NEW YORK – It’s the “World’s Most Famous Building.” It’s an indelible part of New York’s skyline for nearly a century – where King Kong swatted at passing planes in the 1933 movie. It’s where Buddy visits his dad’s office in the movie, “Elf.” And Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks finally find each other in “Sleepless in Seattle.”
Perhaps there’s nothing that says New York more than the Empire State Building. It welcomes millions of visitors each year who take the elevator up to the iconic observation decks.
Starbucks has been a part of that history since 2008 when its first store opened in the Empire State Building. It was originally a café on 34th Street and later evolved with new innovative concepts, including one of the company’s first express stores, a delivery pilot in 2015 and one of the first mobile order and pickup locations in 2018. The new Starbucks Reserve® Empire State Building® store pays homage to the heritage of the Empire State Building and Starbucks history in New York with an extraordinary one-of-a-kind coffee destination that spans three floors and 23,000 square feet.
From the bustling sidewalk of Fifth Avenue, the Starbucks Reserve® Empire State Building® store looks like it has been there since the beginning. You won’t see that familiar green Siren logo, but an Art Deco façade with the words “Starbucks Reserve” crafted in vintage aluminum lettering (it’s actually a custom font approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission). The Starbucks design team worked with Empire State Realty Trust (owner of the Empire State Building) to bring the store’s façade back to building standards, which included reclaiming the second-floor windows and rebuilding the decorative mullions and finials. Starbucks worked closely with the Empire State Building’s historic landmark preservation consultant, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects, to consult on building exterior details to ensure compliance with landmarks preservation guidelines.
“We paid careful attention to protecting and revitalizing landmark pieces in direct and close consultation with the Empire State Building’s landmark consultant,” said Jill Enomoto, vice president of Starbucks Siren Retail Design. “We feel really proud to bring it back to its original beauty and intention.”
Take a spin through the historic revolving doors on Fifth Avenue, and the sounds of honking yellow taxis fade away with a whoosh as you enter the Empire State Building’s iconic Fifth Avenue Lobby. The soaring two-story Art Deco space recalls an era of grandeur and glamour, with stunning walls clad in terrazzo marble and the brilliantly restored ceiling hand-painted in 24-carat gold.
“In the Art Deco style, you see strong geometric patterns and applied ornamentation. It has that timeless, classic New York sensibility,” said John Nelson, senior store designer for Starbucks. “We have applied an artful interpretation of Art Deco in the Starbucks Reserve Empire State Building store. We nod to it with our color palette and patterns while also making it our own.”
Hanging in a glass case just outside the entrance to the store is the first of several bespoke art pieces by local artists – including an original paper sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist Jim Gaylord. The work features geometric patterns, scales that reference the Starbucks Siren, and natural elements like the sun, mountain slopes, roasting flames and the mighty coffee bean.
“The Empire State Building is a New York icon and its original construction is a testament to artistry,” said Lara Behnert, who leads the art program for Starbucks. “That’s why it was important to commission New York-based artists for all the store’s original artworks. The pieces are inspired, in different ways, by the Empire State Building’s spirit, Art Deco flourishes, the essence of Starbucks, and the origins and meaning of coffee.”
The store features three levels, each designed for connection and discovery. Visitors enter on Level One, which was designed to create a convenient experience for customers looking to grab coffee and Princi® food on-the-go, with a design that harkens back to the fast-paced mercantile traditions of Fifth Avenue. It has a muted earth-toned palette to allow for focus on the connections between the customers and partners, as well as thoughtfully curated merchandise featuring artist collaborations such as the Jade Purple Brown collection and other items exclusively available in this location. The store serves and sells Starbucks Reserve coffee, including the Starbucks Reserve Empire State Building® Microblend roasted at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery New York. The menu features classic beverages like cappuccinos and lattes, as well as Starbucks Reserve signature beverages such as the Hazelnut Bianco Latte, Whiskey Barrel Aged Cold Brew and Nitro Almondmilk Mocha.
From Level One, an open staircase connects the Concourse below and Level Two above – with all three floors connected visually with a jewel-toned mural by Brooklyn-based artist Dana Tanamachi that showcases the contributions of women in coffee.
The Concourse level is dedicated to innovation and immersive coffee experiences with coffee workshops and guided tasting flights that are unique to this store. Visitors descending the staircase from street level immediately step through a portal with a digital art installation that transitions toward the Innovation Lounge and Experience Bar. The artwork immerses customers into coffee experiences with larger-than-life visuals of handcrafted beverages and vibrant animations of coffee storytelling, like microbubbles cascading over a scoop of gelato. The darker tones of this floor are complemented by gilded touches, like brass columns and fluted glassware. Flexible spaces can be closed off or combined to accommodate different-sized groups.
The show-stopping art piece for this level is a 25-foot hand-painted Starbucks Siren who almost appears to glide along the Concourse, a radiant symbol of optimism. The mural was designed by Brooklyn-based artist Marcos Chin, who created the gilded Siren in his striking style mixed with modernized Art Deco details.
Ascend the staircase two floors, or take the elevator, and you’ll reach Level Two, where the glittering full-service bar and restaurant are designed for customers to sit, relax, and stay for a while. Customers can enjoy food from Princi, including signature tasting boards and plates, entrees and favorites for brunch and lunch. To drink, Starbucks Reserve® Empire State Building® Microblend is on the menu, along with signature and shareable coffee and tea cocktails from the mixology bar.
The space is layered with shades of sultry rich green, shimmering gold touches and a mural with a central gilded figure of a coffee farmer. The ceiling of this space has gold textured paint, echoing the hand-painted gold leaf ceiling from the historic lobby. Patterns dance throughout and an abstracted coffee origin landscape graces a private lounge at the back of the bar. These patterns were created by Seattle-based artist Gabe Armagost and combine elements of Starbucks, New York City and the Empire State Building.
While much of the focus for the design team was rebuilding the space and bringing landmark elements to life, they also peeled back some of the building’s layers to expose some of the original hand-riveted steel beams and a bit of its history. The Empire State Building was an engineering marvel in its day, with its steel frame the first to rise over 100 stories high, making it the world’s tallest building for nearly four decades. “Our store is one of the few places in the building where you can see one of the original splice plates up close,” Nelson said.
The store is a certified Greener Store, designed for lower environmental impact that helps accelerate progress toward Starbucks goals to reduce carbon emissions, water usage and landfill waste by 50 percent by 2030.
A Welcoming Space
Starbucks worked with New York-based West Elm to design and furnish many pieces in the Starbucks Reserve Empire State Building store. In some cases, West Elm co-designed the pieces, customizing West Elm seats and tables for Starbucks with rich and warm textures to maximize comfort. Other times, West Elm would work with Starbucks to manufacture a piece that was designed by Starbucks.
Designers worked to help customers both navigate and enjoy the physical store environment with inclusive design elements such as clear navigation routes, visual order status boards, and controlled acoustics. They also created accessible seating for all with a variety of seating options – from low lounge seating to counter height bar stools. A unified floor plan ensures that all levels are easy to navigate and are wheelchair accessible via a new passenger elevator.
“We had a lot of conversations about inclusive design, and love what we have done from an inclusivity and accessibility standpoint,” said Enomoto. “We are looking forward to welcoming everyone to this beautiful, iconic space.”
Photos by Sarah Flotard, Matt Glac, Connor Surdi