Long before its occupation by the hands freelancers and their MacBooks, the coffeehouse was a forum for civic discourse and community concerns. According to William Ukers’s All About Coffee, a coffee tome published between the World Wars, “The coffee houses of early [1700s] New York, like their prototypes in London, Paris, and other old world capitals, were the centers of the business, political and, to some extent, of the social life of the city.”
This was so much the case that early coffee houses had assembly rooms in which court trials were occasionally held, along with general assembly and council meetings. One early New Yorker, decrying the fledgeling city’s lack of a coffeehouse, considered it “a scandal to the city and its inhabitants to be destitute of such a convenience for want of due encouragement.” (And you thought your boss was grouchy without that morning caffeine hit.)
All About Coffee also notes that coffee made its way through early Dutch New York “first in the homes, where it replaced the ‘must,’ or beer, at breakfast.” So, things change: beer is for evenings now, and coffee for the daylight; and coffeehouses hardly have room for all the typists and hasty catch-ups they’re now meant for, let alone an assembly hall. Arguably, the closest you can get to those old coffeehouses is a well-sized bar. Many of them host community events, albeit less often of a political nature — but if that’s an itch that you need scratched, you’re guaranteed to stumble into a drunken argument about Bernie Sanders at your local watering hole if you listen hard enough.
Nowhere is the constant shifting, mixing and settling of our various vices’ places in life and society better epitomized than in a good coffee cocktail. So we sought a few pointers from Nathan O’Neill, the NoMad Hotel‘s freshly minted head bartender, who walked us through The Gentleman’s Exchange. Concocted by O’Neill’s predecessor, Leo Robitschek, the drink is named after the second coffeehouse ever opened in New York — and while it features cold-brew coffee, a more recent invention, as its primary ingredient, it’s sure to spur conversations and debates in the spirit of those early days. (In more ways than one; again, they drank beer for breakfast.)
The Gentleman’s Exchange
1 dash Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Pernod Absinthe
1 teaspoon cold-brew coffee
1/2 ounce Foro Amaro
1/2 ounce Suze
3/4 ounce Vermouth di Torino
1 1/2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye
1. Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass and stir.
2. Strain into a double rocks glass with fresh ice.
3. Express the oils of a grapefruit twist over the top of the cocktail, then discard twist.