Go NYC: Where to #ReadandChill
This would be a straight coffee shop list but for a few exceptions, and for the fact that not all great coffee houses are great for reading. There are a thousand great cafés in and around the city, so it's really hard to go wrong if all you're looking for is caffeine and a place to land your tush.
However, the right climate for a good read can be harder to find: a mellow buzz of conversation, decent soundtrack, and unpretentious air are rarer together than you might think.
These are my favorite rarities:
Consider me Devoted.
This Colombian coffee-roaster is two things the rest of Williamsburg wishes it was: an actual Colombian coffee-roaster, and cool. **tssssssssssss**
Devoción doesn't try too hard to be hip, it just is. Will you see some mustaches in here? Yes. Is the coffee cheap? Not really. But the vibe in its open, plant-walled, polished wood space is casual and comfortable. It's one of those few places where you can sit and take a deep breath, for once, and be okay with what you're breathing in, for once.
On top of all that, the coffee is rich and delightful (probably because look how much effort they put in to do it right). Walking around Williamsburg with a post-Smorgasburg food coma, Devoción is just the spot to sit down and chill out with your novel friend.
If you're caught up in the book world at all, then when you think of NYC bookstores, The Strand is probably first to come to mind. 2000 miles of books! Or something. Pull open the creaky door to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, however, and your heart might beat just a little bit faster.
The blending smells of old paper and fresh coffee, the copious shared seating in the back, the balcony with spiral staircases, that this is all part of a wonderful New York charity; this is the kind of bookstore you've only ever read about. Housing Works takes proceeds from their bookstore and scattered thrift stores across the city and puts them to work helping people with HIV/AIDS, as well as the homeless. The atmosphere in the store is extremely positive and welcoming, such that striking up a conversation with a complete stranger is both a frequent occurrence and, surprisingly, nice. HWBC also plays host to The Moth, probably the best known storytelling collective in the country, so keep an eye out for any upcoming Story Slams. It's a haven for stories of all kinds - simple as that.
I think of City Bakery like a shelter from the storm of city-ness around it. Located just off 5th Ave on W 18th St, the offices tower in every direction, claustrophobic. City Bakery on the other hand is a large open space, an island of espresso and pastries in the center of the room, with a balcony area that's usually a bit quieter than the crowded floor. In the morning there's a long line for hot breakfasts, cooked in pans on hot plates right in front of you. The cookies are evil in their goodness. As a quick hidey-hole in the middle of the Flatiron District, City Bakery works pretty great.
Somewhere between Manhattan cafe escape and get-the-hell-out-of-Dodge Breakneck Ridge escape (later) is Bushwick Inlet Park, the little patch of green on the East River that's home to Smorgasburg on the weekend during warm seasons. Benches along the waterside call for sunglasses and a stretch out, especially in the morning or twilight hours. Here, there's just enough peace for one to catch a breath (and/or a bite), before plunging back into that high city society.
As in, not the teeny tiny La Colombe down in Soho - not exactly conducive to a cozy and relaxing experience. Its big sister is, however, depending on the time and whether or not it's finals week at NYU.
When visited while the iron is hot, La Colombe lives up to all of the hype, offering fantastic coffee and espressos, including their draft selection: draft latte, cold brew, or a Black & Tan blend of the two. On an overcast fall afternoon, settling into a small table against one of their massive windows and looking out onto Lafayette - the constant march of New Yorkers on the other side more than entertaining in its own right - is a simple enough joy for any urban reader. Then again, time it poorly and you could be stuck in line behind 40 of the Fashion Elite dressed head-to-toe in uniform black and commenting on the superiority of kombucha over espresso while they buy their espresso.*
*I know kombucha and espresso are different. You know they're different. THEY didn't.
And this list makes it a hat trick: three mentions of Ost Cafe on the website. So I like it. If you're in East Village and looking to chill, this is the spot.
Very much in spite of the name, Breakneck Ridge is a peaceful place to set back against a sun-baked rock, crack open a book, and breathe in that sweet sweet non-city air. This does depend on your definition of peaceful.
On the weekends, Breakneck Ridge can be swarmed with city escapees, being easily the most accessible hike at just over an hour away by train (and with its own stop, to boot). Most of these weekend warriors are there for the first section of the hike, a short and steep rock scramble up the side of the ridge that is a blast... if you don't mind a few scrapes, bruises, and close encounters with steep drop-offs.
Past there, the crowd thins as the trail splits into wandering paths of varying length and difficulty. For an outdoor-loving reader, finding a secluded spot on one of the rocky outcroppings, or along the creek that runs in the valley between Breakneck and Bull Hill, is as contemplative and freeing an experience as you'll find without a full-on getaway to the Catskills.
Do you read? Of course you do. Tell me where your secret gardens are below.