Talk about a brew-ha-ha. Coffee-and-scone lovers in Park Slope and Cobble Hill — whose caffeine cultures are as different as surfer dudes and stockbrokers — were rocked this month to wake up and smell this coffee: each neighborhood’s best-loved cafe had opened in its rival’s turf.
It started when the Tea Lounge, which has two locations in Park Slope, opened on Court Street in tony Cobble Hill. Within days, Sweet Melissa, an upscale Court Street bakery just a few doors down from the new Tea Lounge, had opened on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, bisecting the Tea Lounge’s territory.
The Coffee War was on.
OK, I’m exaggerating. No one is shouting, “Pastilles at dawn!” or loading rifles with spent espresso grinds.
But the significance of the cross-Brooklyn incursions cannot be underestimated. Park Slope loves its Tea Lounges, with their threadbare, Salvation Army couches; free WiFi; comfortable lighting, late hours and respect for classic rock. In a neighborhood that likes to call itself “a college town without the college,” Greg Wolf’s lounges have become everyone’s living room.
(Full disclosure: I wrote my latest book, “Chrismukkah: The Official Guide to the World’s Most-Beloved Holiday,” at the Tea Lounge. Fuller disclosure: I have now mentioned my new book, “Chrismukkah: The Official Guide to the World’s Most-Beloved Holiday,” in three consecutive issues.)
Of course, Cobble Hill loves its Sweet Melissa, with its Paris-worthy croissants, fancy quiches, amazing cakes and pies, and “afternoon tea” with all the trimmings.
To extend the “college town” metaphor, Sweet Melissa’s is more like the faculty club or the place your parents took you for lunch during those awkward college visits. You feel a bit uncomfortable if you go there in a sweaty t-shirt after a run (by comparison, you’d be overdressed in such an outfit at the Tea Lounge).
The two joints have different clienteles, certainly. But with the Tea Lounge getting increasing competition from other java joints in Park Slope and with Sweet Melissa being squeezed by upscale bakers on Court and Smith streets, it’s only logical that both places would covet each other’s grounds.
It’s unclear, of course, which coffee shop/bakery/hangout will win the hearts and minds of each neighborhood, but the cross-pollination is the talk of the town.
“Sweet Melissa is great, but you can’t hang out there because it’s so quiet,” said Zaro Bates, a Carroll Gardens resident who is already a big fan of the new Tea Lounge. “And, let’s face it, the crowd is a bit stuffier and fortysomething.”
Stuffy fortysomethings fired back.
“I can’t go to the Tea Lounge,” said one middle-aged Park Sloper. “There’s something about those couches that…” Her voice trailed off and she scratched herself as if warding off bed bugs.
And younger non-breeders sometimes complain about all the babies at the Tea Lounge. Screaming kids are a rarity at Sweet Melissa.
“Basically, coffee shops and bakeries in Brooklyn have to make a choice of what they want to be,” said Lauren Klein of Carroll Gardens, a grad student who was tapping away at her laptop at the Cobble Hill Tea Lounge the other day.
“Do they want to be like this place, which basically invites you to buy a bagel and coffee and sit here all day, or do you want to be like Sweet Melissa, which wants to serve you lunch and have you go on your way?”
There are strong passions on both sides (and some really great passion fruit cheesecake at Sweet Melissa). But sometimes, deciding where one gets his coffee and writes the Great American Thesis is not weighed down under heaps of cultural baggage.
“I actually used to go to Naidre’s on Henry Street, but they stopped letting me plug in my laptop,” Klein said.
Now that means war!