On the border of Harlem and Morningside Heights, next to the unending Fredrick Douglas circle redesign at 110th Street, you’ll find a unique neighborhood café that’s already gone through a name change in its five short years. I’d only visited its earlier incarnation as Saurin Parke, and so when I returned recently under the Café Amrita moniker I was afraid that what made the old place so great would be gone.
Even more than your average coffee shop, it was the perfect locale to spend a Saturday afternoon in front of a laptop. From browsing the stack of paperbacks to soaking up a Left Bank ambiance surrounded by a flutter of accents (Castilian? German?) and a varied playlist backed by clacking laptop keys, it had it all.
The look was light wood-paneled walls, dark pine tables in a large, light-filled space behind the French doors (open in nice weather) that front the facade. Vintage posters? Check. Mostly Monaco Grands Prix brought back from Paris, some others. They gave it the feel of a sports bar in a working class futbol-obsessed province of mitteleuropa.
What I found is that, with the exception of the new 60″ flat screen hovering above the bar like Big Brother with a news crawl (must! watch! CNN!), my fears were unfounded. In fact, I was hard-pressed to notice any difference.
The atmosphere is the same. The menu is the same (standard café stuff, somewhat overpriced, and a surprisingly decent guac). About the only thing that changed for the worse is the wi-fi policy. Where before it was free seven days a week with purchase, now they don’t even switch it on for the weekend. Huh? I understand they don’t want people to stay all day on the weekend, but it works fine for Starbucks, and it worked fine for the old Saurin.
I also decided to try out a feature of the café that I hadn’t yet availed myself of- namely booze. That’s right. It’s a little strange during the day to see all those pretty bottles lined up behind the bar, when all you want is an espresso, panino, or madeline, but there they are. Promising a tipple or two. But not exactly a debauch, unless it’s of the post-post-structuralist tête-à-tête with your fellow colloquium member. That is to say, it gets a lot of Columbia grad students.
With candles on the immaculately worn-in tables, the lights dimmed low, and the blue glow of the Sam Adams sign flooding everything, I discovered Amrita presents another face weekend nights. On the Friday night I went there were about 14 people, split between the bar (some med students in scrubs) and the tables (business-y attire here). The TV was off, thankfully, and the vibe was divey (not even the candles overpowered the blue haze) yet neighborly. I could make this a regular night spot, I thought.
Saurin is dead. Long live Amrita!
301 W 110th St. (at Fredrick Douglass Blvd)