The next time you pass by a florist who is pulling shots, pull over. It’s not often you get to inhale the heady perfume of freshly brewed coffee, hand-tied bouquets and artfully potted flowering plants.
Remarkably, you can have this most un-Starbucksian experience — and pastry — at two spots along Second Avenue just steps from the United Nations, both with outdoor seating: Remi Flower & Coffee, near 48th, and Remi43, five blocks south.
Remi43 is the one you want to try first. The outside area feels more sheltered — granted, it’s under scaffolding — and the space inside is so lofty it has room for mezzanine seating. Both are run by Remi Kim, who picked up on the appeal of dual enterprises while attending school in South Korea. “It’s popular there to have combination shops,” she says.
Seating inside is plunged in greenery, a serene escape from what Kim calls “the hustle-bustle of the city.” No wonder the two Remis are sought-after for meetups with diplomats and journalists from the United Nations nearby, especially during the pandemic, as access to the organization has been restricted and caffeine virtually gone.
For those who are not vaccinated, or maybe just skittish, city seating is still an option: Tables fit snugly along sidewalks thick with foot traffic, only somewhat buffered from the onslaught of cars, scooters, cyclists and asphalt pavers by boxed bushes and plants. (Kim’s father, a landscaper, keeps things interesting by periodically swapping in new ones.) The Remis also offer a few ventilated bubble yurts — streetside seating for two in a mini greenhouse.
Everything is made for Instagram, from the long-stemmed roses and lush autumn dahlias to manicured plants in cunning handpicked pots. “Some people come in for coffee, and while they are waiting, they see what they want to get for friends, or themselves,” Kim says.
Her crew sets out small flower vases on the tables and serves coffee and tea in china cups, the cappuccini and lattes finished with perfectly formed rosettas and tulips, topped with optional lavender or rose petals. The beans hail from La Colombe, teas from Harney & Sons, and croissants, pains au chocolate and other sweet and savory delicacies, from Parisian-style bakeries like Ceci Cela and Balthazar. The drinks menu includes more than a dozen house-made concoctions, including iced berry yuzu-ade and seasonal specialties like vanilla marshmallow mocha and the inevitable pumpkin spice latte.
A few tips. The pastries are at their flakiest early in the day. Seating is at its most available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and hard to get during the morning and afternoon rush hours. As for flowers, call ahead if you want a special bouquet (from $40) or houseplant. Remi also handles small weddings and other events.
Prices are typical of specialty-coffee shops (drinks are $3 to $5.75), including other floral-espresso bars scattered around the city — yes, roses with your macchiato is now a thing.
It is all available to go, but why not stay, even if you’re not a diplomat eager to gossip about the foibles of the P5? Life can be rough out there, and inside these green havens you get a rare chance to breathe.
(Note: This is the first UN Eats column since Nov. 21, 2019, when we took a look at Chateau 49, a bistro on Second Avenue at 49th Street. It’s been a long time, dear readers.)
Remi Flower & Coffee, 906 Second Avenue, near 48th Street (646-559-1233), and Remi43, 810 Second Avenue, near 43rd Street (212-918-8122), are open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
Deborah Baldwin is a veteran editor and writer, most recently for This Old House; previously, she was an editor for The New York Times, working on the Style section and other parts of the newspaper. She and her husband, Irwin Arieff, wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s.
Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.