What was once an insider's outpost of hip is now the cool-mainstream, as edgy independent business now fight for survival alongside towering condos ready to provide amenities for the eager newly urban, sharing space with the likes of Chipotle and Whole Foods. Food and drink thrives in such a bustling, moneyed climate, of course, and the cafes in this area remain abundant and innovative. You'll find a selection of diverse spots for coffee-sipping and people-watching both—and more than a few locations where you can get both an espresso and a high-end haircut.
Marlow and Sons is a rustic, farm-focused upscale eatery from Brooklyn dining mastermind Andrew Tarlow, who also owns several restaurants in the city like Achilles Heel and Reynard's (another restaurant with an unsuspectingly sharp coffee program). With an emphasis on East Coast oysters and a massive variety if wines, the restaurant's front mercantile and café area serves as a charming well-lit welcome in comparison to its romantic dim restaurant and bar just beyond.
Since its inception in Queens in 2008, Sweetleaf has since expanded to serve both Brooklyn and Queens with the geekiest approach to coffee, down to each shot of espresso weighed on scales. With a self-dubbed "old-world Brooklyn" feel, the Greenpoint branch is in an old warehouse and feels practically anachronistic. Upon entering, you second guess whether you're in an old-timey antique shop or not. With church pews for seating and marble counters, lighting is provided by iron chandeliers, globe street lamps, and vintage lighting fixtures.
If you're looking for yet another place in Williamsburg to get great espresso drinks and a close shave, look no further than the sunny, cozy Grade Coffee, nestled right up in the front of Fellow Barber. The front window opens up to pedestrian-heavy North 8th Street while the back of the cafe expands into the barbershop—where you're welcome to enjoy your coffee or a solid pastry from Balthazar while watching the stylish get coiffed – you're likely to make friends with other visitors chatting with their barbers mid-cut. The open vibe is a particularly nice use of the popular mixed-use espresso bar concept, though be careful you don't fall down the step in the doorway while pounding back your espresso. If you'd rather watch the people outside, there's a bench for loitering and discussing life's pressing matters as well.
The original Williamsburg outpost of this Brooklyn roaster (they have several locations across North Brooklyn and one in Manhattan) is spacious and comfortable, a good spot for sitting on the laptop or meeting friends, and of course, sipping a brew of your choice. Perfect for people watching, the west-facing windows catch the evening sun in this spacious coffee house, which at all hours is absolutely full of local hipsters. But the staff are welcoming to all, and if you want to avoid the scene, there is a large bench under the awning out front and places to hide out in the rear.
Ambitious, spacious, and 100% Colombian, this dramatic space at the end of Grand Street echoes the increasingly tony feel of this strip. They say they are the only exclusively farm-to-table coffee roaster in the world, and their coffees, shipped air freight from Colombia within two weeks of processing at the farm, are roasted on-site, behind glass right in the front of the shop.