Buunni Coffee, New York NY

Back at Home.

Do not disturb activated. Phone on silent and turned upside down. Am I really not going to look at it for the next twenty minutes, let alone the hour it takes to write this? “it takes?” As if its a chore and not the great delight it is, not to mention privilege to sit and take in an afternoon and – write? Just write for the hell of it. Write just to see what comes out.

Buunni’s the spot- half caff, 2% latte is the cup. Desire lead me here- a tugging feeling over the past few weeks: Slow down. Take life in. Live in your life. Connect to the world around you. Connect to your neighborhood.

My big thing lately is that, when I travel- I imagine what it would be like to live in a place. I look at an apartment building, a house, on a street, in a city where I don’t live and think- okay that’s where I live- go: what is life like? Where do I work? Where do I order pizza from? Where do I park my car? How would I change that yard? It’s almost a compulsion- sometimes I can’t turn it off. Picturing myself in that place, in that place..or there..or there…

I’m sure it comes from many years of feeling like I don’t have a home- the drive to find one. The ever constant assessment of- what is my life going to be? Say what you want about the vagabond lifestyle- I have and will, but the drive to feel rooted in a place is an ever present, if not noticeable, thing. I so classically love this vision I’ve spoken of before of a fictional life in the South Street Philly neighborhood: the black on brick window panes, the wrought iron stairs, the afternoon autumn sun darting between lazy leaves on trees that were here when Ben Franklin walked these blocks. The yoga studio down the street that isn’t perfect, but hey- it’s right there. The neighbors you wave to while walking with your stroller around the neighborhood, or loading up the car to get to a shoot. This fictionalized future view of lifestyle ache – fulfilled. It always seems just out of reach. I’m starting to wonder if I am just falling into the same “grass is always greener” mentality that plagues much of humanity. The reach is the real issue, not the circumstance.

But still there’s…

Desire.  Desire for a certain life.  In a really interesting place.  Where I do really interesting things.  And satisfaction.  

I found myself biking down the Hudson River Greenway a few days ago- an incredible day with stunning views, temperature perfect- a path that enters and exits countless little parks that I guessed but never knew existed and thought – this is it. This IS my life. I live in an incredible place. I am currently doing an incredible thing. How? How am I allowed to live in New York City? MANHATTAN nonetheless?! What more exciting city am I thinking exists out there? This is the life that I am always looking for. I’m in it. It’s so close that I can’t even see it.

I think I’m just not accounting for the sentimentality factor; a term that’s grown to be very helpful for me in the past few years, a term that’s helpful for dreamers. It’s not that it’s bad to dream, but — the sentimentalizing of a thing or an idea or vision – complicates the vision when it is actualized. It complicates it because a dream fails to remember that day to day life continues: you still have to carry your groceries up three flights, and schedule that dentist appointment, and file your taxes. You still have annoying things come up at work, and get into arguments with your partner, and miss the train by ten seconds. These things happen to Cate Blanchett and John Mayer. They happened to Rumi and to Stephen Hawking. There’s no place where they don’t happen.

But I’m in it. Look no further, Michael. I live in an incredible city, with all the rough edges and pinnacle views and excitement and eclectic little nooks and interactions I could want. I just have to leave the apartment.

New York, what is this – the fourth time around?- has been my home base for the better part of ten years now, and though it’s felt like home before, I think there’s a new level of that sinking in.. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to claim it as ‘home’. Maybe the 8 million factor- it’s so big that it feels so silly claiming it when so many people do. Maybe it’s that it really is just so hard to live here sometimes. That could be it. There’s very little that is cozy about living in Manhattan. Our apartment is, but it’s no Joanna Gaines farmhouse modérn in rural Maryland…and not for lack of trying.

Yeah. I’m in it.

Could be age. Could be post-grad energy. Could just be time adjusted, but I’ve had more energy to participate in the city this time being back. That’s what I want after all- to be connected to the place I live. To love it. To appreciate it. I know it takes an outlook of expecting to appreciate something in order to appreciate it. There’s work involved- appreciation doesn’t just arrive at you. Wish it did. I know that there’s participation required- to see with eyes that find value, and not flaw. That could have a lot to do with it. My time away in DC for grad school and a little post grad life had so much to do with perspective. My grave interior perspective of what I expect – “do I expect this to go well? Do I expect this to be problematic?” is everything.

Not sure if I’ve talked about this here before, so if I have forgive me, but I really do believe that, to put it concisely: we get what we expect. To me there is an undeniable gravitational force to expectation. I see it happen at the restaurant all the time. If I expect a table is going to be problematic – guess what – it usually turns out to be. If a guest expects that I’m going to make a mistake- I literally stand there sometimes and marvel at how, just how a certain hiccup happens for that very guest to have to deal with, when there was no earthy reason for it to have happened- all the while solidifying the guest’s original pov. “See! I was right to expect that you’d mess that up- because you did and I thought you would.” It’s always a little fishy to me when a defensive mindset gets to say “I was right!”

Do I expect New York to be problematic and against me, or do I expect it to be a wonderful home of joy and worthwhile fulfillment-in-the-rough? The first pov in a way sends out a signal demanding the current of New York to flow against me in order to solidify the expectation. Cue: “See! I was right! it’s flowing against me!”

Oo free mocha! The barista just called out from the counter if anyone wants a free mocha and no one stepped up to claim it. That’s a strike of good fortune.

This is the first entry where I haven’t begun with the shop’s personality. I’m at Cafe Buunni on Broadway in Manhattan allllll the way up off of the 207 stop- the last stop on the A.

I haven’t been here in years, and in fact, the last time I was- it wasn’t a Buunni. So far as I know Buunni is the company that started in a MUCH smaller location- actually a lot closer to my apartment – up on 187/Pinehurst. That shop, I’ve yet to do an entry from- perhaps one day, is one of your classic New York City coffee shops- big enough for a counter and about 4/5 patrons to sit. Tiny tiny tiny. I’m exaggerating of course- it can squeeze in probably 12 people uncomfortably, but it is Mighty for it’s size. The coffee is awesome and the location is a convenient few blocks south of, and right on our walk to, Fort Tryon Park: THE REASON WHY I AM ABLE TO LIVE IN MANHATTAN.

I like cities. Don’t get me wrong. I like living in them even. But to be able to do so – I need nature. Not a park the size of a city block with some struggling gnarled old maples (go trees go!)..I need BIG nature. Fort Tryon is that. Better than Central Park – oh! You just have to go. Views of the Hudson- a Manhattanite’s only real chance to look and see a distance of ten + miles ever. You can’t convince me that isn’t good for the brain, nay necessary.

ANYWAYYYY This shop is now a second Buunni location in an operation that I know is expanding even further.

It’s, nice. The shop is, well, huge. This might very well be the biggest coffee shop in Manhattan. It’s like the apartments up here- how? how is it this large? Thank goodness! There’s still real estate hope. It’s one large room with TONS of seating- mostly wooden square tables, a few hightops, and bar seating along the back wall. There’s a slightly elevated stage area to the left when you walk in, currently recommissioned for more workspace, but clearly a spot for whatever coffee shop fair of entertainment you prefer.

The chairs are metal and comfortable, an eclectic mix of color popping in an otherwise very hodgepodge wooden vibe, saved by a couple of nice accents- the counter trim, a collection of hanging lamps. The very large counter, barista station/prep kitchen runs along the right wall for most of the length of the shop and features pastries and some house made baked goods. There seems to be an extensive loose leaf tea selection (props!) and a range of merch items, including their own beans, featured on one of those giant wall sized one-piece shelving units.

The lighting is… bad. It’s parceled an uneven. Halogen cans in the ceiling dole out a fishbowl haze of unflattering (and too bright) light, but the wood sort of soaks it up and it’s not altogether – no – I can’t compromise on this- it’s not great. I care so much about lighting. Mostly in home spaces. I understand businesses have other priorities and energy saving bulbs can help the bottom line, but just a side tangent about home lighting- its SO EASY to light a room. It’s a simple art form that requires very little skill and yet so many home spaces I visit are lit TERRIBLY. Its the clearest and most direct way of creating atmosphere. A room that’s lit well can cover over a multitude of decor infractions.

So, all that to say, the lighting is ultimately forgivable and in fact, as I look around there seems to be a space at the back that has some warmer lamps hanging down low enough to create a nice glow for those tables back there. There are giant street facing windows that let in a lot of natural light in the front as well, and I’m sure during the peak daylight hours this helps a lot.

The coffee, like the other location is great. It is a place, I discovered, that isn’t thrilled to do a half caff shot, but conceded when I offered to pay for the second shot. The latte was great. And the free mocha is awesome too. Some amateur rothkoesque painting hang on the wall and are a lovely touch. The music, a mellow playlist of slow-jam r&b, beats casually in the background and is a really nice touch. I’d say it’s not a room that needs a ton of music as the space naturally morphs conversations and the percussion of counter work into nice backdrop hum, but I notice it every once in a while with appreciation when a slick groove hits me in the chest.

What I will say in praise of this second Buunni location is that it clearly is a space that fosters community. There are a good number of people here and none of them look the same. Every race, every color, every age. It’s a space that (despite the lighting), is open and inviting. The splatter quality of sound in this wooden room blurs out conversations nearby into a nice background noise which makes it difficult to hear what’s being said even at the next table, turning your neighbor’s meet-up into a palatable aural backdrop for getting work done. I’d imagine on the conversation end, there’s a certain freedom to speak openly, due to this dispersion of sound.

I did look at my phone a fair bit. Damnit.

Here’s an abrupt ending – but they’re closing: Buunni uptown Inwood- check it out. Glad to have this afternoon of community steeping in my neighborhood, in my home town. I’m grateful to have a hometown.

I’m starting to be really excited that this is it.


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