Nestled between the boho-bicyclists on East 12th Street and an inconspicuous lime-green awning of a Furry Land Pet Supplies, you’ll find the bustling Ost Cafe. As any New Yorker knows, open a store whose cheif product is coffee, and you’ll need an edge to stay in business. Luckily, this place has struck a chord with the usually migratory tendencies of caffiene consumers, and for good reason. Ost Cafe, meaning “East Cafe” in German, seamlessly pairs its Eastern European flair with notable variations on the run-of-the-mill coffehouse menu.
Ost is immediately distinguished because of its appearance. Huge windows bracketed by humble egg-white frames line the entire shop. Thus, “daylight” and “spaciousness” are actually terms that may be applied here, something that few Manhattan businesses can boast. Make your way towards the oak countertops, and you’ll most likely be greeted by a friendly, handlebar-moustached barista. Don’t be deterred if men with muttonchops or women sporting gigantic Buddy Holly frames isn’t your scene: the clientele here represent a diverse sampling of urban life. The vibe is relaxed, perhaps in large part to the fact that this cafe offers a selection of wines from the former “Austro-Hungarian empire” region. If your historical geography is a little fuzzy, all you really need to know is that around sunset, fresh wine corks are popped and the lights are dimmed. In fact, after 7:00pm, all the laptop-toters are politely asked to de-plug. Yes, that’s right. Computers, ipads, and other glowing screens are banned at night. While that might have just sent some people running for the hills (or the safehaven of a familiar Starbucks), Ost Cafe becomes a hub of real, face-to-face interaction, and it is not uncommon to strike up conversations with people at the neighboring tables and couches.
The menu features all the basics to assuage your caffeine needs. But there are also pastries from local Eastern European bakeries, such as baklava, rugleach, and even a nice fruit-and-sugar crusted strudel if you’re feeling bold. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the menu (besides the wine) are the hearty meat and cheese platters. Basically, they’ve managed to take all of our embarrassing favorite foods like pepperoni sticks and plastic-wrapped cheese slices, and return them to their humble roots; something classy and delicious and not from Gristedes at 4am. The platters have impeccable layouts, bringing to mind fancy cocktail hors d’œuvres at socialite dinner parties, and of course, all the meats and cheeses hail fresh from Italy, Austria, and Hungary.
If you’re looking to up your coffeehouse ante, and combine it with a classy, relaxed cocktail hour, Ost Cafe is the perfect East VIllage hangout. And if you just want to grab a coffee to go, they can handle that, too.