The best secret garden cafes in New York City
By Meryl Phair
Tired of dining on the sidewalk? These cafes with hidden backyard patios offer quiet green spaces to grab a coffee.
The way we live and eat in the city has changed, with more outdoor dining options available than ever before. I know I’m not alone in enjoying the array of tables that have spilled out onto New York’s busy streets but despite the excitement over street side dining, eating on the sidewalk has its downsides. Speeding cars, unpleasant smells, noisy construction, and general city hubbub have all made me crave the quiet dining environment indoor settings once provided.
With warmer weather approaching, I’ve been cafe hopping around the city searching for the perfect collection of hidden cafe patios. These locations offer a happy medium between quieter indoor eating and the sunny open space of outside. The following list compiles the best places in New York City to grab a coffee and a relaxing afternoon in gardened seclusion.
Black Brick Coffee – 300 Bedford Ave. Brooklyn
Monday through Friday: 7:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday and Sunday: 8:00am – 7:00pm
Black Brick Coffee is a cozy cafe with dark brick walls and a low wooden ceiling. A line of small tables for two sit along the narrow corridor opposite the coffee counter. After ordering my coffee I grab a lid from an array of coffee accouterments on an old teal green stove. A note reads “plastic straws are available upon request.” As I walk to the back of the cafe the words western log cabin came to mind. A couch and a long table occupy the back area which people are scattered around; heads bend over laptops.
I head out the back door and walk into an outdoor junkyard style garden with a hodgepodge of old metal furniture and wooden tables. The assorted collection of sleds, tractor seats, tools, and door frames propped up on the walls of the red fenced garden reminds me of a backyard tool shed. Watering cans, wheelbarrows, and potted cactuses are also spread out around the garden. The concrete ground is scattered with last autumn’s leftover leaves and a canopy of tree limbs hang over the garden walls. I sip my coffee and listen to the birds. A couple walks into the garden and finds a table amongst the debris, one commenting, “This feels post-apocalyptic,” to which the other replied, “But it’s cute!”
Round K by Sol – 78 Canal St.
Monday through Wednesday: 9:30am – 5:00pm
Saturday and Sunday: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Additional hours Thursday through Saturday: 6:00pm – 12:00pm
Round K by Sol is the definition of a hole in the wall. This small cafe in Chinatown is so subtle, I almost walk right by. I enter the cafe and after ordering head through a door in the back that opens into the next room. With no windows and dark green walls, the second room is lit by stained-glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Plush blue chairs cozy up along marble topped tables and a couple couches sit at the back.
A door in the second room leads out along a corridor to the cafe’s courtyard. The white brick walls of the outdoor patio are such a direct contrast to the dim indoor eating area that my eyes take a few seconds to adjust to the bright outdoor light. The garden has big palm-like plants with white tables and chairs. Round balls of string lights hang over the space. A picture of a big teal Statue of Liberty complete with Round K by Sol’s logo is painted on the back wall, holding a coffee in one hand and a wine glass in the other.
Along with serving coffee and cocktails, Round K by Sol offers light fare and pastries. The cafe is a quiet escape from the bustle of the city and is so small you don’t have to worry about overcrowding.
The Lunch Box – 3 E 53rd St.
Monday through Friday: 8:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday and Sunday: closed
This garden cafe in the center of midtown is a must visit. Set off from 53rd street traffic, the patio has three rows of white chairs set around white marble tables. A large waterfall occupies the entire back wall of the garden. The rushing sound of the falling water drowns out much of the ambient noise of the city and sets a relaxing tone to the outdoor experience. Clusters of yellow tulips are potted around the garden’s tall trees. The two walls unoccupied by the main water feature have thick clusters of ivy growing up along the faded brick. A small cafe on the right side of the garden reads “Refreshments” where guests can grab a coffee, blueberry muffin, or a burger and fries for lunch. Behind the waterfall, the buildings of midtown rise into the sky.
Intelligentsia Coffee Highline Coffee Bar – 180 10th Ave. at the High Line Hotel
Monday through Sunday: 7:00am – 4:00pm
The Intelligentsia Coffee Highline Coffee Bar sits in the heart of Chelsea. Enter through a streetside archway that reads, “The High Line Hotel” and head inside to grab a coffee from the coffee bar. The inside is small with few seating options available. Not a great place for work but perfect for a chat with a friend or to spend time between city activities.
The outside garden offers more seating options with black painted wooden benches set up along wide tables. Large white and black striped sun umbrellas offer shade coverage. The space is complete with a hedge that separates the street from the garden and string lights that hang from the garden’s trees. The most unique feature of this cafe is the big red double decker bus that occupies the back of the garden area. Guests can sit on the top level of the bus to enjoy coffee and cocktails. The coffee is pricey but the garden experience is worth it!
Book Club – 197 E 3rd St.
Monday through Friday: 8:00am – 12:00am
Saturday and Sunday: 9:00am – 12:00am
At Book Club there are no laptops after 7pm! This cafe has everything: coffee, a bar, a library, and of course backyard seating. This is a perfect spot to get that last minute essay in or discuss the most recent book you’ve read, which everyone around me seemed to be doing the moment I walk in. The cafe has plenty of seating options available from chairs at the coffee bar in front to comfy couches and tables at the back. Be advised there is a laptop limit of 90 minutes but don’t let that stop you from taking full advantage of all this cafe has to offer.
After grabbing a coffee, I browsed through their book collection which had everything from history to poetry. They had a handful of journals and coffee mugs on sale as well. The back of the cafe opens to a backyard patio with colorful umbrellas stretched over a picnic table. The back wall of the patio is coated with green moss and a colorful spray-painted wall announces the name “Book Club.” String lights stretch over the garden oasis and the high walls surrounding the enclosed space give the garden a peaceful atmosphere. This is the perfect spot to grab one of the two blue Adirondack chairs and sit back to enjoy your favorite book.
The entrance to Greenacre Park is framed by a brick wall with a quote that reads, “Some moments of serenity in a busy world.” Immediately when you step into this garden, city life is left behind.
The front section of the garden has groupings of green chairs around wooden tables. Trees and potted plants are scattered about, giving a real forest-like vibe. To the left of the entryway is Carol’s Cafe, a small coffee shop where visitors can grab an iced coffee or pastry. To the right a path leads down to a lower area separated from the first by a collection of well-trimmed trees and shrubs.
As I walk down the path, all I can hear is the noise of the garden’s waterfall which sits at the back like a gushing three-tiered cake. Ivy climbs along the walls of the garden. Chairs, tables, and a long stone bench provide ample space to relax.
Seating is also available on a raised patio which provides excellent waterfall views. Despite almost every table and chair being occupied when I visited, the sound of the waterfall drowns everyone’s conversation to a nice background mumble. It’s a perfect spot to get work done in the sun or chat with friends.