Have you been to the new café at the corner of Christopher and Gay Streets? Whynot? No, really, Whynot—that's the name of one of the newest arrivals on the Village coffee scene. Since it opened in May, this cozy little spot has developed quite a following. Wherefore has Whynot become so popular? Is it owing to the coffee or the café? A recent visit afforded a good occasion to find out.
Let me begin by spilling the beans about what's inside the cup. Whynot obtains its roasts from the Brooklyn outpost of the Oakland-based Blue Bottle Coffee Company, described as "the best coffee you may ever drink" by Fortune magazine. "Customers love it," manager Miki Mihajlov told me. My cup of Bella Donovan, an organic fusion of African Moka and Indonesian Java, was not your average joe. I drank it black in order to savor the rich, slightly citrusy flavor of Blue Bottle's most popular blend. (For those who do not prefer coffee au naturel, Whynot provides a wide variety of organic milk.)
Whynot offers delicious baked items to accompany their java. The viennoiserie comes from Olivier Dessyn's Mille-Feuille bakery a few blocks away. Delivered frozen, the croissants are baked in the convection oven behind the counter. "It's the best way we could do it," explained Miki. "Before, we got the croissants already baked, but they weren't that fresh." My Pain au Chocolat (chocolate croissant), made with organic unenriched flour and hormone-free European-style butter, was warm, delicately flaky, and délicieux. (I'm saving the almond and raspberry croissants for future visits.) A delightful gluten-free macaron added a sweet finish to my morning coffee.
Additional baked goods such as cookies and breads, many of which are gluten-free and vegan, come from LifeThyme Natural Market on Sixth Avenue.
The space itself is as alluring as the coffee. Owner Emil Stefkov transformed an erstwhile women's clothing store into a seductive neo-retro European-style café. Wishing to create a setting evocative of 1960s French culture, he approached Brooklyn artist Jeremy Penn to produce paintings of some of the most popular icons of the day—Brigitte Bardot, along with Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg. Penn's artwork infuses strokes of masterly sensuality into the happening vibe.
A '70s-era Sansui stereo receiver (dare I call it a hi-fi?), replete with a vintage Yamaha turntable, complements the retrospective paintings with groovy aural reminiscences. That's right, vinyl—no MP3s, CDs, 8-tracks, or even cassettes. (Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water was the LP of choice on my visit.) There's even a Discwasher kit with which to whisk the records! The music and the artwork combine to transport the mind to another place and time. "A lot of the customers reach a bigger creativity when they sit here," asserts Miki.
Large windows on two sides add light and airiness to the 1,000-square-foot space, while providing a lens to the outside world. Outdoor benches augment the 40 indoor seats.
More than just a name, Whynot represents an attitude—a civilized escape from the daily grind. The accommodating, customer-friendly atmosphere is reflected in both the décor and the amenities. Despite its retro motif, Whynot is cablé, providing ample charging outlets as well as free wi-fi, and even accepting credit cards—conveniences not found at many other New York coffee bars. "We approach customers in a different way," says Miki. "Can I have this? Can I do this? The answer is always, why not?" A version of the George Bernard Shaw quotation that inspired Whynot's name and its very essence can be found throughout the café:
"Some people see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and say Whynot."
Whynot Coffee & Wine
14 Christopher Street (SW corner Gay St)
Greenwich Village, Manhattan (map)
By bus: M5 (uptown), M20 (downtown), M8
Comestiblab: In the south of France (from Poitiers down), the pain au chocolat is called a chocolatine. But ordering a chocolate croissant by that name in Paris is liable to be met with feigned ignorance and a derisive sneer. To Parisians, the word bespeaks a lack of sophistication—a trait they impute to southern French bumpkins.