New York City can feel like a godless place, one certainly antithetical to most people’s idea of comfort. That’s because most people don’t know about the library cafe within the Swedish Church of New York, which offers enough god, comfort, and fresh-baked Swedish pastries for all of Midtown East to get their fika on.
Formerly known as the Swedish Seamen’s Church, the house of worship hearkens back to a time when similar seamen’s churches dotted the globe to greet Scandinavian seafarers with a slice of home wherever they dropped anchor. Manhattan’s in particular greeted the million-and-a-half Swedes who landed in the Big Apple between 1820 and 1900.
With changes in the shipping industry, the still-functioning Lutheran church serves fewer god-fearing seamen than it once did. The hidden cafe’s modest offering of simple Swedish comfort foods, however, makes steady churchgoers out of the city’s Swedish expats, tourists, and eaters in-the-know.
The establishment largely caters to a Swedish clientele—call them on the phone, and they’ll answer in Swedish. Thus, instead of sandwiches, you can order open-faced smørrebrød, topped with your choice of liverwurst, cheese, salami, or anchovies and eggs. Instead of O.J., sip on a lingonberry juice. Coffee, tea, and bottled beer is served as well, but the pastries are the real show-stoppers. Gingerbread, assorted cookies, and of course, cinnamon buns are made fresh daily.
The church’s library offers cozy seating, tables, and wi-fi for those looking to get some work done in Midtown without competing for outlets in the neighborhood’s dispiriting tangle of chain coffee shops. Or grab a book from off the beautifully patterned wooden shelves and try to teach yourself Swedish.
For a city that makes it so hard to relax, the Swedish Church makes it hard not to.