I learned a long time ago that Cherry Street’s Cafe Cubana had a dedicated following. I know people who visit the place every weekend, almost ritualistically, often taking their coffee to go. I should state up front that my personal persuasion with regard to coffee shops has always been a more relaxing endeavor; a coffee shop was a place to go find some dim corner and read a book, study, talk quietly, or write in a journal or sketch. Because of this I always viewed people who took their coffee to go as sort of “missing out” on that whole coffee shop experience. But times have changed. As a freelance designer and photographer, coffee shops have become my sort of “meeting place”. I’ve come to see the light, as it were, both figuratively and literally with regard to these establishments. Sometimes darkly lit places with comfy couches, moody wall art and the barista’s iPod on shuffle are just the ticket: a rainy day, for instance. But sometimes we want a coffee shop with a little less gloom and a little more productivity and vitality. And for this occasion, I present that old favorite that’s still new to me: Cafe Cubana.
Cubana was formerly located in Lincoln Plaza at 15th and Peoria (behind Jason’s Deli and The Grey Snail). The new location at 340 East 15th Street is only a few hundred yards away, but feels completely different. The cafe faces Cherry Street through a curved facade of solid windows, a constant stream of people walking by, cars whizzing past. The contrast between this decidedly more metropolitan location and the old spot (in a shopping center) is quite dramatic. Two entire walls of the cafe are windows, facing north and west, so the interior is brightly lit even on a cloudy day. The interior is painted bright colors, and soft music plays in the background — but doesn’t distract from conversations or work. It’s spacious with plenty of seating without being huge. It still maintains that coziness a good coffee shop always has. There’s also seating on the patio, where you’ll often find people reading the news and smoking cigars — which they sell inside.
Of course having great atmosphere and curb appeal will only get you so far in life, but no worries; the real star here is the coffee. Clearly this establishment takes its coffee very, very seriously. They’ll throw out an espresso shot that isn’t up to par, and take the time to make everything right. I’m not a coffee expert, but I can say from experience that Cafe Cubana always delivers a stellar cup of coffee. If you’re in the mood for something strong try the Cuban-style (straight espresso with raw sugar, pictured above) and if you’re seeking refuge from the summer sun they make a great iced coffee as well. Of course you can also expect all the normal trappings, from freshly brewed teas to specialty espresso drinks to blended iced concoctions — the list goes on and on. Prices for beverages are reasonable ($2.75 for a three-shot Cuban coffee). They also serve a range of breakfast offerings, from steel cut oatmeal with a variety of mix-ins to cereal and pastries; highlights include baked goods and breakfast burritos from Cherry Street neighbor Pare.
So maybe Cafe Cubana is an old staple in your book, or maybe you’ve never heard of it at all; either way, it’s worth a try. It might not be the best place to cozy up for a nap, but if you like great coffee and a lively atmosphere you won’t be disappointed.