Café Martin

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Cold, snow, whatever: there’s almost always a bike outside Martin’s

50 Favorite Places #2

This is no longer Martin’s café – he handed it over to his one-time employee, Jenn, a few years ago – but it’s still mine. It’s the best place I know to sit and watch snowflakes drift down on a blizzardy afternoon like this one. Or to grab an iced coffee on a sweltering August day. Or to read, when the apartment is too small and the distractions too many.

What I like about Martin’s, aside from the excellent coffee, is that it’s an honest-to-god café . . . by which I mean, it’s a place to drink coffee, talk and read. It’s not a co-working space at which coffee happens to be served. There is no wi-fi, the tables will not hold both your coffee and your laptop (not even your tablet), and if there are outlets, they’re few and well-hidden (I’ve never bothered to look).

Jenn has made a few changes. For one thing, she smiles and looks you directly in the eye, which Martin – whose personal brand was Irish depressive – rarely did. She’s added things like matcha lattes and “golden milk” to the menu. But she’s kept the no wi-fi policy, along with the New York Times subscription and the wooden rack from which splayed copies of the London Review of Books and the New Yorker dangle.

The decor is unchanged. Same worn wooden floors below, same worn tin ceiling overhead. Same photographs (a few of Martin, a few of customers, most of random places around the world that caught someone’s eye). Same old map of Ireland. Same blown-up and framed New Yorker cartoon (a man and a snake sitting in a bar, man says to the snake, “Gimme a break . . . being driven out of Ireland was the best thing that ever happened to you”). Same collection of political buttons, with perhaps a few additions. Probably not the same, but similar, wall calendar from J.H. Roche & Sons in Limerick, manufacturers of animal feed.

All of this in the same tiny space, holding exactly six worn metal tables – each just big enough for two cups and saucers, maybe three if you don’t mind them clinking together – flanked by benches, with a few wooden folding chairs stacked in the corner, just in case they’re needed.

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Café Martin, 355 Fifth Av, Brooklyn 

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