Skeleton heads hang from the rafters of The Witches Brew Coffeehouse in West Hempstead, revealing all its eccentricities. The first thing you see upon entering is a scratched wooden piano, leaning against burgundy velvet. There are two glass vases filled with dead roses atop the piano. Several of the walls are black or covered in leopard print, and only orange light bulbs and flickering candles can be seen in the rooms. The ambiance is complemented by tufted couches, marble tables, and antique floral high-back chairs.
“It’s just creepy-looking, so it reminds me of Halloween,” says Lanna Solinsky, 23, of Manhattan, while waiting to be seated one recent Friday night with boyfriend Adam Sosnik, 24, of Merrick. “It’s cool in here . . . like watching ‘The Munsters’ in black and white.”
The Witches Brew has maintained lines out the door for many of its 15 years because of hard work, a sense of coziness, and a passionate customer base.
A “For Rent” sign in the coffee shop’s window inspired Natalie and Alabama Miceli, sisters from West Hempstead, to open the cafe. With the help of the Miceli family, they operate the sweet shop with the help of Danny Fink, 35, and Jonas James, 41, who perform all the vegan desserts in-house. Anna Miceli, the Micelis’ mother, and Michael Miceli, the Micelis’ brother, also help.
A haven for punk and goth kids in the mid-to-late 1990s, the coffeehouse was popular with teenagers. “That’s who was open to coming in the beginning,” Natalie says. “The building itself being so old — 100 years old — it has a certain soul to it . . . either they like it or they don’t.”
The crowd consists of people of all ages and artistic backgrounds these days. “That’s what I wanted in the first place,” Natalie says. “Just to bring people together and open people’s minds and have people talk among each other.”
In fact, talking is a major component of the proceedings. There are desserts, more than 100 mostly organic and fair trade teas, and about 100 espresso combinations, such as Black Magic (chocolate and mint) and Nightmare (chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel), but no food. (A menu offering vegan and vegetarian salads, sandwiches and tapas is on the horizon). Aside from no live entertainment and no alcohol, there is no internet access either.
Brew still has a lot of buzz surrounding it. Due to the lack of a website and no advertising — “We want to keep it like a secret,” Alabama says — the coffeehouse relies heavily on word-of-mouth advertising. It seems to be effective.
The Witches Brew Facebook fan page, created by an unknown customer, had 7,795 fans at last count. “Good Luck Charlie” featured an exterior photo of the coffeehouse (changing its sign) but the real proof of Witches Brew’s popularity is the line that snakes out the door and along Hempstead Turnpike with wait times of more than an hour.
“It’s part of the experience,” says Matt Weisenthal, 22, of Bellerose after finally snagging a seat. “This place is awesome the food and the drinks are made with love.”
“It’s like a little treasure up in the middle of nowhere,” says Rose D’Alessio, 50, of Queens, who was there recently all the way from Ozone Park, Queens, to have a girl’s night out with a friend. “It’s like a mirage.”
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