Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Time to get Grumpy

A while back, Heather turned me on to a coffee place in Chelsea called Cafe Grumpy. There are lots of things about the place that I like. The first is that it's called Cafe Grumpy. The image I get in my head is of an old surly grizzled man--someone like the late William Hickey (right)--being annoyed and contemptuous with me for daring to come in and waste his time. I would tell him what I want and he would thrust it into my hands, the coffee sloshing and burning me. I would go to fix my coffee and this man--I'm going to call him Abe because I made him up--would go back to reading his periodicals or applying his ear medicine or whatever old people do. How on earth could a dank establishment like this stay open in a competitive place like Manhattan? I would be really pissed off, but all would be forgiven when I took my first sip. It would be the most delicious cup of coffee imaginable. Suddenly I would realize why a place like this would remain in business. It wouldn't be because of its dank decor or its awful customer service. It would be because the Abe can make a damn good cup of coffee. I would leave feeling a sort of kinship with this lonely, misunderstood man and as I leave I would doff my cap and Abe would flash a brief, faint, knowing smile.
Unfortunately none of this is real (although if any of you out there are interested in optioning the screen rights, I'm willing to negotiate.) Cafe Grumpy is a tiny establishment that has a fairly good rotating menu of coffees from around the world. There's no sign
out front indicating that you've reached your destination with the exception of its logo. The logo for Cafe Grumpy is a face that looks suspiciously like the logo for lemonheads. I don't want to stir up controversy. I'm just saying that the similarity is striking.
The part that I think is noteworthy--and I'm sure there are other places that also do this--is that each cup is made individually. There's no giant industrial vat or seven gallon drum of coffee. This overworked staff uses state of the art machinery to grind the beans seconds before brewing. The result is a cup of coffee that is remarkably strong and fresh with a mild bitterness and fruity undertones. The other day I bought a cup of Brazilian coffee. It was really good, but it ran me a cool six dollars. I don't know if I've ever paid six dollars for a cup of coffee in my life. I ordered it, they rang me up and by the time I realized how much it cost, it was too late and I didn't want to look like an idiot.
With this type of quality comes a price. The coffee takes close to an eternity to be ready. I once walked in to Cafe Grumpy clean shaven and walked out with a sexy Van Dyke (right.) Another time I was able to file my 2008 tax return. Let me put it this way: If you've got Broadway tickets and are looking for a quick cup of coffee before the show, Starbucks might be the way to go.
The cool part about the whole production is that by the time I get my coffee I feel (deservedly or undeservedly) like I've been on a journey. I feel invested in the brewing process. The only way that I can be closer to the process is to sleep in the fields where my favorite coffee beans are grown (currently Indonesia.) I've got free time but not that much. Also I don't care for nature. There are too many insects and often the weather's no good.
Cafe Grumpy has recently instituted a policy of no laptops. I like it because the tables aren't taken up by dicks writing their screenplays. I don't like it because very often I am one of those dicks. Occasionally Heather and I will meet there for coffee because it's only a subway stop away from her office. Here's a blurry polaroid from one of our visits. There's also a Whole Foods a couple blocks away. Walking from a cool coffee joint to a Whole Foods with a New York Times under my arm and earbuds in my skull is enough to make me think I've reached the heights of hipster douchebagery. All I need now is an apartment along the L train and an unearned sense of entitlement.
Like many coffee establishments, Cafe Grumpy's business card also acts as a punch card. There are eleven slots along the top and eleven on the bottom. If you buy ten coffee beverages, your eleventh is free. For those of you keeping track, that's a combined total of twenty-two coffee beverages. I say this without pride or ego: I have filled an entire card. Every now and again I'll think about all the stuff I could have done with that time. I could have written a witty novella or taught myself to juggle. But I suppose--in the end--a decent, carefully crafted cup of coffee is worth waiting for.

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