6 Classic Manhattan Coffee Shops

Will Owen

Porto Rico Importing Company’s endless burlap sacks of beans.

New Yorkers may be the guiltiest of hypebeasts when it comes to viral food and beverage trends (see: Unicorn Lattes), but the city’s wealth of classic cafes keeps us grounded in what is timeless. These six historic Manhattan coffee shops have all been in operation since before Nixon’s resignation, and offer  everything from contemporary Slam Poetry to original Italian Renaissance paintings. Perhaps most importantly, all are every bit as Instagrammable as their 21st century counterparts, but without the excessive food coloring.

Caffe Regio

Image courtesy of Flickr

This Village institution has been in operation at 119 Macdougal Street since 1927, where the original founder, Domenico Parisi, is credited with introducing the first cappuccino to the United States. The dimly lit cafe feels like a museum in itself, cluttered with romantic Old World decor and family heirlooms, including original Italian Renaissance paintings and Parisi’s 115 year old espresso machine. Guests can even sit on a 500 year old bench owned by Florence’s dynastic House of Medici.

Unlike many other restaurants of its age, Caffe Reggio doesn’t rest on kitsch, but rather still has outstanding food and drink options. The menu has all of the familiar classics, such as profitterols, cheesecake, and cannolis, as well as less Americanized desserts, like the Zabaglionie (fresh fruit and berries topped with egg yolks and caramelized sugar). All of the coffee beverages are up to 21st century standards, but try the cappuccino; it is America’s first, after all.

The Hungarian Pastry Shop

Given the city’s vastness and variation, it’s easy to forget that New York is also a college town – until you walk into The Hungarian Pastry Shop at 1030 Amsterdam Ave. This Morningside Heights cafe has been crawling with Columbia and Barnard students since the 1960s, which is immediately apparent when you walk in and hear measured discussion on the Hegelian Dialectic over sacher torte.

The Hungarian Pastry Shop’s pastries may not be particularly noteworthy, but the hyper-intellectual atmosphere and location directly across from the eerily beautiful, still unfinished gothic Cathedral of St. John the Divine make for the perfect moody afternoon.Try one of the menu’s specialty coffees for the full Habsburg experience, such as the classic Viennese or super sweet Hungarian coffee.

Nuyorican Poets Cafe

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe (236 East 3rd St.) has been an East Village icon and treasured artistic space for New York’s communities of color since 1973. On any given night of the week, the cafe features literature, performance art, Hip-Hop, poetry, and music by renowned virtuosos and rising artists. The exterior of the cafe is covered in murals by Chico, a local street artist, and the interior’s exposed brick walls are lined with rotating exhibits from local artists.

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, which is also a non-profit, has all of the bar and coffee shop standards, but visit for the ambiance, creativity, and powerful artistic statements. Mondays are open mic night and the supportive atmosphere leaves no pressure to be a pro – if you’re feeling keen to share any of those poems you archived from your old Xanga account.

Ferrara Bakery and Cafe

Ferrara’s signature ice cream cone sign, previewing the bakery’s homemade gelato.

While Caffe Reggio boasts the first cappuccino, Little Italy’s Ferrara Bakery and Cafe (195 Grand Street) claims to be America’s first espresso bar. Ferrara’s has been operated by the same family since 1892, with a wide assortment of meticulously prepared Italian pastries and homemade gelato. The cafe now even has a brunch menu, catering to the contemporary New Yorker palate with Waffles & Gelato and Breakfast Paninis.

Cynics write off Ferrara’s, let alone the entire neighborhood of Little Italy, as touristy and nostalgic, but the quality of its desserts and coffee speaks for itself. Besides, who doesn’t love to play tourist every once in a while?

Veniero’s Pasticceria and Caffé

Image courtesy of Flickr

Veniero’s has brought old world elegance and outstanding desserts and coffee to the East Village since 1894. The restaurant’s warmly lit ambiance is stunning without trying too hard, with a beautiful stained glass ceiling, mirrored walls, and eye-popping pastries. It’s difficult to pick a favorite from the extensive menu, but try any of the rum-soaked sponge cakes.

Speaking of alcohol, Veniero’s offers a variety of liqueur-infused coffee drinks if you’d like to offset your caffeine jitters. Pair one of these with your afternoon almond cheesecake for the full European experience.

Porto Rico Importing Company

St. Mark’s Place location; image courtesy of Flickr

Porto Rico Importing Company isn’t exactly a coffee shop, but very much deserves a place on this list as one of the city’s oldest coffee purveyors. Porto Rico has been selling freshly roasted beans and coffee to-go in Greenwich Village since 1907, with additional locations in the East Village, Williamsburg, and in the Essex Street Market.

The aroma of coffee is the first thing that hits you when you walk into one of Porto Rico’s stores, with burlap sacks of coffee beans from all over the world filling up the tiny space. A 1-pound bag of a premium roast is approximately the same price as Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, but far more satisfying.

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