April 30, 2010

Leslie Buck's Legacy

Leslie Buck (NYT) & his Masterpiece (Core77)

Leslie Buck (NYT) & his Masterpiece (Core77)

Leslie Buck passed away this week at the age of 87. Born in 1922 in what was then Czechloslovakia, he survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where his parents were killed, and came to New York after the war. He started a paper goods company with his brother Eugene and in the 1960’s set out to corner the city’s hot cup market. Since so many of the city’s diners were owned by Greeks, he decided to design a cup using the colors of the Greek flag. He executed the design himself, and despite his lack of formal art training, it was an instant, and enduring, success.

Leslie Buck, Dossier

While the Greek elements unironically evoke mythology and classicism, Buck’s “Anthora” has achieved NYC icon status through sheer ubiquity.

I Lego NY by Christoph Niemann for the New York Times

I Lego NY by Christoph Niemann for the New York Times

If Starbucks represents America’s corporate muscle and the likes of Stumptown, Blue Bottle et al find an audience among foodi-elitist connoisseurs, the Anthora is the mark of true blue everyman: Anthora’s richness lies in its cultural heritage, which at once captures the spirit of the country and its greatest city (that’s right, I said it).

As a recent transplant, I find that Buck’s design is iconic in a fundamentally different way: it is a relic of Old(e) Noo Yawk, a winsome vessel of unassuming kitsch. Major cities the world over have signature buildings, bridges, parks, landmarks, taxi cabs, subway iconography, but where else can you stake a claim to a local coffee cup?

Also on Core77 & DQM, among other blogs.

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March 11, 2010

Coffee Break

Ashley Gilbertson for the New York Times

Ashley Gilbertson for the New York Times

Today is the first day in about two weeks that I haven’t had a cup of coffee. I go through coffee phases, though I’ve been hitting the French press harder and harder, in a manner of speaking, lately. I also drank a fair amount of coffee in Beijing (related excerpt below) and I think I’ve been on the upswing since the beginning of the year…

Meanwhile, the New York Times has an excellent feature on the city’s best coffee, plus an interactive map of coffee hotspots. I’m tempted to try and get a cup of joe at each and every one, moving outward daily in concentric circles from Fort Greene starting with Ortine. NYT also says coffee is good for you and Christoph Niemann’s thoughts on coffee. (Unrelated, but he has cleverly appropriated the iconic visual language of Google maps [which now features bike directions] for the latest installment of Abstract City, which was posted yesterday. Much better than the last two, in my opinion.)

Free associating a bit, City of Sound has an excellent (if rather lengthy) essay on the iPad as a device for the third place (i.e. the coffeeshop).

Here is my analysis of the Wudaokou coffee scene, from a long-lost China post that I drafted on the food & drink situation:

Nevertheless, much of the money I’ve been saving on food, alcohol and cigarettes ends up going towards coffee, a necessary luxury which happens to go for American rates or more—$1.50 for shitty drip, $3 for anything decent—the same price as A.) lunch and an afternoon snack, B.) anywhere between one and five beers depending on the point of sale, and C.) two to four packs of cigarettes. I usually stick with the Americano, which is roughly the same price as the daily brew at 18RMB [$2.66] including one free refill; fancier drinks have fancier prices.

A staple for the wealthy elite, coffee is rarely ordered to go, as per the American on-the-go lifestyle; instead, it is usually consumed in a coffeeshop with a Continental deference (and cigarettes, of course).

Indeed, cafes are typically rather upscale affairs, a fabled “third place” that Westerners might call their own, since the Chinese seem largely unaware that there might be more than two places. Free wi-fi, long (often endless) business hours, decent service and full menus (invariably in English and Chinese) reinforce the classy atmosphere.

Still, I have come to discern clear discrepancies between the clientele of the three coffeeshops that I frequent: The Bridge, Cava Coffee and Beantree (all located conveniently on my block). The Bridge is the largest and busiest, with room for about a hundred patrons on each of two floors, catering to a majority of foreigners representing North America, most of the EU and Australia, not to mention Chinese-American students and a few native Chinese. Cava attracts more native Chinese and other assorted Asians, as well as the occasional 老外, while Beantree’s clientele consists mostly of Korean and Japanese students.

However, today marked the first time I’ve enjoyed Kombucha in about five months. Maybe that’s what got me all wired this afternoon… though I will most certainly be back on the bean tomorrow.

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