Though Chinatown and the Lower East Side are changing along with the rest of the city, these downtown streets are among the few that still echo the dirtier, grittier NYC of old. But step off the pavement and into one of these chic spots to be transported somewhere a bit more genteel: occasionally stylish, definitely homey, certainly serious-about-coffee—these are locals' places made for people who know how to use a city to its fullest. From trusted café names who've spread throughout the city to charming one-offs, there's a coffee home away from home for everyone in this part of town.
Coffee shop with great food by day, restaurant with great coffee by night, the LES' El Rey is one of the city's discreet coffee kings. Chef Gerardo Gonzalez offers fresh fare with a veggie bent (but don't skip the chorizo) in both day and night menus, along with a full service coffee and espresso bar. What could be better than a cortado next to the open-air sidewalk windows on a sunny morning? Staying all day for lunch and dinner, perhaps. The small, intimate space with delicious food and coffee, warm service, and great music will tempt you to linger—but your proximity to the action just outside will likely cause that cup of coffee to propel you into a day of New York adventure.
The smallest Café Grumpy yet, this fourth store of the Greenpoint-based roaster sits across from Seward Park and at the bustling edge of Chinatown, but offers just the right oasis – and very little seating – for a quick coffee stop. Inside this sunny space, you can soak in the light pouring through the windows if you're lucky enough to grab the singular nook in front; you'll be sharing your spot with the indoor plants while sipping from a mug of Grumpy's signature bright orange, bumping knees with the crowds that manages to pack its way inside.
Little Canal is a little gem, nestled into the angling streets towards Chinatown with a welcoming vibe that's much-needed in this area for lovers of both day and late night beverage-sipping. The ownership's Michigan roots are betrayed by their selections: MadCap coffee from Grand Rapids and midwest-crafted beers are conspicuous behind the bar, while a complement of food ensures there'll be more than a few reasons to return to this charming space.
An East Village original! If the gruff service of Ninth Street Espresso's early days has softened over the years, the coffee itself remains top-notch, with the roaster’s Alphabet City blend at the heart of the simple, uncluttered menu (it’s hot coffee, cold coffee, or espresso with varying amounts of milk (or substitute) or water – and that’s it. A true neighborhood hangout, the shop hums throughout the day, with locals reading the New York Times (usually found laying around) or sitting out front with their dogs.