I couldn’t help but feel a bit like the harbinger of death after my visit to Simon Sips. Moments before I walked in the door, one of their long time baristas gave his notice, and shortly after my visit, I got word that Simon himself was leaving the business. The fate of the shop was probably sealed at that point, despite some initially promising press, but I never did get confirmation on a final shutter and I was left wondering whether Simon’s smoldered on or if its flame had flickered out.
Flash forward to my most recent trip to New York over the holidays. I found myself hurtling down First Avenue, having completely misjudged the distance between stops on the limited bus. I had hoped to hop off around 9th Street and make the trek over to the original Ninth Street Espresso, where I hadn’t been since well before the birth of this blog. However, I quickly found myself rounding the corner on Houston where I’d now be forced to make a more healthy jaunt north. It was then that I remembered Simon Sips. I’d be passing right by so I figured I’d take a peek.
It was a bit like one of those dreams where you find yourself standing in your house, only it’s not quite your house. Simon Sips was closed, but the cafe in it’s place was just similar enough to make me do a double take. The coffee was still from Counter Culture which was good, but confusing. The red, La Marzocco FB/80 was still there, but was now (properly) facing outwards. The bar was still covered in wood, but different wood, with planks now running vertically and with the whole thing now angled out into the room. The wooden tables had been replaced with some custom copper ones and the upper floor, glass-windowed wine case, like the walls, had been painted over in a medium-light blue. Overall, this cafe is still chic, but Bluebird Coffee House is warmer and more inviting.
The now owners took over the old Simon Sips space a few months back, putting it through its current physical transformation. They also hired some serious talent. Frequently behind the bar, you’ll find Katie Duris, the 2009 Mid-Atlantic barista champ who used to work at the now defunct Murky coffee. The service here is also highly friendly. I sat and chatted with co-owner, Mark, for quite a while and appreciated every second of the friendly, unpretentious, yet entirely meticulous vibe.
The attention here is clearly on the coffee. Bluebird pulls shots of Counter Culture’s Toscano blend and offers both a regularly rotating, commercially brewed coffee or your choice of single origin brewed via the Abid Clever Coffee Dripper. All this doesn’t stop Bluebird from having good food, though. As Oliver Strand pointed out in his piece on Bluebird, Adam Baumgart, formerly of Prune, stops in regularly to do baking in Bluebirds kitchen.
I started off with a cup of the Colombia La Golondrina, a coffee I enjoyed immensely in the past. Unfortunately, it was only after I got my coffee that I realized that I had somehow overlooked the Abid option. The coffee, I had was still quite good. It was a lighter bodied, but somewhat syrupy coffee with lots of sweet caramel and vanilla notes and a well-balanced acidity. It did, however, strike me as a little muted and papery. (3) If you learn from my mistake and order an individually brewed cup, I’m willing to bet it will be even better.
The Toscano espresso had a reddish, mottled crema, more or less matching the copper topped tables. The flavor profile was more traditional as it should be. Although slight thin-bodies, my espresso was still rich in flavor, with sweet lime acidity and a rich chocolate aftertaste. (3+)
The bottom line is that Bluebird seems to be providing both variety and quality when it comes to coffee. It also offers a friendly environment, pleasant space, the promise of quality baked goods, good atmosphere and just enough seating, both inside and out, to make it a spot worthy of repeated business.