequents the cafe. This is the place to get your creative juices flowing while sipping on your favorite beverage. The fairly busy atmosphere may be somewhat distracting to those that seek a more quietly soothing atmosphere, but there are two sides of spectrum for the arts community. Some thrive on the dark hidden corners of the cafes found on the rest of this list, while some find inspiration and feed off of the energy of others that have a purpose similar to their own. Wireless is free, but with limited plug in options, so make sure you're fully charged and save your work frequently in case you don't score an outlet.
As a standalone cafe, it is quite attractive for its cool decor (which may feel vaguely familiar due to its previous life as a Starbucks), vast outdoor seating with rounded lanterns overhead, and for a solid menu selection which includes fairly delectable crepes, a pleasant surprise for a traditional coffee shop. Silent films play continuously on the large screen LCD inside and the cafe is slated to hold regular movie nights with summer months presenting open mic opportunities for those that dare to brave the coffee house "stage".
Ninth Street Espresso
700 E 9th St, East Village, Alphabet City, NYC (between Avenue C & Avenue D)
Here's their complete menu:
House Coffee 1.50/2.00
Not enough choices for you? Too bad. There's a Starbucks around the corner somewhere that can make your instruction book requiring blend of espresso based stew. This ninth street cafe not only collects the artistic community of East Village within its walls, it is also the art of coffee making personified into this reserved but proud location with only a white espresso cup and saucer logo identifying itslef on the partially tree covered jet black awning, as if to say "you are privileged to find us". If we're making it sound like they don't really need your business, well, you're right in assuming so, but they still appreciate your coming on in. Ninth Street Espresso is renowned for its ability to make dark liquid magic on the machine it's named for, thus there is no need for bells, whistles, or ice blended frappy type concoctions and a belly busting pastry case.
Whether out on the people watching patio or inside amidst the classy yet modern decor you will find a group of serious coffee connoisseurs sipping their order with intention on their faces, most likely buried in books, journals or sketchpads and a definite collection of espresso cups (a requirement for making this list if you recall the intro) dispersed about the table, telling you they've been there for awhile and will continue to be so, so don't hover in an attempt to score a newly opened seat.
224 West 20th Street, Chelsea, New York (between 7th and 8th Ave)
There are requirements for fitting this list of "Best Tortured Artist Cafes". For example, the name Cafe Grumpy. Perfect, check! Moving on. Second, wireless connection. Uncheck. "What, no wireless?" you say. Not just that folks, but NO laptops allowed period. So why include Cafe Grumpy on this list? How are you supposed to get any work done if you can't bring your laptop? Enough questions, let us explain. Cafe Grumpy takes us back to a time when you didn't have to worry about tripping over power cords while balancing your filled to the brim cup of coffee en route from the counter to your seat. This is yet another serious coffee drinker cafe that demands the best from its beans, baristas and patrons. This is not to say you are to be rushed through the experience so feel free to stay and enjoy the atmosphere. The aura of Cafe Grumpy is The Hipster Wears Prada, a juxtaposition of non pretentious pretension. Be confused, be very confused.
One thing is clear though, the coffee is fantastic and flavorful, albeit slightly more expensive than you may be accustomed to which creates a selective clientele base. This is part of Cafe Grumpy's appeal though, it can be wonderfully quiet at times, giving you the space to sit in contemplative reflection over your work or at least appear to be doing so when in fact your goal may simply be to look as cool as an East Village cucumber. At other times is can be a hive full of Chelsea area code locals whose presence keeps this place a success.
The menu is limited but again, you can hardly go wrong when a location keeps things simple. It means that extraordinary care goes into the preparation of each and every cup served. If you are in the mood for a sinfully delicious slice of something sweet, we suggest the Red Velvet Cake. Cafe Grumpy, its all so Prada, so very very Prada...but hip baby, very hip.