Amongst the constant stream of restaurant closings in New York City, the imminent closure of Coffee Shop hits especially hard, as it signifies the end of an era of in Union Square, and my life in the area as well. Coffee Shop first came onto my radar when I was twenty years- old and staying the NYU dorms for the summer; Coffee Shop was under Carlisle, the most desired of the dorms, and across the street from Luna Park, a go- to cool spot that was fortuitously unskeptical of dodgy fake ID’s. Sex and the City was just becoming a thing, and being young and running around the city in high heels (although not quite red-bottomed) was the epitome of glamour and all that was of the moment. A pashmina and a pack of cigarettes were all you needed to conquer the world. *
Coffee Shop was never about the food; it was about lithe, icy models working as hostesses that barely acknowledged you and the anticipation of what was to come you waited for your table. It was about people watching in Union Square, which used to be a bit gritty and un-homogenized, (pre-Whole Foods and Forever 21), the northernmost part of downtown culture and style with some fancy college kids thrown in. It was about a place to meet friends for drinks and feeling like we had a home base in this big city. The sign itself was a beacon of familiarity, alerting you to its option as the restaurant to visit when you couldn’t think of anywhere else to go, any time of day or night.
I saw the sun come up after being out all night for the first time that summer from the windows of Coffee Shop, and will always remember the cab ride home as I felt like I had a secret with the city, a moment of stillness that was just mine before the streets resumed their daily hamster wheel of frenetic energy. Coffee Shop was bigger than the sum of its parts, one of the long -gone seemingly average places like Jerry’s in Soho, that came alive because of its patrons.
I lived in Union Square for ten years, around the corner from Coffee Shop, as did my sister, and until recently that area was intensely intertwined with my idea of my NYC life. I moved uptown almost 4 years ago and have shifted my axis of reference and familiarity. The beacon of the Coffee Shop sign was not strong enough to warrant a trip downtown on its own, but rather came to represent an old friend, and old New York City, and now an older me.
*The Pants do not endorse smoking cigarettes and we have never inhaled.