Last Monday, G&B Coffee at Grand Central Market unveiled its new, 360-degree coffee bar — and, boy, is it gorgeous. Anchored by two purple-striped columns that hold in place suspended glass shelving and frame four marble countertops, the space occupies the site of G&B's original, one-dimensional, Hill Street–facing stall, which opened in 2013.
We visited the versatile shop more than a few times in the last week and can't help thinking that this is more than just a facelift for the city's most forward-thinking coffee bar, which has become known as much for its coffee-brewing skills as for its oddball seasonal tea creations. Built to operate in the round, with service provided anywhere along its four sides, the new G&B represents the full expression of owners Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski's "walk up and order wherever" concept — an open coffee shop that creates an experience not unlike one at a good cocktail bar.
Because while walking up to a counter and ordering from a bartender might be everyday protocol at a bar, it's still a revolutionary way to get your morning joe, which more often finds customers staring at the back of one another's heads as they inch closer to a register than going shoulder to shoulder as they do at G&B. Better customer service is the ultimate goal, achieved by replacing conventional line service with a full house of meticulously trained baristas who find you wherever you land, take your order, give you your drinks and charge you on a roving iPad.
Maybe you stay and have a conversation with the person who helped you. Maybe you strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Or maybe you just get a coffee and head out.
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"The bar style gives people a choice to be part of the bar or to grab a drink and go," Babinski told us when G&B first opened. "Ideally, we would just love to have a space that invited people naturally to just belly up to the bar."
The experimental ordering system also is in effect at Go Get Em Tiger, the pair's other coffee shop in Larchmont. What's different now is that G&B actually looks like a bar. With 19 stools that wrap around the counters and cozy table lamps mounted every few feet, G&B is easy to mistake for a watering hole of a different type — and you'd be forgiven for thinking that beer comes out of the tap tower in the center of the service area (G&B has three taps that serve a rotation of sparkling teas and sodas).
Offering coffee through bar-style service was a model once reserved for customers seeking one-on-one education at nerdy coffee concepts like Intelligentsia Venice's Slow Bar and Portola Coffee Lab's Theorem. But if baristas are basically bartenders for our morning fix, it's about time that we're able to grab a regular coffee this way, too.
317 S. Broadway, C-19, downtown; (626) 716-0705; gandbcoffee.com