Coffee unleashes strong passions. For everyone who swears by Starbucks there’s someone who would rather choke than order up a Grande anything.
Bean lovers probably feel just as strong-minded about Portlandia’s Stumptown brew, which if nothing else, is a lot more exclusive. (Translation: it’s harder to find.)
But one midtown Manhattan hotel offers an unexpected patch of neutral ground. Starbucks occupies a corner storefront at the Park Central Hotel, a 1920s brick pile, in the final throes of renovation, where Eleanor Roosevelt once kept a suite. And next door to Starbucks is Tisserie, the retail outpost for a bakery that supplies croissants, muffins and other French pastries to hotels throughout the city. The house brew? Stumptown.
Given that both shops have tables where you can eat whatever you buy – even if it’s
smuggled in from next door — strong-minded coffee-drinkers can sit across from each other sipping happily, a cup of Starbucks Dark Roast on one side of the table, a Stumptown Coffee of the Day on the other.
Viewed from the outside, the two shops remind me of Castle Ward, the 18th-century mansion in Northern Ireland that’s divided down the middle. The lord of the manor liked the classical Palladian style, while the lady of the house preferred Georgian Gothic (or perhaps it was the other way around), and each had the architect design half of the manse in his or her preferred style, inside and out.
Like their differing brews, each coffee shop displays a distinct style. Though a bit dark, Starbucks is just what you’d expect – clean, comfortable and familiar, which can be satisfying or a bore. Neutral turf doesn’t get more neutral than this.
Personally, I prefer Tisserie, if only because its style isn’t replicated on every block. Rustically chic in a Brooklyn way, its raw wood walls backdrop marble-topped tables, sculpted wood chairs and large glass-fronted cases of sandwiches and pastries. A congenial atmosphere, in other words, for a coffee – or pastry — face off.
Park Central, 870 Seventh Avenue between 55th and 56th streets, 247-8000. Starbucks, 870 Seventh Avenue, 212 586-2142. Tisserie, 870 Seventh Avenue, 212 463-0850. Both shops landed an “A” from the NYC Health Department.