A Fourth Cup of Joe

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Joe, the art of coffee
405 W. 23rd St.
(betw. 9th & 10th Aves.)

When Joe opened its first location in the West Village in 2003, the last thing the neighborhood seemed to need was another coffee shop. The conventional wisdom—echoed in tourist guides and real estate posts—was that the area’s tree-lined streets were already chock full of quaint little cafés populated by artists and writer types. Was Joe doomed to fail? Decidedly not.

From the moment it opened, in a former dry cleaners on the corner of Waverly and Gay, Joe was an explosive success, as if this particular coffee house were exactly what the neighborhood had always been missing. Within weeks, the line snaked out the door, the tables were perpetually full and the place was a destination for coffee connoisseurs from throughout the city (including the occasional celebrity).

In subsequent years, Joe opened additional locations in Soho and the East Village; and now—to my immense joy (I can’t contain my bias)—Joe has arrived in Chelsea, on West 23rd near Ninth Avenue, occupying the site of the old London Terrace Flower Shop.

The same elements that contributed to Joe’s West Village success are found here. First and foremost is Joe’s charismatic owner, Jonathan Rubinstein, a former talent agent who has a Cheers-like affection for his regular customers and follows up on the details of their lives with limitless enthusiasm.

And then, of course, there’s the coffee. At Joe, coffee is more than a pick-me-up. It’s an art form and a labor of love. Joe’s supplier is Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, which is a celebrated roaster in the Berkshires. Head Joe barista and Barrington alum Amanda Byron and a well-trained staff of baristi (many Seattle-trained) grind their espresso beans to order and carefully monitor the brewing time of the café’s signature drinks.

The end results are exquisite. On a recent Thursday morning, one of the baristas tutored me in the production of the perfect latte: grind the espresso beans finely, steam the milk into a “microfoam” texture, angle the wand just so and then top it off with a decorative flourish. Aside from the standard caffé latte ($3.25), Joe selections include a chai latte ($3) and a double ristretto macchiato ($2.25).

Joe also has a nice selection of baked goods from local notables, including Ceci-Cela’s almond brioche ($3), rugelah from Erica’s Rugelach & Baking Co. ($1.25) and Amy Sedaris’ cupcakes ($1.75).

Open since March, the Chelsea Joe is already drawing crowds. While many coffee shops go for a worn, weathered look, Joe’s spaces aim for clean and bright. At the Chelsea location, the coffee bar display is backlit, glowing paper orbs hang from the ceiling and wall-mounted mirrors expand the space. Unlike the West Village, West Chelsea sorely needed a space like this, and Joe has thankfully obliged.

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