Manhattanville Coffee Shop Chose Name Based on Vibe, Not Location

By Jeff Mays on June 17, 2014 11:23am 

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 Harlem's Manhattanville neighborhood is a good mile and a half away from the newly opened Manhattanville Coffee on Edgecombe Avenue and 142nd Street in what is either Hamilton Heights or Sugar Hill, depending on whom you ask. "We know this isn't Manhattanville the neighborhood," said co-owner Rivka Sontag. "We agnoized over the name." Sontag, along with business partner Jack Gold, said they wanted the coffee shop to feel elegant but also like it was part of a small village, a neighborhood coffee shop frequented by locals.
Manhattanville Coffee
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HARLEM — The border of West Harlem's Manhattanville neighborhood is located a mile and a half away from the newly opened Manhattanville Coffee on Edgecombe Avenue and 142nd Street — but owners didn't let that stop them from using the name.

"We know this isn't Manhattanville the neighborhood," said co-owner Rivka Sontag, whose shop at 142 Edgecombe Ave. officially falls inside Sugar Hill. "We agonized over the name."

Sontag, along with business partner Jack Gold, said they couldn't think of a better name for the coffee shop to evoke a feeling of elegance, while also feeling like it was part of a small village.

"'Manhattan' tells the story of sophistication and 'ville' tells the story of a small hometown," Gold said. "The name could work in any city."

So far, the name is working just fine on Edgecombe, an area that lacks cafes and restaurants in spite of a boom in new co-ops condos and renovated buildings over the last several years.

"The neighborhood was waiting for this," Gold said.

Before Sontag and Gold opened the coffee shop, the high school friends were hired by the owner of 142 Edgecombe Ave. to redesign the front of the building that was built in 1920. The duo are  partners in a commercial design business and spent most of their time working in coffee shops. As they redesigned the facade, Gold and Sontag found themselves falling in love with the neighborhood and the space.

"It's a chill intersection where the view is beautiful," said Gold, a married father of three, while pointing to a row of buildings across the street.

The pair decided their practical knowledge of cafes, along with their professional design skills, could help them create the type of place where they'd want to spend time working.

"The idea was to stick with what would have worked here when the building was built," Sontag said. "We can't improve Harlem."

Outside, the pair uncovered an original steel decorated column that they exposed and cleaned up. The window sign was etched in gold leafing by a local artist.

Inside, the original brick walls are exposed. A long wooden table has electrical outlets underneath for those who want to work, but a pair of comfortable leather couches near the front are for those who want to relax. The countertops are marble.

Manhattanville serves Intelligentsia Coffee, but also has small pastries that start at $1.25.

The store comes amid a collection of new additions to the neighborhood.

A new restaurant called The Edge is slated to open soon on 139th Street and Edgecombe Avenue. And Mountain Bird, a popular and well-received restaurant on 145th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, is looking for a new location in the neighborhood after a lease issue, the blog Harlem Bespoke reported last week.

Sontag and Gold have applied for a sidewalk cafe on the 142nd Street side of the building and have added Popbar ice pops for the summer and plan to add sandwiches soon and soup in the winter.

"We want to be the type of neighborhood coffee shop where neighbors can get to know one another," said Sontag, a married mother of four.

Many, like Dennis Mitchell, who stopped by one afternoon with his 10-year-old son, Leo, said they were excited by the coffee shop's arrival.

"The places I enjoy are in SoHo and getting there can be an all-day affair. It's nice to have something you can walk to," said Mitchell, a 56-year-old writer. "Plus it beats having another deli."

Rufus Muller, 55, an opera singer, and Max Gordon, 44, a writer, astrologist and psychic, sat outside the coffee house with their dog, Kaija, one afternoon.

"I've been waiting for a cafe like this for 11 years," Muller said.

"A lot of the businesses in this area are franchises that are creating a homogenized version of New York,"  Gordon added. "It's nice to see something unique."

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