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Drinking in a Coffee Cathedral

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Name: Knave in Le Parker Meridien
Location: 119 West 56th Avenue, New York, NY
Roaster: Counter Culture Coffee

Rating: 3-

I’m honestly unsure what the owners of Le Parker Meridian were thinking when they installed this coffee “kiosk” in the 57th street lobby. This foyer-come-coffee bar in the spirit of a European cathedral entertains an aesthetic in complete contrast to the Meridian’s upscale, modern design. It’s also cloistered away in what is effectively the back of the hotel given that the the 57th Street entrance is currently closed. I never would have known it was there, and never would have suspected the availability of coffee, let alone good coffee if it weren’t for Road to Epiphany. The hotel’s own website doesn’t even give it a mention.

Here’s the scoop as best as I can summarize. This “cafe” uses beans from Counter Culture, but is an espresso-drink only operation; there is no brewed coffee. It also doesn’t serve any drinks to go, much to the chagrin of the hotel patron ordering before me. They will, however, serve you a European-style espresso – a longer, thinner shot made with less coffee. The barista explained to me as we were geeking out over other coffee-related things that this was because of the large number of European guests the hotel served. I honestly can’t recommend that style of espresso unless you’re used to it.

Instead, we ordered an espresso and a macchiato, which the cafe makes with Counter Culture’s Aficionado blend on their 3-group, factory customized La Marzocco FB/70. In fact, it has the temperature control features and outer plastic facade of an FB/80, but is otherwise identical to the FB/70. This bit of machinery trivia means little to the average customer other than that this is a slightly better machine than someone might find many places, but perhaps a bit less good than many of the machines I encountered on my New York tour. As I said, however, this visit involved some shop talk at the bar.

But what did I think of the cafe? How was the coffee? Would I go back? I think I have to weigh in somewhat agnostic but with the qualification that it may be the right place for some people.

On the good side was the coffee, far better than most hotel cafes and certainly good even by many cafe standards. My shot of espresso was so dark and rich, I mistakenly thought it might be a shot of Toscano. That kind of confusion may calls into question barista skills, but still resulted in a quality espresso. It resembled a sweet cup of rich dark chocolate with a streak of meyer lemon. It was pleasing even it if wasn’t amazing. The macchiato was seemingly well crafted and certainly looked good, but did lean ever so slightly towards the sour.

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I think another good point was that the prices were very reasonable, especially for a hotel like this in New York City. Nevertheless, they were complicated. My espresso came in at close to $5, but it included a croissant. The whole thing was also served to us on a sliver tray. There didn’t seem to be an option sans pastry, however, making the experience seem all the more like communion.

While this location probably ranks up there as one of the most peculiar and intriguing good cups of coffee I’ve encountered, I can’t imagine it serving as something more than an every so often odd indulging of my curiosity, or perhaps an opportunity to make a confession. Did I mention the cathedral theme? I know I did, but let me impress the thoroughness on you. The speakers pipe in organ music and a across from the bar is a candle lit shrine (perhaps to St. Peter of Giuliano?). The seats are also like pews. The overall effect is perhaps a little too pure and complete.  A little bit of Sex Pistols might have tempered the serene atmosphere nicely.

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