Latte Trouble - By Cleo Coyle


“MEN are pigs. They should die!”

Tucker Burton’s words were audible over the steam wand’s hiss, the buzz of conversation, even the throbbing electronic dance music pulsing out of the Village Blend’s speakers. To punctuate his declaration, my best barista butted the bottom of the stainless steel pitcher against the steam wand’s spout. The result was a tooth-grinding clang of metal on metal. Then Tucker, who should have known better, pulled the pitcher away too quickly. A geyser of milk froth flowed over the brim, scalding his hand. He cursed, dumped the excess into the sink, and doused his reddening fingers in a rush of cold tap water.

It wasn’t that I disagreed with Tucker about men. When they acted like pigs, I wanted blood too—so to speak. But Tucker’s lethal tone, like the pounding Euro synth-pop, which was temporarily replacing our typical mix of new age, jazz, and classical, was disquietingly out of place. Not five minutes before, my buoyant barista was pulling espressos and chatting amicably to anyone within earshot. Obviously someone or something had thrown the nasty switch on the lanky, floppy-haired actor-playwright, who was now slamming around behind the coffeehouse counter like a jealous yenta.

And, believe me, it takes one to know one.

Twenty years ago, I’d been a naïve bride destined to discover that my handsome husband’s extramarital romps were as commonplace as his rock climbing, mountain biking, and cliff diving expeditions during his buying trips to third-world coffee plantations. Matteo’s defense—that his sex-capades were no more meaningful than any other extreme sport—was supposed to have assured me of his emotional fidelity. I’d responded by pouring a latte over his head. At least, I think it had been a latte. It may have been a cappuccino. In any event, I vividly remember white foam dripping down his bewildered features, so froth most definitely had been involved.

Behind the low-slung silver espresso machine (out of which a properly trained barista can pull 240 aromatic shots of ebony an hour) Tucker’s platonic gal pal Moira McNeely paused to reassure him with a friendly touch to his shoulder. A young Bostonian now studying at the Parsons School of Design, she’d taken an interest in the art of coffee preparation (and, I suspected, my thespian-cum-barista) and had volunteered her services for this Fall Fashion Week “after dinner coffee and dessert soiree”, now well underway. And I was thankful because, at the moment, the Blend was severely understaffed.

So what, might you ask, is Fall Fashion Week? Well, for concrete-loving, highly caffeinated New Yorkers, who seldom take their cues from nature, the magical appearance of the white canvas runway tents amid the tall London plane trees of midtown’s Bryant Park is the quintessential sign of autumn’s arrival.

Every September, the peaceful, green, eight-acre rectangle behind the imposing granite edifice of the New York Public Library is transformed into a fashion mecca. Inside the hastily erected tents, the “Seventh on Sixth” organization (whose name defines the temporary moving of the fashion industry’s usual Seventh Avenue address to Bryant Park’s Sixth) stages an international fair where top designers drape their spring lines on reed-thin models for all the trade, and, via the intense media coverage, the world to see.

During this week, countless parties are held in top restaurants and locations as diverse as the Museum of Modern Art and Grand Central Station. The Village Blend had never before hosted a Fashion Week party—and now that it had started, the space was admittedly tight. At the moment, even with most of the coffeehouse’s marble-topped tables crammed next to our roaster and storage areas in the basement, there were so many hyper-dressed bodies jostling for elbow room, not one inch of the polished, wood plank floor was visible. However, designer Lottie Harmon had insisted her party be held in this century-old, Greenwich Village coffeehouse. For one thing, she said, she was practically an historical landmark herself.

Two and a half decades ago, Lottie’s name had been almost as recognizable as Halston’s. Then, suddenly, Lottie had dropped out of the business—only to return last year to take the fashionistas by storm with an accessory line as successful as any she’d ever created, which is the second reason she’d wanted her Fashion Week party held at the Blend. Her new collection of “Java Jewelry” had been inspired by the many coffee drinks she’d consumed here.

As I moved to get behind the coffee bar and check on Tucker, I spied Lottie herself. The designer was chatting with Christina Ha, fashion critic from the Metro New