Cafe Grumpy's Demise in Grand Central? Let's Hope Not...

Cafe Grumpy's Demise in Grand Central? Let's Hope Not...

Postby NYC_Correspondent-tm » Thu Feb 26, 2015 3:16 am

Grumpy's coffee is one of the better espresso and coffee houses in New York City, and have been at the forefront of third wave espresso in NYC, long before Blue Bottle and Stumptown forged their pathways in a reverse pioneer expedition from the west coast. The original Grumpy's shop has existed on a quiet residential area of Greenpoint long before Ray and Hannah worked there. The thing with Grumpy's was that it was one of the few excellent coffee joints in town at a time when people went out of their way for Dunkin' Donuts, and Starbucks, although occupying every spare corner, was thought of as a savior. I could count the number of good places on one, maybe two hands, primarily in Brooklyn - including Oslo, Gorilla, and Gimme! Thankfully those days have melted away like a tin can in the Gowanus. The second Grumpy's opened on 20th between 7th and 8th in Chelsea, carving a path of decent coffee in Manhattan, when Joe was still considered good. (And thank you Oliver Strand for your former NYT Ristretto column, and coffee map (one is located here:

Fast forward a few years and the great coffee is thriving around most of the city. But there are many districts with huge blank spots, although not for a lack of need. One such area has been midtown, home to tourists and professionals - the second a natural customer. Many of the moneyed self-consciously and aspiringly "hip" young bougie professionals desire NY's finest, and can show-off their knowledge to clients and each other (not to write off the palates of anyone; many of these people have been driving much of the desire for better product). This outsized need is particularly true of mid-town east, from 5th or 6th Ave over towards 2nd Ave. Over the past couple of years, decent spots such as Kaffe 1668 (hidden in an office lobby on 5th Ave. at 45th), a couple of Blue Bottle locations at Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park, Culture on 39th and 6th, and some less notables have been starting to fill the gap. And, as you might imagine, at prime coffee time, these places are filled with long lines and itchy consumers psychotically checking their various handhelds.

Turn back to Cafe Grumpy. They have been quietly stretching out into new locations, including a pleasant tucked away space on 39th off of 7th in the Fashion District. There, the baristas have been incredibly attentive, kind, and the espresso has been exacting. More recently, Grumpy moved into a high-profile space in Grand Central, facing Lexington Ave. This is prime real estate, with the only real competitor being the declining Joe, long housed in the Graybar Passage just on the other side of the food market. The space is bright, bustling, with a full staff of high-energy baristas and workers taking the usual orders. There is some, but limited space to linger, knowingly catered to the transient traffic.

Unfortunately, and shockingly, the espresso was a complete bust. It was thin, sour, and too hot. And this was not the first subpar espresso I've had there. It appeared to be more or less cranked out by an indifferent, barista who was probably just trying to keep up with the pace of orders. But churning out drinks to masses of business people and tourists is not what Grumpy has been about. I can count various times in Chelsea where drinks were first smelled, and if they weren't right, poured out with the barista apologizing for time, but then remade correctly. A particular imagine too is of a barista with a portafilter tattoo, talking about barista competitions. This seems to raise a long-debated question: Can espresso still be made to high standards in the face of massive crowds. But Blue Bottle in Rock Center has high volume, and manages to slow things down enough to make sure everything works. And still, lack of customers are not an issue. People wait if they want it. But maybe the crowds in Grand Central are too much for Grumpy. Maybe I had a couple of bad days. Maybe the supervision and talent pool are currently limited. Whatever the story is, I sincerely hope they fix it before the lack of care bleeds into other locations and we lose one of the older, best purveyors in New York.
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