I only had one legitimate haunt in the eight years I called New York home—the old Northeast Kingdom, before they changed chefs, was a wonderful, Edward Hopper-esque sanctuary in the desolate wasteland of Bushwick circa 2008/2009. That was where I took every first date, consumed every boozy Sunday brunch, or just had the perfect burger by myself when I felt the walls of my apartment closing in.
I forgot about what a treasure that was until, in last week’s New York Times, I came across a wistful and beautiful reflection on the significance of the classic New York City neighborhood diner (or pre-Starbucks iteration of the coffee shop). “The coffee shop orients us here, in this city and not another,” writes Jeremiah Moss, of the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. “If we are regulars, we become known, connected, to a network of people who remain over the span of years, even decades. In the anonymous city, these ties can be lifesavers, especially for the elderly, the poor, the marginal, but also for all of us. Without them, the city becomes evermore fragmented, disorienting and unrecognizable.”
Maybe it’s a function of age, but for me New York will always be synonymous with my 20s. But having spent my 30s thus far in Paris, I’ve come to need these homes-away-from-home more than ever. The equivalent of the diner here, of course, is the café, and I’ve been spoiled by the options in my neighborhood south of Pigalle. Though it’s a rapidly gentrifying corner of the city, there are still some resiliently unfussy joints where the point is to stand at the counter and chat with the serveuse as you start your day.
I like to stop in one particular café at the base of the Rue des Martyrs. After dropping my daughter at school, I order the same croissant and café allongé and watch the stay-at-home mothers meet for oranges-pressées. The young professionals pop in for an espresso before rushing to the Métro to their first real job, the old men linger over the papers and the day’s first glasses of beer, and there is something so simple and so satisfying about witnessing the span of life’s various stages on display.