I was never a writer comfortable with working in coffee shops until I started splitting my time between London and New York a few years ago. Back in Hackney, I spend most of my time at what I deem “mission control” – a Matthew Hilton-designed desk with a 27in iMac on it. But in New York, I often need to find somewhere outside my apartment where I can sit comfortably for hours on end. I sometimes head with my laptop to Ludlow House, the most sedate of the city’s Soho House properties, but the coffee there is not as good as at Ninth Street Espresso in the East Village.
This is a café I feel entirely comfortable in. The look is stark – concrete floor, metal chairs and wooden tables – with a reassuring absence of work by local artists on the walls. There are always plenty of seats, although I favour a stool at the front, so I can enjoy the local colour passing by, as well as observe my neighbours on the outside benches with their various pedigree dogs. But of course, what makes a café is its coffee, and the roast here is superb – rich, smooth and never bitter. Since my other favourite café, Ost, moved to a kind of no man’s land on the Lower East Side, this is the best latté ($4.50) in the neighbourhood; I heartily recommend one with a cheese and chilli pastry ($3.50).
There are several other branches of Ninth Street Espresso – including one on nearby Tompkins Square, which is much smaller but a good place to grab a takeaway – and one in Chelsea Market, where the beans are roasted for each of the cafés. But it’s the mothership in Alphabet City that is the real deal.