"Good things happen over coffee," says the sign over the milk pitcher at Sono Caffeine, where you go to chill out when in SoNo.
Indeed, one day last week, good things did happen at Caffeine.
Erik Valk and Marlous van Heijst, business visitors from Holland, had been sauntering down Washington Street in pursuit of a caffeine fix when they noticed the open doorway affording a peak into a mysteriously intriguing interior, as they described it.
"That does it! Once you look in this place you want to come in," he explained.
Who would beg to differ?
With its dozen chandeliers providing restrained lighting, mismatched couches and stuffed chairs, free WiFi, books for browsing all around (even the grandfather's clock is fitted with shelves for children's books), a cool atmosphere, background music that doesn't overload the senses, cafe menu and caffeine in more than a baker's dozen iterations, Sono Caffeine is a refuge.
Valk was especially enamored of Caffeine's massive hand-carved wooden bar with inlaid tiles and its eclectic decorating scheme, which includes artful gouging of a plaster wall to expose brick underneath and artworks hung all around.
Abdellah Bennani, who's run Sono Caffeine for the past three years, would not be surprised that his establishment made the Dutch visitors' visit seem like a homecoming.
Born in Morocco, his earliest memories are of an espresso machine in a cafe where he grew up. He aspired to operate his own and serve patrons at a bar.
Bennani's original conception had customers sipping espressos standing up at the bar in the Continental fashion, where they might strike up a conversation with a stranger and begin a new friendship over caffeine.
"They don't do that here," Bennani said, nor does he serve Moroccan tea from a pot held aloft over the cup, but those are the few concessions made to the American sensibility.
The visiting Dutchmen ordered cheesecake and caramel pecan torte with their java.
"This looks like the sort of place where young, hip locals would go for coffee," said Valk as he tucked into his sweet treat. ("The cheesecake is very good—mind you, the Americans really know how to make cheesecake.")
"A very nice place," he concluded.
Caffeine is at 133 Washington Street, serving breakfast, lunch and light cafe fare with sumptuous desserts 7 days a week. Open Monday and Tuesday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tel. 203-857-4224. www.SonoCaffeine.com.