Coffee shop newcomer Underline (511 West 20th Street, 917-477-9476) sits directly across from the 20th Street Highline access point and underneath the park (hence the name). This near ideal location for drawing in tourists and locals hoping to stroll the public space with a hot or cold brewed coffee, however, also means Underline faces stiff competition — across the street on Tenth Avenue in the High Line Hotel is Intelligentsia’s first and only café in the city, setting up an interesting comparison between the one man show at Underline and its well-backed neighbor.
Brandon Tully, a former custom wood furniture builder, opened Underline earlier this year. It’s not his first foray into coffee; he arrived in the New York area by way of Washington State, where he had previous experience at Storyville Coffee in Seattle and Cravens Coffee in Spokane.
At Underline, his eye for aesthetics influenced several design considerations, some pronounced, others quite subtle. The most obvious may be the hand-stenciled floor designs and the gleaming pull lever Mirage idrocompresso. At the slow bar in the rear, a beautiful, custom-made copper kettle and pour over station by Monarch Methods will induce envy in those using the great but ubiquitous Hario kettles. Less noticeable, the wood service counter hides a hand-written excerpt from Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing” until warmed by hot coffee or a lingering hand (it’s thermochromic paint).
During my last visit, Underline offered beans from Toby’s Estate and has used Brooklyn’s Oslo, but it may try Pilot, Roast Magazine’s 2013 Roaster of the Year, in the near future. The pour over bar includes AeroPress and Bee House drippers. Tully sources a small selection of pastries, which can be eaten at one of a few narrow tables in the front or bar stool in the back.
Stop by before or after walking the Highline, and you’ll likely find the owner/barista/craftsman inside.