Starbucks, East 75th Street & 1st Avenue NW, Upper East Side
Portrait of the Starbucks as a mid-century luncheonette. Whoever decides how these places are laid out is not at all well, nor are any of the myriad other personalities vying for a piece of that armrest they call a brain.
It’s not cafeteria-style, really—there are plenty of individual two-tops and only one large table sufficient for humans of average arm length or longer—but the counter space running all the way down the 1st Avenue side of the storefront and wrapping around to 75th Street makes it feel like automat vending machines should be leaning lazily against the far wall. It’s the nicest hospital cafeteria you’ve ever been in. “There are no sick people,” you type just before sneezing a single spectacular sneeze that can only mean one thing: cancer. Who sneezes only once? The soon-to-be and recently deceased, that’s who.
Across the street, there’s Mile 17 and Pony Bar, and between there and here, grown men walk by wearing what can only be board shorts, ready for a flash flood and gleefully hanging brain without exposing themselves. It’s almost eight o’clock and the sidewalk makes you wonder if this Starbucks is positioned right between a nursing home and a bar for canasta addicts. Kids wrapped in beach towels, girls of indeterminate age who might just as easily be 2,000 years old as 20 thanks to their obvious imprisonment as Greek statues at some point in their lives, and celebrity impersonators who specialize in what Jack Lemmon would look like if he was alive or what John Lithgow would look like if he was Art Garfunkel walk by.
A nun walks by going north, a honest-to-God Bride of Christ who’s old enough to have really married the man. You try to remember the last time you saw a nun in the wild. Ever? That’s impossible! A Hasid passes going south, and you know you’ve seen one of those recently, wearing a hardhat over in Bed-Stuy. You wonder why more nuns don’t build things. Nuns don’t build things anymore. Nuns don’t win anymore. They used to win.
It’s dead in here, probably because it’s a Friday night, but it’s also dead across the street. It’s quiet—much more quiet than the average Starbucks, maybe because there’s so much unobstructed space, just a few support columns breaking up the desert of floor tiles stretching wall-to-wall-to-wall-to-sidewalk. The music is quieter, too, but not really. There’s something weird about this space, acoustically, and not just because they’re playing the mash-up of Jay Z’s “Encore” with LinkedIn Park’s “Numb.” It’s probably because you’re sitting next to one of those columns, and almost half of your hearing is being muffled by structurally significant steel and aesthetically unimaginative wood panelling.
Are different versions of this mash-up playing in different neighborhoods around the city at the same time? Jay Z and Pavement in Williamsburg, probably? Jay Z and Weezer in a Starbucks near NYU? The Grey Album in the location just below the new offices of the now non-existent Gawker? Straight-up Jay Z over by the Marcy Projects? That’s going too far, you think. There’s no Starbucks near Marcy. CitiBike may be brazenly expanding into Bed-Stuy, but they’ve been around for, what, three years now? Starbucks has only been in New York for 22 years. They’ll must the courage eventually.
This woman keeps calling someone and giving them updates about her lack of a fork as she eats food from somewhere else: she doesn’t have a fork, she leaves, returns with a fork, updates whoever it was. It’s not the best scene Nora Ephron ever wrote, but then, this isn’t the Upper West Side. The man being updated about the fork arrives, and within ten minutes, he’s relating a story where he’s telling someone—man or woman, it’s not clear—not to fucking talk about his bitch. The phrase repeats over and over. Sometimes it’s don’t talk to my fucking bitch, sometimes it’s don’t fucking talk to my fucking bitch, sometimes it’s capped with a that’s my baby.
You start to wonder if you curse too fucking much in your daily life.
The girl is laughing. He apologizes for being worked up, even though he’s clearly not. You’ve never heard someone say “fucking” and “bitch” that many times in rapid succession so placidly, so graciously. You definitely don’t curse too much, but do you curse with too much intent?
Where there are walls, there are outlets, and the bathroom code is a forgiving three digits long. The baristas are only ten feet away when you realize you don’t have the bathroom code, that the bathroom needs a code together in at all. A duet of Hasids walk by, and you cast your mind back: when was the last time that happened?
4 stars, 10-15 outlets. 1445 1st Avenue at East 75th Street. Bathroom code: 451.