Blue Bottle: Coffee as Crack
When San Francisco's Blue Bottle Coffee hit town two years ago in the Williamsburg outback, it changed the paradigm of the coffee bar. As a friend said to me, peering into the place's expansive premises, "Hey, where's the seating?"
And indeed, there was none. Coffee drinkers approached the counter, garnered their joe, and then had to stand as they drank it or -- preferable to the management, one assumes -- got the hell out of there. Indeed, in the ensuing months, coffee drinkers could be seen up and down the street, sitting on whatever they could find, including curbs and planters. I wondered at the time: Are coffee and comfort antithetical to Blue Bottle? Some seating was later added, probably in response to the grumbles of the laid-back locals. But really, the place always seemed more like a pharmacy than a coffee bar.
In the interim, I had the chance to cruise San Francisco's wonderful coffee bars, including Ritual, Blue Bottle, and, my hands-down favorite, Four Barrel. All the places I visited or simply looked at (including Blue Bottle's newish Mint Plaza establishment) had seating.
It was with both excitement and trepidation that I went to BB's much-ballyhooed second location, on West 15th just south of Chelsea Market. I've got to concede one point -- it's now the most pretentious coffee bar in town, handily knocking Stumptown into a cocked hat. The baristas stand like priests, doing their pour-overs like it was holy water. The reverence in the air is palpable. There's no place to sit, and when the lines of supplicants snake around the room, no place to stand and drink your coffee, either.