interior

Blue Bottle Bushwick - How to find a great coffee shop

The finest outpost of a major third-wave coffee brand to make its mark way out in Bushwick. Bringing the light and design to our little corner of the big city. 

Read on for my ruminations on why coffee shops are great and further thoughts on this lovely establishment.

Blue Bottle Coffee
279 McKibben Street
Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York
February 8th, 2017

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I’ve got a soft spot for coffee shops, I suspect a lot of people do.

They’re our defacto third place, the spot you go to have a conversation with a friend, get a little work done, or spend a little time in quiet contemplation.

Latte Dreamin'

Latte Dreamin'

An overview of Blue Bottle's Bushwick location, from plant wall to BigAssFan to merch bins

An overview of Blue Bottle's Bushwick location, from plant wall to BigAssFan to merch bins

What I like about coffee shops is that they’re often calm and quiet. The rowdiest they tend to get is people having a lively conversation, which is pretty rare, really. For the most part, people are there either to engage in a personal project - like reading a book, writing, drawing, or doing some work on their computer or similar tech, or they’re there to meet with someone or several people. It’s a place for productive work or communion.

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Even better when the place is beautiful and the products they serve are top notch. The quality of what they serve outweighs the atmosphere for me.

So meaning - I’d rather be in a sorta bland shop aesthetics wise that serves great coffee than a beautiful shop that serves terrible coffee. That’s a rare combination, though. I’ve been hard-pressed to find a coffee shop that’s very intentionally designed that lacks great coffee.  But there are plenty of places in the world where there’s a pretty comfy or cozy atmosphere, but the coffee is just not great.

I’ve got some systems for deciding what to order or whether to even patronize a coffee shop. Interested?

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1. - Pourovers. This is my main factor. If they are serious enough to do pour overs, they’ve passed the test and are nearly certain to be no. No bland joint that’s serving lame coffee will take the time to do a pour over. Because they’re time-consuming to produce and the entire purpose is to get a really excellent extraction. Sure, there are probably places that do them and just dump everything right into the filter without intention, but that would probably be more a result of a barista who doesn’t care much vs. a place that serves low-quality beans.

A La Marzocco FB80 gleaming on the counter is a pretty sure sign that you'll be sipping a fine espresso.

A La Marzocco FB80 gleaming on the counter is a pretty sure sign that you'll be sipping a fine espresso.

2 - The Espresso machine - Let’s say they don’t have any pour over setups. I’ll look at their machine to see how serious they are about their espresso game. Pulling good espresso is an art that requires a precise and exacting process. It’s not that everyone is on it all the time, and having a high-quality machine doesn’t automatically mean that they are serious about dialing in their shots, but a fine machine is a good indication that someone cares.

The search for beans is, of course, null at a place like Blue Bottle. What are they serving, I wonder? Probably beans from Blue Bottle. whaddayaknow :)

The search for beans is, of course, null at a place like Blue Bottle. What are they serving, I wonder? Probably beans from Blue Bottle. whaddayaknow :)

3. - The beans. I’ll look around the shop to see if the beans they serve are on display. I’m looking for brands I know and trust, or something new and exciting. I’m also looking for brands I do not care for. So if I come into a place and they’ve passed the first two tests, but the only beans I see are ones that I know I dislike, then I’ve got to pass on the place. Since these likes and dislikes are my personal preference, I won’t air my grievances with certain brands here. It’s up to you to taste different coffees and decides which excite you and which make you run for the hills.

Look closely. You see any gross syrup bottles stashed away where? Of course not.

Look closely. You see any gross syrup bottles stashed away where? Of course not.

4. Syrup bottles.

This is nearly an instant no go. If there’s a huge shelf of Monin syrups behind the counter, you can get you dollars that they’re maying sugary, milky concoctions to cover up the taste of wretched coffee. No one is taking the finest beans in all the land and brewing them up in the perfect extraction just to drown them in coconut syrup. Sure, I got into the coffee world by starting with this junk, but I don’t think that’s the only way to get into coffee. I suspect if you want from Folgers to Devocion, you could easily be a coffee convert without ever having to drink syrupy poison.

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5. Flavored Coffee

This is right up there with the syrup bottles. If they’ve got “french vanilla dark roast” you can be certain the underlying beans are terrible. Again, the logic is simple - Would you take an exquisite product with an incredible, complex flavor and completely obliterate it with flavoring agents? No way. I want no part. Single origins and intentionally crafted blends are the name of the high-quality coffee game, not bizarre alterations.

So that’s all on the subject of the product. It’s nice if they have some tasty snacks, too, like fine pastries or other foods. It’s also nice if they’ve got tea from a high-end brand, because I often enjoy having a cup of tea, especially if it’s later in the afternoon when a cup of coffee would have me up all night long. 

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6. Atmosphere & Design

Now, about the space. This is another major consideration if your intention is to hang out there for a while, which is often quite nice to do and is a big part of what makes visiting a coffee shop desirable. But, it can vary significantly. There are places that are dark, small, and filled with cozy couches and dilapidated antique armchairs. This can be super cozy for settling in with a good book or chatting with a friend, maybe even playing a board game. But it’s not the place I choose if I want to bust out my laptop and get some work done. For that, I want modern. I want a clean, bright, open space with a lot of natural light pouring in. I want some peace in my surroundings so my mind can feel clear to get absorbed in my work. 

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It’s great to have a place that’s well designed so I can bask in the beautiful creation of it. This is what I tend to look for and it often gets me more excited than the cozy-style joints. I do want to find a place that’s got some couches and feels like a second living room sometimes (particularly on cold and dreary winter days), but often what I want is a place with a beautiful interior that feels great to be in, but also has a view out the window for when I want to zone out and watch the world go by.

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7. Bonuses

I don't necessarily look for these things as qualifiers before I choose to order in a place, but they're very nice to have

  • Baristas who are excited about coffee and the process
  • Friendly Staff
  • Friendly Patrons
  • Plants
  • Nice Products for sale, like coffee brewing implements
  • Beans for sale
  • A short, simple menu
  • Snacks, or even full meals
Snack zone! Bring on the carbs.

Snack zone! Bring on the carbs.

Merch so you show you love to your favorite coffee joint.

Merch so you show you love to your favorite coffee joint.

With all that said, let’s talk about Blue Bottle Coffee in Bushwick. What I like about it: They serve incredible coffee, and the interior is bright and light. They don’t have wifi, so if you’re going to do work, you need to bring it with you. But mostly when I go there it’s to be in the nice, clean space and to diligently enjoy a fine cup. I’m very happy to have an outpost so close to my house.

It’s one of the only ‘big name’ 3rd wave coffee joints around. There are other great coffee shops nearby, but nothing with quite the same clout as Blue Bottle. So it’s really exciting to have them.

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That said, I just realized I haven’t been there for quite some time - because while it is somewhat nearby, it’s still outside of the radius I commonly travel. It’s far enough away that if I’m going to go there, I’m often committed to getting on the train or driving, in which case I’ll often continue on to Williamsburg or Manhattan.

For those time that I want the great coffee experience and I’m going to stay in Bushwick, practically at the top of my list. So if you haven't been, check it out.

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Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, let me know in the comments below!

What's your favorite coffee shop?

Cebu Bar & Bistro - Interiors

It's funny how one thing leads to another. I photographed the Mid-Century Residence for my cabinet client Imperia. Around the same time the homeowner was in the middle of planning to take photos of his restaurant. He saw my images and said "we need this guy." So we talked through everything that they needed and it was a full shoot of both the space and the menu. The partners have owned this restaurant for 16 years and it's their baby, and they'd never had professional pictures made of it. It was exciting to be entrusted with showing off the place they'd put so many years into. The shoot took place over three days:

1. Interiors
2. Food
3. Cocktails, Interior Details, and an exterior twilight. We added on some brunch dishes, too.

Here are the images produced from day one, along with some of the details and the exterior from day three.

Cebu Bar & Bistro, Architecture / Interiors
Client: Cebu Bar & Bistro
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Project Date: May 8th, 2017

Manhattan Apartment

My second project with United Elite Group was this private residence in Manhattan. I created several images of the apartment interior for the client to use to promote their business and bring in more customers. 

Manhattan Apartment
Builder: United Elite Group
Upper West Side, New York
Project Date: Oct 9th, 2017

Rustic Farmhouse Style at Saraghina

There are few restaurants that really take me back to the Brooklyn of yesteryear, but this place always does. The style is often imitated these days, but as my mother pointed out on a recent visit, this is the genuine article. It really reminds me of why I love this place, along with upstate new york. There's a coziness to it that is just so comforting. It's a great place to go for a slow, drizzly day.

The pasta is pretty, the pizza is better.

Saraghina Restaurant
Italinan / Pizzeria
435 Halsey Street
Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

The Story

Oct. 24th, 2017, Tuesday

My mother and I were roaming around in Williamsburg running errands while Regina was having hear hair put into braids in anticipation of our honeymoon trip to Hawaii. Braids are no-muss, no-fuss, so Regina can collapse in to bed at night and hop out in the morning without having to do any daily maintenance. Very good for traveling. She was having it done in Bed-Stuy, and she was finished around the time we were ready to have lunch. Any time I'm out, I try to find a restaurant in the neighborhood I'm in so I can have excuse to go there without having to travel. But nothing in Williamsburg was really jumping out to me. However, the last time I'd dropped Regina off at the salon to get her hair done, I wandered around the neighborhood and seriously considered having dinner at Saraghina, so much so that I was standing at the door reading the menu. I decided to have my money and go home that time, but the desire to eat there lingered. You know that feeling when you really want something, but don't get it and it's still nipping at you in the back of your mind. Yeah, that's the one. So I had to go.

It was a drizzly day, which felt perfect for this place. It was slow and there were only a few other diners present. So we got a great seat right by the windows, and I was able to get a few photos of the place without having to avoid patrons in the photos.

There's a quick photo tip for you. Want to photograph a restaurant? Go in the middle of a weekday. This was 2pm on a Tuesday. I only had my iPhone 7 on me because I'm trying to be more conscious about not carrying my camera constantly. It's nice to go out in the city and not have a heavy bag with me. But of course I always get into a situation where I wish I had my camera so I could take better photos. This is one such occasion. But still, I'm happy with the results. It's not like the iPhone is bad, per-se. Just not as good. But if you're reading this on your phone and the images are small, then it's not as obvious as it is on a larger display. So, there's that tangent.

I focused on photographing the space right around the windows, to capture the mood of the day and a bit of the design of the the place. I went very minimal on the edits, but now the lack of perfectly straight lines on that one picture of Regina with the windows behind her is making me a little crazy. But I'm not going to change it. It's important to be comfortable with imperfection. I slipped a few photos of Regina's silhouette in because 1. I love her & 2. I've been playing with more silhouette and dark areas in my photos. So a lot of these were a trial in embracing having really dark areas in my images. I shot so many super bright, light filled images for so long that I'm looking to go in a different direction, and these are experiments in that realm, pushing my iPhone to see what it can do.

After the interiors I took a photo of my menu, which reminds me of a book I made in college out of an old pair of pants. I took a bookbinding class that has always stuck with me. Hand made books always catch my eye and I have to pick them up and inspect how they're put together, which is exactly what happened with this menu. The denim cover is really what too me back to my pants book, which I believe my mother still has on her mantle. I don't make books much anymore, but I still seeing handmade ones, so this was exciting for me. The stamped logo is really nice, too.

The drink was a special that day. Spiced, Spiced Cider. It was fantastic, comforting, a great herald of fall. Regina and I were flying to Hawaii the next day, but we both really love fall, so it was good to get a potent taste of it right before we left.

Finally, the pasta. I don't eat much pasta, so it's a great treat when I do have it. So I was very excited to order this Tagliatelle al Ragu. It's the dish I was eyeing that other day when I was outside looking at the menu. It was good, but the pizza Regina ordered blew it out of the water.

Sorry, no pizza photos, because I've gotten over the hump of making my fellow diners wait while I photograph their food. No reason they should suffer for my craft. If I'm going to take food photos it will be of my own dish, and I try to get my shot as fast as possible so I can enjoy my food at its peak, too. Somethings, though, I get caught up in the moment and keep snapping. But that's how I know I still love doing this, so I'm never going to chase that feeling away.