New Year’s Eve marked the start of a promising 2014 for Cora Lambert and Erik Becker — their long-awaited, permanent East Village café called Box Kite (115 St. Marks Place) finally opened to the revelries of the night. Their new space replaces the coffee bar pop-up adjacent to Maslow 6 in Tribeca that they’d run for a large chunk of 2013, and which is now closed.
The name Box Kite honors Cora’s grandfather, who served as a ship captain in the Navy. During World War II, box kites were placed in life rafts for use by sea-stranded soldiers who were to fly it with the attached radio (nicknamed “Gibson Girl” for its hourglass shape) and antenna to signal for help.
Although Lambert started her New York life as a photography student at the School for Visual Arts and worked as a curator at a museum in Soho, she has since transferred her skilled eye (and now palate) for art and curation to the food and beverage world. “I’ve always worked in independent coffee shops, but I got my real start at Sasha Petraski’s (now defunct) Mercury Dime where I not only learned about specialty coffee, but I learned a great deal about craft cocktails and wine,” she explains. After Mercury Dime, Lambert worked at RBC NYC in Tribeca, another notable but now shuttered coffee space that owned the city’s first $18,000 Slayer espresso machine. She then spent the next year bar backing at Milk & Honey,and traveling to other coffee cities to work as a guest barista until her own shop Box Kite was finally ready.
Not surprisingly given her background, Lambert thoughtfully selected two well-respected domestic roasters as coffee program staples — San Francisco-based Ritual beans for brews, and Michigan’s MadCap for wildly flavorful espresso. But Cora’s awareness of the greater international coffee scene has compelled her to include a rotating list of foreign beans. Next up: The Coffee Collective from Denmark. (Scandinavia has a highly evolved coffee culture that’s in concert with its progressive food movement.)
From the small, contemporary space that borders on utilitarian, patrons can take out drip coffee or linger over a Kalita Wave pour over. The espresso machine is a one-of-a-kind custom Synesso Hydra featuring wooden handles and actuators. It’s powder coated navy blue and affectionately dubbed the Gibson Girl.
But Box Kite is not all about coffee. With the crazy hours the shop is keeping (open at 7 a.m. daily and closing at 2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 p.m. Sunday), it’s bound to have foot traffic in need of a drink.
A limited, rotating collection of a dozen or so wines (red, white, and sparkling) will be available, curated by both Lambert’s good taste and spatial constraints. At the moment, for example, she’s pouring a fragrant Pinot Noir from promising young winemaker Mac Forbes out of the Yarra Valley in Australia. For suds seekers, she’s got two dedicated beer draught lines — a hoppy and a malty — plus an additional selection by the bottle, which currently includes craft brewers Tröegs and Ballast Point. For those in need of both an upper and a downer, Lambert commissioned clever wooden boards to carry and present the espresso version of a shot and a beer.
The current roster of nibbles focuses on baked treats, but in approximately two weeks, a full café menu will be available. According to Lambert, “Box Kite is part of a new wave of cafés which explore not only coffee but great alcohol and great fare. We’ve hired a beverage manager, Diego Sanchez, previously from Le Bernardin, and a chef, Dave Gulino from Roberta’s and Acme, to expand our menu and open our customer base.” In addition to food, look for public coffee cuppings, wine tastings, and educational classes such as home brewing to start up in the spring.
While today’s coffee offerings look nothing like those of Lambert’s grandfather’s generation, with every shot pulled from the Gibson Girl, Box Kite undoubtedly succeeds at honoring his memory.