Now that the weather offers reason enough to smile and the sun sticks around past 5pm, an excuse for a day spent entirely inside is hard to come by. Though I dearly loved those winter weekdays spent curled up with Taleggio and a bowl of bacon-y stew, listening to the wind howl outside my 5th floor tenement windows, it’s hard to justify staying inside on a sunny spring afternoon, even when there’s work to be done. So what do I do when I have posts to pen, a grumbling stomach to fill and an urge to casually people-watch over iced tea and panini? I pack up my laptop and head to one of the city’s many B+ or better cafés boasting free internet access, of course!
In this New York City of culinary delights, one isn’t bound to Starbucks when the need for free wifi strikes. In this town, we needn’t steal our neighbor’s wireless (for shame!), or settle for subpar coffee, snacks and sandwiches. We all have modest, local grub-hubs we swear by in times of need, but a surprisingly select few of these passable parlors we regularly patronize actually offer reliable wifi connections. I’ve spent the last many years collecting a list of B+ or better eateries across Manhattan and Brooklyn that put their modems where your mouth is. All are decent, some are sublime, and many require leaving my village nest to sate my taste for that rare pair of “delicious convenience.” This is tech-savvy destination dining! This is a meal that won’t slow down the hungry among us; Skype, type or build Facebook hype while you taste, but don’t forget to tip a little extra for that table it took them an added 20 minutes to turn while you went gaga on Google.
In alphabetical order, here are the first 12 of my top 24 places to find both free wifi and good food and drink in the city. It’s not a list of the 24 most transcendent dining experiences in New York, but it’s as good as it gets when you’re lugging a carrying case on your shoulder or lunching with your business partner (and in my case, best friend!) to squeeze in a bite while you lock down a gig. Log on and Eat it Up!
Top 24 Free Wifi Hotspots (with B+ or Better Food Bites)
1. 88 orchard
A quiet, universally beloved café with a dim and cozy downstairs level. Pastries, pressed sandwiches, Irving Farm coffee and a relaxed attitude toward lingerers make 88 Orchard a perfect spot to curl up when you’re in the neighborhood. Shelves of books and boardgames are also available for those who’d like to disconnect.
Location: 88 Orchard Street, (between Broome and Grand Streets), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Thu 7:30am-11pm, Fri 7:30 am-12am, Sat 8:30am-12am, Sun 8:30am-10pm
Standard Order: Grilled dill havarti with plum tomatoes on challah $7, root beer float $4.50
2. Atlas Café
Vegetarian, and vegan-friendly, Atlas Café is a local favorite for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare. Tunisian salad, Moroccan chicken and vegan pastrami all jostle for a place on the tiny, colorful tables. Sit out on the sidewalk and enjoy the Second Avenue street view while you work.
Location: 73 Second Avenue (near 4th Street), Manhattan
Hours: Sun-Thu 7am-12am, Fri-Sat 7am-1am
Standard Order: Tunisian eggs Mergez $5.95, vegan Philly steak $6.95
So good that it has its own cookbook, and yet people still complain about the trip to Red Hook. But does your local bakery have dense, intensely chocolaty brownies, light and luscious homemade marshmallows, sweet and crunchy granola and bourbon chocolate pecan pie? No? I didn’t think so. Take the water taxi, it’s worth the trip. Even Oprah likes them.
Location: 359 Van Brunt Street (between Dikeman and Wolcott Streets), Brooklyn
Hours: Mon-Fri 7am-7pm, Sat-Sun 8am-7pm
Standard Order: Grasshopper brownie $2.50, house blend granola $6, small hot chocolate with homemade marshmallow $4
4. Building on Bond
Beer, coffee and high class design—not an unexpected combination for Boerum Hill. With foldable tables (a patron describes it as “like one giant erector set”), local art and a beer tap setup you have to see to believe, BOB gracefully accommodates not only morning coffee hunters, but brunching mothers and happy hour crowds as well. Play your cards right and you might even pick up a budding architect at the next table.
Location: 112 Bond Street (between Atlantic and Pacific), Brooklyn
Hours: Mon-Sun 7am-1am
Standard Order: Dr. Vu chicken wings $7.50, macaroni and cheese $6
5. Caffe Reggio
Good old Caffe Reggio. Since 1927, this Village standby has been in the business of providing exactly what you expect of it: cozy chairs, suitably dim lighting, antiqued surroundings and European coffees and pastries, plus the knowledge that you could be sitting in the same seat as Jack Kerouac once did. Well, figuratively at least.
Location: 119 MacDougal Street (near 3rd Street), Manhattan
Hours: Open daily from 10am-2am
Standard Order: Tiramisu $5.25, Viennese coffee $4.50
6. Centro Vinoteca
Very chic, very contemporary, and very Italian, Centro Vinoteca’s menu is ideal for grazers with plenty of delicious small plates to tide you over, unsurprising since Vinoteca’s former chef, Anne Burrell, is a protégée of Batali. Though she’s since left the restaurant, it remains a tasty spot for brunch and browsing.
Location: 74 7th Ave South (near Barrow Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Fri 12pm-12am, Sat-Sun 11am-12am
Standard Order: Truffled deviled eggs $4, bocconcini with fresh tomato jam $11, whole wheat pappardelle with wild mushrooms $15
7. Chelsea Market
Each time I walk into Chelsea Market I feel like a kid in a candy store. Ever-expanding, deliciously smelling, and wired from top to bottom for us laptop-luggers, the market really couldn’t get any better. Home to Amy’s Bread, Ninth Street Espresso, Fat Witch, Ronnybrook Dairy, Dickson’s and many others worth lingering over.
Location: 75 9th Avenue (between 15th and 16th Streets), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sat 7am-10pm, Sun 10am-8pm. Shop and store hours vary
Standard Order: Cappucino from 9th Street Espresso $4, brie and apple sandwich from Amy’s Bread $7.25
8. Ditch Plains
Like a day at the shore, if the shore was equipped sleek modern seating, free wifi, an extensive wine list, and sand-free lobster rolls. A long list of (mostly fried) appetizers provides excellent munching while you type and tipple. Upscale fish shacks might have started as a trend, but after four years in the neighborhood, its comfort chic food and half-bottles of wine are as beloved as ever.
Location: 29 Bedford Street (at Downing Street), Manhattan
Hours: Open 7 days a week from 11am-2am
Standard Order: Oyster shooter with vodka $8, lobster roll and sweet potato chips $25
9. Ella Café
A crunchy-chic café with enough organic fare to keep you happily munching all day long. Chef Oleg Lyaskoronskiy, formerly of Gramercy Tavern, has carved out a clean, European space on Bedford Avenue that’s worth a trip across the river. Curl up in the back garden with a fresh-squeezed pear juice and soak up the Billyburg sunshine.
Location: 177 Bedford Avenue (between 7th and 8th Streets), Brooklyn
Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-10pm, Sat 9am-10pm, Sun 10am-9:30pm
Standard Order: Organic kielbasa skillet $9.95, avocado salad $8.95, lemon berry smoothie $6.50
This tiny wine bar has an Italian heart, from its waiters, to its menu, to its low-key ambiance and sidewalk seating. Relax by the open windows with a glass of Nero d’Avola or a panino during the day, or sit down to a light dinner of luscious pancetta-flecked orecchiette in the evening. You can while away an entire day here, without ever interrupting the daydream that you’re in a café in Trastevere.
Location: 200 Mott Street (near Spring Street), Manhattan
Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am-12am, Fri-Sat 11:30am-1am
Standard Order: Panino con salmone $10, orecchiette con radicchio e pancetta $11, coppa stracciatella $6.50
11. Jacques Torres
If you’re anything like me, being surrounded by the scent of melting chocolate isn’t distracting, it’s inspiring. Grab a mug of “wicked” hot chocolate with ancho chilis and cinnamon and watch the chocolate factory workers mold the week’s treats while you set about working (up an appetite for more).
Location: 350 Hudson Street (at King Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 10am-6pm
Standard Order: Wicked hot chocolate $3, the BEST chocolate chip cookie in NYC $2.50
12. Joseph Leonard
Go early (or if you’re like me, go late)—with under 10 tables, this intimate gem of a space fills up quickly, and the food is too delicious not to linger over. From its flatware to its marrow bones, everything at this neighborhood restaurant is carefully prepared for maximum comfort, and the richness of the space (and the grits) is sure to charm the most hardened heart. Far and away, Mr. Leonard is the hot new man about my corner of town!
Location: 170 Waverly Place (at Grove Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon 5:30am-12am, Tue-Fri 8am-2am, Sat 10:30am-2am, Sun 10:30am-12am
Standard Order: Oysters $1.50 each, crispy braised pork hock $24, Anson Mills grits $5