Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Caffe Capri

Filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski has made a short documentary about Caffe Capri, a longtime Italian coffee shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that is quickly being surrounded by trendy newcomers and chains. Watch the wonderful little film, and read my Q&A with the director.

Q: Why do you think places like Caffe Capri are important to a neighborhood?

A: I think they're important because they're links to the past. The owners of Caffe Capri had so many great stories about former customers who used to come in, who lived and worked in the neighborhood. I think places where people gather, in particular, can be great records of all the different generations of customers who have come and gone. I think it's important to have unique places in a neighborhood--that are owned by people who live in that neighborhood. Let's face it, most neighborhoods these days are overrun with franchises that kind of blur together. A nice personal establishment like Caffe Capri gives a neighborhood color and character that I think ultimately brightens the community. Plus, every neighborhood should have a place that makes a really killer iced coffee.

Q: How does Caffe Capri compare to the newcomer coffee shops in Williamsburg?

A: Personally, I think the iced coffee is better at Caffe Capri. I also prefer the mellow atmosphere and the curated music-scape there. I don't normally go for Sinatra, but at Caffe Capri it's so appropriate and so clearly music that the owners, Joe and Sarah, enjoy, you can't help but dig it. They don't have wi-fi and that's kind of nice, too. It forces me to really stay off my computer when I go there. I write by hand when I'm there, or if I do bring my laptop to do some writing, it's nice being free of the Internet. All that being said, the newcomer shops definitely have their place. If Caffe Capri is closed, I'll go to Blue Bottle. They make a mean New Orleans (a lightly sweet iced coffee). I think that the newcomers' coffee shops do have a uniformity to them that's sometimes a little troubling. They're shiny, austere, and the music is usually very hip, which is fine but feels like it's not lovingly chosen. The newcomers need to put some love in their decor!

Q: You grew up on the Lower East Side, and you've seen a lot of major changes there and in Williamsburg in recent years. How would you characterize those changes?

A: Short answer: troubling. Longer answer: I think that all neighborhoods change and if they've got something good about them, there's usually an influx of people, so you're kind of forced to make room for new people. I was definitely one of those new people who moved to Williamsburg in the late '90s. So there's going to be development and there's going to be changes. I think the hope is that whatever decisions get made, maintaining and enriching the community as a whole is the priority. But the troubling part is that development in the burg and on the LES is so accelerated--it just results in giant glass condos and big hotels and big buildings kind of plunking down and trying to sell as many cookie-cutter luxury apartments--that many people who've lived in these communities all their lives can't afford it. I think Williamsburg has changed faster than the LES. But the LES is definitely on its way now.

Q: What other old Williamsburg places are you hoping will survive?

A: The Garden Grill diner on Graham Ave. has always been good to me and feels like a relic now in the neighborhood. The pizza places on Graham Ave. (Tony's and Carmine's) have to stay. Every neighborhood needs solid pizza. Same goes for Sal's on Lorimer. Incidentally, they make a great espresso, too. I also kind of approve of places like Union Pool, a bar that took over an old space and repurposed it, but kind of did it with real affection I think. I'm more worried about the Lower East Side. Gertel's Bakery, Guss' Pickles, the fabric stores and wholesalers--they're all gone. I like the new art galleries that are showing up there and Doughnut Plant, and I'm glad Kossar's bialys and Russ & Daughters is still in effect. But I'm scared they'll just disappear any minute. Defend the LES!


Karen Gehres said...

Beautiful,thank you.

JAZ said...

The new 'coffee houses' all seem to have one thing in common - they they all try way too hard to force an image of themselves, instead of letting it naturally develop over time. It is painfully obvious in their presentation, the customers they are looking to attract, and the faux attitude they attempt to lay on in many of their cases.

The forcing of an image vs natural development over time is a microcosm of hyper-gentrification vs natural change in communities, and this is certainly no coincidence.

esquared™ said...

Wait, no Wifi? How the hell are the hipsters supposed to tweet about that new artisanal resto specializing in quinoa, kombucha, and kale menu, or about this cool bar serving artisanal brine picklebacks, and post pics of these artisanal foodie food experiences in their Facebook, tumblr, and Pinterest?

Will somebody please think of the children?

esquared™ said...

P.S. +2 on the post -- +1 on the short documentary, +1 on the interview

and oh, hai woman at 2:22/2:45/3:19/3:43, you're ridiculous...


Brendan said...

Esquared, you talking about "hipsters" sounds like my dad talking about the rap music. Don't take that the wrong way; it's a value-neutral observation.

JAZ is spot on about what's wrong with pretty much every new coffee shop or bar that's opened in "cool" Brooklyn in the last decade or so. They feel so cold and institutional. It's oppressive. There are some exceptions.

Little Earthquake said...

"They don't have wi-fi and that's kind of nice, too. It forces me to really stay off my computer when I go there."

He needs to go to a place without WiFi to stay off his computer.

The average American is a weakling and a coward.

esquared™ said...

That's an insult to rap music, at least rap music has (or had) soul, character, edge, a message, without a hint of irony in them. Besides, who do you think patronizes the new "cool" but oppressive, cold and institutional coffee shops in Williamsburg, certainly not rap musicians.

randall said...


I like your point and it's the same thing I say about "pre-distressed" or "pre-broken in" clothing.
Everyone wants the look or the image or the vibe, but no one wants to put the time in to organically cultivate the look, image or vibe.

Brendan said...

Dude, I wasn't saying anything about rap (which I love a huge amount of). I was commenting on how funny you sound when you talk about hipsters, because, while you're not quite wrong, you're not quite right either and all your references are kind of off. It's not a criticism really, as there is no shame in being out of touch with contemporary hipster culture.

esquared™ said...

You're more than welcome to give attention to the attention starved, useless adults that we know as hipsters, pretending to be more important than they really are and you're probably are one, since you keep defending them. I think you're out of touch of the hipster culture since you're too self-focus, has the inability to view the world from the perspective of other people, and detesting those who do not admire them. Enjoy those kale chips, man.

Thank God for the hipsterless (for now) Caffe Capri.

Brendan said...

You are the strangest internet personality I've ever encountered, esquared. You consistently read my comments to mean either something totally unrelated to what they actually say, or the exact opposite of what they actually say.

BTW, Caffe Capri is full of hipsters now, for better or worse.

esquared™ said...

Strange indeed, yet not bland and sans the irony, or maybe the irony was lost on me.

Ok, need more coffee...

Pat said...

I rather like quinoa. It was good enough for the Aztecs and it's good enough for me. You can hate attention starved, useless adults all you want, but please don't take it out on an innocent, pre-Columbian grain.

I hope this board is not going to become like die hipster, which I read for a few months with horror and fascination. Most of the so called "men" who post there sound like they haven't been out of their Greenpoint garages in decades. Everything is bad... a liberal arts education, hummous, give me a break already!

laura said...

after 2 years of reading this blog i still dont get it. what is a hipster? a hippy beatnik disco person who eats health foods & listens to special music? what kind of music? are they rich? i get the kale part but after that im lost. will someone my age step foward & speak up? once & for all!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Guss' Pickles has been reborn in Brooklyn as Clinton Hill Pickles on Classon and DeKalb. Go gorge yourself on half sours!

hoover factory said...

Do a YouTube search for "Today's Special Paul Kelly", and check out three short films which cover similar territory re: London and its vanishing working class cafe culture.

laura said...

had no idea kale & quinoa were au courant. i have eaten this way for decades, now i am "hip" thank you bloggers.

Uncle Waltie said...

"after 2 years of reading this blog i still dont get it. what is a hipster?- will someone my age step foward & speak up?"

I'm probably twice your age and still haven't figured it out. Someone please show us some pictures.42 thpendo

Brendan said...

Re: hipsters

No need to make this more complicated than it is. It's a "know it when you see it" situation, like pornography.

Go to McCarren Park on a Saturday afternoon and you'll get the idea.

Hanna Horvath said...

Hipsters do nothing but consume anything, anyone, everything, and everyone around them courtesy if mommy and daddy.

And mostly they whine and complain like babies.

- Complain that a store is out of organic artisan products. And they look down on those who aren't consuming organic artisan products.

-Throw a tantrum when a coffee shop is out of soy, almond, or non-dairy milk.

-Cry when they've run out of things and people to consume.

-Whine at minor inconveniences from what they're used to and to them those are crises.

-They want stores and restaurants to bow down and cater to their needs, since they're spending considerable amount of mommy and daddy's on those places afterall.

-Weep when they encounter minorities at a neighbourhoods, which were full of ethnicities to begin with, they moved into, and act afraid of the minorities and eye them suspiciously when encountering them.

They believe life outside of hipsterdom and hipsterville are beneath them and a wretched state.

They are nothing but "hip" consumers and pretentious poseur spoiled twats that revel in childlike naivety. There's nothing special or daring about them, nor is wearing Ray-Bans with colorful frames. They are no different than an exclusive gentlemen's or golf club, or any other establishments they'd doubtless be full of priggish adultlescent rage at if they knew about them.

Anonymous said...

Hipsters, the more attention you give them, the more options they seek.