Field Notes

Englishmen in New York – Part 2

With Friday over, Saturday quickly rolled around and this time we spent it cruising around Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Going to Brooklyn was the place we’d pinpointed as the most exciting place to go as it’s a neighbourhood currently riding the wave of regeneration. After speaking to a few locals on previous nights and some extensive research before the trip, there were lots of brands and retail spaces dotted around the place that matched the profile of what we were looking for. Saturday’s breakfast, just FYI, consisted of pancakes, eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice at the Cupping Room Café – another awesome little place hidden in plain sight on a street corner.

First stop on our tour of Brooklyn was the Mast Brothers flagship on North 3rd Street. We were all pretty exciting about seeing the factory and retail space as what the two brothers have achieved in the chocolate industry has been incredible. Everything about the brand, from the slick packaging to the way they’ve reinvented how people view chocolate has made it a brand we at RF have admired for a long time. Seeing how simple they make the process of crafting their chocolate and how that ethos of simplicity is applied throughout the entire brand experience was really something to behold.

After indulging in some of the Mast Bro’s finest chocolate wares, we headed over to Jane Motorcycles – as recommended by Natalia from Bocce’s. Jane is a custom motorcycles shop that doubles as an espresso bar and clothing store; a business model that seems quite popular (coffee shop in another shop, not customer bikes) in NYC. The interior space was very clean and the various vintage and new school motorbikes dotted around the place gave the feel of a bike showroom with the welcoming feel of your local friendly coffee shop. Jane really stood out to us as a brand because it felt like a labour of love rather than a corporate trying to take your money. They did a great job of selling the brand as a lifestyle that anybody could be a part of; whether you’re a retro-loving motorcycle hipster or a coffee lover, the whole brand was very inclusive.

The cool thing about exploring Brooklyn on that Saturday was how different it was to Manhattan, both architecturally and the vibe you get from the people. There was a sense that the people there cared about their neighbourhood and they represented it in a way that came across as very genuine and not in any way forced; an heir of natural cool that I’m sure was only further enhanced by three pasty English dudes sweating around the streets. That caring nature was the same wherever we went. Tiny Empire juice bar (awesome branding and found by our very own Laura Evans) and Torst, a Scandinavian inspired beer tavern, were much the same; staffed by people who cared about their craft and were excited to be able to share their knowledge with you.

After a couple of juices and a beer or two, we headed down to the waterfront to get involved with Smorgasburg, a street food festival held weekly overlooking the Manhattan Skyline. Buffalo wings, ice cream sandwiches and the best hand pulled mozzarella I’d ever eaten made for an experience that you just don’t get over here. I’ve said it so many times now, but again – lots of people passionate about doing what they do and doing it well. Saturday concluded back in SoHo desperately trying to find somewhere to watch Conor McGregor’s UFC bout. After settling down in an Irish bar and watching all of the build up, we were cruelly let down when they switched over to the World Skateboarding Championships claiming they don’t show pay-per-view events… gutted. Not to worry though, a few beers later and we cheered ourselves up by waltzing our way into Katz Deli (albeit accidentally), inhaling a pastrami sandwich and sitting down in the exact spot where Harry met Sally… what dreams are made of.

Sunday morning started in the best way possible. Freshly squeezed orange juice and Apple Pie stuffed Brioche French Toast. Yep, fried brioche bread the size of my head, stuffed with cinnamonny apple goodness, all drenched in maple syrup. Just thinking about it now gives me diabetes. We spent Sunday seeing a lot of the clothing/trainer shops that have flagships stores in and around SoHo and further uptown. Supreme, Nike Lab, APC and the ultimate pilgrimage for a trainer fan culminated in a visit to Flightclub on Broadway. Some of the most sought after shoes in the biz, all wrapped up in airtight clingfilm on shelves from floor to ceiling.

One of the best stores we went to was the flagship for a brand I’ve been familiar with for sometime now. KITH is a lifestyle clothing brand and exclusive trainer boutique that has two locations in NYC. Ronnie Fieg is the driving force behind a brand that has evolved from being a retail space selling streetwear and trainers, to a fully-fledged brand in its own right at the forefront of street fashion and footwear. Every little aspect was well considered, right down to the porcelain shoe installation that adorned the ceiling and security guards wearing black suits and Fieg designed Asics trainers.

I think the highlight of the trip for all of us though was our last meal stateside. Black Tap Craft Burgers and Beer was another restaurant we happened across earlier in the day and decided to check it out later. Tucked away in between traditional New York style buildings and probably not much wider than 8ft was a local, independent beer and burger bar that was honestly, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, home to the best burger and best beer we’d ever tasted. The whole format was perfect; a really intimate space, kitchen in full view, super friendly owners serving and hip-hop blasting. The real star of the show though was the burger. Proper meat, fresh salad and delicious condiments that complimented everything perfectly and just… I honestly cannot put into words how good it was. Everything was bang on, 11/10

We spent Monday morning lazily tidying up the apartment before heading out for breakfast and quickly nipping to NikeTown, as you do, so I could get a pair of trainers, naturally. Shoes secured, we got back to SoHo, collected our things and headed to JFK to start our 10 hour journey home.

For me, the New York trip totally exceeded all my expectations on both a business and personal level. On the business/creative side of things, we’re coming back to Leeds full of fresh new ideas to not only help our work, but also to expand Robot Food even further than just a branding and design agency. For myself, New York was everything I’d wanted it to be and more. It was possible that I’d set my bar too high and it wouldn’t live up to the hype I was expecting it to be, but by visiting the way we did – experiencing the counter culture – made for a trip that was every bit as successful as we were hoping it to be. I can’t thank the team enough for letting me come along for the ride, it was an adventure I’ll never forget. Boom.

Robot Food Leeds, WY & Brooklyn, NY anyone?

P.S. If you’ve managed to make it this far, then I salute you for putting up with my probably very cringe love affair with New York City. Thank you.

MastBros Jane BKWf KITH Black Tap