When it comes to scoring the perfect cup of coffee in the a.m., these three spots are worth going out of your way to visit.
Roaster: Chris’ Coffee; Albany
Exposed brick walls. Mismatched furniture. A platform stage and a rollicking open mic night. Welcome to New Paltz’s living room.
A mainstay of Main Street, the atmosphere at Cafeteria ranges from silent study hall to standing-room-only on open mic nights, which are practically scheduled into SUNY New Paltz’s classes.
Deceptively small from outside, this cavernous coffee shop stretches back until the vaulted ceiling steals away any afternoon light. Window dwellers, accustomed to the best seats in most establishments, will be fooled at Cafeteria, where a mezzanine gives customers a perch over the entire shop.
When Tanner Townshend purchased Cafeteria in 2010, it was his first foray into caffeine culture. A Culinary Institute graduate, he opened Crumb Café and Bakery during the incubatory phase of Beacon’s development, and in the process met Jim Svetz, owner of neighboring business, Chill Wine Bar. Svetz also owned the Muddy Cup in New Paltz, which over the course of a few years, he sold, bought back, and reopened as Cafeteria. The “school lunch” concept (cereal bar, lunch trays, etc.) never panned out, but the name stuck.
A couple of years later, Townshend purchased the shop from his friend, rearranged the space, constructed a new counter area and a bar, and installed ceiling lighting. Also new to the space was Root Note Music Shop, a compact guitar store that came on board just before Townshend took over the reins. And although Root Note recently vacated the space, music and entertainment still rule at Cafeteria. In addition to open mic night, the space hosts a jazz group on Sundays, local bands, singer-songwriters — even burlesque shows.
Cafeteria may have been a test run for Townshend, but his instincts have proven astute; he’s since opened two locations of The Crafted Kup, with two more under way. Lucky for New Paltzians, Cafeteria remains a creature unto itself.
2 Alices Coffee Lounge
Roaster: Mocha Joe’s Roasting Company; Brattleboro, VT
Wraparound windows. An “always open” policy. The best trivia night in the Hudson Valley. Welcome to Cornwall’s community crossing.
Bridging the Town of Cornwall and the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson, this homey coffee shop also has a lively pulse. On any given day, you’ll find an eclectic mix of customers huddling over mugs: from senior citizens reading the paper to teenagers “doing homework” to PTA members discussing the upcoming fundraiser. That’s the realized vision of co-owners Mikey Jackson and Aurelia Winborn, who took over the shop in 2008.
After years of traveling in the film business, Jackson and Winborn were accustomed to coffee shops serving as a second home. The ex-Brooklynites had recently moved to Cornwall-on-Hudson when 2 Alices went up for sale. Amid life events and career transitions, they decided to buy the shop, in part so locals — including themselves — would continue to have a gathering place.
From that point on, they’ve worked relentlessly to expand the business, knocking down a wall to increase seating capacity, acquiring their beer and wine license, renovating the outdoor patio, installing a window-front bar, opening a second location in Newburgh, and, of course, hosting the best trivia night in the Hudson Valley.
Even snow days don’t mean slow days here. Cornwall generally falls silent when the snowplows emerge, but inside the steamy windows of 2 Alices, the shop is boisterous. Locals know they can count on the shop to stay open. “We once sledded down Duncan [Avenue] to get here in a blizzard,” says Jackson.
Then there’s the question everyone asks: Who’s Alice? As you might expect, there are two Alices, each a daughter of one of the original owners. Both of them have worked at the shop over the years.
Now considering a third location, Jackson and Winborn have cemented a place for their brand in spite of a steep learning curve. “One day we didn’t own a coffee shop, and the next day we did,” says Jackson. “That was 10 years ago. It was a good decision.”
Bank Square Coffeehouse
Roaster: Coffee Labs, Tarrytown; Trax Espresso, Beacon
House-roasted coffee. A stone patio lit by string lights. Communal guitars that mysteriously materialized. Welcome to Beacon’s “town square.”
Bank Square boasts one of the cheapest cups of coffee in the area at $1.95 for a large. Another former Muddy Cup location, this conspicuous café on the west end of Main Street is hard to miss with its enormous poster of Little Bigfoot waving in the wind. Affordable prices, spacious seating, and an approachable menu make Bank Square something of a Beacon institution.
Katy Behney and her husband, Leonard (aka “Buddy”), had owned Mountain Top Outfitters on Main Street for about three years when the Muddy Cup shut down seemingly overnight. The lifelong Beaconites saw potential in the shop, and although they had little experience with coffee, they put in an offer, and wiped the slate clean.
“We named it Bank Square because historically this [area] is Bank Square, and we wanted it to be inviting to the old Beacon,” she says. “We didn’t want people to think that this was some out-of-towner coming in trying to change things.”
They brought in Coffee Labs Roasters from Tarrytown to install machinery and train the staff on its use. Over the next 10 years, they steadily renovated the space, putting down tile, fencing in the patio (to acquire a beer and wine license), and rearranging the coffee bar. More recently, they opened Trax, a coffee shop and roastery, which will soon be Bank Square’s sole source of coffee beans.
Other developments, like the communal guitars sitting in the sofa room, are a by-product of Beacon’s hipster heartbeat. “They just showed up,” shrugs Behney. “They’re not ours.”
Ten years ago, gluten-free baked goods, buying local, and latte art may have seemed forward-thinking, but to the Behneys, these choices were just common sense. Their ensuing popularity is more good fortune than anything else.
“We don’t want Bank Square to be super trendy or expensive,” she says. “If you buy a cup of coffee, you can sit there.”