Bus Stop Coffee Shop
542 Ninth Avenue
(at 40th Street)

Midtown West
(212) 560-9030

 

 

 

I spend so much time running around, beneath, and through the Port Authority Bus Terminal that I feel it is in some ways my third home (right after the office, which is right after my actual home if anyone is counting). In another era I might have said this with a certain amount of satisfied relish — transit hubs are truly magical places and I used to feel that I could measure my life’s success by how much time I spent at the start or end of some adventure on the road. But these days it’s hard to manage that point of view when the frequency of my visits there starts working on my nerves, exposing the truth that running for a bus is one of the roughest stresses life can offer. The fear of being late — hours late — and the self recrimination that inevitably follows is an anxiety that’s really hard to beat no matter how many deep breaths I take.

Another reason for this change in perspective — this hurry-up-and-wait kind of travel that hovers around the BT — is the fact that there really isn’t anywhere to sit back and relax. My favorite train stations of the world have that one particular bar or café down the block where you can sit and watch the bustle and wait for the whistle to blow while you think about where you’re going or where you’ve been. Even airports with their synthetic mall-like food courts have a few gems with a view out onto the tarmac. My best memories of being driven to the starting point of a trip as a kid were always that stop for a bite along the way.

There’s none of that here. At least, that’s what I thought until I showed up early one day and had the odd thought to go snooping around the back of the building.

The Bus Stop Coffee Shop is exactly what it claims to be — a coffee shop in the old Route 66 sense of the word (or I guess we should say Route 17 around these parts). It’s a diner. They serve eggs and hamburgers and good coffee and giant pieces of chocolate cake. The wait staff are sweet and the counter guys are gruff. The steamy windows beckon travelers in from the noisy diesel-choked air outside. The sign outside glows red neon through the early morning gloom.

You may have noticed that I don’t write about diners in this space. That’s not because they aren’t worth noticing, but because the diner experience is so intrinsic to our lives that it doesn’t really need exploring. Eating cheese sticks with a cherry lime rickey chaser at 2AM is such a divine pleasure, such an essential American experience, that writing about it would be akin to writing about how much I love baseball. Nothing more can be added to that dialogue.

The Bus Stop Coffee Shop gets a special nod partly because the food is great but mainly because it masterfully captures a small town essence so needed in the city and in this neighborhood in particular. All New Yorkers know and love the heavy, laminated, eight-page menus of our favorite Greek diners. We expect to be able to order anything from pizza burgers to swordfish at any given hour when we’re in one of those places. The menu here is much closer to the simple fare you’ll find along the blue highways of America — the soups and sandwiches, meatloaf and mashed kind of meals that are fast and cheap and hearty.

It mainly gets a special nod, though, because it’s a celebration of being in-between — a place to catch your breath before running off again, to slowly caffeinate while reading the paper and filling up for the long journey ahead. Traveling blessedly takes us out of our regularity but without the stop along the way the transition would be too jarring. And without the Bus Stop Coffee Shop the BT would just be a place to run and sweat and pant and swear.

I noticed one recent morning while I latched my suitcase and headed out, that I had subconsciously yet specifically allowed an extra hour to grab an omelette and catch up with the news. It was a slower than usual travel morning, and I dozed lightly while the bus pulled out into the blaring city, a coffee cup in my hand, the road rising up to meet us.

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