Last week, Café Pick Me Up–the Tompkins Square mainstay for a decent $1.52 cup of coffee–completed renovations on the dining room next to its main cafe and instituted waiter service and a new dinner menu.
The café, on the corner of 9th Street and Avenue A, has been an East Village hub for all things artsy and unassuming since 1995. It attracts a steady crowd of screenwriter types trying their best to look world-weary, as well as a lot of curiously un-ironic hipsters–if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Considering the clientele, the management has made a big aesthetic decision in discarding its nostalgia-centric candelabras, kitschy art, antique sewing machines, and school desks in favor of a more sleek and streamlined appeal.
The installation of velvety aqua-toned benches might trigger an unwelcome flashback to the college hookah bar circuit, but the fact that they’re mighty comfortable all but makes up for it. Uniform high-backed chairs, a wine wall, and glitzy new chandeliers make for a polished look that’s not at all unappealing, but somewhat out of character on this stretch of Avenue A.
“We want to keep all the same customers–we’re still here for them” says co-owner Arossella Palazzo. “But now we want to offer the neighborhood something more, give them more choices.”
The extended dinner menu does just that, and is reasonable cause for excitement at a place that has a rather satisfying portion per price ratio. Italian classics make up the bulk of dinner, with gnocchi al pomodoro and a prosciutto di Parma sandwich that look promising.
The new servers are friendly and attentive, and while they’re not of the doting variety, the shift away from counter service does present something of a dilemma for those looking to bunker down for the next six hours and bang out a manuscript or two.
Regulars seem conflicted but cautiously optimistic.
“I actually liked the old gritty feel–it was laid back” says Astrid Stawiarz, a local photographer. “It’s kind of stuffy now. Still nice though.”
Similar renovations on the main café area are scheduled to wrap up in three weeks. While a little sprucing is probably a worthy venture, eccentricities like mini gargoyles on the mantle piece and some truly inspired bathroom graffiti will not go without a tiny pang of gentrification heartache for locals.
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